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Favourite movies: Pulp Fiction; Memento; Apocalypse Now; Annie Hall; American Beauty; The Big Lebowski; Million Dollar Baby; Reservoir Dogs; Citizen Kane; Paris Texas; Lost in Translation; Rear Window; Fargo; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; A Clockwork Orange; The Godfather; Dr Strangelove; Full Metal Jacket; The Apartment; Anatomy of a Murder; Short Cuts; Sin City; Modern Times; Stagecoach; Ikiru; The Search (1948); Glory; Monty Python and the Holy Grail; The Wrestler; The Usual Suspects; Up; This is Spinal Tap; Taxi Driver; Mr. Smith Goes To Washington; Gettysburg; Fight Club; Treasure of the Sierra Madre; La Strada; The Deer Hunter; The Sixth Sense; To Kill a Mockingbird; Tora! Tora! Tora!; The Best Years Of Our Lives; Still Life; Witness for the Prosecution; Stars in my Crown; All About Eve; No Country for Old Men; M; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; Stalker; Wild Strawberries; Saving Private Ryan.
Prefer clever dramas with good plots, character depth and/or a profound point, gritty crime dramas, edgy comedies and realistic war movies. Movies that make me think and/or feel.
Favourite directors: Quentin Tarantino, The Coen Brothers, Woody Allen, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, Billy Wilder, Christopher Nolan.
Favourite TV drama series (incl. mini-series): The Sopranos; Band of Brothers; Breaking Bad; The Wire; Firefly; Generation Kill; Stranger Things; Freaks and Geeks; Black Mirror; The Americans; Peaky Blinders; Narcos; Sherlock; The Night Of; Chernobyl; After Life; Fargo.
Favourite TV comedy series: Monty Python's Flying Circus; The Simpsons; Seinfeld; Chappelle's Show; Friends; Fawlty Towers; Arrested Development; Scrubs; 30 Rock; The Thick Of It; The Mighty Boosh; Family Guy; The Office (UK series); Black Adder; Yes Minister; The Colbert Report; Cheers; Action; The IT Crowd; Veep; Married With Children.
Intelligent and/or edgy comedies, plus gritty dramas, in general. Documentaries, esp on military history.
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Wonderfully sentimental and thought-provoking
An ad exec is at the end of his tether, with a bullying, aggressive boss and an unsympathetic, selfish wife. Then he falls asleep on the train home one night and dreams of an idyllic town called Willoughby.
The average episode of the Twilight Zone was entertaining and intriguing but not always profound. The worst episodes were quite predictable with a twist and/or ending you could see a mile off.
This episode is more than intriguing and entertaining, it's also wonderfully sentimental and thought-provoking. It will appeal to anyone who has ever wanted to escape the rat race and go somewhere peaceful and serene. Add in a great twist towards the end and this almost the perfect episode.
Great, epic prison/escape drama. Interesting, captivating plot. Solid direction.
Good performances from Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman in the lead roles.
Very very bad. Plot is hair-brained and has no grounding in reality. Dialogue is silly.
Performances are incredibly unconvincing. Most of the actors are unknowns, so it goes with the territory. However, Michael Madsen's performance is particularly laughable and we know he is capable of better, so the director must have had a hand in it.
The Last Man on Earth (1964)
Novel, intriguing idea, poorly progressed, cheaply produced and clumsily executed
It is three years since a plague either killed everyone on earth or turned them into zombies. Dr. Robert Morgan is the sole survivor and lives a perilous existence where at night the zombies attack his house and during the day he seeks out zombies and kills them. The monotony and isolation of his existence is getting to him - is there any point to all this?
Based on Richard Matheson's novel "I am Legend", with screenplay co-written by Matheson, the central plot is an incredibly novel and intriguing one: a sole survivor of an apocalyptic disaster, his everyday life, how he survives and the point to it all (if there is one). For the first 30 minutes or so the film was riveting as we are introduced to Robert Morgan's world. Surely the basis for interesting, entertaining plot development and a solid, even profound, ending. The possibilities where the story could go and how it would get there were endless.
Sadly, anything good about the movie largely ends when after the setup (Act 1) ends. The prolonged flashback to three years previously that constitutes Act 2 is largely padded and highlights the main flaw with the movie: it is Italian made and directed and, other than Vincent Price in the lead role, all the actors are C-grade Italian actors. While we had Morgan as the only character it was fine, as there was no dialogue. The moment we have dialogue the movie shifts from A-grade thriller to C-grade farce. The acting is atrocious and the terrible English overdubs make things worse.
Add in an incredibly poor production and the lustre has completely gone off the movie by about the 60% mark. The cheap production contributes to some absolutely laughable scenes, e,g. one scene that is supposed to occur at night is filmed largely in broad daylight, depending on the camera shot.
At least we still have the intriguing plot, right? Well, sort of, but not entirely. The plot does go in an interesting direction but then gets wrapped up in unsatisfactory, almost farcical, circumstances. Once again, the cheap production, diabolically bad directing and C-grade acting don't help.
It's as if the producers had a small budget to start off with and then spent 95% of it on getting Vincent Price, leaving almost nothing for production, the director or the actors.
This said, Hollywood subsequently had two shots at turning I Am Legend into a great movie and failed on both occasions. I haven't seen The Omega Man (1971) but by its reviews and IMDB score I would say it can't be much better than The Last Man on Earth. I have seen I Am Legend (2007) and it is better, but not by much (gave it a 6/10). Production, direction and performances are better, but the progression and conclusion of the plot are similarly lacking.
This is a pity, on all three counts, as the central plot is a great one and surely a platform for a great movie.
Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
Good adaptation of the famous Broadway musical. Music is great and dialogue is often very witty. Plot is a bit long-winded though.
Good performances all round, especially by Topol as Tevye.
April 1917, the Western Front. Two British soldiers are sent to deliver an urgent message to an isolated regiment. If the message is not received in time the regiment will walk into a trap and be massacred. To get to the regiment they will need to cross through enemy territory. Time is of the essence and the journey will be fraught with danger.
I had highish hopes for this movie. Written and directed by Sam Mendes, who gave us such superb films as American Beauty, Revolutionary Road, Road to Perdition and Jarhead, and massively hyped this looked like it should be one of the best war films to come out for a while. Turns out, it's not: it's at best average.
The plot is interesting enough but that's about it. 1917 doesn't go anywhere new, say anything profound or even provide a large amount of entertainment. It's an odyssey involving characters who are clumsily drawn and aren't particularly engaging, with some goodish action scenes that are few and far between. The military side is okay but not 100% plausible.
If you were hoping that this might be a confronting drama, showing the wastefulness of war, there's elements of that but it has been done before and done better and more jarringly. It's only confronting and profound if you've never watched a realistic war movie before, and even then it's probably not graphic or engaging enough to make a profound point regarding war.
Overall, it's okay, but not great, and quite disappointing.
Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
Okay, but surprisingly lacking in tension
Francis Barnard visits the castle of Nicholas Medina, his late sister's husband, to pay his respects and find out how she died. The castle was used to torture victims during the Spanish Inquisition and that feeling of terror remains within parts of the castle. Moreover it appears that the spirit of his sister is haunting the castle.
Directed by Roger Corman and based on Edgar Allan Poe's short story this movie was the second in a series of eight Poe-based films, now known as the Corman-Poe Cycle. The other seven movies were: The Fall of the House of Usher (1960), Premature Burial (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), The Raven (1963), The Haunted Palace (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964) and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964). Apart from Premature Burial, Vincent Price starred in all these movies.
Pit and the Pendulum has that Corman-Poe feel to it - the gloomy, sinister atmosphere, the dark presence of Vincent Price, the intrigue - but, for the most part, it lacks tension. The first 75% or so of the movie is quite flat, despite some intriguing discoveries along the way. Part of the problem appears to be that the original Poe story (which I haven't read) was too short to easily convert into a movie, so the plot had to be drawn out and padded. This makes for a quite slow-moving film for the majority of it.
Things do ramp up towards the end and become quite nerve-racking and exciting. Even then it is not plain sailing as it becomes a bit ambiguous whether a certain character is a victim or a villain, so engagement becomes problematic. Great twist at the very end though.
Overall, interesting and entertaining enough but not a must-see.
O Ornitólogo (2016)
Meandering and pointless
An ornithologist is out surveying birds in the wild when his canoe is swept over rapids. He is rescued by two Chinese hikers but they, due to their religious beliefs, perceive him as a threat. So they tie him to a tree.
Dull, meandering and pointless. From the outset you can tell this is going to be drawn out unnecessarily, as we see long scenes of birds, and nothing else. (Yeah, yeah, Mr Director, we get it: he's an ornithologist, as if the title and plot summary didn't give it away).
After all the gratuitous bird shots, the plot, what there is, just goes in random directions. Just when you think at last things might be coming together, something random and bizarre happens. Last few scenes make no sense at all.
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
A crime-drama classic. Great, intriguing, unpredictable plot. Stylish direction by the now-legendary John Huston (making his directorial debut).
Humphrey Bogart pretty much plays the stereotypical Bogie role - cool, aloof, sharp-witted, calculating, wise-cracking - and does it superbly. Good support from Mary Astor, Peter Lorre and Lee Patrick.
One of the most thought-provoking and profound episodes in the series
Tom Jameson is a history professor at a college. He is engaged to marry the daughter of Professor Kittridge, a colleague and friend. Things get complicated when Jameson reveals that he is over 2,000 years old.
The average episode of the Twilight Zone was entertaining and intriguing but not always profound. The worst episodes were quite predictable with a twist and/or ending you could see a mile off.
The best ones were not only intriguing but thought-provoking and profound and this is such an episode. Interesting story that covers themes like life and death, and what lies between, in an objective way and certainly makes you think about your own mortality.
Freaks and Geeks (1999)
Brilliant: wonderfully funny, profound, emotional and nostalgic
William McKinley High School, Michigan, 1980. Lindsay Weir is a straight-A student but is feeling like expanding her horizons. She starts hanging out with the "freaks", the students more into rock music, drugs and just having fun. Meanwhile, her younger brother Sam and his friends are navigating growing up and teenage social politics.
Wonderful series that is part comedy, part drama. Covers many aspects of teenage life, all with humour, warmth and in a profound yet non-judgemental and objective way. Hilariously funny at times, yet also highly emotional at times too.
Quite unpredictable and realistic in the way plots develop. There are plenty on occasions where I think, oh no, such-and-such is now going to happen (because that's the way the average TV series would progress it), only for it to pan out differently and in much more relatable and likely fashion.
Highly nostalgic too, due to the period of one's life it is set in and also because of the music and other cultural references. The music is superb, from the Joan Jett theme song to incidental tracks. The tracks are not just there for background music but inform and enhance the plots, thus are crucial to the storylines.
The whole feel to the series is like The Wonder Years meets Dazed and Confused.
Rounding it all off are some great, convincing performances, all of which contribute to an unforced, natural vibe to proceedings. Linda Cardellini, as Lindsay, is the pick of the bunch but nobody puts a foot wrong. The series is famous for launching the careers of James Franco, Seth Rogen and Jason Segel. Quest stars include Ben Stiller and Leslie Mann and among the minor roles can be found then-unknowns who are now stars: Jason Schwarzman, Ben Foster, Shia LaBeouf and Lizzie Caplan.
Sadly, the quality of a TV series is not what matters to TV executives, only ratings, and Freaks and Geeks only lasted one season. This was very unfortunate as there was still a whole lot it could have tackled and heaps more plot- and character-development potential remaining. Thankfully the season (and series) does end on a high, emotional note, so there is a degree of closure.
Like Firefly, it will remain a series criminally terminated in its prime.
The Jerk (1979)
Hilariously funny movie - Steve Martin at his best. Contains scenes that will be used in montages and as cinema icons for years to come, and will be plagiarised for years to come.
As mentioned, Steve Martin is in top form here. Timing, delivery, every is perfect. Supporting cast - Bernadette Peters especially - are great too.
Pretty basic fight-movie, i.e. craptacular. Plot is meaningless and unoriginal. Direction is paint-by-numbers. Performances are all over the place.
Much worse than expected and I set my expectations very low
Red is a lumberjack and lives with Mandy in an isolated cabin. Their peaceful existence is shattered by the appearance of an insane cult leader, his followers and a supernatural creature. When they kidnap Mandy, Red goes on the warpath.
I had low expectations for this, figuring it would be largely a common-or-garden horror movie. However, some aspects of the plot intrigued me and, at the very least, it would be a fun watch.
Unfortunately, this was even worse than I expected. Writer-director Panos Cosmatos delivers a movie that is pretentious and pointless in the extreme. Drawn-out scenes filled with empty dialogue, imagery that just serves to make the film look arty, religious/supernatural themes that go nowhere - the movie couldn't be more pretentious and dull.
It's not even fun: the entire film is shot in very dark light (another attempt by Cosmatos to make the film appear arty), so you can hardly see what is going on most of the time. The action scenes are quite basic and clichéd too.
Watching this is a massive waste of time. Avoid like the plague.
Not the best adaptation of the Dracula tale. Slow-moving and a bit jumbled.
Good performances though, particularly from Frank Langella in the lead role, and from Sir Laurence Olivier (though that is to be expected).
John Carter (2012)
Style over substance
Great visual spectacle, and that's it. Plot starts well, but runs out of ideas and momentum pretty quickly. Ends up going on random detours, and just gets silly after a while.
Reasonable performances from an all-star supporting cast. Lead actor is a nobody though, and it shows.
Great, hidden gem of a movie. Poignant, thought-provoking and understated, covering the world of addiction and its effects on relationships.
Good performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the lead role. Good support from Aaron Paul.
Jojo Rabbit (2019)
Superb: wonderfully funny, emotional and profound
World War 2. Jojo is a 10-year-old German boy and a zealous follower of Hitler. He even has an imaginary friend, Adolf, who resembles Hitler and who motivates him and guides his actions. Then one day he finds a Jewish girl hiding in his house.
Superb. Written and directed by Taika Waititi, who wrote and directed the excellent 'What We Do In the Shadows' plus 'Hunt For The Wilderpeople' and 'Boy' and directed 'Thor: Ragnarok'. While Waititi is more renowned as a comedic director (though many of his films have dramatic elements to them), Jojo Rabbit is a great balance between comedy and drama.
Initially this combination of comedy and drama is a bit jarring, as you'll have some great comedy moments mixed in with some deadly serious, even tragic, dramatic moments. One moment you'll have an hilarious scene where the Nazis are being made fun of, the next you see the tragic effects of their regime. This two-tone approach initially makes the movie quite unsettling.
However, from a point the comedy-drama divide follows a rhythm and things settle down. As the movie goes on the tone becomes more consistently serious, leading to a powerful, profound, emotional conclusion.
Solid performances by Ronan Griffin Davis as Jojo, Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa and Scarlett Johansson as Jojo's mother. Waititi himself takes on the Hitler role and does a great job. Outstanding performance of the movie goes to Sam Rockwell as Captain Klenzendorf, the jaded, alcoholic German Army officer. Absolutely hilarious.
Good supporting cast that includes Alfie Allen, Rebel Wilson and Stephen Merchant.
Reasonably good disaster (of a pandemic kind) movie. Plot build-up is good, but the conclusion seems anti-climactic and dull.
Solid performances from an all-star cast.
Trouble with the Curve (2012)
Great cast but plot and direction are listless. Story just feels trite and predictable.
Stand-out performance goes to Amy Adams. Clint Eastwood plays his usual curmudgeonly role, which is starting to feel a bit tired and predictable now. Good support from John Goodman. Justin Timberlake is Ok in his role.
Hunter Killer (2018)
Over the top but entertaining
While shadowing a Russian submarine in Russian waters, the Russian and US submarines are sunk. The US Navy sends another submarine, the USS Arkansas, to investigate. While there the Russian defence minister stages a coup, holding the Russian president hostage and threatening all-out war with the US. The fate of the world depends on the Arkansas and a Navy SEAL team, sent in to monitor the Russian president.
The movie looked like fun, but the general plot seemed so implausible that it was likely to just be another gung ho war-action movie. Plus, it stars Gerard Butler, and he only appears in incredibly bad movies. So I set my expectations quite low.
Turns out it is quite implausible: many scenes are over-the-top and don't really make much sense, militarily. However, it is quite entertaining and the over-the-topness doesn't reach the extent where you're constantly rolling your eyes. The pace helps too: it is a cracking one and doesn't give you time to think how unlikely a scenario is, or dwell too long on one if you spot it.
Hardly Apocalypse Now but it's good fun.
Navy Seals (1990)
Even worse than expected
Worse than I expected, and my expectations weren't high. Over-the-top gung-ho miltary action drama. Plot is basic. Performances are wooden.
The Witcher (2019)
Takes some patience but worth it in the long run
Geralt of Rivia is a witcher, a mutant with special powers who kills monsters for money. The land is in a state of turmoil, due to the empire of Nilfgaard seeking to enlarge its territory. Among the refugees of this struggle is Cirilla, the Princess of Cintra, one of Nilfgaard's victims. She and Geralt share a destiny. Meanwhile, another figure looms large in Geralt's adventures: Yennefer, a sorceress.
I was initially not impressed by this series. The first few episodes are random, rambling and seem like a series of largely independent scenes strung together. Much of this was meant to be background but it could have been done in a more engaging and coherent manner. I started to suspect that the series was only made with those who had played the game in mind.
After two episodes I had given up and was largely still watching in the hope that things became more focussed and ordered. Thankfully, they eventually do. After about four episodes things click into gear and the series establishes an order and rhythm. From then on it is quite entertaining, as we see Geralt, Ciri and Yennefer's adventures.
The plot is still not perfect - there are a few holes - but at least it's interesting and moves at a good pace. Production values are excellent with some great special effects.
Overall: not brilliant but worth watching. As mentioned, it does take some patience, initially, but gets better as you go along. By the end of the first season I found it riveting viewing.
Jian yu (2010)
Weak. Starts interestingly enough, but quickly degenerates into the usual gratuitous fight scenes. The fight scenes were pretty standard, and sometimes just weird (bendy swords for the win!). Plot is so-so.
So-so. Starts well enough. Had a fair amount of intrigue, but just when you think the movie is going to kick up a notch, it goes in a dull, pointless direction. From then on it drifts and ultimately goes nowhere.
Good performance by Kerry Fox. Mark Rylance is irritating, however.