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Department S (1969)
Introducing the amazing Jason King
With all due respect to Joel Fabiani and Rosemary Nicolls and their characters, Department S will be forever associated with Peter Wyngarde's Jason King.
Most people remember him as this camp, flamboyant and debonair womaniser cum detective in the mould of Austin Powers but that will do a disservice to the character: He's far more nuanced than that.
Jason King is lazy (he often lets Stewart fight all the bad guys and only chips in at the end), he is egotistical (his appreciation of people is based on whether they've read his novels or not), a lot of his detective work is speculation without facts to back them up and he sulks whenever Annabelle is right...and she often is. He's clearly a man having a mid-life crisis and drink drives but.......Jason King is brilliant. If Wyngarde had played him purely as a dashing hero, it wouldn't have worked but he shows King often as a paper tiger, led by his libido, love of finery and prone to grandstanding (and it gets in the way of his detective work at times) but he has some of the best lines and put downs in TV history. And by not playing him as whiter-than-white, the chemistry and interactions between the three lead characters is all the better for it.
Watching it again on DVD recently, you get to see just how much depth Wyngarde put into Jason King.
So...glug...tell us...glug....about your new play
Rivron was a one of kind chat show; the kind that could never be done before or again. The premise was simple: Get Rowland Rivron, whose name sounds a bit like river, to interview celebrities whilst floating in the River Thames at night. Each week, Rivron and his guests would float and try to tread water and not drown whilst wearing life jackets. Questions and answers would be frequently interrupted by the cast accidentally gulping water whilst they spoke and things got really dicey when a boat would pass and they had to deal with its wake. And rivers in the night tend to be cold as well so you could hear chattering of teeth. Eventually, the show was shut down because of health and safety issues and the last episode has the River Police shutting the whole thing down. Rivron also had a really snazzy show biz intro and music which was at odds with the low production values of the show.
The Inbetweeners (2008)
In Between Funny and Trying Too Hard
The Inbetweeners is the bastard child of your typical Channel 4 "with it" mentality and the movie "Superbad". It borrows from the latter a bunch of central characters, all boys, who are desperate to party, get drunk and get laid. It borrows from the former a desire to be cutting edge, quirky and hip to the kids...in short, comedy guided by middle aged channel execs.
It can be genuinely funny, particularly in the first episode where the boys try to exploit some obscure licensing laws in order to buy drinks in a pub and the aftermath where the nerd character outs all the school kids who are underage drinking. It can also be muddled and packed full of repellent characters who are more annoying than funny. What could be a well developed growing friendship between the two main characters, a nerd who's family have fallen on hard times and has moved from a private school to a state one and the boy assigned to be his "mentor" against his will, is never fully realised as the show is too keen on showing all the kids partying and generally behaving in gross ways. It's like Channel 4 have seen Superbad and missed the point of the friendship that underpins the movie.
Also the parent characters are very poorly developed, as you might expect in a movie like this. Again, they've taken from Superbad the idea that one of the characters has a hot mum all the other boys want to screw. Not only that, the actors playing the parents all seem to be in their early 30s and too young to have 16 year old children.
But like I said, it can be very funny when it doesn't try too hard to ingratiate itself with its target audience. Oh, and it's way more watchable than "Skins".
Directors Commentary (2004)
Very witty and good entertainment
I usually only write a review when the opinions of others here are utterly irritating. "Director's Commentary" was a simple idea and nicely done. Sure, it's no "Fawlty Towers" but there were some real gems of jokes there, good satire on the pretentiousness of film making and Brydon always develops rich detail in his characters. Sometimes it's his rambling anecdotes about things that have nothing to do with the programme he's commentating on that are the funniest. Sometimes it's the little intonations he has that make me smile. I haven't seen the show since the original run, but here are my favourite bits: "Dan Blocker...trained as a dancer" "And the production assistant was about to pick it up for Peter Bowles when I stopped him; 'no, don't interrupt him...he's acting' I said. And do you know who that young production assistant was? No, neither do I...I had him fired." "I had great times with Roger Daltrey on his farm, restoring old Ford Capris...sometimes we'd invite Pete Townshend to join us but his phone line was always engaged...this was in the days before broadband"
The Green Berets (1968)
About as viable as most Vietnam war movies
No, seriously. "The Green Berets" is about as viable and creditable as "The Boys in Company C" or "Casualties of War". It's hard to find a Vietnam war movie that DOESN'T come full of distortions based on the film makers political agendas; it's just this time "The Green Berets" comes from the pro-involvement side.
We've heard the negatives about this movie, and most of them are basically correct but there are a few things to say that, if not positive, put the movie in a less negative light.
First, this isn't your usual piece about 19 year old conscripts being called up to fight in a war they don't understand. The real Special Forces are career professionals who have very high standards of training and discipline. "The Green Berets" isn't a movie about your average grunt; it's about commandos and a lot of the training, tactics and equipment is accurate for the time. The experience of the special forces in Vietnam was widely different from line conscripts; and they won a lot of victories.
Second, it was a bold move to make a movie about the Vietnam war whilst it was still going on. The movie was made shortly before the Tet Offensive of 1968 when the initiative was still with the US and South Vietnamese forces. This is a Vietnam war movie from the early part of the war...something "Platoon" falls down on is depicting the unit in a state of disorganisation, with the usual drug taking and indiscipline scenes that have become cliché, in 1967 when the reality was that discipline and cohesion in the field in '67 was a lot tighter. Stone depicts events that would not become common in front line troops until '69-'70. Yes, I know he served a tour of duty over there but a number of his fellow veterans have called his depiction of events into question.
Third, the early part of the movie with the relationships between US Special Forces officers and ARVN counterparts is fairly well done. The SF had been present in Vietnam from '62 onwards and by '67-'68 had built up a good working relationship with ARVN Ranger units (the only South Vietnamese army units that were well trained and led).
Now the pine tree issue. Well, I hate to break it to people but not all of Vietnam is palm trees and jungle. In the area of Cochinchina just north of Saigon and into the hilly Montangnard country, there are a lot of deciduous and evergreen trees. I was surprised to find this when doing research on the US 25th Infantry Division and finding a lot of their patrol area wasn't in jungle but hilly woodland. Pine trees maybe stretching things a little bit though but it's not impossible.
The politics. Yes, the Duke is on the right wing campaign trail but other film makers have used the Vietnam war to promote the liberal left agenda so I don't get why that is acceptable and an alternative view that doesn't conform to that is inherently wrong. The scene at the beginning of the movie has Aldo Ray explaining how China, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union were sending aid to North Vietnam...so Oliver Stone's assertions that the VC were self-liberating and proudly defiant are deeply wrong. The VC and NVA were tools of a communist regime that were being heavily supplied and subsidised by other Communist regimes. I'm not advocating that the US's involvement in a war in Vietnam was right, just that people understand the involvement of other nations as well.
For those who think this movie is bad because it doesn't depict American atrocities, drug taking and insubordination like other Vietnam war movies have merely bought into another set of falsehoods. This goes back to my original point; "The Green Berets" isn't particularly realistic...but then again, neither are most other movies about that war.
Broken News (2005)
This blatant "Day Today" rip off promised a new, cutting edge BBC comedy. It's nothing of the sort, rather a tepid satire on the banality of television news but without the biting humour and insight that Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci provided for "The Day Today" and "Brass Eye".
Where does "Broken News" fail where the older shows succeed? 1) It's made itself a one trick pony: In episode one it shows the headless chicken style of modern TV news reporting, where no actual information is reported and presenters just love the sound of their own voice. Fine, after half an hour we get the joke. Then it's repeated week after week. Same joke, same premise. The show doesn't progress, introduce new elements or play around in its own rigid format. The American news desk will always be the same, the "Look Out East" crew will have suggestive banter in the same manner and Standing News was great as a one off joke, but it's repeated again and again.
2) The cast. It must have seemed like a great idea in the planning stages to have quality dramatic actors such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Pip Torrens and Claudia Christian in a satire/sub-sketch comedy show but these things are best done by comedy actors...even a team of them. There's no chemistry between the cast, which is huge (what a waste of money) and what made "The Day Today" and "Brass Eye" so good was the caricature like characters created by a smaller but gifted comedy group. Can any of the "Broken News" characters stand out like Alan Partridge, or Peter O'Hanrahahanrahan, or Austen Tasseltine or Ted Maul? The cast are playing it too serious, too real and the result is a flat comedy.
3) Blatantly stealing from "The Day Today". We're not just talking about the concept, but the actual material as well. Frozen urine, death penalty reports by glamorous American journalists, nonsensical captions, fake football team names, overwrought graphics...all done on "The Day Today" and done much better.
The BBC comedy department is at one of its lowest points at the moment. It's overly dependent on "Little Britain" and Ricky Gervais to keep it afloat for one thing. It thinks by re-hashing old comedy concepts such as "My Family" and "Broken News" it will count on getting viewers who have put much better equivalent shows out of their memories and it is fiercely loyal to character based sketch shows which can spin out episode after episode of 8 characters and their stock catchphrases. This is hardly a recipe for growth and surprise.
Lynda La Plante out of her depth
I'm beginning to believe that 1992 could be the nadir of British television. We seemed to have been bombarded with a whole heap of leaden paced anti-establishment "drama" and Civvies is possibly the worst.
There's terrible over-acting from all concerned. Jason Issacs looks more like Prince Barin in "Flash Gordon" and Peter O'Toole isn't an East End gangster. O'Toole is a brilliant actor, the best of his generation and cruelly denied an Oscar but he's no cockney gangster. No one comes across as convincing in any way, and the "action" and fight scenes are so poorly done. Is this from the same country that gave us "The Sweeny", "The Professionals" and "Target"? La Plante's script will have you believe that all ex-army soldiers are psychopathic time bombs waiting to go off in civilian life. The cop show "Between the Lines" stuck the knife in to the police and "Civvies" tries to do the same for the army. TV producers and networks back then just seemed to hate any government organisation and so gave us these shows. Have they forgotten that these people are responsible for saving lives and protecting their safety?
A Very British Coup (1988)
If Ken Livingstone had become British Prime Minister
...thankfully he hasn't, yet! This is crude, simplistic student politics made into drama. It needs the viewer to buy into a series of conceits. Conceit 1: That a British electorate could be swung from being basically right of centre to being overwhelmingly far left. Conceit 2: That all debate in the media and the general public is unanimously ended and that the new Prime Minister's only critics are sinister civil servants, MI5, big business and the Americans (naturally). Conceit 3: That this radical socialist PM can solve all union, economic and social problems with consummate ease in a way that unites the nation. Conceit 4: That severing all ties with the US and NATO is a good thing. Conceit 5: That the Soviet Union isn't a brutal and oppressive regime and that we should have had closer times with them back in the 80's. And finally, Conceit 6: That the reactionary forces of the US would actively seek to launch a coup d'etat against Britain.
It's ludicrous and the show only gained the reputation that it did by trying to cash in on some anti-Thatcher feeling in the country and having left wing TV critics singing its praises. When it was made, television was still a hugely popular and influential medium with shows getting huge ratings so a widely talked about drama with a hint of controversy had a good chance of getting a big audience. Ray McInally's performance was great, which is one of the few plus points. History and time has shown the huge weakness in the premise and plot of this show.
Between the Lines (1992)
Oh those nasty police
"Between the Lines" was a show which reflected British television's attitude to the police in the Thatcher years...namely, that the police are brutal, corrupt and fascist. If the show was merely about corrupt officers, then it could have made for gripping drama, but it had a heavy political agenda so corruption was always from up on high and institutionalised. One or two episodes of this might have been gripping, but it was constant and often Neil Pearson's character would often act as an apologist for the criminals. One of the more ludicrous episodes featured Pete Postlethwaite as a senior Metropolitan Police commander putting down a riot (by good lefties or course) which he agitated and he ends up quoting the speech made in the Falklands War: "The flag is flying over Port Stanley"...oh, is this a dig at Thatcher? But apart from the student level politics, the show gained notoriety and earned the nickname "Between the Loins" for its preponderance for sex scenes bang on the stroke of the 9 o'clock watershed. Any chance for Pearson to drop his trousers (but always in a sensitive way) and he'd grab it. Sometimes it seemed he'd abandon a case to get some more sex...can't say I blame him.
Rules of Engagement (1989)
When British television was at its dullest
In the 1970's it was widely regarded that Britain put out the most consistently innovative and entertaining television. Then, in the 80's, the whole thing began to unravel bit by bit. Action drama was all but dead, sitcoms had lost their way and British movies and shows were either flashy, vacuous stuff or leaden paced and tedious. "Rules of Engagement" is definitely the latter.
The political conspiracy thriller was all the rage in Britain in the 80's. You had "Threads" (an anti-Thatcherite post apocalyptic drama), "Edge of Darkness" (an anti-Thatcherite nuclear power drama), "Harry's Game" (anti-Thatcherite Northern Ireland drama), "A Very British Coup" (anti-American and by way of that, anti-Thatcherite as well), "Between the Lines" (anti-Police and natch, anti-Thatcher), "Defence of the Realm" (yep, you guessed it) and this.
The mini-series was supposedly set on the eve of WW3, although this is left vague. There's some national disaster which needs martial law and state of emergency powers in...erm, Portsmouth but we rarely see troop movements, people talking in shops, bars, pubs, offices about the crisis. In fact, you rarely see anyone outside of the main characters, not even extras. Kenneth Cranham plays the government minister put in charge of handling the emergency and for such a good actor, he's totally unconvincing in the part. He gets interviewed on the television, supposedly to calm people's fears and yet his delivery is so stock shifty politician/villain with eye rolling, slow and sinister speech and shifting continually in his seat that you don't buy anything he says.
Then there's the "romantic" sub-plot between Karl Johnson and Cathy Tyson. In all this "world crisis", they just amble around trying to find each other and look nervous. It's a shame because Tyson went from being in "Mona Lisa" and stardom to "oh yeah, whatever happened to her?" after this. The pace of this drama was turgid, and they tried to make it look like a top draw conspiracy drama by having a cut to credits title card of the main actors done up like chess pieces moving across a board...only this was a match that went on for 6 weeks and ended in a tame draw.