southdavid

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Reviews

Cloudburst
(1951)

Preston's North End.
The next movie watched for the "House of Hammer" Podcast is "Cloudburst", a 1951 film, notable for being the first one Hammer made at Bray Studios following their acquisition of it.

In post war Briton, John Graham (Robert Preston) and his team continue to undertake cryptography work for both the Police and for British Intelligence. His seemingly settled life is devastated when his wife Carol (Elizabeth Sellars) is killed in a hit and run accident. Broken, and out for revenge, he uses contacts within the Police department to track down his wife's killers. Bringing them to justice though, isn't exactly what he has in mind.

Adapted from a play by Leo Marks, who would later provide a screenplay for Michael Powell's seminal "Peeping Tom" "Cloudburst" marks, to my eyes anyway, a big step up in the quality of filmmaking we've seen from Hammer studios. It maybe was that I was watching a print that had been worked on, that might help explain how good the film stock looked or the step up in sound quality - but that wouldn't explain the sudden move to exterior shots, multiple locations, camera's attached to cars for visual effects.

Nor would it account for bringing over Robert Preston to feature as the films lead. This was before he would gather acclaim in "The Music Man" or his Oscar nomination for "Victor/Victoria". Preston is really good here, a proper presence as the devastated leading man. Whilst I appreciate the noir, and indeed general darkness of the picture as a whole, I do wish that it held together a little better. In retrospect, I wish that Graham's skills had tied more into how he tracked down the pair, or even how he covers up what happens to them.

It's not that I disliked it because of this, it's more that I wished that the plot had matched the characterisation, because there's a real depth of backstory to the leads.

Launchpad: American Eid
(2021)
Episode 1, Season 1

American Eid-iot (Sorry, couldn't resist the pun).
Though part of the "Launchpad" series - this current appears on Disney Plus, in the UK anyway, as its own short film. There isn't really much to dig into with it, as it's really more of an educational film, rather than a dramatic one.

Ameena (Shanessa Khawaja) is a young Muslim girl, experiencing her first EID in America, since the family has relocated from Pakistan. She's disappointed to discover that she still has to go to school on this special day, and that the holiday is generally not celebrated in The States. Her older sister, Zainab (Jenna Qureshi) is struggling at school a lot more, as the daylight fasting has affected her energy levels and her ability to try out for a dance group. Whilst Zainab is looking to hide their cultural differences, Ameena is actively petitioning the school to recognise the day.

I'm not going to talk about whether this is a decent representation of an American Muslim's experience. At time of writing this review there are just two others, both of whom offer conflicting opinions on that subject. I'll stick to talking about the actual film. It's nicely shot, and the performances from the kids involved, and particularly the two leads are fine. There's a weird artificialness to the dubbing though, that permeates the whole film.

Whilst I do appreciate that the short run time restricts exactly how much story the film can go into, it's a bit of a skim over the issues, with both girls problems coming to a head fairly quickly and wrapping up in a nice bow before anything to dramatic can take place. That's why I felt it feels like an educational film, it's the sort of stuff that would appear on the CBBC channel over here, to teach pre-teens about international tolerance - maybe that is what it's for the in states too.

Not enough to it to really form any positive or negative opinions, but it was charming enough whilst it was on.

A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa
(2008)

A Christmas Pudding
Another show watched as it was next on the alphabetical list of movies on Disney Plus. There was a degree of anticipation for me, as the title including the words "Muppet" and "Christmas" invokes thoghts of the superlative "Muppets Christmas Carol". This though, whether in comparison or even on its own merits, is a pretty poor affair.

Having caused some issues at the Post Office in the run up to Christmas, our Muppet heroes discover they've inadvertently taken three letters and now, with the Post Office closed these letters won't make it to Santa (Richard Griffiths) in time. The gang decide to take it upon themselves to deliver the letters, so head to the North Pole.

My relationship to The Muppets is an odd one. It's peaked by two films, the aforementioned "Christmas Carol" and the 2011 Muppets Movie. I was a touch too young for the original series and the revivals haven't really worked for me. This I didn't enjoy either. I didn't think it was funny and that the songs were uninspiring. It was a procession of cameos - some of which, such as Steve Schirripa and Rony Sirico were entertaining enough, but most of whom, such as Mayor Bloomberg and Uma Thurman were rather baffling.

The real problem is the story and script though, it's a boring but also oddly confusing story. It feels like the challenge should be getting to the North Pole and delivering the letter, but way to much time is spent on the set up, so there isn't really enough time for anything interesting to happen once they're there.

It is, after all, a glorified TV special rather than a movie in its own right, so perhaps it's asking a bit too much for it to have been genuinely good too, but I can't recommend it either.

Deep Heat
(2022)

Half Nelson
I'm going to review this as 'Season one' even though I think that a second season is unlikely, given the lack of buzz that circulated around the show. It piqued my interest though, because I am a fan of pro-Wrestling and, whilst I'd prefer to see something a bit more like "Heelz" representing a more realistic look at the UK independent scene, there's enough recognisable elements that kept me watching.

Holly (Jahannah James) is the daughter of Pam (Pippa Haywood) a former wrestler turned promotor for BOSS pro Wrestling. Though her brother, Nick (Richard Fleeshman) is the champion star performer, Holly isn't allowed to participate despite her natural aptitude. When Pam is incapacitated, Nick steals the talent and starts his own company, so Holly vows to keep BOSS operating on their road to the big end of tour show.

I can't lie, "Deep Heat" isn't great. As a sitcom I can best describe it as sporadically amusing, rather than actively funny. The characters are very broad, but generally likable enough. Writers Ivan Gonzalez and Max Olesker appear and Olesker shows enough skill in the ring to convince as a performer. There are a couple of reliable old hands, in Pippa Haywood and Alistair Petrie. As well as occasional guest stars like John Thomson and Matt Lucas, the case is populated by some recognisable faces from the UK indie circuit, with Mariah May and "driller" Dan Moloney there to populate some of the wrestling scenes with some real action.

I don't think I can, in all honesty, recommend the series to anyone who doesn't at least have a passing interest in Wrestling, it's just not funny enough to stand as a sitcom on its own merit. I didn't hate every minute of it, but I doubt I'll remember the show at all in six months.

Lupin: Chapter 10
(2021)
Episode 5, Season 2

Part Two Review
Five more episodes of the French Crime drama that were released some six months after the initial part. I enjoyed the first run, though I thought perhaps the overall plot kicked in rather heavily when I'd have preferred a little more of the wit of the first episode to prevail. This second run is almost the opposite.

With his son Raoul (Etan Simon) kidnapped, Assane (Omar Sy) assisted by Guedira (Soufiuane Guerrab) chases Leonard (Adama Niane) to an abandoned chateau where a violent confrontation is the only possible outcome. We see in flashback the relationship between young Assane (Mamadou Haidara) and Juliette (Lea Bonneau) which gives Assane an opportunity to turn present day Juliette (Clotidle Hesme) against her father.

This second run is almost spilt in two. The first two episodes deal with the kidnapping and the outcome of that situation. The next three push us back to Assane's revenge against Hubert Pellegrini for the murder of his father. As with the first season, I do end up wishing that storyline was just a touch cleverer than it is. That is had just one or two more extra twists across the run. As it was, it was fine and Omar Sy's charm is usually enough to carry the episode through to the conclusion. As with the first run though, I do feel that the odd extra story, a standalone one showing a clever robbery that explains how Assane finances his operation, would go a long way.

I'm still engaged and will watch part three when it arrives later this year, I would like a little more from the series overall though.

The Departed
(2006)

The Rat Pack
I've been after the 2007 Oscar's badge for a while now and have had a couple of aborted attempts to rewatch "The Departed". It's arrival on Netflix though gave me the impetus to sit down and watch it. Though I know it's rather thought of as Scorsese's "honorary" best picture Oscar winner, there's an awful lot to admire in this remake of the Japanese organised crime thriller.

Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) runs organised crime in the Irish controlled areas of Boston. Taking a smart young boy under his wing, he convinces Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) to join the police force and be his man on the inside. An organised crime department within the force takes young recruit Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), who has dubious characters in his family, and convinces him to worm his way into Costello's crew. With both moles in place, the pressure on the pair rises and the risk of exposure becomes all consuming.

If Scorsese tends to prefer to make character study type movies, "The Departed" is a bit of an anomaly - not because it's lacking in performance, Nicholson excels as the truly awful crime boss Costello and is matched in memorable turns by Mark Wahlberg's foul mouthed cop - but because the film is driven by it story. The duality of the two 'rats' both perhaps the only two people who could understand each other but driven to acts of violence by fear of exposure. Admittedly, Scorsese has made the odd organised crime film before, though the shift from an Italian accent to an Irish one provides the smallest big of variety. Speaking of accents, it's another misfire from Ray Winstone, not quite "Black Widow" bad but certainly more

What's unarguable is the quality of the rest of the film, the cinematography, score as well as the depth of the ensemble cast. It doesn't, for me, get close to a true Scorsese classic, like "Goodfellas" but it's certainly a worthy enough film in its own right.

Altered Carbon: Broken Angels
(2020)
Episode 8, Season 2

Season Two Review
Years ago, I watched the first season of "Altered Carbon". Though I thought it had perhaps a bit too much going on surrounding the murder mystery plot I enjoyed it - I thought I might hit the second season relatively quickly too, but somehow, it's taken me four years to get around to it. I didn't like this second run as much as the first.

Several decades later Takeshi Kovacs (Anthony Mackie) is woken again and offered a new enhanced sleeve and a chance to investigate a murder seemingly undertaken by Falconer (Renee Elise Goldsberry) an old associate of his long thought dead. The planet that Kovac's is on is led by Danica Harlan (Lela Loren) and a cabal of the rich and ancient. But revolution is in the air and Falconer could be the spark to set them off.

I'll be honest and say that I felt lost for large parts of this season. By the end, I think I understood, but there were some confusing and, dare I say, boring sections leading up to it. The re-sleeving aspect of the plot is great from a recasting standpoint. With Kovac's now played by Anthony Mackie rather than Joel Kinnaman. I'm not sure that I ever really bought that they were the same person - with Kinnaman seeming a bit more wisecracking than Mackie, though it might be explained by the story being less personal in the first season. It does see a return for Goldsberry though, for Will Yun Lee as 'Kovac classic' and, most importantly, for Chris Conner as Poe - digital operator of Kovac's favourite hotel. The best new addition for the second season is Simone Missick as Trepp, a bounty hunter and sometime friend/ sometime foe of Kovac.

I don't think that the drop off in quality is quite as devastating as some of my fellow reviewers do, particularly if you persevere to end when the storyline does come together a bit, but the analogy of a straight to dvd sequel to a hit film does ring true.

The Book of Manning
(2013)

Quarterback Club
Though I suspect this was originally part of the 30 for 30 documentary series, on the UK version of Disney Plus this now appears as a documentary film in its own right. I liked American Football enough to know who Peyton and Eli were, though I had no idea that their father had played or any of the business about which college they all attended.

Archie Manning has a promising football career, playing quarterback for the University of Mississippi. When his father takes his own life, he considers dropping out to help support his family but is convinced to continue by his mother and eventually makes it to the NFL, playing for 13 seasons for the New Orleans Saints. With his career winding down, he has three sons. Cooper whose promising career was ended by Spinal Stenosis, Peyton and Eli - both of whom would win multiple Superbowls in hall of fame careers.

Again, this was mostly new information to me. Expertly told by interviews with the family and with a story narrated by John Goodman. It focuses much more on the college experiences of the family, rather than the NFL Careers. Archie becomes a legend for Mississippi's team, the Ole Miss Rebels and Cooper seemed set to follow him, until his diagnosis. Then Peyton decides to play for Tennessee instead, which does not go down well with the Mississippi faithful, some of whom turn their ire at Archie for letting it happen. Eli though does go to Ole Miss and breaks records set by his father.

It's a really good documentary, I felt. Made with a lot of access to the family and with their blessing, there is plenty of old family footage of the three kids playing football in the yard and making each other cry. It might be nice to revisit it again in a couple of years, when it seems like Cooper son Arch might have added an new chapter.

Bo Burnham: Inside
(2021)

Interior Monologue
Another choice from the Guardian's top 50 shows of 2021, "Inside" is a comedy special / breakdown written, directed, edited and starring Bo Burnham. I hadn't seen any of his previous specials, though I had seen his performance in "Promising Young Woman" and thought he was good in that. I can't honestly speak to how authentic the feelings Burnham displays here were, but it was certainly a funny, depressing, impressive and bleak show.

Set in a single room of his house, Bo Burnham performs a series of comedic songs as part of and about a special that he's trying to produce during the Covid Lockdowns of 2020/2021. As the lockdown extends, Burnham's psychological well being deteriorates and he struggles to complete the special, or even to decide if he wants to complete the special.

The honesty of the breakdown is, I suppose, by the by. Comedians are like any other performer and adopt a persona for their performance, I would say that I felt that Burnham stuck admirably to the emotional truth, even if, sometimes - I felt that was to the detriment of the actual special. Cutting half an hour of the sadness could easily have been done, and would have made the overall experience easier to consume - but the lasting legacy of the special might end up being that it's tied to this specific period in our history and as an insight into what it was like.

You can't help but appreciate the quality of the craft though, for an entirely self-made piece of work. Even basic stuff, like the lighting changes within the songs are so impressive when you consider that it's done, presumably by a lot of trial and error until he gets it just right.

As I said above, I haven't seen any of the other specials to compare this too - so I suppose I'll have to check them out and see if this really is the dramatic step up that other have declared it.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
(2022)

The Quick and The Dead
Look. I know. The film only really makes sense if you've seen not only the twenty five previous MCU films but also now the Disney Plus TV shows and you can debate whether a film is truly working if it requires that much previously gained background knowledge before you go in. . . But here's the thing, I have. I've seen them all, even the "Inhumans" series, and with all that - and the fact that I'm a huge "Evil Dead" fan - it's not perhaps surprising that I loved this.

Still dealing with the aftereffects of saving the world, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is called into action again when he saves a young woman, America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) from an attacking giant creature. The creature is stalking Chavez because of her power, to jump between multiverses, a power that she can't control but that has cost her dearly so far. As the pair discover who is behind the creature attack, they are forced to take refuge in an alt-world, but their antagonist discovers a dangerous way to follow them.

What I can't believe is how much the film must have been altered to greater fit the aesthetic and predilections of Sam Raimi. We're not just talking a cameo from Bruce Campbell and the Delta Oldsmobile - but sound design choices, such as the movement of the camera mimicking those from "The Evil Dead", the hell monsters that resemble Dead-ites and there are even music cues that sound like ones from that series. It was excellent to the small percentage of a modern audience who could relate the two properties.

As I say, I can't imagine what anyone who hasn't seen "Wandavision" might have made of it, but I was certainly all for perhaps the most 'inside baseball' film the MCU have made so far. It was funny, it looked great and was definitely the most horror infused that the series has been. You can't talk about the cameos - though if you've got this far without seeing the film and not seen those cameos online somewhere, really well done.

There are dozens of other aspects of the movie that I could talk about, characters and moments, but I've already surpassed my usual word limit. Suffice it to say that I really liked this, and I can't wait for "Thor", "Ms. Marvel" and whatever Sam Raimi decides to do next.

Firestarter
(2022)

Fails to Ignite
I don't think I've ever seen the Drew Barrymore version of this Stephen King story, nor have I read the book, so I honestly can't tell you if this lived up to either of those. What I can say is that, despite some interesting flourishes, mostly this is a pedestrian adventure and I'm not sure who the target audience is.

Charlie McGee (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) is a young girl with a supernatural power, when upset, she can generate an intense and destructive fire that she is impervious too. An incident at her school exposes her to a government agency that would like to bring her in for experimentation, one that has a dark history of dealing with people with powers. As her mother Vicky (Sydney Lemmon) and father Andy (Zac Efron) try to get her to safety, another powered individual Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes) is on their trail.

Blumhouse Studios has quite the history of successfully soft rebooting horror films now and their success with "The Invisible Man" is plastered all over the advertising for this one, unfortunately it's not telling anything like as interesting or relevant of a story. Dangerous power in the (relatively) unstable hands of a child is a familiar plot but here it's crowbarred into a low rent revenge action film, if anything - desperately lacking in scares, or invention, to make the experience worthwhile.

I did like the 80's aesthetic. Though it didn't extend to the actual setting, the typeface and style of the credit sequences are retro inspired and interesting, and there's a John (and Cody) Carpenter provided score, which is full of the sort of synthetic sounds that he's know for. I also can't actively criticise the performances of anyone involved, though by the same token, nobody particularly stands out. The visual effects are fine, if a bit toned down for what they might have been.

It's just all in service of a story that's not very interesting. I know it's not a horror story in the way some other King narratives are, but it's desperately lacking in any sort of thrills.

Inside No. 9: Nine Lives Kat
(2022)
Episode 3, Season 7

I'd rather have a bowl of alcopops.
The third episode of this season of "Inside Number Nine" is a clever, if perhaps slightly too meta for its own good addition to the series.

Katrina (Sophie Okonedo) is a hard boiled, no nonsense, Police Detective. Downing Vodka with her Coco pops for breakfast, she's joined by Ezra (Steve Pemberton) who helps her go over the details of her latest case, the disappearance of a young boy. If that all sound a little cliché the writers are way ahead of you.

I don't put spoilers in my reviews, so this might need to be carefully danced around, as saying pretty much anything else about the plot of the episode is a spoiler. I will say that, thematically, it harks back to the "League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse" in some of its ideas, though the execution is very different. That a twist from that initial conceit is coming won't be a surprise - the way that the twists were built on worked for me, to a point, but the ending didn't work that well, and calling out the ending not working very well within said ending doesn't make up for it.

The three guest stars are all good though, and Okonedo, Siobhan Redmond and Robin Weaver all get to show a couple of different sides to their characters before their stories end.

It's a humorous, clever episodes, with some horror moments, but crucially not perhaps strong enough of any one of those three aspects to make this anything more than a standard episode.

28 Days Later...
(2002)

It's life Jim, but not as we know it.
The first film alphabetically on Disney Plus that I hadn't already reviewed is "28 Days Later". Danny Boyle's 2002 reinvention of the Zombie Movie for the 21st century. I've not seen it in quite a while and was interested to see it again, both from a story and from a technical standpoint.

Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in hospital following a coma. He discovers that the ward, the hospital and implausibly London itself seem to have been abandoned. Jim has missed the initial infection and widespread dissemination of a virus, one which turns the host into a rage fuelled indiscriminate killer. As Jim eventually comes into contact with the murderous horde he's saved by Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley) but not all remaining uninfected people have the same charitable nature.

It's hard not to start with how the film looks now. Digital film making is certainly all the rage (pun intended) but to go back now and watch a digital film, but none one in high definition is a strange proposition. Initially it looks a bit like when a streaming service starts a show in lower fidelity whilst it tries to catch up. You do, of course, get used to it and it's not long before it's not a factor. You also get the iconic scenes pretty early; the un-natural image of Jim crossing Westminster Bridge and that area being entirely abandoned.

Despite the originality (at the time) of the fast running frantic zombies, rather than the shambling type the film actually settles into a relatively standard zombie story from there. The Risk vs Reward of stopping for provisions, the odd moments of freedom and, In particularly, the Humans are always the worst aspect. It's particularly brutal though, particularly in the pronounced action scenes that conclude the film.

"28 Days Later" is one of those films that has been emulated and ripped off so much since it's release, it's hard to remember the initial impact that the film had - and how new and ground-breaking it was at the time. It's perhaps more interesting now, than truly entertaining particularly given how dark the story gets but it's an important film from a visionary director.

Newark, Newark
(2022)

So bland they named it twice.
The UK TV channel "Gold" has, in the last decade, been shifting a little bit from repeating classic shows, to producing some of their own. "Newark, Newark" is perhaps their biggest attempt at a hit series yet. Admittedly three episodes isn't much to get stuck into, but the securing of Morgana Robinson and Mathew Horne as two of the stars shows a certain commitment. The result is . . . Not awful, but I can't say I'm overly enthused at the prospect of anymore.

Recently divorced, Maxine (Morgana Robinson) balances her job running a chip shop, whilst taking care of her dramatic teenage son Leslie (Jai Hollis). Her ex-husband Terry (Mathew Horne) is desperate for the relationship to rekindle and is conspiring with Maxine's mum Pauline (Beverley Callard) to get back with her.

I like Morgana Robinson a lot, she's contributed enormously to "House of Fools" and is a great guest star in "Inside Number 9" and "Toast of Hollywood". I don't think she's particularly suited to this character though, as dowdy, middle aged mother isn't necessarily what I think of, when I think of her. The accent is, to my ear - living in the Midlands but not specifically Newark - sometimes a bit much, but it's not entirely false.

I found the first episode, revolving around Maxine's birthday to be the best of the three and laughed a few times in that one, unfortunately it wasn't maintained into the second and third episodes and by the end I was reasonably relieved to discover that there were only three episodes of the series.

Honestly, I can't imagine I'll have any recollection of this at all in three months as it's neither good, nor awful enough to have made much of an impression.

Moon Knight
(2022)

In a while, crocodile.
I'm going to gamble and take Marvel at their word for this one, and assume that there won't be a second season of "Moon Knight" - that is not to say that I think this is the last we'll see of Marc Spector, but "The New Avengers" seems like a more likely return at the moment. I was initially positive, if slightly underwhelmed by the series, but the second half of the run won me over more.

Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac) mild mannered, English, gift shop employee is blacking out and losing days. He comes to discover that he has an entirely different personality inhabiting him, during these black outs, Marc Spector, an American mercenary for hire. To make things even more confusing, Marc has agreed to be Moon Knight, the revenging vigilante of the Egyptian god Khonshu (F. Murray Abraham & Karim El Hakim). Marc's current target is Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke) Khonshu's former champion, who is looking to bring about the return of another entirely more brutal Egyptian deity, Ammit.

I thought the first three episodes were OK. They're fairly self-contained, by which I mean the wider MCU is barely even referenced. I know some people didn't like Oscar Isacc's English accent - but I though it was passable, perhaps not distinct enough to narrow down to a location, but decent enough. His overall performance is perhaps "Moon Knights" strongest card. I liked the introduction to the characters, and I thought that the fight scenes were interesting. Halfway through though, as these series have had a tendency to do, the show takes a turn and we're now ruminating on whether or not what we've seen so far can be believed. I liked this second half, and the exploration of it, more than the first. It's deeper, sadder and does give us one key piece of information about how part of the MCU works.

There are some excellent moments in the final battle, include a titanic battle, I will criticise the very ending though. Without going too much into spoilers, the final battle is won off screen and I'd have liked to have (perhaps in the post credits scene) seen exactly how that happened. There, that's vague enough, I think.

Perhaps the uncertainty is a factor in this, but if that's all we ever see of the character then I'm a little underwhelmed. We leave him just as one of the more interesting aspects about him comes to the fore. Here's hoping we get a chance to explore that down the road.

Jakten på en mördare
(2020)

Hole in Your Soul
This Swedish miniseries was another show that appeared on the Guardian's top 50 shows of 2021. The review likened it to the Netflix show "Manhunter" comparisons to which I can see in tone and theme, if not perhaps quite as much quality.

In a small Swedish town, a ten-year-old girl is kidnapped and murdered. The case would remain unsolved for 16 years but was maintained by senior investigator Per-Ake Akeesson (Anders Beckman), alongside Monica Olhed (Looten Roos) and Erik Johansson (Hakan Bengtsson), who investigate without the support, and occasionally against the instruction, of their supervisors. Though there would be successes along the way, ultimately it would take technological advances to reach the conclusion.

It's like "Manhunter" because it focuses on the investigators throughout, including insights into their home lives and backgrounds, as well as the politics of their police department. It's not quite got the same scope as "Manhunter" though as, though we take detours into several other cases, the central murder of the child is never far from focus. As it's a recreation of a real case, there's a dark melancholy to the whole thing. It's supported by a grim view of this part of Sweden. Though it starts in 1989 and runs through to 2004, Sweden seems to consistently reflect either the UK in the 70's, or rural Alabama. Only a tremendously relatable series of scenes about management culture give it much in the way of modern context. It also seems like literally every suspect they talk about, even not for the central case, has a history of sexually abusing children. I don't want to risk looking online for true information about it, but the show gives the impression that there is rather a blasé attitude to these sorts of offences in Sweden.

It's tough to come out and say that I enjoyed this - the subject matter and the imagery make that difficult. But I appreciated that the performances were good, and the case interesting and varied enough to justify the investment.

The Scotts: Episode #1.5
(2021)
Episode 5, Season 1

Season One Review
Listening to Rab's Wrestling podcast, as I do, and hearing that the show was available on the Iplayer I decided to give it a try. What I found was a sitcom that I felt I could have enjoyed just on a surface level, but one that - because of the references to Wrestling and video games baked into it - I was the perfect audience for.

This spoof documentary is about a family, The Scotts. Henry (Iain Connell) and Vincent (Rab Florence) are brothers whose relative financial success does not equate to happiness in the same measure. They are largely estranged from their sister, Colette (Louise McCarthy) but their mothers upcoming birthday sparks an attempt a reconciliation. Attempting to survive the family are their respective partners, Laura (Sharon Young), Vonny (Shauna MacDonald) and Colette's boyfriend Darren (Lee Greig).

Aside from general references to wrestling across the run time, the biggest 'reference' for the want of a better term is the casting of Lee Grieg himself, better know as ICW's Jack Jester. Wrestlers do often make for good actors, and it's certainly not a cameo here, he's in every episode and shows himself to be a game and capable performer. As I said above, I don't think that you need to be able to get the wrestling, or gaming, references to enjoy the show. There is enough in the family banter and comedic scenarios for anyone to enjoy.

There are the odd few serious themes hidden underneath the comedy too. Vincent and Vonny's marriage is failing as assumptions made about each other. There is a consistent through thread about men not talking about their feelings that reflects on several of the characters.

Covid put a long gap between the pilot episode and the series proper but I'm hoping that the gap between these, and the proposed second season is much shorter.

Human Resources: Shitstorm
(2022)
Episode 10, Season 1

Season One Review
I really like "Big Mouth" - though I have to admit that I'm starting to wonder if perhaps the series has told all the stories that it has to tell. Maybe the creative team are too, as we now have this spin off, focusing on the various creatures that manifest as emotions in the human characters. I have to say that I didn't dig this as much as I have the original.

I normally write a paragraph here about the plot of the season, but I have a problem here as, despite having watched it all, one of the flaws with it for me was that I never came to learn who any of the new characters were. There are two love bugs that make up the central story of the season, as they fall out over an angel, but I couldn't tell you what either of these characters were called - nor could I consistently remember that there was another one, who is fired early on for a drinking problem.

That was the crux of my problem with the show. "Big Mouth" hangs these fantastical characters around the (largely) relatable human cast. Focusing on this one aspect of the show, and expanding it out, for me didn't work, particularly as "Big Mouth" has worked these characters in over the course of a few seasons - and "Human Resources" tried to introduce a number of characters all at the same time. I did like spending time with the characters from "Big Mouth" that I knew though - Maury and Connie - and of course, the shows best ever character, David Thewlis' wonderful Shame Wizard.

I also, If I'm honest, didn't find the show as funny as "Big Mouth". I'm not sure it's always attempting to be, shifting the focus from adolescents to adults gives rise to much weightier problems, such as postnatal depression and parental death.

There was enough that I won't abandon the show, should a second season be commissioned - but it's hard to recommend it to anyone who isn't already a big fan of "Big Mouth".

30 for 30: The Band That Wouldn't Die
(2009)
Episode 2, Season 1

The Colt's Bolt
The documentaries in the "30 for 30" series are, oddly, featured on Disney Plus in the UK as standalone documentaries in the "movie" section. That includes this one, about the sudden departure of Colts franchise from Baltimore and the reaction of the city - and in particular it's marching band - to that loss.

With an alleged new stadium not materialising, the controversial owner of the Baltimore Colts, Robert Irsay, accepts a deal to move the franchise to Indianapolis. The overnight flit from the city devastates the Baltimore fans but one group in particular, the marching band make a decision to stay together and attempt to convince the NFL that the team deserves another team. Eventually football would return to the city, but at the expense of another city.

The marching band angle was an interesting one to take with this story. Their passion and ability wins them fans around the country and specific aspects, like stealing back their uniforms and hiding them in a mausoleum. They told their story well and the documentary had the footage to back it up - but in fairness, they didn't actually manage to convince the NFL to let them have another team. They were overlooked in the expansion for Jacksonville and it was only inciting the Cleveland Brown's owners to move, inflicting exactly the same hurt on that city that they experienced, that got them a team back. Another interesting part for me, and perhaps worthy of his own exploration was Robert Irsay himself - it's a life beset by success, tragedy and alcoholism and his son, who is the current owner of the Indianapolis Colts and has subsequently had his own demons.

I'm reviewing the documentary though, rather than the subject of it and given that this is directed by Barry Levinson it's perhaps not surprising that it's a focused and well told story. They are really quite good these 30 for 30's and I'll keep my eyes open for more.

The Pursuit of Love
(2021)

Cold Climate Change
Another selection from The Guardians top 50 shows of 2021 was "The Pursuit of Love", a fresh adaptation of the Nancy Mitford novel which has already been done twice to some acclaim by the BBC. I thought during the first episode that this wasn't really going to be my thing, "Sunday night" costume drama often isn't, but I persevered and eventually it won me over.

At the start of the 20th Century, two cousins who grew up more like sisters, Fanny (Emily Beecham) and Linda (Lily James) begin their adult lives. Responsible, and scarred by her mother's abandonment, Fanny settles down with Alfred (Shazad Latif). Linda though is in search of passion, and her pursuit of love takes her from the British to the French aristocracies, via a spell invested in the communist battle against rising fascism. Fanny watches Linda's time as a bright young thing with a mixture of resentment, disappointment and jealousy.

As I said, I struggled a bit with the first episode. I immediately liked the tone that Emily Mortimer has decided on for her adaptation. Essentially a modern shift, with freeze frame introductions and the odd bit of anachronistic music, if fits the bohemian aspects of the story well, but I did perhaps struggle to accept the lead actresses, both in the 30s, as being teenage girls. They do get out of that section of the story though and once the marriages and children start; it becomes easier to accept. Both are great in their roles though - even if the other thing difficult to accept is that anyone would see the staggeringly beautiful Beecham as bookish, or dowdy. It's an all-star cast, With Freddie Fox, John Heffenan, Dolly Wells and Dominic West appearing - though special mention must go to Andrew Scott's comedic turn as Lord Merlin, the avantgarde artist who lives next door and a burst of energy whenever he appears.

The story kept me engaged even if we, the audience, know that their lives are going to be changed dramatically by the War that everyone seems to suspect is imminent, but can't possibly yet appreciate the dangers of.

I can see from the reviews that it wasn't to everyone's taste and I can't argue against anyone who couldn't get on with the stylistic choice, but it worked for me and with the performances made this an enjoyable experience.

Jigeum Uri Hakgyoneun: Episode #1.12
(2022)
Episode 12, Season 1

Season One Review
I'm not entirely convinced that "All of us are Dead" really needs to run to a second season, but at time of writing the logic appears to be that one has been commissioned, so I'll stick my review here, rather than on the overall show page.

After a science teacher experiments go wildly wrong, a Zombie virus is unleashed at a high school in the South Korean town of Hyosan. As the outbreak worsens, the town is quarantined but a small group of high school kids remain trapped in the school, unable to get to a rescue centre. They come to learn that there are variant viruses alongside the main strain, and though most of the infected change immediately, some can fight their new nature for much longer.

There is an awful lot of Zombie content in the entertainment world, hell, there is a lot of Korean Zombie content at the moment. "Kingdom" for me, sits pretty high at the top of that pile and if you only have room in your life for one, I'd say that the historical angle makes that the clear choice. This wasn't bad though, by any means,I'd just say that the ground has been covered before. Favouring more of a rabid, "28 Days Later" style Zombie, over a shambling hoard, what variety there is comes in the form of the variant strains - leading to several characters across the season becoming infected but maintaining their personalities. The series looks really good though, particularly as the devastation amps up towards the end.

I did find the show pretty bleak at times. There are occasional comic relief elements but mostly it's a procession of the sort of loss and sacrifice that zombie shows are known for and it's particularly hard hitting at times, as characters we are with for a long time are lost. There are occasional lapses in the shows internal logic that don't quite sit right. I'd also echo the recurring criticism that it's perhaps a bit too long. 12 episodes, some at more than an hour did, occasionally, make it feel like a chore to get though - and I'm not sure where a second season has to really go. That said, I'll probably be back.

All in a Nutshell
(1949)

Husk of a man.
The next short alphabetically on Disney Plus is "All in a Nutshell" a Donald Duck short produced in 1949 and distributed by RKO. I, like most people my age, were exposed to these sorts of cartoons as small parts of the schedule, on either BBC or ITV.

Donald Duck has a "nut butter" shop in the middle of a wood. His production is automated and all he has to do is feed in the Walnuts and put the jars on shelves. When he runs out of nuts, he locates a collection in a tree, unfortunately the collection belongs to Chip and Dale and the pair are not happy about having their winter haul stolen. When they see his shop, and taste his produce though, they soon decide that the butter is a far better option and begin stealing the jars.

We'll gloss over "Donald's Nut Butter" as that would have been innocent back then and only takes on a childish amusement nowadays.

I was surprised about just how much slapstick violence there was in this, as I more closely associate that with "Tom and Jerry" rather than and of the Disney characters. It was fun though and the animation was really well done.

Inside No. 9: Mr. King
(2022)
Episode 2, Season 7

They do love their divinity lessons.
I'm going to sound contrary with my previous review now, after last weeks episode, but I didn't enjoy this edition quite as much as that one - despite it leaning heavily into the sort of rural horror that they boys have visited quite a bit in their previous endeavours.

Mr Curtis (Reece Shearsmith) is the new primary school teacher at a provincial Welsh school. Though the headteacher Mr Edwards (Steve Pemberton) is friendly, the class are still enamoured with their former teacher, Mr King, who has moved to Australia. Mr Curtis is keen to encourage his class to take an interest in environmental matters, which backfires into an unsavoury incident with one of the pupils. It's not until the class assembly that Mr King discovers that the classes commitment to the environment is, in fact, much more steadfast than he knew.

I suppose, ultimately the problem with this episode was that it felt a little obvious to me. It didn't help that one or two previews referenced a certain movie that, if you talk about it in this context, rather gives the game away. But I think that there's enough in the episode that I'd have got there anyway. The clever aspect of that though is that two of the red herrings of the plot, Mr. Curtis' mental stability and Mr Edwards photography collection, do manage to pay back into the main storyline in the end.

The performances from the adults are good. Annette Badland is also in the episode as Winnie, the school's janitor and she does well with her moments of comedy and there were several funny lines in the episode.

Don't get me wrong, on an off day "Inside Number 9" is better written than most shows on their best and I don't think this was terrible, by any means - but if your hit rate is as good as theirs is then below Par can stand out.

The Witchfinder: Episode #1.6
(2022)
Episode 6, Season 1

Season one Review
I'm going to optimistically review this as "season one" in an attempt to manifest more of a sitcom that I enjoyed, but fear has disappeared without enough noise to have earned a second run. Strong central performances and excellent cameos won me over, though I will accept that the opening episode is unfortunately the weakest of the run.

Gideon Bannister (Tim Key) a struggling Witchfinder sees an opportunity to better his career if he can deliver his suspect, Thomasine Gooch (Daisy May Cooper) to Chelmsford for trial and impress the Witchfinder General. The travel though is arduous, Thomasine is a talkative captive, East Anglia is a haven of conmen, puritanical villages and warring soldiers and Hebble (Daniel Rigby) a scheming and cutthroat fellow Witchfinder is on his tail.

As I say, it's unfortunately that the first episode is probably the worst of the run and I suspect a lot of people will have written it off after that one alone. But, written and directed by "Alan Partridge" writers Neil and Rob Gibbons I think that the series improves dramatically after that episode. The central partnership is good, and Cooper and Key spark off each other well, even if both are essentially playing characters that we've seen before. Jessica Hynes is excellent as Bannister's aide, who is separated from him and tricked by Hebble into assisting with the chase for most of the run. You have cameos then from a lot of famous faces of the British Comedy scene; Rosie Cavaliero, Ellie White, Karl Theobald, Katy Wix, Julian Barratt, Phoebe Walsh, Justin Edwards, Cariad Lloyd and Kiell Smith-Bynoe. There is one more cameo, from the person playing the Witchfinder General which is so perfect I should leave their name out, in the hope it can remain a surprise for you if you watch it.

I can see that it's probably a bit too gentle for some tastes and even I'd say that my mood was rather more 'consistently amused' rather than 'rolling on the floor' but it rewarded a tiny bit of perseverance with a witty but still silly show, and I'd certainly watch more of it.

Diana
(2021)

Charles in Charge
What better way to spend your Saturday night, than watching a filmed version, of a failed musical, to provide context to a Podcast solely about how awful the film is. "How did This Get Made" are doing "Diana: The Musical" so you know what that means. . .

Unable to marry his true love, Camilla Parker-Bowles (Erin Davie), Prince Charles (Roe Hartrampf) elects to marry Diana Spencer (Jeanna De Waal). Though she provides him with two sons, the love between the pair never matches his feelings for Camilla and Diana, for her part becomes more confident and outgoing and begins an affair of her own. The pair eventually divorce, not long before her untimely death in a car accident in Paris.

I mean, the show fails in a number of ways. I really feel mean picking on the performers in this, as it's not like I could do better, but they don't feel like Broadway performers, indeed I think I've seen better acting from amateur productions. They don't have much to work with though, the songs are forgettable, the choreography flat and the stage dressing unexciting. The same director provided Apple TV's version of "Come From Away" not that long ago and that works, because the show is good, the same techniques here saw him win a Razzie award.

There's a real strangeness watching this as an English person too, and certainly as someone who was alive during these actual events. There's a feeling to it like she was a commoner who was picked off the street to be a Princess, not that she was already titled before her marriage. Occasionally it treats it's characters like they're fictional, or in a fairy story which is odd as these are real people, most of whom are still with us. The shirtless James Hewitt riding up onto the stage is perhaps the nadir.

Those factors though aren't as important as the fundamental failure of the show to be entertaining. And, as demonstrated by "Diana: The Musicals" quick departure from the Broadway stage, you should avoid it if you can.

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