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218 reviews in total 
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"Merlí" (2015)
3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
A hidden soap opera treasure, 11 October 2016

No reviews to date? Seriously? One supposes that is mainly because it speaks a language (Catalán) with which relatively few Europeans or Americans are familiar. Yet it appears regularly on YouTube with Spanish and even on occasion badly translated English subtitles. No excuses, however. A splendidly scripted, acted, and filmed TV series like this deserves better attention.

The narrative centers on a teacher and his philosophy class in a contemporary Barcelona high school. Each episode follows the teacher's life both at home and in the context of how he interacts with a specific set of acquaintances drawn from that milieu. No punches are pulled where the tone and depth of such relationships are concerned; fine and coarse language intermingle freely, as do sexual tensions involving all the characters.

But the most surprising aspect to me is how thoroughly expert and technically adept an obviously low budget film from a region lying at the northern extremity of its EU country succeeds in every way at generating a first-class production. I like everything about it: the musical track, the use of lighting, the camera work, and the direction. It is equally startling to discover in a minor TV series actors of all ages and kinds delivering top performances. Any language barrier fades away, almost as if it were a silent film with subtitles barely visible.

Now in its second season, this one should be a "must see" for the avid film fan.

"Bosch" (2014)
Plots, 31 August 2016

For the last fifteen years I have made it a habit of taking one or two Michael Connelly novels with me on flights and cruises. Second only to the works of Raymond Chandler, they bring to life a unique urban Los Angeles underworld few others have managed to portray well. In the current TV series based piecemeal on those novels, the literary tradition marches on.

Some viewers will quibble with visual and historical anomalies in this TV production. But showing a sunrise which is really a sunset over a real place is nothing to get excited about. The main question for me is how casting of actors based on characters from the novels enhances rather than detracts from familiar mental images. I think it was wise to find a new face for Bosch...not some megastar.

Titus Welliver is not a bad choice for Harry Bosch. He gets the part at least 80% right, which is no small achievement. The physicality of Harry Bosch in scene after scene is that of a tough but reluctant warrior, relieved only by moments of sentimentality when his favorite music is played or one of the many beautiful women in his life come on screen. My sole reservation has to do with the actor's failure to engage the character in those moments as a laid back and ironically bemused human being, unlike a programmed machine bearing a fixed gaze of determined intent. That may be the scriptwriter's fault. Bosch in the novels seems far more relaxed, more able to slouch into a room rather than attacking it.

Still, this series is a welcome addition to the oeuvre of Michael Connelly.

Mr. Chambers, 12 June 2016

An alcoholic skirt-chasing priest, a timid gay curate, a five-foot police inspector who wears a six-foot overcoat in all kinds of weather, and a stern housekeeper with a heart of gold. Who wouldn't love it? This is the stuff of British Soaps invading Masterpiece Theater, albeit cast in the popularly retro 1950's. Or at least what a politically correct screen writer in 2014 imagines the 1950's to have been.

Seriously, I enjoy flawed stereotypes as a rule, and this one takes the cake. No Father Brown sly jokes here. Just all very earnest sentimental twaddle (as my favorite lit prof used to call it). I guess it's even been renewed for a third season. Great fun! I wonder what twisted deeds will work their way into the next few episodes, making fun of fallen icons...especially those in the Church of England. And making us feel good that that those bad old days are behind us.

I have a good idea for a 45-minute plot: have the priest fall for a gorgeous woman who wants desperately to be a priest but can't wait for the 21st Century to make it a reality. He can switch her off with all the other women in town, agonizing as his raging hormones drive him to drink and despair. He is then saved by her eventually deciding to be a deaconess, whilst he takes his dog for a walk before going over to give his cop mate a big hug.

Wait a minute! I think that will sell equally well over at Hollyoaks.

"Occupied" (2015)
1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
In the Shadow of WWII, 21 March 2016

Having read as a boy Steinbeck's under-appreciated novel The Moon Is Down about Norway occupied by Germans for the entire 1940-1945 period, I am always fascinated by newer incarnations of that terrible time. Make no mistake: this TV series "Occupied" strives for the same contrast between patriotism and pragmatism that characterized life in Norway under Quisling, an uneasy military occupation depending on good compromised by evil and vice versa. It is an important narrative only in that sense. The plot is otherwise a mixed bag of tantalizing suspense and odd threads that go absolutely nowhere.

In the first place, the premise is absurd. Oil and gas as sources of energy are offset in the real world by increasing natural-based modes of generation. The idea of some new factory using a process similar to nuclear fission saving the world from climate change is pointless.

I think the intended audience for the series must be solely Norwegian. It surely will not appeal to EU citizens, nor will it carry much weight in the English-speaking world in spite of having many scenes carried forward in that language. And Russians are xenophobic enough without thrusting this in their faces.

Not that its cast is lacking in looks or talent; whatever value the story has rests on their shoulders. Nor is technique or cinematic quality in question. It is a beautifully filmed rendering of a beautiful country.

My advice: trim it down to a feature-length film. Tighten up the plot and make it relate to actual political possibilities rather than hypothetical and nonsensical ones.

4 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Disappointing, 19 February 2016

Good production values and acting go to waste on this mini-series which just completed a run on BBC America. I hate to say it, but any thought of a renewal to the series involving further trials and travails of Danny would be still greater waste. The weight of a complicated and largely unbelievable plot flatten any prospect of improvement.

I was tempted to stop watching at about the halfway point in the second episode but curiosity got the better of me. As in most thrillers relying on suspense before a final reveal, a saving grace in even the most dismal of them can be superb acting by well-known performers. This series has that in abundance. But the plot is truly ridiculous, relying on some overarching conspiracy without a shred of evidence beyond the fact that Danny's lover carried with him secrets about all the major intelligence networks in the world. Coded, of course. And seemingly everyone outside Danny's circle of friends was in on it. Truly pretentious drivel.

Then Charlotte Rampling came on in a role reminiscent of that played by Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate. Almost a wicked mother or stepmother as they case may be. I suppose this was intended to be a powerful redeeming force to answer all questions leftover to episode five. What nonsense! Perhaps the writer intended to leave enough on the table to ensure a renewal. Vain hope.

Codebreaker (2011) (TV)
3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Sometimes a Cigar is Just a Cigar, 6 February 2016

After having found this obscure docudrama on Netflix I decided to look in at its various reviews on IMDb. My curiosity in the first place came from watching The Imitation Game from 2015 and wondering what else was out there on the subject of Alan Turing. I had read a good deal about him over the years but was unaware that there were several other biopics based on his life story.

Only a handful of reviews on this one, despite the popularity of others? I was intrigued. Ed Stoppard's credits on IMDb fail even to mention it. Was it really that insignificant, or a bad film?

Not at all. It is a fine piece of work, combining fact and fiction in an artful and satisfying excellent accompaniment to The Imitation Game for anyone who found, as I did, the more recent Cumberbatch portrayal mysterious and vague. Codebreaker for all its faults in not going far enough into the science of computing does indeed reflect the real man and those who were integral participants in his life and tragedy. It pulls no punches. Although the role of the psychoanalyst is a throwaway gimmick, I cannot fault the Stoppard performance. It informs cold documentation very well indeed.

Nine out of ten marks without any hesitation.

6 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Annoying, but Superb, 24 November 2015

So many successful sitcoms depend on likable buffoons as major characters that one's first impression of "Josh" is that he is just another self-deprecating target for stale jokes about his shortcomings. In this case, the eponymous actor/creator moves well beyond the predictable into a realm of hyper-originality rarely seen in a TV series. Nothing here is predictable. Each scene, each comedic line, each nuance bordering on serious personality issues comes across as going against the grain of laugh track one-liners.

I viewed the first two seasons in quick sequence to determine some thread justifying the title "Please Like Me." There is so much more than that at work here I came to the conclusion that "Josh" intends his imperative to apply to the entire narrative rather than just himself. None of the main characters is one-dimensional. Each one stands alone in all sorts of revealing personal aspects. Attraction of one to another is quickly reversed or brought down to earth before sentimental attachments rear up to spoil the moment.

Of course "Josh" is unerringly annoying. Surrounded by bipolar types and deliberately handsome but flawed lovers he has little choice.

This is a fascinating series, which I hope to be able to follow as it progresses.

Wasp (2015)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Good Effort, 21 November 2015

This rather sluggish film more than makes up for its pretentious script by capturing the Luberon in all its summery glory. Every frame offers something pleasing to the eye, like a Bourdain travel piece without political commentary. Its sound is also technically sharp and appropriate, as in in one scene where characters play with watercolors as part of the plot.

Yes...the plot. More neurotic than erotic, if truth be told. It takes more than two-thirds of the film to get to the point, which is less cathartic than anticlimactic. It reminded me of a dozen or so short stories I have read over the years in which one or another love triangle drags along to its inevitable end, which can be either highly dramatic or cleverly understated. Boring.

These independent films always take too long, whether in single camera shots that linger on pointlessly or in spoken lines that the viewer can almost speak simultaneously as the character's lips move.

Pretty forgettable stuff, except for the landscape.

"Narcos" (2015)
2 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
The Problem With Docudramas, 4 October 2015

Most crime stories on film exist solely as commercial exploitation of thinly disguised news reports of actual crimes. This is no exception. The documentary aspect of "Narcos" is a loosely narrated voice-over in English that provides historical perspective as filmed characters based on real persons speak largely in Spanish with English subtitles. The visual aspect on the other hand is criminal violence contrasted with everyday human values common to members of the average audience. Scenes of family life, a little comedy, a little irony are never far from moments of intense dramatic action.

The viewer must judge whether "Narcos" captures accurately its time, place, and facts while he/she simultaneously appreciates acting and production values based on the relative skill of the film's creators. This is no easy task, because history is often defined by one's prejudices and a multilingual script spoken by actors from several different countries complicates the whole thing. A quick read of reviews previously contributed prove the point.

"Narcos" at present (end of the first season) is just OK from my perspective...nothing great but far from boring. Living on the Mexican border as I do and knowing lots (yes, lots) of people on both sides of the law, I am compelled to be probably more critical of this production than I should be. But there are far worse examples of films out there dealing with drug smuggling both then and now.

Seashore (2015)
13 out of 19 people found the following review useful:
Vaguely Interesting, 7 September 2015

Here is an example of self-conscious introspection going in too many directions at once. Bad enough for the viewer trying to cope with shaky frames from hand-held cameras, even worse when the narrative slows for long, heavy pauses in either words or actions. One wonders why so many low budget films share this phenomenon. It is tempting to call out to the screen, "Get on with it, already!"

Still, there is charm in the notion that two young friends can figuratively swim their way, as ocean sounds play in the distance, through casual interruptions in a simple assignment to locate and retrieve a family document of some importance as they visit a beach house in the cold of winter. It might even be possible to salvage this film by cutting out totally irrelevant scenes that serve only to provide background for their respective characters. A filmmaker's self-indulgence in attempting to recreate a familiar story from his or her past reminds me of how quickly I run away whenever someone says, "To make a long story short..." which in fact becomes a stream of consciousness without an end.

Indeed, there is no clear end to this film. It just goes on and on.

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