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317 reviews in total 
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Perfect Casting and About as Good a Literary Adaptation as You Can Find!, 14 December 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Jeeves and Wooster is the perfect blend of writing and casting. PG Wodehouse is one of the giants of English humor and a prodigious author. His best known characters are Bertie Wooster and his valet and tremendous intellect Jeeves. Jeeves first meets up with Bertie when he is deep in the hold of a massive hangover and Jeeves conjures up the cure to end all cures. From that point on, the pair are inseparable, except for brief moments of insanity, usually caused by Bertie.

The stories are the epitome of the servant who is more able than the master. This is especially true as Bertie is the scion of a wealthy family and pursues no work (though he will flee from it). He is an amiable chap, who tends to get on well with most people, apart from his domineering Aunt Agatha, the odious Roderick Spode, and the occasional nemesis. Bertie spends most of his time visiting friends and relatives or passing the time at the Drones Club (aptly named for a group the produces very little). More often than not, it is this circle of friends (or relatives) that pulls Bertie into some farcical situation from which Jeeves must extricate him, via his massive brain power.

Jeeves is the brains of the outfit and his advice and intellect are sought by all. he is content to serve his master, who he sees as a good soul, provided that he learns his place when it comes to selecting his wardrobe, wearing a mustache, and keeping himself from harm's way (read: marriage). Jeeves keeps the wheels spinning, solves the problems, and devises schemes to maintain his position and influence.

The rest of the characters are made up of the monied classes, with names like Bingo Little, Tuppy Gloster, Madeline Basset, Barmy Fortheringay Phipps, and Gussy Finknottle; all uniquely English names, and ones that require money to exist. There is Bertie's more likable aunt Dalia, who pulls Bertie into some scheme to gain Jeeves brainpower, often relating to her publication, Milady's Boudoir. It's all silly, often confusing; but always fun.

Clive Exton does a masterful job adapting Wodehouse and watching the program is much like reading the books and stories. Hugh Laurie is the perfect Bertie Wooster, an amiable idiot and Laurie knows the type well, and played it often, before House came calling. Stephen Fry has the brains to match Jeeves and excels at portraying Jeeves steady manner, and cunning nature. he is precise in his movements, as a master servant would be. He's younger than the literary character; but perfectly suited to the man. The rest of the cast would shift a bit and characters can be a bit confusing because of the recasting and similar personalities. Wodehouse had little use for the monied types, though he came from that world. He pokes fun at them at every turn and makes a delightful concoction out of them.

The series is at it's best for the first two series, and at its weakest in the fourth; but, even weak Jeeves & Wooster is heads and shoulders above the rest. There is a sameness about many of Wodehouse's stories and characters, though they are still delightful, all the same.

If you love farce or character-driven humor, the series will delight and if you just want good writing and acting it has it in spades. The series brought me to Wodehouse and I have relished the man's work ever since.

Charming, If Slightly Improbable Romance, 30 November 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Writer Richard Curtis set out to answer a question: What if I showed up to a regular get-together with friends, accompanied by the World's Most Famous Woman? This is his answer. Hugh Grant plays a bookshop owner, in Notting Hill, who lives his life within a very small area. Of course, as these things go, he has a chance encounter with Julia Roberts, who is stretching her acting muscles by playing a famous, superstar actress. After an awkward first encounter, a series of events lead to a slightly more charming, if improbable second encounter. From there, an incredulous, and rocky romance develops.

As with four Weddings and a Funeral, the film is largely a series of sketches, driven by dialogue between the characters. Curtis excels at this kind of stuff and his scripts have memorable exchanges. Perhaps his plots are a bit far fetched, though stranger things have been known to happen. They do tend to tread a bit on a romantic fantasy of life; but it is a romantic comedy, after all.

The cast are first rate, with Hugh Grant returning to the Curtis world as yet another charming, awkward man. He can pretty much play this part in his sleep. Julia Roberts plays a version of herself, though with a bit of tweaking here and there. The rest of the cast are filled with terrific character actors, including Curtis alumni Tim McInnerny (Black Adder series) and Emma Chambers (Vicar of Dibley), as well as newcomers Gina McKee, Hugh Bonneville, James Dreyfuss and Rhys Ifans. Curtis knows how to write character pieces and these actors make music of his writing.

It's easy to pick apart the reality of the film, that a famous actress would find true love with an ordinary guy that she, literally, bumped into; but, the scenario is so wonderfully done that you don't really care. The chemistry between the leads makes you forget the plot holes and the rest of the cast create an atmosphere that would be attractive to anyone, famous or not. It doesn't have a huge laugh quotient, but peppers the film with some really great comedic moments to keep you amused, while it charms you and brings a tear or two to your eye (like the scenes at the park bench, or when Roberts is in Grant's shop, begging him to forgive her). You can dismiss it as forgettable fluff; but, chances are, you'll be swept up in it, even if it's for just a little while. That's what movies do.

One Ultra-Cool, If Slightly Goofy Series!, 16 November 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I only saw a few episodes of Johnny Sokko in my youth, but the imagery stuck in my head enough to buy the few Orion Pictures video releases and then the official DVD release. It's just a really fun, action-packed bit of 60s fun, with a slightly demented world on display.

Obviously, the series is the American redubbing of the Japanese series Giant Robo (or Jianto Robo). The names have been changed, though the premise is largely intact. The alien Emperor Guillotine seeks to conquer the Earth, through his criminal organization of thugs and monsters; and, what an organization it is! The Gargoyle Gang consists of beatnick Che Guevara/Nazi soldiers (with stylish wraparound sunglasses), a silver headed alien lieutenant with shelf- like eyebrow ridges (Dr. Botanus); a buck toothed, giant foreheaded, one legged lieutenant (Fangar); a one eyed playing card obsessive (Harlequin), and a nutjob in golden knight's armor (Goldennock). meanwhile, their leader is a cross-eyed alien, with tentacles hanging from his head. This bunch of misfits, along with their various monsters and weaponry, seek to subjugate the planet, for whatever reason. Opposing them is Unicorn a security organization that thinks it's OK for a little boy (and, later, a little girl) to casually be exposed to danger and carry a gun. To be fair, the kid seems to be the only one with any sense in the organization. They also seem to adopt stereotypical dress in their subsidiaries around the globe (tyrolean hats, turbans, etc...). The group usually needs the Giant Robot to get them out of a jam, though they do occasionally rescue the kid, so he can call in the robot.

The show is just a lot of fun, as so many adventure shows of the 60s were. They aren't too concerned with kids being exposed to violence, so there is a lot more action and drama, thanks to the dangers involved. This certainly stood out in the 70s, when I first saw the show. However, it is never gratuitously violent, or particularly bloody.

The show was essentially spawned by the success of Tsuburaya's Ultraman (though the series was adapted from a manga); but it proved groundbreaking, as many elements of it would go on to influence other Japanese adventure flair, like Gatchaman and the Sentai series that spawned the Power Rangers. Ultraman had better monster suits and battles, but Johnny Sokko had better action with the human cast, with a nice blend of spy-fi, monster fights, and giant mecha, much of which became a staple for other live action series from Toei.

This is definitely worth picking up for any fan of spy-fi, monster movies, or action-adventure, regardless of age.

Excellent Series, Which Serves as an "Unofficial" Sequel to Callan, 13 November 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Edward Woodward returned to television, on the other side of the pond, as a different burnt-out secret agent, Robert McCall. McCall bears more than a passing resemblance to David Callan, Woodward's iconic character from his British TV series. He has been used and abused for years, in the shadowy world of espionage, with its murky ethics and high body count. Unlike Callan, he is able to walk away from his masters, when he resigns, after a botched operation leads to the death of is charge. McCall, finding himself finally free of this dark world, decides he wants to do something to make the world better and using the skills that he has, advertises his services in the newspaper, as "The Equalizer," someone who evens the odds for those in trouble.

The series is one part spy-fi, one part private eye, and one part crime drama. Each week, McCall is contacted by someone in need and he responds, charging no fee (he is independently well off, thanks to information gained in his spy days, which allows him to make shrewd investments). Occasionally, he finds his services required by his old masters, via his former boss (and friend) Control. On other occasions, he uses his relationship with control to gain access to agents and resources of "the Agency" to aid in his mission.

The series makes great use of New York location shooting, while also creating an edgy visual style. Shadows are frequently used and the series plays upon urban fears, with various predators menacing his clients. It mixes high class living with squalid apartments and empty warehouse.

Edward Woodward is excellent as McCall, with the character's desire to bring justice and peace giving him ample opportunity to orate. McCall uses powerful speeches as much as powerful handguns. Woodward is at his best when he is raging against something, though he also excels at the quiet moments. He gives the character a well- rounded feel, aided by great writing, which emphasizes McCall's flaws as much as his virtues. McCall's calling has made him a poor father and he often uses guilt to attain favors from Control, yet rants when Control asks him to return the favor.

Apart from the hair and some of the clothes, the one element of the series that scream "the 80s" is the music from Stewart Copeland, the drummer for The Police. Copeland created the synth-heavy sound of the series, from the iconic opening theme, to the incidental music used throughout (again, heavy on synth and drums). However, it is such a part of the show that it never really seems archaic. The same could not be said with the music Copeland created for the Babylon 5 pilot movie ("The Gathering").

The series is filled with great guest actors, many of whom would go on to bigger things, like Vincent D'Onofrio, Kevin Spacey, Christian Slater, and others, while also making great use of classic actors like Robert Lansing (Gary 7, on Star Trek), Ron Neal (Superfly), Robert Mitchum, and Richard Jordan. It made great use of outstanding characters actors, drawn in, no doubt, by the quality writing.

This is a series worth watching and owning on home video. It was a stylish piece of TV, with great characters and excellent writing, and top notch performances.

Sequel That Helped Launch a Living Legend, 13 November 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This series was a sequel to the original Tiger Mask cartoon(and manga) and coincided with the debut of Satoru Sayama as the living Tiger Mask. New Japan Pro Wrestling licensed the character and put Sayam into the role. Sayama had extensive experience around the globe, wrestling in Mexico and the UK and incorporating elements of those styles into his matches. He debuted three days after the first broadcast of the new cartoon, complete with the same costume, facing Dynamite Kid, who he would go on to defeat for the WWF Jr. Heavyweight Championship, while also holding the NWA Jr. Heavyweight Championship. That popularity would outshine the cartoon.

The cartoon itself is typical of anime of the period, setting it apart from the more stylistic original cartoon. The original cartoon had more in common with Ikki Kajiwara's manga, with a "shetchier" style to it.

The new story features a new Tiger Mask, after Naoto Date has been killed rescuing a child from the path of a speeding car. Another orphan, Tatsuo Aku takes up his mantle. He soon finds himself facing an evil organization, bent on world domination.

This series has more of a superhero tone to it than the original and ran for 33 episodes, having far less of an impact that the original or the living Tiger Mask (Sayama). The animation is more fluid, though the story is less compelling and the only thing that really sets it apart from other anime of the period was the wrestling angle. As with the original, many actual wrestlers from the New Japan promotion appear in the cartoon, with promoter/star Antonio Inoki taking a stronger role than in the original (which was made during the days of the Japanese Wrestling Association, when Giant Baba was the star, with Inoki as his partner).

The series is enjoyable enough, though would more likely appeal to fans of Sayama, and wrestling in general.

Pretty Violent Stuff!!, 13 November 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I was a big fan of the original live incarnation of Tiger Mask, Satoru Sayama, and had heard there had been a manga and cartoon. Apart from two articles about the manga, I have never seen it. I had also not seen the cartoon, as it never made it to the US. Well, thanks to the internet and youtube, I have seen the first half dozen (of 105) episodes(in Italian!). The first thing that comes to mind is, man is this show violent! However, what little I saw of the manga was equally violent.

The series tells the story of Naoto Date, an orphan (who is fixated on tigers)who ran away to become a wrestler. he is trained by the notorious Tiger Cave organization, which produces the most brutal wrestlers in the world, in exchange for half of their earnings. Date eventually becomes Tiger Mask, one of the most feared wrestlers in the game. After a long stint in America, he returns to Japan to wrestle. While there, he is inspired to visit the orphanage he came from. It is now being run by one of his former friends and is in trouble with some crooks. Meanwhile, Tiger Mask is terrorizing the Japanese ring. Things come to a head, when Tiger Mask hears another orphan boy say he wants to be a villain, like Tiger Mask. Naoto, faced with the terror he sees from fans and with the lengths he went to get there realizes that he doesn't want to see another child become like him. He starts to change, providing money to keep the orphanage going. However, he also finds himself at odds with the Tiger Cave. He refuses to have anything more to do with them and now finds himself the target of the organization's heels. He must face each one in succession, each more vicious than the last.

The series mixes long dialogue scenes with violent action in the ring. As in the manga, actual Japanese and foreign wrestlers appear, though the likenesses leave a lot to be desired. Giant Baba, the star of and promoter of All-Japan wrestling is a central figure in Naoto's turn into a heroic wrestler, while stars like Antonio Inoki, Jack Brisko, Baron Scicluna, Freddie Blassie (complete with filed teeth!)and The Destroyer appear as themselves.

The story is engaging and the action plays well, though it becomes somewhat formulaic. The matches get wilder as things progress.

The series and the original manga proved popular enough that Antonio Inoki's New Japan Pro Wrestling licensed the character to create a live version, portrayed by Sayama, who had gained experience in Mexico and the UK, before coming back to Japan. he became the centerpiece to lively matches with some of the best high flying wrestlers in the world, with legendary bouts against the Dynamite Kid, Black Tiger (Mrc "Rollerball" Rocco), Kuniaki Kobayashi, Gran Hamada, Villano III, and Steve Wright (not the comedian, but an English wrestler, who is the father of Das Wunderkind Alex Wright, from WCW fame). It would lead to a second cartoon, Tiger Mask II.

Mildly Amusing, Rather Disappointing, 9 November 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I first heard about the Are You Being Served? movie in a book about the series. Our local PBS station eventually procured it and broadcast the film. Well, to say I was disappointed would be putting it mildly. If you had never seen the series before, the film is somewhat amusing; but, rarely laugh-out-loud funny. You really do have to have some acquaintance with the characters to fully appreciate things. Meanwhile, if you have seen the series, most of the jokes are recycled. The same was true in the series; but, there is a big difference: timing. The live audience for the TV tapings gave a sharper timing to the jokes. Here, the actors have no one to react to, apart from each other. They don't pause to let the jokes take hold, since there is no laughter from the audience. It was often those pauses that really sold the jokes and built to the bigger laugh. The film was actually adapted from a successful stage version, which, again, had an audience to react to.

Meanwhile, what we are left with is rather clichéd farce. There is the multiple switching of tents, which leads to a series of unexpected (by the character) encounters with the wrong partners. It's old material and it isn't handled in a unique manner, so it falls flat.

One of the worst sins of the film is the complete lack of any location or outdoor shooting, apart from boarding the plane. If you are going to film a movie, take advantage of the opportunity. Instead, we have a studio shot on film, instead of videotape, without an audience.

It's not all bad. The actors are in good form and the characters get their little moments. Andrew Sachs is well used and the addition of the revolutionary provides plenty of fodder for the farce.

This was one of several British films adapted from popular TV shows. I have also seen the Rising Damp movie and Callan and have to say that the latter was the only one that really took advantage of the opportunity that a film version offered.

If you are a fan of the series, the film is worth a look, if only to see what else was done with the characters. Other than that, there isn't much to offer.

More of a fetish film that a biopic., 20 September 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Make no mistake, this is not a Hollywood film. It's a biopic produced by the fetish community. It stars Paige Richards, who is a fetish model, who has built her career on a superficial resemblance to Betty Page (and there have been many Betty imitators). Richards is typical for a fetish model; she isn't horrible, but she isn't likely to do mainstream films either. She can handle the regular scenes well enough to keep the film moving along, but is at her best when the ropes come out. And they do. The story featured is more legend than truth and it isn't going to win any awards. Heck, I've seen more creative real fetish films. However, it's a decent "fan film." If you look at it in that light, it has its moments.

Repackaging of a repackaging, 20 September 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Let's be clear from the start; this is not a film. It's not a documentary. What it is is a repackaging of a two-volume compilation of fetish loops, some featuring Bettie Page, originally put out when the Cult of Betty was growing. The loops featured within were produced by Irving Klaw, owner of Movie Star News. Klaw ran a used bookstore and carried many movie magazines. He discovered that young ladies were tearing out picture of their favorite stars. Wanting to save his merchandise, and seeing a market, he arranged to get publicity stills from movie offices (of which there were plenty, in New York). He then sold the stills, and copies of the stills. He created a mailing list to sell them elsewhere. He found that certain photos sold more and received request for those photos; usually, those featuring fetishy elements (spanking, bondage, high heels, lingerie, etc...). However, it wasn't easy to find enough material to satisfy this audience. With some financial backing, he started creating his own material, both in photos and film shorts. The models were strippers and average women, who didn't have a problem parading around in their underwear. He did not produce any nude material, though. In fact, the models had to occasionally wear two pairs of panties to avoid showing anything. Betty Page, who worked as a secretary and posed for photos for camera clubs, was one of his models.

The loops feature little scenarios, such as one featuring two women in lingerie, playing chess (or checkers, can't remember). They are interrupted by a bratty third woman, and after her attempts to gain attention, they tie her up. She still causes problems, kicking the card table they are using. So, as you do, they tie her up even more, until she can barely move. Not exactly Orson Wells, but with a bit more plot than your average porn. The loops run the gamut of walking in ridiculously high heels, and dancing to music, to dressing a mistress, then bringing her a female slave to tie up.

These loops won't win awards and are hardly seductive. They are downright prudish, compared to similar material you can find on the internet. However, you can see Page, in all of her glory, in her heyday. You also can see other Klaw stalwarts, like Lois Meriden (a leggy brunette, who allegedly married a judge), Shirley Maitland, Joan Rydell (who dated Buck Henry) and Lili Dawn. They were not the artificial performers of today; they were real women, with real bodies. The whole thing has kind of a kooky charm.

The video does feature music dubs and a voice-over to give it some continuity and sound (these were silent films). It makes it sound more innocent than it was; but, it also doesn't attempt to make it sound seductive. It's playful, much like the material featured, regardless of how weird or kinky it might be.

If you are interested in Bettie Page, this will give you a look at the work she did, plus some of the other ladies who worked for Klaw. It will also show you what passed for erotica in 50s America (along with girlie magazines and stag films). If you are a fetishist, it gives you a bit of historical perspective to others who might share your interests.

The Seal (1981) (TV)
Decent little TV movie., 14 August 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I remember watching this on TV, though I saw it only once and don't recall many details. Ron Ely is a former Navy SEAL, in what was probably the first Hollywood reference to that unit, which was purposely unsung in mass culture. It took a little research to understand what SEAL even meant, at that time (SEa Air/Land). Anyway, he is pulled into a situation involving some bad men and uses his combat skills to take them out. I do distinctly remember Ely pushing a hidden button to reveal a hidden arsenal.

The film was decent for TV, but nothing spectacular, which is probably why it fell into obscurity. I suspect it was a pilot for a TV series that didn't sell (on of many). If you come across it, it's a decent way to kill a couple of hours.

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