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The Strangers (2008)
Unbalanced and tedious 70s style 'horror'
4 June 2008
Oh great. After years of horror films going over the top with CGI-enhanced gore, it appears that the pendulum has now finally swung back around to the old way of doing things: 'Suspense', 'suspense' and 'suspense' and very little ever actually happening.

Too much gratuitous blood and guts swiftly turns horror to comedy, but lack of shock value can also be a bad thing: Undeveloped characters trapped in a house under siege for no purpose whatsoever was crap then and it's crap now.

There is almost nothing original about 'The Strangers', and had it been filmed on grainy VT, it could pass for something from the early 1970s, where the only things that made horror films scary was the reputation that they were scary.

The film contains just about every cliché of old-school suspense-horror imaginable - masks, stuck vinyl records, peering behind curtains only to find nothing there. It's like the production team took a handful of contrived elements from other films and spun them out in slow motion, relying on the imagination of the viewers to fill in the gaps.

I guess everything comes full circle, and it's now the time for a whole host of Living Dead remakes and small-cast unventful suspense flicks. Wake me up when this latest fad is over, please.
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A Mighty Wind (2003)
Folktastic Musical Mockumentary
28 October 2003
Without a doubt this is both the best comedy AND the best musical I've seen this year.

The spoof rockumentary format is not original, and the big climax is to be expected of a Christopher Guest film. The reward lies in the detail - the subtleties of the dialogue, the intricacies of the characters, and the spot-on pacing.

The music is top notch throughout - excellent '60's Americo-folk with beautiful harmonies and arrangements that stick in your mind, with wonderfully pointed references to a greater ouvre of work. In this area, the talent is second only to Neil Innes' Rutles.

The characters are numerous, and surprisingly well-defined, given the very short space of time each one was allocated, although the brilliant acting of Eugene Levy, Harry Shearer and Guest himself means that every single line delivered helped to develop the personalities.

My only criticism is that the film is too short (a lot of good stuff got cut out - see the DVD). Maybe one day we'll see a DC/SE running two hours plus, and with all the musical numbers reinstated in their definitive versions, padding it out into a full-blown musical.

This film deserves to be a classic, but will probably assume the mantle of 'largely unknown cult movie' which is a shame - it hasn't even got a release in the UK yet, and if I hadn't been in the US when it was showing, I would never have heard of it.

And, like Mitch Cohen, I would've been poorer for it.
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The Prowler (1981)
Textbook early 80s slasher flick with more intelligence than some
1 April 2003
I waited over 20 years to see this film, and for that reason, it has always held a fascination for me.

At one of my earliest visits to the cinema at the age of four, I remember seeing the poster for 'Rosemary's Killer' which was showing at the same time. Of course, being four, I didn't see it, but the image of the guy with the white eyes - pretty scary when you're four - stuck in my mind.

This was a forbidden film of terrors I could only imagine - the unknown horrors might've even given me a nightmare or two.

Once I was older, and having by then seen plenty of horror films, I discovered that this was one of the UK's 'original' banned video-nasties, and couldn't be seen uncut anywhere, so I forgot about it again for a while.

Flash forward to 2003, and it's out on DVD, so I finally get to see 'The Prowler' uncut. Ooh, goody. Will it have been worth the wait?

Well the introduction adds a touch of classiness/cleverness to the gore which follows, and for a low-budget 1981 slasher flick about a masked guy with a big fork, it's pretty much perfectly executed. There's more gore than most, yet more plot too, and I can see why it's regarded as a minor classic by fans of the genre.

But the mystique is now gone for me, and it's one of those films that leaves me wondering why it was banned in the first place. Were creative ideas for killing the victims and buckets of fake blood really such a big deal?
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More irrelevant than irreverent
13 March 2003
It amazes me how 'The Parole Officer' was panned indiscriminately, while this film was almost universally acclaimed as a masterpiece.

If anything I enjoyed Coogan's first big-screen venture more than this one. Quite a lot more if I'm honest, and cheap street-cred be damned.

The problem is, I just couldn't identify with a lot of the values in this film. Coogan himself as Tony Wilson is brilliantly funny and creative as ever, and the delicious subtleties he brings to all his roles are worth the cost of admission (or the DVD) alone.

But a celebration of the grim predictable conformity of Northern dance and drug culture in the 80s and 90s is simply a party to which I was never invited, and which I find it utterly impossible to get excited about.

We're meant to like and/or respect a lot of the characters represented in this film, and if, like me, you expressed utter indifference to them in real life, then it's unlikely you'll have a lot of time for them in a film in which they supposedly represent the credible creative muse against which Tony Wilson reacts.

And Ralf Little as Peter Hook? I really hope there was a deliberate irony in casting perhaps the least-talented child actor as the New Order bassist, one of the few genuinely gifted musicians represented in the film.

Overall I was disappointed, but then my expectations were probably way too high, given the subject matter. Hopefully now Coogan's got this adolescent dream out of his system, he can go on to something slightly wider-reaching and challenging.
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Thought-provoking and insightful drama
3 March 2003
This took me by surprise.

I knew nothing whatever about this film when I wandered into a quiet cinema on a cold, snowy afternoon in Memphis, Tennessee with nothing better to do, and it wasn't due for UK release for another few weeks.

Expecting to pass away a couple of hours of my holiday with trivial pleasantries from Winslet and Spacey, I have to admit, I was captivated from the first five minutes right through until the final twist. This was far deeper and more though-provoking than I would've expected, and it's to it's credit that one can't truly work out if the underlying ideology is really pro- or anti-captial punishment.

Yes, in many ways it is a hybrid of other films. It's Live From Death Row meets 8mm meets American Beauty meets Erin Brockovich. But the way they resisted the happy Holywood ending which threatened for a while shows just how mature the industry has become when dealing with sensitive issues such as the death penalty, and wrongful rape accusation, and also shows a marked maturity from Nicholas Cage in his debut as producer - five years ago he would invariably have had a last action hero(ine) come to save the day and wrap up all the loose ends, so he's come a long long way.

I'll go and see this again when it's out in the UK, as I suspect it's the sort of film that will improve with repeated viewings, and mature as one observes subtle new complexities each time.
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hot shemales, crap production
18 May 2002
At the lower end of the gonzo genre, you find films totally lacking in any sense of production values.

This film has no structure, no sense and for most of it no sound (or a very low sound mix that features only occasional incidental noises). Most of the set-up, for what it's worth is awful:

Someone who clearly can't play the piano erm... playing the piano (it's not even funny, just childish and cringeworthy), another shemale who pretends to smoke a cigar which clearly isn't lit ('cause that would eat into the budget in a big way) and the sex is let down by the use of condoms (though I'm not saying you shouldn't play safe, kids!) and the male participants - including the weaselesque Mr. Silvera himself - bring nothing to the action.

Having said all that... if you want to see a hardcore film involving some of the most beautiful shemales in Brazil, then watch this one. (There are a couple who aren't so hot as well unfortunately). And let's face it, the unique sexiness of feminine curves combined with throbbing cocks is the sole reason you'll be watching in the first place.
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Clockwise (1986)
Impeccably executed British Comedy classic. Timeless.
3 April 2002
There are a great many films which are painful in their bland mainstreaminess.

And a very few which manage to pull it off, and remain funny to virtually everyone, over a period of several years.

This John Cleese vehicle from the mid 1980s manages to fit into the latter category - it is simply such a very well crafted traditional comedy, that it is impossible not to be touched.

Here we see Cleese very much in Basil Fawlty mode, as an aspiring head-teacher for whom things just don't run smooth when it really matters.

The other classic elements of British Farce are there - major misunderstandings, people getting undresses, well-intentioned old ladies who say the wrong things at the wrong times, and of course Geoffrey Palmer as a straight man.

And just a touch of poignant surrealism in the way the final minute leading into the credits is played out, to offset the traditional production values.

It's straightforward, and unchallenging, and probably the best film about lateness ever made. High praise indeed, for something so mainstream.
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One of the best high-end comedies ever
21 March 2002
A lot of 'alternative' comedy in Britain in the 1980s was insular, misguided, overly-political, and unfunny, and the worst of the Comic Strip Presents... stuff fell into this category.

But this is at the other end - a remarkable film that works on different intellectual levels.

Is Dennis a criminal mastermind or is he lying?

Is he telling the truth, bluffing, double-bluffing, counter-doubly-bubbly-bluffingwhatever?

I've probably watched Supergrass 20 or 30 times, and I still can't decide 100%. That's the wonderful thing.

As well as Ade Edmonson, there are big roles for other early Comic Strip mainstays - French & Saunders, Pete Richardson, Alexei Sayle, Keith Allen, Nigel Planer and Robbie Coltrane, though curiously enough not Rik Mayall.

All of the Comic Strip cast - however much I disliked the hidden agenda of some of their members - are convincing actors, and turn in superb performances in this big-screen outing, while the Richardson-Richens writing team's work is so often pure genius, with nice little touches of detail throughout.

Ultimately this is a study of crime, criminology and human nature, in all it's wondrous complexity. And very funny with it. You will not be disappointed.
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sweeter than it is lame, but not groundbreaking
8 March 2002
It was a slightly surprising development when the makers of South Park took their excellent homoerotic cartoon show to the big screen after just a couple of TV series, but it's easy to see why - the massive cult audience of the show guaranteed instant interest and profits.

But with 'Bigger, Longer and Uncut' they didn't quite make the most of it. They had already toyed with 2-parter episodes on TV, and given that this isn't much more than an hour in length, one has to ask what it is that justifies turning this particular storyline as a film.

War, religion, T&P, angry parents, swearing, Canada, Satan and Saddam Hussein were all themes and concepts which had already been exploited in the TV series. The film brought nothing new to the audience, apart from losing the beeps on swearwords, more expensive cgi effects and slightly bigger musical numbers.

Very little new ground was broken, and I think many of the season 2/3 TV shows from the same era are actually better than the feature film. Sorry Matt and Trey, I love your work, but admit it, this was a bit of cash-in.

That said, if you like South Park it's well worth watching, just don't expect it to be radically different.
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Bean (1997)
Oh dear oh dear
27 February 2002
Laughs, not many. Cringes aplenty.

This is the low point of Rowan Atkinson's career. After an initial handful of strong - if very mainstream - Mr Beans for television, the shows increased in frequency, and decreased in quality to the point of patheticness.

It all started to go wrong when they started giving him lines to say.

So what then to do after no-one cared about the TV show any more? Take it to the big screen and try and sell it to America. Big mistake.

This film is essentially a rehashing of some of the TV moments, within the context of a simple and somewhat directionless plot. And there are some attempts at 'humour' which simply make me cringe, not to mention a tacked-on ending, which looks and feels completely different from the main plot.

This is not a good film, and it's worse than the weakest of the TV shows. Now we are apparently getting a new animated series of Mr. Bean. Could it be that Atkinson has run out of original ideas?
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Wonderfully underrated romp
20 February 2002
After mediocre initial reviews, this film could become a cult classic.

It's a 'perfect crime' comedy with hints of 'A Fish called Wanda', and different people will take different things from it. There's high-level slapstick, satire/parody and a lot of Steveish in-humour for die-hard Coogan fans.

The entire plot is unbelievable to a farcical extreme, and every character other than Simon Garden suffers from a lack of depth, but then this was always going to be a Coogan vehicle (Rover 75 V6 with Walnut dash, perhaps) and he makes the transition to big screen star successfully, if reluctantly.

I suspect that as Coogan matures as an actor and relaxes into mainstream life, the Parole Officer's reputation will retroactively improve and in ten years time, this will be seen as a classic British comedy.
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Blue (1993)
True Blue, baby I love you
13 February 2002
Jarman's masterpiece was always going to attract a lazy criticism from the mainstream mindset: pretentious, trendy, self-indulgent etc.

But to dismiss it out of hand as no better than a first year art student's project is to fail to appreciate the rich narrative.

The coldness of the blue focusses the mind on what Jarman has to tell us, perhaps far better than any other colour would've done. We cannot help but listen, and take in one very gifted man's grim yet positive perspective on gay life, and a slow death through AIDS.

Brian Eno's musical score is stark and haunting, with passages of female vocal harmony that are strongly influenced by contempory sacred music from Eastern Europe.

Watch this film with an open mind: Force yourself to keep staring into the blue yonder, and it will empower you with a new level of vision and perspective.
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Suffers because of what it's not
8 February 2002
After the massive, and entirely deserved, success of 'A Fish called Wanda' there was pressure to produce a sequel.

In fact, the idea was so long in development and writing and rewriting, and starting from scratch etc. that what we ended up with, seven years on, was a film that reunited four people from the Wanda cast, but which was otherwise an entirely different film.

But the public were expecting a sequel, similiar too, and funnier than Wanda, and were always going to be disappointed, if that's what they were looking for. Plus Jamie Lee Curtis was losing sex appeal rapidly by 1996.

Fierce Creatures is a good film, if slightly directionless. There are plenty of in-jokes, and nice ideas, but it's fairly obvious that the script/plot has been taken apart and put back together so many times, and this adds to the lack of any co-ordinated structure.

That said, compared to most of the dross out there, it's one of the better films that's ever been made, just not quite in Wanda class.
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Groundhog Day (1993)
Nice idea, well executed
8 February 2002
As mainstream US romantic comedy goes, this is one of the better ones.

Bill Murray's career was always leading up to this movie, and he really doesn't disappoint. Could anyone else have embodied in weatherman Phil Connors the same qualities? Day after day after groundhog day?

Andie MacDowell has serious limitations as an actress, but her role as TV producer and Connor's romantic interest suits her, and falls within her range of believability. Add Chris Elliot as the oafish cameraman Larry (every good film has a 'Larry' in it!) and you have all the ingredients for a feel-good film.

OK, so the premise is often less than believable - a guy lives February 2 over and over again, and everything is always reset at 6 AM, apart from his own memory and ability which he is able to work on.

And the happy ending lets things down slightly - it would maybe be better if he worked hard to achieve the perfect day, and then had to do it again, for all eternity.

But it's an enjoyable film, made by the little throwaway lines (Larry: 'he might be OK...' and the supporting characters. You'll never listen to 'I got you babe' in the same way again.
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Contractual Obligation
8 February 2002
This film really didn't need to be made - but at the time, after two excellent TV series, the Pythons were under pressure to produce a big-screen version for wider distribution.

Thus a number of sketches from the first two series were rewritten, tightened up, and re-enacted, entirely on film. The actual new material is probably around 2% of the script, and I hold the view that many of the sketches were inferior to their TV versions, and much of the better series 1 and 2 stuff (Spanish Inquisition, Silly Walks etc.) didn't even make it to ANFSCD for some reason.

It's interesting to watch the differences in production and compare this material to how it was originally done, and the new devices for linking one sketch to the next keep you on your toes.

But ultimately if you want to watch early python sketches, the TV versions are more rewarding.
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A pleasant surprise
6 February 2002
From the title, and the opening ten minutes this looks like a hopeless case of boring mainstream.

But you keep watching, because there's a slight edge to it, and the reward is an increasingly interesting series of devices to develop the plot.

And having acquired varying degrees of dislike for all of the characters, we are presented with the conundrum of a murder mystery - the delightful twist being that we draw our own conclusions as to the identity of the killer.

Pleasingly original, not something that can be said about many of today's drearily expensive productions.
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Splash, Too (1988 TV Movie)
he sat on a rock
6 February 2002
As bad sequels go, this one is right up there with Freddy Kruger's Cash-in Christmas Special part VI.

Now if you can't get one of the main characters to appear, then you think long and hard, and if you can cast someone else and get away with it - as in Silence of the Lambs/Hannibal - then you make the new film.

But when practically NONE of the original cast OR the production team OR writers want to do a sequel, it becomes a really bad idea. A really bad idea.

That said, it has some good ideas which would've worked well in the original Splash.
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Kinky Ladies of London (1995 Video)
A sound example of early BD/Gonzo style
3 February 2002
If you're looking to build up a collection of Ben Dover films, this is a reasonable one to start with as it includes some of the earliest documentary-style footage recorded, with the action offset against typically amusing and light-hearted banter from Ben and his cohorts.

It's easy to deconstruct the Gonzo genre as simplistic, repetitive and ultimately a deliberate artifical construct which could engender an altogether incorrect perception of heterosexual female mentality, and yes there is an argument that this is socially dangerous, should it be viewed by someone lacking the intelligence to understand.

However, in the earlier BD projects, there is a genuinely spontaneous feel to it, and indeed many of the scenes in those days were 'real' pickups, which give the scenes a real edge.

One Day, Steve Perry may be deservedly recognised for his talents - but I suspect the film and TV industry as a whole - BD included - will have to move on from the rigid mainstream/porn and gay/straight divisions before this can happen.
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Breaks no new ground - go read the book
3 February 2002
Given all the mainstream hype I went to see this film with low expectations, and I wasn't disappointed - in that I was, if you see what I mean.

I'm even worried that this interpretation of what is at least a book with reasonable historical pedigree might even be weaker than that other film, Terry Pratchett or whatever it is, that's really popular at the moment. And I'd hate that to be the case, although I haven't seen it, so it would be wrong to make a comparison.

You have to be of a certain mindset to get into the whole 'fantasy' scene, and to be honest, Middle Earth just doesn't do it for me, especially not in big-screen form.

If people live in a world of magic and spellbindery, why would a long, arduous and risky journey for several people ever be necessary to achieve a given end?

Sure, the special effects are OK, but that's normal in this sort of film, and exactly what I would've expected. All the acting is eminently forgettable, and again pretty much exactly what you'd expect, and Ian Holm as Bilbo is the most convincing.

What a pity so much of the film is full of once-you've-seen-one-you've-seen-them-all battles, instead of developing the individual characterization within the Shire. I'm not looking forward to the next installment, I'll tell you now.

I would much rather see films produced under the constraints of low budgets which inspire far greater creativity. Peter Jackson should know this better than anyone - or has he forgotten about Bad Taste now that he's a millionairess?

If you've got 3+ hours to spare, and want to watch a fantasy movie and Peter Jackson, watch a double header of Labyrinth or Dark Crystal followed by Bad Taste. It's a lot more rewarding than this long, drawn-out, predictable affair.

Of course, mine is a minority view, and if you like mainstream things that pretend to be somehow subversive, while in actual fact remaining highly conventional and watered-down AND wasting/making money in the process, you'll probably love it.

And so will your children, unless they go to a really good school.
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Loose Ends II (1985 Video)
Good example of mid '80s mainstream US hardcore
27 December 2001
I must admit to a somewhat soft spot for this film, as it was one of the first hardcore films I ever saw, at the age of 12 IIRC.

If only there was a hope of re-releasing some of these classics from the 1980s on DVD... but the industry seems intent on producing new stuff, and no-one's interested in this any more.

As a mature woman character, Gloria is second only to Juliet Anderson (Aunt Peg), while this film also features the ample talents of Erica Boyer, one of the biggest names of '80s porn.

The final scene where the camera-man gets sucked off has good humour value, and you have to remember that this pre-empted Ben Dover et all and the Gonzo genre by at least ten years.

It probably looks dated now, but I'd love to see this film again, a decade on.
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8MM (1999)
Middle Americans are to blame
25 January 2001
The first two thirds of this film are pretty good, in spite of Nicholas Cage. Unfortunately the potential is lost with an ending tacked-on to appease Middle America.

We could've seen the lead character getting dragged deeper into the world of snuff, and questioning his own desires. Instead we got the same old boring conventional action hero morality, the eye (or more) for an eye mentality, and the assertion that Cage is actually doing the world a favour by killing the bad guys.

Did anyone ever stop to think that Machine's elderly mother might be just as upset at her sons death, as the mother of girl he is 'avenging'?

And yet, if you stop watching before the final third, which is deeply unoriginal, there is fairly experimental and challenging stuff here. Not quite a study into psychosexual desire, but then this is a mainsteam film.
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Works on a number of different levels
22 January 2001
The only thing I really dislike about this film is the saccharinity - Charlie, Grandpa and the rest of his family combined with the whole 'perfect poor kid gets lucky' scenario. Oh, and some of the naffer musical numbers.

But, I realise that without this, they would never have got away with making the film. Look deeper, and you see the dark, satirical, hallucogenic fantasy world with no small amount of social commentary, a healthy dose of cynicism and - it has to be said - overtones of paedophilia, almost in the same vein as William Blake's Innocence/Experience poems.

This will easily delight an audience of children or the elderly, and will hold their attention but the rest of us can see beyond the healthy family stuff, and watch this film for sheer escapsism value.

Notice for example Gene Wilder's portrayal of the eccentric recluse - the beguiling stranger that kids are told never to talk to - and Julie Dawn Cole as spoiled brat verging on seductress. It's not just about interpretation either, I'm sure the film-makers knew exactly what they were doing.

The morality tale that was at the core of Roald Dahl's novel is merely there to take the curse of an experimental and enjoyable film: take from it what you will.
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A classic of the genre
2 January 2001
British Sex Comedies of the 1970s have always taken a bad rap, somewhat unfairly.

What people don't realise is that beyond the 'slapstick' humour and chauvinistic 'sexual titiliation' there are intelligent and amusing subplots and sidelines that work on oh so many different levels.

Try appreciating this film, and others like it, from an analytical and intellectual perspective, and you'll begin to pick up on some of the subtle ironies and trademarks of the genre.

See beyond the characters: the taxi driver is actually representive of all of us, his taxi the vehicle that conveys us through our lives, picking up and dropping off other people along the way. The sexual encounters represent the continuous cycle of human reproduction. The kidnapping and the final twist show that everything in life comes full circle.

This is far better than the inferior 'Taxi Driver' film, also made in 1976, with which it is often unfortunately confused.
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Titanic (1997)
Overrated as much as the ship itself
6 February 2000
Is this the most overrated film ever?

Drawn-out, boring, predictable, uncreative and above all, unconvincing. Ah, little Kate and Leo, how sweet - are we really meant to believe it's 1912?

The bits that flank the main story with the Old Woman are superfluous and mind-numbingly banal, and the only real amusement value is when the people slide down the boat as it snaps in half.

Is this meant to be funny? tragic? romantic? original? historical? Because it isn't. Go watch Trading Places or Weekend at Bernies or Groundhog Day, or Derek Jarman's Blue, and learn what goes into making a real film.

Unfortunately the likes of Titanic will invariably appeal to the mainstream sentimentality of middle American/England/etc.

And why, when they've got that big hot boiler room on the boat, didn't they just melt the little Iceberg? Why did they take so long to sink? That old woman is the same character as Kate Winslet? *groan*

1/10 is overrating this bland, unconvincing Trout of a movie, frankly.
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revenge of the killer sequel
25 February 1999
Worth watching, but barely half as good as W@B I, even though the summer 'feelgood factor' is still very much abound, there are far fewer jokes.

'I suppose you were in a different conga line?'
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