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The Pillars of the Earth (2010)
What on Earth ?
This series is currently showing on UK television. Unlike many series it wasn't given a big build-up. Someone in the scheduling team obviously has a conscience. The series is, to use a good old British phrase, total tosh. Strangely entertaining in a so bad it is almost good sort of way. Rufus Sewell does what he can to redeem the early episodes. Ian McShane plays the "baddie" with relish but no great depth. Donald Sutherland plays Donald Sutherland and sticks out like a sore thumb. The female leads are all unconvincing as medieval women - behaving with 21st century manners and mores. Strange that the Scotts were involved with this since I liked Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood. I will continue to watch to find out what happens (I haven't read the book) but it even makes Cadfael (based in the same period) look good.
Burke and Hare (2010)
Re the body of opinion
The press reviews I had read of the film seemed to uniformly pan it so I wasn't expecting too much when I went to see it (as a result of a word of mouth recommendation). And the recommendation was correct - it was a lot better than the critics painted - not a classic but a reasonable 7/10 film, a period black comedy but definitely more comedy than black. Since I'm not Scottish or Irish the accents didn't grate as they appeared to do to some of the critics on this site. The period touches seemed okay (and yes I got the Greyfriars Bobby reference). The theatrical flourishes (whether operating or stage) were suitably over-played.
Shaka Zulu (1986)
A class act
Although I remember seeing some of the original mini-series in the 80s I had never watched the whole story. My interest was re-awakened when I bought the Shaka Zulu box set in the January sales. Having watched the whole series through I realised that this was a great story, very well told and well acted (especially by the African leads - some of the British cast seem hammy in comparison although Edward Fox to his credit is less hammy than normal).
There are good production values and great scenery (the series used many of the original locations from Shaka's life) and hundreds of "real" extras. All in all a refreshing change from the vacuous CGI laden "epics" which flood the cinema now. I think the fact this was a mini-series has led to this production being seriously undervalued. It is a lot better than many films which get given Oscars.
Mars Attacks! (1996)
Tasteless and funny
I hadn't seen Mars Attacks for some time until I picked up a DVD from a supermarket bargain bin recently.
On rewatching the film it still seemed as funny to me as I remembered it. It works at several levels. As a homage to the clunky "B" movies from the 50s. As a parody of the more recent Sci-Fi extravaganzas with granite-jawed, wisecracking all-American but politically-correct heroes saving the Earth (yet again) and as a satire of modern American culture/politics/media. It is also a black farce (rather than just a black comedy) with really nice bad taste.
The actors all seem to be hamming it up to perfection. The Martians are the antithesis of the wimpy Star Wars alien types.
It seems that many Americans are uncomfortable with the film but that non-American audiences like it, which may offer an interesting insight into national psyches. The several comments that it is somehow a "mean-spirited" movie seem to indicate some shock at any assault on apple-pie morality - which is after all not a common occurrence in American comedies.
The Missionary (1982)
Slow but still fun
A bit like "Ripping Yarns" I think you need an appreciation or at least familiarity with the mores of late Victorian/Edwardian society. This film appears to be a gentle comedy of manners but there is a hint of satire beneath.
I have liked this film since I first saw it years ago. I have had this on tape for some time but recently bought the DVD which has some nice extras.
The cinematography is good. Maggie Smith, Denholm Elliott and Michael Hordern can do no wrong. Trevor Howard blusters in a suitable 'Lord Cardigan' manner and you get an early Timothy Spall role.
I gave it 8/10. Unrepentant. It's a slow burner but still has a charm of its own.
The comments from non-US reviewers seem consistently less positive than from the home team reviewers. Maybe distance lends perspective.
I bought the video for Gettysburg, without seeing the film at the cinema. I wanted to like it but the combination of the dreadfully wooden acting, amazingly poor fake beards (I thought adequate make-up was a requisite of any modern film) and the overweight extras conspired to prevent any real enjoyment. My suspension of disbelief has limits.
I'm not trying to knock the USA in general - 'Glory' is far, far better on all counts as a film. 'Gettysburg' came over as a bloated and amateurish production.
I gave it 4/10