Maigret Sets A Trap (2016 Britain)

So much effort was expended on getting the atmosphere of the whole thing right that tension and a plausible story went by the board. Another old serial killer plot? It may have been bold and edgy in 1955 when Georges Simenon penned the novel, but the subject has been explored endlessly from every possible angle these past few  generations that its hard not to stifle a yawn. The film looks authentic enough even if it was filmed in Budapest. But it gives us a Paris that is about as quiet as a sleepy village in Provence. The viewer never gets to see any bustle in this city, but I guess when you saddle yourself with a 1950’s setting, the correct vehicles are not that easy to come by, and it has that shot-on-an-early Sunday morning look. [Read more…]

Dr Terrible’ s House of Horrible (2001 Britain)

“And you Mr Brocken, are you infirm on you’re wedding night?” “Its just a battle wound, a very large Turk surprised me from behind.” No, its not Shakespeare but one of those very short-lived TV fiascos that fill die-hard fans with expectation then disappears through lack of reaction, viewing audience etc. Shot between a foot and mouth outbreak and 9/11, Dr Terrible was doomed from the start. Some BBC bastard gave it the finger after a mere 6 episodes. As an homage to 1960s/70s British horror movies the series is chock full of in-jokes and references. But each episode comes down to one particular style. Where the series’ genuine pleasures lie are in its far richer gags, the ones which make the more acute references. [Read more…]

Downton Abbey ( Britain 2010–who cares?)

Downton Abbey has been a predictably enormous ratings success, taking the viewer-friendly melodrama of the soap operas and adding a bodice-ripper gloss by adding a period setting. Twenty or thirty years ago this series would have been a chippy pseudo-Marxist drama but in the post-modern world we get the Edwardians re-invented by a modern snob (Lord Julian Fellowes is quite a mouthful! ) as perky progressive aristocrats who love their servants as much as their servants love them. Each story is carefully compartmentalized (the only person to ever talk to the chauffeur is the young lady who is in love with him but won’t admit it) and un-named characters essentially don’t exist (during the numerous hospital scenes nobody, bar the protagonists, ever speaks or moves unless interacting with a named character).
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Inferno (1970 United Kingdom)

This was the final story in Jon Pertwee’s debut season and, although slow, it is the best of a series that, whilst an improvement on latter period Patrick Troughton, seemed a bit stilted and somewhat stuck. Not least because after a ruling by the Time Lords, Pertwee is stuck on earth to help Unit (a hush-hush military brigade headed by the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) and there is no time travel. This gave the whole 1970 season a ‘Quatermass’ vibe that is very cosy and British. The story concerns a mission at a research station to bore through the earth’s crust with a view to harnessing what lies beneath as a form of cheap energy. [Read more…]

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1983 Britain)

Ian Richardson is a fine Holmes, even if he seems a bit too good-natured. Perhaps this was a throwback to the old Basil Rathbone Holmes persona–and it works in this context. Mr Richardson is hardly the moody Holmes of Arthur Conan Doyle…but he is definitely fun to watch. Unfortunately, Donald Churchill is not one of the great screen Watsons. He is a definite step down from his immediate predecessor, David Healy, who portrayed the good Doctor opposite Richardson in The Sign of Four. As the films were produced in the same year, by the same producer, one must wonder why Healy did not reprise the role for Hound. Instead, we are presented with a rather too blustery Watson, almost reminiscent of Nigel Bruce, though not nearly as appealing. Churchill looks the part, but not much else. [Read more…]

Rose Red (2002 USA)

Stephen King screen adaptations have become quite a conundrum. He has lambasted most of them for altering characters and flow. King purists stick to the argument that the phenomena and events he describes simply cannot be captured visually. Rose Red represented ABC’s televisual attempt at the horror master’s work. Scripted and executive produced by King, it’s more ironic than terrifying; the only example I’ve seen where the TV/ movie shortcomings orignate from Stephen King’s story rather than the production values or casting. This three part mini-series revolves around a haunted house, named Rose Red, in Seattle. [Read more…]

Star Trek (1966–1969)

The original Star Trek series was far ahead of its time: dealing with issues of race, sexuality, the real or potential abuse of power, humanity as well as tragedy and even comedy. The program was excellent for the first two seasons but was generally sub-par in the third where it released a string of atrocious episodes such as ‘Spock’s Brain’, mostly due to budget cuts. Ironically, if Season 3 had never been produced, the numerous Star Trek spinoffs which we take for granted today would likely never have appeared since there would have been only 55 Trek episodes in existence rather than the final 79 shows–too few to justify its syndication on TV and touch off Star Trek’s subsequent rebirth in fan popularity during the 1970’s. [Read more…]

Shahs Of Sunset (2012–2016 USA)

Yet another “reality” TV show which applies the usual formula — identify an ethnic community’s most ridiculous characters, inviting ridicule — this time its L.A.’s Persian-American population on the griddle. The title itself seems like a particularly cheap shot at a community that, for better or for worse, is still struggling to come to terms with a revolution that happened four decades ago. “Shah” is the term for the king of Iran, a monarchy which fell in 1979 to today’s Islamic Republic. The Iranian-American community in Los Angeles was founded by those who immigrated to America as a result of that monarchy’s collapse. [Read more…]

Minder (1979–1994 United Kingdom)

Anyone who had a TV set in Britain, (or in one of the colonies like here in NZ with its Anglophile programming) in the 1980s will know Minder. A beloved series to many, a guilty pleasure to many more and a load of old codswallop to a few others. It is in fact the finest comedy drama that TV has produced. Period. Yep. The show ran like a backbone through British TV in the 80’s. To watch it now is nostalgic and in some ways quite cosy viewing, but there is so much more to it than that. Unlike phony Sly Stallone, at least Dennis Waterman had some real boxing experience in the ring. This helped fight scene authenticity. [Read more…]

A Bit Of Fry & Laurie ( UK 1987–1994 )

neddy-and-jackCambridge graduates Fry and Laurie would, by their appearance and elocution, fit the bill of upper class twits perfectly. And certainly a lot of the humour on offer in this series does test your sense of subtlety to the limit. But these two pithy academics also seem to have an interest in lampooning the lower classes they seem to have less in common with, so the humour covers a wider section of society than those this might be slightly more aimed at. You can see where David Mitchell and Robert Webb got their idea of a sketch show from. These two chaps. The usual gripe, that is common to most sketch shows of the time, is the unnecessary inclusion of musical numbers, but that aside its a thoroughly enjoyable show. [Read more…]

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