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Lost: Raised by Another (2004)
Season 1, Episode 10
10/10
The mystery and suspense levels are raised
11 December 2017
When 'Lost' was in its prime, it was must-watch television. Remember first watching it, found it remarkably easy to get into, was hooked from the start and was on Season 3 by the end of one week. The general consensus is that the final season is a disappointment and cannot disagree.

All the episodes for me up to this point in 'Lost' were very good to outstanding. Season 1 and 'Lost' in general is back on outstanding form with one of my favourite early seasons episode "Raised by Another". Its most memorable asset is the climax, the suspense of it and the unforgettably shocking reveal are blood-curdling. Learning more about Claire was also wonderful and the character finally gets to properly shine with an interesting back-story that is wonderfully mysterious.

Emilie De Ravin gets her turn to shine in her meatiest material up to this point, and gives a deeply felt performance in the process. William Mapother is the other standout, but everybody does strong work. It's not all mystery and suspense, Hurley also provides some welcome humorous levity.

Visually, "Raised by Another" is well made with the island as beautiful and mysterious as ever. The music is understated and chilling.

The writing still provokes thought, and a return to the smart and taut writing of 'Lost' at its best. The story absorbs, with the climax being the most note-worthy element.

In summation, outstanding episode. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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Fish Tales (1936)
8/10
Porky goes fishing
11 December 2017
Love animation, it was a big part of my life as a child, particularly Disney, Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry, and still love it whether it's film, television or cartoons.

'Fish Tales' shows that, as to be expected, that Porky is a likable character and he is and also amusing, cute and interesting, though to me he works better in support against a stronger in personality character, where he plays it straight, than a lead. The fish characters are great support, giving fun and edge to agreed easily one of the best late 30s Porky cartoons where the atmosphere and fun were done so well for one to be bothered that much by the slightness of the story.

Joe Dougherty's voice for Porky has never really done it for me. It's not just because Mel Blanc's more famous interpretation is more appealing to me and fits better but Dougherty doesn't sound anywhere near as natural or endearing, have always found that he overdid the stutter and that's true here too.

On the other hand, the animation is characteristically great, especially in the first half, crisp, detailed and fluid throughout.

The music is not Carl Stalling or Scott Bradley and does lack variety at times, but it is still lush and characterful and adds a good deal to the action if not quite enhancing it.

Lots of fun moments throughout and the nightmarish atmosphere of the cartoon is handled very effectively, that alone making 'Fish Tales' more memorable than most Porky Pig cartoons made during the late 30s period.

In conclusion, fun and nightmarishly atmospheric. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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Blue Planet II: Our Blue Planet (2017)
Season 1, Episode 7
10/10
How human activity affects the oceans
11 December 2017
David Attenborough is nothing short of a national treasure, although it is a term he happens to not like apparently. He has done so many treasures and even his lesser output of a long and consistently impressive career is still good.

Absolutely adore the first 'The Blue Planet', one of my favourites of his, so was psyched to hear that there was a second 'Blue Planet' series. Luckily, 'Blue Planet II' turned out to be every bit as amazing, easily a highlight of 2017 television and one of not many programmes that year to leave me completely transfixed and wanting to see the whole lot and looking forward to it every week. This is saying a lot, seeing as apart from the odd gem 2017 has not seen me watching new television by habit, often find myself seeing re-runs or films more.

OK, so 'Blue Planet II' may not be as ground-breaking as 'The Blue Planet' and not everything is new here. This doesn't matter, because 'Blue Planet II' is just as beautiful to watch, non-stop transfixing, educational, inspirational and emotionally complex.

The final episode "Our Blue Planet" is equal in quality to the consistently brilliant previous six episodes. It may not have the quite as beautiful images, the jaw-dropping creatures or unforgettable scenes of tension and emotional power as the previous six episodes. Despite being the most sombre, and perhaps the episode that makes us feel most sad and cross regarding mainly what is said about the pollution, it is no less emotional in its own way. Despite how it sounds, being a more human-oriented and their contribution to marine life's struggles, "Our Blue Planet" doesn't feel out of place at all and makes some important and relevant points that makes one think.

Visually, "Our Blue Planet" is a wonder and a feast of gorgeous images. It has gorgeous scenery and rich colours. Standing out even more is the photography, the underwater sequences are just as stunning as 'The Blue Planet' (unequalled when it comes to underwater sequences).

While not with the involvement of George Fenton, the music here soars, rouses just as much and touches the soul just as much, definitely worthy of cinematic quality. It not only complements the visuals but enhances them to a greater level. Some have found the music and sound effects too bombastic and intrusive, not for me.

Really can't fault the narrative aspects in "Our Blue Planet" either. There are things already known to me, still delivered with a lot of freshness, but there was a lot that was quite an education. Found myself learning a lot about the mystery and beauty of the ocean and the marine life that inhabits it.

Ever the amazing presenter and narrator, Attenborough's narration and presenting helps quite significantly too, he clearly knows his stuff and knows what to say and how to say it. He delivers it with his usual richness, soft-spoken enthusiasm and sincerity, never talking down to the viewer and keeping them riveted and wanting to know more.

Nothing episodic or repetitive here. Instead, it feels like its own individual story with real, complex emotions and conflicts. There is an honesty and humanity in the behind the scenes moments.

In summary, wonderful, sombre but interesting and important. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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Peter Pan and the Pirates: The Great Race (1991)
Season 1, Episode 45
10/10
Great is right
11 December 2017
'Peter Pan and the Pirates' very quickly not only became one of my favourite animated shows but also one of my favourites ever. Of all the adaptations of 'Peter Pan', it's also my personal favourite.

All the characters are not only interesting but remarkably complex, especially Hook, even when not looking like Barrie's Hook all the character traits of the character are fully explored and expanded upon. The show is advantaged furthermore by good animation (with some exceptions here and there). Great music particularly the theme tune, one of the best of any animated 90s show. Remarkably good writing that had real maturity and a wide range of emotions rare in animated shows today. Gripping and imaginative stories that maintain the spirit of Barrie's source material while expanding on the themes, events and characterisation. And really excellent voice acting, for one of the most talented voice actors in the business and near-unequalled in villain roles Captain Hook contains some of the best work Tim Curry has ever done.

"The Great Race" lives up to its name, it's a very compelling episode and excellent in every way. The animation is beautiful and atmospheric in colour, meticulous in background detail and smoothly drawn.

Music is a great mix of lively, haunting and lush, the theme tune immediately sticks in one's head and never leaves it.

Writing is as mature, intelligent and emotionally complex as one would expect, never feeling dumbed down for adults or too complicated for children. The story is absorbing and fun with some beautifully written conflict and thrilling action. The race invention is very imaginative.

Love that Peter is portrayed with a mix of likable traits and less than likable ones, which is exactly how he should be. With the pirates, there is much more to them than just one personality, even Smee for all his stupidity is funny and endearing. Billy Jukes has the lion's share and it was nice to see more focus on him. Likewise with the Lost Boys, the Darlings aren't too cloying and Hook is my favourite character still, he couldn't have been a more perfect antagonist.

All the voice acting is very good, Tim Curry especially.

Overall, great isn't enough to sum up "The Great Race". 10/10 Bethany Cox
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How's Crops (1934)
5/10
Cubby and the opossum
11 December 2017
Van Bueren Studios' Cubby the Bear series comprised of just 19 (not the 17 as initially thought, having worked from an incomplete list listing the cartoons) cartoons made between 1933-1934. As much as it pains me to say it, speaking as a big animation fan, it is not hard to see why the character and the series weren't so popular and didn't last long.

Despite my love for animation, there are a few above mediocre Cubby cartoons, such as 'The Nut Factory', 'Fresh Ham' and 'Croon Crazy'. 'How's Crops' is only to me average but is one of the better efforts of the series. The best thing about it, and this is true of a lot of Van Bueren's output, is the music score. It is so beautifully and cleverly orchestrated and full of lively energy that is sorely lacking elsewhere, doing so well with enhancing the action.

The opossum is a cute and amusing character, there are some neat transitions and synchronisation and a few of the gags are fun and delightfully surreal. There are more than most Cubby cartoons and they are better than most too.

However, the animation generally is really not good even for a cartoon not made on a high budget, and it is true for the Cubby the Bear series and Van Bueren in general on the whole. It's static in movement, simplistic in background detail and sloppy in drawing, with the character expressions being pretty expressionless.

Another major problem is Cubby himself, on top of being poorly animated he is one of the blandest, most personality-deprived there is. Not all the gags work, some being too weird and predictable to work, and the story is paper thin with a lot of what happens being able to be smelt from miles away. Especially the ending where the outcome is obvious from the very beginning.

To summarise, average but one of the better Cubby cartoons. 5/10 Bethany Cox
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2/10
Doesn't have any warmth or heart to be considered warm-hearted
11 December 2017
Being someone who likes horses and loves Christmas films, there was the hope that 'The Christmas Foal' was good. Unfortunately 'The Christmas Foal' is one of those films where it is difficult to know where to begin criticising and be up all night doing it.

There are two things that stop it from being a complete pile of horse manure. One is the scenery, which is beautiful. The other is the horses, they are both cute and majestic in look and have the immense likability that the human characters lack. Sadly, these two good elements are also somewhat wasted. 'The Christmas Foal' is far too amateurishly filmed and edited (flat photography and haphazard editing) for the scenery to be properly enjoyed. Have seen films made for television that look better. The horses also don't have enough screen-time and when they were used they were poorly so.

As said, it is difficult to know where to start with the criticisms and one will find it even harder knowing when to end. Saying that the acting is woeful is being too kind, props are more animated. Most are stiff and ill at ease, the children are some of the most annoying for any film seen in recent memory and the villains are too hammy. The characters are incredibly poorly written, the horses are the only characters one halfway roots for and they're not in it enough.

Really disliked the children for reasons that have been summed up well already, condescending and annoying sums them up well. The villains are neither funny or menacing, instead they come over as idiots and don't fit within the film. The writing never sounds natural and will make even young children feel dumber and insulted.

In terms of the story, 'The Christmas Foal' is very thin and ridiculous. It's less than an hour and a half and it feels stretched, making the pace drag so much that it's tedious to sit through, so much so one seriously considers bailing out after 10 minutes (stuck with it because judging a film without seeing the whole thing is unfair). There is no warmth, heart or charm to the storytelling, even the Christmas spirit isn't noticeable. The music is forgettable at best and the direction isn't there.

Overall, a real mess apart from the scenery and the horses and even they deserved better. 2/10 Bethany Cox
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Murder, She Wrote: Big Easy Murder (1995)
Season 12, Episode 4
8/10
New Orleans, voodoo and murder
11 December 2017
Have always been quite fond of 'Murder She Wrote'. It is a fun and relaxing watch that makes you think as you try to unwind in the evening. If one wants more complex, twisty mysteries with lots of tension and suspense 'Murder She Wrote' may not be for you, but if you want something light-hearted and entertaining but still provide good mysteries 'Murder She Wrote' fits the bill just fine.

Season 12, along with Seasons 9 and 11, is one of the weaker and more variable ones of 'Murder She Wrote'. It is though a season that got off to a good start and "Big Easy Murder" is another episode that continues this initially good if not great standard and is among the season's better episodes. To me, it is one of the show's better excursions to Louisiana.

"Big Easy Murder" is hardly an original episode. Elements of the story and script are recycled, voodoo and politicians is hardly unfamiliar territory. As are a large number of the actors.

The good news is that "Big Easy Murder" for all its lack of originality is still a very well executed episode. The guest stars are all just great, especially Olivia Cole, GW Bailey, Robert Forster and Brian McNamara, and easily one of the season's strongest guest casts. Angela Lansbury continues to delight as Jessica.

Regarding the mystery, it's a lot of fun and always interesting. It has a lot of twists and surprising ones, this is including the denouement. In terms of the atmosphere and writing, it does get a little over-heated and slightly weird in places, my only other complaint of the episode.

Production values are slick and stylish with great use of the setting. The music has energy and has presence but also not making the mistake of over-scoring, while it is hard to forget or resist the theme tune. The writing is amiable and thought-provoking.

All in all, very well done. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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Once Upon a Time: Dreamy (2012)
Season 1, Episode 14
6/10
Not so dream-like
11 December 2017
When 'Once Upon a Time' first started it was highly addictive and made the most of a truly great and creative premise. Really loved the idea of turning familiar fairy tales on their heads and putting own interpretations on them and the show early on clearly had clearly had a ball. Watched it without fail every time it came on and it was often a highlight of the week. Which was why it was sad when it ran out of ideas and lost its magic in the later seasons.

"Dreamy" is to me the weakest episode up to this point and one of Season 1's lesser episodes. Not a bad episode by all means, but there were some serious drawbacks that made the episode a mixed feelings not easy to rate one. It begins on a rather weird note with the viewer being given information that will make them go "what the heck did I just hear?" The unnecessary romance is further hurt by the childish way it's written and that the title character and particularly Nova as characters take bizarre to extreme levels. The missing person subplot was very intriguing and remarkably mature, at the same time it felt at odds with the rest of the episode with the more obvious and simpler tone.

However, visually "Dreamy" is a very handsomely mounted episode, settings and costumes that are both colourful and atmospheric, not too dark or garish and never cookie-cutter. The special effects, after being pretty bad in a couple of episodes like "True North", are superior here. It is photographed beautifully and there is some make-up that suited the characters perfectly. The music is haunting, ethereal and cleverly used with a memorable main theme.

While the more fairy-tale oriented elements left me mixed, found the rest of the Dwarfs, Belle and particularly the Blue Fairy well realised, the emotional elements of the Storybrooke parallel and the missing person subplot were far more successful and very well done. Some of the dialogue is thought-provoking, humorous and poignant, if more in the Storybrooke scenes.

Again, the acting is strong in the Storybrooke scenes.

In conclusion, worth watching but not the dream-like episode it could have been. 6/10 Bethany Cox
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7/10
Shanghaied Porky
11 December 2017
Love animation, it was a big part of my life as a child, particularly Disney, Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry, and still love it whether it's film, television or cartoons.

'Shanghaied Shipmates' shows that, as to be expected, that Porky is a likable character and he is and also amusing, cute and interesting, though to me he works better in support against a stronger in personality character, where he plays it straight, than a lead. The captain has the stronger personality and he is appropriately menacing without it being too overt. The two work very well together with some great tense conflict, particularly at the end with an inspired fight scene.

As far as the story goes it is pretty slight and, although this is personal preference and something not everyone will share, Joe Dougherty's voice for Porky has never really done it for me. It's not just because Mel Blanc's more famous interpretation is more appealing to me and fits better but Dougherty doesn't sound anywhere near as natural or endearing, have always found that he overdid the stutter and that's true here too.

On the other hand, the animation is characteristically great, especially in the first half, crisp, detailed and fluid throughout.

The music is not Carl Stalling or Scott Bradley and does lack variety at times, but it is still lush and characterful and adds a good deal to the action if not quite enhancing it. Billy Bletcher, with one of the greatest and most distinctively booming villainous voices in "golden age" animation, is very good.

While not hilarious or of a large quantity, the gags are amusing and well timed. 'Shanghaied Shipmates' goes at a lively pace.

In short, pretty decent if not mind-blowing. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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The Hunt: The Hardest Challenge (II) (2015)
Season 1, Episode 1
10/10
Far from a challenge to sit through
11 December 2017
David Attenborough is nothing short of a national treasure. He may apparently dislike the term, but it is hard to not say that about such a great presenter who has contributed significantly to some of the best programmes (of the documentary genre and overall) the BBC has ever aired/produced.

It is really hard picking favourites, let alone a definite favourite, among what Attenborough has done because he has done so many gems, it is the equivalent of trying to choose your favourite ice cream flavour or your favourite operatic role (for examples) and finding you can't pick. To me though, 'The Hunt' is up there with his crowning achievements and one of the best documentaries ever viewed, and as has been said already there are a lot of great ones. It has everything that makes so much of his work so wonderful, hence some of the reiteration of my recent reviews for some of his work (being on a nature documentary binge in my spare time), and deserves everything great that has been said about it. "The Hardest Challenge" is a breath-taking start.

First and foremost, "The Hardest Challenge" looks amazing. It is gorgeously filmed, done in a completely fluid and natural, sometimes intimate (a great way of connecting even more with the animals), way and never looking static. In fact much of it is remarkably cinematic with some of the shots being unique for a documentary series, making one forget that it is a series. The editing is always succinct and smooth and the scenery is pure magic, similarly really admired the wide-ranging diversity of the different landscapes rather than restricting it to just one habitat. The music score fits very well, never overly grandiose while never being inappropriate.

Again, like so many Attenborough nature/wildlife documentaries, "The Hardest Challenge" fascinates, teaches, moves, entertains and transfixes. In terms of the facts there was a very good mix of the known ones and the unknown, some facts being familiar to us while going into detail about the different predators, what they do, how they adapt to their environments and why they act that way. Like with a lot of Attenborough, found myself learning a lot despite not being a slouch when it comes to knowledge of these different predators.

Throughout one is reminded that the aim is not to show gratuitous blood and gut to empathise that this is predators we're talking about. Instead the point is made that hunts do fail and the odds are against these predators, doing it without hammering it home or laying it on too thick. "The Hardest Challenge" does a great job with this.

Notable in particular are two sequences. One is with the two wildebeest and the wild dogs. The other, and the episode's highlight, is the killer whales and the humpback whale, both harrowing and poignant.

It is expected for Attenborough's narration to help significantly, one isn't disappointed in "The Hardest Challenge" or throughout 'The Hunt'. He clearly knows his stuff and knows what to say and how to say it. He delivers it with his usual richness, soft-spoken enthusiasm and sincerity, never talking down to the viewer and keeping them riveted and wanting to know more. The "behind the scenes/making of" scenes too gave some humanity to the series and allowed us to get to know those behind the camera as well as in front.

The predatory animals are big in personality and wide in range. The conflict has genuine tension and suspense, there is some fun and a lot of emotionally powerful moments done with a lot of tear-jerking pathos. Found myself really caring for what they're told and the wildlife. Like much of Attenborough/BBC's other work, "The Hardest Challenge" doesn't feel like an episodic stringing of scenes, but instead like the best nature documentaries each feels like their own story and journey, with real, complex emotions and conflicts and animal characters developed in a way a human character would in a film but does it better than several.

Overall, breath-taking start, far from a challenge to sit through. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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