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The Twilight Zone: The Four of Us Are Dying (1960)
Season 1, Episode 13
5/10
One of the worst episodes in the series
14 July 2019
The Twilight Zone was always a bit variable in the quality of the episodes. There were some brilliant episodes, e.g. Walking Distance and Time Enough At Last, but some, while entertaining and interesting were quite predictable in their twist or outcome.

The Four Of Us Are Dying has an interesting premise - a man can alter his face at will - but the writers clearly didn't think too deeply about the implications and other details. So many plot-holes, so many things that just don't make sense. Moreover, the twist and conclusion can be seen a mile off.

Quite disappointing.
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Green Book (2018)
8/10
Great movie: may seem predictable in its destination but it's the journey that matters
13 July 2019
1962. A bigoted Italian-American bouncer, Tony Lip, gets the job of driving Dr Don Shirley, renowned African-American pianist, on his tour across the mid-West and South. The two could not be more different.

I did not have high expectations for this movie. I knew it would be good, but figured it wouldn't cover any new ground. Moreover, it seemed like a reverse Driving Miss Daisy (not that DMD is a bad movie - quite the opposite - but that it had been done before).

I needn't have worried. The outcome is fairly predictable, but that doesn't matter: the getting there is original, interesting, engaging, thought-provoking and great.

Director Peter Farrelly sets the scene well and paces the movie to perfection. The characters of Tony Lip and Don Shirley are well drawn and developed, making for high engagement levels. You can see their views and characters evolve before your eyes, see the events that shape them and how these influence their future actions. There's also a decent smattering of humour to aid the engagement.

Some great social commentary too, especially on racial attitudes of the day and on tolerance in general.

Mahershala Ali got a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Don Shirley, and well deserved the award. Great work too from Viggo Mortensen as Tony Lip, resulting in a Best Actor nomination (he ultimately lost out to Rami Malek for Bohemian Rhapsody).

The movie itself won the 2019 Best Picture Oscar.

Great film.
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Clue (1985)
8/10
Original, interesting and entertaining
7 July 2019
Original, interesting and entertaining movie, based on the Cluedo boardgame. Lively plot, though sometimes too lively as it can be hard to follow at times. Dialogue is very funny at times.

Great performances all round. Tim Curry steals the show (as was intended, I guess) with his effervescent-yet-classy performance. Good support, especially from Lesley Ann Warren.
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Pale Rider (1985)
8/10
Great western
7 July 2019
Great western. Original and entertaining plot, and not just your standard shoot-em-up fare.

Clint Eastwood shows his directing genius, and does his usual strong cold silent-type role to perfection. Good support from Michael Moriarty, Chris Penn and Sydney Penny.

Great cinematography. Perfect setting.
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5/10
Heaps of potential but doesn't deliver on it
7 July 2019
Had the makings of great movie - original and interesting basic plot, one of the greatest directors of all time in John Huston, plus the acting talents of Jack Nicholson, Kathleen Turner and Angelica Huston.

Yet it falls short.

The movie lacks intensity and the script seems disjointed at times. Pacing is off, and the feel of the movie is far from smooth.

Not exactly boring, but could easily have been a lot better.
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Churchill (2003– )
9/10
Great documentary on a great man
7 July 2019
The life of Winston Churchill, one of history's greatest leaders and figures.

Great documentary on a great man. Narrated by Ian McKellen, who gives the series the gravitas it deserves. Includes interviews with many family members and people who worked with Churchill. No empty platitudes from historians, just relevant commentary, warts and all.

Included is some rare archival footage, some from as early as the first decade of the 1900s, and photographs which go back all the way to Churchill's youth.

Of course, the famous speeches are there, especially the ones from the Battle of Britain and WW2 in general. Very stirring, especially when you see Churchill giving the speech, rather than just a disembodied voice.

Highly edifying, even for people who already have a decent knowledge of Churchill's history.

Excellent series.
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6/10
Interesting capture of the Australian experience in Vietnam
6 July 2019
The Vietnam War, as seen from the perspective of a group of Australian soldiers. Members of an elite Special Air Services (SAS) Regiment, their lives are filled with drudgery in camp interspersed with intensity and the possibility of sudden death in combat.

Interesting capture of the Australian experience in Vietnam. Shows well how much of their lives were spent sitting around in camp, waiting for something to happen, followed by intense combat where death could come in many and unexpected forms.

Contains some profound one-liners on the war.

However, errs too much on trying to be amusing, which generally results in some fairly lame jabs. Could have been a lot better than that, an Australian Apocalypse Now / Platoon / Deer Hunter / Full Metal Jacket, but instead falls well short.
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The Queen of Sin (2018 TV Movie)
2/10
Decent production values conceal a Z-grade thriller
5 July 2019
I should have known better. The basic plot summary alone indicated that this wasn't going to go well, but yet I watched this. Initially it went well: a fair amount of intrigue and a slick production made me think this might actually be worth watching.

However, it quickly became apparent that this was your average Z-grade thriller, just dressed up as something better. Plot becomes nonsensical, performances are poor: there's nothing going for this.

Avoid.
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Anima (2019)
7/10
Interesting
4 July 2019
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights, Punch-Drunk Love, The Master) and with music written and performed by Thom Yorke of Radiohead, Anima is hard to describe. Calling it simply a music video is an understatement. It is more than a visual promotion for a song, with the visual aspects have as much, if not more, of a meaning than the music. Besides it's 15 minutes long!

The finished product is interesting and reasonably entertaining. Not brilliant or compelling, but not a bad way to spend 15 minutes.
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Euphoria (2019– )
5/10
Had potential but ultimately more miss than hit
30 June 2019
This series had potential as a gritty yet entertaining updating of the depiction of teens' lives. It's been done before - Skins (the UK version) was particularly good (though only initially: it ran out of steam after about two seasons).

Occasionally the series lives up to its promise, with a few stories that are quite interesting and engaging. However, for the most part it is quite dull and unengaging. The central character - Rue - is the main cause of the problem, coming across as superficial, self-absorbed and pretentious. In fact the whole series feels like that, though it might accurately describe teens' lives (!).

As mentioned, some side-stories are interesting, but these are not enough to make this watchable.
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4/10
Didn't work for me
28 June 2019
I am a huge fan of Martin Scorsese and an admirer of all the main actors - Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder, Richard E Grant - but somehow this didn't work for me.

Maybe I'm just not into period pieces - all those poncy accents and prissy mannerisms - or I just wasn't in the right mood, but I simply found this boring.
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Shine a Light (2008)
8/10
Great concert movie
28 June 2019
Great concert movie. It is amazing to see the Stones have such energy in their performances at their age, and they certainly don't disappoint here. The special guests were great - Jack White, Buddy Guy, even Christina Aguilera, whose music I hate, was excellent. Scorsese's camera angles work perfectly, giving a great vibe to the footage.

Would have been good to get some the behind-the-scenes stuff though, like how the band interact when they're not performing.

Not as good as The Band's "The Last Waltz", the ultimate concert film (and another Scorsese movie), or Talking Heads' "Stop Making Sense", but an excellent movie nonetheless.
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Raging Bull (1980)
9/10
Brilliant
28 June 2019
The story of Jake La Motta, boxer and world middleweight champion.

Brilliant. Directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro, Raging Bull is far from your average boxing movie. Most boxing movies focus on the boxing, showing the main character as a hero and how they get to their inevitable success. Raging Bull on the other hand, while showing La Motta's successful career, doesn't paint him as perfect. Far from it: he is shown warts and all.

Scorsese shows quite well that what made La Motta great in the ring made him less great in his personal life. The intensity and brutality that made La Motta such a good fighter made him a less-than-perfect husband and person.

Who better then to portray an intense, complicated person than Robert De Niro. He gives a superb performance, for which he won his second (and final) Best Actor Oscar. Searingly gritty and intense.
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9/10
Brilliant
28 June 2019
Brilliant documentary on the life of George Harrison. Contains rare footage and many relatively-unknown facts about his life. Assumes a reasonable amount of knowledge of the Beatles and their music, but, then again, the movie is mostly for Beatles/Harrison fans, I would think.

Martin Scorsese shows, once again, that he is master of the rockumentary as well as drama movie (as if we needed any more proof, after The Last Waltz, No Direction Home and Shine a Light). Rather than blandly force-feed you information in piecemeal fashion, there is a thread connecting each episode within the movie. The segues are subtle, but keep the film moving.

Interviews are illuminating, and not always from the most obvious of people. The music is great, and relevant.

Only slight negatives are the length - over 3 hours, but it didn't feel that long at all - and some interviews and incidents could possibly have been left out.
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Cape Fear (1962)
8/10
Great action-thriller
28 June 2019
Great action-thriller. Original, engaging, enthralling plot. Tight, focussed direction, with good pacing - plot flows along.

Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum are excellent in the lead roles.

Martin Scorsese's remake, 29 years later, was almost as good.
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6/10
Had potential but doesn't quite deliver on it
28 June 2019
Directed by Martin Scorsese, a movie with heaps of potential. A great premise, and the first half or so promised much.

Unfortunately, however, it loses focus toward the end, and tries to cover too much.

Overall, still a reasonably good movie though.
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10/10
Dylan gets the Scorsese treatment and it's a fantastic experience
28 June 2019
Directed by Martin Scorsese, a documentary on Bob Dylan's 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue concert tour. Includes interviews with Dylan and many of the other personnel involved, plus footage from the concerts.

Superb. Despite being a fan of both Dylan and Scorsese, I had my doubts as to how interesting this could be. At 142 minutes I had fears it would be a long, dry telling of the concert tour.

I needn't have worried. Scorsese has great form in covering rock 'n roll: The Last Waltz, his film on The Band's last concert, is, for me, the great concert film ever made. 'George Harrison: Living In the Material World' and 'Shine a Light" (a Rolling Stones concert film/documentary) were also great. Here he blends documentary-style and concert film in a wonderful capturing of the great Bob Dylan at his most happy, carefree and entertaining.

Despite being a massive Bob Dylan fan, my impression of Dylan as a live performer was generally not too positive. From attending two of his concerts and seeing footage of his old concerts, his stage presence seemed rather wooden. The Rolling Thunder Revue, however, was different. Here he played to smaller audiences and seemed much more relaxed, friendly and spontaneous. The footage captures this well, with closeups of his face during songs, showing the intensity and creativity of his performance.

Martin Scorsese uses this footage well, editing it perfectly to produce a seamless blend of live footage, behind-the-scenes footage and interviews. This gives a good feel of what it must have been like on the tour, as well as witnessing the performances, plus the personal side (the Joan Baez-Bob Dylan interactions are particularly interesting and emotional, especially if you know their history).

The sheer cumulative creativity and musical ability of the Revue is staggering: Dylan, Baez, Joni Mitchell, Mick Ronson, Allen Ginsburg, Roger McGuinn, T Bone Burnett, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Scarlet Rivera. The hangers-on even include Sharon Stone and Sam Shepherd! There's a wonderful feeling of great artists and musicians just relaxing and doing what they do best.

The 142 minutes just fly by.

A must-see for Dylan fans. For the most benefit from the film, a knowledge of Dylan's work and history is very useful. However, viewers less familiar with his work should still find it interesting. At the very least, the music is superb and that doesn't require any prior knowledge.
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The Expanse (2015– )
9/10
Enthralling series: intelligent, intriguing and action-packed
23 June 2019
(Reviewed after Season 3).

Hundreds of years into the future, Earth has colonised Mars but Mars is now independent, and the two planets are in a constant state of distrust and unease. Caught between these two are the people of the asteroid belt and outer planets. James Holden, the executive officer of a freighter witnesses his ship, being destroyed by what appears to be a Martian warship. This heightens the tensions between Earth and Mars and sets Holden and his remaining crew on a quest across the galaxy to find the truth behind the incident. Meanwhile, on Ceres in the Asteroid Belt, a police detective is searching for the daughter of the wealthiest man in the galaxy. These are all parts of a conspiracy that that will threaten life in the Solar System.

Brilliant. I am not a huge fan of sci fi series (Firefly was the notable exception): they tend to rely too much on gimmicky inventions and faux science, at the expense of plot. The Expanse is different: the science and future history are incredibly believable. I'm no physicist but I found it difficult to fault the physics and technology involved. More than that, the futuristic nature of the series provides the background, not the story, so the series does not rely on it.

What the series does rely is plot, and it is a great one. Starts out pretty slowly, so doesn't immediately pull you in, but after three episodes or so it is off to the races. The seemingly-parallel stories start to intersect, things start to make more sense (though, thankfully, not so much that the mystery disappears), the characters become more interesting and the action ramps up.

The story is then intelligently developed over the next three seasons. Despite the many twists and turns, the plot remains solid, with no twists for twists sake and everything fits together very well. Even when one mystery is solved, another emerges to take its place, without feeling gratuitous.

Quite grittily told too: no characters are unexpendable, making the plot quite unpredictable.

Superb special effects and action scenes. The CGI is absolutely seamless and realistic, without being too ostentatious. Like the science, the CGI is the medium, not the message.

Performances are where the series does feel a bit lacking. The main characters - the crew of the Rocinante - are reasonably well played, though there are no stand-out performances. Some of the lesser characters are quite badly played though, with the worst culprits being Shohreh Aghdashloo as Chrisjen Avasarala and Shawn Doyle as Sadavir Enright. Any scene they were in made me cringe, with Aghdashloo being particularly irritating. She wasn't helped by her character being pretty badly drawn, with the worst dialogue and most grating mannerisms of any character in the series. The two factors - the character and her performance - just compounded each other.

The lack of character depth is a general weakness in the show too. The series is about the intrigue and action, much more than the people and their relationships, making character engagement less than complete (unlike Firefly, which was highly engaging because of the characters and their interactions).

This is a minor flaw though, as the plot and its roller-coaster momentum propel the show.

Superb.
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Shallow Grave (1994)
9/10
Superb
17 June 2019
Three friends in Edinburgh, Scotland, interview and select a new flatmate. He's hardly moved in than they discover him dead in his room. An ethical dilemma ensues when they discover that he possessed a large amount of cash. Things get worse as the men whose money it was search for it, and the three friends start to turn on each other.

Danny Boyle's directorial debut, and it's a great one. Clever, gritty plot with many moral lessons and quandaries. Highly engaging and intriguing: never a dull moment.

Great performances too from people who were unknowns then but are well-known now (one especially so).

Shallow Grave launched the careers of Danny Boyle and Ewan McGregor. Boyle's next film shot them into the stratosphere: the even-more-brilliant Trainspotting.
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Behind the Music: Thin Lizzy (1999)
Season 3, Episode 11
8/10
Good documentary
17 June 2019
The story of 70s Irish rock group, Thin Lizzy. Shows their rise, fame and decline and the life of their lead singer, Phil Lynott.

Good documentary. Reasonably interesting and edifying. The coverage of Phil Lynott's life was particularly poignant.

The post-Phil Lynott coverage was unnecessary though: Thin Lizzy without Phil Lynott is not Thin Lizzy.
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Behind the Music (1997–2014)
8/10
Great series
17 June 2019
A documentary series on the world's most important bands and musicians: their rise, fame, and sometimes, fall.

Great series. Shows the history of just about every major musical artist: their history, their talent, their flaws. Quite edifying and not a little nostalgic.
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DeepStar Six (1989)
5/10
Better than average...for its genre
16 June 2019
OK, and better than your average creature-horror movie. Starts very well - tension gets built well, and the creature remains a mystery for a decent period of time. Once it appears though, things get quite formulaic.

Performances are so-so: Matt McCoy is irritating, and even Miguel Ferrer is unconvincing. Nancy Everhard and Cindy Pickett put in good performances though.
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The Lost World (1999 TV Movie)
7/10
Entertaining
9 June 2019
Early 20th century. A band of scientists and adventurers set out from England for an uncharted area of the Amazon basin. Their aim: to search for and explore a mythical lost world. After their hot air balloon crashes, they become more than observers of the world, they become participants in it.

Based on a novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a highly entertaining film. Non-stop action and adventure.

Hardly Citizen Kane though: plot is pretty basic, character development is minimal. Performances are not brilliant but are convincing enough.

Good fun.
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633 Squadron (1964)
7/10
Entertaining
8 June 2019
633 Squadron of the RAF is tasked with an operation that is vital to the Allied invasion of France. They need to destroy a German base in Norway that is producing fuel for German rockets. It is an incredibly dangerous mission: due to where it is situated, getting to the base will require daring and precise flying and then there's the hordes of anti-aircraft batteries. The Norwegian Resistance are tasked with taking out the AA guns but if anything goes wrong with the plan it will be a suicide mission.

Entertaining. Good action scenes, decent plot, wonderful footage of one of the most beautiful and impressive aircraft of WW2, the De Havilland Mosquito. The sub-plot involving the Norwegian Resistance was interesting too.

Not brilliant though. Some plot developments are not very plausible, the romantic sub-plot was half-baked and unnecessary, character development is token. More a gung ho, action-based war movie than a gritty, realistic one.

Still, very watchable and is never dull.
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The Zulu War (2014)
6/10
Okay, but not great
8 June 2019
A documentary on the Zulu War of 1879. Concentrates mainly on the Battle of Rorke's Drift. Includes a comparison of the actual events of the Battle of Rorke's Drift and the events depicted in the movie Zulu (1964).

Okay, but not great. A pretty low-budget, low-research production. No maps, no re-enactments, just a few historians / military museum curators talking about Rorke's Drift and the Zulu War. Feels like an amateur Youtube video. If you have a half-decent knowledge of the Zulu War of 1879 you won't learn anything new from this, as far as the bigger picture of the war goes.

There are some interesting micro-level details, however, e.g. the British soldiers' uniforms, loading and firing the Martini-Henry rifle, Zulu weapons. The historical artefacts are courtesy of the Stratford Armory, which looks like a fascinating place to visit.

Probably the most interesting part is the comparison of the movie Zulu (1964) with the actual events of the Battle of Rorke's Drift. Shows some of the dramatic licence taken by the writers/director of the movie, but doesn't detract from how good the movie was.
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