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Belling the cat with Herman the mouse, 4 March 2015

For me, Saved By the Bell is neither among the best or worst of the Herman cartoons. That it's very entertaining with some amusing moments and that the conflict is more convincing than it would become in the later Herman cartoons saves it from being among the weakest, but that it's also very predictable and that it has one or two moments of recycled material stops it from being among the best.

Starting with the good news, the animation is very good on the most part with some very vibrant colours and smooth drawings. The characters are drawn well, especially the cat who shows the widest range of expressions and emotions of any other character in the cartoon, and the backgrounds are anything but limited in detail. The music is bursting with energy and character and is orchestrated with a very mellow richness, the catchy opening credits theme is just infectious. Saving the Bell is funny at least with some inventive ways of Herman trying to bell the cat and the ending amuses despite you knowing exactly how it's going to end. There's also a neat little twist with Herman being a salesman instead of everybody's cousin and the cartoon moves at a brisk pace. The mice bring a poignancy to the story and the cat is a great character, dastardly and resourceful in a way that Katnip could only dream of being, plus the conflict between him and Herman is convincing and entertaining. Jack Mercer and especially Arnold Stang do sterling vocal work.

Herman has his heart in the right place and is fun mostly, but he also is not as smart as he has been known to be, in some of his cartoons he shows a very cunning side but here he seemed obtusely surprised by the attempts the cat made stopping Herman from belling him. His repeated song here also is nowhere near as catchy or appealing as Ding Dong Bell from Naughty But Mice, it's mildly annoying for my taste whereas Ding Dong Bell had a little childhood innocence about it. But what stops Saved By the Bell from being better than it was is that apart from that little twist the cartoon is very predictable at a point where the Herman series and Famous Studios were starting to get repetitive, including here the odd bit of borrowed animation(in the Herman in the mouth part which was lifted out of Naughty But Mice) and a very over-familiar story, by Herman and overall cartoon standards. All in all, a decent Herman cartoon and towards the middle, but falls short of being great. 7/10 Bethany Cox

Despite being very standard, still a colourful and very enjoyable cartoon, 4 March 2015

Being someone who has always loved Sylvester, never minded Tweety and enjoys the Sylvester and Tweety cartoons more than some others, Tweet and Lovely was not disappointing at all. It may not be one of the best of the Sylvester and Tweety cartoons but it is by all means a very enjoyable one.

When it comes to the story, one shouldn't expect an awful lot from it. Tweet and Lovely is very standard Sylvester and Tweety, meaning that if you're familiar already with the formula of most of the Sylvester and Tweety cartoons there will not be very much to surprise you. It is also not very hard to work out the outcome of every gag and while the dog is a good foil with a certainly intimidating presence we have seen his kind of character before a number of times and there is very little different here.

However, Tweet and Lovely is very well-animated, with vibrant colours, simple but detailed backgrounds and some as ever clever crafty character animation for Sylvester. Milt Franklyn's music score is outstanding as it always is. As with a vast majority of the Looney Tunes cartoons most of their energy and heart lies in the music, here it is always lively in rhythm, lush in orchestral sound and clever in how it matches with the action. While the humour and material are far from original, though far from tired either, they are still very funny. The gags benefit from crisp timing, solid animation and with having Sylvester as the main character, while the dialogue is hilarious and witty. Sylvester's priceless final line stands out in particular but Tweety's line regarding gravity in the vanishing cream gag(the funniest of most original) is also one of his better ones. Tweety doesn't have an awful lot to do but at least he has some funny material, some of the funniest of his later pairings with Sylvester. Sylvester steals the show, his comic timing as ever is nigh-on perfect but it's also easy to root for him. If you love Mel Blanc's voice work, you won't be disappointed here, his ability to bring manic energy and individuality to more than one character in a cartoon still shines remarkably.

Overall, standard but colourful and enjoyable. 8/10 Bethany Cox

Che! (1969)
A miscalculated failure in almost every way, 4 March 2015

To me, Che! is not one of the worst films of the 60s but it is one of the most disappointing, almost every criticism directed at it I agree with. It gets a few plus points for its beautiful scenic landscapes, stirringly rich music and Sid Haig giving a performance of fiery dignity. Unfortunately everything else is a failure.

Well actually the photography was not so bad, it actually looked decent and professional, but it could have been more expansive to give the scenery more character and it doesn't really shake off the 60s TV series look. In the acting stakes only Haig impressed, the rest of the supporting cast have hardly anything to work with and some like Robert Loggia spend their screen time looking annoyed. Omar Sharif's lead performance often is very stiff and a lot of the time he is either emotionless or perplexed. To give credit where he's due, he actually looks the part. Which is more than can be said for Jack Palance, who basically looks like Jack Palance with a fake nose and beard and glasses. His performance is a possible career-worst(even worse than that in Outlaw of Gor), being little more than a buffoonish caricature, chewing the scenery to shreds and I am sure that Fidel Castro in real life didn't behave like this much of an idiot.

The way the characters are written is never compelling and they never come over as real people either, coming over instead as caricatures with the cast attempting and failing to give them life or realism. Che! also has one of the worst-written scripts I've heard in a while for a film, with the dialogue flow and delivery being so stilted that you can't be blamed if you thought dubbing was involved, the actual dialogue being very flowery and with no substance or subtlety at all. The dialogue and blatant and sometimes disturbing "gay" subtext(or what can be seen as such) in the scenes between Guevara and Castro is just embarrassing on the ear. The story is never involving, it feels very episodic and one-sided with a lot of padding, so much so that although the film is 96 minutes long it feels longer. The 4th wall talking into the camera "interviews" were randomly put in and completely misplaced, they seemed to only be there for filler and just confused the storytelling rather than added. The Bolivia segment has a little tension and truth, in an overall story that has very little of either, but only in spades and it's too late. At the end of the day it felt like there was no point in the film being made, it tries to cover a lot but says very little and we learn next to nothing about what made Che Guevara famous and also learn just as little about him as a person as well. Not helped by that the film while mostly one-sided didn't seem to make its mind as to whether we should feel sympathy for Guevara or not.

All in all, not that dire but a miscalculated failure all the same that sees two wholly dependable actors giving very bad performances. 3/10 Bethany Cox

The Bonesetter (2003) (V)
Next to nothing works at all in this movie, 1 March 2015

Only one asset was half-way tolerable and that was attractive Sherry Thurig who at least tries to give her character some personality. Everything else fails and not in a small way, we're talking colossal failure here.

The Bonesetter is a cheap-looking movie, camcorder video taping is much more professional-looking than the slipshod photography here, the lighting is often too dim and drab in colour, editing is all over the place in the parts that are supposed to be scary and the special effects are all very half-hearted. The music has some occasional mildly effective parts but that's far outweighed by the majority of the time that it's loud, repetitive and over-bearing.

When it comes to the story, that's where The Bonesetter falls down massively. The whole story-telling is literally a load of tired clichés re-hashed with pedestrian pacing and complete lack of scares or suspense to boot(because the whole movie is so predictable), making the relatively scant 72-minute length feel longer by seemingly twice as long. None of the characters are interesting and some are annoying, the villain is also far too obvious and just a walking cliché with no development or menace. The acting is terrible from all but Thurig, with Lloyd Kaufmann underused and going through the motions, Mark Courneyea making a near-broken marionette less wooden and Anne-Marie Frigon showing very little emotion.

A vast majority of the blame for the colossal failure of The Bonesetter lies with Brett Kelly, who stars, directs and writes and he fails at all three. His lead performance is stiff and whiny with the character making stupid decisions that don't fit within the situation. His direction makes past-prime action stars less flabby, and the script throughout The Bonesetter is so senseless and awkward-sounding that it feels like there wasn't one written for the movie at all until literally at final stages. Overall, a terrible movie with only Thurig as a redeeming merit. 1/10 Bethany Cox

Dramatically compelling and musically outstanding production, 1 March 2015

Of the DVD competition for Pelleas et Melisande, this production fares very favourably, third best in fact with the WNO and Glyndebourne productions above it and the Lyon and especially Zurich productions being at the bottom.

The minimalist and sparsely decorated sets weren't always to my tastes, there were times where the austerity was very telling like in the more closed interiors but there were other points where a more enchanting out-worldliness would have been more welcome. The opera also has many different settings and scene changes, and there didn't seem to be an awful lot of difference here. Wolfgang Schöne is a little stolid and dry-sounding as King Arkel, Nikolaus Lehnhoff makes a great effort in making the characters and their interactions as interesting as possible and is on-point at almost all times but Schöne didn't seem very involved here. Also did not care at all for the screen animation projections, they weren't necessary and irritated rather than intrigued.

On the plus side, the production is very atmospherically lit and again the austerity did work in places, it just didn't need to be all the time. The costumes are effective as well and not too unflattering. Lehnhoff's stage direction is very good, he directs the singers very compellingly and succeeds in making the characters and their interactions interesting(especially Golaud). Especially in the mysterious Act 1 forest scene, the sensual tower scene and the incredibly intense murder of Pelleas, the emotional final act brings a lump to the throat as well. He follows the story closely and with precision, also always coherently and resorts to very few eccentricities.

Musically, the production's outstanding. The orchestral playing writhes with beautiful tone, silky phrasing, blazing passion and smouldering sensuality. Debussy's long and sustained phrasing sounds almost seamless and blends beautifully from one phrase to another. Stefan Soltesz's conducting gives the right amount of Impressionist lyricism and Wagnerian heft. With the exception of Schöne the performances are first-rate. Doris Soffel is past prime vocally but her singing is intelligently done still and she gives Genevieve a lot of dignity. Dominik Eberle is touching as Ynoild though it's a shame about the Shepherd scene being omitted. Jacques Imbrailo brings youthful passion and a sturdy voice to Pelleas, he does sound ever so slightly strained in places but only at points where psychologically the character is being stretched right to the edge so it wasn't exactly inappropriate. Michaela Selinger brings mystery, erotic sensuality, deeply felt emotion and nuance to Melisande as well as a beautiful voice. The standout performance came from Vincent Le Texier as a very powerfully acted and multi-layered Golaud(on par with his Paris performance and even better), menacing and sometimes chilling but also very conflicted and nuanced, his dark rich voice fits the role very well too.

All in all, dramatically compelling, musically outstanding and one of the best productions of Pelleas et Melisande on DVD. 7.5/10 Bethany Cox

Very standard but with a lot to enjoy, 1 March 2015

For a while I have not been the biggest fan of Herman or his cartoons, but that doesn't stop a fair few of his cartoons being good. Campus Capers fortunately is another of the good ones without standing out as one of the best.

Campus Cleaners is colourful and entertaining, but it is also very standard. Not that that is a bad thing necessarily but when the story is just a basic cat and mouse game with not much original, basically a more violent version of Tom and Jerry, and when you can smell the outcome/ending from a mile away that does hurt the cartoon a bit. This was a big flaw, but that aside there was little else wrong and there was a huge amount to enjoy. The animation quality was getting stronger with each cartoon with that for Campus Capers being on the same for the very, very good animation seen in Naughty But Mice. It's very lively and smooth and the colours are vibrant, the characters are drawn well too.

The music is as great as ever as well, it's very distinctive 40s cartoons orchestration and in a good way and it's full of non-stop energy. It doesn't just sound good, but it adds a lot to the energy of the cartoon too, enhancing the humour instead of trivialising. Love the opening title tune and the Mice's song at the start was tuneful. The gags are not really very original but they are still funny and well-timed. They are violent too but they don't get sadistic, certainly not down to the level of Gene Deitch's Tom and Jerry cartoons. Herman is not at his most likable, nor at his least, he at least is quick-thinking, appropriately cunning and witty. Knucklehead, looking like a feline version of Bluto, is an entertaining adversary. All in all, Campus Capers is a standard but enjoyable Herman cartoon. 7/10 Bethany Cox

Big Hero 6 (2014)
2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Disney continues to impress with Big Hero 6, 1 March 2015

Big Hero 6 is not among the best that Disney has ever done and it isn't flawless. But it is still very good and one of their best easily since the Renaissance. It did feel a little rushed at times and felt like it tried to do a little too much in the storytelling, as a result some ideas that were introduced like the science-is-good message gets lost. If it slowed down and explored a little less areas it would have improved things. The villain felt underdeveloped and his reveal came over as very obvious and forced as well.

However, the animation is outstanding with lots of rich colours and textures, backgrounds that are incredibly detailed and sweet(but not in a cloying way) character designs. One of the best-looking recent Disney films definitely. The catchy and upbeat yet atmospheric and emotion-filled soundtrack and smart script are other things to like, as are the brisk(when not rushed) pacing and rousing if not exactly inventive action. While the story is not flawless, on the most part it's still a winner. Whatever originality it may lack, it more than compensates for that with fun and heart. There are plenty of funny moments(i.e. Stan Lee), and of the laugh-out-loud witty kind and even better is the emotional impact Big Hero 6 has. The brother-brother relationship is handled very affectingly, like between Anna and Elsa in Frozen it was Disney trying to explore a different kind of relationship than they did before and it succeeds in that respect.

Sure Big Hero 6 sometimes takes a dark tone but not in a heavy or inappropriate way, there's no reason why anybody should be disturbed by that. The characters are not the most developed ones there ever were and as said more should have been done with the villain, but they're still engaging. Hiro is a very flawed but still likable main protagonist and his relationship between brother Tadashi is beautifully done. The most memorable character for me though was Baymax, he has to be one of Disney's most adorable characters, along with Maximus(Tangled) and Sven(Frozen) he has one of their cutest since the Renaissance. As well as being beautifully designed he displays a lot of laughs and a wide range of emotions, literally the film's heart and soul. The voice work from all(I just wish that James Cromwell had more to do) is very good, with particular mention going to Scott Adsit and his voice is a good match with Ryan Potter's deeply felt Hiro. All in all, not one of Disney's best but one of their better ones of the past 15 years. Haven't seen all the Best Animated Feature nominees but while this viewer did prefer How to Train Your Dragon 2 and the un-nominated Lego Movie they still felt that Big Hero 6 was still a good enough film to merit an Oscar nomination. 8/10 Bethany Cox

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Surprisingly good, 1 March 2015

Surprisingly because, although the cast is a very talented one, the bird-watching subject is interesting and comedy dramas are enjoyable when done right, the trailer wasn't particularly very promising and there were the worries of whether anything interesting would be made regarding bird-watching, whether the cast would be well-used and the dangers of the comedy forgetting to be funny or the drama to be too sentimental or both.

The Big Year is not a perfect film, with the odd predictable part, some pedestrian pacing and for personal tastes some of the historical montage narration was a little irritating and not always necessary despite it being well-delivered by John Cleese. However it is much better than the trailer suggests, in all honesty trailers rarely do their films justice with the trailer being misleading or bad and the film actually being good(the case with The Big Year). The bird-watching subject is dealt with thoughtfully and mostly engagingly if imperfectly, as well as handled with a gentle tone and uplifting at the end. And the script and story do just fine in the comedy and drama. Sure the comedy is not laugh-out-funny which will disappoint people, but it's gentle, droll humour instead of the crude, broad humour that it could easily have been, and the approach worked and would have suited the film and story much better in the first place. The drama hits the right note too, there's always a danger in comedy dramas or dramas for the dramatic parts to be over-sentimental, but in my opinion The Big Year did not fall into that trap with it being very poignant and hopeful.

It's very beautifully filmed too with strikingly picturesque locations, it is nicely directed and the music from Theodore Shapiro does a good job matching the film's gentle tone. The characters are sympathetically drawn and played, there's a danger always in comedy drama to have a character that's annoying or window-dressing and none of those are present in The Big Year. The acting is strong and no time is wasted on making full use of what makes the actors talented. Steve Martin's comic timing is as smooth as silk, Jack Black while broad at times is thankfully more subtle than usual and Owen Wilson while not quite as memorable is amiably likable. Luckily they are treated equally by the writers instead of one outweighing the others They are well-supported by an as ever elegant Anjelica Huston, an as always stellar Dianne Wiest and a radiant and sympathetic Rosamund Pike. To me The Big Year was not lacking in chemistry or tension.

Overall, The Big Year is not perfect but it's a surprisingly good and well done film, that is far better than it was advertised to be. 7/10 Bethany Cox

Strangely entertaining, 1 March 2015

For a Spaghetti Western It Can Be Done...Amigo is neither among the best or worst. While less than perfect, it was entertaining if in a strange way.

While it does deserve a much better DVD with a more expansive widescreen and sharper picture quality, It Can Be Done...Amigo is not a bad-looking film at all. In fact, the scenery is very evocatively beautiful and the camera work is well-placed and doesn't try to be too ambitious or simplistic. The energetic, rousing, haunting, stylish and beautifully and cleverly orchestrated music score is the best thing about the film, plus it fits very well, while the songs are a good memorable fit. It Can Be Done...Amigo is well-directed and the acting is also not bad although the child actor is a little annoying and the dubbing is unnecessary and poorly utilised. Bud Spencer is a charismatic and imposing lead with a good flair for comic timing and Jack Palance is lots of sinister yet hammy fun despite his accent rarely staying the same. Dany Saval brings charm to her role as well.

Regarding the script and story, both are a mixed bag. A good deal of the humour is very entertaining, a couple of the running gags like with the cans and the reading glasses do really work and give off a fun vibe. but some of it does fall flat when it does get a bit too silly and bizarre. The dialogue has its moments and is appropriately good natured, but also gets too silly and awkward-sounding. The story is problematic, credit is due for it trying to do something different for a Spaghetti Western, the interaction between Spencer and the child mostly engages and the final fight is oddball but amusing and tense. Also despite how it sounds reading a synopsis it is thankfully easier to follow than you think. However the film does start very sluggishly and feels like you're riding on the shell of a snail for a lot of the first half of the film, and it ends on an abrupt note.

Overall, flawed but strangely entertaining. 6/10 Bethany Cox

A solid production of an operatic masterpiece but could have been better, 28 February 2015

Cosi Fan Tutte is one of Mozart's best, with some of his most sublime music of any of his operas and ever and a story that has a healthy balance of comedy and drama. While one of the weaker productions of Cosi, this production has its flaws but is quite easily the best of the Netherlands Opera Mozart productions.

Updated to a youth hostel, as trashy as this sounds on the most part it's neatly handled with plenty of entertaining moments and an equal amount of emotional impact. Of course because Mozart's style is very traditional and of its time, there are parts that don't translate well as they could do updated , which is not unusual for concept/updated productions, as it is difficult to tell the story outside what Mozart intended. This is true especially of the inclusion of a dance party which did not fit the music at all, there is also almost non-existent stage acting during Come Scoglio between the present principals(either give them something to do or just have Fiordiligi onstage) and there are a few parts that do get a bit too smutty. Otherwise, the comedy is hilarious, the drama is poignant and above all you can actually understand what's going on in the story without superfluous stage business going on.

Visually, the production is not particularly imaginative but it is not unattractive either. The sets do fill a good space and while plain and a touch sparsely furnished you can certainly do with far worse. The lighting is nice and sunny without being garish. Was less enamoured with most of the costumes, had no problem with Alfonso and Ferrando but it was strange to see Guglielmo dressed like a tourist at one point and Fiordiligi and Dorabella's frumpy clothing didn't flatter Sally Matthews and Maite Beaumont at all. The production fares mostly wonderfully musically, with lively and sumptuous-in-sound orchestral playing and efficient, supple conducting from Ingo Metzmacher. The singing and acting are mostly very good indeed, though Norman Shankle while possessing a lovely lyrical voice is a little dull and stand-and-sing as an actor. The standouts were Sally Matthews and Maite Beaumont, Matthews' voice is more mature than most Fiodiligis but it is flexible and used with great artistry and emotion(especially in Come Scoglio), she is a very charming actress too. Beaumont sings wonderfully as well and has nice deadpan comic timing.

Danielle De Niese is a wickedly funny Despina, with a bright beautiful sound that she still has just less than a decade on. Luca Pisaroni also has a flexible voice with an appealing tone and good phrasing, and his Guglielmo is amusing and charming. Gary Magee's Alfonso is appropriately cynical and like a puppeteer of the action, without being too jovial or too sinister, and he has a sonorous quality to his voice. To conclude, could have been better and one of the weaker Cosi DVD productions but is solid and better than expected. 7/10 Bethany Cox

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