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Sleuth (1972)
One of those films that has so many flaws but is so enjoyable.
10 May 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I've always found Anthony Schaffer one of the most overrated and snobbish writers of his era. With the exception of The Wicker Man, I don't see much to warrant his esteem, especially not the repulsive Frenzy. Sleuth however does have much to be admired, but all the same it's an oddity: a miserable comedy... a guessing game that's very predictable.... an actor's showcase which is strangely miscast...

Stage plays being turned into films is rarely a good idea, and in Sleutch's case, it was specifically a play that was about theatre, about illusion, about charade and performance, and crucially it was designed as a theatrical sleight-of-hand, it's great coup de theatre being something that can only work on stage, and only then if done by precisely the right actor.

Thanks to it' tasty script full of colourful dialogue, accents, lampooning and bitchiness, its always a joy to watch, but there are some very odd wrong notes in the movie that one has to wonder about. Olivier is absolutely bang on as Wyke, a man you'd hate to be friends with but can't get enough of on screen. But Caine, despite giving his best shot at Milo, is all at sea. He is not the bronzed Lothario nouveau rich playboy who threatens Wyke's Olde England. And he fails completely to fool us with his Inspector Doppler. How would Wyke, who is such a master of games playing, be so fooled? Caine never gives a bad performance, but Milo is a part for a character actor: Finney or Bates would indeed have been perfect. His accent and manor are not easily camouflaged. He's not a chameleon actor.

Also there are some very odd cuts in the film. What's with the red jacket Milo moves near the end? There are some very odd cutaways to inanimate objects that don't really do anything for the movie. And the house itself isn't quite the puzzle palace it out to be. The film just doesn';t quite capture the "fun" of it all.

The relationship between the two men is also a bit inconsistent. After Doppler is disposed of, Milo is getting changed, chatting away, having a drink. Five minutes later is is seething about Wyke's earlier treatment of him.

It also has one twist too many at the end, and stops being believable. And lets fact it, the burglary plot and clown's disguise....huh? That's all the moaning about it over, but it's still riveting entertainment!
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The Stud (1978)
I bloody love this movie!
15 October 2006
I can't pretend otherwise, I've always loved this film and it's one of my guilty pleasures for a rainy afternoon, or more likely a night in with a few drinks.

It's astoundingly dreary looking: apart from Joan's soft focus entrance there is precious little opulence on display. The film is low-lit and rather seedy looking. The opening credits sequence remarkably switches from day to night and back again! But right from the start, when the incredibly beautiful Felicity departs after a night with Tony, and then the sequence of him dressing and going out to the sound of the irresistible theme tune (watch Oliver Tobias trying to say "you handsome bastard" tro himself as quietly as possible!), this is a classic quotealong movie. Some of the one liners are great: "they ask for comics and a bag of sweets you give 'em penthouse and amyl nitrate" and best of all "there are two sorts of women in this world. The first sort pick you up and screw you, the second sort pick your brains and screw you up." It's rubbish of course, but however good it may or may not be its about the disco scene and shagging so it will always be seen in that way.

Whatever happened to the director? Oliver Tobias is rather underused in the film it must be said: he doesn't have much to do and is rather overshadowed by super-bitch Fontaine. But the soundtrack is great, and the film is fun. And the scenes with Tony and his pals are the best in the movie. Those three deserved a series! But why does Ben return the video to Fontaine? Surely he'll need it as evidence?
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Holding On (1997– )
A sprawling yet ultra-tight masterpiece, but....
16 September 2006
Watching Holding On again, now it's finally appeared on DVD (albeit with a slightly edited end of part one, annoyingly) it has gone from being the best drama of the 90s to one that in many ways sums up all that was bad about the 90s.

It's a magnificent achievement, filled with incredible performances and poignant story lines, but there are one or two overall elements which for me slightly mar the end result.

Firstly, as with almost everything Marchant writes, the drama feels strangely cold. There is a serious lack of sympathy for any of the main characters: we feel for the more obvious targets such as Sally, Vicky and Tina, incidentally all beautiful young women whose world suddenly fall apart, but in particular the character of Claire is very difficult to warm to, as is Shaun. David Morrissey is clearly extremely talented and his descent into the depths is heartbreaking, but I didn't find it terribly believable that his ultra-scrupulous tax inspector would suddenly behave in such a manner, and Morrissey's performance in the early episodes is a little too Christopher Eccleston-like, rather too full of pomp and bluster.

Phil Daniels provides the weakest link in the saga as the character who holds it together. Not a great actor at the best of times, he is clearly here off the back of his success narrating Blur's Parklife, providing a ludicrous and grating voice-over which usually says absolutely nothing and shows all too clearly the risible influence of Britpop and Tarantino in its "profound words on trivial themes." Despite that, the closing monologue is brilliant and incredibly uplifting: therein lies another oddity about the series. It doesn't seem to make a single attempt to show the magic of London life, only its horror, and then after eight episodes of it suddenly ends telling us how, despite all this, it's a terrific place.

I was puzzled as to why we've not heard more from Fleur Mould who played Sally incidentally.

Despite these few nagging doubts, this is an incredible drama, and easily Marchant's best, especially in comparison with the equally unsympathetic but much less impressive Passer By. The camera work is brilliant throughout, Shergold fond of using single takes in the most technically demanding scenes. It does make me glad the 90s are over though: hearing songs like Design for Life in the background, and seeing a production so lacking in pity and so heavily influenced by Britpop makes me realise that, to me anyway, the 2000s are a better and more co-operative decade, with London in the grip of a more visible threat and yet strangely, feeling a nicer place too.
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Auf Wiedersehen, Pet (1983–2004)
Perfect comedy-drama
8 July 2006
When Auf Wiedhershen Pet first appeared in 1983 it truly was a new type of television series. There had been comedy-dramas before, Minder and Shine on Harvey Moon spring to mind, but Auf W had political bite too and unlike the other two series was a true ensemble piece with seven wonderful characters driving the show and also for once not a London setting.

Series One still looks marvellous, it is beautifully acted by everyone and every episode is a winner. At the time such broad accents on TV was a major revelation, as was the unflinching portrayal of men visiting brothels and using their fists to settle arguments.

If series one had a fault, it is perhaps that its only ongoing storyline is Dennis' divorce, which is actually the most tedious of sagas, and whilst Dennis is a most honourable and decent character, as the series goes on the strain begins to wreck him and he becomes something of a monster. All comes good in the end thankfully though! Series 2 I found a huge disappointment. Its still terrific stuff in places, but the trend for more ongoing story lines gives it a rather repetitive feel, and none of the individual stories seem to have much of a conclusion. Work on the manor house in the first few episodes seems to go nowhere, and while the lads' confrontations with the villagers produces some funny moments they are very exaggerated and repetitive. Bill Paterson makes an excellent contribution as the villain of the piece but the storyline is rather dull and for me Auf W was always at its best when dealing with the small everyday business of getting by and doing your best: in fact the lyrics to the theme song of the first series sums up what it was all about capturing best.

What's more Dennis spends most of series 2 in a foul mood and Oz seems to become more gentle and more of a hero.

The BBC series started off well enough but to me collapsed into a far fetched mess.

For me on the strength of the first series alone this is one of the greatest things ever to appear on British television, but it quickly lost its subtlety. And that scene in Series 2 with Oz supposedly unaware of how well he is going to sing is absolutely dreadful!
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Mona Lisa (1986)
Effective film which gets away with its major flaws
25 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I'm very fond of Mona Lisa. It's a story of innocence in a world dripping with sin, and Hoskins is perfection as the ex-con quite capable of dishing out a beating when he's up against it but childlike in his naivety to the horrors of child prostitution.

The two performances that really stand out for me though are Michael Caine and Clarke Peters who are both absolutely terrifying, Caine also very funny in places too.

The major problem with the film is that the plot is, frankly, rubbish! Why does Anderson spend years trying to find Simone when she's working for his colleague Caine as part of the same business? Why is Caine paying George to drive her around? If he is her pimp why doesn't Anderson know this? It's all rather odd. And also how come George just walks away from the climax scot-free? That, and also why the girl in the room who is from Ireland have a Birmingham accent...

But a haunting, touching and frightening film, although it's interesting that the film offers no sympathy to Tyson's character despite the fact that she clearly uses George because she by now only sees men as a means to an end.
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A huge feast of a film
27 November 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I am not a fan of disaster movies, especially not the utterly depressing and hammy Poseidon Adventure, but for some reason The Towering Inferno is one of my all-time favourite films. It's partly a celebration of Hollywood's dying days, as well as a magnificent, exhaustive spectacle with excellent attention to detail and a lot of care in all areas.

A terrific score starts things off nicely, and from then on we are treated to star after star turning up to add another jewel to the crown. Fred Astaire dancing with Jennifer Jones, Richard Chamberlain being throughly repulsive, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen being every inch the heroes of the hour: by the end of the film covered in everything from soot to sweat and still glistening with class.

It's also got some tremendously cool wisecracking. "How do I get back down....oh s***!" "It's good for starting fires"..."He's all smiles"..."that Goddamn son-in-law of yours"..."How do you expect her to her a phone call she's deaf!" The only thing that slightly mars the film for me is one or two extremely depressing moments such as Susan Flannery's protracted demise which kind of confuse the spirit of the film. Otherwise, a real classic and even before the fire runs riot its wonderful entertainment. It's also the longest film I've never once been bored during.
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Wonderful, fascinating central performance
11 September 2005
Quite possibly the most obscure thing on George Cole's CV, I captured this little gem on a late night screening on ITV in 1984, all 25 minutes of it. Its set in a police interview room where a moody detective investigating the murder of a girl is questioning a witness who may in fact be the killer. The witness is none other than George Cole as a mild-mannered, nervy, wetter than a wet weekend but rather seedy put upon husband who claims he was letching the girl harmlessly like a lonely middle aged married man and had nothing to do with her murder.

Cole is playing a slightly less affluent Arthur Daley here, and its a marvellous character performance: over 25 minutes he even manages to develop catchphrases and unique mannerisms. Aside from a few silent flashbacks the film is totally a one room piece and a forgotten gem, like a low-key and quirky version of The Offence. Its themes are interesting and its tone light.
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Sugar Rush (I) (2005–2006)
Serves Birchill right for making such a fool of herself
15 June 2005
When there are so many scripts every year that don't get made and plenty of much better books that don't get televised, why was this chosen? Its rather depressing isn't it, especially when all Birchill was wanting to do was stir up Middle England. Excuse me, they don't care! The only programmes that really get people wound up (Men Only, Brimstone and Treacle, whatever) are good ones: that's why Mary Whitehouse used to attack The Sweeney and not The A Team. If its hollow it won't be taken seriously enough to bother moralists.

And isn't it nice to know that Birchill considers a teenage discovering she's bi-sexual makes "a perverted little work"? This is the usual roller-coaster-directed Channel 4 insular media view of the world, a middle-class attempt to shock. Teenagers probably like to claim its accurate because that way it makes them seem hard.
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Kes (1969)
14 February 2005
I read A Kestral For A Knave when I was at school, and when I saw the film I could not believe how perfectly it translated the book. Billy looked exactly right and the whole atmosphere was perfect.

The only admission is perhaps the most upsetting passage in the book, Billy's "tall story" but this compensated for by the beautiful performance by Colin Welland as the teacher.

This is the only film I have ever cried at in my life and I well up just thinking about it. When Billy flings himself sobbing onto the sofa at the end of the film its heartbreaking.

And there's not a jot of sentimentality to be found anywhere.
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See No Evil (1971)
I still can't make up my mind about this film
30 December 2004
There's been quite a few rainy afternoons when I've dusted down my copy of Blind Terror and settled down to watch it again, and every time I'm left with the same feeling: something isn't quite right about this movie, despite obvious skill in places.

Brian Clemens is hardly an intellectual writer, but as a writer of simple television thrillers he's a legend. And like many of the best TV writers, his success as a screenwriter is varied. Both Blind Terror and And Soon The Darkness point the way forward to Clemens' THRILLER TV series of the Seventies, which effectively exploited the "girl in peril" situation. What makes these two movies different is their rather unpleasant, slightly depressing feel. "Darkness" is very slow and rather uneasy in its voyeurism, whilst Terror is a little too nasty to be a wholly enjoyable thriller.

Perhaps the most telling and interesting sequence is actually the opening credits, with Bernstein's enjoyable but somehow inappropriate music accompanying the faceless killer leaving a cinema that is showing "The Convent Murders" and "Rapist Cult", an only slightly exaggerated take on early Seventies exploitation movies in Britain. He then walks along a street where every shop seems to be selling violence: a TV shop has a set displaying a murder taking place, a toy shop sells toy guns and a newsagent displays grim headlines.

From there the movie is rather predictable, and unfolds at a slow pace (nothing really happens until about 50 minutes in) but is somehow pretty watchable all the same. Along the way there are some fascinating glimpses of Seventies Britain to be enjoyed. But from the inexplicable massacre at the house onwards things feel a little sluggish and the killer is so one-dimensional we do not have much interest in his actions. And why does he try and find the bracelet again at the end, as if Sarah would still have it! The ending is terribly abrupt and nothing is explained.

Fleisher's direction though is careful and he uses a fantastic trick of keeping the camera close on Farrow during her long escape sequence so that we cannot see where she is heading either.

There are also a couple of good moments of surprise but the movie is lacking a real scare and the overwhelming impression is one of gloom.
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Celebrity Playhouse: Pygmalion (1981)
Season 1, Episode 3
The best of all Elizas!
24 December 2004
While Robert Powell was a strange choice to play Doolittle, and the idea that this would add a sexual frisson to his and Eliza's interplay comes to nothing, this is a surprisingly fine version of the play.

Twiggy is an absolute delight as Eliza. As well as being the genuine article (like Eliza, not a cockney but a working-class Londoner all the same), she is innocent, flustered, enchanting and plucky. Her chocolate eating line "I wouldn't 'ave eaten it, but I'm too much of a lady to spit it out" is one of many terrific moments she absolutely nails. And her "not bloody likely, I'm going in a taxi" is the funniest delivery of the line I've ever heard.

Arthur English is spot on as her father too. All in all it's a delightful experiment that really pays off.
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The best Dracula sequel?
5 December 2004
I'm not a Hammer fan really, I think the movies are generally dull, very badly scripted, not at all scary and insist on rather sad promises of sex which never arrive. By the 70s the studio was a bit of an anachronism, but this final attempt to save the Dracula strand really surprised me. It almost works.

Although there's lots wrong with the film, it never feels tired or short of ideas. It feels more like an entirely new team have decided to come in with big new ideas. The only link with the past are the two brilliant leads. Cushing in particular is magnificent here, his scenes drinking coffee with the police and explaining the story really do have a prickly atmopshere of menace to them. And how eerie is that drawing of Dracula on his wall! It's a film full of moments: the silent preparation of the silver bullet, the stalking of the secretary, and some really disturbing bits, like the slow-mo assault of Joanna Lumley by the female vampires which is all sadism and no sexual element. All the villains in this are genuinely menacing, the Chinese woman and the motorbike thugs in particular. There are some pretty nasty bits too, the close-up impaling and the unnecessary death of William Franklyn's character.

Fruity work from Freddie Jones as a loony professor.

All in all not a bad film despite the selection of dreadful titles. Well thought out and pretty persuasive.
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Very watchable but disappointing
27 October 2004
ITV managed to scoop itself with this two part drama by broadcasting a brilliant two part documentary on the case a month or two earlier, and one which gained far more recognition at the BAFTAs.

There's something pleasantly old-fashioned about this attempt at telling a very simple but tragic story: the (rather tacky) music picking up when people walk down corridors after making key discoveries, the lack of big name actors and so on, but it just feels rather flat. The period detail is very iffy: why does everyone own brand new 1979 model televisions? A small point but irritating. The drama also gets in a bit of a mess by beginning with the death of Jayne MacDonald, the first victim who wasn't a prostitute and the first one that really provoked much interest from the uncaring public and press. Yet despite the fact that after this it was acknowledged that no-one was safe, characters constantly reassure people that "he only kills pros...". While this is partly an attempt to illustrate police incomptentence, it seems bizarre a policeman would say that when he's just killed two women who aren't. The incident when the Geordie hoaxer telephoned the police to admit he was a hoaxer isn't included either, and after all the build up, it was probably a mistake to finally show Sutcliffe at all, as the shadowy figure that hovers in the background is very effective.

I wasn't that keen on Armstrong's performance, but I feel a lot of this is the fault of the writing. The dioalogue feels very clichéd in places and determined to not point any fingers of blame at anyone.

This is Personal is very watchable but far too innocuous. It was a shocking case and the is very little sympathy, fear or anger on display here.
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Brilliant late-night thriller
30 July 2004
Magnificent and unusual thriller which is surprisingly effective despite its rather cosy foundations. I first saw this movie on TV late one night with my Nan and we were absolutely gripped and jumped out of our seats a good few times. I watched it again yesterday afternoon and found it to be even better than I thought despite a few minor quibbles.

Firstly, I agree that a few teabags of heroin didn't warrant all this fuss, but the idea of a cute/ creepy kid's doll stuffed with it is a malevolent image all the same. What puzzles me more is why on earth Susy risks her life for it when she has absolutely no idea what's in it. She even at one point says "I'm saving my husband's life aren't I?" which is completely out of nowhere. She suspects for as while it is evidence of her husband's implication in a murder or perhaps adultery plot, but she doesn't have any idea what is going on and yet risks her life for it. If it was me, even if I did know what was in the doll, I'd still hand it over to Roat!

The other slight flaw in the film comes in its origins as a stage play. While the claustrophobia is a great asset, the problem lies in the adaptation not taking into account the reactions of a cinema audience are different to a theatre audience. Take for example the scene early on when Susy enters the flat while the three villains are meeting there. Why doesn't Roat tell them she is blind, he has time to? Because on stage one of the plays most effective moments was having Susy enter and face the villains and then the penny drops for the audience that she cannot see. This "shared reaction" of an audience is something pretty unique to theatre and needs heightening considerably to work on film.

Additionally, the sequence where Susy realises the operator is still hanging on the phone line is a crowd pleasing laugh on stage but is not an effective gag in a movie.

Minor quibbles though in a marvelous film. Very creepy music, wonderful acting, tension building very effectively (a particularly powerful moment being Susy's gasp as she realises Mike is one of the gang)and isn't Samantha Jones gorgeous?
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The greatest crime is the DVD fiasco
16 July 2004
I had this fantastic drama on video, and was most excited when I found I could upgrade with the DVD release. So I gave away my video and bought the DVD, only to find to my horror that the DVD is edited, has new titles put on which are unbelieveably tacky, and worst of all, is DUBBED into Standard Scots!

This destroys all the beauty of the piece, both the chilling dialogue and the comic timing.

Additionally the blown up print makes the film look like a home movie.

An absolute disaster, and a successful job of making a gem look awful.

And the person I gave the video to taped over it.
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Play for Today: Just a Boys' Game (1979)
Season 10, Episode 5
30 June 2004
Take no notice of Dinky Donk, who has put annoyingly silly reviews of Peter McDougall plays on here. If you read his comments you'd get a very misguided idea of what this piece is about.

Just a Boy's Game is a masterpiece, a low-key story of life in a depressed Greenock, when the only ambition for the hard-cases is to be legendary hard-cases. Miller's performance is first-class, and Mackenzie's direction faultless.

This is quite possibly the finest Scottish film ever made with the exception of Just Another Saturday.

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Diana (1984)
Magical, nostalgic love story
10 March 2003
Diana was a hugely important series to me. I went on holiday to Cornwall when I was ten and the BBC were staying in our hotel while in the area filming the location scenes for the production. I recognised the wonderful Mary Morris and Patsy Kensit, who at that time was chiefly known for the Bird's Eye peas commercial.

When the show finally aired in January 1984 I watched it purely out of curiousity. This was the first love story I ever saw and over ten weeks I was completely gripped. Patsy Kensit was unimaginably beautiful and those first two episodes evoked such an innocent boundless childhood adventure.

When episode three recast the two leads and Kevin McNally and Jenny Seagrove took on the roles I was initially disappointed, since I found the characters less likeable. But the story became even more gripping as war comes to characters and eventually destroys their love in a totally unexpected way. Kevin McNally is splendid as Jan; subtly he allows Jan to have a working class neurosis that occasionally has physical symptoms. As a young adult he insists on changing from the rather mild mannered humble youth he was, but whenever Diana or her powerful family lay down the law his confidence is shattered and he has a memorable look of trembling fear.

The magnificent theme music is strangely gloomy, a beautiful child like melody which really captures the hopelessness at the centre of the drama.

Andrew Davies' adaptation typically takes average material and gives it a contemporary relevance. A truly beautiful piece of television with a gallery of marvellous actors in supporting roles which is long overdue for recognition.
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Chilling Hitchcockian thriller
3 February 2003
A forgotten gem, this is one of the earliest films John Mackenzie directed after a few years working in television, before he returned to television in time to shoot some of the finest Play For Todays of the 1970s. And along with The Long Good Friday and Ruby this is Mackenzie finest achievement in the cinema. A stunning thriller, this is an assured, efficient filming of a chilly concept. David Hemmings is excellently vulnerable in the lead, the perfect Hitchcockian hero, believed by nobody apart from the viewer. The class of boys includes a young Michael Kitchen, and there's Tony haygarth as a world weary colleague whose lack of joie de vivre begins to corrupt Hemmings as much as his class do.

The most frightening sequence is the shocking persecution of the wife in the squash courts, a superbly staged scene that is quite a jaw-dropper considering the age of the film. In fact it is more the quaint English setting that adds the real shyock to the scene. It is interesting to compare this film with two other public school movies of the era, inevitably Lindsay Anderson's If....but more significantly the brilliant Walk A Crooked Path

which similarly portrays the public school boys as corrupt, ruthless and cold blooded, brilliantly adept at money making, no matter how immorally, and trained to view the world with a haughty authority.

Unman Wittering And Zigo is a truly gripping thriller, and proves Mackenzie is a great thriller maker as he illustrated in pieces like Dennis Potter's Double Dare and The Long Good Friday even more vividly.
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A massive disappointment
8 January 2003
With two of Britain's most reliable actors playing the leads, and a superb director of films like Jude and Wonderland, With Or Without would seem to have everything going for it. But watching the movie one quickly sinks into despair. This is a truly bland movie, with little to hold ones attention. The cast have little to do except go through the motions, the soapy proceedings are hard to believe in and don't really demand the effort. As for the actual plotting, it is unbelieveably cliched and predictable. The ending attempts to wrap things up in a novel and optimistic way and instead seems like a cinematic version of musical chairs as the time runs out and every character needs to find a place quickly. Also for a film whcih features sex as such an integral part of the plotting, it seems to have a very awkward attitude to it. The sex scenes are not particularly funny when they are meant to be, and certainly not erotic. Quite what Winterbottom saw in this and how he managed to make it so blandly is difficult to fathom. Saying it looks like a tv movie is unfair on tv movies: this is an extended episode of a fairly lazy soap opera and a crushing disappointment.
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Fairy tales and horror stories meet Blaxploitation and The Saint!
18 November 2002
Live And Let Die has always been my favourite Bond, perhaps because it was the first one I ever saw. having just watched it again on DVD after a gap of quite a few years, 'm still hugely impressed with what is one of the strangest and most inventive of Bond movies. It's a curiously unglamorous affair, with Bond a million miles away from casinos and Tiffany Cases. Yaphey Kotto's brilliant villain is half the time a Harlem gangster, and half a vicious politician exploiting local superstition to support his heroin smuggling. but Live And Let Die takes prosaic crime plots and pours a dose of strange brew over them, with creepy supernatural overtones and perhaps the scariest, most thuggish and least gentlemanly Bond villians of all. The soundtrack is gorgeous, and just watch that magical scene between Bond and Solitare when he tricks her with the tarot cards. Jane Seymour's expression as she turns to look at Moore is marvellous, and the love theme is magnificent, if all too brief. That scene alone is worth the price of admission.
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Scandal (1989)
A chance thrown away
18 September 2002
Much looked-forward to and gossiped aboutdramatization of the Profumo scandal which doesn't seem to know what it wants to be about and confuses the hell out of the viewer. It tries to capture the Sixties but it's arrogance and abundance of style over content betray it as a casualty of the Eighties. The script is oddly coy and cagey when it comes to key points in the pliot, and the whole Lucky Gordon episode is a mess. A fine performance by John Hurt goes some way towards salvaging something. But miniskirts in 1963? And while the end theme is pretty good, the lyrics are abysmal! Hurt's final scene with the falling cigarete though is splendid.
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Brave (1994)
A golden opportunity thrown away
30 July 2002
Arguably Marillion's greatest achievement in a career of consistent lack of recognition, Brave is a remarkable piece of music with astounding lyrics. Steve Hogarth sinks into the world of an angst ridden teenager with frightening accuracy, but in the hands of Richard Stanley the idea of making a vivid visual accompaniment to the songs collapses into embarrassment. The movie looks dreadful for a start, with horridly crude special effects. The little dialogue there is is cringeable. And a relatively simple story becomes complicated and confused, with men in masks and voodoo temples wandering in and out of the story for no reason. This is just being obscure for the sake of it; there are no meanings being this chaotic mess. Even the opening sequence of the girl on the bridge is bland. It's shot in daylight...everything that could be wrong with such scenes is. Josie Ayres is suitably expressive in the lead but she clearly deserves better than this. It's childish and tries to shock, but only alienates. It all goes to show that the idea of a music video is frequently a bad one, robbing music of the richness of your own personal imaginings. And yet Marillion have done a few god 'uns, namely Kayleigh, Sugar Mice and He Knows You Know.
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Unquestionably the finest short film I've ever seen
12 June 2002
A film so perfect, so affecting, that the usual superlatives damn it with faint praise. Darkness In The Afternoon breaks all the rules of the short film. It has a plot. It is well acted. It is interested in telling a story, not in being a CV in motion. And it is really only a short because the story is more effective at 15 minutes that two hours. The twist ending leaves you shattered: up until then you have been watching an exceptionally well made thriller. In the final moments you are shown the complete picture and a point is being made to you so gently, and so powerfully, that you know you will never forget it. Not only the best short I have ever seen, but one of the most perfectly realised experiences in cinema altogether.
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Armchair Cinema: Regan (1974)
Season 1, Episode 2
Sheer professionalism
29 October 2001
Regan, despite what the DVD cover insists, is not a film, but a 1974 television play which was so successful it led to a series being commisionned, which was none other than "The Sweeney", probably still the best crime drama British television has ever produced. And what a drama Regan is.It's hard to imagine there was ever any doubt a series would follow this, as a thoroughly professional team struck gold with this gripping and superbly directed thriller driven by John Thaw's powerhouse performance. Unlike the early episodes of the series, Regan focuses exclusively on Thaw's character, underlining his loner, maverick traits by isolating him from his Scotland Yard colleagues as he goes out on a limb to find the killers of a young policeman. The cast give outstanding performances, from Lee Montague's terrifying gangland boss dale (the scene with the ice skate is breathtaking) to Maureen Lipman in a charming supporting role as Regan's girlfriend. The two best scenes however are cunningly positioned next to each other. Regan has to visit the dead policeman's grandmother to break the news to her. "You know something, " he tells Carter as they sit in the car, the rain falling on the glass. "That old lady's got no reason to go on living. Whoever killed Cowley killed two people." It is a beautiful scene and even more affecting as is followed by Regan visitng his ex-wife. Trying to explain the reason why he is late she interrupts with "I'm not interested anymore in your silly cases and your stupid criminals." There is some super black comedy too as Regan's tension distorts into offensiveness, directed at his wife's new lover. By turns seedy, violent, funny, touching and exciting, Regan is a stunning piece of television which excels in all areas.
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Upstairs, Downstairs (1971–1975)
Goosey goosey gander, wither shall I wander? Upstairs anddownstairs and in my lady's chamber...
3 July 2001
It is a widely held belief that Upstairs Downstairs was television at its finest, and the most popular tv drama in the world. But why precisely is so good? It is almost entirely studio bound and looks like it should be just another worthy but squeaky clean period drama. This is why it is very hard to convince anyone unfamiliar with the series of why it is so special. But John Hawkesworth, the producer, believed television was electronic theatre, not second rate film, and this allows the stories to concentrate on words, emotions and intense acting. The grittiness of the series, the performances and its skill at depicting human emotions were its chief assets. Gordon Jackson's magnificent character performance as Hudson is a display of a modest, warm actor who made a character who stood for all he disliked totally loveable. David Langton's charming, liberal Richard Bellamy was a far less snobbish and severe man than his butler, but his first wife, the statuesque Lady Marjorie certainly made up for him. Simon Williams' portrayal of Lord Lucan lookalike James Bellamy showed real development over the years, the haughty, caddish son who is changed forever by the war and plays his final episode "All The King's Horses" nothing short of brilliantly. Lesley Anne-Down and Jacqueline Tong's introduction, the Christmas story "Goodwill To All Men" in many ways sums the series up, combining a devastating look at the London poor with the escapist charm of a traditional Edwardian Christmas, leading to a bittersweet conclusion offering an idyllic scene of Georgina being giving her presents as the snow falls outside, just after her grandmother's wise observation that her outing to help the needy was more out of a need for adventure than real charity. If the first season was the series finding its feet and the second was it settling down to more of the same, the third season is the oddest of them all. It reflects a period of change both in pre-war Britain and behind the scenes, as Elizabeth and Lady Marjorie were both written out at the actors' requests. This leaves the upstairs structure of the house unsettled, and the series is dark and sombre, as James' doomed marriage and Richard's bereavement make the house seem a far cry from the high society gatherings and royal dinners of the early seasons.

Although the fourth series, which depicts the war years so powerfully is considered the best, I would personally dispute this. Good as it is, what is most interestiung is the fifth series, as Britain's social structure is collapsing, and the full impact of the war is felt. The roarring twenties try to blot out the horrors of the trenches but leave James and many like him haunted, directionless, forgotten and despairing. The fifth series also introduces a new wife for Richard in the form of the delectable Hannah Gordon. Her interpretation of Virginia is a joy to watch; beautiful, witty and poetic. The daring storylines provide all the characters with moments to shine in, from Lady Marjorie's adultery in the excellent "Magic Casements" which deals unconventionally with an age-old theme, to the heartbreaking "I Dies From Love" which details the suicide of a kitchen maid. The sexual attitudes of the day were explored in "A Suitable Marriage", the bleak "A Cry For Help" and the astonishing "Whom God Hath Joined." Some of the wildest plotlines should not have worked but did, such as Hudson's hopeless affair with a parlour maid in "Disillusion" and Mrs Bridges' breakdown in "Why Is Her Door Locked?" There are really only two unsuccessful episodes of the entire sixty eight, but many masterpieces. "The Glorious Dead" and "Another Year" are devastating essays on the tragedies of the war, and "Distant Thunder" is a superbly claustrophobic episode, as war looms both in the household and in Europe. "The Sudden Storm" ends the third season with war declared, Daisy crying with the fear of what is to come while the rest of the world seems to be celebrating. The final episode, "Wither Shall I Wander" ended the series marvellously, with a perfect mixture of the happy and the sad. The pomp of Georgina's wedding allows a diversion from the sale of the house and the loss of James. Hudson delivers a tremendous speech to Edward on the tradition of service now dying out, and one can't help but be swept along with the fever of the episode. The final scene, as Rose is left alone in the house with the ghosts of the past echoing around her, is both a fine depictuion of the sentimentality of leaving a lifestyle behind and a cunning wallow in nostalgia. The like of Upstairs Downstairs will never be seen again. This type of television, like the England it depicted, is gone forvever.
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