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Il deserto dei tartari (1976)
Very underrated film
I've only ever had the chance to see this film once in a cinema years ago but it's stuck with me. On the face of it, the plot is not very interesting on the face of it- soldiers holed up in a remote fort in a non-place waiting for an enemy who never turns up... but the locations are incredible, the score is by Morricobe and there is a constant tension between the characters and within themselves... they are just waiting around for the war to begin. The real war is within themselves.
Moby Dick (2011)
Not bad, but the wrong Ahab
The best thing about this adaptation is the cast, featuring decent actors in even fairly minor roles, e.g. Gillian Anderson who plays the captain's wife, and Donald Sutherland who plays the preacher. Eddie Marsan, an extremely underrated actor, is probably the star turn here, playing a very thuggish Stubb. Starbuck (Ethan Hawke) and Queequeg (Trujillo) are also well portrayed.
However, the film falls down on the two main (human) characters Ishmael (Cox) and Ahab (Hurt). Cox isn't bad, but he's also not that good either. William Hurt, though is miscast. He mumbles through a lot of the performance, and does not look fanatical enough. Sometimes when he's delivering angry speeches, he comes over as a kind uncle. Shame really, since Hurt has turned in decent performances elsewhere.
Both Nantucket and the Pequod are recreated well. The CGI is respectable, showing that a decent amount of money was spent on the production. However, cynics will notice that with the exception of a single storm scene, the ship seems to sail on ridiculously calm seas.
Moby Dick doesn't transfer to the screen well, as many of the book's fans constantly remind us. This adaptation is one of the better ones. This version is probably not as good as the Peck film, but I think it's better than the Patrick Stewart miniseries. (Stewart - again a good actor, was miscast as Ahab). As for the liberties taken with the storyline - I think these have been exaggerated - the inclusion of Ahab's wife is a major change, but not as intrusive as you might think.
Eaten by greens
Fairly average low budget monster romp, with the Doctor actor from Star Trek Voyager (Robert Picardo) and some native American stuff thrown in.
Evil oilman wants to drill on Indian land, Indian spirit of giant wolf gets revenge. Woman gets saved etc.
The wolf effects are cheap, the environmental message is a bit trite, and the native Americans are cliché, but hey it's what you expect.
It's not worth buying on DVD, but if it's on the television and you have some time to kill (no pun intended), you might find it quite a fun way to spend an hour and a half.
I think my favourite bit is when the villain tells the Indian chief that his views are "unamerican"!
The Day After Tomorrow (1976)
Lost in Relativity
This was actually for a pilot for a series by Gerry Anderson, around the same time he was making Space 1999. However, the idea was never taken up.
The premise is simple - a family (two men, a woman, a boy and a girl) are sent in the Earth's first faster than light ship to try and establish colonies in other parts of the galaxy. But "Lost in Space" this is not. They never leave the craft as such, but get to witness various scientific wonders, such as collapsing stars etc. There's a lot of exposition, especially from the boy, who seems to be some kind of child prodigy - which helps keep some scientific accuracy.
The characters are not well drawn (Although oddly Brian Blessed's one doesn't bellow or roar once), but this is more about spectacle than plot or characterisation etc. The music though is great, and really adds to the sense of excitement.
There are a few quirks. They never leave the craft as such. And though the craft has a cockpit, it seems to have no "leisure" space, or general living facilities for such a long journey.
There are some memorable scenes such as when "dad" has to fix the drive for the ship, and the finale, and this is well worth looking up. It's difficult to get hold of, but I believe that there are some badly synched copies around the net. I saw it as part of Brian Cox's night on BBC4. This was the first time it was shown on British television since the seventies...
Most of the energy and delight in this series comes from seeing Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi's characters laying into one another with bitchy queeny comments. They both loving hamming it up, and to an extent sending themselves up. Their forever thwarted female friend, played by Frances de la Tour, provides a nice counterpoint.
Most of the enjoyment comes from their delivery of the lines, rather than the script. For this reason, it will be loved by some folk, and hated by others.
McKellen's character is an aging actor, whose career is less than stellar (he was voted the twentieth most popular Dr Who villain - something like that). They have a decrepit dog, Balthazar, which is most of the way to death. They all live in a house that looks like something out of Rising Damp or a bad seventies sitcom in which the curtains are hardly ever opened. McKellen's mother seems to be completely oblivious to the fact that her son is a raging queen who lives with a man. It's fairly set bound, and doesn't move around much, but all of this, including the retro flavour, is deliberate.
On the downside, the theme music is totally inappropriate, and the Ash character is a stock in trade attempt to bring in a young guy. (He can't act either) He only really works when the older characters including Frances de la Tour, all get crushes on him.
The Job Lot (2013)
That's Your Lot In Life
It was inevitable that this programme would draw comparisons with "the Office" and "Vicious" (in which it appeared in a double bill.
The first scene has Russell Tovey's character Karl complaining that he has an Art degree, and that he "shouldn't be reduced to this". You think he's a job seeker, but in fact he's "reduced" to working in this sterile ugly job centre.
It's actually quite watchable, and better than the average ITV sitcom.
The most amusing characters are Trish, the neurotic, anxious manager (who has just been through a divorce, and tries to steal her chocolate labs Ferrero and Rocher back from her ex-husband) and the bitchy Angela, who works to rule, generally undermines the others, and throws her weight around. The security guards are laughable - one's a tiny woman, and the other's a nut with military pretensions. Then there are the bizarre job seekers, one of whom is like an English Rab C. Nesbitt, and an undercover agent who attempts to catch benefit cheats. Only trouble being that he's bearded and Asian, and sticks out like a sore thumb in many environments.
Yes, it's another sitcom about tedium, but it's quite fun. I think it suffered from being on too late at night and was overshadowed by its admittedly better sibling "Vicious", but it's worth a look.
Patchy - for completists only
I love the Alan Partridge series, but this was, well, patchy.
There are some good lines in it, but some elements are overplayed, e.g. the robot interviewer (Digital Dave), and "real life" interviewer Ray Woolard, who is clearly out of his depth and being manipulated by Partridge. There *are* a few laughs here, but not many compared to "Knowing Me, Knowing You", or "I'm Alan Partridge".
Also included are clips from Partridge's "Ramble in the Countryside", an attempt by Alan to show himself off as some kind of rural gentleman. (Presumably to help placate the farmers he annoyed on his radio show.)
The feature includes some clips from other Alan Partridge enterprises (including "The Day Today"), but it fails to impress overall.
And so the BBC decides to jump on the Scando crime bandwagon! What you get though is something a bit more British, and less ponderous.
The result is a reasonable crime drama set in Shetland. the actors turn in a reasonable performance, but the only Shetlander, and the only one with a Shetland-sounding accent - Steven Robertson - got put into a supporting role. He's a really good, underrated actor, and I would like to see more of him. Dougie Henshall is the lead, and works well on the small screen. But that's it - reasonable... not particularly good or bad, but "reasonable".
The story itself is okay, but it could have done with better pacing and direction. There's no real tension as such, although it's not too predictable.
As you might expect, the landscape (or should I say "seascape"?) is very much the real star. One thing though - this was set around about New Year, yet the days appear to be long and sunny... anyone who knows Shetland, knows that they're extremely short and dark at that time of year!!! Worth seeing if it's on TV, but not worth looking out for otherwise.
Doors Open (2012)
Badly paced, and almost colonial
At least half of this badly paced and poorly written crime caper could have been cut. Most of the first hour drags... the "heist" is mildly entertaining, but doesn't make up for the rest.
All the educated, middle class people, apart from Douglas Henshall's character are English, or have English accents. And all the schemies/working class people have Glaswegian ones. (Apart from some Geordie criminals!) Edinburgh is not like that, and it seems all too reminiscent of the Alasdair Gray row. Is Scotland colonised? Well, watching this, you'd well think so. Apparently almost all Scots live in council house schemes, are football obsessed and don't get involved in the art world. The hegemony implicit in this is outrageous!
Mysterious Two (1982)
I got the chance to watch this twice on an obscure cable channel. Otherwise it's very difficult to get hold of (it didn't appear on IMDb for a number of years).
It's by turns quite dated and cheesy, and oddly creepy and atmospheric. We never do really find out what's going on. In that sense, it's quite close to "Picnic at Hanging Rock". Two cult leaders start indoctrinating people, and one by one they start disappearing. The lesson here, perhaps is about giving yourself over to the unknown, particularly when you don't know what its intentions are.
Basically this film is a reaction to the various UFO sects that have sprung up over the years (especially in the decade or so before the film) - Heaven's Gate, Raelians, Share International ("Maitreya"), George Adamski, the Aetherius Society etc, and also some of the tragedies resulting from New Religious Movements in general, e.g. the Jonestown Massacre, the Manson Gang etc. As it turned out, the film demonstrates a real concern, as there have been many more such tragedies since then. It's also about the souring of the hippie/New Age ideal, about peace and love distorted and gone horribly wrong.