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A hairy hoary remake
14 October 2018
This is the second remake of A Star is Born (which was itself a remake of What Price Hollywood?)- a tale of a falling actor who falls for a young actress who he pushes to success as his own career irretrievably dies. I haven't seen the Lady Gaga version yet but it can't be worse than this soapy shlock, which is ironically more dated than the 1937 film (which I like by the way) and 1954 one.

The decision to move the story from Hollywood to the world of rock music was the right choice for the time period and certainly gives lots of scope for John Normal Howard (the James Mason role, played by Kris Kristofferson) to indulge his addictions. However it means that it loses the social commentary- the 1954 film was a critique of the Hollywood dream factory whereas in the 1976 one, Barbara Streisand (as Esther Hoffman) is already Barbara Streisand and refuses to change her name and awful style, thus removing a massive internal conflict for the character.

Scenes which were beautifully dramatic in the 1954 film become cringy in the 1976 one. In the 1954 film Norman watching Esther sing The Man That Got Away after the club has closed for the night, you see him fall in love over the course of the song and Esther's unawareness of how good she really is. In the 1976 one, Esther is performing in a lounge act called the Oreos (a woeful racist joke- she is the white one and the other two performers are black) singing a funky number 'Queen Bee'. It's just cheesy, as are all of their interactions apart from when John Norman watches Esther vocalise an acoustic version of the song which later becomes Evergreen.

Streisand can sing for sure but her acting is strained. This is basically a rehash of her superior performance in Funny Girl, right down to the quick-talking Jewish humour that grates even more than John Norman's dull rock numbers. Unlike Streisand, Kristofferson can't sing- or if he can, it's not in evidence here. The film never convinces us that John Norman was ever a big famous rock star, apart from just having him sing at a packed stadium. Implausibly, John Norman's rock audience cheer and whoop for Esther's easy listening belters.

Esther's hair is a character of its own, a sort of springy brillo-pad/afro thing, and her wardrobe is the stuff of horrors (unbelievably in the credits it says that the clothes are from Streisand's own wardrobe!). People talk about the eighties as being the decade that fashion forgot- the seventies is the decade that fashion tried to scrub out of its memory.

Most of the songs are forgettable, including all of Kristofferson's. Streisand sells some on her star power- Queen Bee and The Woman in The Moon- and Evergreen is a pleasant tune. Admittedly the 1954 film isn't full of toe-tappers but they hold up better than these songs. Evergreen is no match for the darkly beautiful torch song 'The Man That Got Away'.

There are essentially no other characters within this film so your enjoyment will depend on how much you want to see sentimentality, cheesy dialogue (brought bang up to date by a proliferation of swear words- the only 'f' word in the 1954 one was 'fame') and Streisand and Kristofferson. Way too long to be enjoyed as a camp classic.
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Insatiable (2018– )
Not entirely satisfactory but good on Netflix for having some guts
19 August 2018
Warning: Spoilers
After school special, this isn't- well, not for the most parts. Its weaker moments are when the writers feel pushed into a corner to preach about body acceptance. If the show can sort out its uneven tone and fully commit to the dark morally ambivalent dramedy, it could reach a eight or nine (I'll give it a 9 to counteract some of the moral outrage from reviewers who just want a rant).

Controversial before anyone had even seen the show itself, the trailer shows its main character Patty (Debby Ryan wearing a fat suit) staring miserably into a mirror and now newly thin, vowing to wreak revenge on the people who bullied her. People were in uproar at the fat-shaming and then found even more to be in uproar about when they watched the show.

NOTE: From now on, there may well be spoilers.

Patty is roped into doing pageants by Bob Armstrong (Dallas Roberts, who need to turn down the camp), a lawyer who's learnt flair and razzle dazzle from the courtroom. Inspired by the many Drew Barrymore films she watches, Patty turns Long Island Lolita and tries to wreck Bob's marriage. The show makes it quite clear that Bob is not a sexual predator so no worries there.

After about four episodes in, the Lolita plot is sidelined and it's more about satirising pageants and the Southern hospitality of Bob's wife Coralee (Alyssa Milano), who harbours a burning desire for her hunky neighbour Bob Barnard. A mix of Desparate Housewives and a teen comedy.

Think of Insatiable more as a twisted fantasy- quite obviously you can't become skinny and toned from simply having your jaw wired shut for three months and Patty would obviously have twigged Bob as not being straight, partly because of the pageant thing (stereotype as that is) but also because Dallas Roberts plays the character as far too camp- it's not quite clear whether this is meant to be his personality or his sexuality.

I thought the finale was a brilliant dark pinnacle that brought the characterisation of Patty and Bob back on track. Patty and Bob are both linked by former eating disorders but also obsessive personalities.

Insatiable should get a Series 2- hopefully by which time the writers will commit more fully to the dark comedy and leave identity politics for another show.

It would be good to see some shows with an overweight protagonist (notably shows make their characters either stick thin or obese) who just gets on with things and doesn't have to be punished- but that's a separate issue.
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Boredom of the Vanities
26 July 2018
It would be apt to quote from the film itself- one of the characters Sir Gerald Moore (Robert Stephens, great comic value even if he's barely in it) says: 'In my house, when a turd appears, we throw it out. We dispose of it. We flush it away. We don't put it on the table and call it caviar'

This film is a stinker. It starts off seeming like it will be an enjoyable comedy of manners amongst the narcissistic rich (the yuppie lifestyle) but instead is a crushing bore with a plot that has as much depth as a CSI episode.

Tom Hanks is miscast as Sherman McCoy- he looks like his character in Big, a boy pretending to be a grown-up. It was initially interesting to see him act against type but because the filmmakers wanted him to use the Tom Hanks charm in order to smooth the sharp edges of Tom Wolfe's novel, it never pays off. Sherman is unlikeable and weak-willed but in no way the 'master of the universe' that he dubs himself, more like a weedy kid.

Melanie Griffiths does a good job of playing his mistress, dumb blonde Maria, but the character is entirely unlikeable (this is a pretty bad film as far as female parts go- there's nothing for either her or Kim Cattrell as Sherman's wife to work with), a whiny Southern gal.

The plot is that Sherman and Maria take a wrong turn and end up in the Bronx, where Maria accidentally runs down a young black teenager. Uproar in the community ensues (very quiet uproar as the black characters are kept firmly in the background) and opportunistic journalist Peter Fallow (Bruce Willis, again doing nothing remarkable with his role) sees a chance for a good story.

There's lots of scenes where people are just standing around having not very interesting conversations- a sure fire way to kill a film with a running time of two hours. Dialogue-heavy films can be great- see 12 Angry Men- but it's just dull. Morgan Freeman as Judge Leonard White has a 'rousing' speech that attempts to be a poor imitation of Alfieri/John Proctor/Portia.

The novel would be much better serviced by a TV adaptation so we actually get to know the large cast of characters and they can actually explore the theme rather than just telling us.

If you feel guilty watching it because you're having a bad time, take solace in that the cast and crew all hated it as well.
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Peyton Place (1957)
What goes on behind doors...
16 June 2018
Warning: Spoilers
(Potential spoiler in fourth paragraph)

Based on the lurid bestseller of its time by Grace Metalious, Peyton Place is a fifties melodrama whose attitude to sex was franker than other films of this time (though it looks very tame now), in which characters wouldn't even mutter the word.

Constance MacKenzie (Lara Turner) disapproves of her daughter Allison (Diane Varsi) having any sort of romance because as it is later revealed, Constance has skeletons in her closet. This is nothing compared to the home life of Allison's best friend Selena Cross (Hope Lange), who lives in fear of her abusive alcoholic stepfather Lucas (Arthur Kennedy).

Lana Turner feels miscast, with the focus on her as a star, rather than Allison, who is more of a main character. The headmaster who tries to court her, played by Lee Phillips, is bland and forgettable. Whilst Hope Lange is physically miscast as Selena, who in the novel is described as dark and gyspy like, she acts the part well. The trouble is that she looks too similar to Allison- there's a reason why in the novel the girls look so physically different.

Arthur Kennedy is suitably vile as leering Lucas and Russ Tamblyn (better known for his role in West Side Story) is sweet as Allison's sweetheart, Norman. The rape scene is troubling, although god knows why there's the sound of a train in the background.

It took me a while to realise that this was set in the forties- every outfit and hairstyle looks straight out of the year it was set in (which isn't uncommon for films but the forties is very different fashion-wise from the forties).

It is an interesting teen/women's film from yesteryear but not on a par with Imitation of Life, which also deals with controversial subjects but actually explores them rather than simply presenting them. Culturally very significant as the archetype of small-town secrets and scandal (American Beauty owes a debt to it, amongst many other films).
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Dynasty (2017– )
Woke Dynasty
11 April 2018
This is very much a 21st century woke Dynasty. The original had more WASPS than a summer picnic but here we have different races. The Colby family are black and Krystal and her nephew Sammy Jo is Venezualan.

In general, the whole show is twenty-first century attitudes. Fallon (Elizabeth Gillies) is a shrewd businesswoman rather than the little girl lost of the original Dynasty. Krystal loves and is (for the most part) loyal to her husband but she is not the pure and angelic Krystle of the original series. Stephen is also out and proud- his father is concerned with Stephen's charitable do-gooding rather than his sexuality.

I have no issue with the changes for the most part. Simply transposing the original would not have worked- social attitudes have changed too much. In the original, Stephen being gay was treated as incredibly shocking whereas no one would bat an eye now. I also really enjoy the change of Sammy Jo from female to male- no longer a trampy wife but fun-loving casual boyfriend.

The only issue I have is with the Colby family. TV has a bit of an issue with writing in black characters but making them underwritten and boring. Even when Jeff and Monica are trying to be sneaky, they're still dull as ditchwater hangers-on to the Carringtons. This isn't portraying ethnic balance; this is tokenism and the actors deserve better.

Grant Show might be suitably silver-foxish (much more so than original Blake!) but his performance is so wooden that he could be replaced by a tree and the tree would outact him. I don't like how villainous and shady he is either- it feels like a lazy way to make the female characters stand out.

Gillies is the most spirited cast member, bringing Alexis's feistiness and manipulation to the role of Fallon. I have not yet watched up to the point where Alexis comes in but she might feel redundant.

The role of Claudia is completely wasted, with Claudia being a two-dimensional crazy woman, whereas in the original she was interesting and sympathetic.

The original series was very influential- in some respects we already have a modern version of Dynasty in the form of the excellent Empire.

All in all, it's a watchable, if forgettable version of a camp classic.
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The Square (2017)
The Hypocrisy of Art
8 April 2018
Part art-world satire, part absurdist comedy and part social-commentary, watching The Square is like wandering around an art gallery. Anyone who's been to an art gallery will recognise the stillness and slow pace (which accounts for the two-and-a-half hour running time) but despite this, there are lots of comic moments, including an ill-advised advertising campaign and the live performance art seen on the film's poster.

The film is really hinged on Stockholm's X-Royal Gallery's lead curator, Christian Nielsen (Klaes Bang), who fobs off American reporter Anne (Elizabeth Moss) when she probes into the nonsensical art-speak on his website. It's a great moment of culture clash as Anne concedes to his European philosophising which is professional BS-ing.

Christian's social apathy is reflected by the public, as crowds of people wander past street beggars, glued to their smartphones. Initially the social commentary is more under the radar with the focus on comedy but near the end of the film, it's soapbox territory. Your mileage on that may vary- is writer/director Ruben Ostlund mouthing off about the problem of homelessness or is it a study of middle class guilt? I would say it's the latter- Christian is only struck by small moments of generosity when he's doing well for himself. Besides, unless you are an artist who is actively engaged in social work, you can hardly make a film criticising art's exploitation of social deprivation unless you are a massive hypocrite.

The film's title refers to the X-Royal gallery's latest art installation- a lit-up outline of a square in the gallery's courtyard, with a plaque that says within the space of this square, everyone has equal rights. Is it genuinely thought-provoking or is it merely paying lip-service? Though the film is satirical, it does make you think about the point of art.

Though Dominic West gets equal billing with Elisabeth Moss, his is only really a cameo, as the artist of one of the gallery's exhibitions 'Mirrors and Piles of Gravel'. Sporting a pair of horrid yellow sunglasses that bring to mind 90's Britpop, he is the typical pretentious artist.

Without wishing to give more away, the comedy ranges from satirical to black comedy to absurdist comedy. One particular bit of gross-out comedy means that you might wish to leave the children/grandparents at home, unless you enjoy the awkwardness.

One final note- despite the majority of the film being in Swedish, there are a couple of scenes in English, so that should open it out to audiences who hate reading subtitles.
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Girlboss (2017)
Millenial sass pit
9 October 2017
Adulthood is where dreams go to die, bankruptcy is where companies go to die. It's unfortunate that whilst this series fanatically praises Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amuroso (here, she is called Sophia Marlowe)as a business success, in life Amuroso has stepped down as CEO and the company is bankrupt.

Sass alone does not make success but fictional Sophia seems to get by simply on being a sassy millenial. She starts the series as a twenty-three year old shoplifting drifter, who is stuck in teenager mood (where she basically remains throughout the whole series)and ends up a girlboss (the kind of patronising term you might use on marketing a Barbie doll).

Though the first three or four episodes are unbearably smug, Britt Robertson does a good job as little-girl-lost Sophia, seller of vintage fashion. Ellie Reed is fine enough as Sophia's hanger-on/best buddy Annie.

It's not so much the acting that's the problem as the whole concept being flawed. It's free publicity for the Nasty Gal business and no amount of dramatic license will disguise the fact that this is a six and a half hour commercial.

The reality is sanitised in the show. For starters, there is whitewashing (Sophia Amuroso is of Greek, Italian and Portuguese descent). Secondly, in this version Sophia is still in contact with her dad, with a relationship no more strained than any young daughter. When we know that he can bail her out financially, her decision to shoplift is bratty rebellion rather than financial problems.

The material was pretty thin anyway so unsurprisingly it did not get a second season.
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Game On (1995–1998)
Game for a laugh
27 September 2017
Game On was devised by Bernadette Davis and Andrew Davies. Davies is mostly famous for his costume dramas, such as Pride and Prejudice) and as time has gone on, Game On is very much a historical sitcom as it rides the wave of the nineties.

The set-up is three friends living in a London flat. Landlord Matthew (Ben Chaplin, then Neil Stuke) is a neurotic agoraphobic who nevertheless thinks he's a hard man; his best friend sex-starved Martin (Matthew Cottle) is basically his lackey; and nympho Mandy (Samantha Janus), who will sleep with anyone except Martin and Matthew and despite her intelligence flits from temp job to temp job.

The first series is a little darker and a bit more subversive as Matthew's rampant sexism, perversions and occasional casual racism are on display. Chaplin is a better actor than Stuke and his charm and good looks make it more interesting, as on the surface you'd expect Matthew to be doing pretty well in life. A couple of the highlights of the series involve Matthew's cross-dressing and his brief venture playing in a band who lives in the flat upstairs.

The addition of Neil Stuke softened the darkness of the comedy. Stuke is more likable and relatable in the role- a more traditional sitcom choice- but had Chaplin had more time in the role, he would have made it iconic. He has that coolness that Stuke couldn't bring.

I really liked Samantha Janus in the role of Mandy; not simply eye candy for the boys, she is very funny as she handles her string of jobs and men.

Martin is the weakest character. It's not particularly the fault of actor Matthew Cottle but the writing for the character is very one-note. The introduction of his girlfriend Claire (Tracy Keating) makes him even more annoying.

By Series 3, the show ended up in a very different place from the first series with some emotional backstories for some of the characters (in addition to the death of Matthew's parents, which is mentioned throughout the show). This helped diffuse the sameyness that had crept in.

Similar to Men Behaving Badly in the way that it showed 90's laddishness and sexual permissiveness, Game On had some very funny moments and some subversively dark moments but was not consistently funny and ultimately did not lead up to its promise.
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Restless (2012 TV Movie)
You will be restless with boredom
6 September 2016
Warning: Spoilers
NOTE: The spoiler is in the fourth paragraph.

It's not that Restless is badly acted- just that a story about a WW2 spy should be a lot more fun than this two-parter TV movie, totalling three hours.

There are two timelines: the present day, which is the seventies, and the early forties. In the 'present day', Ruth Gilmartin (Michelle Dockery) is told by her mother Sally (Charlotte Rampling) that she is not Sally but instead is Eva Delectorskaya, a former British spy during WW2. In the forties, Eva (Hayley Atwell) is recruited by charismatic spymaster Lucas Romer (Rufus Sewell) who naturally she ends up falling in love with.

Whilst real life espionage is probably not like a Bond movie and is closer to the mundane work here, full of innocent code phrases and staring out of a window for hours spying on someone, it makes the pace drag. The espionage becomes more exciting in Episode 2 but it's not really worth sitting through Episode 1, which is a bit of a waste of time unless you want to see the romancing of Lucas and Eva.

Were this a normal length TV movie, that would have helped considerably as there is a lot of filler here. It also means that the viewer might be more forgiving of the various clichés- it's blindingly obvious that Lucas is going to seduce Eva and that he will be a traitor. The fact that this does not occur to her at all makes Eva come across as stupid. Rather than focusing on her espionage skills, she comes across more like an ordinary woman motivated by love.

There are hints in the second episode of some politically relevant parallels with WW2 in the seventies but this is not explored. Restless is too superficial to be interesting but not superficial enough to enjoy as a pulpy spy story. I am aware that it is based on a novel by William Boyd but the filmmakers needed to either make it intellectual or entertainment and they did neither.
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The pitfalls of CGI
4 August 2015
Although it purports to be a homage to thirties adventure serials, Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow is strangely cold. The film was entirely computer generated and as a result, it feels robotic. The actors do not interact convincingly with the environment; the marrying of CGI with reality is what makes CGI effective.

Unfortunately the visuals aren't even particularly appealing. The soft focus effect is overdone and makes the actors look very fuzzy. Jude Law is obscured in shadow so much that we hardly ever see his face. In concept it's a nice idea but it was just taken to too much of an extreme. Some of the robots Sky Captain (Jude Law) battles are cool, such as the robots with wavy arms, but others are risible (the planes that flap their wings like birds). The film is only ten years old but already it feels dated. The short that the film is based on is actually visually accomplished; it was a bad idea not to release the film in black and white. Instead the film was shot in black and white and then like in colourised films of the past, layers of colour were added.

There is a faint story: reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) teams up with old flame Sky Captain (Jude Law) to solve the mystery of famous scientists that are disappearing. Can they defeat evil German Dr Totenkopf (Laurence Olivier in hologram form)? And can Polly cope with Sky Captain's past love affair with Captain Franky Cook (Angelina Jolie, looking very odd and masculine)? All the CGI in the world cannot compensate for a weak story, which this unfortunately is. It's thin but the film spreads it even thinner. Essentially it's just Law and Paltrow running around in front of a blue screen, feigning fear at various robots that they can't see. There is the odd moment of humour- Omid Djalili is very funny in a cameo role as a friend of Sky Captain's and Angelina Jolie's 'British' accent that sounds Australian is certainly something to see. To be fair to Jolie, she adds some campness; however the film takes itself too seriously to allow for campness.

I wanted to like the film because I love many similar films to this: Rocketeer, Dark City, Captain America. Dark City is particularly similar- a sci-fi film that has a strong thirties feel but is not literally set in the thirties (there's enough anachronisms in Sky Captain to make it a very alternative thirties). Whilst that film is not perfect, it has much more flair and imagination than Sky Captain does, without needing a blue screen for every shot.

If entirely computer-generated films really are the world of tomorrow, it's a sad day.
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Crazy Heart (2009)
Gentle heart
9 May 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Although the film is described as drama, it's very much downbeat romantic drama, which makes the final twenty minutes a disappointment.

Jeff Bridges gives a suitably unflattering performance as washed-up alcoholic country singer Bad Blake. Whilst the Oscar might be overdoing it, it's a solid performance and Bad is suitably touching in his interactions with Buddy, Bad's journist girlfriend Jean's son (Maggie Gyllenhall).

There is as you might have guessed an age-gap between Bad and Jean. Whilst I could believe in his relationship with Jean in the context of her son, as a loving friendship, I found their sexual relationship a little unsavoury. It's not that it's graphic but it's just a bit unpleasant, considering Bad is not only much older than her, he's in bad shape. To be fair, she doesn't see the extent to which he is an alcoholic.

As a romantic drama with some country music to reflect the bluesy nature of Bad's alcoholism, the film worked. But- and this is where the SPOILER comes in- the film falls at the final hurdle. After the moment when Bad hits his low point as he loses Jean's son, Jean tells him to sober up and not come back again. He seemingly sobers up pretty darn quickly with no real side effects and whilst I understand that this is because he needs to do it for his own health, the film implies that Jean will one day allow him back in to rebuild the relationship. Eighteen months down the line, Bad has written a nice song (naturally inspired by Jean, although lyrically not seeming to be relevant) and his career is back on track. Jean turns up and what do you know, she's engaged to a 'nice' man. We do see some character development as Bad takes the news gracefully, but seeing as she was meant to be in love with the guy, would she so readily bounce into bed with someone else? The way she says 'nice' also indicates that she's marrying him purely for the security, which makes her a pretty weak character. It would have been much better to see her doing well in her own right rather than a hasty marriage to counteract her troubled relationship with Bad.

NO MORE SPOILERS: The songs are a bit samey but not unpleasant. Colin Farrell has a surprisingly good cameo as Tommy Sweet, Bad's protégé.

Crazy Heart is fine if you want a gentle downbeat film; it just either needed more grit or more sweetness, rather than sweetness that sours.
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Eight if you've read the book
6 February 2015
This is an unfairly maligned adaptation. True, if you judge it against more famous adaptations (e.g. the 1939 version), the first half of the film feels inadequate. However if you hold on in there, you'll get the second half of the book, revealing a plethora of themes Emily Bronte was exploring that are non-existent in the other films and revealing the novel's dark cruelty. Why previous adaptors chose to turn the film into a simple love story can be put down to sexism; had it been written by a man, the filmmakers would accept the brutal aspects of the book but of course a Victorian woman could never write such shocking things. For those who only know the story from previous adaptations or the brilliant Kate Bush song, it is a saga of hatred. Being rejected by his childhood love/adopted sister/soulmate Cathy Earnshaw (Juliette Binoche) when she chooses to marry prim Edgar Linton (Simon Shepard). Heathcliff vows vengeance on the Lintons by marrying Edgar's sister Isabella (Sophie Ward) and then also torturing Cathy and Edgar's daughter, Catherine Linton (Juliette Binoche- again!).

The film's mistake is that it is too tentative in the first half. Director Peter Kosminsky still wanted to give viewers the conventional love story that they knew and loved so he made the first half quite gentle in order to mitigate the darker second half. Unfortunately it means that Cathy and Heathcliff's relationship is not tempestuous enough. The famous declarations- "I AM Heathcliff", "I cannot live without my soul"- are spoken quietly and demurely.

Others have mentioned Binoche's excessive giggling, which doesn't convince me that she's seventeen but rather that she's under the influence. The criticisms of her accent is unfair; she has a clear French twang but it's hardly up there in the Hall of Bad Movie Accents. Fiennes' Yorkshire accent is far worse, sounding as if he'd learnt it through watching Postman Pat episodes. His initial niceness is overdone; Heathcliff is a gentle nature-loving soul who we cannot imagine why anyone would be so mean as to beat him as his adoptive brother Hindley (Jeremy Northam) does. Binoche is far too girlish as Cathy, who is essentially a tomboy and whose wild nature makes her identify with Heathcliff.

Things only really get going when Heathcliff returns, allowing Fiennes to drop the awful accent. Kosminsky keeps the novel's framed narrative, with tenant Mr Lockwood arriving at Wuthering Heights and meeting Heathcliff and Cathy II, who he mistakes to be Heathcliff's wife. If you are unfamiliar with the novel, it may be best to locate a family tree as a handy guide. Don't worry though; Emily Bronte meant the family tree to be messy and confusing. That is why I think the double-roling of Binoche as mother and daughter works. It shows how Heathcliff sees Cathy everywhere and adds a perverse sexual tension as well. Binoche is much better as the daughter and Fiennes is stronger as older Heathcliff.

One of the good things about the adaptation is its fidelity to the novel. Using much of the novel's original dialogue, we get a truer picture of Heathcliff's cruelty. It is hard to argue that Heathcliff isn't really that bad when he beats his wife, calls her an 'abject thing' and says she 'degenerates into a mere slut'. Fiennes refreshingly doesn't try to make Heathcliff sympathetic or gloss over his actions; rather he plays a torturer who is tired of tormenting yet unable to stop himself. Heathcliff could have left the second generation alone but instead he punishes them and plays with them like chess pieces.

Whilst I do like the perversely seductive evil of Fiennes' interpretation (his performance here is what got him the role of Amon Goth in Schindler's List), like Olivier he is a little too refined to play early Heathcliff. We can never really buy him as savage; in the book, he is characterised almost like a creature rather than a human. This is why to an extent readers pity him. However Fiennes' Heathcliff is suavely evil.

The inclusion of the second half of the novel is really what recommends this film and why fans of the novel should put it top of their list of adaptations to see. Bronte did not include the main characters' children to be cute or to drag out the story. It gives the story more impact, making the film a saga of one man's bitterness rather than a doomed love story. The film keeps the wonderfully atmospheric ending of the novel and shows through the second generation that the conflict may be resolved and that the things dividing Cathy and Heathcliff will not divide this second generation. Other film adaptations ignore this small ray of optimism and hence the novel is remembered as a big misery fest. First timers to the story may find themselves lost; Wuthering Heights is an odd tale even in the generic film adaptations. The relevance of the second half may not be instantly apparent to them and will certainly be confusing if they come to it with preconceptions of the story. However a re-watch brings new subtleties and nuances that aren't present in the other film adaptations (bar elements of the dreadfully dull 2011 version).

Ironically in order to see the true nature of the story, you have to watch two flawed films (1992 and 2011). One day someone will get it right- hopefully the 1992 film has opened up doors for future films to tackle both generations.
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I can't believe how awful this is
7 October 2014
I was sceptical about whether we really needed an X Files film ten years after the first film and six years after the series had ended. As it turns out, we didn't.

For the uninitiated, The X Files was a cultural phenomenon. Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovney) and Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) investigate cases categorised within this category; a category full of the supernatural and unexplained phenomena, that the American government are running a conspiracy to conceal and deny the existence of the paranormal. At the heart of the show was the relationship between Mulder and Scully; they were two young professionals with very different beliefs. Contrary to gender stereotypes, Mulder is the sensitive romanticist and Scully is the sceptical scientist. Even better, none of the characters ever questioned them on breaking the gender stereotypes.

Even though this is a standalone film, you really need some familiarity with the show beforehand- although even X-Files fans would find the unrelenting grimness of the film depressing. The central character is the standard X Files psychic lunatic, except this time he's a paedophile priest (Billy Connolly). A pretty lazy choice of characterisation; the other religious character is the priest that runs the hospital that Scully works at (having left the FBI), and he's a pretty awful guy too. Whlst many X Files episodes were critical of religion, this feels crude and simplistic.

Because we might not want to spend just under two hours in the company of a psychic paedophilic priest (who doesn't love that alliteration), we have a dying child, some organ harvesting, a missing agent and some animal testing. All of which link together, as the film ploddingly demonstrates, with a backdrop of snow. Lots of very cold snow.

Writer and creator of The X Files Chris Carter directs for the first and hopefully the last time. As well as the plodding pace, there is the excruciating treatment of Mulder and Scully's relationship. True to form, it is still hard to classify, but it becomes downright confusing in the film. It kind of looks like they are live-in partners but also seems like they are friends with benefits. Either way, there's no sexual tension; just some hideous lovey-doveyness: "Your stubbornness is why I fell in love with you". In the TV series, the core of their relationship was a mutual respect for each other as professionals and intellectuals, but now they've just 'got together' and they're like any other couple- except worse. The film does give hints that they can't be properly wife and husband but it seems unconvincing, seeing as their chemistry is one of wife and husband. Scully even complains that Mulder's beard (yes, he has a beard!) is tickly when he kisses her. Pass me that bucket, would you? The acting is a bit flat; it seems more like Duchovney and Anderson did the film as a sort of friendly reunion as actors, and they act that way throughout. Because they'd played the roles for so long, they're too comfortable and familiar. I guess the restriction of a fairly short running time means that they can't create a subtle relationship in the way they could with a long-running TV series, and maybe it's foolish to believe that their relationship wouldn't have evolved. After all, the characters must be in their forties and time has passed. But I just don't believe that it would have evolved into something so sickly and predictable. The writers even throw the believability of the old married couple out the window when Mulder and Scully still refer to themselves by surname, even though they are in some sort of relationship. Even in the TV series, they were on first name terms when they wanted to be tender towards each other.

This is just such an awful movie and perversion of a TV series that it makes Doctor Who: The Movie seem like a classic for the ages.
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A rare misfire
3 August 2014
With three series, a Christmas special and the original radio series, we were already spoilt for choice. To make any film was unnecessary, let alone make one as awful as this, where it feels like the actors are just going through the motions in order to please an audience.

The concept is that the inhabitants of Royston Vasey realise that they are fictional characters and so they track down real writers Mark Gatiss, Jeremy Dyson, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton (playing themselves apart from non-actor Jeremy Dyson who is played by Michael Sheen). Despite the marketing material promising Tubbs and Edward (seemingly come back from the dead), we get a brief cameo. Other iconic characters such as Papa Lazarou and Pauline also receive this treatment. It's nice to see Bernice back but again, she doesn't get a lot of screen-time.

So, contrary to the poster, the three lead characters are bitter businessman Geoff (Reece Shearsmith), murderous butcher Hilary (Mark Gatiss) and malapropic pervert Herr Lipp (Steve Pemberton). On the surface, you can see why they were chosen; no one could argue that Hilary and Lipp aren't examples of surreal dark humour, even if Geoff feels like a bit of an odd inclusion in that case. But these aren't characters we want to spend very long with. They make us laugh uncomfortably but because they only briefly appear, we feel safe. To give them leading roles therefore- particularly when in one scene Lipp is looking after the children of 'Steve Pemberton'- makes us want to turn off. We don't want to see the cuddly side of Herr Lipp; it's like having the Teletubbies swear. Lipp did have some pathos as a character, as we saw in the Christmas Special, but this was because he was a pathetic slave to his desires and we had the relief of Shearsmith playing the teenager Lipp lusts for. The fact that he was a paedophile was neevr questioned so why has he suddenly converted into an angel?

Whilst it is nice to see the secondary characters get their chance to 'shine',casual viewers (and I suspect most fans) want to see the iconic characters. For me, The League of Gentlemen works best when the characters are in pairs or trios, as the chemistry of the actors is what really makes the show. I understand that they didn't want to put all their eggs in one basket, as the only main sketches where all three are used are the Denton family and Pauline/Mickey/Ross, and that being able to break away from the 'sketch show' format meant that we could see inhabitants who never encountered each other being forced to 'work together'. However the choice of characters doesn't really work; Hilary works within his secret club of 'special stuff' addicts and Lipp works with his gaggle of boys. Geoff does work outside of his workmates Brian and Mike, as we see in one of the better episodes of Series 3, but he's not very likable.

Unlikeability runs throughout. The personas that Shearsmith, Gatiss and Pemberton choose to play as the writers are self-centred money-grabbing writers. This only serves to alienate the audience as they watch a film with the underlying fear that the whole film really is a cynical cash-in. and without wishing to be rude, seeing the writers breaks the illusion that Royston Vasey's inhabitants are different individuals.

Some of the positive reviewers have argued that the film shows the depth of TLOG and that people simply wanted their favourite characters and a load of catchphrases. That may be true of Series Three, which manages to show the humanity of the monsters in a cruelly funny way. But the 'depth' that the film gives is a false one, adding extra layers that mean nothing.

In a rather odd interlude between Royston Vasey and London, we get a fictional seventeenth century comedy horror film that is the writers fictional new project. Geoff gets stuck in this film for a bit and it feels as if this section is simply stuck in to bulk out the thin and hard-to-work premise and to tick off the horror allusions that TLOG like to put in. Uncharacteristically for TLOG, it's just not funny.

Perhaps the weak comedy is because the writers were under pressure to make a 'comedy film'; a diverting amusement that we see because we crave the familiarity of our favourite comedy show. However TLOG used various types of humour: surreal, dark, cruel, satire, gross-out. The film can't decide what type of humour to go for so the writers plump for the eternal crowd-pleaser: toilet humour. this does provide some humorous lines, such as the iconic 'brown fish', but this jars with the metafictional clever-cleverness and the tacked-on pathos. At times it feels as if the whole thing is just toilet humour- quite literally when a singing toilet appears at one point. Of course, this gross element was always part of the show but it was more occasional and its satirical aspect justified its presence.

If you want to see a LOG film, the Christmas Special is the best example. This film feels like somebody else's version of TLOG, as if somebody who'd watched one episode was explaining the humour to their friend. As fans know, the real nature and charms of TLOG are inexplicable.
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What happens when you hold all the cards?
14 July 2014
Almost twenty-five years on, House of Cards stands up well today. Thatcher has just left the government (which coincidentally happened just after episode 1 was screened) and likable if bland Henry Collingridge (David Lyon) has won the coveted Prime Minister job. Waiting in the wings is Chief Whip (the person who informs all the MP's of the party's policy and what vote they should cast on key issues) Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson). Though Urquhart seems old-fashioned and mild-mannered, like Iago he follows his master to serve his turn upon him. But Urquhart holds all the cards, knowing everything and everyone. He plots his ascent to the Prime Minister.

Although it looks a bit stuffy and dated, this is thrilling stuff. The two-facedness of politics rings true today, as does the scandal (for example, one MP claims expenses for his coke habit). As others have noted, it has a Shakespearean tone to it. Urquhart is a modern day Richard III.

The parallel is reflected in the affair Urquhart embarks on with ambitious young journalist/modern-day Lady Anne Mattie Storin (Susannah Harker, immediately recognisable to Pride and Prejudice fans as Jane Bennett). Mattie yearns to know what's going on behind closed doors and Urquhart realises that it would be handy to have a journalist on board. They begin a partnership that soon turns into...well, a partnership. The audience collectively gasp in horror at Mattie's fetish for him (as with Richard III, Urquhart is relatively unbothered by her- though even he is shocked at Mattie's overt Electra complex).

Mattie may seem terribly weak to modern viewers as she repeatedly fails to see Urquhart's involvement in the scandals but she is blinded by her love of power. Urquhart fulfils both her fetish and desire for power. Also, as an intelligent man who would probably do a good job of ruling the country if he wasn't such a snake-in-the-grass, Mattie sees him as the last bit of hope for the government. It's a tough role but Harker bravely takes it on, showing Mattie as both strong and naive. Such complexities are what make interesting female characters.

Of course as the actor with the plum role, Richardson is the star. He craftily does Shakespearean asides to the audience, which draws us into his scheming. Without these little winks, it just becomes the tale of a very unpleasant man. Richardson brings out the seductive appeal of Urquhart; an unlikely seductive figure as he looks about sixty and how we expect 'old boy' politicians to look. What is perversely seductive about Urquhart is his amorality and his power. Mattie is a necessary character because she serves to emphasise the aphrodisiacal nature of power. Though the male characters don't see it quite as an aphrodisiac, they let their guard down around it.

I have not watched the U.S House of Cards yet but the original is the perfect length: four sixty-minute episodes. It's long enough for us to get a taste of Urquhart's evil without having to explain anything. Of course, with any show that relies upon evil plotting, suspension of disbelief is required. Richardson's ability to play Urquhart as 'normal' with an insidious desire for evil makes him more plausible than playing Urquhart as being Mr Lovely to the outside world and Mr Villain to the audience. We can believe such vile people exist in the government, confirming our distrust of politics.

Where I worry about the U.S version is in its length. The longer you show us an evil figure, the more you have to explain things. We can enjoy four hours of someone being vile and despicable but to spend thirteen hours in their company, there's going to need to be a reason why they're like this. As soon as you start getting into character background, you remove the mystery- hence why at the end of Othello, Shakesspeare chooses to have Iago refuse to say another word (and keep to his promise) once he is confronted about his crimes.

House of Cards is a pacy political thriller that feels like a sneaky backstage look into parliament and its workings. There's enough politics for it to be believable but not so much that it overwhelms the viewer. Mainly this is a tale of power and why people are so enthralled by it.
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The Sea (2013)
Oh, I don't like to be beside the seaside...
8 June 2014
The Sea is comprised of three different threads, each thread containing respected British actors. In the modern day we have art historian Max Morden (Ciarin Hinds), a gloomy middle-aged Irishman who is predictably an alcoholic widower. He's visiting the place where he used to holiday as a child. It's run by poised landlady and mystery woman Miss Vavasour (Charlotte Rampling). In the recent past, there is Max's tending after his wife who is dying of cancer (Sinead Cusack). And in the very past (the 1970s) we see twelve-year-old Max's holiday romance and the wealthy family he spends his time with, the eccentric patriarch Carlo (Rufus Sewell) and his yummy mummy wife Connie (Natasha McElhone), who gets the young boy's hormones stirring.

From the looks of the cinematography, you'd think that this was a Chekhovian tragedy. The present is shot in horrible blue and grey tones, both reflecting and emphasising the dullness of the events. Hinds' portrayal of Max (Matthew Dillon) is unsympathetic; he comes across as a gloomy old bore, dragging down the narrative. Sure, a suicidal protagonist isn't going to be cheery but Colin Firth pulls it off nicely in A Single Man, showing a man who is clearly lonely and consumed by grief but doesn't wallow in his own misery.

Equally as boring is the flashbacks to his wife, which serve to make the whole affair even more gloomy and weepy. It's completely unnecessary to show his wife and it slows down the only narrative which actually has some potential: Max's boyhood.

These days were happy days so everything is artificially sunny. Dillon does a good job as the charming boy with a crush and Missy Keating as the family's daughter, is cruel and flirtatious. The film nicely shows Max's budding sexual desires without being coy or tasteless. Another nice touch is how the affairs of Carlo and Connie are seen through the boy's eyes. He can only partially comprehend them; actually with Connie's he can barely comprehend it, so we only get a glimpse. The parents are written as charicaturish bohemians, particularly Carlo, so whilst Rufus Sewell doesn't really add any deeper layers, he is not entirely to blame for his performance.

I don't know why the duller modern story is made to take precedence over the much more interesting (if perhaps well-trodden ground) past. None of the narratives really string together; there's a sense of faux-mystery throughout, with the underlying sense that the constant meandering and 'leisurely' pace won't come together into anything satisfying. The end 'twist' is not really a surprise; the surprise is that it is presented as a surprise. And the conclusion of the childhood narrative comes out of nowhere and has no apparent motivation.

Lack of motivation is present in all of the characters; a fault of John Banville's screenplay. He is adapting his own novel so it's odd that the writing should be so weak. It feels as if he copy-pasted the small percentage of dialogue in his novel and left it at that, without translating the prose into cinematic terms. Relationships aren't fleshed out; nothing is mined beyond the surface. We are told that Max is writing a book on Pierre Bonhard but we never see anything relating to that so the detail feels pointless. Max's daughter wanders in pointlessly to tell her dad to stop being gloomy and alcoholic; not that he's going to listen to that.

This is really a melodramatic weepy masquerading as an art film about grief and memory. If you're searching for the latter, try A Single Man; try Atonement if you're looking for an exploration of sexuality through a child's eyes. Brideshead Revisited (the TV series; avoid the film) is a great story of an individual being lured by an eccentric and luxurious family. Summer Interlude is a charming and poetic study of idyllic childhood shattered by tragedy. These are only a handful of films similar to The Sea and yet superior.
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The Upper Hand (1990–1996)
Weak sitcom; cute comic drama
7 May 2014
Sometimes we Brits steal America's shows.

This is based on US show Who's The Boss? I say 'based'; translated is more like it, as the first episodes are identical in their script. The premise is interesting: career woman Caroline Wheatley (Diane Weston) is looking for a housekeeper. Unbeknown to her, her mother Laura (Honor Blackman) has promised the job to ex-footballer Charlie (Joe McGann, brother of Paul/Stephen/Mark McGann). Though Caroline is a bit unsettled at having a bloke in the house, he and his chip-off-the-block daughter Joanna (Kellie Bright) move in.

As a sitcom, it's a bit 'gentle' and laboured; sleepy Sunday type of TV, which is probably why it's being repeated on ITV 3. It works a lot better as a comic drama about alternative family structures and gender role reversals. Refreshingly (although I haven't watched every episode so don't know if this evolves) neither the characters of Caroline or Charlie are made to sacrifice their personalities. Caroline is a career woman who couldn't care less about domesticity and Charlie is house-proud without being portrayed as effeminate.

We know from the start that Caroline and Charlie will get together but it's like in Ugly Betty. It's the audience's pay-off. However there's no sizzling sexual chemistry. That may disappoint some viewers but I actually prefer it. The sitcom is about families and whilst I'm not disputing the right of parents to have a sex life (which Caroline and Charlie attempt to have else where), it would imply that the combined family was as a result, an afterthought, whereas it's actually the romance that's the afterthought.

There isn't really a 'will they, won't they?', it's a question of 'when will they?'. But even then, the appeal is that the families just accept their unconventional structure; indeed, they pretty soon become one family.

Whilst I wouldn't watch it for laughs, it's a nice undemanding bit of comfort TV. Second Chances was also on around about this time; it has a similar theme of families evolving/combining and a similar gentle tone. Interestingly the opposite of other nineties sitcoms such as Game On and Men Behaving Badly, which explored lad culture.
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Death of The Weston World
15 March 2014
August: Osage County is the stuff of Classic American Drama- a coming together of a dysfunctional family breaking apart, acting as a metaphor for America itself. The metaphorical aspects come through more strongly in the play that this film is an adaptation of but as a Tennessee Williams type of melodrama, it works a treat.

Patriach of the Weston family (presumably a play on 'Western') Beverly (Sam Shepard, whose plays are not dissimilar to this one) goes missing. Bit by bit the Weston family gather together: eldest Barbara (Julia Roberts), whose husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) has a taste for the younger woman (i.e. his students); middle daughter Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) who seems weak but has more than a few secrets and youngest daughter Karen (Juliette Lewis) and her good-for-nothing fiancé Steve (Dermot Mulroney). These are Violet's (Meryl Streep) children; Violet spews vitriolic abuse at everyone and pops pills to numb the pain of her ironic mouth cancer. Oh, and there's Barbara and Bill's son, precocious Jean (Abigail Breslin), Violet's motherly sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martendale), her husband Charlie (Chris Cooper) and their slow-witted son Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch). Oh, and Violet's maid, Native American Joanna (Misty Upham). But that's it for the cast- promise.

So as you can see, there's a lot of characters and stories to get your head around but I'm a sucker for a big old family brawl. The attitude cinema has towards theatre is to get a load of big name actors, throw them together in a view and watch them tear each other apart. Luckily it works, as each actor gives a great performance. Streep manages to make her character slightly more than a grotesque and Roberts does a good job as the strong-willed eldest daughter, but I actually enjoyed the secondary performances a bit more- in particular Cumberbatch, who plays completely against type to great effect, and Nicholsen. They are the innocents of the piece, although they won't escape punishment. Reviewers say that Cumberbatch was miscast; he was odd casting certainly but I think it works. The whole point is that Little Charles doesn't fit into the family; he's barely acknowledged. This is the crux of his character, that he isn't accepted in the way that the other family members are.I think Dermot Mulroney is a bit miscast as the sleazy Steve; he is in the same predicament as Ewan McGregor. They don't do a bad job of it but it could be any actor playing the role. Perhaps this is because they don't get enough screen time. Actually, McGregor is kind of like how I imagined Bill reading the play but I think Mulroney is too good-looking. He doesn't really look like your average fifty-year-old and it takes away some of the power of his 'big' scene, which is sanitised anyway. Breslin is believable as precocious teen Jean; a minor character but an important one, as it forces Barbara to compare herself to her mother. At what generation will this dysfunction breed out? This is why I enjoyed the film so much; it shows how family wounds last through different generations. Luckily Ivy and Karen are childless and Barbara has only one daughter, suggesting that they can at least avoid some of this pain, but still, there are fresh wounds opened that won't die for another few generations yet.

There isn't a plot as such; it's more about the disintegration of the family and their secrets. The play is a bit of an epic in the style of Eugene O'Neill,about three hours long. The film comes in at 130 minutes. The effect of the drastic cut is that there is so much story, which is good because it's entertaining but it also makes things seem rushed and it could be confusing for those who don't know the play. To be fair, it's quite a while since I read the play but I recall Bill, Steve and Joanna having much more of a presence. Some plot threads aren't given a lot of room yet they are linked into the story so can't be neatly removed. If this play and film had been made in the fifties, it would have been a prestige picture and would have been allowed its long running time but unfortunately only tedious action/fantasy films are allowed to be almost three hours. We are no longer interested in human emotions and drama apparently.

The dialogue zings, which is one of the reasons why filmmakers bother adapting plays. Tracy Letts' screenplay, based (quite accurately) on his play is vitriolic and violent but also terribly funny. Characters are bitchy and bitter but not without reason. Also, there are some great twists and shock-horror moments, leading people in the cinema to gasp audibly, as if they were watching at home! Ultimately, I think the film is strong and well-acted. It loses a little in its translation to film but not as much as you would think, and it serves as a reminder of the brilliant source play.
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She's Not Bad
7 February 2014
For all the people complaining that Rachel Leigh Cook is pretty anyway, that's the whole point. Zach does not change Laney; she was always pretty but just didn't give herself the chance. This isn't a film about turning an ugly girl into a pretty girl; rather a film about putting yourself out there and allowing yourself to be pretty. To pick an unattractive actress to transform would send out the message that the only way you will ever be accepted is if you tart yourself up.

The premise is quite thin and perhaps a more severe transformation would have been more entertaining but Freddie Prince Junior, as Zach, the jock who makes a bet that he can't transform the geekiest girl in the school Laney (Rachel Leigh Cook) into prom queen is charismatic and has nice chemistry with Cook. There are also some entertaining minor characters, such as Zach's sister (played by Anna Paquin) and Laney's brother.

There is one gross-out scene that feels a little out of place in what is quite a gentle story about coming out from your shell; I wouldn't really describe this as a rom-com. Still, it's a good film to watch on a Friday night with a couple of friends, and it has some good morals.
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Doctor Who: The Night of the Doctor (2013)
Season Unknown, Episode Unknown
"I'm a doctor...but probably not the one you were expecting"
22 December 2013
For the reviewer who said that the webisode would be incomprehensible to modern fans, I'm not even a fan and I found it comprehensible. All you really need to know to appreciate it is that Paul McGann was the Eighth Doctor but only appeared in a TV Movie back in 1996.

Because it's been seventeen years, he's made enough of a physical change for him to look as if he's been hardened or wisened by events. McGann gets a much better change to acquit himself and remind everybody that he's a very good actor. Far from being the chirpy boy in the TVM, the Eighth Doctor is now world weary. He's still chivalrous but his dashing charms fail to win over space fighter Cass (Emma Campbell Jones).

Seven minutes is barely enough time to establish anything and yet this is still a poignant webisode. The Doctor is known for being a good and trustworthy figure so it's a surprise when we meet someone with a reasonable distrust of him. The whole thing is much darker and whilst there is humour (McGann's opening lines being the best), it's more serious and more interesting than the main series. To use another fifty-year-old series as an analogy, McGann graduates from being a George Lazenby to Timothy Dalton.

The whole thing sent me running to the TVM and Big Finish audios. Though it might be made more for the purpose of filling in blanks and slotting Hurt's Doctor into the canon, it's a terrifically tantalising glimpse of what could have been.
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The Rainbow (1989)
"But I want some other kind of life..."
18 December 2013
Despite the film's many flaws- it is loosely based on only a section of DH Lawrence's Northern saga, the lead actress is fairly wooden and the style of the film screams eighties cheese- I think it's a great little film. It's one of those few films that not simply inspire you to follow your dreams but actually insists that you do so, whether those dreams come to fruition or not.

It's set in a mining town in the 1910's. Ursula Brangwen (Sammi Davis- no, not THAT one) is a rebellious teenager and persistent dreamer, constantly striving for 'the rainbow' that symbolises fulfilment. She pursues it in two different ways; one through trying to gain work as a schoolteacher, thereby becoming financially independent, and because this is DH Lawrence directed by Ken Russell, sexual fulfilment.

Though she shares a naughty kiss in the local church with family friend and dashing soldier Anton Skrebensky (Paul McGann), it is Ursula's female swimming instructor Winifred Inger (Amanda Donohoe) that gives her her first sexual experience. Ursula is devoted to her but Inger's experience outweighs Ursula's innocence. There is nudity here but no big love scene. It's actually fairly restrained for Russell, and for once it actually feels appropriate for the film.

Ursula moves back to sexy soldier Skrebensky (try saying that out loud) and experiences true Freudian bliss against a tree with a gushing waterfall behind it. Now that's more like Russell, isn't it? It's not pornographic but it's a bit raunchier than Colin Firth's wet shirt. Perhaps not the best viewing for teatime with the family. Still, Paul McGann is a suitable substitute for eye candy; it's very much a film for the women.

The love scenes are shot in an interesting way. Ursula never seems to fully connect as part of the couple- or if she does, the camera doesn't care. The focus is on Ursula's reactions so Russell uses techniques like jump cuts- although this makes one love scene unintentionally hilarious.

Acting-wise, I'm glad that they didn't cast a star. Yes, Davis was not going to be the next Elizabeth Taylor but her inexperience works perfectly for the film. Ursula has not fully worked out her character yet but only that she has a drive to do something different with her life and make more of herself. Because the film is very condensed, the actors have less to work with, which is why Donohoe's character comes off more as a type. Still, I think she conveys an interesting image of a very masculine woman. McGann is a brilliant actor and despite being the obvious eye candy (indeed,a shot of Skrebensky and Ursula by the waterfall graces the film's poster), he manages to show that Skrebensky is also a slave to convention. As Ursula tells him, "I'd rather be swept off my feet by a half-naked robber than a soldier defending my honour". Sassy! Yes, it's not perfect but I think that it's well worth a watch. This is period drama that has genuine relevance to modern life and modern concerns, and is a great coming-of-age story with a brave and life-inspiring message.
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An erotic thriller and morality tale
12 October 2013
Warning: Spoilers

The film has one of the best premises of any film: would you sleep with a stranger for a million dollars? We've all jokily posited the dilemma, with some people answering 'yes' with more than a hint of bravado and most people emphatically taking the moral high ground by answering 'no'. But what if you were broke and the stranger was Robert Redford?

The film starts off brilliantly, with the suspense of an erotic thriller turned up to the maximum as we anticipate the moment where Redford will make the offer and everyone's lives will be changed. Underneath all that glossy porn, director Adrian Lyne also makes some social commentary, believe it or not. Money and wealth is given an erotic charge as Demi Moore's character Diana lusts after a gorgeous black dress. It's way out of her price range and symbolises the wealthy lifestyle that she secretly desires. Most viewers at one time or another will have yearned after an object with a price tag they can never afford, not so much because of the object itself but of what it symbolises. You imagine that this object- a symbol of wealth- will make you more attractive, more confident, more authoritative. This is a universal truth that every advertiser plays on and indeed Hollywood plays on.

The climax of this exploration of money as sex is when Diana and John (Woody Harrelson) have just won £10,000 at a casino. They throw the notes onto the bed and then themselves. Each glossily voyeuristic shot of the couple unites their sex with the money, as the notes press against backs, thighs, etc. But this is of course small change compared to what Robert Redford's character, handsome billionaire John Gage, is offering.

Reviewers who argue that the film would be more credible if the filmmakers had picked someone more unattractive are completely missing the point. Gage is the embodiment of the erotic lure of wealth. If he was hideous, the million dollars would look much less alluring and it would simply become a question of how far someone would go to pay the bills. An unattractive billionaire would also be much less of a threat; Diana would simply do the deed, get out of there and live a life of wealth with John. If she did choose to stay with the ugly billionaire, the film would just become a tale about an unpleasant person who betrays her loving husband for money.

The extra tension is that David feels sexually threatened by Gage. As he walks past a television shop, he imagines that the screens are showing his wife at it with Gage. So as well as the theme of the sexualisation of money, you also have questions of masculinity. What makes a man a man? (no giggling at the back please) Inevitably the film slows a little in the second half once the decision is made. It shifts gears so the question changes from "Would you sleep with a stranger for a million dollars?" to "In a loving marriage, would you be able to/should you forgive a betrayal?". This too is an interesting question, though less entertaining.

Lyne makes the ending very moral and conventional, upholding the sacred vows of marriage by Diana repenting and John forgiving. However there is a degree of ambiguity as what wins Diana over is a romantic gesture enabled by wealth. Some might see it as signifying that personal history will triumph over money, but without the money required to make the gesture, would Diana have gone back to John?

I would normally rate it 6 or 7 as I feel that the initial theme of the sexual power of money could have been explored more deeply, and that the ending is a bit weak. However the IMDb score is too low for what is a piece of glossy entertainment that touches on provocative issues. Maybe the film raises an uncomfortable question that we'd rather repress: is there a price at which we can all be bought? More specifically, what price can you be bought at?
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Count Arthur Strong (2013–2017)
Should have stayed on radio
6 August 2013
Close your eyes and you can imagine that this could possibly be conceived as funny on the radio. Radio comedy thrives off stereotypes- take for example the brilliant Cabin Pressure: smooth mature man, bumbling son, haranguing older woman and lovable loser. All clearly distinctive characters and all terribly funny.

However, the style is too broad for TV and I can imagine that even the genius Cabin Pressure would suffer there. Steve Delaney's ridiculously broad acting simply doesn't work. I'm not a particular fan of Miranda but it just about works in that all the characters are a little broad. It also doesn't help that the character is meant to be perceived as unfunny by everyone. Of course, this is all part of the joke but it's hard to make unfunny things funny.

Count Arthur Strong is a very gentle sitcom. Old Aunt Edna will not be offended in the slightest. I don't mind that there's an antidote to the ubiquitous swearing that passes for comedy nowadays, but it's all just a bit strained. It clearly wants to be like The Two Ronnies and other seventies sitcoms but the style just doesn't work in the modern day. If we wanted seventies-style comedies, we'd watch comedies from the seventies. The best comedy is based on truth- even if it's a surreal comedy. Count Arthur Strong does manage to scrape some credibility back, such as the ending of episode 5, which actually had a nice amount of pathos. It's these moments of pathos that make you hope that what is intended to pass for comedy will finally become comic.

As for the other characters, this is very much the Count Arthur show, despite the show being when he is not there. Rory Kinnear is excellent as biographer Michael, the disappointing son of a successful comedian, but the other characters are even thinner than cardboard cutouts.

Hopefully it will turn itself around with the last episode but I doubt it. Despite the name, Count Arthur Strong is rather weak.
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Old-fashioned Hardy weepie
14 May 2013
There's something beautifully quaint about this film, based on a Thomas Hardy novel. It was made in 1997 but there's none of the sexing-up you'd expect in a modern film.

The Woodlanders are the inhabitants of a small village. Country folk Grace Melbury (Emily Woof) and Giles Winterborne (Rufus Sewell) were childhood sweethearts but when Grace comes back from boarding school, she finds herself unable to mix with Giles and the other villagers. Her father (Tony Haygarth) encourages her to marry new doctor Eldred Fitzpiers (Cal Macaninch) who is more befitting of her new educated self. However Fitzpiers cannot cope with mixing with the woodlanders, and Grace's heart pangs for Giles once more.

There are two things Thomas Hardy is famous for: gloomy fate and Wessex, a fictional version of South West England. The third thing that he should be famous for is romance. The film is achingly romantic as everybody pines for the person that they cannot have. There's a secondary character who is also in love with Giles- odd reclusive Marty South (Jodhi May), who shares Giles' passion for nature. I would like to have seen more of her character but maybe that would just add to the aching tragedy of it all.

Apart from the tragic finale, the gloomiest moment has to be when Giles' house gets demolished and Mrs Charmond (Polly Walker), a wealthy patient with her eye on Fitzpiers, complains that his house is blocking the road- cue a shot of a rotting pile of wood.

In a sense, the film is a bit like Marty South: odd, obscure, slow and innocent. The slow pace works in a sense as you soak up all the beautiful cinematography and the gorgeously tragic score. Characters never have massive rages of passion- in that sense, it's a little bit like Chekhov. Life, miserable as it is, goes on.

All of the characters are sympathetic, even Dr Fitzpiers. Macaninch's performance is enigmatic: on one hand, Fitzpiers is a cruel and adulterous snob; on the other, he's a man of science who just doesn't understand the old-fashioned ways of the country people. Grace's father does her the most harm, forcing her to better herself because of his own feelings of inferiority, and yet Haygarth gives a warm and touching performance.

As the leads, Woof is adorably childlike as Grace and Sewell makes for a nice simple countryman. The film- I don't know the novel- is all about simplicity and innocence. The world of sexual desire is not present here, making the intrusion of Mrs Charmond all the more unpleasant. Her garish red dress is completely out of place in the charming pastel attire of the villagers and one longs for her and Fitzpiers to leave so we can hang forever in that wonderful idyll.

My criticism would be that they could have fitted more in. The film seems to touch on the novel rather than portray it, and maybe a more conventional dramatic pace might have helped there. Maybe more probing of the social issues would have been good- really, just more of everything.

This is definitely a Sunday afternoon film- a slow languid weepy, just like the good old days, that you can watch with anyone of any age. But to be honest, it's the perfect film to watch on your own as you allow it to wash over you.
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Deserves a much higher IMDb rating
27 February 2013
Maybe it's the fact that the film's very British and very eighties but how can this possibly score 6.9 whereas tripe like Good Will Hunting gets 8? Sometimes I despair at the reviewers on here.

Anyway, back to the film. Omar (Gordon Warnecke) is a young Asian guy who goes to work for his Thatcherite uncle (Saeed Jaffrey). His ambition is to renovate his uncle's run-down laundrette. He gets in his white mate Johnny (Daniel Day Lewis) to give him a hand and the two guys fall in love.

My Beautiful Laundrette completely encapsulates the zeitgeist of 1980's Britain, tackling everything from racial tension, immigration, generation differences, class differences, Thatcherism and homosexuality. I say 'tackle'- it's presented but the viewer is allowed to make their own minds up. This is primarily a coming-of-age film and on that level it can appeal to everyone.

As for the arguments that you can only like this film if you fit into one of the criteria portrayed here or the period it was set in, they're completely ridiculous. So, we can only like Schindler's List if we're a Nazi or a Jew and were alive in the forties? Come on people. The only criteria I fit in with this film is that I live in Britain- not even London, where the film's set.

What a lot of people dislike about the film is that it portrays a lot of the tensions happening in Britain but it does so on a very human level. No character is just a victim of the state. It's a light romantic comedy that lets us see the violence and racism but doesn't linger, making it more powerful when things do happen.

As for the relationship between Omar and Johnny, it's portrayed very tenderly (and very sexily, though tasteful). What is rare for a 'gay film'- a label given to any film that has gay characters in- is that the characters aren't tortured over their sexuality or punished. It's just portrayed as a normal loving relationship and the two actors- both straight- are very convincing.

Now Daniel Day Lewis has bagged his third Oscar, breaking the record for Best Actor, how does he fare in a very early film in his career? I really enjoyed his performance- you can see there's something about him, even at this age. His facial structure is outstanding- he looks very striking. And there's none of the mannerisms you might expect from an actor destined to do well. He comes across as a fresh talent- which he was.
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