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BASEketball (1998)
7/10
A fun comedy about a couple of losers who invent a new sport
25 March 2019
As children friends Joe "Coop" Cooper and Doug Remer dream of growing up to be sports stars... when they grow up they are just a couple of losers. Then one day they crash a party and a challenged to a game of basketball... when they realise their opponents are much better they tell them that they play a new game... BASEketball. They quickly make up the rules and soon its popularity spreads. After a while they are approached by wealthy businessman Ted Denslow, he is keen to set up a National BASEketball League. He wants to create a pure sport without corporate sponsorship, teams moving cities and trading of players. The boys agree and soon the game is a national sensation. Then Denslow dies, leaving the team to Coop. It isn't long before the Dallas Felons' team owner Baxter Cain starts scheming to take over the game and introduce ways to make money. While this is going on both Coop and Doug fall for the same woman, Jenna Reed, who runs a charity of dying children.

Given to plot it is not surprising that this film is fairly silly; that doesn't matter too much though as it provides more than enough laughs. Some of the humour is fairly crude but nothing is really offensive. The rules of the game are fairly well thought out and the fact that distracting the opposition is part of the game it is also funny. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are solid as Coop and Doug; I can only imagine they have acted in so few films is because they are busy with 'South Park'. Dian Bachar also impresses as their friend Squeak Scolari, who they treat fairly badly. There are also some well-known faces, including Ernest Borgnine as Ted Denslow and Robert Vaughn as the delightfully unpleasant Baxter Cain. My only mild problem with the film was that it got a little mawkish towards the end. Overall though I'd recommend this; it might not be a classic but it provides plenty of laughs.
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7/10
Decent, if slightly cheesy, sword and sorcery action
25 March 2019
Set in the medieval kingdom of Ehb, a man known only as Farmer is caught up in the battle for the kingdom. A powerful magus by the name of Gallian is using magical powers to control the orc-like Krug. Also working with him is Duke Fallow, the King's nephew, who wants power for himself. Farmer wants nothing to do with the war but when his son is killed and his wife taken he has no choice if he is to save her. He heads off in search of her with his friends Norick and Bastian; together they face various difficulties and are ultimately separated. Farmer later learns a hidden truth about himself before helping lead the fight against the Krug and ultimately facing Gallian.

I was surprised to see just how negatively reviewed this film has been; it may not be great but it is far from terrible. There is plenty of impressive action; this is exciting and stylishly choreographed by Siu-Tung Ching. The story may contain many clichés but just about every film in this genre does to some degree. Jason Statham does a solid job as Farmer and there is solid support from Ron Perlman as Norick. Some people weren't too keen on Matthew Lillard's performance as Duke Fallow but I rather liked it; the character was never meant to be heroic in anyway. Not all the performances impressed though; I never bought Burt Reynolds as the king and the less said about Ray Liotta's Gallian the better... he was more camp than commanding; certainly he never looked a match for Statham. While the highlight of the films were the battle scenes there were other impressive moments; I particularly liked the mysterious women of the forest and the way they moved on long vines. Overall I'd recommend this to fans of the genre; it may not be the best example but neither is it the worst that I've seen, by quite some way.
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9/10
'The Taming of the Shrew' in a '90s high school
25 March 2019
This film, loosely based on Shakespeare's 'The Taming of the Shrew' is set in a high school near Seattle. New student Cameron James is smitten by Bianca Stratford; there are two major problems though; she is keen on the wealthy Joey Donner, who also likes her, and her father has banned her and her older sister Kat from dating till they graduate high school. This latter rule is changed to state that Bianca can only date when her sister does... potentially a stricter rule as she appears to show only contempt for boys and they are all scared of her. Cameron tutors her hoping to get closer and when he learns of the rule he, and his friend Michael, plot to find a boyfriend for Kat. The candidate for this role is bad boy Patrick Verona; he will need some persuading though. Here things get complicated as he approaches Joey suggesting he pay Patrick to date Kat... inevitably things get a bit messy.

The way the film ends won't surprise too many people but how we get there is fun and provides plenty of laughs. The cast does a fine job; most notably Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles as Patrick and Kat respectively; they have a good chemistry that makes the potential relationship seem believable. Other notable performances come from Larisa Oleynik; as the pretty, and not as vacuous as she first seems, Bianca; Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Cameron and Andrew Keegan as the vain Joey. If you are a fan of high school romances I expect you will enjoy this. It has many good characters; both the teens, their teachers and the Stratford sisters' father. While it doesn't reference its source material as much as 'The Easy A', for example, there are plenty of nods with references to other Shakespeare works in class and even the sisters' surname. Overall this is definitely one to watch if you are a fan of the genre.
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7/10
An enjoyably early Sherlock Holmes film
24 March 2019
Before saying anything about the film I must point out that the version I saw was fairly drastically shortened; judging by other reviews this is now the only available version. Sometimes it is fairly obvious where material has been lost, others less so.

The story opens in the house of Dr Grimesby Rylott where one of his two step daughters, Violet, comes out of her room and dies in her sister Helen's arms. Dr Watson, who was a friend of the sisters' family in India, gives evidence at the inquiry and it is determined that no crime has been committed. A year passes and Helen plans to marry and move to India with her fiancé... soon she fears for her safety and seeks the help of Dr Watson and his friend Sherlock Holmes. She explains how her sister died just after getting engaged and how she is now being treated just how her sister was prior to her death. Even being moved into her sister's old room to facilitate building work in hers.

It is a pity that so much of this film has been lost as it means what remains is a bit choppy at times; however that doesn't mean it isn't worth watching. The story is solid with a good central mystery; it was a pity the murder weapon used was spoilt by the DVD box picture as that is probably the best part of the mystery. Early on it becomes clear Rylott is a wrong 'un and there is no doubt that he intends to kill Helen for the inheritance. There is some nice misdirection before the full details of the plot are exposed. Raymond Massey does a fine job as Holmes and Athole Stewart provides solid support as Watson; however it is Angela Baddeley who stands out as Helen; she does a great job depicting her growing fear. Lyn Harding is suitably menacing as Rylott even if the character veers towards being a pantomime villain; if he had a moustache he would have twirled it! The sets were good with a traditional large country pile where Rylott lived contrasting with Holmes ultra-modern, for the time, office. Overall this might not be a must see if you're not a Holmes fan but despite the missing sections it is still a decent way to pass fifty minutes if you like older films.
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8/10
I Remember You
24 March 2019
This Icelandic chiller is effectively two stories in one. In the one a psychiatrist, Freyr, is brought in when a woman is found hanged in a church. It looks like an obvious case of suicide but she has numerous crosses carved in her back suggesting abuse. As the case is investigated links are found to other deaths and the disappearance of a bullied child fifty years previously... she was also taking an interest in his son who vanished three years previously. In the other story a couple, Katrin and Garðar, and a friend. Lif, head to a remote abandoned village, where they hope to convert one of the houses into a guest house; they soon start to feel that they aren't alone.

This is a solid chiller doesn't really fit into one genre. There are elements of a mystery as we are invited to wonder who caused the dead woman's scars and what happened to the two children. There is also the question of whether the people in the remote house are seeing things that are really there are just imagining it due to the somewhat creepy nature of the location... there is something intrinsically atmospheric about 'ghost towns'. The bleak majesty of the local Icelandic countryside only adds to the atmosphere. The two stories aren't categorically linked till the finale; although it is the nature of such films that people will assume a link... even so I didn't guess the major twist until it was revealed. There is little in the way of real horror, and few jump-scares, but it is still effective thanks to the way things are depicted and a minimal but skilled use of music. The cast is solid, making the characters feel like ordinary people. Overall I'd recommend this for those looking for something a little different... a good mystery with spooky elements.

These comments are based on watching the film in Icelandic with English subtitles.
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The Grand Tour: Sea to Unsalty Sea (2019)
Season 3, Episode 11
9/10
From the Black Sea to the Caspian in a trio of Grand Tourers
22 March 2019
This 'special' sees the trio driving from the city of Batumi, on Georgia's Black Sea coast, to the Azerbaijani capital Baku, on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Each of them is driving a shiny new Grand Tourer. Clarkson is in an Aston Martin DBS, Hammond is in a Bentley Continental GT and May is in a BMW M850i. Their thousand kilometre drive will see them driving through modern cities, along motorways, down dirt tracks and through the narrow, cobbled streets of a medieval town. Along the way they visit Stalin's birthplace, do a few challenges, race each other (and a Renault 9), and play the occasional prank; although not as many as usual.

Overall I'd say this was an enjoyable episode, although I must admit I've always been biased towards the specials and mini-specials which showcase locations as much as the cars. The fact that the three cars were expensive new vehicles from top makers meant there was no question of them breaking down or being risked in some silly stunt. The places driven through were impressive, as is often the case with specials they show parts of the world most people aren't too familiar with. There were some silly moments... notably putting Stalin's head on Hammond's car; although this was used to provide an excuse for them to take an obviously staged wrong turn that took then to the 'border' of part of Georgia occupied by Russia, which was interesting in a non-car way. The race against the clapped out Renault 9, driven by Abbie, was fun even they boys got slowed down due to every reason imaginable while she never got delayed. The final drag races were fun, largely because of how they ended for Jeremy. The race track scenes where they had to drive twenty minutes after drinking three pints of water was amusingly silly... I can only wonder if Amazon has data on how many viewers had to pause after just watching it! Overall I really enjoyed this episode; a good mix of cars, scenery and humour.
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7/10
Solid Disney Sci-fi
21 March 2019
Jack Bruno is a Las Vegas cabbie trying to go straight after earlier troubles with the law. It isn't easy as former criminal associates don't want him to retire and it only gets tougher when two teenagers, Sara and Seth, turn up in the back of his cab. They aren't ordinary teens though; they are aliens whose space ship crashed in the desert. They also have special powers; Sara is a telepath with telekinetic abilities and Seth can alter his molecular density, enabling him to pass through objects or stop bullets. The US Military now have their ship and are searching for them; that isn't all; an alien assassin is also hunting them. Jack drives them out of Vegas and after various events learns the truth about them and why they are on Earth. They need to get back to their ship if their planet is to be saved and an invasion of Earth averted... it won't be easy though.

Given that this is a PG rated film from Disney one shouldn't expect intense action or a high degree of threat. That doesn't mean it is boring though; it just means it can be enjoyed by all the family. The story is fairly simple, without major twists which suits the target audience. Dwayne Johnson is solid as Jack; he plays the role straight, never dumbing down because it is a child-friendly movie; teens AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig are good as Sara and Seth and Ciarán Hinds is solid as Henry Burke, the military man after them, despite the character being far from original. There is a decent amount of action, much of it enhanced with high quality special effects. Overall I'd say this is a solid sci-fi adventure; it made a refreshing change to have such a film that didn't feature material to bump it up to a '12' Certificate.
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8/10
Once Upon a Time in China 3
21 March 2019
This sequel is set in Beijing; the Dowager Empress has decided to stage a lion dance festival to show off Chinese martial arts and encourage more people to take up kung fu. As preparations are getting underway Wong Fei-hung, along with 'Aunt' Yee and Foon, arrive in Beijing to visit Wong's father. He is the head of one of the martial arts schools hoping to compete in the festival... however the leader of one school is trying to bully all of the others into backing out of the competition. Inevitably Wong gets involved as he tries to encourage peaceful behaviour. In the background to this Wong is jealous after Aunt Yee meets up with a Russian friend she first met while studying in Britain. As the festival approaches tensions rise further and there are more intense fights.

This film is a fun addition to the 'Once Upon a Time in China' series of films; it has a decent, if simply, story, plenty of laughs and a lot of brilliantly choreographed martial arts. The three main characters are back, although for some reason 'Aunt' Yee becomes 'Cousin' in the subtitles of the version I saw. There are also good new characters, notable Clubfoot (renamed Iron Foot), the villain Chiu Tin-bak and the Russian Tomanovsky. As said before there is lots of impressive martial arts action; some of this includes obvious wire-work but that didn't bother me; much of it also takes place while the characters are in their lion costumes which looks pretty cool. The romantic subplot provides a few decent laughs without distracting from the main plot. The acting is pretty solid throughout; most notably from Jet Li and Rosamund Kwan as Wong and Aunt Yee. Overall I really enjoyed this and suspect most fans of less brutal martial arts films will enjoy it too.

These comments are based on watching the film in Cantonese with English subtitles.
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8/10
A charming 'lesser' Pixar animation
20 March 2019
This film takes place in a world where the dinosaurs didn't go extinct sixty five million years ago. It is set around the time of the first Stone Age people and the dinosaurs are farming. The story is centred on Arlo, a nervous young Apatosaurus. He tries to help on the farm but is scared of the chickens he is meant to feed and is weaker than his siblings. After a tragedy strikes, the family struggle somewhat; then as Arlo confronts a 'critter' stealing their corn both of them fall into the river. He finds himself far from home. He gradually befriends the critter, a young boy he later names Spot. On their journey home they will face a variety of perils as well as meet other dinosaurs; some friendly, others dangerous.

Having heard some fairly negative reviews I nearly skipped this; I'm glad I didn't. It may not be up there with the best of Pixar's works but it is a charming little story with fun central characters. Spot, a boy who acts more like a dog provides most of the laughs while the viewer sympathises with Arlo and his plight. There are some fairly dark moments that may upset or scare younger children; these don't feel out of place though and add to the excitement for older viewers. The animation was good, as one might expect. At first I was unsure about the contrast between the cartoony characters and the almost photo-realistic high quality backgrounds but as I watched they grew on me... more realistic dinosaurs would have been too scary in some scenes and lower quality backgrounds wouldn't have captured the grandeur of the setting. Overall I found this to be a charming film; it may be considered a 'lesser' Pixar film but to my mind it is still worth watching.
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Shetland: Episode #5.6 (2019)
Season 5, Episode 6
8/10
Human trafficking on Shetland
20 March 2019
These comments refer to the entire fifth series not just the final episode.

This series opens with the discovery of a severed hand on a local beach. Perez and the team start to investigate and it soon takes them to dark places as it emerges the dead man was searching for his sister, Zezi, who had been trafficked into the UK and was believed to be on Shetland. When he is identified his estranged mother comes to the island hoping to find Zezi... unfortunately her actions only make things harder for the police. As the series progresses there are more murders and a suspect dies in custody.

Given that Shetland is actually one of the most peaceful areas of the UK one must suspend ones disbelief somewhat... if you can do that this is a solid story. There is lots of tension; especially in the scenes where we see Zezi in captivity being threatened by her captor. There are a few disturbing scenes but nothing overly graphic. While we know the identity of her captor there is still a mystery about who is behind trafficking people through Shetland and their connections to various locals. Unfortunately there are a few too many clichés; an officer under threat of investigation, the possible involvement of people close to Perez, and potential threats to his daughter... these weren't enough to spoil my enjoyment though. As one would expect the acting; particularly from the regular cast, is good and there is lots of rugged Shetland scenery to be admired. Overall I don't think this was the best series of 'Shetland' but it was still well worth watching.
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Midsomer Murders: Death of the Small Coppers (2018)
Season 20, Episode 2
7/10
Brains and beauty
18 March 2019
This episode opens with the murder of a school headmaster who is also a butterfly collector; he is found pinned to a wall much like the way he pins his specimens. This being Midsomer there are other butterfly enthusiasts in the area; notably a woman who doesn't approve of killing butterflies and is worried about the disappearance of local small copper butterflies. The man also had links to a society of those with a high IQ; which just happens to be staging its entrance exams. One of those attending is Birgitte Poulsen of the Danish police who Barnaby met in Copenhagen... she believes that corruption in the group may be linked to s death in Denmark. As the investigation progresses many suspects emerge with a wide variety of motives... one of which will put DS Winter in real danger.

This was a fairly typical episode of Midsomer Murders; if you like the standard formula you'll probably enjoy this, I certainly did, but if you don't it won't be converting non-fans. There may not be as many murders as usual but those we get are as inventive as they are unpleasant. The story unfolds at a decent pace with new suspects and motives being introduced throughout. The culprit is far from obvious... at least I didn't suspect them till the reveal. The cast is solid and guests include quite a few familiar faces. Danish guest star Ann Eleonora Jørgensen does a good job as Birgitte Poulsen; a welcome return after her appearance in the episode 'The Killings of Copenhagen'. There are some good tense moments; particularly the finale which is tinged with classic Midsomer silliness. Overall I enjoyed this but wouldn't call it a classic episode.
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The Lookout (2007)
8/10
A far from typical heist movie
17 March 2019
Chris Pratt was a successful high school ice hockey player with a successful future in front of him... until he turns off his lights while driving to admire the glow of the fireflies. He crashes into a stalled combine harvester and is left with a serious head injury, his girlfriend loses a leg and they stop seeing each other and two other friends are killed. Four years later he is working as a janitor in a rural bank and living with his blind friend Lewis. One day he is approached in a bar by a man named Gary who says he knew him in high school. He introduces Chris to his friends, including a girl who goes by the name of 'Luvlee Lemons' who seduces him. It isn't long before their reason for befriending him becomes apparent; they want his help robbing the bank... things are going to get dangerous for Chris.

When I sat down to watch this I expected a fairly typical heist movie but it turned out to be far from typical. The opening scene was quite a shock despite not showing details of the accident and what follows was an introduction to Chris's new life; classes to help deal with his impairment, his job, difficulties coping with simple things and his longing to see his old girlfriend again. Even after he meets Gary and Luvlee it is a while before it becomes obvious that they are planning to use him in a robbery. The robbery itself doesn't last long but is intense and provides some shocks. There is a fairly bleak feel to the whole film; the fact that it is set in snow-covered surroundings only adds to this. The film contains plenty of interesting characters; Chris, with his difficulties, is far from a typical protagonist; his friend Ted, a sheriff's deputy who appears to be a comedy character, turns out to be more interesting than expected and Luvlee is quite ambiguous. The cast is solid; most notably Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is rarely off screen and really impresses as Chris; Jeff Daniels is believable as his blind friend Lewis; Isla Fisher is a delight as Luvlee and Matthew Goode is solid as Gary. Overall I'd say this may not have been what I expected but it is definitely worth watching.
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9/10
One of the best 'Star Trek' Films
17 March 2019
After an ecological disaster the future of the Klingons is in doubt; there only chance of survival is forging a peace with the Federation. A reluctant Captain Kirk is ordered to take the Enterprise to a rendezvous point and escort the Klingon chancellor to the peace conference. They meet and have a dinner together then, shortly after the Klingons return to their ship, it appears as though the Enterprise is firing on them even though nobody on the bridge is giving any such orders. In the immediate aftermath two men in Star Fleet uniforms beam aboard the Klingon vessel and shoot many people including the Chancellor before leaving again. Wishing to prove their innocence Kirk and Dr McCoy beam over to help but are arrested and ultimately jailed on a frozen penal colony. If they are to survive they must escape from their prison and their colleagues aboard the enterprise must find out who is the true villain behind the attempted sabotage of the peace conference.

Too my mind this is one of the best 'Star Trek' films. The story is top notch; providing good reasons for the events we see. This leads to plenty of action scenes; a sense of peril, especially for Kirk and McCoy; and, something we don't usually get in 'Star Trek' films... a mystery. This mystery means that much of the fil can be looked on as a sci-fi police procedural/spy thriller as the crew sift the evidence, hunt down clues and close in on the real culprits. While the identity of the most important of these culprits wasn't too surprising their motivation wasn't quite as villainous as one might expect. As well as action and mystery there were moments of humour; notably a Klingon warrior who constantly quotes 'the Klingon playwright' Shakespeare! The cast does a fine job; as one would expect all the regulars impress in their established roles; also notable are Kim Cattrall, as Lt. Valeris; David Warner, as Chancellor Gorkon; Christopher Plummer as Chang and Iman as the shapeshifting prisoner Martia. While only in a small part it was fun seeing Michael Dorn, who will later play Worf, as the Klingon lawyer representing Kirk and McCoy at their trial. Overall I'd say this is a must see for all Star Trek fans.
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Eraser (1996)
8/10
Solid Schwarzenegger Action
16 March 2019
This mid-90's action film sees Arnold Schwarzenegger playing US Marshall John Kruger. It is Kruger's job to make sure people in disappear until it is time for them to testify. His latest job is protecting Lee Cullen; a woman who has discovered that the advanced weapons company she works is planning to sell a consignment of weapons that officially don't exist on the black market. The plot includes some very powerful people... including some John thought he could trust. After a betrayal John is accused of murder; if he is to clear his name he will have to save Lee and thwart the traitor's plans.

If you are looking for an original plot and characters with real depth you will be disappointed but if you want a solid action film with lots of action then this is the movie for you. The action is pretty much nonstop with only brief lulls to advance the plot or for a moment of mild humour. The action is varied with shootings, explosions, our hero jumping from a plane to chase a parachute he threw out, and even villains being killed by crocodiles! Arnie does a fine job in the lead role; not surprising as he has effectively played this character by different names in several films since 'Commando'. James Caan is solid as John's former mentor and Vanessa Williams is decent as Lee. Overall a fun film for fans of the action genre.
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9/10
An animated classic with some great songs
16 March 2019
This classic Disney animation, based on the story by Rudyard Kipling, tells the story of Mowgli; a young boy who was raised by wolves after being found in the Indian jungle as a baby. He has been with the wolves for ten years when news of Shere Khan, the man-hating tiger's, return to that part of the jungle reaches the pack. It is decided that for Mowgli's safety he must be returned to the man-village; Bagheera, a panther, volunteers to take him. On the way they meet various dangers as well as some friendly creatures; most notably a sloth bear named Baloo.

This film is a lot of fun with a combination of a simple but solid story; enjoyable characters and a variety of catchy songs. 'The Bare Necessities' and 'I Wanna Be Like You' may be the best known of the songs but the others are pretty good too; especially 'Trust In Me', sung by Kaa the hypnotic python. The story contains elements that are mildly threatening but these are balanced by the comedy and songs. The characters are great; I particularly liked Baloo and the way he was portrayed with a John Wayne like drawl; and Kaa's hypnotic stare and hissing voice. As one would expect from Disney the animation and character designs are all top notch. One or two gags might have dated a little... today's children might not spot that a quartet of vultures are based on The Beatles but that doesn't matter as the characters are still funny. Overall I'd definitely recommend this classic film to viewers of all ages.
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9/10
Unlucky in love
14 March 2019
This episode is centred on three couples; Buffy is getting closer to Parker Abrams; Anya wants Xander to sleep with her to help her get over the feelings she has for him and Harmony, who is now a vampire is in love with Spike... who is back in town and more interested in finding the 'Gem of Amara'. This is a vampire Holy Grail; possibly mythical but if it is real it makes the wearer immune to the usual ways of killing vampires. Since Harmony isn't the brightest of vampires she tells Buffy about Spikes search for the gem.

This was a solid episode; the obvious highlight being the return of Spike; the best antagonist in the series to date; James Marsters is great in the role. It did seem a surprise to see him with somebody as vacuous as Harmony but that led to some laughs and surprisingly sympathy for Harmony. Anya's seduction of Xander was as amusing as it was unsubtle; it will be interesting to see if it leads anywhere. Buffy's relationship with Parker appears to be the most likely to succeed but after spending the night together he seems to lose interest in her One couldn't help feeling sorry for her; at least Angel's betrayal was due to a curse, Parker is just a cad. The 'Gem of Amara' was an interesting concept that was handled well and lead to a good confrontation between Buffy and Spike... even if it was strange that there was nobody to witness the fight. Highlights of the episode, for me, were Harmony's meeting with Willow, where it is revealed she is a vampire; and Spike and Harmony bumping into Buffy and Parker at a party. Overall a good mix of emotional material, humour and action.
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7/10
A solid thriller about a vengeful nanny
13 March 2019
After pregnant Claire Bartel makes a complaint about her new gynaecologist, Dr Victor Mott, he commits suicide leaving his wife in a dire financial position. The stress of this leads her to miscarry. Shortly after Claire gives birth she, and her husband Michael, look for a nanny to look after the new baby and their daughter Emma. Mrs Mott, now calling herself Peyton Flanders, turns up and gets the job. She appears to be the perfect nanny but gradually she worms her way into the family and shows herself to have a violent temper... it is only a matter of time before she becomes dangerous.

This is a solid thriller, largely thanks to Rebecca De Mornay's performance as Peyton; she is both believable as she befriends the family and when she shows flashes of violence. There are also solid performances from Annabella Sciorra and Matt McCoy as Claire and Michael and young Madeline Zima as Emma. There is also a notable performance from Julianne Moore as family friend Marlene. The tension builds nicely throughout the film leading up to the inevitable confrontation at the end... this ending is somewhat melodramatic but still quite exciting. Overall this might not be a must see but it is worth checking out if you want a good claustrophobic thriller.
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Sea of Love (1989)
7/10
A solid cop thriller with a romantic twist
12 March 2019
Frank Keller is a New York detective investigating the murder of a man who was found naked, shot in the back of his head, with the song 'Sea of Love' playing on the record player. It is suspected that the killer may be a woman. This theory is reinforced when it there is a similar killing in Queens. Both victims had placed poetic ads in a lonely hearts column. Keller teams up with Detective Sherman Touhey, from Queens, and place their own advert. They meet various women and Keller ends up going out with one Helen Cruger; unfortunately it is possible that she is the killer; if so he could be in real danger.

This might not be one of the '80s most memorable films but it is well worth watching if you enjoy cop movies. Al Pacino does a fine job as Keller and has a good chemistry with John Goodman, who plays Touhey. He also has a believable chemistry with Ellen Barkin's Helen... simultaneously falling in love and occasionally fearing she could kill him. Barkin is really good as Helen; sexy but slightly ambiguous. Inevitably there are some twists along the way before we finally learn who the killer is. The story has a good neo-noir feel with plenty of tension and ambiguous characters while managing to avoid some clichés I'd expected. Overall a solid film that I'd recommend to fans of the genre; a must see for Pacino's fans.
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9/10
An impressive follow up to 'A Tale of Memories'
12 March 2019
This, the second 'EF' series is not a sequel to the first even if some characters appear in both. This is set in two different time periods. In the past we see Yuko Amamiya and her relationship with Yu Himura; a boy who she meets ten years after they knew each other in an orphanage; he learns that there are problems in her life and determines to help her. In the present Mizuki Hayama meets Shuichi Kuze; a violinist who is suffering from an illness that could kill him at any time... because of this he isn't keen to develop a friendship with her.

'A Tale of Memories' was fairly downbeat at times but this series is even darker in tone as it delves into subjects of terminal illness and sexual abuse; thankfully the latter is spoken of rather than explicitly shown. The stories are nicely intertwined and told at a good pace. There are some genuinely shocking moments. The characters are interesting and distinctively designed. The animation is stunning in similar way to that of the first season. This is accompanied by a great soundtrack. Overall I'd definitely recommend this series; although not essential I'd recommend watching 'A Tale of Memories' first.

These comments are based on watching the series in Japanese with English subtitles.
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Midsomer Murders: The Ghost of Causton Abbey (2018)
Season 20, Episode 1
8/10
A welcome return as a body is found in a brewery
11 March 2019
This episode opens five hundred years in the past with the execution of a monk in Causton Abbey; as he is about to die he curses the place. Back in the present the Abbey is now home to a craft brewery. A party is taking place to celebrate the launch of a new beer, which is due to be available in supermarkets. This being Midsomer it is not surprising that the next morning a body is found... a man was boiled to death in the brewery. The first suspects are the local real ale society, whose beer festival was overshadowed by the event but more suspects emerge when it is learnt that the dead man was a writer who had helped locals ghost write autobiographies... including an old East End gangster.

We may have been kept waiting for this batch of episodes but if this one is anything to go by the wit will have been worth it. The story is classic Midsomer; ancient curses; multiple suspects/motives and plenty of familiar faces amongst the guest cast. One might think that the idea of a brewery in a five hundred year old abbey where somebody was executed is unlikely but my local pub is in part of a thirteenth century priory which was used as the condemned man's cell! The story progresses nicely with new suspects being introduced and a few nice twists along the way. This episode also introduces new pathologist Fleur Perkins; on the strength of this episode this character, played by Annette Badland, will be a welcome addition. The cast give a solid performance throughout. Overall a fine episode that fans of the series should enjoy.
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Mindhorn (2016)
7/10
A fun spoof of '80s UK crime drama set on the Isle of Man
10 March 2019
In the 1980s Richard Thorncroft found fame as Mindhorn, the Manx detective with an artificial eye that could literally see the truth. After three series he decided it was time to head to Hollywood, burning his bridges as he goes. Twenty five years later he is living in a flat in London and his only acting work has been the occasional advert. Now a deranged murder suspect, self-dubbed 'The Kestrel' is saying he will only talk to Detective Mindhorn; this leads to his return to the Isle of Man. Here he is both caught up in the hunt for the killer as well as meeting former colleagues who went on to live more successful lives than him.

If you are looking for anything serious you will definitely be disappointed but if you like the idea of a mild spoof of '80s UK detective shows this is worth watching. As others have said 'Mindhorn', the TV show, was clearly 'Bergerac' with a bionic eye... something which the film constantly acknowledges with an ongoing joke about Thorncroft losing roles to John 'Bergerac' Nettles. Most of the humour comes from the Richard Thorncroft character; he is almost a copy of Alan Partridge at times... most notably in scenes featuring Steve Coogan as a secondary character in 'Mindhorn' who left for a far more successful spin-off series. The plot in many ways mirrors the style on an '80s TV show as does the acting; something I'm sure was deliberate. The cast does a solid job with just about everybody looking more than a little ridiculous at times. The ending is inevitably rather cheesy but that fitted in with the general feel of the film. Overall I certainly wouldn't say this is a must see but would still recommend it to anybody who enjoys slightly cheesy silliness.
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8/10
Two reviews and Astronauts' cars
8 March 2019
After the antics of last week this is back to being a 'car show' with reviews of two very different cars and a piece about the cars driven by the early astronauts. In the first section Hammond putting the new Aston Martin V8 Vantage through its paces. Then, following an amusing conversation street, James May heads to Florida for a talk about cars driven by astronauts which involves driving Neil Armstrong's Corvette and telling how an enterprising car dealer provided sports cars to astronauts. Finally Jeremy's piece on the Citroen C3 Aircross provided a fair amount of silliness, involving children with 'celebrity-kid' names and a small horse as well as a staged police chase involving the 'The French Police' and an off road drive through the Alps.

This might not be the most memorable episode because it felt like a typical car show. Apart from the 'Conversation Street' section each part is presented by just one of the trio so there isn't the usual interaction. I'm not sure I'd want that every week but here it was a refreshing change. The Aston Martin section was good, and apart from a few light jokes, fairly serious review. James's look at astronauts' cars was fun to watch even if the cars were overshadowed by the sight of rockets and footage of the first moon landing. Clarkson's section provided most of the episodes silly moments, some of which were funnier than others, while still showing the viewer the quality of the car. Overall not a classic episode but still enjoyable.
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7/10
A solid enough mix of sci-fi and fantasy
8 March 2019
One day Hibiki Kuze and Daichi Shijima are sent strange videos via an app on their mobile phones; it appears to show their deaths. Moments later they are caught up in a train crash but survive when a 'Demon Summoning App' installs itself onto their phones. Another survivor is school friend Io Nitta. They escape as demons eat the victims of the crash. More demonic creatures appear but they fight them off using the App. Afterwards they are taken into custody and learn the world is being attacked by beings known as 'Septentriones'; if they aren't defeated in one week humanity will cease to exist. They, and fellow summoners, are recruited into an organisation known as JPs to lead the defence of Japan. JPs is led by Yamato Hotsuin; who has sinister plans of his own. Before each battle they continue to receive videos predicting friend's deaths; will these enable them to avoid the predicted fates or are they doomed?

If you like anime with plenty of action in every episode this may be for you; it nicely combines technological elements with the fantasy of summoning beasts to fight off attacks. It isn't just as case of heroic humans battling evil invaders; it is clear from early on that Yamato intends to use events to create a world that will only support those people he deems worthy. I must admit I found certain elements a bit confusing early on but things later came together fairly well. As the story progresses we learn more about the Septentriones and it becomes clear that not everybody who appears to be an important character will survive. The animation is pretty good with frequent dynamic action scenes. Overall I'd say this 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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Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Living Conditions (1999)
Season 4, Episode 2
9/10
Kathy go Home
7 March 2019
Buffy is finding her college roommate increasingly irritating; she constantly plays music Buffy doesn't like; tries to set rules for their room; flosses her teeth in bed and borrows Buffy's clothes. Things aren't helped after the two of them are attacked by a demon while out on the campus at night even though Buffy manages to push Kathy away so she thinks it was just a mugger. After that they share a strange dream and Buffy gets more and more irritated by Kathy and decides she has to go... even if that means slaying her! Naturally her friends are concerned at her extreme behaviour.

This was a solid standalone episode even though most of it had nothing obviously more threatening than an annoying roommate. We do see demons who state that Buffy, or possibly Kathy, is the one they are looking for but they don't do much that is menacing. The more Buffy and Kathy snipe at each other the more obvious it becomes that something must be affecting them. The way Buffy's friends; Willow, Xander, Oz and Giles, help her was good after she had been effectively alone for much of the episode. The revelation at the end of the episode wasn't a total surprise nor was it too obvious... the method of exposure was a shock though! The acting was solid throughout as were the special effects in the aforementioned exposure scene. Overall a fine episode.
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Yip Man (2008)
9/10
Must see martial arts action
7 March 2019
This film is loosely based on the life of Chinese martial arts master Ip Man during the Japanese occupation. It opens in 1935 in the city of Foshan. The city is famed for its many martial arts schools but Ip Man doesn't operate a school despite being a more proficient fighter than all the other kung fu masters. He lives a comfortable life with his wife and young son but all that changes in 1937 when the Japanese take the city. The martial arts schools close and the various masters find themselves working at a local coal mine. Word of their presence gets back to the Japanese general and he has them fight his men for bags of rice. After the death of a friend Ip Man gets involved and defeats ten Japanese fighters at once; the general wants him to train his men in the Wing Chun form of Kung fu, but he refuses. The only people he trains are Chinese workers who are being attacked by bandits. Ultimately though he will have to face the Japanese general who is an expert fighter himself.

Certain liberties may have been taken with the facts but that doesn't matter too much as this is a good story with lots of great action. It opens well with pre-war scenes that introduce Ip Man, his family and various other major characters, notably a policeman who later works for the Japanese as a translator. There is some action in these scenes but most of the action takes place after the Japanese arrival. These later fight scenes are fairly bone crunching and while it is clear that that is some wire assistance nobody flies across the room and the fights feel more real than the beautifully choreographed fights in Wuxia films. That doesn't mean these fights aren't choreographed though; Sammo Hung did a really great job setting up the fights so they feel natural. Donnie Yen is great as Ip Man; a restrained character who avoids violence when he can but is just about unstoppable when forced to fight. The supporting cast are impressive too. The villains are suitable menacing but not too obviously evil; the sadistic Japanese colonel may be bordering on a pantomime villain but the general is more honourable even if he is one of the bad guys. Overall I'd definitely recommend this; it is definitely a must see for martial arts fans.
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