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Guns at Batasi (1964)
Excellent military suspense drama
I'd never even heard of Guns at Batasi before but I was amazed to find that it's a superlative film. I was expecting standard British stiff-upper-lip fare that the British did so well in the 1950s and '60s, but what I wasn't expecting is that a film I'd never even heard of rivals and even exceeds top-notch British dramas like Sidney Lumet's 'The Hill'.
The film stands squarely on Richard Attenborough's pitch-perfect performance as a Regimental Sergeant Major - the performance of a lifetime, especially when you consider that Attenborough is the complete opposite of the character he plays in this film - in reality he's soft-spoken and unassuming, yet the character he's playing is not at all those things. To say that this role was a stretch somehow doesn't do the performance justice - Attenborough literally becomes the RSM, and every moment he's on screen is incredible. Some reviewers assume that his performance is over-the-top, but I can assure everyone that British NCOs do act like this - or at least they did in the 1960s - I had the honour of knowing one of them.
Not that Attenborough is doing it all alone - the other performances are perfect too, as is the direction. The fact that the film was made in a studio in England makes you realise what a great job a truly great crew can do for a film - there's no way you'd think this movie wasn't made in Africa.
Altogether a fantastic movie - probably the best new film (new to me anyway) I've seen in the last two years. This blows everything else out of the water.
Oh, and for those worried that it's a war film - definitely not. It's a drama set in a military barracks, but psychological drama is what we have here, and unlike a lot of those kinds of films this one has a heart and a sense of humour. Don't miss this one!
Great Hard Sci-Fi Anime
This is anime for those who liked 'From the Earth to the Moon', 'The Right Stuff' and perhaps 'The Office'. It really is the most realistic and enjoyable sci-fi/comedy/drama film ever, beating out both '2001: a Space Odyssey' and the excellent sci-fi mock-documentary 'Voyage to the Planets' (known in England as 'Space Odyssey') in terms of its devotion to realism.
Although the series is set 70 years in the future, the show uses only the science we use now and that we can be fairly sure will exist at that time. No warp drives or matter transporters here, only good old fashioned rockets and good old Newtonian physics. I think I've learned more about the realities of space exploration from a few minutes of viewing this series than I ever have from years of keen interest in space documentaries and NASA TV. In my view, this show should be required viewing for astronauts in training - yes, it's that realistic and that informative.
This show proves that realism can make for truly great science fiction. We don't need di-lithium crystals when the real story is where it's always been (whether we're talking about Star Trek, Star Wars, 2001 or indeed Planetes itself) - in the interactions of well-written characters.
The show starts off a little over-the-top (more like 'The Office' in space) and there are a couple of episodes in the first few that are more than a little corny, but there are also a couple of episodes that are hilarious - the one where they meet ninjas on the moon is classic! After the first seven or eight episodes it settles into more of a thoughtful and well-written drama with the occasional humorous scene. I enjoyed the dramatic episodes equally as much as the comedy episodes - there's a lot to like in this show, and watching the characters grow is definitely a big part of that.
If I have any criticisms of the show, it's with the English dubbed version that can be found on US DVD releases. In some ways it's better than the Japanese version (e.g. Hachirota "Hachimaki" Hoshino's voice sounds more age appropriate in the English dub), but all the characters speak with an American accent - every single one - and this comes across as very odd, since it's quite obvious that at least two of the characters are Japanese and one is Russian. Now I can understand giving the Japanese characters American accents, since the DVD is intended primarily for an American audience which is meant to identify with the leads, but the choice for the Russian is just strange. But I'm not going to make too big of a deal of it - once we get to know the characters, their accents (or rather the lack of them) kinda fade into the background.
Altogether, Planetes is an excellent show that can be enjoyed by anyone who doesn't have an aversion to cartoons. Some episodes may not be entirely suitable for kids though - not because there's any unpalatable sexual content or violence, but because some of the issues discussed are more serious (i.e. the real effects of poverty, death, disease etc.). Like many Japanese anime movies and shows, this is definitely geared towards for teens and adults.
In my view this is the best show for space fans since HBO's 'From the Earth to the Moon'. Anyone who loves space exploration should take a look at this show.
Liberty's Kids: Est. 1776 (2002)
Horrible anti-British nonsense
This show is (or was - thankfully I hear it has been cancelled) the worst show on PBS. As an Englishman with a small daughter living in the US I was afraid of the discrimination my daughter might face thanks to the appalling xenophobic tripe that Liberty's Kids was filling young minds with.
I feel strongly that this show was actually harmful to young people - it made virtues out of xenophobia and nationalism. Not only that, but it was bad history too.
I hope it never appears in re-runs or on home video. American kids deserve better than this simplistic and hurtful rubbish.
Annoying and a REALLY bad example for kids
As a 45 year-old parent of a 4 year-old daughter I must say I have to agree with some other reviewers here - this show is terrible. I guess the developers of this show fail to understand that 4 year-olds will see Caillou as a role model and they do not get the character arc. So when Caillou is being whiny or ungrateful and he learns how to behave in the last few minutes of the show, what kids remember is the whininess, not the lesson.
Caillou is a horrible show that teaches kids how not to behave. My daughter actually started to behave much worse after being exposed to this show than she did before seeing it. At one point she even copied Caillou's style of tantrum - where he falls on the floor and kicks his legs while crying - on one level that was amusing but it was clear that our daughter was using the show to learn very bad behaviour. Thanks to the title lock on our DVR this show is now blocked and our daughter has once again become the sweet, well-mannered and happy 4 year-old she was before she saw Caillou.
The Last Express (1997)
My favourite game of all time
This game had a hard time being widely accepted, as it came out at a time when the gaming industry was hyping cutting edge graphics, and more thoughtful (but less graphically exciting) games like this were basically ignored.
This is a beautifully crafted game that takes the player back in time to an earlier era. The story takes place in the last days before the Great War changed the face of Europe forever. You are a rogue American adventurer named Robert Cath, and all the action takes place aboard the Orient Express on its final trip from Paris to Constantinople (modern day Istanbul).
Players will first notice that the game uses a sort of stop-motion comic-book style of animation. This is the game's only serious hurdle. Some folks dislike it, others don't mind it at all. I thought it added to the game, as the Art Nouveau style of the graphics lent the requisite old-fashioned air to a game set in Europe in the early years of the 20th Century. Had it been made using a more modern style, I feel it would have lost something. As it is, the visual choice that the developers made seems perfect for the period and serve to draw you deeper into the story.
Another choice the developers made was to make all the game action take place in real time. Again, this choice may be disliked by players who want fast-paced excitement all the time. At certain periods you have time to just drink in the atmosphere of Europe on the brink of war. This is part of the game's allure. It's a game for people who like to change into a robe on a winter's evening, set a roaring fire in the fireplace and curl up in an overstuffed armchair with a well-written historical novel.
The game presents players with a traditional adventure story, and a rich and deeply involving one at that. The action starts in a Paris train station, and you are soon aboard the Orient Express. As you board the train you have no idea what the next 48 hours will bring, but you will be called on to perform deeds that will determine the very future of Europe. As the story unfolds, you are torn between your allegiance to yourself and your responsibility to save Europe as it plunges into chaos. You will experience adventure, the temptation of riches, love, and tragedy as the Orient Express takes you inexorably towards your destiny.
This game is probably the best game I have ever played. I have owned it for 10 years and I've had it on my hard drive all of that time. In terms of atmosphere and story it is unmatched. I am not ashamed to say that it is the only game I've ever played that has made me weep for the characters. Emotionally engaging, deep and ultimately unforgettable, for me this is the perfect game.
Rotten TV (2000)
Great series that didn't get a chance
As far as I could see after seeing only one episode (the one where he burns Sid's letter) this was an entertaining show with John Lydon being his iconoclastic and supremely entertaining self. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that only three episodes aired - after all TV is all about selling commercials, and Lydon is not exactly the kind of person who's likely to sell us to the sponsors. He's more likely to warn us away from them.
I'd like to see this series on DVD - perhaps they could do what they did with the TV series 'Profit' and release all the aired and unaired episodes.
Too many cooks (or scriptwriters) spoil the broth.
Although this film has nice animation, talented actors voicing the roles, and a great subject - the hugely entertaining 1960s children's TV series 'The Magic Roundabout', this film is fatally flawed by a execrable script. This film had nine (count 'em) scriptwriters. Not even the appalling Judge Dredd had that many. This is a perfect example of how bad a film written by committee can be. Awful, awful, awful. Please, if you haven't yet seen Doogal (or as it's called in Britain 'The Magic Roundabout'), and if you value your intellect, don't see this film. Instead, buy or rent the old Magic Roundabout series (if it's available anywhere anymore). The series was great.
Mad Love (1935)
Excellent horror classic. Where's the DVD?
This movie, like many true classics of the 1930s, seems destined never to appear on DVD. It would be a crying shame if this film was denied DVD treatment, especially considering the fact that virtually any old tripe made in colour often gets two or three separate DVD releases.
Peter Lorre gives a masterful and scene-stealing performance as a brilliant surgeon called on, by the woman he is fatefully obsessed by, to perform surgery on her husband. The film is beautiful to watch, not only for a simple tale of horror well told, but for the sheer fun of it. This is one of those movies (along with Dracula, Frankenstein, and perhaps even The Hounds of Zaroff) that defined the classic period of American horror films.
Space Race (2005)
Good TV movie, but it misses a lot of detail
Firstly I should say that I saw the US version of the miniseries - apparently this version has a different narrator than the English version. Why the creators felt that was necessary is beyond me - is an English accent all that distracting for Americans? I don't think so. The 'Walking with Dinosaurs' videos have the same problem, and are virtually ruined by poor quality narration for the American versions.
I liked this movie, but some things frustrated me.
I think the scriptwriter made a mistake in trying to cover both the US and Soviet efforts to land a man on the moon. I think the miniseries would have been better if it had concentrated on the Soviet side of things (as the US side has been virtually done to death). The Russian parts somehow seemed deeper to me - I don't know why - perhaps it was that the personalities were more likable, or maybe the acting was just a bit more nuanced. Anyway, I felt cheated whenever the action shifted to the US.
The movie is technically very good, with great special effects and good accents all around. When German is spoken it really sounds like German - none of the deeply accented German we're used to hearing with British/American productions. The Russian also seems good, although my knowledge of the Russian language is not that good.
Where the movie really fails is in terms of the scope of the production: far too much is squeezed into four hours, and a great deal of important detail is lost. We get about five minutes covering Yuri Gagarin's flight, and less for Alexei Leonov's first space walk. Valentina Tereshkova's flight (the first female in space) is not even mentioned - in fact she doesn't get any mention at all - one is led to believe that all the cosmonauts were men. Similarly omitted is the Soviet lunar module. Basically the Russian side of things is basically ignored as Apollo gets off the ground. Finally, I felt the miniseries fizzled out - the US moon landing was covered very sketchily, and that was the end. I felt the film would have benefited if the Apollo-Soyuz mission was covered - that was, after all, the true end of the US-Soviet competition, and it would have ended the film on a note of hopefulness and international cooperation.
The Dead (1987)
Possibly the greatest movie ever made - where's the DVD?
I first saw this film in Austria when it first came out, and I was entranced by it. It is a passionate and deeply moving work that should be experienced by all connoisseurs of motion picture art. What a shame that it has never been released in DVD format. Perhaps one of these days that will be rectified, as it would be a shame indeed if one of the best films ever made was forgotten and left to fade away in some film vault forever.
Why is it that 'B' movies like 'American Wedding' and 'Eurotrip' get widescreen and fullscreen releases, and often a special edition with multiple commentaries and extras, while great art pieces like 'The Dead' are all but forgotten?