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The Thick of It (2005–2012)
Brilliant content ruined by shakycam.
22 February 2019
No-one, not even the most amateurish youtuber, would shake a camera around in the way this series is filmed. It totally distracts from the brilliant script and it beats me how anyone could possibly think that it's somehow an aceptable "fly on the wall" technique. Unwatchable.
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Forbidden History: The Man in the Iron Mask (2016)
Season 3, Episode 2
Wobbly camerawork ruins another good story
14 February 2019
An interesting subject but the self conscious gimmicky camerawork ruins the show. The camera shots are deliberately wobbly, the footage where the camera operator hunts for focus or adjusts the framing is not cut out but is left for all to see. There are even crash zooms on the rostrum camera shots of historical engravings; a technique that was hackneyed enough back in the 1970s. Why draw attention to the technology in this fashion? It distracts from the content and it just makes the viewer think that the producers can't come up with a good enough story, so they've "embellished" it to distract us from the lack of substance, which is no mean feat with a romantic story such as this.
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So cheap, they couldn't even afford a tripod.
29 November 2018
Ffs, when will film makers realise that shaking the camera around in an agitated manner does NOT make a film look any more "real", nor does it make a mockumentary look any less contrived. This pile of nonsense is completely unwatchable, so don't even bother.
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Feeble and repetitive
9 February 2017
The concept is great. Explain how engineers have created modern marvels, drawing upon past experiments by their predecessors. However, the actual show is unbearably drawn out. I only watched one episode; about the Shanghai Maglev Train. Fascinating subject but it was a half hour documentary padded out to last twice that long. I lost count of the number of times the same shots were re-used; the music was intrusive; the repetitive commentary was aimed at an immature audience and what exactly was the presenter in Shanghai doing? If she was presenting the show then she should have been doing it to camera; if she was an interviewee then she should have been directed to keep her eye line closer to the camera, not be staring into the middle distance. Viewers have to sit through a whole hour of this stuff, just to enjoy a handful of three minute bursts of interesting information separated by plenty of padding. The only reason I give it 4/10 is for a few engaging sequences of archive material and modern experiments, with appropriate homages to the engineering pioneers. Oh and by the way, Nigel Gresley's streamlined locomotive is usually called "Mallard" and not "The Mallard" but it's a moot point so no marks lost there.
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Parks and Recreation (2009–2015)
Brilliantly written characters but it's wobbly.
10 March 2013
This series is another shining star from the genre known as Mockumentary. Some reviewers seem to think that "The Office" set the style but The Office was by no means the first, you only have to look at "Victoria Wood - As Seen on TV", which first appeared on BBC TV in 1985, to see a collection of witty, understated spoofs shot in the documentary style. And of course the year before that, Rob Reiner made "This is Spinal Tap".

Crucially, on Victoria Wood they didn't direct the camera to wave aimlessly about, they used cameramen who knew how to operate a hand held camera. That's my main complaint about this mockumentary "Parks and Recreation". The content may be blisteringly funny but it should not look as if the poor camera operator is suffering from some terrible affliction of the central nervous system. This fake wobbliness not only pervades the mockumentary genre, it's sometimes seen in drama series that are directed in a pseudo-realistic style, e.g. "Law and Order".

But despite the distraction of the wobbly camera, Parks and Recreation is still brilliantly written and performed.
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On Hannibal's Trail (2010– )
Why is Football given more airtime than History?
11 March 2011
Another user disputed my previous review in which I complained that episode two's content skipped through Tarragona, barely giving it a mention. I got my dates wrong but one can't deny that these types of 'road trip' documentary series tend to give far more airtime to shots of the presenter(s) and less time to the subject matter.

One type of documentary uses the subject matter as a loose way of pinning together all the sequences of transport problems / bad weather / officialdom faced by the personalities involved. In the production world it's called "jeopardy". An emerging documentary subtype is the "Wonders of the Universe" style, which seems to be mostly shots of an enraptured Professor Brian Cox gazing up at the heavens in awe.

My original point was that both before and after Hannibal's crossing of the area, Tarragona was of strategic importance; surely worth more of a mention than the rush to get to some football game.
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Alice in Wonderland (I) (2010)
Nice film - shame about the title.
27 November 2010
I am late with this review; many others have said their piece long ago and it appears that many expected it to be a re-make of the famous story.

If Mr Burton had called it "Not Alice In Wonderland" or perhaps "Alice in Wonderland 2" or perhaps "Alice Revisits Wonderland" or even, for as much as I care, "Alice meets Abbott and Costello in Wonderland" then maybe people would take the film on its merits and not on their ill-researched expectations.

I would have stopped there but apparently that is not enough.. so here goes: OK, it had its flaws and a few of the performances were rather derivative. I would be astonished if Helena Bonham Carter ever swore she had never seen Miranda Richardson doing Queenie in Blackadder before forming her characterisation of the Red Queen. Nevertheless she and Alan Rickman and Stephen Fry and Matt Lucas were all great. The only thing I hated was the stupid Futterwacken dance (what was THAT about?).
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Law & Order: UK (2009–2014)
Gimmicky and inaccurate shooting style was distracting
29 July 2010
I don't know if they are all similar but the only episode I saw was shot in the "Let's wobble the camera around to make it look like a documentary" style. Not only is this crass style of shooting distracting but the end results look nothing at all like those of a genuine documentary.

Thankfully, even the shakiest of hand-held camera work on a genuine documentary does not make it look as if the unfortunate camera operator has some terrible neurological disease.

If they wanted to make it look like a documentary then they could ditch the tripods by all means but at least they should have directed the operators to just do normal hand held camera work. What was done on the episode I saw looked totally phoney and contrived.
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The Mikado (I) (1987 TV Movie)
A great stage production gets a not so great TV production.
7 March 2008
Yet another example of an English Opera production, recorded on an English stage and yet not being on sale in England, sorry, the UK. Presumably there are reasons beyond common sense but my message to the people who try to control our access to what we want to pay to see is that their restrictive actions are the very things that fuel the worldwide spread of regional code hacking and illegal copying and downloading. Anyway, if you are unfortunate enough to live in the UK and you try hard enough and you have a multi-region player then you can get a Region 1 DVD sent over from the USA. Not a great DVD, no subtitles for example. But better than nothing.

The performances are excellent as other reviewers have already said. The sound is too on-mike in places, which gives the game away a bit; my guess is that what we see and hear is a gluing together of material shot at one or more real live performances with a lot of extra material re-shot without an audience.

What makes this DVD poor is not what is happening on the stage but what is happening in the vision mixing department. Terrible camera directing; silly and contrived angles; poor transitions from closeups to wide shots; gimmicky and superfluous "multi-faceting lens" effects. If only it had been directed by a better director of televised operas (the excellent Brian Large springs to mind) then this would have been a wonderful record of a production that is still (2008) being staged in London. It is sad to think that when it eventually ceases to be performed the only video recording of it will be this visually flawed one.
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Cold Comfort Farm (1968– )
Worth watching this alternative version.
23 December 2006
Nothing, but nothing, can beat the original novel by Stella Gibbons. Ostensibly a parody of earthy novels such as "Precious Bane" and the stuff by D.H. Lawrence, it is in fact a brilliant satire about the human race and what makes us tick, or not tick at all.

The closest any dramatisation has come to capturing her philosophy was probably the BBC Radio 4 version. Sometimes radio has better pictures, because you create the visuals yourself.

This early TV version suffered visually from being studio-bound, presumably because that is how things were done in those days. It also suffered, visually at least, from being directed by Peter Hammond, who loved 'frames within frames' and getting sexual symbolism into every shot; perhaps fashionable at the time but now seen as cliché ridden and hackneyed. However, it has a good cast and although it is really creaky by today's standards it is worth seeing if only as an alternative to the later and in my opinion less interesting John Schlesinger version, which had a huge budget and played the script for its laughs, avoiding the point of the novel.

So what IS the point of the novel? Well, read it and see. We all know a Judith; we all know an Aunt Ada; we all know people who blame their current condition on something in their past, either real or imaginary; we all know many of the human traits and foibles satirised in the novel. What Stella Gibbons did, deliciously, was not just to parody the style of novels by D.H. Lawrence and Mary Webb ("fecund rain spears" and "bursting sheaths") but also to extol the benefits of leading a tidy life full of beauty and harmony. She encapsulates the characteristics of the entire human race into one farmhouse full of superficially dysfunctional people. Read the novel, but, above all: read between the lines.
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Nice collection - shame about the links
18 November 2006
A good collection of videos spanning Miss Brightman's extensive repertoire. Shame therefore that the links between videos are spoiled by a crass and gimmicky style of shooting. Why was it considered necessary to wave the camera around while Sarah is talking to us and introducing her videos? There are multiple shots of the crew and the set too. Drawing attention to the technology in this way is gimmicky, distracting, unnecessary and tragically infantile. I long for the day when this fashion for deliberately waving the camera aimlessly around will be considered as hackneyed as filming reflections in shiny car hubcaps. It certainly distracts from what Sarah has to say about her work and I am surprised that she and her people sanctioned it.
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Well made and only partly predictable.
1 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I went into the cinema without expecting anything in particular. Technically it was excellent, and I did like the way in which the film shows the events through the eyes of the officers. It shies away from showing the actual moments of impact and from over-dramatising the terrible things that were happening to those people up in the towers themselves. However; having avoided some clichés it then shoots itself in the foot with lines like "mommy, when is daddy coming back?" and with the closeups of a Christian cross and representations of a back-lit and glowing Jesus Christ. Maybe the humour was in the water bottle.

For me the most poignant moment of drama was not the interminably drawn out suffering of the cops under their slabs of foam painted to look like concrete but the encounter towards the end between Maria Bello's character and the woman who was coming to terms with the loss of her (son ?). That moment did seem more real than any other.

Overall, the film left me thinking about how these films, even from the best directors, are generically about the triumph of human hope and endeavour. At least this one was only partly predictable. After all the agonising, everybody involved with the two rescued officers gave us an uplifting and happy dénouement but the immense suffering of thousands of others on that terrible day was confined to a few brief moments and a few "summing up" captions at the end. The officers were spared and so were we. Perhaps we should like the film for that very reason.
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Comparisons may be odious... but...
24 March 2006
One of the delights of attending a live performance of an opera, operetta, play, musical, etc is that you might see a production that is so much better than any productions of the work that you have seen before. Far Worse is when you see a production that is so good that you later wish it had been recorded for posterity; and it wasn't.

Anyone fortunate enough to see the English National Opera's London production of "Orpheus in the Underworld" will know what I mean. Taking a swipe at Mrs Thatcher by parodying her as Public Opinion did date it but nevertheless it was a snappy and witty production, done during the time when the ENO was at its peak and with wonderful sets by Gerald Scarfe. Snoo Wilson did a marvellous job on the book, making the songs witty, sexy and far more interesting and incisive than the subtitled translations of the plodding 1977 version under review here. It is possible to buy an audio CD of the ENO production; it is one of the tragedies of the Arts World that nobody ever recorded it on video.

Having said that; this production by the Theatre de la Monnaie in Brussels, although slow by comparison, does have some fine singing. It also has a nice theatrical device that draws its inspiration from a famous photograph of a railway accident at a Paris station. It probably has more international appeal than the ENO production I am comparing it with.
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The Producers (2005)
Wasted opportunity
11 January 2006
Unlike some other reviewers I don't take issue with the traditional filmed musical style with which Susan Stroman directed this film; it's some of the performances that don't quite hit the mark. They are either too theatrical for film or the comedy timing is wrong; there is no need to leave a pause for laughs when you shoot or edit a movie. Let's face it; the cast is just not as good or as well directed as they would have been on the original Broadway Show. Suffice to say that the performances from Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick (in particular) seemed tired and lacked conviction and that's not surprising, as they had done it so often on stage. Lane does a nice enough homage to Zero Mostel without losing his own style but don't even start to compare the stodgy Broderick with the neurotic Gene Wilder. Some of the musical numbers are very nicely done in this film though, especially the outdoor ones and the famous "Springtime for Hitler". It is good that Stroman does the musical numbers mainly on wide shots where others might have tried to cut close. I have seen excellent ballet films ruined by too much cutting and too many mid-shots and closeups so it is good that she shot the musical numbers in this film in a traditional style.

The usually wonderful Uma Thurman was terribly miscast in this film and so was Will Ferrell. Thurman just does not look right as Ulla and can't "belt" as well as Cady Huffman (who was Ulla in the original Broadway production). Ferrell is just too young looking for the role of Franz and he lacks menace. He really should not try to pull faces like Jim Carrey; one Jim Carrey in the movie world is quite enough. On the plus side, Gary Beach is wonderful as Roger and is probably the best reason to see this film.

Continuity freaks will love the various jumps in people's positions or expressions between shots and a few hairstyle variations too. I don't normally spot dodgy edits but there are quite a few in this film, even though I only saw it the once. Maybe the hairstyle variations were deliberate, in homage to Roger de Bris' wig jumps on the original 1968 film but I don't think so somehow.

Having not been fortunate enough to see the show on Broadway when it first opened then, without a doubt, for me the best version of this very funny musical is on the DVD documentary entitled "Recording the Producers" (2001) and I urge you to watch that even if you already have the resulting CD of the soundtrack from the Broadway show. It has a cast still fresh from the first opening of the musical on Broadway. Lane and Broderick give perfect performances too. OK, so they are singing the songs and not acting out very much more than a small part of the plot but you will see and *hear* far better performances in almost every role I can think of compared with those on the feature film version of the musical. Cady Huffman does a much better Ulla than poor old Uma and a few of the people who only played bit parts in Stroman's movie version (including Peter Marinos and Eric Gunhus) get a chance to shine on the DVD documentary.
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Great Performances: Swan Lake (1998)
Season 26, Episode 15
Still gets 10 despite my reservations
20 February 2005
This work of art is just stunningly beautiful and powerful; I saw it performed on stage in London and bought the DVD version the next day. The soundtrack is excellent, the orchestra is well balanced and well conducted. The on-stage performances are breathtaking and moving. My only complaints relate to the vision mixing; a few dodgy camera angles and the rapidity of some of the cuts. This is ballet and although TV directors have a golden opportunity to enhance the experience by showing far more than a square-on proscenium arch shot, they should only rarely cut to anything closer than a mid-shot; certainly not for just one second, it is disorientating and it ruins the flow. Despite the fact that I think the editing leaves a lot to be desired I still give it 10 for sheer mastery in every other area. It's worth adding that there was a Blu-Ray remake in 2011 and in my opinion the remake has far better better choices of shots and editing and is equally deserving of ten stars. Plus it's Blu-ray HD and wide screen so is probably the version I would recommend now. The 1998 original DVD has Adam Cooper in the lead role and no-one can beat him. But we can't make a dream ticket cast so on balance go for the Blu-ray.
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Paper Dove (2003)
Flawed but interesting
18 May 2004
Warning: Spoilers
(Contains spoiler). In May 2004 I saw this film on its "home ground" in Peru. Peruvian films have a reputation for being gritty and violent and this one was both those things. The top and tail of the film show the main character as an adult but the majority of the film consists of a flashback to his childhood in the Andes, where he was captured and taken from his village by a band of left wing extremists who try to force him to adopt their beliefs and help them in their "armed struggle". He escapes and eventually the band attack his village and there is a bloody fight which culminates in the boy's mother being killed. Of course there is more to the film than that and there are some very moving scenes, some attractive Peruvian landscapes and also some frankly predictable pathos.

Some of the acting is excellent, especially by the boy's mother but some is a bit hammy or maybe that was just the way the actors were directed. Technically there are flaws too, especially in the camera-work and in some fairly obvious use of strong lights outdoors. Furthermore a lot of the dialogue is post-dubbed which makes the sound track a bit too clean and lacking depth and perspective. However, I think it is a film worth watching, if only to see just how terrible and terrifying life in the Peruvian countryside was in the last part of the 20th century and - despite a big improvement in law and order recently - even in 2004 some people still live in fear. My Peruvian friends told me that although the film is a fictional story it represents almost a sanitised version of what really was happening; the reality must have been similar to some of the terrible atrocities of the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s.
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Grease (1978)
Does exactly what it says on the tin.
18 October 2003
I've seen this film and I've read the other user's comments. What I find incomprehensible is how some of my fellow amateur critics on here seem to want all the films they see to be well acted, or plausible, or credible, or have some kind of hidden meaning or depth or whatever. Lighten up please; for sure it isn't Citizen Kane or Repulsion or The Idiots or something by Wim Wenders. What it IS is a load of escapist fun with some pretty enthusiastic performances and as such it should stand on its own merits. Yes some of the acting is dodgy and let's face it, all songs in all films are always mimed anyway, to greater or lesser accuracy. But the dancing and the sheer cheesiness of it all make it totally endearing. Or to put in another way: you don't go to a play by Neil Simon or Ray Cooney expecting Shakespeare, do you?
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