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I Am Michael (2015)
2/10
Drab and timid
21 June 2015
Watching this film, I thought of that great movie SAFE, in which Julianne Moore plays an upper-class matron whose life takes a strange turn when she develops a sensitivity to various "toxins" all around her. Or is it just in her head? As she retreats farther and farther from the life she once knew, the viewer likewise retreats from making any easy judgments about her. The way we comprehend and navigate the world is a mysterious process, with no easy answers. Boy, what a great movie SAFE was.

I hoped this movie might present a similar complexity and depth. Unfortunately, this neophyte director is no Todd Haynes. And James Franco is certainly no Julianne Moore.

Alternatively, given the "controversial true story" subject matter, the movie might have been loud, polemical, and sensational, a la Oliver Stone. That would at least have been amusing, and sexy, and maybe even thought-provoking.

But it's not like that, either.

Instead, it's just very drab and dull. It's like some dreadfully boring TV movie of the week from the 1970s. The catatonic performances do not help, but what were the actors supposed to do with characters the script does nothing to develop? Supposedly the story is based on real people, but none of these people seem very real. A documentary of the Errol Morris variety would have shown us much, much more about what they all went through. Or a completely fictitious story might have freed the film maker to really delve into the psyches of his subjects. Instead, we are left with a very halfhearted effort to tell a "true" story in such a way that no one will be offended.

Unlike SAFE, this movie plays it much too safe.
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Honningfellen: Honningfellen - Unni Lindell (2008)
Season 1, Episode 1
1/10
Don't step in this mess...
5 October 2014
Rare is the Scandinavian crime drama that I detest, but this is one. I've watched three of these movie-length dramas, in the forlorn hope that something, anything, would get better, but no such luck. Oddly, there has been no consistent atmosphere from show to show, as if totally different people were brought in to make each one (and all failing to deliver the goods). Our hero's ineptitude as a sleuth is only matched by his ineptitude as a father (see episode one). The plots lurch from scene to scene with no build-up of suspense, or accretion of clues; anything could happen next. And "surprising" us with a twisted transvestite killer (see episode 3) is such a hackneyed device that only the most uncreative (and culturally retrograde) scripter would dare resort to such a "shock ending" in this century. It seems that "unni lindell" is Norwegian for "cow patty." Wipe your shoes!
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3/10
More than a little one-sided
11 August 2014
What I learned from watching "The Shooting of Thomas Hurndall":

Arabs are warm, caring, empathetic, family-loving, rational, freedom-loving people.

Jews are cold, hard, ruthless, murderous, smug bastards.

The story of this incident deserved a much better script. Since the filmmakers obviously did not know the inside story of the arrest and trial of the sniper, they felt free to just make up scenes to suit their agenda. The gum-chewing Israeli interrogator sneering as his poor Bedouin victim is literally dragged out of the room is a good example.

Ah, for the good old days, when Britain ruled the colonies and kept all these fractious little people in line!
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Mammon (2014– )
2/10
Stake in the heart of the Scandinavian thriller? Or, "The Bridge" to Nowhere...
8 August 2014
Warning: Spoilers
The decade-long international craze for Scandinavian crime thrillers seems to reach a tipping point with this overstuffed and flatulent boondoggle of a mini-series from Norway. "Mammon" would like to be "The Bridge," leading us down one false path after another to spectacular cliff-hangers and shocking revelations, but the writers are too lazy to come up with plausible reasons for all this frantic action. I hate it when I invest 6 hours in a mini-series, expecting that "all will be revealed" at the end, and the end comes, and I can only shake my head at all the nonsense I've watched and all the gaping holes in the plot. It's almost as if no single person actually read the whole script!

Scene for scene, the show is just engaging enough to watch, but even at this level some of the red herrings are too obvious and the repeated attempts at suspense too repetitious. (OMG! Is that car following us? No, just a false alarm. No, wait, it WAS following us!)

Spoiler: One example of the ludicrous lengths to which the writers will go simply to obtain that spooky "The Bridge" feeling: the package received by the dead man's brother and his wife seven years after his death, containing directions to a time and place and a wet suit, because the dead man knew that at exactly that place, and exactly that day, another death would occur in exactly that way. Amazing! But in the end, this elaborate plot twist turns out to make NO SENSE WHATSOEVER (like much of the plot); it's assumed that we viewers are so stupid we will have forgotten this pivotal scene by the end and won't care that there is no explanation.

They tried to make "The Bridge," but this bridge went nowhere.
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Amber (2014– )
1/10
Sometimes in life you never get an answer. Wow, how deep is that?
3 July 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Started watching, not knowing how many episodes there would be. First episode very promising, with a hide-the-plot structure that lets us know that SOMETHING happened on day one, and we will get teasing flashbacks slowing filling this in as the story progresses. By episode three it becomes clear that this series could go on indefinitely, showing how various people far and wide were affected by the girl's disappearance. Hmmm, I think, I hope this is not one of those 10-episode series, because this could become rather repetitive, just getting teased with a tiny new detail each week while the story rambles near and far. Then comes episode four, which appeared to be the last one. Hmmm, after setting up a recurring story machine, now they are cutting it short. Ah well, at least we'll see what happened to Amber. But no, the story simply ends, with no resolution at all. Now I realize this is how things often go in life--we get no answer--but this is a story, and stories have a beginning, middle, and end. (Please read your Aristotle, script-writers.) So while Amber pretends to imitate life, it does so with all the trappings of a certain genre of storytelling, and disappoints either as philosophical discourse (it's way too shallow for that) and as TV thriller (it's a total bust). Once again, I have let the Beeb waste 4 hours of my life. I'm just thankful the series was not longer.
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Honningfellen (2008– )
1/10
Don't step in this mess...
9 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Rare is the Scandinavian crime drama that I detest, but this is one. I've watched three of these movie-length dramas, in the forlorn hope that something, anything, would get better, but no such luck. Oddly, there has been no consistent atmosphere from show to show, as if totally different people were brought in to make each one (and all failing to deliver the goods). Our hero's ineptitude as a sleuth is only matched by his ineptitude as a father (see episode one). The plots lurch from scene to scene with no build-up of suspense, or accretion of clues; anything could happen next. And "surprising" us with a twisted transvestite killer (see episode 3) is such a hackneyed device that only the most uncreative (and culturally retrograde) scripter would dare resort to such a "shock ending" in this century. It seems that "unni lindell" is Norwegian for "cow patty." Wipe your shoes!
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The Outer Limits: The Special One (1964)
Season 1, Episode 28
4/10
Fear & Loathing of Homosexual "Recruitment"
12 January 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Whatever it may be about on the surface, "The Special One" attempts to evoke fear and loathing by exploiting the anxiety of 1960s Middle American viewers about sexual predators and specifically the presumed homosexual "recruitment" of teenagers by older men. Watch the show with the sound off, and just observe what is going on in that household, where a strange man is visiting the 14-year-old son in his room at all hours of the day and night while the father becomes increasingly uneasy. Or just listen to the language, as Mr. Xenon tells his superiors that he will "penetrate" his new recruit (young Kenny), and later reports that Kenny has been very "receptive."

There's much more in this double-entendre vein, to the extent that I wish Schow & Frentzen had seen this subtext before they interviewed the makers of the show for The Outer Limits Companion; did the filmmakers consciously seed the episode with homophobia, or did they do so unconsciously? It's easy to forget just how ubiquitous was America's paranoia of the atheist-communist-homosexual "other" at the time; "fag villains" were blatantly prominent in many movies and novels, and more covertly so on TV, where all such references had to be carefully coded.

The episode is brilliantly (and hilariously) deconstructed in an essay titled "Outer Limits: What's It All About?" by Lonely Dreamer, originally published in Liquid Cheese magazine, Issue #8, Winter, 1998/99. (Search and you can find it online.) While straightforwardly cataloging the show's subtext, Lonely Dreamer also engages in some impish satirizing of deconstruction itself; some of his more OTT observations are clearly tongue-in-cheek, but the thrust of his argument is quite...penetrating.
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3/10
The Clueless Detective
21 December 2013
The setting is the Swedish island of Gotland, ringed by beautiful beaches and studded with summer resort houses. You couldn't ask for a better setting.

Not so the detective, or the plots. You know how some detectives draw you in with their odd character traits or their all-too-human failings, or amaze you with their ability to draw startling inferences from even the simplest observations? None of that applies to this guy. He's as dumb as a doorknob, and almost as charismatic. He never sees through a lie, never perceives even the most obvious clues thrust under his nose, understands nothing about human relationships (including his own), and has the personality of a dead fish.

So what we have here is a clueless detective stumbling through some very cumbersome and clumsy plots. Imagine the elegance of a really good episode of Vera, or Silent Witness, or Cracker, or Morse. Now forget all that, because you won't see anything remotely that good here.

What you will see is some great scenery, some predictable family drama, occasional male and female eye candy (attractive young Swedish and German actors), and just enough plot progression to keep you watching (maybe) for the full 90 minutes.

So...barely 3 stars from me.
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The Sound of Music Live! (2013 TV Movie)
1/10
Black Nazis and Asian Von Trapps???
8 December 2013
What might have worked as a Branson stage show for the elderly "wholesome" crowd...or a cruise ship entertainment...just doesn't cut it as a network TV broadcast. It's definitely amateur night at NBC, with an American Idol winner belting and yodeling her little old heart out, and some of the clumsiest camera work and ugliest sets we've seen in a long time. But it's good to know that in 1930s Austria, a hotbed of racial tolerance, a black nun could be mother superior. (If this a color-blind cast, why not some black Nazis, too, and some Asian kids in the Von Trapp family? Nobody at NBC seemed to be able to think their way through anything having to do with this unfortunate production.)
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5/10
Slick Police State Propaganda
2 August 2013
At first glance, you might think the Johan Falk series was some sort of libertarian fantasy--intrepid lone hero breaks all the petty rules of society to struggle against titanic forces of evil. But of course it's just the opposite--John Falk is slick propaganda for a police state.

Why does Johan have to be the lone hero in the first place? Because the powers of law and order are hobbled by all those silly rules of due process and civil liberties, and the only answer (as the stories repeatedly assert) must be a huge increase in the surveillance, regulatory, and policing power of the state. Take that, Ayn Rand! To be sure, the shows are extremely well made, with lots of action, fancy houses, and hot actors. And also lots of hokum about the takeover of Europe by criminal forces, which will justify our only salvation, a total police state. (Do not even whisper the word "Fascism," or Johan will ridicule you as politically correct eunuch.) I hear this is Dick Cheney's favorite show. He probably watches it on his local state-funded "liberal" PBS station.
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5/10
Very slick Police State propaganda
1 August 2013
At first glance, you might think the Johan Falk series was some sort of libertarian fantasy--intrepid lone hero breaks all the petty rules of society to struggle against titanic forces of evil. But of course it's just the opposite--Johan Falk is slick propaganda for the police state.

Why does Johan have to be the lone hero in the first place? Because the powers of law and order are hobbled by all those silly rules of due process and civil liberties, and the only answer (as the stories repeatedly assert) must be a huge increase in the surveillance, regulatory, and policing power of the state. Take that, Ayn Rand! To be sure, the show is extremely well made, with lots of action, fancy houses, and hot actors. And also lots of hokum about the takeover of Europe by criminal forces to justify our only salvation, a total police state. And do NOT even whisper the word "Fascism," or Johan will ridicule you as politically correct eunuch.

I hear this is Dick Cheney's favorite show. He probably watches it on the local state-funded, "liberal" PBS station.
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7/10
Another Dad Abandons His Kids....and the Gay Audience Applauds!
6 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
James Broughton made some interesting independent short films many decades ago, and he was a fine poet, as the brief extracts from his work in this well-made documentary clearly demonstrate. But was he a "gay hero," as so many viewers of this film seem to think?

First, Broughton was apparently bisexual, going back and forth between male and female partners over a long period of years, as the film clearly shows. After leaving his first wife (Pauline Kael) and their young daughter, he appears to have taken up with his male filmmaking partner. After that relationship cooled, he married another woman, and they had two children. Then, around age 60, he left his second wife and two small kids for a much, much younger student (35 years younger), who happened to be male. Broughton's later poems celebrate this erotic relationship of a much older man and a much younger man, and have become iconic to some gay readers, especially those in so-called Fairie circles.

So what we have here is a man who married a woman and had kids not once, but twice. Marry once, it might be accident; but twice? So, more than once he selfishly produced children, then selfishly abandoned them. As for his taking up with Joel, the student, it's the old, old story: aging male academic begins torrid affair with much younger student. Why? "My wife doesn't understand me...my conventional marriage and the burdens of child-rearing are stifling my artistic impulses..and my new, much younger, much hotter lover makes me feel alive again; the sex is hot, hot, hot, so to hell with my wife and kids!"

If Broughton had left his family for a young female student instead of a male one, would anyone be celebrating that act? We might sympathize with him, and those he hurt might forgive him, but we would hardly call him a hero for being ruled by his penis. Yet Broughton's gay admirers seem to think his abandonment of his family was a heroic act, because by doing so he came out (though not for the first time, apparently). This type of mindless adulation is all too typical of the often clueless Fairie types, who seem incapable of exercising moral judgment, maintaining the old hippie ethos of "if it feels good, do it." It felt good when Broughton made those three children; it felt good when he found a hot young lover and abandoned them. Never mind the three damaged children who grew up without the man who chose to create them.

This type of behavior is no more admirable when practiced by a heterosexual like Eugene O'Neill, whose self-serving actions were perhaps even more egregious than those of Broughton; see my review at this site of "Eugene O'Neill: A Documentary Film" in the PBS series "The American Experience."
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Flores Raras (2013)
3/10
A prim little movie about role models, not real people
4 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Elizabeth Bishop and her lover Lota de Macedo Soares must have had a pretty rocky relationship—Lota ended up killing herself—but you'd never know it from this very prim and proper biopic. The filmmakers tone down any elements that might disturb or challenge a target audience looking not for historical accuracy (or even good drama) but rather for inspiring role models. So Bishop and de Macedo Soares are shown as two strong, successful, and loving women who never let little problems like raging alcoholism, rampant ruling-class careerism, or crushing egomania get them down, until the final reel, when the whole movie comes off the rails.

Consider the scene where Elizabeth bakes a birthday cake for her beloved, who stands her up. What happens when self-obsessed Lota finally shows up, only to find Elizabeth sleeping off a bender? "Oh, you so hurt my feelings!" "Oh, so sorry, lovey-poo!" A little kissy-kissy and it's all better. Sorry, I ain't buying it. How much closer to the truth (not to mention more interesting, and believable) if this scene had erupted in a screaming row a la "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", with the bitter, alcoholic American vs. the brazen Brazil nut. Alas, that would never do in a movie that's all about role models, not real people who really lived, and really ended up in mental hospitals and really committed suicide.

When Lota does go certifiably crazy, this development seems to come from nowhere, since we haven't been shown a clue that anything was wrong with her or her perfect world. In real life, there's always a telltale breadcrumb trail leading to the nervous breakdown, but not in this movie. Lota just all of a sudden goes crazy. Go figure.

Despite its glossy veneer, this is a deeply phony movie, a deceptive testament to a poet and an architect who both deserve to be more realistically portrayed on the screen. Maybe someday we'll see a competent documentary about these two women, their achievements, and their complex relationship, instead of this beautifully shot, polite and pandering excuse for a biopic.
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The War Lord (1965)
2/10
Ugh. And ugh again.
16 June 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Let's see, our "hero" is a rapist...a fratricide...AND a traitor, to the Duke who elevated him...and all for the sake of getting his rocks off with the only available hot box in the boondocks. Please don't tell me he did it for LOVE. That chick does have a smokin' bod, but she also has the personality of a sack of rocks...if a sack of rocks could quiver like a timid girl and pout. Ugh.

As for the cinematic qualities, it is hard to imagine anyone too young to have been to a drive-in movie sitting through this. I suspect most of the viewers who rate this film highly are at least 50, and saw it when they were boys. I'm glad it reminds them of their carefree barefoot days playing sword-fight in the back yard, but don't hold your breath waiting for the remake.

One interesting footnote: I bet this is the movie dwarf who inspired that dwarf in Game of Thrones. He's a dead ringer! And George R.R.Martin is old enough to have seen The War Lord at the local drive-in when he was a boy.
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Dancing on the Edge (2013– )
2/10
Stephen Poliakoff = M. Night Shyamalan?
3 March 2013
Prepare yourself for six hours of bad writing, bad acting, and really, really bad music.

Writer-director Stephen Poliakoff has become the M. Night Shyamalan of British TV drama. He started strong, with dramas that seemed to be new and different and even (hideous new modifier!) award-worthy. Then, with each new project, his threadbare bag of tricks became more familiar and predictable; what once seemed endearingly offbeat became simply irritating, and Poliakoff's narrative deceits became increasingly obvious, no longer distracting us from his inability to create living characters or coherent plots.

The downward spiral has led to this sloppy, boring mess of a mini-series. Good luck getting through the whole thing, and if you do, you will almost certainly be disappointed by the limp ending.

Particularly irritating is the music. Poliakoff presumes to resurrect a largely forgotten era of British entertainment, but the newly-written songs on offer here do not capture the spirit of the originals. Not only are they displeasing to the ear and badly sung, but the viewer is forced to hear them over and over and over.

It is hard to see how Poliakoff's next project can be worse than this, but if the trajectory holds, he will find a way to make it so.
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Silent Witness: True Love Waits: Part 1 (2013)
Season 16, Episode 5
10/10
Off the charts!
26 January 2013
"Silent Witness" has been reliably excellent in recent years, but every so often this show transcends even its own high standards of storytelling, as shown by this episode. It's riveting from the very first scene; and about 45 minutes into the first part, the intellectual equivalent of a shrapnel bomb goes off, so quietly you hardly notice it (rewind!); and from then on, it's pure catnip for the mystery-plot connoisseur. Seriously, this episode carries all the moral weight and ambiguity of "Silence of the Lambs," and even (at a few points) matches that movie for horrendous suspense. Emilia Fox proves worthier than ever to serve as our template for The Wisest Woman in the World, and I am loving the addition of David Caves to the cast. The last time "Silent Witness" created such a masterpiece was last season with the episode "Death Has No Dominion," written by Ed Whitmore, who also has a co-writing credit for this episode, so a special shout-out to him. Bravo to all concerned!
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Silent Witness: Death Has No Dominion: Part 2 (2012)
Season 15, Episode 2
10/10
Brilliantly subversive!
26 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I can't praise this episode enough...or say too much about it, because the brilliance is in the way it subverts our expectations of the thriller genre, even as it exceeds all expectations as to just how deeply such a program can delve into THE central questions of human existence: How and why do we believe what we believe? What is belief, and can we ever get outside the box of our own belief system to observe ourselves as we truly are?

This is madly ambitious storytelling of the highest order, which also works flawlessly on the level of thriller entertainment. Kudos to all, but especially to writer Ed Whitmore. I see he has many more credits here at IMDb, but I think he outdoes himself here.
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7/10
Lyrical and lush, with beautiful landscapes
22 December 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Juro Janosik was a real-life bandit in Central Europe in the early 1700s, whose short and tragic career subsequently passed into legend; do a Google search and you will find all sort of cultural artifacts about Janosik, such as comic books and TV shows. Thus he is sometimes compared to Robin Hood.

The makers of this film decided to do a realistic approach to the story, but still offer a few fabulous elements in the form of dream sequences. The result does not romanticize Janosik, but the sheer beauty of the landscapes, the recurrent eroticism, and the haunting music serve to create a lush and lyrical atmosphere, at least until the very grim ending.

Presumably authentic ethnographic details (costumes, weddings, funerals and other rituals, as well as the widespread belief in magical spells) give the story an exotic atmosphere. The phenomenon of banditry under a repressive regime, eliciting the sympathy of the populace and the cruel retribution of those in power, is intelligently portrayed.

The storytelling seems overly elliptical at times; characters appear and vanish without the viewer quite knowing who they are. (But nor does Janosik, who literally cannot name all of his fellow brigands when questioned by the authorities.) I have noticed that this is often the result when a Euro TV series is cut down to feature film length, but I don't know if that's the case here.

While JANOSIK will not be to all tastes, this is by no means one of those horrible Euro historical movies we have encountered in recent years, which are so ineptly made they should never have been released; this is a serious film made by a very talented director (Agnieszka Holland, here working with her daughter, Kasia Adamik).
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Forbrydelsen (2007–2012)
6/10
Red herrings and a lousy finale
16 December 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Watching this series was often exhilarating and involving, but around episode 6 I began to tire of so many gratuitous red herrings, which created a too-predictable pace. "Ah, now we suspect HIM...but there's too much time left...so it can't be him!" It think the story would have been stronger if it had been shorter, or else less predictable.

And the ending...what can I say? Deeply, deeply disappointing in just about every way, all the more so because I just didn't buy all the cynicism, especially of the tycoon father, who could hardly just "forget" the man who just put him through total hell. Now he would just shut up and forget about it? Hmmmm, I don't think so. Nor did I really accept the behavior of the Prime Minister, or of our heroine. Too bad!

In every way, inferior to The Bridge, which was of equal length but totally brilliant, rigorously consistent, and painfully logical right up to the final moment.
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Cuckoo (II) (2012– )
9/10
Just maybe we have a classic here...
1 November 2012
After watching the first episode, I wasn't sure I could watch more, not because the show was badly made, but because it was so excruciating...the subjection of hapless father Ken to the sheer madness of his various family members might just yank too many chains! But with each subsequent episode, I found the evolving relationship between Ken and his dithering, maddening son-in-law more compelling..loved it when they inadvertently took E together!..and by episode 6, I was actually quite moved by Ken's acceptance of his situation. How this happens is utterly believable (within the logic of a comedy show!) and very subtly accomplished. There is a sweetness here that transcends the surface story, acknowledging in equal parts the absurdity and the strange beauty of existence. When a comedy series achieves this level of storytelling, it may just become a classic.
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5/10
Undone by phony British accents
26 October 2012
This is an earnest, old-fashioned movie about love, marriage, sin and redemption, with an exotic setting; it's not on an epic David Lean scale, but the production is big enough to provide a sense of adventure and escape. So what went wrong?

Pity the poor director, who was stuck with two lead actors who also happened to be the producers...so they could not be fired (or sent back for intensive voice classes). Why are so many Brit actors able to deliver convincing, nuanced American accents, but not vice versa? Edward Norton does not have a particularly memorable or resonant voice to start with, and his lame attempt at sounding British constrains his tinny voice even more. Naomi Watts does slightly better, but over the duration of a 2-hour film, her insipid accent, too, begins to get on your nerves. And let's not even talk about Liev Schreiber; fortunately, he's not in the film very long.

(Diana Rigg must also deliver a phony accent, this one French. It, too, is unconvincing, but again, hers is a small role.)

An actor's voice is one of his or her most powerful tools. By forcing themselves into roles in which their voices are constrained and weakened, Watts and Norton simply cannot do justice to their parts. Imagine this movie with, say, Ralph Fiennes or Colin Firth in the lead, and imagine the difference it would make with the delivery of every line...like night and day! Ultimately, it's the performances of the two producers that kill this movie.
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Room at the Top (2012– )
8/10
Gold-standard TV drama
7 October 2012
This story of a working-class young man in the late 1940s trying to make a life for himself is extremely involving, not least because it's so erotic (mostly because the sex seems so real, which is to say all-consuming and ambivalent at the same time, as is so often the case). If you've ever had any sort of illicit affair, you know the knots you inevitably get tied in, no matter how honestly you try to deal with the situation; this movie touches very keenly on that heartbreak, with great honestly.

Brave work by Maxine Peake, who strips naked in every possible sense as the woman who falls for young Joe in spite of herself. And a terrific performance by Matthew McNulty, who does justice to the many layers of a very subtly drawn character; you can see that canny brain constantly working behind his eyes, assessing every situation for danger or gain. For me, the only weakness here was the casting of Jenna-Louise Coleman as Joe's upper-class girlfriend, Susan; I couldn't quite share his intense attraction to her, so had to take it on faith.

This was compulsive watching, and though the ending will put you through a wringer, very worthwhile. Gold-standard TV drama.
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Mrs Biggs (2012)
8/10
Compelling. I couldn't stop watching.
6 October 2012
When I started watching this 5-part true-life drama, I had little knowledge of the so-called Great Train Robbery of 1963, and not a great deal of curiosity to know more. But my, how this drama sucked me in!

This is the dramatized biography of the wife of one of those train robbers, beginning with her days as the bright but rebellious daughter of a clergyman who, for better or worse, finds herself drawn to a charming petty crook. At the outset, it's impossible to imagine where this journey will lead.

This show does not romanticize its subject; nor does it take a satirical view, or descend into sensationalism. At every turn, the motivations of all the characters seem absolutely authentic. You can believe this is how it really felt to live such a life. The acting and writing are so good, you simply never think about them; you just want to know more about these people, and to find out what happened next.

The evocation of times and places--England, Australia, and Rio de Janeiro in the 1960s and '70s--is wonderful.

I'm a very analytical viewer, and it's rare that a drama not only engages me intellectually, but sweeps me up emotionally. "Mrs. Biggs" accomplished that.
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Parade's End (2012)
6/10
Unsatisfying
5 October 2012
Scene for scene, there's some beautiful writing here, but the overall exposition is obscure, and becomes more so as the story progresses; the significance and relationships of some of the secondary characters remained murky to me throughout, as did the workings of the ruling class and the military command structure of the time.

The mood also seemed to fluctuate. The first episode was brilliant, funny, sometimes breathtaking; after that, the story just seemed to become cluttered with weak subplots, while the motivations of our hero and his wife seemed either implausible or simply uninteresting; as the story progressed, these characters became less fascinating to me, not more. Only the suffragette Valentine Wannop retained my interest and sympathy.

I think it's very hard for filmmakers to capture the "tone" of these poignant/satirical British novels of the first half of the 20th century. Charles Sturridge seemed to pull it off with "A Handful for Dust," but not with "Where Angels Fear to Tread." Merchant and Ivory managed it with "A Room With a View." This production succeeds in fits and starts, but by the closing credits I was left unsatisfied and glad to be done with it.
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The Scapegoat (2012)
9/10
The magic creeps up on you...
18 September 2012
The premise is, of course, completely absurd. Is it really possible that any two unrelated strangers could look so much alike that not even a mistress, wife, or mother could spot the difference? Well, no. But the feeling here is not of absurdity, but rather whimsy. The story maintains a pose of realism even as it verges into the fantastic.

So don't expect one of those thrillers with a water-tight plot and gritty realism. This is a story about wish-fulfillment and the freedom of discovering in yourself a whole new set of possibilities. It's also about thinking of your life as it might look from the outside, as viewed by a stranger taking your place; what would he see that you're missing? Count your blessings, you fool!

Lovely performances by all, but especially Matthew Rhys in the lead role.

The magic in this movie creeps up on you slowly, and is not fully felt until the very end. The sum of the movie is more than its parts. Director-writer Charles Sturridge has done this before (the Brideshead Revisited original TV series, A Handful of Dust) and here he does it again. Bravo!
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