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35 reviews in total 
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3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Wanted: Kind home ..., 8 March 2014

The problem with revisiting Wodehouse is that Jeeves & Wooster set the bar very high. Fry & Laurie were exactly the right men at exactly the right time. A resonance like that might come once in a generation. Even so, Jeeves & Wooster took a significant downturn by Series 3 when the action moved to America and Hugh Laurie began to heavily over-blow his accent. Whether this was due to pressure from US money or heavy handedness/drinking by the director/producers I don't know. The upside was that it enshrined the first two series in the pantheon of near perfection.

So to expect Blandings to be a palpable hit is quite a tall order. To compare it to J & W is probably a bit unfair, if understandable, and if Blandings had been written by someone else it might feel less of a crime. To find it to play like Worzel Gummidge - which for children was fine - in more opulent surroundings but with similar numbers of pratfalls and physical comedy - was quite a disappointment. It might be possible to rescue the apparently shredded lettuce of a plot that gestures feebly from each of the episodes. Whether it's worth the effort is another question.

One thing that always worked for me was Bertie W's habit of "climbing outside" his breakfast or "trousering keys". The euphemistic brilliance of Wodehouse wasn't designed for video but it could easily be added as dialogue because J & W was, essentially, a diary which leaves the adaptor free to get creative with the language or, when sensible, put in what Wodehouse wrote. But here in Blandings I see no evidence that the writer(s) noticed this gift.

I don't entirely fault the cast here, though Jennifer Saunders is irrevocably Edina Monsoon and appears to play all subsequent roles in a similar windmilling centre-of-the-universe way. Celia Imrie outshines her effortlessly. But even the best cast can't make up for lacklustre writing that lacks the bite, symmetry and coherence of Jeeves & Wooster. So, to me Blandings feels a bit like listening to Elgar's Land of Hope and Glory played on an ocarina accompanied by a jaw harp.

I've watched the episodes several times to try to get a clear idea of what's wrong but basically it's an unloved cushion with the stuffing leaking out. There might be a generation who take it to heart and love it even so, and that would be good because it needs a kind home. I just don't have the space.

5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Tales of the Unexpected? Almost..., 7 March 2014

But a lot better in many respects. With only one episode left this has been an interesting ride.

Shearsmith & Pemberton work/write very well together and their pedigree is indisputable. Some of the twists could have been less telegraphed but overall the quality of the work is high and evident and its diversity will find fans amongst most viewers.

What works well is the casting done afresh for each episode (other than Pemberton and Shearsmith who are chameleons.) It shares the love and lends separation between tales. A mix of big hitters and new blood can make the writing shine.

I confess that Sardines was making me impatient at first - the mortifying awkwardness of Ian for example - but when we finally are given the reason for "Stinky" John's aversion to soap and the darkness really begins to gather it becomes compelling.

Tom and Gerri was a really sterling tale. The twist was neatly concealed and delivered with a sting. Gemma Arterton was a great choice for Gerri with that rare combination of flawless beauty and earthiness that is the golden rock to which Tom's life is moored. The pathetic figure of Migg was so woebegone that it made the thing work - who couldn't feel sympathy for such a bedraggled battered figure? So when things turn sinister it feels like a betrayal.

Last Gasp fell a little flat for me though Tamsin Grieg added a frisson with salty language and a heartless character. The Understudy was fun, particularly Pemberton's drunken thespianic rants and the twist another kicker.

Overall a splendid work. I sincerely hope these gentlemen can produce more like this because contemporary television needs all the help it can get.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Less is More, 7 March 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

If you saw Steve Pemberton in Benidorm you'll know that he has some great comic expressions. Yet in this he finds another level and mines it completely.

This is my first time seeing Reece Shearsmith and I was impressed by how well he and Pemberton work together.

The little touches multiply it all out from Pemberton's bobbing head as he tries to run quietly upstairs, his shamefaced eyes after the dog-window incident and Shearsmith's exasperation since he's the only one of the pair with a businesslike approach to the job and he's partnered with a dolt. Gerald (Dennis Lawson) discovering that one cupboard is full of housemaid as he tries to hide his girlfriend and, with a slight shrug, switching to the other cupboard.

The timings are impeccable and when Pemberton and Shearsmith synchronise their movements the effect is splendid. Though it was not an homage to the silent era - to which at least one of the cast has a blood-connection - it showed every bit of respect and understanding of how those early days founded the grammar used in this. The camera work was solid; close up shots magnify small facial expressions and it's easy to over-articulate in a tight framed shot and these guys were so animated that it had to be mostly long-shots which heightened the comic effect. The arrival of Paul (Kayvan Novak) seemed like an intrusion - as indeed it was - but Novak played the role so well that he was soon a valued member of the party.

To play so many visual gags and wrap them up in/connect them with so little dialogue and still keep it funny is not as easy as this piece makes it look.

It seems churlish to be critical of the piece. But the trans-gender twist merely to set up the under-bed gag should have hit the cutting-room floor. Oona Chaplin is so feminine and shapely and the stand-in so obviously was neither that it was more than a stretch of credulity.

Some people apparently took issue with the dog scene which they felt was distressing and also the gun-play. Well, this is billed as a black comedy not some fuzzy-fold-farm Disney fest. In fact if they had seen the first episode and how that ended they'd have had some serious chills run down their back.

Indeed this might be the funniest - or least dark - of the set. These guys are tremendous writers and this stuff is really really good.

More please chaps! (P.S. Steve; please wear those teeth for your award acceptance speech).

Spy Game (2001)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Mostly interesting and entertaining, 31 March 2012

A fast paced thriller like this with lots of background needs some careful setting up and there wasn't much sophistication in the way it was done, but it worked surprisingly well considering.

As others have pointed out, there were some pedestrian errors in the props and sets not to mention Tom Bishop's (Brad Pitt) apparently ageless body. Not the director's fault, though he should have spotted at least some of these. Timelines were skewed and there were some glaring historical errors.

The ambitious Charles Harker (Stephen Dillane) drove the plot forward with force so we could compare that with Muir's (Redford) delicate, more productive touch. Muir and Harker had some interesting interplay which was cleverly written, well acted and nicely presented with great camera work, kudos to Tony Scott. Elizabeth Hadley (Cat McCormack) was an effective spanner in the works as the ambiguous go-between though I feel that Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) took a big risk to get her back when, in a few months she could be back in Beirut. Bishop's difficulty with the harsh realities of his work were a bit thin: he must have known the risks he was taking not just for himself but for others in any way connected with him. Muir's rooftop warning seemed a little late, Muir had more faith in his protégé than he possibly deserved perhaps, but it was well phrased, well delivered and the filming of it worked exceptionally well for its novelty. (According to the DVD extras, Tony Scott stumped up $50k of his own money to pay for the helicopter to film that scene when the backers refused). Robert Redford consistently performs well. Whilst I don't feel he has much range (he's pretty much always Redford in any role) he makes up for it with intelligent shading of nuance. Brad Pitt gets by in a wooden way (nothing normally against him; in Interview With The Vampire, he and Cruise were outstanding) but this role called for nothing more than his usual bag of tricks.

An entertaining film with a nice balance of pacey action and thoughtful dialogue.

Carnage (2011)
4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Hilarity of life, 30 March 2012

Time being short, the film had to step on the gas in several places.

In terms of dialogue and cast, not to mention great camera work, this film is as funny as it's characters are pretentious and phony (very).

Performances were great although Jodie Foster (and John Reilly) best nailed the drunkenness (though to be fair Christoph Waltz' character was running on an empty stomach) by showing that people don't have to be fitshaced to say asinine things or take stands against things they would normally defend.

Penelope's (Foster) veiny neck and extended jaw reminded me of a baby Alien as she spat and wept in her aloof loneliness. Jodie worked very hard in this part, what a trooper.

I liked all the characters, each had a viewpoint that was understandable for them, agreeable or not. The men were typically complacent and even Nancy (Winslet) was beginning to sink into apathy whilst Penelope was clearly only getting started and the crockery in the kitchen began to tremble in fear.

This is a splendidly funny film, though perhaps better watched without 18-year old scotch within reach.

Intelligent and deep, 28 March 2012

No dead wood in this film, just a great script, great cast and great direction.

Damon's portrayal - based on James Jesus Angleton who, essentially, created the CIA from the OSS - was good in this case as he does stony silence better than most. His quiet unflappable manner spoke of still waters running very deep. The only kind of man for that job. John Turturro's lesser role still allowed him the space to work - the MKULTRA torture scene was difficult to pull off and still have the audience retain a skein of sympathy for Turturro's character. He managed it by convincing me that he was doing a difficult job as gently as possible. Was that a tinge of regret in his eyes? Robert de Niro was, as always, good and it didn't hurt that this role is not so far from the many mafiosi/goodfella type roles he has played in the past, only this time his suit was from an Ivy League tailor. Michael Gambon was brilliant as he fought to balance his loyalty with his duty and the secret that made him too vulnerable for it. "If you want to tie your shoelaces, I'll understand." Since Wilson didn't, Dr. Fredericks did it for him as a touching mark of respect. Alec Baldwin suited his role in this film and pleasantly surprised me with previously unseen gravitas. Interesting cameo from Keir Dullea, not sure why they bothered as he said perhaps three words. Angelina Jolie did well with her character who was pitiably in the wrong marriage, though Daisy's capriciousness was the reason why.

The time-lines were handled well. I tend to dislike choppy flashbacks and out of sequence stuff ever since that tedious Tarantino made it a fashionable gimmick in Pulp Fiction. But here, it works. There's a cleverly subtle washed-out look to the latter day scenes that make the past look more vibrant as only nostalgia can deliver and that helped cue when time-lines switched. It was as though Wilson was becoming disenchanted with the job though, clearly, he was the kind of man who would see it through to the end because he knew it was fundamentally important to his country. Some think the pace was poor but there was a lot of setting up needed to understand how this intricate house of cards came to be. Some think that Damon's character was dull. In a sense that's true; dull because he was so incredibly meticulous which, again, is the lifeblood of the agency. Musclebound thugs and vainglorious have-a-go heroes can be found in any bar in any city on earth. They're the blunt instruments that are precisely what the agency doesn't need except in very rare circumstances where they need a to set a dog to eat a dog.

Technically the film was very easy on the eye, great cinematography and atmospheric sets and lighting placed us right beside Wilson as he learnt his trade and moved his chess pieces. This is the kind of deep plotty Gordian knot that should be sipped and savoured like a tall drink.

Nell (1994)
Jodie's zenith, 28 March 2012

In "Nell", Jodie Foster gives, arguably, the best performance of her life. Clearly, she invested deeply in the role and her genuine strength and inner beauty shine so brightly into the character that Nell's beauty and loneliness become completely convincing.

The story is more idealistic than realistic (as allegories are wont to be) which is worth remembering throughout - not least when it comes to the courtroom scene. I appreciated the sentiment of that scene whilst privately wishing it had been a closed hearing (full for a custody hearing?) Despite some ragged plot problems (that USGS wouldn't know about the Kellty homestead, that Nell is in really good health, that the lads who deliver her groceries never appear to discuss the 'strange hermit woman' with anyone, and so on) the story staggers to the finish line with an overly idyllic ending.

Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson support well locking horns convincingly over which was to become Nell's champion until they realised that Nell wasn't a trophy for an academic white paper. Nell becomes the adopted child, the glue that binds Neeson and Richardson's characters' emotional attachment.

The film has some poetic cinematography and good location. But it is Jodie Foster's ability to play crushingly tender moments (the mirror, the lake, the effective memory) that - I'm happy to admit - still bring me to tears and is why I don't watch it a lot. It's a good film for couples who either have, or want to have, children. When you see it, I hope you'll understand why.

Munich (2005)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Surprisingly inept and trite, 25 March 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

In this depiction of the Spring of Youth and Wrath of God operations following the Munich "massacre", we're expected to believe that, with a heavy heart, the Israelis decide to exact revenge on those responsible. I'll avoid the topic of historical and ethical clumsiness in this film because opinions on them abound and this review would become a book.

When Zwaiter fell forward onto his groceries he then magically flipped onto his back for the next view. Judging by the weapons, he was shot with at least .380 cal rounds yet a smaller (.22 centrefire?) calibre cartridge case was picked up. With 10 torso shots (though a grocery bag containing glass vessels of liquid: deflection/retardation) and none to the head, many people could survive.

The film continued it's ineptitude so remorselessly that I only watched to get the thing out of the way. The characters are thin, foolish and laughable, particularly Steve (Daniel Craig) dancing and suggesting they go to Libya to extend their mission. In the scene with Louis (Mathieu Amalric) and Avner (Eric Bana), sensitive topics are discussed in a public place using plain rather than implied language.

If this were just an action-thriller the theatrics and ineptitude would be fine but it's supposed to be a serious topic about an abhorrent government policy and that makes a mockery of its overall intent. Whatever it may be. The point is well enough made but I had little sympathy for Avner by the close of the film. The cast do a passable job, Geoffrey Rush is his usual professional self but Daniel Craig needed to talk to a South African for longer to get his accent right.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Vee haff vays of makink you balk., 25 March 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Not having read de Beauvoir's book (on which this film is based) my complaints may be unjust to one or the other.

The pace is uneven, as though chunks of the story were skipped to cut to the milestones. Other films manage to do the same without appearing choppy as this does. Barely has Hélène (Jodie Foster) met Jean (Michael Ontkean) and she is talking about marriage. When he discovers she is pregnant, suddenly the idealistic Jean declares his love for her despite Hélène's transparently manipulative modus.

The overall story is compelling, considering the source this is perhaps unsurprising, and the film tries to do some justice to it. The acting is passable; Ontkean did better than I expected him to do but Jodie did worse than she normally does: this is one of several films she made in her wilderness years of self-doubt, and it shows.

I suspect the unevenness of pace was because the screenplay was a poorly balanced abbreviation of the book.

Some criticisms. Post-production dubs of outdoor scenes sound like they were recorded in a room - obviously they were but didn't need to sound like that - and the audiovisual sync - or lack of it - betrays which segments of the soundtrack these are.

The entire dialogue should have been in French and, since there's no French equivalent (AFAIK), we would have been spared "geddowdahere" from Jodie who speaks near-perfect accent-less French.

The story has great potential, after all it's from a critically acclaimed book, but was ultimately let down by the direction.

The worst moment came, for me, at the end of the film when Jean embraces Hélène thereby moving the bullet in her lung to somewhere even less convivial. Besides being idiocy, it made me want to quietly lead Jean into another room and beat him unconscious.

Flightplan (2005)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Pull up! Pull up!, 25 March 2012

I saw this on a recommendation without having seen the trailer or knowing anything about the plot. Hah. A plot with so many flaws imponderables and requiring such an immense amount of luck and corruption can best be described as a lunatic fantasy. Be that as it may. As soon as he came into shot with his soft-spoken axe-murderer voice and low-blink gaze it was clear that Gene Carson (Peter Sarsgaard) was up to no good.

Though the acting is passable (no new ground broken by any of the cast), the film has almost no believable plot elements nor consequences. It's a popcorn flick designed to elicit a sympathetic response from any viewers who are parents and who have ever worried about losing their child in a public place (i.e. just about any parent). It highlights the moronic hysteria and government-sponsored racism (profiling is, I believe, their word for it) that followed Sept. 11th attacks, but not in a useful or novel way.

Showing how some would never lose faith in their own viewpoint whilst others would at least entertain the possibility that they had imagined that the daughter was alive when she wasn't worked (barely) only because the parent was a woman. A man couldn't have played that role without being thrown into the sissy basket. (The part was originally written for a man but Foster, by her own admission, suggested she could play it. Then she pocketed her knuckle duster.) Some questions: How can an engineer who works on engines know so much about the airframe and it's electrical system? How come Kyle and her daughter aren't bleeding from every aperture in their head after the concussion of an explosion that should have turned them into gazpacho? But then, how can ... never, mind, it'd take a novel to list the mistakes with this plot ... and I'm not a screenwriter.

Occasionally even Hollywood Royalty backs a blind three-legged nag to win the Derby. The plot seemed to alternate between predictable and utterly ridiculous held together, it seemed, by a fervent belief the the average film-goer could be outwitted by a sanitary pad. As for Jodie's call/pitch to take the role, I don't understand. With immense talent and a high-powered intellect she can work whenever she wants on the films she likes to do. Skip the mohitos in development meetings would be my advice.

Still, she got (well) paid and this drivel made nearly five times back what it cost to make. For anyone with their wallet/seat where their brain should be, it was a hit. No wonder the indie scene is expanding.

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