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TheLittleSongbird

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Unmissable for fans of The King of Rock and Roll, 21 May 2017
10/10

Elvis Presley was a hugely influential performer with one of the most distinctive singing voices of anybody. 'Elvis: That's the Way It Is' is an acclaimed documentary film for good reason, and better than all of his films he made during the mid-50s-late-60s.

His film career was highly variable as an overall film career with some good ones, some decent ones, some mediocre ones and some bad ones. Elvis' performances in them ranged from good, great even in a few, to clearly disinterested and embarrassed (and in some of his later films who could blame him), even the best ones.

Simply put, for fans of the justly named The King of Rock and Roll, 'Elvis: That's the Way It Is' is unmissable, and even non-fans may find themselves converted. It's cohesively shot and edited, where one gets to properly know Elvis, the band and the audience.

With Elvis himself, he looks great and sounds even better. He looks like a natural on stage, electric with the band and while with a couple of awkward moments which one puts down to nervous energy fun with the audience. The energy levels seen are immense. The backstage stuff is fascinating too and is seeing Elvis in rehearsal.

The quality of the music can't be faulted either, with a mix of his greatest and iconic hits and his newer music. No forgettable at best ones here and no career-low ones either. It's all brilliantly performed all round and there is a real atmosphere with the audience, everybody clearly having a great time without being over the top.

In conclusion, unmissable to sum it up in one word. 10/10 Bethany Cox

Very good first half, weird and annoying second half, 21 May 2017
7/10

The Bosko cartoons may not be animation masterpieces, but they are fascinating as examples of Looney Tunes in their early days before the creation of more compelling characters and funnier and more creative cartoons. There are some good cartoons, as well as some average or less ones.

'Bosko's Soda Fountain' is pretty good (for Bosko and as a cartoon in general), but it is very frustrating when the second half prevents it from being very good cartoon like the first half promised. As to be expected, it is flimsy story-wise and some of the gags in the second half are not very funny and come over as quite bizarre instead.

It is in the second half where 'Bosko's Soda Fountain' falls down. The gags aren't as funny or clever and agreed it is really undermined by one of the brattiest and most irritating kids in perhaps all animation.

However, the animation is good. Not exactly refined but fluid and crisp enough with some nice detail, it is especially good in the meticulous backgrounds and some remarkably flexible yet natural movements for Bosko. The music doesn't disappoint either, its infectious energy, rousing merriment, lush orchestration and how well it fits with the animation is just a joy.

The gags are quite inventive and fun in the first half, particularly on a visual level. The first half is very entertaining generally, lively in pace and funny. Bosko may not be a great or particularly interesting character, but he has his charm as does Honey. Pacing is suitably lively.

Overall, a cartoon of two halves, one very good half and one disappointing one. 7/10 Bethany Cox

One of the better Lantz Oswald cartoons, 21 May 2017
7/10

Despite Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and his cartoons being popular and well received at the time, they have been vastly overshadowed over time by succeeding animation characters. It is a shame as, while not cartoon masterpieces, they are fascinating for anybody wanting to see what very old animation looked like.

'Permanent Wave' is a significant improvement over the previous Walter Lantz cartoons, which really are only for historical interest and agreed much better than many of his later Oswald cartoons. It is a much better representation of Oswald, who is closer to his personality in the Disney and Winkler era cartoons, and doesn't fare badly by Lantz standards either.

Sure the story is flimsy (then again you'd expect that in an Oswald cartoon by now) and very predictable. While the gags hit more than they miss thankfully, a couple have less than crisp timing and not so inventive.

On the other hand, the animation is good. Transitions smoother and there are some very nice details and fluidity. Synchronisation is much better, not sloppy (though with the odd sloppy moments) and the sound more resonant.

The gags are mostly inventively done and actually fun, while Oswald is endearing. The music is energetic too.

Overall, decent Lantz Oswald cartoon and one of his better ones. 7/10 Bethany Cox

At the archaeological dig with 'Midsomer Murders', 21 May 2017
5/10

When in its prime (a vast majority of Seasons 1-9), 'Midsomer Murders' was a great show and one that is watched and re-watched frequently. Seasons 10-13 became more uneven, with three of the show's worst episodes coming from Seasons 11 and 13, but there were a few solid episodes and "Blood Wedding" and especially "Master Class" were gems.

After John Nettles retired and Neil Dudgeon and the new character of John Barnaby took over, 'Midsomer Murders' just hasn't been the same on the most part. Season 14 was a disappointment outside of "The Oblong Murders" and "A Sacred Trust", with "Echoes of the Dead" and "The Night of the Stag" being show low-points. Season 15 was inconsistent, being a case of starting promisingly and then took a three-episodes-in-a-row strange turn with "Written in the Stars" before finishing on a good note. Season 16 was mostly good, especially "Wild Harvest", with the only disappointment being "Let Us Prey". Season 17 was a mixed, with the first two episodes being watchable but uneven and the other two, particularly "A Vintage Murder", faring better.

Most of Season 18, from personal opinion, was rather unimpressive (apart from the surprisingly good "A Dying Art"), and this is including "Saints and Sinners", to me one of the season's weaker episodes. Usually am on the same page when it comes to the general consensus of individual 'Midsomer Murders' episodes, but there have been exceptions and sad to say "Saints and Sinners" is one of them.

It is certainly not without merits, even the worst 'Midsomer Murders' episodes have redeeming qualities (though embarrassments like "Blood on the Saddle", "Night of the Stag", "Echoes of the Dead" and "Second Sight" came very close to not).

Production values cannot be faulted as usual. It's beautifully and atmospherically shot with suitably picturesque scenery. The music fits perfectly, with some lush jauntiness and sometimes an ominous quality, and the haunting theme tune is one of the most memorable and instantly recognisable of the genre. The murders are pretty fun and the characters are not too pantomimic or bland in general. The story has its intriguing elements.

Cast is very good, Neil Dudgeon doesn't look stiff or sleepwalk through Barnaby and Gwilym Lee continues to have a likable charisma. The supporting cast are very strong, Julia Sawallha and Malcolm Sinclair being the standouts.

However Still not a fan of Kam at all, she has little personality and continues to be a condescending know-it-all and not exactly professional. Nelson is despite the likable presence of Lee has bland material this time round and takes too much of a back-seat.

"Saints and Sinners" story is let down by two things. It does have some real credibility-straining stretches, particularly with the whole stuff about the "protestant martyr". The ending was a let-down, the late reveal of the killer and their motives didn't work and instead felt rushed as a result as cramming in too much information in a short time, confused and like an afterthought. It's pretty bland at times, with an over-familiarity of some of the situations and twists, some of which having been done before in earlier episodes and done with much more spark. Clues are very little and begs one to wonder how it's figured out and tied together.

Scripting has been better balanced before, one misses the gentle humour of 'Midsomer Murders' in its prime and wishes that it wouldn't take itself too seriously so often.

All in all, okay episode but lacking. 5/10 Bethany Cox

Didn't love it but appreciated it, 21 May 2017
7/10

Being familiar with director Kenneth Lonergan's previous work, one knew what to expect from his chosen themes and his style. 'Manchester By the Sea' has Lonergan written all over it, and while it was not a "love" film it was an "appreciate" one.

It is an uneven film and understandably polarising (people will love the acting, inspired use of music and the mix of humour and pathos but others will find it overlong, slow and rambling), with a first half that will alienate some. There are many things that impress, especially the acting which is what drives 'Manchester By the Sea'. This said, even if my reaction to 'Manchester By the Sea' was less (like it wasn't for me or intensely disliking it, I would have no problem with anybody saying they liked it, not the sort of person who condescends and shows a lack of maturity and respect to other people's opinions (one of my bugbears on IMDb).

Getting on to my hopefully balanced review of 'Manchester By the Sea', pointing out its flaws and merits, as said it is easy to see why 'Manchester By the Sea' is not for everybody. It is perhaps longer than necessary, some of the first half did tend to ramble and could have done with a trimming. In fact, the first half generally wasn't as interesting as the rest of the film, and likely to put people off watching any further. It did tend to be dull and meandering, the mix from flashback to present day not always clear and didn't always go anywhere. It was when the tragedy came in and the relationship between Lee and Patrick when 'Manchester By the Sea' becomes more worthwhile if stuck with.

After this point, 'Manchester By the Sea's' only faults are a few contrived moments (like the freezer scene and the at times excessive and out of place F bombs) and an ending that falls on the abrupt side.

However, 'Manchester By the Sea' has suitably picturesque scenery and is shot with a lot of atmosphere. Lonergan directs with a lot of thoughtfulness and restraint and much of the script has a good balance of humour (with some genuine belly laughs with Lee and Patrick) and pathos (the fire and funeral scenes will have one reaching for the tissues). The show-down between Lee and Randi is beautifully played and electric.

'Manchester By the Sea's' best asset is by far the acting. Lucas Hedges makes a compellingly real character out of one that could easily have been annoying, and while Michelle Williams is underused she also gives a remarkably moving performance. Kyle Chandler also impresses. 'Manchester By the Sea' is Casey Affleck's film though, Affleck is on blistering form and has rarely been better in his tough-talking and also introverted role.

Also want to mention the music, giving much intensity and poignancy to the drama with inspired use of pre-existing music. Albinoni has never been more affectingly utilised on film, his "Adagio" can be one of those over-exposed pieces of music but here added so much to the drama's emotion that it was truly beautiful and haunting. Another effective use of music was "He Shall Feed His Flock...Come Onto Him", the alto and soprano duet from Handel's 'Messiah'.

In summary, slow start but sticking with it 'Manchester By the Sea' rewards. Didn't love it, but there was enough to make it appreciate it. 7/10 Bethany Cox

Middle of the road episode from Season 10, 21 May 2017
6/10

Season 10 was very much mixed in quality, very like much of the period from Season 6 onward, but although there were less than good episodes there were also good and more ones. "Anonymous" fits in neither extreme of best or worst, instead being a decent middle of the road episode, with nothing disastrously wrong but lacking the extra something to be even better.

It is not quite as good as the terrifying "Mr Scratch", the poignant and harrowing "Nelson's Sparrow", the creepy and powerful "The Forever People", the tense "Rock Creek Park" and the unconventional but extremely well done "A Thousand Suns". On the other hand, it's significantly better than the likes of the strange and not in a good way "If the Shoe Fits", the poor "Breath Play", the very unbalanced in writing "Protection", the wastes of good ideas "Hashtag", "The Boys of Sudworth Place", the disappointing "Beyond Borders" and the similarly unbalanced in writing "Scream".

There is much to praise in "Anonymous". Visually, as always, the production values are without complaint. It's very well shot and lit and is overall stylish, gritty, classy and atmospheric. The music is moody in the haunting and melancholic sense and fits well, without either enhancing or distracting from it.

Really appreciated the subtlety of Joe Mantegna's direction, there is momentum and flow while also an intricately that helps in empathising with certain situations in the episode. The same goes for Mantegna's acting too, Rossi is one of the most interesting characters on 'Criminal Minds' and from his first appearance has been the one that grows the most and "Anonymous" like the Rossi-centric episodes of Season 7 is a masterclass in subtlety and complexity which brings a different side to the "King of Sass", take no prisoners and old-school usual self.

"Anonymous" serves as a tribute to the character of Harrison Scott and his actor Meshach Taylor. This tribute was done in a heartfelt and thoughtful way, instead of slowing things and not taking up too much of the episode. The chemistry between Rossi and Morgan (which saw the quote of the episode with Rossi's It's all in your technique, and all those muscles of yours won't help in something like this") and the sweet one with him and Joy were absolutely great. Much of the writing is thought-provoking and there are engrossing parts in the story (like some classic misdirection at the beginning and surprisingly well executed back and worth of focus on Rossi and the unsub). The acting is very good, especially from Mantegna.

Not everything is entirely smooth-sailing. Despite never condoning his awful actions but empathising with his love for his daughter and the tragic situation, the unsub could have been better developed and his motives much clearer and less confused.

There could have been more profiling and psychological delving, what there was felt incidental and even irrelevant to the story. Tension and suspense was there but could have been more consistent. Kate is rather bland and stuck with generic lines that could be given to anyone and Jennifer Love Hewitt's somewhat out of place presence.

One of the bigger complaints is the climactic takedown, that was lacking in tension and was so predictable and somewhat like a re-hash. This may sound like nit-picking but JJ's involvement in the takedowns feels stale and did long ago, the character has been out of character, overused and less likable for a while now (though no complaints can be made about AJ Cook's acting) and "Anonymous" does nothing to change my perception. Plus there are agents far more qualified to take down the unsub.

In conclusion, decent episode with a lot to admire but not much above that in terms of why one sees 'Criminal Minds' in the first place. 6/10 Bethany Cox

A change of pace with mixed results, 14 May 2017
5/10

Elvis Presley was a hugely influential performer with one of the most distinctive singing voices of anybody. He embarked on a film career consisting of 33 films from 1956 to 1969, films that did well at the box-office but mostly panned critically (especially his later films) and while he was a highly charismatic performer he was never considered a great actor.

'Change of Habit' was one of his last films, well his last proper film not counting his 1970s documentary films. He has certainly done much better, that have been cited numerous times in my previous Elvis film reviews, but for a later Elvis effort it's not bad, faring significantly better than most later-period films of his where one can really understand why they are so disliked.

There are flaws certainly. The script is very weak, the humour can be unfunny (apart from some sporadically amusing moments) and it often feels tired and stilted, parts are tastelessly questionable too. The story has some intriguing elements, but it can be a case of trying to do too much and not knowing what to do with it or who to target it towards. The songs are few, and other than catchy "Rubberneckin" they are not memorable or particularly great and the music score can be unfitting. The film also feels too unresolved at the end.

However, 'Change of Habit' is better looking than many of the later Elvis films made on the cheap, it's nicely photographed. The story is a more serious and darker change of pace for Elvis, isn't dull and there are some very intriguing elements that are quite daring for an Elvis film.

Regarding Elvis himself, he looks and sounds great, looks involved and has a relaxed confidence. Mary Tyler matches him well, and the supporting cast are excellent. The direction is competent enough if at times not particularly distinguished.

In summary, a mixed bag but watchable enough. 5/10 Bethany Cox

Bosko goes to war, 14 May 2017
8/10

The Bosko cartoons may not be animation masterpieces, but they are fascinating as examples of Looney Tunes in their early days before the creation of more compelling characters and funnier and more creative cartoons. There are some good cartoons, as well as some average or less ones.

'Bosko the Doughboy', one of the better Bosko cartoons by quite some way, is a welcome return to the war-oriented theme explored in 'Dumb Patrol', another one of the better Bosko cartoons. Again the story is slight and slightly flimsy and a couple of parts are not for the easily offended.

On the other hand, the animation is good. Not exactly refined but fluid and crisp enough with some nice detail, it is especially good in the meticulous backgrounds and some remarkably flexible yet natural movements for Bosko. The music doesn't disappoint either, its infectious energy, rousing merriment, lush orchestration and how well it fits with the animation is just a joy.

The gags are quite inventive and fun with a brave and successful attempt at being darker and grimmer than usual for a Bosko cartoon, Bosko while not a great character is more compelling than usual and the pacing is lively enough.

In summary, very good. 8/10 Bethany Cox

Oil's Well (1929)
All is not well with this Oswald cartoon, 14 May 2017
3/10

Despite Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and his cartoons being popular and well received at the time, they have been vastly overshadowed over time by succeeding animation characters. It is a shame as, while not cartoon masterpieces, they are fascinating for anybody wanting to see what very old animation looked like.

'Oil's Well', interesting only really for being Walter Lantz's second Oswald cartoon, is not a good representation of a more than decent character and series with some good cartoons, one of his weakest if anything. Lantz made some good and more cartoons, with particular success with the Woody Woodpecker cartoons, but 'Oil's Well' is not a good representation of him either.

Not unwatchable by all means. Some of the animation, although not exactly refined and with some jumpy transitions here and there, is not bad at all, are crisp and fluid enough with some nice detail especially with animation techniques still in early days. A couple of the gags are amusing, and there is some nice energy in some of the music.

However, 'Oil's Well' suffers from the exact same problems of Lantz's first Oswald cartoon 'Race Riot', which isn't a good cartoon either. Synchronisation between music and sound effects and how they fit with the images has been much better before and since and far less sloppy too. The sound can lack resonance and the picture quality lacks clarity in places.

Apart from a few amusing moments, 'Oil's Well' is not particularly funny or inventive with much-less-than-crisp timing, the story is flimsier than most Oswald cartoons and Oswald himself is not endearing or funny here (a shame because he usually is).

Overall, disappointing. 3/10 Bethany Cox

Season 18 at its best, 14 May 2017
7/10

When in its prime (a vast majority of Seasons 1-9), 'Midsomer Murders' was a great show and one that is watched and re-watched frequently. Seasons 10-13 became more uneven, with three of the show's worst episodes coming from Seasons 11 and 13, but there were a few solid episodes and "Blood Wedding" and especially "Master Class" were gems.

After John Nettles retired and Neil Dudgeon and the new character of John Barnaby took over, 'Midsomer Murders' just hasn't been the same on the most part. Season 14 was a disappointment outside of "The Oblong Murders" and "A Sacred Trust", with "Echoes of the Dead" and "The Night of the Stag" being show low-points. Season 15 was inconsistent, being a case of starting promisingly and then took a three-episodes-in-a-row strange turn with "Written in the Stars" before finishing on a good note. Season 16 was mostly good, especially "Wild Harvest", with the only disappointment being "Let Us Prey". Season 17 was a mixed, with the first two episodes being watchable but uneven and the other two, particularly "A Vintage Murder", faring better.

Most of Season 18, from personal opinion, was rather unimpressive, "Breaking the Chain" and "Saints and Sinners" falling particularly flat. What a pleasant surprise to see an actual good episode in "A Dying Art", calling it Season 18 at its best is saying a lot.

Not that it's without foibles. Still not a fan of Kam at all, she has little personality and continues to be a condescending know-it-all. Nelson is likable enough but takes too much of a back-seat, and yes would have liked to have seen more of Sykes. The story is a good one, which is more than be said for most of the season, and its elements are done solidly, but have been better and with more spark elsewhere. The killer's identity is not a surprise, by 'Midsomer Murders' it's somewhat formulaic.

Production values cannot be faulted as usual however. It's beautifully and atmospherically shot with suitably picturesque scenery. The music fits perfectly, with some lush jauntiness and sometimes an ominous quality, and the haunting theme tune is one of the most memorable and instantly recognisable of the genre.

Scripting is thought-provoking and has a better balance of humour and grimness. The story is the most engaging, least ridiculous, most to the point and least padding filled of the season, with very few if any noticeable loose ends. The death toll is not too ordinary, nor outlandish, and despite the predictable identity of the killer there are far less far-fetched and convoluted motives of the show in general.

Cast is very good, Neil Dudgeon is the most enthusiastic he's been since the end of Season 17 and Gwilym Lee continues to have a likable charisma. The supporting cast is one of the strongest of the John Barnaby-era, with Ramon Tikaram fully deserving of the praise he's garnered and everybody else (with some familiar and talented names present) also being excellent.

Overall, a good episode and one of the few good ones of an unimpressive season. 7/10 Bethany Cox


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