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Flatliners (2017)
6/10
Better than I feared but still fairly unnecessary
29 November 2020
As this remake/reboot of the 1990 film of the same name opens Courtney Holmes is driving with her younger sister; distracted by her phone she crashes off a bridge. She survives but her sister doesn't. Some years later Courtney is a medical student with a fascination with the possibility of life after death. This fascination leads her to undertake a dangerous experiment... with two friends assisting she induces clinical death. They struggle to bring her back so seek the help of another friend. Once back with the living Courtney seems more alive and more intelligent. Her friends soon want to try the experience too. At first things seem great but then it appears that there is a dark side to what they did as they are haunted by people they wronged in the past.

I'd hear some fairly negative reviews of this but as it is available to watch on Netflix, and I'd enjoyed the original film, I thought I'd give it a go. It turned out it was better than I expected. The story is essentially the same but there are some noticeable changes and one genuine surprise, which I won't spoil. There are some nicely creepy moments but it lacks the sense of dread of the original... possibly because I've seen plenty of scarier films in the intervening years. The cast does an solid enough job; most notably Ellen Page, who has impressed me since I first saw her in 'Hard Candy'; and James Norton, who will be familiar to viewers of UK TV series 'Grantchester' and 'Happy Valley'. The casting of Kiefer Sutherland seemed strange; I was sure that there would be some link to his character in the original... if there was it was too subtle for me to notice. Overall this is hardly a must see and if you plan to watch just one version of 'Flatliners' I'd go with the original unless you are a real fan of one of the stars... that said I certainly don't regret watching it.
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Iron Eagle (1986)
6/10
A silly story rescued by some great aerial action
25 November 2020
When US Airforce pilot Col Ted Masters is shot down over waters claimed by a hostile Middle Eastern country he is captured, put on trial and sentenced to death! His eighteen year old son Doug, a skilled Cessna pilot hoping to join the Air Force, is horrified to learn the military will be doing nothing to save his father. He decides to lead his own rescue mission. He enlists the help of Col. Charles "Chappy" Sinclair, a Vietnam veteran who is now in the Air Force Reserve... they plan the mission; appropriate two fully armed F-16 fighters and set off for the Middle East to rescue Doug's father.

To say this film is cheesy and unrealistic is an understatement... I can see why the USAF wanted nothing to do with it as it makes it look easy for kids to get classified information on an air base not to mention the stealing of two F-16s! That said if you can put your brain in neutral it is quite fun. There is plenty of action and the flying sequences are spectacular with the Israeli Air Force proving F-16s and Kfirs; the latter standing in for enemy MiGs. The effects aren't the best; it is clear that destroyed aircraft and buildings are models. The makers clearly liked explosions ... even a mast falling on a tent causes an explosion! Much of the acting is pretty hammy but Louis Gossett Jr adds a touch of quality as Chappy. Overall I wouldn't call this a must see unless you are on an '80s nostalgia trip or, like me, have to run to the window every time you hear a fast jet overhead!
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Gotham (2014–2019)
9/10
An impressive story showing the origins of many 'Batman' characters
22 November 2020
This series is set in Gotham City many years before Bruce Wayne became Batman. As it starts Bruce is a boy living with his billionaire parents; his life is soon changed when they are both murdered in front of him. Idealistic young policeman James Gordon is determined to solve the case; most of the other officers in the Gotham City Police Department, including his partner are corrupt. As Gordon goes after the criminals and gradually tries to clean up the department the criminals are also changing. As the show starts the criminals are regular gangsters but a new breed starts rise; characters destined to become the familiar supervillains who will be Batman's various Nemeses.

I really enjoyed this series. It spends five seasons showing us the origins of characters who are usually either just shown as they are or only have a limited time explaining how they became who they are. A large number of familiar characters appear... even though some are never referred to by their 'hero/villain' names viewers will know who they are meant to be. The large cast does an impressive job bringing their characters to life; for the most part they don't overplay their characters and when they do it is demanded by the story. The city of Gotham has an impressively grim look; which gets grimmer and madder as the series progresses. Overall I'd certainly recommend this to fans of Batman and the characters of Gotham City.
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Donnie Brasco (1997)
9/10
An impressive mob movie
21 November 2020
This film is centred on undercover FBI agent Joseph D. Pistone. Posing as a jewel thief named Donnie Brascoe he gains the confidence of Lefty Ruggiero, a hitman working for one of the New York Mafia families. The two gradually become friends and Lefty explains the ways of the mob to him; it isn't long before Pistone is associating with more senior members of the family. As this is going on Lefty starts to feel bitter as his loyalty to the family goes unrewarded and others are promoted ahead of him. The undercover work threatens Pistone's marriage and his superiors fear that he is becoming his assumed persona.

I really enjoyed this film; while it is ostensibly about an undercover operation against the mob it is just as much a character driven film about Pistone's genuine friendship with Lefty; a friendship that will get the latter killed if Pistone's true identity is revealed. The scenes where the two of them just talk is a delight; Al Pacino and Johnny Depp hand a fine chemistry as Lefty and Pistone respectively. The rest of the cast is solid too. The film doesn't dwell on the violence of the mob but neither does it shy away from it; especially in a scene when one group of mobsters is wiped out by another. The story is gripping and told in a way that makes the mobsters sympathetic even though their crimes aren't whitewashed. It certainly doesn't glamorise the lives of the mobsters; they struggle to make the money demanded by their seniors and rarely seem to enjoy themselves. The '70s atmosphere is captured brilliantly; it would be easy to believe it was actually made then if one didn't know otherwise. Overall I'd definitely recommend this to fans of the genre.
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DNA (I) (2019– )
8/10
Solid Danish crime drama
16 November 2020
This series is centred on Danish police officer Rolf Larsen and investigation which uncovers baby smuggling in Europe. In a prologue we see Rolf investigating the disappearance of a baby; a lead takes him to Poland. Unable to get a babysitter, he takes his own child with him and she disappears during the ferry crossing... officially she fell overboard in a tragic accident. Five years later he is working in a rural area but is called back in following a similar case. He soon uncovers a problem in the supposedly error proof DNA data base and dares to believe his daughter might still be alive. While investigating the possible baby smuggling with French police officer Claire Bobin he runs a parallel, unofficial, investigation into his daughter's disappearance. The case will see them investigating in Denmark, France and Poland. Intertwined with this we see what is happening to Julita, a young, pregnant Polish woman, who has sought help at a convent.

I enjoyed this mystery/thriller despite some obvious flaws. The prologue sets things up nicely giving our protagonist extra motivation to solve the case. This also provides an early problem as we are forced to believe that Rolf would leave his baby daughter in a pram on the deck of a ferry during a storm! If one can get past this early problem the story is solid; I liked how the story of Rolf's investigation is intertwined with Julita's story. The conclusion features some twists; some the viewer is likely to see coming while others are more surprising. Without going into detail I will say I liked the ending even though I doubt it would have played out like that in reality. The cast does a solid job although I can't comment on the delivery as others have as I don't speak the characters' native languages; their English is certainly better than I can speak other languages!

With its multiple nationalities much of it is in English despite there being no English characters; the rest is subtitled Danish, French or Polish.
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Ad Vitam (2018– )
8/10
Life begins at thirty and may never end in this French sci-fi.
15 November 2020
Thanks to 'regeneration' people no longer need to grow old; the oldest person in the world has just turned 169 and still looks and feels like a thirty something. There is a price of course; as nobody dies of old age or illness death is rare leading to overpopulation. Having children is discouraged and those under thirty don't feel valued. This has led to some committing suicide. When seven bodies are washed up on a beach police officer Darius Asram is called into investigate. He soon finds an apparent link to a mass suicide that took place ten years previously. Wanting to find more about that incident and to discover if the people behind it were involved in the recent case he enlists the help of twenty four year old Christa. She survived that event and has been incarcerated in a secure hospital ever since. Together they will uncover the truth.

I enjoyed this six part series. It provided a good mystery as well as some interesting ideas. The world depicted isn't overly futuristic; apart from the regeneration it could almost be set now. In many ways this can world can be seen as the opposite of that shown in the '70s classic 'Logan's Run'; instead of people being killed at thirty they aren't really valued till they reach that age. We don't get bogged down in pseudo-science; it is just stated that the regeneration is somehow linked to jellyfish, a recurring motif throughout the series. Yvan Attal impresses as Darius and Garance Marillier, best known from the film 'Raw' is solid as Christa. There isn't too much violence but there is a sense of threat. I suspect the only reason this has an '18' rating is because of the importance of suicide to the plot. Overall I found this to be intelligent sci-fi and would certainly recommend it.

These comments are based on watching the series in French with English subtitles.
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Peur sur le lac (2020– )
8/10
Fear by the Lake
11 November 2020
This, the third 'By the Lake' series, sees protagonists Lise Stocker and Clovis Bouvier investigating when a man crashes a speedboat into a jetty. He is dead and appears to have been suffering from an unknown disease. Shortly afterwards Clovis gets a call from his ex... her new boyfriend is ill. It is the same deadly disease. It is soon identified as a strain of Ebola; not wanting to cause a panic the authorities attempt to find the source of the disease and any connection between the two men without alerting the public. At the same time a mother reports that her ex-husband has failed to return their daughter after a routine visit and she is unable to contact either of them.

I enjoyed this series; its theme of a virus outbreak is perfectly timed for these times... and the fact that Covid-19 is far less serious than Ebola should leave viewers feeling relieved that we aren't dealing with such a deadly outbreak! The story is well told with a sense of mystery about how the disease appeared in this relatively quiet corner of France as well as the drama of seeing who will succumb to the disease and how it will ultimately be brought under control. It does of course rely on some convenient coincidences but that can be excused as they help drive the plot and add to the tension. Similarly things do get quite melodramatic towards the end and the resolution seems rather fast. Overall a solid thriller.

These comments are based on watching the series in French with English subtitles.
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Dark Angel (2000–2002)
7/10
Decent TV Sci-fi cancelled too soon
8 November 2020
This science fiction series is set in a near future when much of normal civilisation has collapsed following an electro-magnetic pulse. What is left of society is fairly corrupt. It is centred on Max Guevara, a young woman who works for a cycle-courier company in Seattle; she isn't like other women though; she is one of a group of genetically engineered child super-soldiers who escaped from a government agency known as Manticore several years earlier. She meets crusading cyber-journalists Logan Cale and is soon helping him expose corruption. All the time trying to stay one step ahead of Lydecker, the head of Manticore. The second season sees a new threat as Max discovers group that has being selectively breeding super-humans for millennia. She also has to deal with mutant transgenics she freed from Manticore; some of whom present a danger, others who just need help.

I watched this series when it first aired and enjoyed the first season but was somewhat disappointed by the second; rewatching both on DVD I still prefer the first season but enjoyed the second more than I expected. The basic plot is solid and provides for both good standalone single episode stories and season long plotlines. Max is a good lead characters, Jessica Alba does a fine job in the role. Michael Weatherly, is solid as Logan. The rest of the cast are pretty good and there are plenty of fun characters; notably Max's various work colleagues. Each episode provides plenty of action; most of this is fairly impressive although some scenes haven't aged well with obviously sped up action that doesn't look great. While this isn't the best TV sci-fi, it is a pity it was cancelled after only two seasons; especially as the final episode was clearly setting things up for a third season.
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Walking Tall (2004)
7/10
Decent enough film that sees 'The Rock' clean up his home town
7 November 2020
This film sees Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson playing Chris Vaughn an ex-serviceman who has returned to his home town in rural Washington State. He finds it isn't the place he left... the mill that employed most people has closed; a casino has opened and corruption is rife. He soon tries to expose corruption and makes dangerous enemies. That won't stop him though.

This is a decent enough action film that should please fans of the genre and of Dwayne Johnson. The Rock does a solid job in one of his earlier film rolls. There are plenty of clichés; nobody will be surprised that the sheriff turns out to be corrupt or the casino owner, who Vaughn knew in his youth, is a villain. The action is fun without being excessive; Vaughn's preferred weapon is a large piece of timber rather than a more expected firearm. The supporting cast is okay; Neal McDonough is suitably menacing as villainous Jay Hamilton and Johnny Knoxville provides some levity as Vaughn's friend Ray. Overall I'd not call this a must see film but it passes the time nicely in an inoffensive way.
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Better Than Us (2018–2019)
9/10
Better than Us
7 November 2020
This Russian sci-fi series is set in 2029 when robots have become commonplace. Victor Toropov, head of the Cronos Corporation has illegally imported 'Arisa' a next generation robot that he intends to use to win a huge government contract. Something goes wrong; Arisa kills a security guard and leaves the company building... something that should have been impossible thanks to the stated use of Azimov's 'Three Laws of Robotics'. Meanwhile we see the Safronova family; mother Alla is planning to take children, Sonya and Egor, to Australia with her new husband. Her Ex, Georgy, blocks the move and takes the children. Soon this family is caught up in the search for Arisa when she bonds with Sonya and decides to become part of the family... and do whatever it takes to protect them. More danger is added by the fact that Egor is involved with anti-robot terrorists, The Liquidators.

I started watching this expecting a Russian version of 'Humans', itself a remake of a Swedish series. It soon became apparent that while there are some obvious similarities there are more differences. The story is solid, while it relies on some unlikely coincidences that doesn't matter too much as it goes on to justify character actions. The cast does an fine job; most obviously Paulina Andreeva who really impresses as Arisa. While the series is obviously sci-fi it is as much about the various personal relationships of the characters. The special effects may not be 'big budget' but they are effective and don't detract from the story. Overall I'd certainly recommend this to fans of character led sci-fi with interesting ideas; fingers crossed for a third season.

These comments are based on watching the series in Russian with English subtitles.
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8/10
Enjoyably mysteries set in New York at the end of the Nineteenth Century
30 October 2020
This series is set in New York in the closing years of the Nineteenth Century; each of the two seasons (to date) feature different season long cases.

The first opens with the body of a young boy being found on a bridge; he is wearing a dress and the body has been mutilated. Most of the police are uninterested in investigating the death a child prostitute but new Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt wants it solved. To this end he encourages an external investigation involving alienist (criminal psychologist) Dr Laszlo Kreizler and newspaper illustrator John Moore. They are joined by his secretary, the first woman to work for the New York Police, Sara Howard and trusted detectives Marcus and Lucius Isaacson. Their investigation will shine a light on the activities of some of the most powerful people in the city and upset policemen who don't want outsiders solving the case. The second season opens with the execution of a woman for the murder of her baby, despite nobody finding the body. She insists she is innocent and Kreizler promises he will find her baby and expose the truth. He is once again joined by the same group of investigators.

I really enjoyed this series. The mysteries were interesting with plenty of twists and turns and a good sense of danger. One might expect a series set over one hundred years ago to emphasise the age; instead I thought this felt modern. The city is changing and technology is advancing; for the people of the time this was the height of modernity and that is passed on to the viewer. This doesn't mean the series eschews showing scenes of Dickensian poverty and squalor. The stories incorporate several real life figures from the era in a manner that I found effective; whether those who know more about New York's history of the time may have other opinions of course. The cast is impressive; most obviously Daniel Brühl, Luke Evans and Dakota Fanning as Kreizler, Moore and Sara respectively. The nature of the crimes means the series won't be for everybody and certainly not younger viewers. Overall a good mystery series that should please fans wanting a new setting for the genre; fingers crossed for a third season.
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Blood Work (2002)
7/10
A solid murder mystery
28 October 2020
As this film opens we see elderly FBI profiler Terry McCaleb giving chase to a man he believes to be a serial killer known as the 'Code Murderer'. He collapses with a heart attack but still manages to put a bullet in the fleeing man. Two years later and he is retired and recovering from a heart transplant. He is approached by a woman who tells him that his heart came from her murdered sister... she wants him to find the man who killed her. McCaleb agrees to make some inquiries. The police believe she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time when a convenience store was robbed; after looking at the evidence he isn't so sure and thinks her murder may be linked to another murder. As his condition means he can't drive he gets his neighbour, Buddy, to drive him to the various people he needs to question. His inquiry soon irritates the officers who'd investigated the case for the LAPD, a friend who works for LA County Police, is more helpful.

This Clint Eastwood film may not be up there with 'Dirty Harry' it is at least as good as the later instalments in that series of films. One might think Eastwood is far too old to be playing the lead investigator in a mystery but having the character recovering from a heart transplant justifies a slower pace... it also serves perfectly to motivate McCaleb to take this particular case. The story plays out well with various suspects coming into view before the killer's identity is revealed. The clues are there for the viewer to identify the killer before it is revealed but they aren't too obvious. The cast does a fine job with Clint Eastwood being solid as McCaleb and Jeff Daniels is fun as Buddy; there are also notable performances from Wanda De Jesús, Tina Lifford and Anjelica Huston. There are some flaws, things get a bit messy towards the end as McCaleb confronts the killer in a somewhat silly finale... this wasn't enough to spoil my enjoyment of the film though. I'd recommend it to fans of the genre.
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Parasite (2019)
10/10
Parasite
26 October 2020
This Oscar winning Korean film is centred on the Kim family; they live in a distinctly downmarket neighbourhood and struggle to earn enough money. One day a friend of Ki-woo, the son, tells him of a job opportunity; the wealthy Park family need an English tutor for their teenaged daughter. Equipped with forged qualifications he gets the job, not only that he suggests that his sister, Ki-jung, who he introduces as a cousin of a friend would be the ideal art tutor for their son. It isn't long before Father, Ki-taek, and mother, Chung-sook, are also employed as driver and housekeeper... all this is done in a way that doesn't give away that they know each other. Things are looking up for the Kims as they enjoy their new situation; then the old house keeper, who they got fired, returns and their new success is threatened in a surprising way.

This film is hard to pigeonhole; it is a comedy that provides plenty of laughs; it is a social commentary of the vast difference in wealth in Korean society; it toys with horror tropes; there is some romance; and has violent moments. It could have turned out to be a real mess but the elements blend together almost perfectly. The cast does a really fine job making the characters believable even when the situation is far-fetched. For the most part it is set within the Park's large, modern house; the only other location of note it the contrastingly small basement flat the Kim's call home... the comparison emphasises who different the families' circumstances are. The story provides some twists, which I won't spoil here; these often lead to a shift in tone... even when things turn darker in tone there are still laughs to be had. Director Bong Joon-ho, who also co-wrote the story, does a great job as the film treads the fine line between brilliance and silliness... always keeping on just the right side. Overall I'd definitely recommend this to anybody looking for something a little different.

These comments are based on watching the film in Korean with English subtitles.
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The Boys (2019– )
9/10
A superior 'Superhero' series
22 October 2020
This Amazon series is set in a world where there are superheroes; they aren't typical superheroes though; they work for the powerful Vought Corporation and consider ratings and profit to be more important than saving lives. They are also arrogant, disillusioned or generally unpleasant. The worst of these are 'The Seven', the most senior heroes who are heavily marketed by Vought. Working to expose them is a group known as 'The Boys'; led by Billy Butcher who is convinced that leader of the heroes, Homelander, is responsible for the disappearance of his wife. We are introduced to each group via new members; Hughie Campbell joins The Boys after ultrafast hero A-Train ran through his girlfriend; and Annie January an idealistic young heroine known as Starlight who joins The Seven. Hughie and Annie become friends before learning what the other is doing.

When I first heard of this I thought it was just a case of Amazon jumping on the superhero bandwagon but then heard a radio review which made it sound like a series I might like... it most certainly is! If you like your heroes to be heroic and good rather than self-centred egomaniacs you might not like this but if you like to see conventions turned on their head this is great. Another major difference between this and more typical stories featuring superheroes is that this is definitely not family friendly; there is a lot of strong violence, some sex and nudity and possibly the most swearing I've heard in a TV show. The story develops well over the two seasons that are currently available with some good twists and plenty of interesting character development. The characters on both sides are interesting and the cast does a great job portraying them. While the story can be a bit dark at times it is lightened by its humour; often being genuinely hilarious as we see events that wouldn't seem the most obvious source of laughs. Overall I'd definitely recommend this to older superhero fans who are looking for something different. I can't wait for season three.
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7/10
Fun three part anime set in an alternate London
19 October 2020
As this three part anime series opens we are told that most disappearances in London are due to dragons. Most of the inhabitants can't see them though. There is also a second City of London; Reverse London. Here people are aware of the dragons and they are controlled by 'Wing Bind'. Protagonists Noel Niihashi and Ninny Spangcole are two witches who work for Wing Bind to protect the city.

I enjoyed this short series; it is just a pity it didn't have more episodes. The setting is good and the characters are fun to watch. The scenes of them battling against dragons were suitably exciting without being too scary for older children. The plot is simple enough but effective. The character designs aren't as polished as those in most series made these days but they had a distinctive look that I liked. The backgrounds looked impressive. Overall I'd recommend this to anime fans... if you don't enjoy it you won't waste much time.

These comments are based on watching the series in Japanese with English subtitles.
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Inspector Montalbano: La rete di protezione (2020)
Season 14, Episode 2
8/10
The Safety Net
19 October 2020
This episode sees a Swedish film company producing an historical drama in Vigata. Upset is caused when Mimi is accused of having a romantic boat ride with the leading lady, who is also the director's girlfriend. He protests his innocence. This isn't Mimi's only problem; his son has been beaten up at school after trying to protect another boy from bullies... a situation which escalates in an unexpected way. Meanwhile a local comes to Montalbano with a strange mystery; while sorting his late father's Super-8 films he finds a series of odd films... each is filmed exactly a year apart and shows only a wall.

This episode was slightly different from what we have come to expect; the mystery doesn't involve a recent murder. That doesn't stop it being a lot of fun though. Most of the laughs come from Mimi's problems following his boat trip... especially after his wife finds out and when Salvo tries to cover for him with the film makers. Events at the school attended by Mimi's son provide a good tense scene with masked gunmen from 'Nameless' clearly based on 'Anonymous'. It isn't all laughs though; the mystery of the films of the wall lead to a poignant explanation. The cast is on good form; Cesare Bocci stands out as Mimi takes a somewhat larger role than usual. Overall another fun episode that fans of the series are sure to enjoy.

These comments are based on watching the episode in Italian with English subtitles.
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9/10
Surreal fun inspired by the works of Douglas Adams
14 October 2020
Todd Brotzman does not have a great life; he works at a hotel, owes money to his scary landlord and it trying to pay for his sister's medical treatment. Then one day lots of strange, not to say disturbing things happen. He is sent to the hotel penthouse, one the way up the elevator doors briefly open and he sees what appears to be himself; then when he gets to the penthouse he finds a bloody scene. The bodies appear to be victims of a shark attack! He is then fired and gets home to find a strange Englishman climbing though his window! He is Dirk Gently. He introduces himself as a holistic detective... he doesn't worry about things like clues and evidence; he believes that the universe will bring the solution to him. He also states that Todd is to become his assistant. In what follows, in the first season, we see them uncovering what happened in a case that involves time travel and a machine which enables creatures to switch souls. In the second season we see their further adventures as they go to a fantasy world accessed through an abandoned house.

I've tried to keep the plot description as limited as possible as I don't think I could do it justice and would probably make it sound unwatchably weird... something it definitely isn't; it is addictively weird! The characters are a lot of fun; as well as Dirk and Todd there it Todd's sister Amanda whose condition makes her have painful hallucinations; Bart Curlish, a holistic assassin; Farah Black, a woman who has always wanted to work in law enforcement and group known as The Rowdy Three. There are also many solid characters that only appear in one season. The stories may be strange but as we get to know the characters and the rules of the show they do make sense. The cast is impressive; most notably Elijah Wood, as Todd; Samuel Barnett, as Dirk; Hannah Marks, as Amanda; Jade Eshete, as Farah; and Fiona Dourif, as Bart. Given the nature of the show there are a fair amount of special effects and these are all pretty impressive. There is a moderate amount of violence, some quite bloody so despite the fantasy elements it isn't really suitable for younger viewers. Overall I'd certainly recommend this to fans of the surreal; it is just a pity it got cancelled after the second season when several questions were unanswered.
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Inspector Montalbano: Salvo amato, Livia mia (2020)
Season 14, Episode 1
8/10
Beloved Salvo, My Livia
12 October 2020
As this episode opens a night watchman patrolling villas on the outskirts of Vigata; he gives chase to Pasquale Cirrinciò, the son on Montalbano's housekeeper, but he gets away. The next night Pasquale is caught, as he exits the grounds of one villa, but there is no evidence that he broke into the property. Montalbano has him placed in the cells as he is sure he was up to something. This turns out to be secondary to the main case... a young woman, the daughter of Livia's hairdresser, is found murdered in the town archives. She worked there but on the day in question it was closed because builders were working in the building, although at the time of her death they were on their lunch break.

This was another enjoyable case for Inspector Montalbano and his team; it is hard to believe they have been solving murders in the fictional town of Vigata for over twenty years now... they have aged surprisingly well and the stories have kept fresh. As one would expect there is plenty of humour; largely supplied by Pasquale's case, in particular his mother's reaction. There is also a distinct tinge of sadness as we learn why the young woman was killed. The cast, both regulars and guest actors do an impressive job and as always we are treated to sun-drenched Sicilian scenery... just the thing to watch on a cold October night in England! Overall I'm sure fans of the series will enjoy this.

These comments are based on watching the episode in Italian with English subtitles.
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Moscow Noir (2018)
8/10
Moscow Noir
11 October 2020
This Swedish series is set in Moscow at the turn of the Twenty First Century. Swede Tom Blixen works as an investment banker for an international company. When his friend's wife, Olga Ukolova, tells him they are having financial problems he agrees to look through their investments and see if there are any of any value. Most of their shares are worthless but there is a possibility; Tom thinks some apparently worthless oil shares might have some value. He tries to acquire the other shares he can find hoping to arrange a merger with another oil company... soon shareholders are starting to be murdered. As the story continues we are taken deeper into a world of dangerous oligarchs, corrupt politicians and learn more about why Tom came to Russia in the first place.

I really enjoyed this tense thriller. It might not be the first to explore the murky world of Russian business; 'McMafia' explored similar territory as did the film 'Gorky Park', which was set in the Soviet era; but it still had plenty of original ideas. Once the action started, in the first episode, there was constant tension which managed to increase as the story approached its conclusion. The cast did a fine job; most notably Adam Pålsson, who played Tom; Karolina Gruszka, who played Olga; and Georg Nikoloff, who played Prosecutor Dmitri Skurov. As the conclusion approaches there are some twists and nice misdirection. Overall I'd recommend this series to fans of the genre.
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Monster Girl Doctor (2020– )
7/10
Monster Girl Doctor
10 October 2020
Humanity and monsters had been at war for some time but now there is peace. In the city of Lindworm monsters and humanity live side by side. Our protagonist is Dr Glenn Litbeit, a human, who specialises in treating various monster series. His assistant is a lamia, half snake half woman, named Saphentite 'Sapphee' Neikes. Together they treat a variety of, mostly female, monsters... including a centaur, a mermaid and a harpy amongst others. Inevitably some develop feelings for him.

When I saw this series I suspected it might contain a lot of fan service like 'Monster Musume', as it has similar creatures and a not totally dissimilar premise. It turned out this series is far more innocent in tone... I don't recall any nudity in this series. The plot is simple enough and the characters likeable. There are plenty of laughs to be had and a few mildly tense moments. The animation is good as are the character designs; particularly those of the various monster girls. Overall I wouldn't call this a must see but it is a pleasant way to pass the time.

These comments are based on watching the series in Japanese with English subtitles.
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8/10
The Misfit of Demon King Academy
10 October 2020
Demon King Anos Voldigoad had been fighting a war against humanity for two thousand years; in an attempt to create peace he sacrifices his own life. Another two thousand years pass and then he is reincarnated. It is a more peaceful time but not everything has improved; demon royalty now dominates hybrids, so-called misfits of which Anos in now one. He also learns that their magical power has decreased significantly. He attends Demon King Academy as a misfit but quickly realises he is far more powerful than anybody else. Here he makes friends and works to prove he really is the reincarnation of Anos Voldigoad.

This anime series isn't that different from many others, with its hero who is clearly far more powerful than those who wish to defeat him... that said it is still a lot of fun. There is plenty of action which is fun even if the ultimate outcome is of no real doubt. Anos is a solid protagonist and the supporting characters, who join his group, are also fun to watch. The character designs are good as is the animation. Overall I'd say that while this isn't the most original series it is worth watching if you are a fan of the genre.

These comments are based on watching the series in Japanese with English subtitles.
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8/10
A wartime murder mystery with a theatrical feel
9 October 2020
This fictional story features real life authoress Agatha Christie caught up in another murder mystery. She, and a man she has hired as a driver/bodyguard, are in a London hotel where she is to sell the rights to her latest 'Poirot' story to a wealthy Chinese businessman. When the air raid siren is heard a police woman ushers them, and other guests into the building's cellar. Tensions rise when Agatha realises that somebody has stolen the manuscript of her new novel... that is the least of their worries though; soon a fight leaves one man dead and then another man dies... Agatha suspects foul play. If she is right one of the people in the cellar is a killer and nobody is being allowed to leave till the all clear sounds.

This, the third of Channel Five's films imagining Agatha Christie in a murder case, has a somewhat theatrical feel due to the limited locations. This isn't a problem as having a confined location gave the story a good sense of claustrophobia. The people stuck in the cellar were nicely varied, giving us an interesting group of suspects/potential victims. While it is mostly a drama there are humorous moments; I particularly liked difference between what the Chinese man said, in subtitles, and what his translator said he said. The cast does a solid job, notably Helen Baxendale, who has taken over the role of Agatha Christie. The resolution contained some decent twists and turns so only a few are likely to work everything out before the reveal but most are likely to work out some details. Overall a solid murder mystery that fans of the genre are likely to enjoy.
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Rent-a-Girlfriend (2020– )
9/10
Rent-a-Girlfriend
7 October 2020
After college student Kazuya Kinoshita is dumped by his girlfriend, Mami, he decides that instead of trying to find a new one he will rent one! He goes on a date with Chizuru and things go well... until afterwards he feels there was something false about the evening and gives her a bad review. She contacts him to find out why and they end up going on a second date. Things soon get complicated; neither realised they went to the same college or lived next to each other when they started the arrangement and then their grandmothers, who happen to know each other, learn they are dating without knowing it is a professional arrangement; neither of them want their families to know the nature of their relationship. Inevitably as the series progresses things happen that threaten to reveal the truth and another girl starts taking an interest in Kazuya.

When I saw this series listed I thought it could be interesting but feared it might end up another harem show at best or something sleazy... it turns out it was neither. Instead we get a solid story with characters that feel real and have depth to them. The character designs are good as is the animation. Overall I'd definitely recommend this series to anybody wanting romance, humour and emotional depth. The final episode suggested there may be more to come... I'll certainly be watching if more is produced.

These comments are based on watching the series in Japanese with English subtitles.
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8/10
A very different Lisbeth Salander
5 October 2020
This film sees Swedish hacker/vigilante Lisbeth Salander hired by the creator of a computer program that gives access to supposedly secure systems, including those that control nuclear weapons, to steal it back from the American National Security Agency so he can destroy it. The program is designed in a way that means it can't be copied but can be moved. Lisbeth manages to acquire it but before she can hand it over the computer she placed it on is stolen. She must get it back before those who took the program figure out how to access it. To make matters more difficult NSA Agent Ed Needham has flown to Stockholm to retrieve it and local law enforcement are searching for her; believing she stole the program and is involved in an increasing number of deaths.

Having enjoyed the original film trilogy I was unsure about this as I knew it wasn't written by the original author. It is indeed very different and I'm sure, for that reason, many viewers will be disappointed. I however found myself enjoying it, just in a different way. The plot feels far more like something that would occur in a 'James Bond' or 'Mission Impossible' film with lots of action and car chases and a hunt for a device that, in the wrong hands, could be a threat to the world. This new Lisbeth Salander is fun to watch if you want a solid action heroine who manages to get out of numerous scrapes. Claire Foy is really impressive in the role. The rest of the cast are solid too. There are some weaknesses; the identity of the person leading the villains is perhaps unnecessarily melodramatic and some of the twists aren't that surprising. Overall though I found this to be a fun action/thriller; well worth watching if you are a fan of the genre but don't expect it to be like the original trilogy.
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6/10
Peter Grill and the Philosopher's Time
3 October 2020
Following a competition Peter Grill is declared to be the strongest man in the world; after his victory he asks the leader of his guild for permission to marry his daughter, Luvelia. The man agrees but soon is trying to find a way to stop the relationship. That is the least of his problems; women from other races; two Ogre sisters, an Elf and an Orc, have learnt of his exploits and are determined have him father their children. He tries to resist without much luck.

This series isn't as bad as it could have been but despite providing a decent number of laughs it still feels a bit sleazy. There is quite a lot of nudity, although the version I saw on Crunchyroll was heavily censored with blobs of light over anything indecent... which often made one think more was going on than probably was! The animation was of a good quality as were the character designs. The ending left things open for further series without explicitly promising anything. This series is far from a must see but if you want an echii series which provides laughs you could do worse.

These comments are based on watching the series in Japanese with English subtitles.
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