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169 reviews in total 
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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Going nowhere - very fast, 1 July 2016
3/10

The Flash was always one of my favorite DC superheroes. So I had high hopes for this series. Early episodes were a bit silly, but entertaining. Gustin is an unconventional choice to play the lead, but he's doing a good job. I'd have liked to see more of the original Carmine Infantino style, but the show has a pretty reasonable look and feel to it.

But after two seasons, all the early promise has been stamped out. The big story arcs are endless, boring and ridiculous. After the second or third time the Flash surrendered the instant a villain took one of his friends hostage, I knew the writers were all out of ideas. The various family sub-plots are going nowhere, and all we've got left is a mess of artificial angst. (Not quite as bad as Arrow, but getting there.)

The Flash has that comic-book look and feel, but it's paper-thin. It's amazing how a show can try so hard to kindle some real emotion, and fail so miserably. Unless you can be vastly entertained by the mere sight of a guy running around in tight-fitting red leather, I'd say forget this Flash.

DC is still floundering for an identity, on both the small and big screens. So far, its only unqualified success - Gotham - is probably the most overlooked.

Great visuals, sloppy writing, 1 July 2016
2/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

After hearing so much about Battlestar Galactica, I decided I really ought to watch the whole series. I'm not going to make it. The show has interesting characters, solid acting, fabulous special effects and a fascinating premise (in fact, several of them). But it's so relentlessly incoherent that I find a lot more anger than enjoyment in it.

Take just one episode, the first one of Season Two:

- Military tactics make no sense at all. The group stranded on Kobol, instead of setting up a base camp, putting out sentries and scouts, just kind of mills around. Three people sent back for an (inexplicably) missing medkit stroll merrily through the woods, talking loudly. They come under fire (inexplicably, given that it's a deserted planet). Then suddenly the shooting stops, and the two survivors get up and walk calmly away - again, with not the slightest attempt at stealth. One of the things that always impressed me about Stargate SG-1 was the credibility of its military procedures. If BSG had a military adviser, he should have been court-marshaled.

- Computer science 101 - failed. Computer systems don't have multiple 'software firewalls,' and hacks don't show up in red on a diagram. More importantly, the only reason you might not want to network computers together would be if you suspect one might be infected. But in this case, all the computers are on board the Galactica. There's no reason to suspect one more than another. In fact, unless someone has left an open Wi-Fi connection, there's really no way for the Cylons to hack in.

- Meanwhile, back on Caprica (WAY back, many FTL jumps away), Starbuck and Helo argue about whether or not to trust Boomer, a known Cylon. Meanwhile, Boomer walks off and takes their ship. It's like a scene from The Hangover, but it's not played for laughs.

- On Kobol, Baltar is apparently having an offspring with his purely imaginary female Cylon companion. Impressive. (After a dozen episodes, neither the purpose nor mechanism behind this lady's annoying presence has been explained.)

- As in almost every episode, 7 human space fighters dogfight 3000 Cylon fighters, and suffer no losses.

- A particularly mysterious Cylon attack ship crashes inside the Galactica, and no one comes to see what it might be unloading.

- As usual, the humans beat up their Cylon captive, instead of asking her (it?) a few obvious questions - like "What do you want?" or "Why do you care that 50,000 humans have escaped into the vastness of interstellar space, when you've already killed off all the rest?"

That's all just in one episode, and far from the dumbest one I've watched.

Even if there were explanations for some of the bigger questions - like why would Cylons bother to make Helo jump through hoops all over Caprica - you can't delay the answers this long. Going into the second season, we really know nothing more than we did at the start. That's really bad writing, bad plotting.

It's a shame. I *wanted* to like this show. I went back to Babylon 5, thinking maybe I'd dismissed it too quickly 20 years earlier - and was thrilled and amazed to discover how good it was. With Battlestar Galactica, the amazement was more about how such feeble dreck managed to run so many seasons, and gather so many 10-star reviews.

"Trapped" (2015)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Superb Mystery from an Unlikely Source, 6 June 2016
10/10

Like a lot of people, I started watching Trapped because of the novelty of seeing a show made in Iceland. But when I finished the series, I had to admit: it's as good as the very best cop/mystery shows out of the UK, or anywhere else.

Trapped has several things going for it:

* The location, and the (icy-cold) atmosphere. What a great concept: a horrible murder, and all the suspects snowed-in in a tiny Icelandic town. (It reminded me of the excellent horror-adventure, 30 Days of Night.)

* The characters. The creators of this show must have used every top actor in Iceland, and even then they had to borrow some. But every role is beautifully played, and intelligently written. Every person depicted in this series has a believable personality, and even the villains remain believable and sympathetic.

* The plot. Unlike so many mysteries, Trapped is resolved in a totally plausible way. There are no lapses in logic, no improbable contrivances. Just human greed and stupidity, playing out in the way you'd expect. This is what really wins that 10/10 rating from me. Very few TV mysteries manage to come up with a really credible plot.

Trapped works perfectly on every level: as adventure, drama and mystery. Bear up with the subtitles (or brush up your Icelandic), and see this show as soon as possible. And join me in hoping that its creators have a lot more like it in store.

Lavish production of threadbare concept, 1 June 2016
6/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

As a long-time fan of Guillermo del Toro's films, I found Crimson Peak very disappointing. del Toro's trademark visuals are wasted on a painfully obvious and rather perfunctory story. Where films like Cronos and Mimic were memorably creepy, Crimson Peak is merely gory, gaudy and uninvolving.

The film starts well, with aspiring American author Edith Cushing falling for ne'er-do-well English aristocrat Thomas Sharpe. The period atmosphere feels authentic, and the conflicts in 19th Century Buffalo, NY, have a nice Masterpiece Theater quality.

Unfortunately, all this is abandoned about a third of the way into the film. The setting shifts to the ludicrously hokey-looking Allerdale Hall, ancestral home of the Sharpe family. And the story dissolves into a morass of tired plot elements, thrown into a blender and splattered randomly onto the screen. The obligatory jump-scares quickly become predictable, and eventually tedious.

Along the way, the ghost-story sub-plot that we started out with becomes increasingly superfluous. Edith's background and literary ambitions similarly seem important at first, but end up playing no role whatsoever in the story. In fact, character plays almost no role at all, in what gradually devolves into a paint-by-numbers story, where we recognize the players mainly by their resemblance to characters in older and far better films.

(Mild spoilers.) The ending is incongruously action-oriented, completely abandoning any pretense at Gothic atmosphere - or at real drama. Characters survive unbelievable violence, make inexplicable personality shifts, and eventually just hack away at each other more in the style of Hong Kong action films than of Victorian melodrama.(End spoilers.)

I think I can dimly make out what Del Toro was reaching for. But it's not like it just slipped out of his grasp - it's pretty clear he never really had any handle on it at all. Crimson Peak is a lush and passably diverting film, but one of Del Toro's weakest efforts overall.

Brilliant new addition to the zombie genre, 1 June 2016
9/10

I'm truly astounded by the mediocre rating for this superb little film. The Battery has humor, horror, character and visual style. It packs more cleverness into each scene than most movies - including those with 10 or 100 times the budget - manage in their entire length.

The story is deliberately slim: two average guys (who happen to be baseball players) wander the countryside some time after the zombie apocalypse. One of them is easy going, happy to take each day as it comes. The other is lonely, living in denial and longing for his old life and our vanished civilization. That contrast is played out in a series of vignettes, each with a sly and subtle point.

The dialog is very sharp, and the two leads are played to perfection. The pace and style of the film are unusual: it really feels like a camping holiday, where there's no hurry about anything. It's also hilariously self-aware. This is the kind of zombie movie where the characters have actually seen every previous zombie movie. Call it a post-zombie road-trip movie. It comments on the genre, while extending it in an interesting new direction. It lets us get to know its characters, slowly but thoroughly, and shows us how average people might really feel in a world empty of people but filled with undead menace.

The ending came as a bit of a surprise to me, but it made more and more sense the longer I thought about it. This definitely is a movie you'll want to think about. One that will stay with you. Top-notch, on every level.

0 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Far and Away the Best DC Series, 27 May 2016
9/10

The low score for this series is rather sad. DC finally gets it right, but of course, everybody wants something else... who knows what. Ignore the cynics: Supergirl excels on every count: casting, mood, visuals, character and even plot (typically DC's Achilles heel). As a bonus, it superbly captures that old-time DC feeling - without becoming either syrupy or campy.

Some may argue that the series is too soft, too childish. That's absurd. There are lots of harsh events in this show - a number of brutal and very significant deaths, for a start. What critics are shying away from isn't childishness, it's *innocence*. Something that's out of fashion, much to the detriment of our entire culture.

But that's exactly the theme here: innocence vs cynicism. Simplicity vs complexity. And, yes, good vs evil. We see the original 1959 Supergirl, facing ills that are essentially modern. She wants to fight evil without becoming part of an evil world, without losing the essential innocence that gives her her strength. That's a really powerful idea. It's what the best of us are trying to do every day: overcome the horrible problems facing our world, without becoming cynical, defeatist, negative (or *old*).

It's what makes a hero: resisting evil not with a gun, or with your fists, but denying it with your very nature.

Melissa Benoist is perfectly cast, as a very human young woman, unsure of her abilities, her social standing, her emotions - and yet both deeply caring and fundamentally tough. She out-shines every screen version of Superman by light years, because she actually has a strong personality - one that's depicted vividly, and which sits squarely at the core of all the stories.

In a way, it might be fair to say that Supergirl is the 'chick-flick' of DC superhero shows. In the sense that it deals with emotion seriously, frankly, realistically. It never cops out with the make-believe angst of a show like Arrow. Instead, it shows us *genuine* affection between Kara and her sister, *genuine* friendship between Supergirl and Hank Henshaw. It shows us strong, painfully real emotions as they are sorely tested - but never bent or trivialized just for the convenience of a bonehead plot.

Supergirl is far and away the best TV series DC has done so far (other than Gotham, of course, which isn't really a 'superhero' show), the one DC series that really has some dramatic meat on its bones. It's exactly because Supergirl succeeds as drama that it's able to present us with a super-heroine who's worthy of the name.

I enjoy the other DC shows, but Supergirl is the only one that has me counting the days between episodes.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Excellent Remake, 28 March 2016
9/10

Remakes are repugnant in principle, but they can occasionally be worthwhile, if the people making them actually have something new to say. That's definitely the case with The Good Thief.

Jean-Pierre Melville's 1956 Bob le Flambeur is a quirky but masterful film. It's also flawed in many ways. Its most obvious limitation is the leading man, Roger Duchesne, who clearly lacks the charisma required by the part. Melville worked on the cheap, and couldn't afford a big-name star. Neil Jordan rectifies that problem beautifully; Nick Nolte is absolutely the perfect choice to play Bob Montagné.

Bob le Flambeur also has a very peculiar loping pace, which adds to its charm, but works against its logic. Things in Melville's films seem to happen almost at random; characters often come and go, win or lose, for little obvious reason. Jordan adds several levels to Meleville's original plot, making it flow more smoothly and rationally. In the process, he turns The Good Thief into a rather different film - more of a complex heist caper, compared to Melville's simpler mood piece.

Nonetheless, The Good Thief does retain Melville's fundamental affection for the central character. In fact, we get a deeper look at Bob, who has now added a drug habit to his other vices. Jordan also does a lot more work to 'sell' the original ending. He gives us a more explicit interpretation - it's all about doing things with style. This is Jordan's personal commentary on a film he obviously admires.

Of course, despite its flaws (or perhaps because of them), Bob le Flambeur is clearly a ground-breaking masterpiece. The Good Thief is not. It's merely a very good film - likable, clever, insightful, less frustrating and far more entertaining than the original. It's not so much a remake as a reinterpretation. It deepens our appreciation of the original, but also stands alone as a fine work in its own right.

In short, I'd recommend both films very highly. See Bob le Flambeur when you're in the mood for a breakthrough art film, graced with moody black-and-white photography of 1950s Paris. See The Good Thief when you'd prefer a colorful caper film with strong characters and some real philosophical depth.

Enemy (2013)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Artistically crafted but not worth it, 13 March 2016
4/10

Any movie that needs footnotes to explain it is simply too obscure for its own good. But the real problem with Enemy is that it can't make up its mind what it's trying to be.

It's pretty obvious early on that we're watching a battle between two aspects of the same personality. But the film spends most of its length debating the irrelevant mechanics of that duality, rather than deepening its metaphorical interpretation. Why does the hero have a duplicate? How exact is the similarity? Where does the doppelganger live? Does he like blueberries? Such details build our impression that there's some fascinating real-world explanation for what's happening. Then the film hits us with a symbolic ending that invalidates most of what we've seen.

This fundamental switcheroo leaves audiences not enlightened, or thoughtful, but merely confused and annoyed.

What's more, Enemy stretches to 90 minutes a plot that would barely suffice for a half-hour Twilight Zone episode. Every take in the film is interminable. Every conversation consists largely of endless silences. This excitement is further padded out by extensive travelog views of Toronto. Now, I like a slow-moving art film as much as anyone. (I loved Revanche, for instance.) But in Enemy all the slow pace does is prevent us from learning anything interesting about the main character.

If you'd care to see the same 'alternate life' theme worked out far more successfully, try the brilliant Australian film Me Myself I. It wastes no time on discussions of its fantasy framework, and gets on with amusing and thought-provoking revelations about the protagonist's inner struggle. It also finds time to pack in a number of endearing secondary characters, while Enemy merely tries to entertain us with lingering shots of empty rooms.

Good Genre Film, 13 March 2016
8/10

I'm not sure what baggage I was supposed to bring to my viewing of World War Z, but I guess it got left behind, because I couldn't see much wrong with the film. It's an above-average entry in the zombie genre, and sufficiently well made to amuse casual viewers as well.

World War Z reminded me of several other films I've greatly enjoyed. It has the fast zombies and epidemiological viewpoint of 28 Days Later. It has the exciting round-the-world quest of Roland Emmerich's 2012. And it even borrows a bit from the cult favorite Plane Dead. The action sequences are spectacular, the acting is solid, and the whole package is very satisfying.

It's true, there are a few obvious lapses in logic, but nothing that shouldn't be forgivable in a genre film like this. An early example: if the plague takes 12 seconds to convert a living human into a zombie (a novel idea, in itself), how could it be spread by air travellers? Everyone on board a plane ought to be dead before the doors are sealed. But the general sense of the film is good. All you need to know is it's a contagion, and we need to fight it using medical science, as opposed to, say, wooden stakes and garlic.

World War Z won't be mistaken for a work of genius, but it is a lot of fun. Break out the popcorn, and don't let nit-picking reviews put you off.

Truth (2015)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Better than Spotlight - but not as rosy, 6 March 2016
10/10

I loved Spotlight - it's a great docu-drama about an important story. But Truth is an even better film, telling an even more important story. The journalists in Spotlight do great work in 'outing' chronic sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. But that kind of victory is impossible without free and courageous media organizations to support investigative journalists when they need to go out on a limb.

In a way, Truth is a sequel to the excellent 1999 film The Insider, which showed how 60 Minutes gave in, at least temporarily, to corporate pressure. In Truth, we see the the final slide of 60 Minutes into gutless irrelevance. The organization fails to protect one of its own producers - someone who did the due diligence, and then came under attack simply because of the politically charged subject matter.

Do we know the absolute 'truth' of the story? Of course not - no one ever does. What we do know is that the network should have fought back, as opposed to throwing two of its best journalists to the wolves. ANY sufficiently important reporting runs the risk of angering those it talks about. Journalists routinely apologize for obvious procedural errors - failing to check a source, for example. But when they've gone through the process scrupulously, they MUST be able to trust that they have the support of the organization behind them. Otherwise, far too many vital stories simply become too dangerous to tackle. A program like 60 Minutes earns its keep by daring to tread where others fear to go.

Now, I've never felt that Dan Rather was a 'great' journalist. He's not one of those people who digs through trash bins, or meets confidential sources in a car park, or risks his life on the front lines in East Timor or Afghanistan. But he's also a guy who's shown great integrity, both before and after leaving CBS. I've seen the disappointment and disillusionment in his eyes, when the media system he so strongly believed in let him down.

Truth is the story of how that happened. It's a tale of a lion being torn apart by jackals. It offers no heroes, and, with doubtless intentional irony, provides no clear truths. The film shows how murky things can get in the world of journalism - and how in those moments, the lack of strong ideals will allow the worst elements to triumph.

A lot has been said about the 'bias' of the movie and its protagonists. This is, of course, a red herring. EVERYONE has a point of view. Anyone who claims to be omnisciently 'fair and balanced' is merely keeping their bias hidden, rather than admitting it honestly. Great journalism is routinely achieved by imperfect, 'biased' reporters, by relentlessly focusing on the FACTS. Personal feelings become irrelevant, motivations become irrelevant - the only thing that counts are the facts you can dig up, to back your contentions.

Unfortunately, in the real world those facts are often slippery, elusive, and subject to denial, or erosion by intimidation. We see this in Truth. Sometimes, you simply can't be 100% sure - but you may still be more than sure enough to air the story. You can, and sometimes must, 'report the controversy.' (Climate Change deniers do it with impunity, even when they have only 0.1% support from the scientific body of facts.) In the case depicted by Truth, the degree of certainty is judged to be high enough, not just by the reporter (Mapes), but also by the anchor (Rather), and by higher-ups throughout the CBS chain of command. How much fact-checking is enough? Absolute 100% certainty is unattainable. Only a craven, worthless news organization abandons journalists who in good conscience go with 99%, or 90%, or even 80%. The result is a tame lap-dog press, that can never tackle anything important, or put forward a controversial allegation.

As far as filmmaking, Truth is superb. Redford is a bit old for his part, but he succeeds admirably in evoking the bluff mannerisms and likable frankness of Dan Rather. Blanchett is fabulous, depicting a person under unbearable strain, who nonetheless manages to keep her dignity.

Bottom line: Spotlight rightly celebrates one of journalism's bigger successes of recent years. But Truth is the better film, and takes on the more important job of shining a light on one of journalism's most shameful failures.


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