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Class of '76 (2005)
Variable thriller saved by good acting
As others have written, this thriller starts out as an enthralling and incomprehensible mystery. A young man appears to commit suicide after visiting the site where a classmate was murdered thirty years before. It seems he is haunted by the murder, or is he threatened by the murderer, who has never been caught? Robert Carlyle, who, as usual, gives an excellent performance, plays the detective investigating the mysterious death. However, the show spends a lot of time with spooky photography, revisiting the original murder, and with Carlyle driving up and down country lanes to the town where the murder was committed. We have the usual dimwit Chief Inspector telling him to back off, the somewhat clodhopping junior officer doing it all wrong, and Carlyle taking leave to continue with his investigation because of his obsession with the case. The second episode loses the plot a bit, and it becomes irritating as the plot becomes silly. It was an interesting mystery, well acted, but the end is more than a bit daft and I ended up not feeling very satisfied by it.
State of Mind (2003)
Trite and trash
Utterly predictable silly show about a man who has killed his wife by mowing her down when driving and claimed he had blacked out. Why was he still driving a car? Why did he still feel able to drive a car having killed his wife with one? This question has not occurred to the writers. The story then witters on about a psychologist and her failing marriage which is tied into the failing marriage of wife-killing blackout driver. An omniscient mother and one dimensional child are thrown in for good measure, and the whole builds up to a predictable denouement and crashing finale. Are police psychologists so easily taken in? Deadful writing that the actors do their best with, but they are doomed to failure. This is on a par with a Harlequin Romance. Don't waste your time watching this one unless that's what you are aiming for.
Waking the Dead (2000)
Ridiculous but enjoyable
Just watched another episode of this - it becomes more annoying each time. Supt. Boyd attempts to murder a suspect, with no repercussions at all! Grace Foley apparently thinks this is OK. All the forensic experts are swanning about leaving hair and fiber all over the car they are testing - oops, sorry, Felix is the only expert on everything here, she's even a dentist! Or rather not, since she fails to notice that the person she's investigating has had very recent extensive dental work (taking impressions of a denture?). I guess there's no story in sending samples off for examination by other experts. It's a joy to watch the excellent acting, the characters are interesting, but common sense is thrown out of the window in the pseudo-science practiced here. However, if you keep a sense of humor it's enjoyable. Or is it in fact a comedy anyway?
What a waste
The show is a docudrama using original film footage from the 1940's, the true stories of soldiers from the British Army, and adding written drama to tell the story of Dunkirk. Actors took the part of the ordinary soldiers, army officers and government officials, including Winston Churchill, and the whole had intense and dramatic narration by Timothy Dalton. I thought the idea of taking real stories and making a show with the old film and narration was a good one. I have no objection to black and white footage, indeed I found it added to the interest and drama. However, I found the show unwatchable owing to the director's idea of adding immediacy by fancy camera angles and jiggling the camera about. Good dialog and direction added to the superb acting here make this unnecessary. It was ghastly to watch and made me seasick even before the boats arrived. What a waste of good ideas and a great story.
Well, okay, we have the starring cast, but what a waste. A dreadful screenplay hardly touches the original story, with the ridiculous insertion of scenes not in the book and not relevant. The story is transposed from the Thirties to the Fifties, and we viewers are not expected to understand virginal elderly spinsters, so Miss Marple is given a love story. Give me strength! None of the delicious understatement some of us can appreciate as shown in the 1980's adaptations, just foolishness and "over the top" comedy. There is no delicate manipulation of the viewer, just crass bumbling about - Colonel Protheroe shouting in church, Jane Asher being obscene at tea. Miss Marple carries a carpet bag around (for her knitting? and to church?) rather than a handbag. Seems to me that the screenwriter needs to read Christie's writing and study the period a bit. I'm sure Geraldine McEwan could have made a splendid Miss Marple, but this ghastly adaptation doesn't give her a chance, and none of the other cast members stand one either. Quite dreadful.
Stone Cold (2005)
Great acting, photography, pity about the story
Tom Selleck once again proves his strength as an actor in this TV-movie. He is ably supported by the rest of the cast, and the photography and direction create the small town atmosphere very well. However, the story does not match up - a simplistic tale with so many unreal features as to make it annoying. There is very little gritty and explicit violence in this movie, but much of the tale fails to make sense. It seems improbable to me that a small town police chief would not get some help from state police when confronted with a serial killer. A teenage girl who has been assaulted as badly as the story says would be far more affected than the sunny girl we see here. The final scene and its set up are ridiculous. That said, it's an easy watch for a Sunday movie, the music is pleasant and atmospheric, and the acting is a joy to watch.
Scottish Soap Opera
An evening soap opera, about a mountain rescue team in the Highlands of Scotland. I enjoyed the lovely Scottish scenery and the acting. Lots of cute guys and girls here, doing brave things. The stories were often interesting, but in too many ways they were over- contrived. I kept imagining REAL mountain rescue crews watching this show and cringing about the stupidity of the TV "heroes", week by week doing things I am sure (I really hope!) no trained rescuer would do - rushing in to rescue someone before calling for backup is a theme. However, it was worth watching for the acting, scenery, and soap opera aspect (somehow a soap with Scots accent is more alluring), and it was a nice salute to the real-life heroes whose bravery it portrayed.
The Pallisers (1974)
They really don't make them like this any more - nearly 20 hours of TV devoted to six Trollope novels. The costumes are fabulous, the sets lavish, the acting superb. The whole is set around the characters of Lady Glencora Palliser (Susan Hampshire) and her husband, Plantagenet (Philip Latham), who string the various stories together more or less loosely. We start out with a miserable and rebellious Glencora and her arranged marriage with Plantagenet, follow the tale of Alice Vavasour and her suitors, then continue with Phineas Finn and his turbulent life. On to the wicked Lizzie Eustace, back to Phineas and then on to poor Emily Wharton. The last chapter is about the Duke's children, Silverbridge, Mary and Gerald. Around these central characters you have a huge cast of supporting characters, every one of them beautifully portrayed. The series has stood the test of time very well indeed, probably because they did it all well to begin with - the costumes all authentic and hand made, no zippers here! What a delight.
Midsomer Murders (1997)
Purely escapist fun
The series is set in idyllic English countryside with beautiful villages and archetypical inhabitants. It's fun to watch as Barnaby and Troy are amusing, the stories are fairly good and they are a pleasant break from the hard and gripping detective shows that leave a nasty taste in the mouth. The stories are not demanding, police procedure is appalling, we all know England is not like this, but if you want an enjoyable show with a detective story, I recommend it.
The Cater Street Hangman (1998)
This is a well acted TV mystery movie. I have not read the book on which it is based, but it is a story about young women being strangled in London in the 19th century, and the circumstances surrounding the investigation of two of the murders. Several characters emerge from these investigations to jolly the story along.
However, I found the characters to be stereotypical and shallow. The movie's view of the 19th century is lightweight, and all the characters - dastardly males, entrenched class snobs, decent humble servants, rebellious daughters, caring professional policemen, etc. - are cardboard cut-outs. I found the story to be crushingly predictable and boring.
If you like easy dramas, you will enjoy this.
Déjà Vu (1997)
What a truly ghastly film. How did they get the starring cast (Anna Massey, Vanessa Redgrave, Stephen Dillane) to take part in this indulgence by the Jaglom family? A silly story about destiny, fate, etc, destroying people's lives, pretending to be one about the destiny of love. It made me cross that I wasted my time watching it. Don't waste yours, unless you feel like watching a mindless sloppy romance on a par with daytime TV soap operas, in which case take out the Kleenex and candy and have a gooey afternoon.
My Hero (2000)
The best comedy shows are where the actors all seem to have fun working together, and you get that feeling about My Hero. It's really good fun. This is only a knock-off of Superman, or Lois and Clark, in that the basic idea of a super hero is the same. There the similarities end. Ardal O'Hanlan is superb with his dead-pan delivery, and is ably backed up by the rest of the regular cast, which includes a completely insane neighbor whose world is sanely comprehensible, an ego-centric doctor, enough said, and the receptionist at the doctor's office, whom we have all met in one role or another. Back this up with a foil to them in the hero's long-suffering girlfriend, and you have a combination which is hard to beat. I love the clever writing and snappy dialog. A Great Show.