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Police Videos (1998–2012)
We deserve better than this
28 June 2008
The car chases are interesting enough, but watch this with the sound down as the worst double act since the Rosenbergs try to whip up righteous hysteria with their preaching. There are a number of shows these two supplement their pensions on - anything with 'Wildest' in the title appears to be their forte.

As if 'Sheriff' (he was a Sheriff for barely 6 months, and un-elected) John Bumhole's cheesy commentary wasn't enough we have C.W Jensen's comments to deal with, mainly over the helicopter footage. Now casting a quick eye over "CW's" Wiki entry, I can find no mention of any duties performed by him on traffic or air duty. But we hear what appears to be his voice seemingly calling out on the radio over every single helicopter chase, from Police Forces coast to coast and border to border.

Now either CW got about a lot more than his c.v. would suggest, or more likely he sits in a Voice Over Booth with a radio distort on his voice, after the event, reading a script. This along with the obvious sound effects of sirens, horns and tyre screeches (often on dirt roads!) add up to a particularly cheap and nasty trick. Not journalism, but entertainment - as far from reality as it gets.

The one saving grace is that from the other comments I can see here, the American audience who are supposed to lap this garbage up aren't fooled for a moment.
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Happy Feet (2006)
Lots of Penguins = 1 big Turkey
21 December 2006
This film didn't seem to know whether it was an 'Ugly Duckling' movie, a rant against religious doctrine, or an eco warning, and it ended up being a mess. It is possible to make a kids movie that adults will also love: 'Cars', 'Finding Nemo' and 'Madagascar' all achieved it brilliantly, but when you throw so many themes so clumsily together it doesn't work. Even Robin Williams couldn't rescue this one.

The animation I have to say was the best yet, but as George Lucas discovered the ability to render individual eyelashes does not a movie make. Avoid it at the cinema, and only if you hate someone will you throw the DVD in their Christmas stocking next year.
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Citizen Smith (1977–1980)
The best thing to come out of Tooting...
11 December 2005
The running gag in this show was that every other character of note had their own name for him. 'Foxie' 'Yeti' 'Smudger' 'Trotsky' & 'Smiffy' with I think, only Ken actually calling him 'Wolfie' Am I right in believing nobody ever called him Walter Henry? I have a memory that he only revealed that as his real name in the penultimate show.

I do remember the original BBC promo for this series. 'Wolfie' was spraying graffiti on a short section of wall while Ken watched. He'd managed to write "THINK AHEA" before running out of wall, and amidst the ironic laughter of the audience began to berate the council for not building a wall long enough…

It set the tone for what followed, although almost immediately the show began to die in instalments as actor after actor left during its four season run. Some, like girlfriend Shirley were merely written out while her screen father, the more central character 'Charlie' was recast twice (if we include the pilot.) I feel though that when Stephen Grief's excellent 'Harry Fenning' was replaced, the show had peaked, perhaps reaching its zenith with "Glorious Day" the third season finale. Yep, it was 'that' episode where they 'liberate' the Scorpion Tank and invade London. I think even die hard aficionados would agree with me that should have been that.

Particularly as season three had some of the most memorable episodes of all, introducing John Tordoff as the hyperbolically bizarre 'Tofkin.' Check out "Don't look down" and "Tofkin's revenge." Quite a few have pointed out the similarities between this series and Sullivan's next effort, the rather better known "Only Fools and Horses" and the similarities are indeed there. Both were set in a triangle of flat, pub and occasional exterior, and it is straightforward to recognise equivalent characters across both series. The malapropism that surrounded Wolfie's name was refined for Rodney, who was consistently called 'Dave' throughout by Trig, and of course there is the Citizen Smith episode that was called "Only Fools and Horses" which seems to round things up.

I actually worked on this series in a minor, functionary role, during 1980. It is one of very few productions I can recall halting during the shoot as the studio crew were laughing so much it was putting the actors off, and this was during the fourth, and I consider poorest season. People were still talking about it for some time after, and quoting gags while Only Fools and Horses struggled to take hold in its early years.

I think the reason that 'Only Fools' prospered and 'Smith' rather withered on the vine was the lack of breadth of story lines and a cast limited in numbers. There are only so many scrapes an Urban Revolutionary can get involved in and with so few lead characters, Sullivan ran out of steam rather early. This series has its moments though and is well worth a look. It had a recent re-run (late 2005) on one of the many BBC/ITV archive satellite channels (in this case UKTV Drama) and should re-appear before long. Until then we have the DVD's to keep us going.

Power to the People!
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Today (1952– )
Better to watch than work on!
27 March 2005
As you can imagine my opportunities for watching are limited to my all too infrequent trips to the US. But I did for one hectic week actually help produce this show, albeit in a very minor capacity. Apart from Wimbledon coverage for HBO this was my first real experience working for American TV, and it was quite an eye opener. In July 1989 the French 'celebrated' their bicentennial of their revolution, and while pretty much every British broadcaster ignored it, the 'Yanks' came over in force.

Presumably the language barrier was thought to be too great for the French to overcome and so NBC hired a British truck, (bizarrely, staffed by Swedish technicians) and hired British operators and engineers of whom I was one. The shoot was on the banks of the Seine, opposite Notre Dame. Just a few yards down from us were ABC with their Good Morning America show, similarly equipped, and fortunately quite friendly as we had to borrow some lighting equipment from them! This was the swansong of Jane Pauley who turned out to be a real lady. Sadly she was about to be stiffed by NBC she was soon to be replaced by a younger, blonder presenter (who guested during the week with us) Shame, as Pauley was a hit with the audience, us, and the many, many, passers by who she treated with respect and courtesy. Bryant Gumbel in contrast, hid what charm he had under a steely, cold exterior, and left me at least in no doubt who was in charge of that particular production.

We also had the pleasure of the company of Willard Scott, who turned out to be a laugh a minute and defused many a tense situation with his easy going humour. Scott has even less hair than I and confused the hell out of me when I saw him later on that year in the studio, with apparently flowing locks. It was only after watching for a few days I realised that he was expected to wear a hairpiece in the studio, but excused the wig, in the blustery conditions of outside work! The real star for me was the director. He's not credited here, but is elsewhere on the IMDb, but forgive me for not naming him. Those in the business will have heard of the $500K+ a year he was making then, and know who I mean. In contrast to the almost fawningly polite style of British Television (I still remember being told on my BBC induction course in the 1970's that we were expected to hold open the doors as we walked around Television Centre, for other members of staff) Americans were direct, and utterly ruthless. One mistake and you were bawled out, two and you were cut, no argument. Remarkable then that I survived the full week although I did learn one or two new swear words. Credit though, when the show was over he walked to every person on that crew and thanked them by name - something a few British directors could learn. I still have a tape we recorded of the show with the his tailback on an extra audio track - and it still makes me blush! The British claim to have invented TV, and well we might, but the Americans have largely perfected it - and they're at their best in this genre of live News and Features. The slick one-two presenter style with throws to specialist sports/weather/news headlines presenters is now adopted by all of our domestic channels, and we know what imitation is…
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Clapper Board (1972–1982)
Kids film review show
16 December 2004
Actually a deal better than that summary would imply. It began the same year as its more upmarket rival 'Film 72' from the BBC. Although it was scheduled in a time slot aimed at kids it attracted an adult following as well, particularly those who wanted to avoid the often stuffy style of Film 72's presenter.

Kelly was the key, and his easy, affable style made the whole show trot along. Clearly airing pre-six in the afternoon - well before the watershed - meant that no 'X' rated movies could be reviewed, but the line up was by no means limited to Children's films. Interest was added by competitions, either of the write in on a postcard variety, or simple 'answer after the break' style (There were no emails or text messages in those distant days, nor were there premium rate phone calls to boost flagging programme budgets)

Clapperboard picked up the very tail end of the Baby Boomer teenagers, but failed to move with them when they aged. Perhaps that's why it lasted no more than a decade, but is sadly missed by at least one forty something!
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Triangle (1981–1983)
Where Angels fear to swim.....
17 November 2004
As the previous, well informed, reviewer has noted 'Triangle' was an early 'EFP' effort. Electronic Field Production was to replace the usual 16mm film generally used for location work over the next ten or so years, but in 1981 was virtually unheard of. Video transmission in the 1980's was actually 25 years old, and well established, but some emerging technology used in Triangle was perhaps unwrapped a little before its time.

The early 1980's marked a significant break point in TV's technical development. New, lightweight cameras from Japan (where else?) and Videotape recorders (VTR's) from the United States that finally weighed less than a small family saloon (and consequently didn't require the output of a small nuclear power station to make them run) were just available at that point. Portable versions were made by 'cramming' things in to smaller boxes and some brave individual in Birmingham (Triangle was based out of the now defunct, but then relatively spanking new Pebble Mill centre in Britain's second city) made the decision that it would work. It nearly did.

Although the new cameras were neat, small, and notionally worked 'straight out of the box' they were still based on three vacuum tubes, and were vulnerable to shock, and even loud noises that caused the electrodes in the tubes to vibrate and affect the pictures. They also require careful line-up and would drift over time causing colour variations and registration (e.g. red/green edging) problems. The new VTR's too were subject to faults and I remember on more than one occasion watching Triangle slowing down and speeding up due to a poor control track (film has sprocket holes to drag it through the projector at the correct speed and framing, Videotape records electronic pulses - the control track - on the tape for the same reason. If they're poorly recorded or played back severe 'wow and flutter' result.)

On the production side the scripts were limited to a kind of 'soap on water' (no pun intended) and the acting on occasions left a little to be desired. Those were the pitfalls, so what were the attractions? First and foremost was Kate O'Mara whose bust was something of a national obsession at the time. That figure, with Ms O'Mara, following some distance behind, had featured in many dramas from the 1950's and made many a young schoolboy cry himself to sleep. She's 65 now, but I bet would still turn as many heads as she did then. Sadly though this one didn't have much else to commend it, and I would guess it survived so long because of the momentum of the production effort required to get it going.

Triangle was a turkey but a lucky one, surviving two Christmases. Inevitably though, it was consigned to the dustbin, taking a few careers with it. Quite a distinguished cast of British film and stage actors though, most of them seemed to survive the experience.
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Did you like that?
9 November 2004
Fred didn't actually blow chimneys up. He decided which way he wanted them to fall and then started chipping the bricks away at the bottom in the area facing the drop zone. He was careful only to chip a couple away mind, and then stuff the hole with wooden props which took the weight. It took him the best part of the day to do this until he'd replaced a section about six foot high, and about a quarter of the circumference of the chimney with wood. Meanwhile every scrawny kid for miles around would hear about him being there and turn up offering to help. He'd send them out scouring the neighbourhood for old tires, tea chests, pallets, anything that would burn in fact, and they'd happily do it and leave them in a pile. Then when old Fred had finished the kids would crowd around and stack the bonfire against the wooden props he'd hammered into place. Then they'd all be cleared behind a tape the Police set up obligingly, but the kids that helped always got the best seats.

Fred would then light the fire, and his pipe, and smoke a bowlful or two while things got hot. After about twenty minutes or so he'd show interest again and wander up to the chimney, but round the back this time. What he was looking at was the courses between the bricks on that side. When the wood was starting to burn through, cracks would appear meaning it was about to go. He'd then sound this unearthly horn and run like billy-oh, often cutting it pretty fine, as when those chimneys go they break up and often the top would fall the wrong way and clatter down around his ears. The bulk of the thing always seemed to go the right way though and Fred would emerge with a big grin on his face covered in dust to the applause of the kids. He would remark sardonically to the camera that dashed up to him at that point "Did you like that?"

Fine stuff.

He had a set of Fireman's spanners for hydrants because of his traction engine which he'd chug from fair to fair in the summer pinching water from hydrants as he went. Something of a character – even though he dumped his wife for one girl in the later years, and then her for another. Good work if you can get it.

Fred died a few days ago, and England lost another character. Still if they've got any chimneys need knocking down upstairs, Fred'll sort 'em.
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The Wombles (1973– )
Still good
9 November 2004
The story goes that Elizabeth Beresford was driving across Wimbledon Common one day when one of her young children called out 'We're in Wombledon!' and Beresford spent the rest of the journey wondering about characters called 'Wombles' and the show was thus born.

The stop-frame animation techniques may look dated when compared to - say - Wallace and Grommet, but actually add to the charm. Cribbins is sublime as the narrator, and Mike Batt's pacy theme tune was so good it launched his own mini pop career as a performer in the seventies.

A seventies classic that the kids will love.
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Warship (1973–1977)
Did this really run for four years?
8 November 2004
Stirring stuff opening titles with HMS 'Hero' plunging through the waves bow on to the camera, gave way to a fairly mundane 'soapy' drama about the crew of a destroyer in the Navy.

Being mainly exteriors and pre-dating electronic portability, most of this was shot on 16mm film, with a few studio based shots having completely different sound and picture quality. Very often the crash edits between the two media provided the only dramatic elements to these shows and would wake you from the slumbering state the script had left you in.

Standard plot vehicles were members of the crew smuggling drugs, affairs between crew members and each others wives, crew members resorting to crime to solve some financial crisis. Very occasionally there would be a rescue from some foreign shore, or a bit of gunboat diplomacy. You get the feeling though that being some time after the last 'high profile' navy engagement with Iceland in the Cod War and before the Falklands, the writers couldn't bring themselves to imagine the ship engaged in any kind of warfare. I think the only shots fired were warning ones from the Bofors machine gun in the bow.

Of course the appeal was the crew were all young and dashing, although none of that rescued this rather cheap looking series from its below par performance. Curiously some 30 years later the surviving cast are all turning up as old crocks on 'The Bill' 'Casualty' and all the other soaps that pervade the UK channels at present.

A much better treatment of life in the Navy was the documentary 'Sailor' made in the late seventies. Raw, and uncompromising this doco was a hit, but is puzzlingly absent from the IMDb's pages.
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Petrocelli (1974–1976)
Did he ever have a client who was actually guilty?
19 October 2004
Warning: Spoilers
There are several things we can pretty much guarantee will happen in these murder mysteries. Some may consider me revealing these plot devices as spoilers, consider yourselves duly warned:

· His client will be found over the body with a smoking gun, bloody knife, or blunt instrument with no-one else possibly involved.

· His client will have 'grade A' motivation to commit the crime and there will be overwhelming evidence and the number of eyewitnesses will usually run into double figures.

· About 2.5 seconds after taking the case Lt. John Ponce will waddle up to him and produce a piece of 24 carat gold surprise evidence apparently sealing Petrocelli's clients fate. He will then gloatingly present in distorted flashback his 'version' of the murder, invariably condemning the client as surely as if they were John Wilkes Booth.

· Petrocelli's client will at some point lie to him about something so crucial that even Petrocelli should start to doubt his or hers innocence, which of course he never does - well not for long anyway.

· Petrocelli will lay three bricks of that adobe house he's building every episode.

· In spite of this the house remains about 10% built.

· As the Police will have wrapped up the case in the first 15-20 seconds and headed off for doughnuts and coffee, Petrocelli is obliged to perform the only investigation. As he does so each witness via a series of flashbacks (Busiest second unit crew in the business!) will slowly turn the States' 'open and shut case' away from the certainty we had at the beginning, to grave doubt. At the same time, a more credible guilty party will emerge, and be fully aware of Petrocelli's interest.

· Because of this, his beaten up old camper truck will be forced off the road by the guilty party, or their henchmen at least once in every episode, and sustain heavy damage.

· For variety Petrocelli or his wife might be driving, but invariably however heavy the wreck the thing turns up the next episode looking tired, but remarkably undamaged. They too survive, generally without a scratch.

· In spite of knowing they're in the frame, and that their attempted assassination or intimidation of Petrocelli has failed, the bad guys always, but always manage to be in the courtroom when he convinces the court of his clients innocence unravels the case and neatly exposes them.

I know all this sounds formulaic and repetitive, and it was. In spite of that the main players - particularly Newman who was excellent - all managed to bring something to the table and I enjoyed this in the seventies. Now too as I find myself watching this on the satellite channels who bang it out every day on Granada Plus in the UK. Petrocelli was superior to MacMillan and wife and Hart to Hart, but lacked the obvious glamour of both. Perhaps that's why it lasted only a couple of seasons. Pity, I liked it, and with a few more episodes, he might just have moved in to that house of his!

Trvia note: The producer, Leonard Katzman would go on to bigger things with 'Dallas' taking Susan Howard with him. There's a Star Trek connection here too with Susan Howard who was the only female Klingon in the original series (presumably) introduced by Edward Milkis, co-producer of both Trek and Petrocelli. Howard's part in the 1970 movie/pilot (albeit under a different character's name) was taken by Diana Muldhar, another trek legend.
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27 September 2004
I wondered, when this cropped up in the morning schedules of one of the satellite movie channels this morning, why I hadn't seen this Flynn offering before. A little under an hour and a half later I realized, as it is average at best. Although only six years older than Quinn, Flynn's career had been way up and was sadly on the way down explaining his presence. Quinn who was still searching for his big break-through part would go another year before 'Viva Zapata' and so could be excused for his involvement. Quite what Maureen O'Hara thought coming into this movie just after 'A Quiet Man' is anyone's guess though. For the record, there's none of the humour, dash or intensity we've identified with Flynn in the past, and even O'Hara fails to light up this most dullest of pirate flicks.

Forget the plot, and most of the lines, and treat it like the satellite channels schedulers - a useful way of filling 80 odd minutes.
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The Dustbinmen (1969–1970)
Ere Mum!, it's the Dustbinmen!!
15 September 2004
That 'cry' which preceded the music in the opening titles was supposed to rhyme, but like this series, fell slightly short of its target.

I actually saw this when it went out in the 1960's, and although it then survived the transition to colour, it hasn't stood the test of time. The late Bryan Pringle, (who could have easily earned an Oscar in a school play) is the central character as "Cheese'n'egg". Superior and domineering, he can never quite figure out why the rest of the world doesn't understand him. The rest of the crew have IQ's that collectively add up to less than the days in a month, and add comic relief to 'Eggs' frustration.

To those that judge it harshly I would say remember this was the 1960's. Sophistication wasn't at the top of the agenda, and this was intentionally aired at a time when kids could see it, and many did. Admittedly, and regrettably, it was clearly a turkey, lasting no more than 20 episodes (presumably two seasons, the second being colour.) But it had a charm, and certainly projected one or two of those involved to better things: more than one seventies sitcom star had an early outing in this offering.

If, like me (at the age of twelve,) you were mildly amused at the sight of a Dustcart with the name Thunderbird 3 chalked on the back, ambling up the road while one man bullied a bunch of idiots, then this is for you.
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Pure self indulgence
8 September 2004
Sorry, I used up my 1000 words in my previous review, but something (entirely narcissistic of course) made me wonder if this anecdote might add something to the mix.

Being the trainee in the London BBC studios as I was in 1980 meant that one of my jobs was to lug (and those EMI 2001's, plonked on Vinton HP pedestals were big, heavy, mothers) all of the cameras from wherever the camera crew had locked them off, to the line up area. This was a grey-scale chart (Royle's 57?) which we used to tweak the cameras so that they all matched.

The job had a couple of bonuses. The first was I got to drive the cranes as there was always at least one on the PDMS, and they had to be manoeuvred over to the line-up chart as well. The second was the time I managed to spend in the company of the improbably named 'Ali Bongo' He is not credited for this on the IMDb, but Bongo devised most of these tricks, and was always there in the background. During the line-up period (which lasted about an hour before the audience were admitted) he was running through the gags to make sure they were set up and working.

William Wallace, as he was born, was a magician in his own right: usually appearing on stage dressed in costume reminiscent of Ali Baba (hence his stage name), but while working with Daniels he wore more conventional garb. It was one of the few occasions when I didn't have to be asked or forced to move the cameras, as I would be there as soon as I saw him. Here's a couple of tricks he showed me. I should confess that Wallace/Bongo remains Vice Chair of the Magic Circle to this day and is opposed to revealing such secrets. But as these are nearly 25 years old and not performed anymore, I hope he'll forgive me.

From a props table Daniels would retrieve a fishing rod, and wave it in front of the audience. At the end of the quite short line would be a potato chip fixed on the hook, because as Daniels would explain, fish and chips go together. At that he would flick the rod, rather like cracking a whip and there would appear a goldfish wriggling madly on the end of the chip. He would quickly run his hand to the end of the line take the fish and pop it into a waiting fish tank where it would swim perfectly happily while the audience applauded. To show it was no fluke he'd repeat the trick three or four times. The trick?

The 'chip' was plastic and hollow. Hidden inside was a deflated orange balloon (attached to the line rather than the chip) which the flick would dislodge leaving it flapping realistically outside. Daniels would then hold the chip, pull gently on the line which would draw the 'fish' back into its hiding place and then walk to the tank. The tank was a metal framed affair and cleverly concealed along the inside top edge was a shallow gutter where a few goldfish would be gasping and wriggling, hidden from all eyes. Daniels would simply flick one into the water giving the impression that he'd dropped it from his hand and repeat the whole thing again. Applause!

The next was even more audacious and required a member of the audience. Daniels would manoeuvre him towards the 'Jury' and ask to borrow his jacket. Although the Jury were supposed always to be behind Daniels, this gag required him to move back towards where a low wall separated them from the band section behind so that all prying eyes were now in front of him.

Daniels would swirl the jacket around and then carrying it only by the collar would walk a few paces forward, lower the jacket to the floor and then whip it up to reveal six or so fish bowls, full of water - and fish, stacked one on top of the other. The audience would go mad while he handed the jacket back with a flourish. The trick?

Hidden behind the wall from both audience and jury (but of course in full view of the band who were in on it) was the stack of bowls, all neatly trussed up in a lightweight harness. Once the completely innocent stooge had arrived on stage, Daniels would take his jacket, and naturally the guy followed him wherever he went. Daniels, cracking jokes as he went, would move back towards the hiding place, and swing the jacket around and about, including around behind the wall, and collect the fish bowls behind the jacket as he did so. He would then pull a pin on the harness which released the straps which he could then gather one-handed up into his sleeve while the audience were gasping with delight at the fish bowls which had seemingly appeared in front of them. Given that he was inches from the stooge, merely feet from the Jury, this one impressed me more than the others, because of its audacity.

I think that was the beauty of Daniels. Like all magicians he relied on technology, vast numbers of assistants and co-conspirators, but behind all of that was a confidence bordering on arrogance and talent to pull off some great tricks which nobody had at the time, and few can match now.
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'You'll like this – not a lot! – but you'll like it'.
8 August 2004
In the mid to late seventies there ran a short afternoon slot on the BBC devoted to magic. David Nixon, the undisputed king of British TV magic in the 1960's and 70's had sadly died and the BBC seemed to be searching for a replacement. Various magicians each took a turn, performing three or four tricks each.

The slot lasted no more than five or ten minutes, and was a filler between children's programmes, but one performer stood head and shoulders above the rest. His catch phrase was 'You'll like this – not a lot! – but you'll like it'. The BBC did like it, and for the next fifteen years Paul Daniels would star in his own show and guest on countless others, using that phrase, clever illusions, and his bubbly persona.

For the PDMS, the studio was rigged in the typical style of light entertainment sets of the day with audience seating occupying about half of the floor space, the set another quarter to a third on the other side, and cameras and other crew jammed in the space in between. Stage right was generally clear, for guest performers, and anything that required a little space, but stage left was where most of the action occurred. Sat on two rows of seats on a low rise plinth were a 'jury' A dozen or so members of the audience who were plucked out to sit behind Daniels while he worked, to ensure no 'cheating' A path ran from the very back of the set, past a band and then the jury to the downstage area allowing McGee to bring various props to and from Daniels. It would take a good fifteen seconds to get there, which gave the audience time to admire her ample curves, and also allow Daniels some vital misdirection.

The show had some spectacular tricks, scrutinised by the jury, and a couple of guest slots with acrobats, contortionists, jugglers, and other circus style performers, but it was Daniels who hogged the attention of the audience. All of the large scale tricks required assistance from various stooges, and props men. The larger the trick, the bigger the con. Most of these have been 'blown' by various documentary shows, but here's one that I remember that you might not have come across.

Daniels asked a member of the audience with a credit card to come forward. The jury, unusually on this instance, was composed solely of employees of all the major credit cards that existed at the time and when the card was proffered Daniels asked the representative of that company to confirm (which she did) that the card was genuine.

McGee is then called from backstage to bring a table mounted coffee-grinder which she does, losing two table legs on the way. With the audience still laughing at the apparent gaff, Daniels pushes a hidden button on the table which releases two replacement legs allowing McGee to place the table in front of Daniels.

After again showing the card to everyone he proceeds to grind it to dust in the coffee mill, putting the resultant powder into a small metal tin. He shows the dust to the now rather glum looking audience member, and then lights it using a box of matches. The powder flares up and then settles to some low flames, while Daniels walks with the tin to stage right where just fluttering down is a long thin piece of tissue paper, which he lights with the flame. The camera follows the fire as it consumes the tissue paper, upwards towards where the studio lights are, to where there is a small balloon, which bursts when the heat reaches it.

Out from the balloon, drops an envelope dangling from a small parachute which Daniels chases around the stage before grabbing it and handing it to the audience member. When opened it reveals the owners credit card, genuine and undamaged. Applause.

The trick? Daniels has a jacket with upwards of twenty (20) inside pockets each with a genuine, but blank credit card. Whatever the guy hands him, he has a duplicate, and McGee's 'accident' with the table legs allows Daniels to retrieve the correct duplicate card from his pocket without being seen. When McGee bends to place the table on stage Daniels slips the card in a pocket in her dress, and she then exits and clips the card to a piece of fishing line.

Up in the lighting grid sit a couple of props guys (with me watching them!) who pull up the line, slip the card in the envelope and pop it into the balloon who's mouth is stretched over an empty baked bean tin open at both ends to facilitate this. The balloon is inflated, tissue paper attached, and they have just enough time to get everything in position before Daniels below ignites the paper for the trick's finale. Simple!

Of course everyone was in on these 'tricks' (except for the audience!) but there was one feature of the show that nobody could figure out, and that was the 'Bunko Booth.' Daniels would use a small booth, much the sort of thing you see at carnivals and fetes and - hamming it up - he would put on a bowler hat and costume while the victim - usually a member of the audience - would sit the other side of the table.

He would then produce a few dice, or a deck of cards, or cup and balls and make something disappear, appear or change colour seemingly using real magic. He would challenge anyone to see point out how he did the trick. No one ever did. Not audience, jury - nor us who would crowd round him during rehearsals, and breaks while he did the same trick, time after time.

Times, and tastes change, and Daniels tends to be seen more on the 'B' list circuit these days. Sad really as he was one of the best.
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This might be a change too far...
7 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
***Spoilers Ahead***

Disappointingly this films merely 'skims' the book, and might be better described as inspired by J.K. Rowlings novel rather than based on it. Book and screenplay visibly diverge in this third installment of the Potter franchise and significant differences between the two have emerged. Amongst others, liberties were taken with the story of Harry's Firebolt, the first Boggart lesson with Lupin, and the Marauders map as well as the ruthless condensing of several Quidditch matches and Hogsmeade visits, and the subsequent discarding of detail. This has left a couple of plot legacies that will need to be dealt with in subsequent movies in order for the whole thing to make sense. The spirit too has taken a knock with the admittedly unavoidable substitution of Gambon for the late Richard Harris, but the change of director means that the feel of the movie has shifted away from the formula made successful by Columbus.

Whether the new director read the book beforehand or not I have no idea, but the movie looks like he didn't, and suffers for it. I was left with a real feeling that this was just another day at the office for all involved and none of the passion or humour of the book comes through. It's not helped by the gap between second and third installment which has left some of the principal 'child' actors unrecognisable. At school we aged over the year, but the relatively short summer break wasn't enough to make much difference, but with the movies being shot in a matter of weeks after a break of 18 months the opposite effect is noticed. I had to check on the IMDb to make sure that Longbottom was actually still being played by Matthew Harris. Other disappointments include Emma Thompson who is miscast as Trelawney, and Thewlis who was unconvincing as the unfortunately named Remus Lupin. Gambon as Dumbledore lacks the gravitas of Harris, but with four movies to go should grow into the part.

Having said all that the movie does gad along at pace, with the pick of the early scenes being the wild ride aboard the Knight Bus. The time shifting scene is handled competently if not brilliantly, and the Hippogriff (which I'm guessing was a real horse, with CGI head and wings added) was very convincing. A word about its intensity. My seven year old boy loved it, while my daughter, four, watched most of it through her fingers. Something to bear in mind when bringing the children.

Overall it scores a 7/10 and while a step down in class from the other movies is still watchable. It could have been better however and we can only hope that Mike Newell who is currently shooting 'Goblet of Fire' makes a better fist of it.
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Lord, this is woeful.
29 June 2004
If there are enough dumb clucks like me who picked this up on impulse from the local video store, then just maybe they'll get their money back.

I hated it. Cheap, nasty, lacking both the quality of humour and drama of the first movie, this is not a sequel in any sense. Its production values dip below those even expected of a mid range video game, and its overall flatness is actually depressing.

There's enough nudity to keep the one handed typists happy I s'pose, but other than that the appeal has strict limits. Do we deserve better? Not while we keep renting - and watching, this sort of nonsense, and I apologise for my part in that.
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