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bob the moo

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S6: Enjoyable season doing what it does, albeit with a few episodes that don't work, 7 February 2016

After the fifth season I did look forward to returning to this show, and with changes in my life since then, the show has the additional appeal of being 10 minutes long – which is about the amount of time I usually get before I need to do something else. The sixth season returns with a run of episodes which pretty much do what the show does well, which is to produce very odd plots and deliver them with comedy derived from the characters. Much like the opening of the previous season was memorable for how little we saw of the main characters, the sixth's first episode has them invisible, meaning the episode is mostly static backdrops and voices.

Of the 10 episodes I would say more than half are of the standard that the show set for itself; good writing, good laughs, and good use of the characters. The second half of the season seems to have some weaker moments, and there were episodes that didn't work as well. Fry Legs seems completely out of place due to its focus on Frylock but yet presenting him completely out of character to the point where I spent the episode wondering if I had missed an episode where this transformation had occurred. The live action episode at the end is one that sounds cooler than it actually was – I liked the idea but it was not particularly smart or funny, with only the novelty value making it stick.

Weaker back end aside though, the season will do it for fans, and was good enough to make me look forward to the next.

S14: The Hand of Fear: Interesting mix of ideas and silly horror – until the final episode does more wrong than right (SPOILERS), 7 February 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This serial opens with a scene-setting few moments which really make little sense since they have no connection to anything until a little later. I guess it gives the serial a bed but at the same time they could just as easily have been delivered as a flashback or story-telling later in the serial. From this we jump directly into the Doctor and Sarah in the middle of one of those 1970's Government- made public service films warning about the danger of wandering around in quarries. Of course, as always happened to the children in such films, the pair get caught in the blast and rock- fall. However unlike the children, who normally just wound up cooked on a pylon, the result of the blast is the uncovering of a fossilized hand and a ring, which trigger the return of a millennia- long dead alien creature.

Opening this way sort of sets the tone for this serial, which is uneven but mostly interesting. The first episodes seem to have a traditional 'alien threat' aspect to them, and it uses Sarah herself as the threat while at the same time having that horror oddity of the reforming hand. The use of the nuclear power station was topical then I am sure, but still is today, and I liked how the risks of this environment were used within the drama. Following this the serial swings into more interesting territory, as Eldrad is revealed in full form. This is interesting for a couple of reasons; the first most obvious one is that this powerful alien is female – which shouldn't be something of note, but it certainly would have been back in the 1970's. This also stuck out in my mind because I remembered the new series being criticized for changing genders around in a supposedly PC way (the example being the time-lord going from an older white man into a black woman in a recent episode) but of course here is the same thing right in the heart of the classic series!

Anyway, more interesting is that Eldrad is not the Addams Family ripoff that she/he appears, but is actually a humanoid with a more complex story to tell. Meanwhile the humans, clueless as ever, stumble around proving all the higher beings right, with our weapons and urge to destroy. The final episode blows a lot though. First it transforms Eldrad into a version of the creepy Burger King mascot, and has him suddenly become all hammy in his performance. There are some decent twists around this, but they don't really have the time to build into real danger – and anyway, this cosmic threat is destroyed by tripping him up with a scarf. The second thing is the way Sarah Jane is removed from the show. Okay it is nice that an entire season is not spent building a narrative around this (as has been the case recently), but at the same time it seems so half-assed that it is hard not to be annoyed. Certainly compared to the exits of Susan, or Jo Grant, to name two, there does seem to be a lack of anything remarkable – indeed her exit just seems convenient and nothing more.

Sladen probably deserved better, and her work in this serial shows it, as she is more than just 'in trouble', and I did enjoy the oddity of her being such a threat to the nuclear plant all while dressed in such a ridiculous getup. On the whole though, this serial is a quite fun mix of silly horror and good ideas, even if that final episode really has too much that doesn't work as it should.

0 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Seems setup for tightness and tension but then combines it with slow pace and sweeping scale, which don't wholly work together, 7 February 2016

Although I am not blind to his weaknesses, I do confess that I enjoy Tarantino's work and in particular love his writing of pulpy dialogue and the way he can draw tension from even the most innocent conversation. His films are littered with examples, and it is this element of his work that drew me to The Hateful Eight. The combination of a single location with a load of actors capable of delivering the material, made me assume we were in for a film where tension built across the whole film in the way he has done with individual scenes before.

The reality is that the film partly manages this, and for sure there is pleasure to be had in his combination of dialogue driven scenes with sudden violent interludes. However at almost three hours, there is simply too much film and not enough content. Considering that the film is more or less set in a single room for most of the film one wonders why it also tries to be such an epic in presentation. Okay the opening hour is mostly on the trail and has some great sweeping landscapes and vistas, but even then the real action is inside a wagon. This duality did work against the film for me because it feels so sprawling, but yet the actual narrative seems to be driven by scenes that require a tightness and tension, and it doesn't wholly come together. The setting and the spread of characters occasionally has some interesting things to say about race and politics, however it is too saggy in the delivery and takes way too long to deliver everything, that it does tend to lose impact in many ways.

Those that like his work (as I do) will still find a lot to enjoy (as I did), but Hateful Eight is a flawed film. The cast really enjoy their performances even if they don't quite have the presence of equivalent characters or scenes, whether it be moments that invoke Reservoir Dogs, or Tim Roth for some reason playing a version of Waltz's character in Django. The film looks gorgeous and has a great score, but it is the writing that brings in the issues. The lack of discipline in the delivery robs the film of a lot of the power it should have had, and in the end while it should be a satisfying resolution to the mystery, instead it because loud, bloody, unpleasantly mean-spirited and surprisingly unengaging and lacking the tension all the parts suggest it should have had.

S3: Weak start but picks up in second half to good effect despite being the weaker than the previous two seasons, 7 February 2016

Coming into Community after it has already finished its run does mean that you tend to pick up on the opinions of others online (particularly for this show). As such I had heard various others discussing the series in terms of when it works and didn't. Coming to season 3 after very much enjoying the previous two, I did feel some disappointment with the first third of the season as it didn't quite have the spark I was hoping for. I am not entirely sure what it was about it, but the plots seemed a bit flat, and the lines not as funny.

Perhaps part of this was the season trying to have more of a through-line in the season. This it manages, but it wasn't until the season was well underway where I felt it picked up and starting being more consistently funny. Maybe it was the guest stars – all of whom were nice in their moments, but still managed to make the show feel like it was trying too hard to bring them in. This aside, the majority of the season does work very well. Okay the plots being connected does occasionally mean that the free-floating madness of it all is a little lost, but there is enough of that to still make it work. The main cast produce their usual good delivery, and it was fun to see more from Rash and Jeong as the show fills out. As I mentioned, aside from the show feeling a bit like it is pushing the big names, the famous guests are not too distracting and do decent work.

Having read that the show's creator left at the end of this season it will be interesting to see what happens into the fourth season; generally the opinion seems to be it is a real step down, which would be a shame since even this slightly weaker third season is enjoyable and funny.

Ripper (2015)
Decent fan film, but not a great film per se, 7 February 2016

The internet is full of fan films, all of which open with disclaimers regarding the intellectual property that they are about to use. Mostly they are not much cop, but occasionally you do get some which stand out (usually due to the special effects being better than your average short film). In the case of Ripper we have the Batman back in Victorian England, hunting Jack the Ripper. Prostitutes are murdered on the streets daily, and the police are baffled – leading to the shadowy vigilante to get involved.

This film does stand out, mainly because it delivers much from Italian horror genre, with its gaudy colors and camera angles. This gives it an unusual look for a fan film, and at the same time the synth score makes for an usual aspect to a Batman film. The final scenes involving Batman and the Ripper are good in principle, and mostly work as a dialogue scene, but generally the film does feel too long and lacking in incident. For too long we just see the police frustrated by the murders, and lots of the Italian horror delivery mixed in. This dos get a little boring after a while, and I did lose interest – interest that didn't totally return when Batman finally shows up in the shadows.

Technically it is really well made in some ways – the locations are really good, even if the cast are a bit too "blimey gov'ner apples and pears etc". The camera-work is mostly good, but the sound is variable – sometimes very hard to hear and, while the music is an unusual selling point, it does get a bit tiresome and doesn't fit very often. Still, it is a decent fan film with plenty of ambition and interesting ideas; but as a film in its own right it is not too good – although I would be right back if they make the sequel that the post-credits sequence suggests.

Often brutal but always engaging, 7 February 2016

It has been some time since I watched this show on first broadcast – long before streaming and on demand, I remember it was appointment television for me to be sure to be back in time to watch it (I also did not own a VCR back then I think). Coming from the pedigree of HBO, BBC, and Spielberg, the series was a really banner affair, and it did not disappoint. Watching it again 15 years later, this is still the case. The production values are incredibly high, and the recreation of the conditions, spirit, and specific actions of Easy Company is compelling television. It is not constant action, and it is not always violent, however it keeps the war constantly in the air, and it is quite oppressive viewing at times in the way it does this while throwing in moments of sudden pointless violence.

At times it does get a bit too sentimental, but the sense of realism balances this out I thought, and the scale of loss and death makes it easy to justify why the series did this. The main characters are well portrayed, and the supporting characters had sufficient material to make us buy into the squad – not just a few main characters. Ironically this is something that has altered with time. Watching it now I was surprised by just how many famous faces there were in the show. Of course the main cast has turns from Lewis, Livingston, McDonough, Fletcher, Wahlberg, and many others you will know – as well as one or two big names in small roles (most notably Schwimmer). However in roles so small they barely have a line, you also have people like Simon Pegg, Jimmy Fallon, Andrew Scott, James McAvoy, Fassbender, Colin Hanks, and many others. Perhaps I did not know them at the time and they were already famous, but it does feel now that they had a real bed of talent just starting to emerge. Of course the downside of this is that it is a bit distracting now, and many episodes has several moments where you spot people like this in smaller roles.

The series is strong though, with great drama and production values throughout. The deep cast help, but it is the writing and intense battle sequences that really draw you in. The focus on an American squad does feel a little like it plays into the usual 'the Americans won the war" thing, but I didn't mind this – aside from the few British characters who do appear, who unfortunately are played a little as stereotype and not so heroic in their efforts. Despite this though, a great series that has stood up really well over time.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Engagingly comic but with a gruff fantasy heart, 7 February 2016

Discovering he has only six days left to live, Oskar plans to reconcile with his brother – although the last he knew his brother was in New Jersey, a long way from Norway. Determined to have closure before he dies, Oskar spends his remaining days preparing to use a massive tuba structure to broadcast across the Atlantic. In the meantime, he is joined by an Angel of Death – a religious volunteer who will stay with him until he dies; and spends a lot of time killing seagulls.

It is hard to put a finger on what Tuba Atlantic is as a film, however seeing the 25 minute running time, and knowing it was a Norwegian film about death, I did not hold out too much hope of it being a fun experience. Truth is that the film manages to be grounded in this tale of a dying man and his estranged brother, but yet also brings in a lot of comedy and fantasy elements. I'm not wholly sure how much narrative importance the slaughtering of seagulls played in the overall film, but it was a very funny constant, and will resonate with anyone who has lived by the sea – or even tried to eat chips outdoors within 5 miles of coastal waters. The character of Inger plays well alongside Oskar, and the two performances do well to balance the absurd with the heartfelt – and in the end there is a gruff heart which provides a quite satisfying conclusion in the midst of the comedic and the fantasy of the tuba itself.

Meta but fun way to try to get funding, 7 February 2016

I knew nothing about this short film when I stumbled into it off the back of something else. The presentation by a doctor of some kind speaks about the tragic nature of short films – mostly with poor production values, if they even get made at all. He then tells us about the work of Amalgamated Picture Company, who strive to give shorts their moment in the sun. We see a brief example, a rock and roll sci-fi called The Privates, and we are asked to do all we can to support it.

At this point of course I realized that this is essentially a fund raising effort, but as such it is really quite enjoyable due to the meta approach it takes. While you do not see a great deal of the film that may or may not get made, what you do get is a good sense of the type of humor that will be involved – and for the few minutes it is on, I did find it funny enough to stick in my mind and have me browsing the kickstarter page some time later.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Slickly presented and surprisingly effective in what it does, 7 February 2016

The concept of The Answers is simple: our main character is dead and appears to the camera in front of a white background. Realizing he can now know everything there is to know, he asks lots of questions of his maker, getting the answer each time. At first it is small grudges and fun stats, but as it goes on he comes to a greater realization about the time he just ended.

The presentation of this short is surprisingly simple in what it does; we get the idea very quickly –Nathan is dead and we see the answers to his questions in quickly edited flashback sequences. It has energy and is amusing from the start, and it is this fun energy that draws the viewer in. The simple structure works well with the colorful and more detailed flashbacks to provide a film that is superficial but yet also provides us with enough about the character to actually care about. So when the film does inevitably turn a bit sappy and reflective in nature, we are more or less there with it. I won't say it was perfectly moving, but it was nicely done to make me care and then deliver some gentler moments to use that.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Thrilling, depressive, informative, and balanced look at a complex issue which ultimately comes down to the inevitable corruption that comes with power (SPOILERS), 14 January 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I watched Sicario recently, which was an enjoyable thriller which used the war against the cartels as its backdrop, and the complexity of the 'war' as one of its plot threads. That film did impact, but Cartel Land managed to raise my heart rate and come over just as tense while also being a documentary. Instead of looking at the cartels or the military or the government, the film focuses on vigilante action on both sides of the border – albeit the majority of the time is spent to the south. The film does a good job of bringing us inside the two different vigilante groups, letting us support what they are trying to do, while also letting us see that perhaps not everyone has the most moral of motives (for instance speaking as a liberal, I think it put a human face on those in the US patrolling the border, but then hard to swallow one of them declaring that the US should be for only one race).

The film follows this path of getting close to the groups, and the majority of the meat is in the Mexican story. In telling the story it is compelling stuff because what is undeniable is that these are people who have been failed. We already know the sickening stories, and all of these are in the mind when we hear more, and see some very graphic images of those who were made examples of by the cartels. In riding with these groups the film gets some dramatic and intense moment of drama and tension, but more importantly what it gets is a picture of citizens trying to figure out things themselves in the absence of anyone else reliable – only for these efforts to fall to the same fate.

The loss of way and the corruption of good intentions is apparent, and it is dramatic to find yourself riding with this citizens group that you support, but then suddenly we appear to be picking up people with very thin reasons and basically torturing them. It shows this and other aspects of the group sliding away from their goals and ideals when they were small – and ultimately ends up with a depressing but inevitable conclusion to the film. In the meantime though the realities of this place are also shown, and we do have harrowing images and stories throughout – although to be honest the site of a young girl terrified ahead of her father's abduction tells a story in itself. The US side of the story is interesting but mostly it is linked to the Mexican story by virtue of being some steps behind tat group, and thus a cautionary tale in that regard.

A powerful film overall, and one that works best by the way it speaks of the problems with those with the power to try to address some of this, and does so by focusing on those starting out with none.

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