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Good plots, unrelenting angst
I've just watched the first 5 episodes of this series in a row (over a couple of days). At first I really liked the show - I've never been a huge fan of Kenneth Branagh, but the plots were quite interesting and I really enjoyed the 'Swedishness' of it all. I didn't even mind the old, old trope of the tortured-but-driven detective who seems to have sacrificed his personal life for his work.
The fact that Wallander is chronically on the brink of some kind of breakdown - he rarely shaves, changes his clothes, or takes a shower, and god forbid he should crack a smile at any time for any reason - eventually becomes not only depressing, but kind of unbelievable. I'm surprised his co-workers don't think he's a lunatic who should be on permanent suspension with a mandatory psych eval.
Other reviewers have said that Branagh's acting is fantastic; I think it starts out well and then veers into melodrama. I'm hoping the third series allows the character to get a little lighter/more normal.
Decent story. Terrible direction.
It's fitting that cheese figures prominently in this mystery, because that's pretty much the word that came to my mind the whole way through: Cheese.
I've no doubt that this started as a perfectly good story, with a nice dollop of suspense as Belle (the main character) tries to piece together what happened to her missing friend.
But the whole thing is so chock-full of interminable reaction shots, unrealistically stilted conversations, and inexplicable relationships that it starts to become unwatchable halfway through. I kept feeling like the writer wrote enough for a 90-minute show, but the producer had to somehow extend it to 120 minutes, so they left in all the stuff that should have ended up on the cutting room floor.
It didn't help that the actress playing Belle was dressed in a way that made her look about 5 months pregnant the whole time - I kept waiting for a revelation that never came.
If you're a die-hard Ruth Rendell Mysteries fan, maybe you'll be okay with this; otherwise, I strongly suggest you give it a miss.
Douglas Adams' writing needs a narrator
As a big Douglas Adams fan, I was excited when I saw this episode was written by Adams - I hoped for better dialogue and perhaps even a better plot than normal, because at least Adams finds creative ways to explain gaping plot holes and bizarre technology.
But, as we saw with the attempt at the Hitchhiker's Guide movie, Adams' work does better on the page than on the screen, so the best bits are usually provided by the narrator (the 'Guide').
This episode is better than many, but still falls victim to the same problems of inconsistency and cheesiness: the Captain character is overly buffoonish and his behaviour in the last 7 minutes is inexplicable given the previous 2 hours; if the 'bad guys' had the ability to block the Menticands (sp?) telepathy (as they do in the last 15 minutes), why didn't they just use it all the time?; and why can the whole operation be blown up at the end without everyone falling into a black hole, when up til then they couldn't disturb the 'delicate gravitational balance'? And it continues to astound me that they couldn't get some better actors - surely there were plenty of really good actors who'd have loved to have guested on a Tom Baker episode of Doctor Who, even for scale rates of pay.
One interesting note: For most of the episode, I was totally grossed out by what appeared to be giant cold sores around Tom Baker's mouth, which were only sometimes even partially covered by makeup. However, I've just read here that what appeared to be a huge herpes outbreak was in fact the remains of a dog bite that Baker sustained just before filming. I'm not sure why the makeup department couldn't have done a better job of making them look less like cold sores, but then again I often wonder why they leave everyone's faces so shiny all the time (even in 1978 they had pressed powder, for gods' sake), so perhaps they did the best they could.
Lark Rise to Candleford (2008)
Julia Sawalha is fantastic
A couple of other reviewers have complained about this series not being faithful to Flora Thompson's books - thank god for that, is all I can say. The books were among the most dreary, plodding tales I have ever read, and they left me depressed for days. I couldn't see the bucolic charm for all the squalid poverty and starving.
However, the series has been a pleasant surprise. I watched a few minutes of the first episode because I'm a big Julia Sawalha fan, and couldn't believe how she managed to inject a huge dose of humor and likability into the whole thing. Plus I think the 'vignette' approach which made the books so boring actually makes the series quite good - each episode can focus on one or two of the little anecdotes of the story.
There's no question they've sanitized the visuals - I'm quite certain that the 'real' Lark Rise people didn't have actual staircases in their houses, or much in the way of pictures on the walls (in fact I seem to recall the books making it clear that the houses had ladders to lofts, a paucity of candles, and no gas lamps, as they do in the TV show). And people have more teeth than they probably did in real life.
But who wants to see toothless people living in dark, dank sheds, anyway? I do agree that the Dawn French character is misplaced and/or overdone - I know she's supposed to be a quite literal representation of the big-heartedness of the cheerful poor person, but she ends up seeming an awful lot like the nut-job she plays in Jam and Jerusalem, and ultimately just an example of the stereotype of how stupidity, irresponsibility and poverty are inextricable.
If you don't like costume drama, this isn't going to change your mind. But it's an engaging adaptation of a singularly unengaging book, and if you've ever liked Julia Sawalha in anything, you should give this a try.
Butterfly on a Wheel (2007)
It's Friday night, way too cold to go out, and my husband and I decided to settle in with a movie - nothing too 'deep', just a little light entertainment on pay-per-view after a tiring week at work.
Unfortunately, with this movie, it's not enough just to be 'tired'. In order to enjoy it at all, you need to be 'unconscious', because that's the only way you're going to be able to stand it for more than 20 minutes.
The setup (perfect family, perfect house, perfect job, etc.) is just one long series of clichés, which aren't helped by the fact that every single person in the movie seems to have a different regional accent. The editing from one scene to the next is so jumpy and choppy that you keep thinking you've missed a scene or a bit of dialogue, because you can't understand (for example) why the wife is wearing a satin dress and super-high heels when two seconds ago she said she was going out shopping with her sister.
But the real problem are the 487 plot holes that happen within the first 30 minutes - it's unclear why this supposedly smart and successful couple goes from "Omigod there's a guy in the back seat" to "We must do everything he says even if it kills us" in about 6 minutes. Yeah, sure, he says if you don't do what he says he'll call the babysitter and tell her to kill your kid - SO WHEN HE HANDS YOU THE PHONE TO CALL YOUR BOSS, WHY DON'T YOU JUST TAKE THE PHONE AND RUN AWAY? We turned it off after 28 minutes, and I decided to write this review because I couldn't bear the thought of anyone else wasting any more time or money on this film.
The Secret Garden (1987)
I felt like I was watching an episode of Murder She Wrote - bad music (including 'suspense' music randomly sprinkled throughout); terrible casting; the kind of consistently bad acting that reminds you that they had no budget to hire anyone good or do more than a couple of takes of each scene.
I think what was most jarring was that while the main adult characters had super-strong British accents, the kids were so obviously from Texas - and there was no money for a vocal coach. Every so often one of them says 'cheeky buggah', the subtext of which is: "Yes, we know these kids are about as English as Burger King, but we're hoping that if we throw in a couple of stereotypical words, you'll just go along suspending disbelief.
Continuity is also unbelievably bad - in the outdoor scenes, the weather will be totally overcast one minute, and then the next (which is supposed to be 2 minutes later) the sun is shining and the sky is cerulean blue.
I loved the book - if you did too, don't watch this. Go read the book again instead.
Living with Fran (2005)
A one-note cacophony
How can you tell when an actress can't act, without even needing to see her perform? When she has to put her own name in the title of her sitcom! Let's face it: Fran Drescher has only ever been able to play Fran Drescher. She's always the nasal, long-nailed, 'white trash with a heart of gold' character that she was on The Nanny, and we are led to believe that her off-screen persona, while possibly slightly less annoying, is in fact pretty close to her on-screen one.
I know some people loved this 'character' on The Nanny, so I suppose it's not all that surprising that Living with Fran is pretty much the same show (only this time she's got 3 of her OWN kids, not babysitting that British guy's - oh wait! The British guy IS the father of these kids!). Fans of The Nanny must be happy.
But as I watched this show for the first time, all I could think was: Isn't Fran Drescher getting bored with herself? I mean, she's been playing the same part, with the same affectations, the same type of clothes, the same exasperating-white-trash-with-a-heart-of-gold character for, like, 20 years now! Isn't she embarrassed to be showing everyone how very little acting talent she has? Couldn't she have gone to acting class during the years after The Nanny when she had nothing to do? It's no surprise this show was canceled. What's disconcerting is that it ever made it past a pilot in the first place.
Where the heck was the vocal coach?
This movie was panned by critics and movie-goers alike, and though many people put a lot of time and effort into explaining why, the truth is that 90% of the blame can be attributed to one simple thing: The unbelievably bad 'accents' of most - if not all - of the main characters. Just as the audience is having some success in suspending their disbelief, trying not to notice that the settings look like bad CGI even when they aren't, getting over the fact that Alexander's mother (Angelina Jolie) doesn't appear to age over the course of 25 or 30 years, and accepting that the story is totally historically inaccurate, one of the main characters opens their mouth and speaks in some totally bizarre accent that reminds them that this is a movie, and a badly-done one at that.
Oh sure, at first it's okay - Anthony Hopkins' accent is a standard 'British theatre' kind of accent, and Christopher Plummer's Aristotle is in the same vein. But then the young Alexander starts migrating to some kind of inconsistent Scottish accent. At first you wonder why, but the answer soon becomes clear: Colin Farrell, who plays the grown-up Alexander - apparently can't manage a British theatre-type accent, and so delivers his lines in a slightly toned-down version of his normal Scottish-accented voice. Because Farrell can't get rid of his Scottish accent, the kid playing young Alexander has to use a Scottish accent for consistency's sake. On top of which, Alexander's father (Val Kilmer) then has to speak in some kind of bizarre hybrid of 'British theatre' and 'Scottish' accents in order to demonstrate how Alexander ended up with a Scottish accent! Angelina Jolie's accent is similarly atrocious: She seems to be using some kind of vaguely Eastern European or Russian-type accent, for reasons known only to herself. I think it's supposed to reinforce the fact that she comes from a different background than Alexander's father, but it's not only a bizarre choice (Russia and 'eastern Europe' didn't even exist at the time) but Jolie's delivery is so bad it's like watching a teenager in their first high school play. I thought her British accent in Tomb Raider was reasonably well done - why didn't they just let her use that, instead of these amateur-hour rolled-Rs? As we've seen with other Oliver Stone films, even the most far-fetched, historically-inaccurate plot and the most schlocky dialogue can be redeemed by decent 'delivery' by first-rate actors (and, whatever else you might say, Hopkins, Jolie, Farrell and Kilmer are all recognized as 'serious' actors). Hopkins, Jolie et all have been in the business for a long time - so why didn't one of them speak up and say, "Hey Oliver, you need to get us a vocal coach, dude. We are totally sucking here." More importantly, why didn't Oliver Stone recognize that their accents were ruining any chance he had at making Alexander successful at the box office and with critics?
That Lucky Touch (1975)
Outdated at best; unwatchable at worst
Perhaps when it came out, this movie could be watched as a light-hearted romantic comedy, but 30 years later, it's hard to buy a story about an international arms dealer selling automatic weapons to Saudis - and the 'spunky' feminist investigative reporter who loves to hate him - as a 'comedy', let alone a 'lighthearted' one.
The movie is marketed as an 'international adventure with Roger Moore', so you think you're getting a James Bond-type film with lots of action; instead, what you get is a slow-moving, heavy-footed piece of cheese - Swiss cheese, in fact, given the number of plot holes.
Moore plays arms dealer Scott, who finds himself living next door to an investigative journalist (played by Susanna York) in Brussels. He's in town to sell some hard-core weapons to the US military; she's in town to cover war games. I think he is supposed to be a charming-but-insincere international playboy, while she is supposed to be a highly principled feminist (!) just trying to get ahead in a man's world.
Unfortunately, the whole thing never really gets past the level of farce: it's just one stereotype after another. Her portrayal of 'feminism', for example, seems to consist entirely of shrieking about how terrible men are and storming off in a huff. And we never actually see her doing any 'reporting' at all, unless putting a piece of paper in a typewriter just before getting distracted by something (a phone call, a daydream) counts as 'reporting'.
Now this kind of stereotyped farce works fine when you've got lots of action, a fast-moving plot, evil villains, stylish art directing, great music, etc. But this movie hasn't got any of that. On top of which, the supporting actors don't seem to know whether they are in a comedy, a drama, or an action film.
Bottom line: Only for die-hard fans of Roger Moore or British films set in European countries during the 1965-75 period.
Someone phoned it in
Considering that Matt Damon makes a cameo appearance (actually the funniest bit in the whole movie, which isn't saying much), and Michelle Trachtenberg (who should know better, having spent 3 seasons with the good writers on Buffy), it's an understatement to say this movie was 'disappointing'. It's like someone started out with a good idea about 14 script drafts ago, but since then they slashed the writing budget and eventually the thing was written by the 18- year-old mail room guy in the producer's office, and the Xanax he was taking led him to forget a bunch of important plot points.
Judging from the outtakes at the end, the best parts of this movie (like a cameo by one of the women from Absolutely Fabulous) were left on the cutting room floor.
And just in case anyone's not clear: shooting in Slovakia and including a scene in which a brother and sister french-kiss does NOT make a movie a 'dark comedy'. It just makes it kind of creepy - and not in a good way.