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    2 years, 5 months


All'ombra delle aquile

Good looking but weakly delivered Roman Empire drama.
What is immediately striking about this adventure is the production. It is really rather superior to most of the Cameron Mitchell efforts produced in Italy in the 1960s. Gone are the garish sets and over-lit studio sets, replaced by largely outdoor - and quite authentic looking - rustic scenarios. This time our hero plays Roman Tribune "Ventidus" who has been charged with suppressing a rebellion from the Pannonian tribes in Germania. That tribe had peacefully co-existed with the legions until their leader "Magdo" (Alex Medar) is deposed by the upstart "Batone" (Alex Gavin) who has designs not just on his leadership but on his feisty daughter "Helen" (Bela Loncar). What now ensues is the usual set-piece historical drama with some over-staged sword fights and tit-for-tat battles that serve to tee up an ending that is not just very predictable, but really flat in it's delivery too. Mitchell stands head and shoulders about the rest of the truly mediocre cast, and the director and dialogue add little to the tension or action elements. It's a shame - Mitchell has starred in far better stories with far worse production. This time it is the other way around...

The Adventures of Marco Polo

Cuddly goings on at Court of Kublai Khan.
This is my kind of topic - an adventure film set at the Mongol Court with loads of intrigue, machinations and sword fights. Sadly, though, this is really not much good at any of that. Gary Cooper is really poorly cast in the title role and Basil Rathbone - probably as good a baddie as you will see on the silver screen, isn't up to much either as the scheming "Ahmed" - the chief advisor to the legendary Kublai Khan (George Barbier). Sadly, this film is really pretty short on action with way too much emphasis put on the love interest provided by Sigrid Gurie's pretty "Princess Kukachin". But for a lively effort from Alan Hale as warrior chief "Kaidu" leading a bit of a charge in the last ten minutes, this really is a procedural vehicle for a star who looks completely disinterested in the role. The writing and production are fine - Sam Goldwyn didn't do low budget - but this really is a lacklustre stab at what could have been a much more engaging and enjoyable action drama that depicts the Khan as a bit of a dunderheaded pussycat!

Oscar and Lucinda

Swipe at Victorian values that falls a bit short.
This is a wonderfully good looking film with two strong performances from Ralph Fiennes ("Hopkins") and Cate Blanchett ("Lucinda"). The former is a bit of a loner being raised by his rather puritanical Pentecostal father. He absconds into the care of Anglican "Stratton" (Tom Wilkinson) who arranges for him to obtain an university education. Thing is, this brightly red haired lad doesn't really fit in, and is soon far more focussed on his rather effective system of gambling. Meantime, the latter, an Australian, has inherited a substantial fortune and invested it in a glass making factory (glass still being a bit of a luxury in 1850s Australia). When the two meet on a boat they realise that their isolation from society at large (and their fondness for a turn at the cards) gives them plenty in common and their relationship burgeons. When the two come up with a fairly outrageous wager between them - that they can build a church entirely of glass and ship it up-country to the remote town inhabited by preacher "Hassett" (Ciarán Hinds) the adventure elements hot up a little. The problem for me here, is that though the film looks lovely - and plenty of attention to detail has been payed to the costumes and general aesthetic, the story is really pretty weak. It tries to tackle issues of lonesomeness, religious bigotry and of the somewhat un-emancipated role of women in both Britain and Australia at the time, but somehow the thing never quite catches fire. It is paced very gently, and there are just too many characters to try to keep track of - the focus meanders a little too much, and the ending didn't make too much sense to me. I did quite enjoy watching it, and Blanchett is on good form - but I don't know that I would bother again.

The Panther's Claw

"She stepped from the kerb without a look; Heaven acquired a darn good cook"
As cheap and cheerful B-features go, this is actually quite quickly paced and entertaining. It all centres around wig-maker "Digberry" (Byron Foulger) who is apprehended up to no good in a cemetery after hours. His explanation makes little sense to the police officer - he is being blackmailed by the mysterious "Panther" into leaving $1000 on the graveyard of one of his aunts. Turns out that he is not the only recipient of such a letter - many of his friends have also, and this leaves Police Commissioner "Thatch" (Sidney Blackmer), and his sidekick "Abbott" (Rick Vallin) to try to get to the bottom of things. The story is a bit far-fetched, but Foulger is on quite good form as the plot offers intrigues from the operatic to a bit of skull-wiggery, and it passes 70 minutes effortlessly. The ending is a bit obvious, but still - it shows what can be done with a tiny budget if the story is decent and the performances are too.

Long John Silver

Fun, but not an (eye) patch on the first one.
I really did like "Treasure island" (1950) and very much wanted to enjoy this sequel featuring, as it does, the star of that film - Robert Newton - as the one legged cook/pirate and overall, all round, reprobate. This time, his young pal "Jim" (Kit Taylor) needs rescuing from the legendary pirate captain "El Toro" (Lloyd Burrell) before they can both pick up some treasure and head home to England. Of course it isn't going to be that simple, and once on the island of Hispaniola, "Silver" needs to use all his wits and guile to stay one step ahead of his rather untrustworthy crew, frequently stirred up by "Israel Hands" (Rod Taylor). There is plenty of adventure here with Newton on typically rambunctious form but the rest of the cast rather let it down, though, and the story is a pretty weak hybrid of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel with some new characters added - including a would-be spouse for our here (Connie Gilchrist). I did enjoy it, but that might have been nostalgia: I was still a bit disappointed.

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

Kevin's not a kid to be messed with.
Though not quite as much fun as the original, this isn't an half bad follow-up. The beginning is a little too convoluted setting the scene as this time the family go to Florida but a last minute mix-up at the airport sends "Kevin" (Macauley Culkin) to New York. Initially a bit apprehensive, he heads - armed with his dad's credit card - straight to the Plaza Hotel where he goes a bit bonkers with the room service and catches the attention of suspicious concierge Tim Curry. Whilst out exploring, the recently released Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern bump into him and decide to exact their revenge - not before telling him of their daring plan to rob a toy store. Of course he escapes their clutches, and quickly decides to try to thwart their thievery - as only he can. Curry is on good form here, as is just about everyone else as the slapstick hits overdrive and the paint pots, a nail gun and even an old cannon find innovative new uses. It is a good team effort, this - with plenty of gentle humour and amusing antics. Maybe just a bit too long, the joke starts to wear a bit thin but Chris Columbus has built well on the first film, with just enough variation from that one whilst essentially keeping the story the same.

Home Alone

A surprisingly durable family comedy.
It has taken me 30 years to sit down and watch this film and I'm quite glad I finally did. I usually loathe kids movies, and the trails at the time always put me off - but Macauley Culkin is really quite a charmer in this tale of a youngster who is accidentally left at home at Christmas by his family. They have jetted off to Paris leaving him alone facing the unwanted attentions of two would-be burglars (Joe Pesci & Daniel Stern). Initially a bit unsettled, he is soon is his stride using just about every gadget (and critter) in their large family home to make sure he thwarts their thieving intentions. It's really all about the kid - and this one delivers well. The slapstick elements of the plot are designed to raise a smile, never to maim - even if having your head set on fire by a blow torch, or being walloped in the face by an hot iron might do longer term damage than happens here. That's the fun of it, for fun it is - it's a modern day Laurel & Hardy style story with an ending that's never in doubt. It does have a slightly more serious purpose, highlighting loneliness - not just for "Kevin" but his elderly neighbour "Marley" (Roberts Blossom) and it has that lovely scene on the aircraft when mother Catherine O'Hara realises that it wasn't just the garage doors that they forgot to sort out before they left! A great, and instantly recognisable score from maestro John Williams tops it all off nicely.

The Great Gatsby

Characterful tale rife with sub-plots.
To be fair to Baz Luhrmann, this is actually quite a difficult story to adapt for the big screen. On the face of it, there are many contradictions right from the start (not least that our relatively normal narrator - trader "Nick" (Tobey Maguire) lives next door to the eponymous and enigmatic millionaire (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his Disney-esque castle). The story is told by way of a retrospective during which the now depressed "Nick" regales his psychiatrist with his tales of life in the fast lane that offered him the opportunity to mix with the rich and famous at the very end of the 1920s through his new neighbour. Simultaneously, he must cope with the unhappy marriage between his cousin "Daisy" (Carey Mulligan) and her selfish, womanising, husband - of old wealth - "Tom" (Joel Edgerton). The film starkly contrasts the wealth and profligacy of the "Gatsby" existence with those of the poverty stricken working class reeling, still, from the impact of the Great Depression. The film looks beautiful. The costumes and the dancing, the cars, the jewellery and the houses (fancy and less so) all add richness to the story and the performances - especially from DiCaprio, Edgerton and to a lesser extent Jason Clarke are really quite good. Maguire and Mulligan less so and I found that unlike in many other of his films, the use of a contemporaneous soundtrack whilst all are clad in the Upstate NY finery didn't work so well for me. The book is an interesting character study looking at just about everything from wealth and privilege to prostitution and mental illness - and for the most part this stays on track. Easily the best cinema adaptation of a flawed book - and well worth watching.

La spada e la croce

Looks fine but never quite gets going.
I've seen some fairly dull versions of the crucifixion story, but this has to be amongst the worst. Yvonne de Carlo certainly looks the part of "Mary Magdelene", the wealthy lady of ill repute in Jerusalem. Aside from that, though, the rest of this seriously unremarkable cast take 1¾ hours to relate this well known story of greed, ambition, power - and, of course betrayal in the most pedestrian of fashions. It's a sloppily constructed production with poorly synched dubbing and too much melodrama between Mary and her clients, brother and though it's fairly faithful to the Biblical story, the characterisations are a bit muddled as is the relationship between a particularly weak Pilate (Philippe Hersent) and the Jewish authorities. The action comes from the frequent trouble making of "Barabbas" (Andrea Aureli) and at times that kickstarts this film, but for the most part it is really just a plodding rewrite of a story we all know well enough.

La Gerusalemme liberata

Not enough crusading and too much canoodling.
Carlo Bragaglia's take on the Crusaders that went to save Jerusalem from the Muslim "Alladin" is not a bad effort, though I fear historical accuracy was not really the point here. Lead by "Godfrey" (Philippe Hersent) the knights spend more time battling each other. First amongst these squabbling soldiers are "Tancred" (Francisco Rabal) and Rik Battaglia's "Rinaldo", fighting over the Persian princess "Armida" (Gianna Maria Canale) or the glamorous "Clorinda" (Sylva Koscina). That's a bit of a shame as the constant hormonal toing and froing drags the pace down all too often. The combat scenes are just to few and far between, there is an elegant but lengthy dance routine in the middle (dance of the seven hours!) and just too much dialogue that all rather constrains this rather plodding historical drama. The last ten minutes redeem it to a certain extent; the siege and closing battle scenes are quite well strung together with plenty of decently staged action scenarios - even a duel; but all told this is really quite a disappointing effort from all concerned that focuses too much on affairs of the heart.

La regina di Saba

Quite a watchable historical feature.
I think the fact that this is in black and white helps it enormously. So often the poor quality of the image distracts from these Italian-made adventure films and tends to render them all but unwatchable This one benefits also from decent story to underpin the, admittedly, pretty mediocre acting. The young prince "Rehoboam" (Gino Leurini) finds himself posing as an agent of Gad (not God) at the court of the legendary Balkis, Queen of Sheba (Leonoro Ruffo) who has sworn never to feel the touch of man. Of course the two fall in love, much to the chagrin of her army commander "Kabaal" (Franco Silva) and from now on in, the film follows a fairly predictable route of deceit, revenge and plotting. I could have done with a little more action and Leurini looks faintly ridiculous with a moustache that looks more like an early example of botox gone wrong; but the whole thing is actually quite well paced with some decent attention to the look of the film. The ending is a bit flat - be warned, but it passes 90 minutes amiably enough.

Giulio Cesare, il conquistatore delle Gallie

A gospel from Gaul - according to Caesar.
If Julius Caesar were to have had a publicist back in the day, he could have done worse than have had this created as an example of his military prowess. Cameron Mitchell plays the eponymous Roman autocrat who must rally his troops in the face of an open rebellion at the hands of Gaulish tribal leader Vercingetorix (Rik Battaglia). The story is a bit wobbly - there are some rather unnecessary romantic elements centring around his ward "Publia" (Raffaella Carrà) and the Queen of the Gauls "Astrid" (Dominique Wilms) which offers up a bit of feminine rivalry that doesn't work at all well, but the battle scenes are authentic enough and unlike so many films set around this time, the sets and look of the film come across as more genuine too. Buildings made of brick rather than marble, and the fight scenes more randomly staged (less choreographed) which all helps keep this flowing quite well. Sadly, the dubbing is largely out of synch, the editing seems more as if it had been hacked rather than cut and the budget doesn't quite facilitate the ambitions of director Nino Scolaro. Still, I didn't hate it and fans of the genre ought to get enough from the slightly overlong 1¾ hours to keep it interesting.

La battaglia di Maratona

Steve Reeves rallies the Spartans.
This tells the tale of the original marathon runner Phillipides (Steve Reeves) and of his attempts to thwart the erstwhile invincible armies of Darius, King of Persia (Daniele Vargas) in their designs to invade Greece. He commands the Sacred guard of the city of Athens and must galvanise the city against their indomitable foe, whilst keeping an eye on his back as there are plenty of plotters from his own side hoping to outmanoeuvre him, and sue for peace - not least the duplicitous "Theocrites" (Sergio Fantoni) who tries to entrap our hero in marriage with the glamorous "Karis" (Daniela Rocca). What follows is a bit messy, but still not a bad effort. The dubbing is reasonably timed and there is plenty of action to keep the story moving along. The fight scenes are a bit too theatrical, and the ease by which folks move from Greek to Persian camps betraying and cheating as they go doesn't help much on the plausibility front, but the ending - a grand naval battle that is quite entertaining to watch gives this adventure film something just about worth watching. Certainly, the acting is wooden, but effort has gone into the look of the production and Reeves does what he needs to as the dashing saviour of his nation.

L'ultimo dei Vikinghi

A Norse, A Norse, My kingdom for a Norse....
I actually quite enjoyed this. If only for the wonderfully hammy Edmund Purdom doing his very best Richard III impersonation as Norwegian king "Sveno". He has seized power and is running the kingdom ruthlessly until the arrival of "Harald" (Cameron Mitchell) - the rightful heir - after a long expedition. Posing as the captured Danish Ambassador, he infiltrates the usurper's castle where he falls in love with the glamorous Princess "Hilde" (Isabelle Corey) and soon concludes that he must regain his throne and keep the gal. The film is colourful with plenty of action and an ending that gives plenty of opportunity for some flying boulders, logs and decent swordplay. Sure the dialogue is not very good, and the performances largely far more wooden than any of the logs, but it moves among quite well and were it to have been photographed better, would be perfectly passable. As ever, though, with these 1960s Italian productions, it's the quality of the image that lets it down badly. Not rotten, but a 4K television really does exaggerate it's flaws.

Die, Monster, Die!

Intrigues at the start but peters out very quickly...
American "Reinhart" (Nick Adams) arrives in a small English village seeking the home of his girlfriend "Susan" (Susan Farmer). Shunned by the villagers, he must walk to the stately pile of her wheelchair-bound father "Naham" (Boris Karloff) whereupon things begin to become mysterious for the young visitor as he tries to find out what secrets are being kept hidden. The problem with this is that - well - nothing much actually happens. There is a very slight sense of menace, but there is nothing much by way of accumulation to that. Something is glowing in the greenhouse, and there is a rather angry woman clad in black; but for the most part we can easily guess what is going on, going to happen and the ending is straight out of the ABC of horror films set in a big house. It's well enough made, the special effects basic but adequate, and maybe devotees of Karloff will get a little more from it. For me, though, this is entirely forgettable fayre.

The Outer Gate

Competent crime/revenge feature.
"Bob" (Ben Alexander) works for "Borden" (Ralph Morgan) and is keen on his daughter "Lois" (Kay Linaker). All is going well until some bonds goes missing and the boss, reluctantly to be fair, concludes that "Bob" is the culprit and off to jail he goes. Once incarcerated, he becomes bitter towards his erstwhile employer swearing vengeance with his cellmate "Todd" (Eddie Acuff). After five years, new evidence proves that he was innocent. His former employer, wracked with guilt, offers to try and make things right - but will "Bob" accept, or will he follow through with this designs on revenge. The story is quite interesting, asking the question what might we do in that situation - on either side of the prison bars. The execution is really pretty lacklustre, though. The direction and performances are static, and Linaker is really wooden. It does pack quite a bit into an hour, and is a decent example of a B-feature that moves along quickly and efficiently, if entirely unremarkably.

Dungeons & Dragons

Cheap and cheerful fantasy fun...
I saw this at the time it was released in 2000, and I couldn't quite fathom how Oscar winning Jeremy Irons ("Profion") ever found his way onto the screen for this nonsense. The whole thing centres around his megalomaniacal desire to depose the Empress (a shockingly wooden Thora Birch) and seize her sceptre that controls the white dragons. She's having none of that, so he must now seek out the red "Rod of Savina" via his menacing henchman "Damodar" (Bruce Payne) for that controls the red ones. Meantime petty thieves "Ridley" (Justin Whalin) and his pal "Snails" (Marlon Wayans) manage to get embroiled in the plot after a visit to the House of Magic goes a bit awry. The scene is now set for some silly, set-piece escapades with some basic special effects, a daft cameo from Richard O'Brien (reappraising his "Adventure Game" performance) and, well you get the drift. It's poor, this - but I didn't hate it. There is a bit of fun being had, Whalin is easy enough on the eye and the whole thing has it's tongue so firmly planted in it's cheek that it is hard to actually dislike it - especially at the end when Iron hits super-ham mode and the dragons all take flight. Sure, the dialogue is daft but somehow that just didn't matter. Despite myself, I quite enjoyed this....

Mary Poppins Returns

Not super, but califragilisticexpialidocious enough...
When two laywers turn up at the home of Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer) with an eviction order, we get a sense of just how discombobulated their family life is. Luckily, a new nanny appears from nowhere and sets about bringing a little order to the lives of the couple's three children. "Mary Poppins" (Emily Blunt) with the help of her local London chimneysweep "Jack" (Lin-Manuel Miranda) takes the children on some fun escapades around London, much as per the original film from 1964, with plenty of family-friendly gags, plenty of balloons and some mischievous animated animals all accompanied by a charming, if not exactly show-stopping, score from Marc Shaiman. The adults here are broadly adequate, nothing more, but the three youngsters do seem to be having a whale of a time - and that is a little bit contagious. There are also a few special guest appearances from Dame Angela Lansbury and Dick van Dyke that add a little nutmeg to this particular seasonal pudding - and the whole thing is perfectly watchable.

Lord Jim

A solid adaptation of the book.
There is much of his TE Lawrence performance in Peter O'Toole's eponymous characterisation of William Conrad's 19th Century sailor. He is cashiered out of the service on grounds of cowardice after being forced to abandon some Muslim pilgrims amidst a storm at sea. Many years on, when he manages to thwart some would-be maritime saboteurs, he allies with trader "Stein" (Paul Lukas) and sets off up river to help some locals who are being enslaved by the "General" (Eli Wallach) and his drunken, cowardly pal "Cornelius" (Curd Jürgens). Battles ensue before "Jim" finds himself further embroiled in the machinations of James Mason's "Brown" on the hunt for some gold and.... Essentially this film (as was the book) is about redemption. "Jim" constantly regrets his earlier, hasty, actions and will stop at nothing to demonstrate that a coward he isn't. Richard Brooks keeps this film moving along quickly with plenty of attention to the gist (if not always the detail) of the book. The episodic nature of the narrative allows the other characters - including Jack Hawkins' "Marlow" - to play their parts for twenty or minutes or so before the plot moves on to pastures a bit new and so it is rarely dull. The production standards are high, and O'Toole, Wallach and especially Jürgens are on good form throughout. I enjoyed this.

Cry Wolf

The moral of the story is....
Anthony Kemp is "Tony", a lad with a fairly vivid imagination whose tall tales have caused him to fall foul of the local police once or twice in the past. His father is the Lord Mayor, and whilst rehearsing for an impending visit from none-other than the Prime Minister, he happens upon a plot to kidnap the VIP. Naturally, nobody takes him seriously but can he thwart the plan with the aid of just two of his school friends "Mary" (Mary Burleigh) and "Martin" (Martin Beaumont) and save the day? Well, what do you think? It's quite an engaging little Children's Film Foundation crime caper, with decent efforts from the duplicitous journalist "Stella" (Judy Cornwell) and long suffering police inspector "Blake" (Alfred Bell). Most of these films work well enough as they offered simple stories made for kids featuring kids in the leading roles - and this one passes an hour quite effortlessly.

Dangerous Davies: The Last Detective

An entertaining mystery with some serious undertones.
Though it does have the odd comedic line or two, this is the only time I recall Bernard Cribbins ever trying to tackle something that required him to speak the word "pants" in anything like a sexual context. He plays a detective constable who is assigned a tough criminal case but soon finds himself embroiled in a fifteen year old cold one involving the disappearance of a young girl. His nickname is "Dangerous" and he spends much of the next two hours - at no small risk to himself - trying to piece together what did happen to that young girl (as well as trying to nail his official quarry too). Bill Maynard - again more noted for his comedy parts - works quite well as his pal "Mod" and there is an additional smattering of familiar faces across the quite enjoyable and characterful mystery adventure. It's a bit too long, maybe we could lose twenty minutes of establishment scenes at the top of the film, but this is quite a fun drama that I rather surprisingly enjoyed.

The First Gentleman

Light-hearted romantic period drama.
Cecil Parker steals each scene in this flamboyant British Regency romance. He is the Prince Regent, elder son of King George III, whose daughter Princess Charlotte (Jean Hopkins) is enamoured of Prince Leopold (Jean-Pierre Aumont). Cavlacanti manages to keep the whole thing moving along in a jolly sort of fashion, with some jolly, period-style, scoring and some nice character parts from the likes of Margaretta Scott and the always reliable Hugh Griffith (this time as a Bishop!). A factual depiction? Well apart from the fact that the young couple really did exist, I can't say, but that doesn't really matter - it is an opportunity for a bit of a theatrical romp through early 19th Century British society that I found mildly entertaining - if perhaps twenty minutes too long.

Hangmen Also Die!

Lonely are the Brave.
Fritz Lang has assembled a really solid cast for this depiction of the Nazi terror inflicted on the Czech people after they decided to rid themselves of their German overlord Reinhard Heydrich. That historical event happens pretty early on, allowing us to focus on just how brutal the regime was, and on just how courageous those left were by continuing to oppose their oppressors despite some fairly arbitrary methods of retribution. The assassin must find shelter, evade detection and learn whom to trust as he watches those around him suffer - regardless of any guilt. Probably my favourite performance comes via the collaborating "Czaka" (Gene Lockhart) who plays the local beer magnate-cum-stooge really quite well. Walter Brennan is likewise effective as the elderly historian professor "Novotny" as is Alexander Granach as the Gestapo man charged with finding the original culprit. It is a little heavy on the dialogue side at times, but the director takes his time to imbue a real sense of the horror faced by the population as lawful lawlessness gradually robbed them of even the most basic of civil liberties, and the darkly lit photography is particularly evocative too. It's been retold once or twice, but to nowhere near the same standard and though largely a work of fiction, is still potent stuff.


Time travelling nonsense
Sometimes it is just better not to have an idea at all, rather than to create some sort of hybrid from other people's. This film takes a bit of HG Wells, a bit of "Dr. Who" a load of water, some C-listers and a script straight out of "Janet & John" then tacks it onto some very dated special effects. Add a soupçon of megalomania and you have a sci-fi adventure that is light on just about everything. The plot is just so very, very weak - it reminded me a little of that rotten but entertaining "Return of Captain Nemo" movie from 1978, just without any of the fun or charm. These guys are serious about this, and that possibly makes it worse. This genre is very easy to do badly, director Rodney McDonald excelled...


Is there anyone out there...?
Talk about doing things on budget! You know what though, it's not terrible. Three boffins in their car (that is converted to resemble mission control) stumble upon an anomaly while satellite hunting that could, quite literally, have interstellar repercussions. The lack of funds means there are no special effects at all and the props - well they run to a telescope, some standard tracking kit, a few speakers emitting some geiger-counter style noises and our sky watchers (oh, and a Volvo - that's very important later...). It is very dialogue heavy, and there is a bit of back-stop melodrama that at times clutters up the pace a bit; but on the whole they keep it moving along quite suspense-fully until the end. Yes, it's far too long - over two hours is completely unneccassry for the level of writing and acting on offer here, but as home-made sci-fi goes, this is actually just about worth a watch.

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