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Lewis: Life Born of Fire (2008)
Small cameo casting error
I know Britain's vast pool of TV drama character actors re-appear all the time as different characters in various series, but personally I take the view that if an actor is distinctive and idiosyncratic, they should not appear in episodes of the same series or related ones such as, here, Morse and Lewis as different characters.
In this Lewis episode, Lewis decides to try having an allotment to grow vegetables, and the man he sees about it is Mr Cooper played by David Ryall. There is no connection between the character and the plot. I happen to have watched this episode (january 2011) the same evening, when both were shown one after the other on TV, as the Morse episode Driven To SDistraction, where the same actor appears, and meets Lewis as well as Morse, but there he is playing a totally different character. Given that the two series are based in Oxford. and other characters like Morse's boss reappear but are not in every episode, we should be able to expect that a familiar face is the same person, at least unless they are heavily disguised by makeup and different performances. Ryall was clearly only made up as "himself" and not asked to give anything but his usual performance of an Englishman his age.
Both pof these are the usual interesting episodes, separated by years, and the colourful backgrounds with a city full of people are done well in both with this exception. It is just a shame if even years later a distinctive face recurs like this but as a totally different person.
Another never-ending series with plot non-stop confusion
I began watching this series at season 1 out of curiosity --- and I often like legal mystery dramas. But this is so full of confusion, different parties, the main character (Patty) on the surface a good lawyer fighting for a just cause but underneath devious and manipulative, continually abusing her own juniors and deliberately setting up situations that set them against one another, not even a nice person because she has clearly totally alienated her own son, and not somebody I am interested in.
From the list of seasons and episodes here, given that it is not, unlike (say) Without A Trace, a series with a nice resolution of the mystery each episode, I am not prepared to get any more interested in the plot and, having just listened to 1:7 as I wrote this, am going to give it a miss from now on. So, Hollywood, if you want me to be a regular member of your audience for a TV series, just STOP trying to twist my arm with these perpetual-run series which are clearly designed to FORCE me to keep watching. I quit "Lost" after a couple of episodes after finding out from the web that it kept on going year after year with the mysteries piling up and any explanation of all that had been happening being postponed indefinitely.
Series like this are designed --- contrived --- to be addictive, and I refuse to get hooked.
Apart from that reason to stop watching the thing, when the producers and the writers are focused so much on keeping the mystery going, and adding more and more twists and turns to keep the audience hooked, they cease to be concerned to write credibly and the resulting shows stop being entertaining.
The people who make these should compare their efforts with something like the pinnacle of British drama series entertainment: Doctor Who. Leaving aside the fact that it is essentially SF and "Damages" isn't (though "Lost" and "Heroes" obviously are), that now has a new story in each episode (mostly), plenty of gentle humour along with the thrills and suspense -- something "Damages" "Lost" and "Heroes" totally lack) and is altogether infinitely better as a result.
In short, Damages is too badly damaged by its makers' cynically commercial motives, ends up looking like relentlessly aggressive lawyer-stuffed rubbish, and I shall not watch it any more.
Meet the Fockers (2004)
All cringe, no comedy
The setting of this movie is the first encounter of the respective parents of an engaged couple; the premise is the expectation --- which is certainly realized --- that both bride and groom will be somewhat embarrassed by their parents' (chiefly their fathers') little ways.
Hoffman and de Niro do their best, I guess; they act their socks off trying to out-gross each other as the ghastly fathers apparently maximizing the embarrassment of their wives, their offspring, and each other. They do what they can with the setup and the screenplay, but this movie can only have been designed as cringe comedy --- there is no visible attempt at other kinds of humour --- and the result is all cringe, but no comedy.
My one note of praise and wonderment is for Bradley and Spencer Pickren who play Little Jack, the de Niro character's grandson, who has not yet learned to talk but who has an extensive language of signing with the hands to communicate with his family --- well, with his grandfather anyway. The performance of these toddlers is marvellous. The rest, including Streisand, do their best with an expensive backers' nightmare, a lead balloon.
Misbegotten mostly boring mumbo jumbo
Reviewer Karilee wrote "Constantine is another one of those movies that you either love or hate". I disagree. I just watched it and found it "ho-hum": mildly interesting, definitely not a great movie, not even a consistently exciting or entertaining one. I only gave it 2 stars, but I don't hate it: hate gets zero.
What is exciting? Well, in the first action scene John Constantine exorcises a demon from a hispanic girl in a slum bedroom, capturing it (presumably according to some unmentioned traditional superstition) in a mirror which he then throws out of the upper storey tenement window so that it smashes on the street outside, freeing the girl. Perhaps because this was near the beginning, we were only given the briefest glimpse of the demon; it seemed interesting, so it would have been nice to have a proper look at it.
Next, after Constantine meets up with the surviving twin Angela, she says she doesn't believe in the devil; the street lamps are then gradually extinguished, and a flock of winged demons attack and are demolished by our hero setting light to a bit of rag (we are not told how this works). Again, we get only the briefest glimpse of the demons, almost at subliminal level.
Not exciting but visually and conceptually interesting are scenes where Constantine enters Hell. It looks like a city slum Blitzed then fire-bombed, with added crawling (because this time wingless) demons. The scene is not so brief as the attacks in the everyday world, so one gets a proper chance to look at it and take the special effects in; but it isn't exciting, just interesting --- but only to a movie art critic.
What of the story? Well, in the comic book Constantine's origin is Liverpool. That explains the theology, perhaps, for this concoction could perhaps only come from minds preoccupied with Roman Catholic mediaeval mythology. Pictures and action plot could have come from science fiction, but as with Hellboy the ontology is straight out of the darkest era of the Spanish Inquisition.
In that context, this is a very frightening movie, simply because of the world-view presented of hell, of demons, and of the Roman Catholic view of "the hereafter", including the belief that (in Constantine's words to Angela about her sister Isabel) the fate of a person who commits suicide is to have her body torn to pieces amid everlasting fire, to be in excruciating agony that will be repeated again and again throughout eternity. I do not mean it is frightening to us all if we do not believe such superstition; rather that it might frighten us how many of those without critical intellectual faculties who see this movie could go away impressed by the world-view presented. Let us hope that most of every audience realize it is just as much fantasy and mumbo-jumbo as the plots of out-and-out fantasy stories such as Legend (1985), Dragonheart (1996) or The Lord of the Rings.
Our hero's own life story, fate, mission, and destiny are equally terrifying. As a teenager, we gather, he was sufficiently unhappy to attempt suicide, from which he was rescued (as presumably quite often happens) in an Accident and Emergency ward. In this movie's theology, he is therefore condemned to an eternity in hell for the mortal sin of self-murder; and even though he dedicates his life to tracking demons that have escaped into our world, in particular demons that "possess" unfortunate human beings in the classic manner, and to sending them back to Hell where they belong, Constantine can never redeem himself from his ultimate fate. Now, any impressionable teenager with a Christian religious upbringing who has not yet shaken it off could take this plot line as meaning that if you survive attempted suicide you will go to hell however hard you struggle to live a good life afterwards; such a teenager could, accepting this counsel of despair, resolve rather than leading a good life to be as wicked as possible, just to spite the angels, as it were. This is a very bad message for a movie with the pretensions of this movie to be giving to the young and impressionable. And it is perhaps likely that, apart from the small audience that are mere connoisseurs of the Gothic horror comic book genre, much of the biggest audience would be impressionable adolescents. One can only hope that it did not actually affect anybody in this way.
Finally a bizarre thread of the plot. We are told that angels and demons cannot cross into the plane of reality, and that those figures who do are some kind of half-breed. Are we thus to understand that the angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton) and the demon Balthazar (Gavin Rossdale) portrayed here are the result of inter-world breeding between humans on our plane and pure-bred angels or demons from the plane of heaven and hell? Yet that is impossible because obviously living humans cannot meet pure-bred angels or demons until after death, and then those humans are souls in the bliss of heaven or the everlasting torture of hell. The whole idea is a nonsense. Let's hope all members of all audiences realized that the ideas in this story are merely a load of macabre garbage masquerading as mysticism.
Of course, to the rational empiricist mind, all mysticism is merely macabre mumbo-jumbo and superstition, concocted to frighten and control the gullible. Some reviewers who refer to the serious side of the movie appear to buy this religious theology; certainly without it the movie is just a rather boring tale with a few very brief flashy monster bits. I think my lasting impression of it will just be how very ghastly, horrible, are the parts of the city of Los Angeles in which most of the earthly scenes in this movie are set.
The Dinner Party (2007)
Wine, women and money
One could sum up this hour-long TV play as "Death Of A Salesman meets Six Chavs In Search Of A Fortune with a dash of Romeo and Juliet". The theme: meltdown of two marriages during one evening at a new house in the expensive street for the vulgar nouveaux riches of a garish new housing attached to what the characters refer to as a village.
Amusing? slightly. Any comedy is very dark, though not actually grim: the only deaths is those of the respect of others for the four main older characters and the happiness of those same four. Satirical? in a way; the whole is a bitter commentary on the people whose entire world is that of money, the acquisition of real estate, and obsession with imagined status as represented by cash, and with Keeping Up Appearances. The young couple are somewhat less dislikeable than the main four people; we don't really find out much about them, except his job. If one is generous of spirit, one feels only sorry for the four; if not, one feels mainly disgust. I watched till the end mainly to see how it ended.
'Pimpernel' Smith (1941)
Excellent but not flawless
Others have given plenty of praise. I was disappointed about a few small details, and will mention three instances from that classroom scene and moments after it. First, I found it hard to believe that some of the students (such as David Maxwell) were much less than middle-aged, and indeed Hugh McDermott was 33 (and 3 months) in July 1941. After World War I there were a lot of older men in universities as they had been called up from school; but I don't think this was true in 1939 before the second lot of trouble with Germany started. Second, did young Americans in 1939 really say things like "a rough house is just my meat" when they meant they enjoyed a bit of a fight? I doubt it. It sounded very antiquated, stilted, out of tone with the rest of the dialogue there. (By the way, McDermott was of course British, and his supposedly American accent here is a bit odd at times too.)
Third, I recognize that Leslie Howard had an awful lot to do on this movie; but his attention to detail lapsed in the moment when the professor walks through a college cloister and recites a snatch from the first stanza of Jabberwocky: "Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble ...". In "gyre and gimble" he makes both Gs hard but this is correct only in "gimble". A fastidious learned professor would -- and actor of Howard's stature surely should -- know that "gyre" is a perfectly good English word going back centuries, and that, like "gyrate" and "gyroscope", it begins with a soft G (that is, it sounds like "jyre"). There is no plot reason for Prof. Smith to pretend to get it wrong: as I see it, the point of him reciting the lines is that he is a dreamer, rather other-worldly, and fond of such things as this rhyme from a fantasy for children written by an eccentric mathematics don; not that he is not sufficiently erudite to pronounce such a word as this correctly. Indeed, if he were really chiefly a working secret agent, only pretending to be a Cambridge scholar, he would be more likely to make such a mistake; if it were a deliberate error by the professor, it would be counterproductive. Therefore it is an error by the actor-director, not an error (deliberate or otherwise) by the character.
Thirteen at Dinner (1985)
Better than some by this team
Unlike some reviewers here, and much as I admire Ustinov's talents and wit, I have never been convinced of him as the little Belgian, because decades ago I read all Dame Agatha's Poirot stories and Ustinov is too tall --- too big altogether --- and (although this will be down to the scripts plus the directors and designers of these movies) simply doesn't display the obsessive-compulsive, hyper-neat little man's character as his creator conceived and described him in print. Suchet does.
When I saw Dead Man's Folly the overriding memory that I took away was of the supreme ineffectuality of Jonathan Cecil's Hastings. There is some of that here, but far less. This is occasionally Cecil's fault, but is chiefly that of the writer who gave him nothing coherent to do or say at times, so he seemed to be standing there in the scene simply waiting for the other actors to say their lines. Here, however, Hastings is given a bit more to say, although there are times when once again Cecil is all too obviously waiting for his cue to say his next line. Where he fails seriously in his acting is when he and Ustinov are alone and discussing the case, and Cecil never varies the bland "waiting for his next line" face and had I been the director I would have screamed at him "for goodness' sake, man, look astonished! How did Poirot come up with what he's just said?" or "Look worried! Look extremely alarmed, even! You've just been told this chap's life is in danger!" This is, I have to say, just fearfully weak acting from one who should be the number two regular part in this screen crime-busting team, but who in fact all too often is simply a bit of set dressing who seems to be a half-wit mostly unaware of the deadly crimes going on around him.
The 300 Spartans (1962)
Classic classical history enacted on epic scale
The sheer number of soldiers in various categories of weaponry, in a variety of different uniforms, in the Persian army march-past at the beginning of this movie, made of course in an era long before CGI could multiply infinitely the number of extras needed on set or location to create such a scene, establishes the epic scope of this production. The scenes depicting the political debates between the leaders of the disparate and (as always) squabbling Greek city states, mean the writers did their best to explain the internal struggles that typified the down side of extreme political devolution and local independence which Athens, Sparta and the rest demanded in that era, and which (though as depicted in this movie they defeated Persia) was ultimately their downfall before the armies of Rome. But a pity that the screenplay had Themistocles say "Jove" instead of "Zeus" in his speech in the first scene where he appears; there was no reason for this anachronistic, Latin substitution except that the screen writers were apparently all Italians.
Star Trek: The Alternative Factor (1967)
Don't mention the holidays
I agree with comments about the exceptionally hokey science, repetitive and confused action and dialogue, plus repeated procedural incompetence (and slowness on the uptake about what is going on), by Star Fleet officers and crew in this episode. The repeated shot in white-on-dark-blue silhouette of two figures struggling, the whole shot spinning on screen and visually mixed with astronomy photos of some distant galaxy was effective the first couple of times but with no discernible variation also became boringly repetitive. However the attempt to stage a story about a scientifically not-impossible phenomenon of mind-boggling difficulty to visualize was brave given the budget and the state of special effects in the mid 1960s.
Notable also is that in this episode we have to assume that not only Chief Engineer Scott but also Sulu are on leave, and not aboard the Enterprise for this tour; and that instead we have "company" for Lt Uhuru, another African American woman officer, Lieutenant Masters (Janet MacLachlan), in charge in Engineering, plus unfamiliar faces at the helm on the bridge!
The Fiend (1972)
Boring and frightening
This movie is boring because the story proceeds so painfully slowly, the director presumably trying (though failing) to induce a slow crescendo of menace. It is frightening not because of the few brief glimpses of violent crime or its result, but because we know that all too many simple minded (or just plain stupid) people in the real world are capable of falling into the clutches of the sort of nasty, egotistical, sadistic bully, totally self-absorbed in his delusion of moral rectitude and continually playing the puritanical guilt card with his half-witted followrs, that is the Minister played so effectively here by Patrick Magee; and that there are all too many instances (though, thankfully, several orders of magnitude fewer than the numbers of the stupid and simple minded) of children growing up in the warped, hyper-pious but actually vicious atmosphere created in families and communities where such ministers of so-called religion and their equally nasty followers rule the roost, who grow up so mentally disturbed that they eventually do terrible things.
However, here the point is made so slowly that it takes much patience to sit through it; I imagine that it made no major moral impact on society when it appeared and that it has has been all but forgotten in the 36 years since. Given how much has come to light during those 36 years of the evils I refer to, one could perhaps claim that the film was in some small way prescient like Cassandra; however there were enough signs before, just not the instant media coverage thereof that there would be in the 21st century. All too many people follow religions with all too much blind zeal nowadays as before, and probably as always since the dawn of civilization. Unfortunately this movie will not be seen by enough people to influence that doom-laden trend. The sort of people about which this movie warns us are probably just the sort of people who believe that to watch movies at all is immoral!