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Project Blue Book

It should have been in Black and White
This series evokes the Black and White B sci-fi films of the 50's and should have also been in Black and White. True, there is no white coated professor explaining plot points at length which would have been difficult and too expensive to film, but otherwise the production values stay faithful to the 50's. The night time scenes in misty isolated spots, the minimal (at times) sets with shadows substituting for furniture - what would B pictures have done without the invention of Venetian blinds? The hideous 50's fashions, both clothing and interior decor all bring back fond memories. The clothing store where clothes could be tried on privately in a luxuriously decorated salon like dressing room - sigh!

I have taken off a point for a goof or two, possibly by set and wardrobe designers who were not born then, and an irritating Captain Quinn who seems to have a ramrod for a spine. The blond BFF while correctly dressed to the nines at all times, as no woman would have set foot outside the door without hat, gloves and full make up, was shown wearing the ultra high heeled shoes of today. Back in the 50's stilletto heels had just come in, but were not as high and ultra thin as those shown. Eye makeup was more late 60's than early 50's.

Other than these petty faults which only a woman in her nearing her ninth decade and who was a young woman in the 50's would spot, I found this to be an excellent sci-fi show which fans of the X-files should love.

The Secret Scripture

Not Ballykissangel that's for sure.
Anyone expecting the happy villagers and humor of Ballykissangel will be sadly disappointed. This is more the grim, oppressive, vengeance ridden Ireland of 'The Field', where feuds last several generations, with rigid moral behaviour enforced by narrow minded clergy, and anyone who breaks the rules ostracized and punished, particularly attractive women who attract too much male attention. The priest walking between dancers wielding a stick to break apart couples who might to be holding each other too closely, the vilification of an unmarried woman who looks a man directly in the eyes before she is married, and the grim fate of a woman who becomes pregnant outside of marriage. We have seen this subject handled more deftly in "The Playboys' with Robin Wright and Albert Finney, as a policeman enraged by the brazenness of an unmarried mother keeping her baby and living in the community, but this is the Ireland of the Magdalene Laundries to which unmarried mothers and women deemed to be 'fast' were sentenced for life on the recommendation of a family member of local priest. Babies were taken away and sold to families in the US, although the money which changed hands was purportedly for the upkeep and care of the child until it was handed over.

I have not yet read the book, so I don't know if many of the loopholes were explained in the book, and there was some miscasting, but I will list some:

We are asked to believe that plain Rooney Mara was so devastatingly attractive to men that within the first few hours or days of her arrival in the village, half the men, including the local priest, were following her like a pack of dogs after a female in heat?

Theo James is far too young and handsome to play Fr. Graune, the priest driven mad by his lust-at-first-sight. Again, not having read the book I cannot be certain but I would have expected an older or not too handsome man would have been better. Any priest looking like Theo would have had an army of willing women, young and old, only too happy to clean the church, wash his vestments, and beating down the door to be his housekeeper. He would be fighting them off and asking for a transfer.

Fifty years in a mental hospital turned Rose's very dark brown eyes blue?

Did Micheal McNulty have no relatives in the village who could have been notified that he had been shot down and was recovering in her cottage? The worst that could have happened would have been to be taken into custody and interned. As Ireland was neutral, I am not even sure that he would have been interned, but he would not have been allowed to return to Britian.

Why did she not contact the priest who married her and Michael and the witness?

Were Michael's killers apprehended and punished?

The film was beautiful to watch, but a bit too melodramatic and the ending was right out of a womens' weepie.


Cut have cut about 15 minutes
Unlike mot of the US audience, I really liked this film, enough to have searched for it by description because I could not remember the title. However, it could have done with 15 minutes or so cut out of it - The car driving along for over 5 minutes at the beginning, and the long 10 minute? wordless march side by side were just tedious. I like the improvised dialog, although their harsh accents grated on my ear. The only way I could tell them apart was because Casey Affleck does not open his mouth when he mumbles, and seems incapable of pronouncing the letter l; thus, barrel and barrelling are pronounce 'barre' and barre'ing. I had to turn off the sound and use the captions to follow what was being said.

The main thing which puzzles me is how a film shot entirely out in the open, needing no sets, with only two actors using unscripted dialog, cost $3.5 million. Where did the money go? Not on elocution classes that's for sure.

The Florida Project

The other side of the Magic Kingdom
One of the most unforgettable and disturbing films I have ever seen, and which I consider on a par with City of God. It shows the reality of the forgotten dwellers in the welfare motels adjacent to the 'happiest place on earth'. A place far beyond their ability to afford to visit.

On first viewing I wanted to slap the annoying little foul mouthed brats, but then I came to understand that it was all they knew, and they were trapped in a repeating cycle of poverty and would eventually become clones of their dysfunctional parent (most had only one parent). I watched a second time as my perspective often changes on second viewing. This time I saw it less from the dysfunctional adults point of view than through the eyes of the children who did not see the despair around them, rather through the magic vision of childhood, the summer holidays with endless days to have fun in the purple painted Magic Castle motel. The bright colors of all the buildings along the trashy US 192, exploring the unknown and getting into mischief. Begging for ice creams, selling knock off perfumes to unsuspecting buyers, scamming Disney Park passes, eating pizza in bed, cadging free food at the diner, was all fun to them. Where they had annoyed me on first viewing, their rudeness and bad language was now understandable as it was all they knew. They did not see that the motel rooms had no kitchens and cooking was not allowed, even though like many of the broken rules. They lived on pizza, take outs, and meals from the diner. Selling knock off perfumes and cadging was a way to survive.

The manager, who is probably not paid more than the minimum wage (this is Florida after all) has to cope with tenants behind on the rent who also flout the rules, bedbugs, broken appliances, brawls, the police and welfare folks, single mothers 'entertaining' men in their rooms while their children are shut in the bathroom. His boss, Mr. Marek, is an Asian owner who appears to be trying to upgrade the place and encourage tourists.

Many of the people living in flea bag motels are technically homeless and cannot get a decent job as they have no permanent address and likely have a police record and bad credit, which prevents them from renting a decent home or apartment. Likewise they cannot vote, get a driving license or open a bank account. I have lived adjacent to an I-4 off ramp and have have seen many people arriving from the northern states with their children and all their possessions in a clapped out old car, hoping for better prospects in Florida where it is warmer. They end up existing day by day as Florida wages are too low. Most Americans are said to be one pay check from disaster, the people in the welfare motels are one day from disaster.

Many reviewers have criticized it for the lack of a plot. Why did it need a plot? Real life day by day doesn't have a plot - it just goes on. A 'plot' would have been contrived and artificial. What did they want - a murder? The possible pedophile snatching a child and eventually apprehended after a fast car chase and shoot out down US 192? This was not an action drama. It was more like some of the slow moving Japanese and Chinese films about human relationships I have enjoyed, such as "King of Masks". My only complaint was that sometimes the children, albeit old beyond their ears, did not speak as children would. One example, when Halley referred to being able to tell when adults are about to cry, a child would have called them grown ups. This is not a film I will forget.

Dirty John

Woman in need of a brain transplant.
This dragged out Lifetime Movie caused me to shout at the characters on screen several times. Had any of them a brain cell between them, beginning with the mother, an over 50 who wore her long hair in style more becoming a 20 year old, and kept large amounts of cash in handbags in a safe in the house. Having already been married four times, she was 'looking for love' on a dating web site and found a conman. Despite warnings from her daughters, she went off and had a secret wedding, obviously she knew that she was doing something wrong and did not want the family to know. John Meehan was a fantasist con man, chronic liar, ex con, drug addict and deserved no sympathy, but Debra should have been locked up as a danger to herself and her two daughters. I hope she hasn't found number six yet.

The Silence

Most irritating TV family ever
After two hours of the Fighting O'Hooligans in their messy house, I gave up and went to bed but I was too tensed up by the drama to sleep. Next morning I decided to finish watching, and they were at it again. Most annoying was the Scotsman, Jim, with the explosive temper who really needed anger management, followed by Amelia the deaf niece who was difficult, to put it mildly. I was quite glad to see her mother give her a good slap. She asked for it. I am deaf myself, having only 30% hearing in one ear and about 2% in the other, so I understand the denial and reluctance to use hearing aids. We have learned to live with the silence and enjoy it, compensating for the lack of hearing in many other ways. Unfortunately, we are often assumed to be standoffish because we don't answer when spoken to, rude, and stupid. It can lead to a withdrawal so I can understand Amelia keeping quiet about the murder. I object to the inclusion of the oral sex in the lavatory as another inclusion which today's filmmakers seem to feel is required, however, they spared us the lesbian policewoman and the gay friend and I did not notice too many F__ words so I should be grateful. Thank heaven for small mercies.

My take on the unsatisfactory ending is that ambiguous endings are suddenly in vogue and 'trendy', although it is possible that the producers expected to be picked up for a second season and had not thought to hedge their bets with a satisfactory conclusion just in case. I am not one to subscribe to the American demand that the bad guys get what is coming. Life doesn't always go the way we want and some times the bad guys get away with it, but to leave the fate of Jim in the balance, and not to know if the killers were brought to justice, and whether Rocky and/or Eli turned them in, and would Maggie finally file for divorce, is just plain shoddy and shortchanging the viewer. I for one feel I wasted my time watching it. Yes, another episode was definitely needed.

Genghis Khan

This was a comedy right? Carry on Genghis!
It's not so much what is wrong with this film as what is right. To begin with, the loosely based fictionalized history might have been better if they had just done away with Genghis Khan and called the lead character something else as they were not even trying for accuracy.

The casting was ludicrous, from Omar Sharif's wimpy Genghis Khan, to blonde Francoise Dorleac, to all the fair haired Mongols, to James Mason with his back teeth wired together, Robert Morley as the Emperor of China to warriors on horseback who resembled ballet dancers with dainty swipes of plastic swords. Sharif's Genghis showed none of the single minded lust for conquest which drove a nomadic tribesman from the leader of a handful of warriors to conqueror of the entire central Asia, northern China, northern India, Russia, the middle east and eastern Europe.

Stephen Boyd made a convincing villain, as always, but if you want to watch how it should be done, there is a 10 part series from Kazakstan on YouTube called Kazak Khanate and one or two Mongolian films about Genghis, with all Mongolian and Tartar casting which manage to convey the utter savagery of the fast riding warriors who ruthlessly slaughtered and conquered half the world, sparing none of the inhabitants of cities or countries which resisted. Ganghis Khan may have slaughtered more people than the conquistadores, Hitler and Stalin combined as he annihilated entire nations. .

The Americans

Excellent series, just don't take the high octane action literally
I loved this series. It was different, the excellent period setting and details, top notch acting, BUT - there is no way that sleeper agents would be working all day, raising a family, doing housework and cooking and out all night breaking and entering, leaving bugs, copying files and doing all the work themselves, while leaving behind a trail of bodies. They would be totally exhausted.

It is hard to remember that in the early 80's there was no Internet, phones were dial up landlines, personal computers had not arrived, information was stored on large floppy disks and microfiche, and surveillance cameras were few and far between.

Contrary to the publicity when the 10 or more illegals and Anna Chapman were apprehended after they were betrayed by another operative, sleepers are rarely caught and their modus operandi is to remain deeply undercover. There have been a few arrests in Britain, Gordon Lonsdale and the Krogers are the only ones I can think of, but most of them do not do anything to attract attention. Their training is too intense and takes too long to risk their cover by taking risks. Speaking English flawlessly takes many years and must begin in early childhood. They gather and forward information provided by locally recruited workers in sensitive occupations, dupes like Martha, who sometimes have no idea that they are sharing information with foreign agents. Other times the contacts are idealists working for the cause, and disgruntled losers with a grudge. Killing people would attract too much attention, and breaking in to a secure establishment would be far too risky. Their job is to get others to take the risk. To be fair, showing the monotonous drudgery of the life of sleepers agents aka illegals would be boring and to keep the viewers watching, Elizabeth and Phillip had to be shown as non stop action villains doing all the work themselves.

Which brings me to the other flaw - that the trail of dead bodies seems to be ignored by the police most of the time. Whatever happened to Kate after she was left hanging in her apartment? Did someone send a cleaner to remove her body? The murder of Jared's family did get on the news, but others remained unmentioned and unsolved. When Todd was killed by Hans, did no one find his body?

While I certainly like the way the Russians were played by Russian actors, my favorite being Arkady, I am taking off two stars due to the flaws mentioned above. The acting was superb especially Matthew Rhys. My least favorites were Agent Beeman, whom I wanted to meet a nasty end, the annoying Pain (Paige) I wished they would ship off to boarding school or something, and the creepy Pastor Tim.

I would really love to see a follow up season showing their new life in Russia, and what happened to their children and US contacts.

Still Life

The most moving film since Umberto D
When I saw Eddie Marsan listed as the star, I had to watch this film as I thought he was doomed to 5 minute loser character roles in every British film and TV production made in the last 20 years, yet no one knew his name. I was amazed to find a quiet tour de force with Marsan in every scene portraying an isolated man with no family coming home from his local government job to a meticulously tidy flat, eating alone, walking alone and apparently having no friends. This was the most moving film since Umberto D, the Italian classic about a retired civil servant whose pension is not tied to inflation and who eventually sinks into desperate poverty. The whole film had a European feel to it. The long shots reinforcing the character's isolation. The slow methodical way in which he set the table and went about his daily office routine. I was not surprised therefore to find that it was made by an Italian, Uberto Pasolini.

There is really little dialog in the film, Eddie Marsan manages to convey John May's quiet loneliness with silence. I won't go into the plot as other reviewers have outlined it in detail. I did anticipate the ending, although not in the sudden way it happened. Having seen John May's isolated life in the middle of one of the most populated cities in the world, and the unattended funerals of the people whom he was charged with finding relatives and disposing of their effect, I realized that he did not appear to have any family and would likely end up the same way.

As Mr. May went through their sad possessions and photo albums we saw that many of them had pets. If no relatives could be found to take the possessions, they went to the pawn shop or in the dumpsters. This gave an ominous sense of dread throughout. Another film which gave me the same feeling was 'the Whisperers' in which Dame Edith Evans played an penurious old woman living alone in a flat who appears to be suffering dementia and hearing voices. As more and more of us do not live with family members and and not know our neighbors, dying alone is becoming more common.

There was one unlikely plot twist in which John May was informed that his department was being merged with another London Borough's and that his position was being terminated and he was being let go after 22 years. This would not have happened in a local government office in Britain They would have found a position elsewhere within the council.

I cannot say that it was an enjoyable film, but it certainly will be remembered.

Mata Hari

Feminist revision of 100-year old events
While it is possible that Mata Hari was not quite as guilty as she was made out to be, which is usually the case at a time of heightened fears, she was definitely playing both ends toward the middle and a very dangerous game. When a county is in danger, losing a war, threatened by an adversary, there is a tendency to look for someone or something to blame. Foreign backgrounds, different ethnicity, homosexuality or perceived low morals are seized on as proof of degeneracy which eases the conscience of the public who feel they got what they deserved. 'Mata Hari' must have been made by a feminist movement in Russia, as she was depicted as an innocent victim, used and abused by men, and finally framed as a spy by a cruel French Army interrogator out to find a scapegoat for French losses in WWI. Even her three page confession was allegedly forged. Talk about reinventing a story! Several of the real life characters killed off in shoot outs actually went on to live long and productive lives until the 1940s. Gabriel Astruc for many years was a prominent impresario who presented the Ballet Russe to Paris and built the theater in which the audience rioted when Nijinksy's Rites of spring was performed. Astruc was Mata Hari's agent for 10 years, but was hardly the lovesick doormat gofer, and far from being shot while saving Mata Hari's life during a raid on a party by French agents, he lived until 1934. Elisabeth Shragmuller had a doctorate in political science and after the end of WWI took up a position at a German University until her death from tuberculosis in 1940. Vladimir Maslow seems to have disappeared from the history books, likewise there is no mention of Ladoux killing by Maslow. I will say the costumes and locations were gorgeous and a lot of money had been spent on the series. The International cast appeared to have acted in their own languages with English dubbing added later, which while common in Italy, is unusual for a Russian production, but I suspect the International cast was in order to sell the mini series in other countries. I did not notice the dubbing as I read the captions, but I did find the occasional American voice very grating.

I am giving the series a rating of 8 due to the unnecessary rewriting of history. The historical record was dramatic enough without the changes noted above. It would have actually been better to add an epilog briefly showing the future lives of Shragmuller and Astruc, even if it had been a few lines on the screen, rather than killing them off. Overall, the performances were excellent, in particular those of the magnificent Kesesinya Rappopport as Elizabeth Shragmuller, and Yezekal Lavarov as Costello.

Genius: Picasso: Chapter One
Episode 1, Season 2

Glorious evocation of the brilliant early 20th century Paris
While some reviewers have called this mini series soap opera, and the fictional Julian Mistral, in Judith Krantz's novel, Mistral's daughter, was definitely based on Picasso, right down to his turning his back on Max Jacob, I found it a visual feast for the eyes. From what I have read and seen in the many Picasso biographies, they stayed faithful to well-documented episodes and relationships, avoiding gratuitous inclusion of everyone and anyone who was in bohemian Paris at that time. Although many friends and associates of Picasso were left out, including fellow artists Marc Chagall, Modigliani, and the composer Stravinksky, Gertrude and Leo Stein, Jean Cocteau, Henri Rousseau, Mattisse, and Diaghilev all played a part in Picasso's Paris life, but others were not mentioned. This might be due to my being dependent on captions which don't always relay the full speech. Considering Picasso's very long life, including every associate would have extended the series well beyond 10 episodes, and what 10 episodes they were! Ranging from Malaga and Barcelona to glittering turn of the century Paris, to St. Tropez, Aix en Provence - the sun drenched locations, and narrow cobbled streets were National Geographic come to life.

I took off one star because of the inexcusable casting of Samantha Colley as Dora Maar. I can only assume she is the flavor of the month as she was also in Season One as Einstein's whining wife, which she played perfectly. While most of the cast closely resembled their real life characters, Samantha Colley did not resemble Dora Maar, who bore more of a resemblance to Greta Garbo than the heavy square faced Colley, and certainly did not appear to be the type of woman Picasso favored.

The other star I took off due to the irritating non linear structure which spoils the narrative and makes the whole confusing. This darting about between time periods seems to be a current fad by directors wanting to show off their editing skills but it spoils the flow of the narrative. Half the time you did not know where or when the story was. While it might work in a book, you can always skip through to the parts you wish to follow in order then go back, it does not work in a film. The first two Godfather films were edited into a linear structure for TV. I just wish that a DVD could be produced giving viewers the choice.

Picasso was known for his women, two wives and five long-term mistresses, frequently overlapping, and who know how many casual affairs with increasingly younger women, but the portrayal of his second wife as the dragon at the gate keeping him from his family and friends was very one-sided. Nothing seems to bring out the rancour and character assassination more than being left out of a will. Under French law at the time, illegitimate children and unmarried partners had no rights and could not have inherited his estate even if he had so specified it in his will. Gertrude Stein left her estate including many valuable paintings to her partner of 40 years Alice, who was promptly stripped of it by Stein's family. Picasso had his reasons for not wishing to see his children. Yes, he was spiteful and bullying and could not accept that one of his women had walked out on him as his attempts to sabotage her artistic career proved, but the biased portrayal of the faithful 50 years younger Jacqueline seemed to have been the opinion of Francoise Gilot and her children. The subsequent seven year battle over his estate by Gilot's children who had been excluded due to their being illegitimate as Picasso did not leave a will, and the French authorities and lawyer's attempts to grab most of his fortune did not help his widow find peace of mind and eventually drove her to suicide.

Overall, this was an excellent portrayal of a flawed genius who seemed to drive ex-wives, mistresses, children, friends and a grandchild to drink or suicide as he selfishly managed their lives then discarded them once they were of no further use to him, or tried to run their own lives. Worth watching for the Paris period alone. I will be watching it again. I would just love to see it recut to a linear structure.

Our Girl

Good pilot, but quickly went downhill with improbable romance
As I joined up in 1959, I really enjoyed watching the pilot episode where the young girl from a very dysfunctional low class family joined the army on a whim. Many of the experiences mirrored my own, the pleasant recruiting sergeant laying on the charm - we got a ride to the railway station when going for our induction, but returning after signing on were told to make our own way to the station and carry our own bags! The big difference between then and now was that women were a separate branch and did not train for combat, so I was spared the route marches, extreme physical training, cross country runs, etc. and going to a war zone.

Where I felt that it stretched credulity was when Our Girl was sent to Afghanistan as the only woman in a crowd of men, even sleeping in the same tent as the men. Then to turn the show into a cliched romantic triangle soap opera killed it. For a disciplined married Sandhurst trained officer obviously from an upper class to fall for a rough working class East Londoner with an argumentative big mouth was a real stretch, setting aside the fact that he was breaking army rules and could have been court martialled. Putting a lone female into a close group such as they were is asking for trouble. the first time she disobeyed orders should have been her last.

Considering that Afghans do not hold women in high regard, and that they have been trying to throw out the invaders, Russian, Americans, British, etc. for 50 years, to send a woman soldier as part of the invasion force is highly offensive to them and like a red rag to a bull. Far from winning over the hearts and minds of the people, they are earning their hatred by trying to destroy their culture. Why not send male medics into supporting combat groups, and why was the woman sent alone.

Then there was the totally wrong romantic triangle. The private answering back to superior ranks and questioning the officer's love for her while they were inspecting a possible booby trap, her constant disobeying orders, Smurf having a meltdown at the checkpoint, the officer having a relationship with a low ranking private is totally prohibited and all three could have been court martialled.

If they had concentrated on the military aspects, dealing with the effects of returning home after the heightened excitement of military action, and laid off the soap opera, I would have made it to Season 2 and beyond. The portrayal of the woman as rule breaking maverick from the wrong side of the tracks who saves the team was just too PC for real.

Serangoon Road

Flawed, but still deserved a second or third series
I love series set in exotic locations, and having lived in Singapore during the 60's I enjoyed the tightly packed locations of Serangoon Road immensely, although the tightly crooked streets were nothing like the real road, but it had several flaws which a writer/producers? with some knowledge of Singapore's history and customs could have corrected with a little research.

The series had the usual stock characters of noir thrillers in port cities, the boozy reporter propping up the bar, the renegade European raised in the city and able to mix in both cultures, the deivous US and British intelligence operatives, the married woman love interest, the old market trader, Aunty, who sees all and hears all, the Chinese sidekick forever in gambling debt willing to take a bullet (or not) for his BFF, and best of all by far, the Asian villain, Kay Song, who saved the series for me. I could not take my eyes off him.

* The series was set in 1964 when Singapore was supposedly fighting for Independence, which had actually been forced on them in 1961. Oh well, most viewers were not born then.

* Having been a prisoner of the Japanese as a child, Sam would have been 29 or 30. Don Haney looked to be on the wrong side of 40, and did he ever wash or change his shirt? The biggest goof for me was the 3-day stubble which was never seen other than on bar flies with long neglected hygiene, and most definitely, absolutely not at a black tie embassy function.

* The pathetic romance with a married woman was an attempt at a Casablanca or Pepe le Moko affair, but all they did was woodenly moon like lovesick high schoolers with their first love. A needy, immature, selfish manipulative married woman cheating on her husband, for crying out loud. Give me a break! I would have been able to believe it if he had already been married and divorced in the past, but first love at 30? This 'romance' should have been dropped in favor of the stock bar hostess occasional bedmate character.

One thing they did get right was the absence of airconditioning. Ceiling fans, open windows, and loose sleeveless clothing. When it was hot and humid, you accepted it and adjusted accordingly.

Spoiler ahead: Overall, by comparison with today's detective series, it was very bland and quite chaste, in the manner of 60's TV shows where a detective never lost his hat in a fist fight nor had a cut or scratch. I am not one to advocate the grim Scandinavian and French gore fests, but the series could have had much more life. For example, a few backstories such as episodes recalling Sam's past in Changi captivity and the brutal Japanese occupation, Sam's past activities in the Malay campaign and the widow Chen's history. By far the best actor was the villain and I would have liked to see a lot more of him, especially as the series ended openly with him taking control of his gang and a possibility of another season.


On a scale of 1-10, this rates an 11.
A hilarious bawdy farce set in Hogarth's Gin Lane, at least Season One, as Season Two became darker, but even so, the script was witty, stinging and salty. If the soft corn porn and rather too graphic sex scenes had been cut out, this would still be a brilliant and addictive show. The cast don't just chew the scenery, they swallow it whole, and the acting pulls out all the stops. Samantha Morton is magnificent in her 'don't mess with me' role, sailing into a room like a ship in full sail, then switching from quiet ingratiating tones to a raucous bellow as she yells upstairs to her girls. Lesley Manville, as you have never seen her before, moves between caring and solicitous, to conceiving, vicious. vengeful and manipulative.

The period recreation showed the other side of the Masterpiece Theater series which deal mostly with the rich and entitled. The poor folk survived by the day in precarious squalor and insecurity. I grew up in a row of large Georgian Terrace houses past their better days, and I can still remember the smell, the damp, the distempered walls, gas lighting which had been added later and the years of neglect. The homes of the wealthy may have elegant wall coverings, but still have bare floors. The poor have solid color paint/distemper and peeling paint, or just bare brick and plaster walls. Lighting is by dim candlelight. With no radio, TV and movies, and few of the lower class able to read, the tavern, sex, and gossip were the main entertainments.

While most women for hire were used up by their late teens, and dirty drunken slatterns by their 20's, the women in the bawdy houses run by the likes of Mrs. Quigley and Mrs. Wells are correctly depicted as young and fresh, perhaps not quite as young as they would have been, but a cut above the rest. The very best houses had courtesans accomplished in the arts and social graces who sometimes managed to acquire wealthy patrons. Madame du Barry and Marguerite who become the inspiration for the Lady of the Camellias (and died at 23) are two. Mrs. Wells ran a middling house and her girls were not top drawer, but neither were they streetwalkers.

One note about the clothing. Most girls in a house did not own the dresses, which were horribly expensive. They were provided by the madam who rented them out by the hour. Girls would often use the same dress. One of the main reasons for transportation was clothing theft, mostly underwear from washing lines. They would have had to be very carefully treated as the dresses would also have been impossible to wash, so only the linen shift and underwear was washed regularly.


Stuck it out to the bitter end, and wonder why I bothered.
I like Sean Bean and watched Legends for that reason, but while the first season was interesting and held my attention, Season 2 was choppy and incomprehensible. I don't know if Season 2 featured in the book or was written by a hack team borrowing from every other hackneyed TV plot, but I definitely need some way to fin out what Season 2 was about.

The main problem with Season 2 was the choppy time hopping. Characters (and there were FAR too many of them) were killed off only to reappear in later episode flashbacks. The flashbacks would not have been too bad except that they were far too short, sometimes only seconds, and far too many of them too close together. As the characters were either played by other actors, or using different hairstyles to indicate a youthful appearance up to 40 years ago, it became difficult, if not impossible, to clearly understand who they were. The flashbacks went from 1975 through 2001 up to 2015. There may have been more but with the constant jumping and commercial breaks every 5 minutes, it was hard to tell. I would have liked to see a more linear timeline involving fewer characters, which could have been shown as separate episodes. The twist at the ending was a real downer and given Martin's career of subterfuge and assumed identity, could easily have been the reverse.

My final complaint is that Sean Bean, an excellent actor with a long and successful career behind him, is showing his age, and not too well. Throughout the two Seasons he was heavy and unshaven. Even when he was playing his character's younger self, he still wore scruffy stubble and looked the worse for a diet of booze and cigarettes. We all age eventually, and I am not an advocate of face lifts, but a good wash and shave, a decent haircut and some brighter lighting would have taken a couple of decades off his age.

Sharpe: Sharpe's Peril
Episode 1, Season 7

Why did they have make the last two films?
I gave this a 7 rating, because it was Sharpe, but I really have to wonder why they bothered to make the last two films. Sharpe went out with a glorious bang in Sharpe's Waterloo, and it should have remained that way. Instead, two films set 3 years after Waterloo were made about 10 years after, with a dashingly athletic star showing the ravages of a cigarettes and beer diet. To add insult to injury, whereas the younger Sharpe was usually clean shaven and his hair while tousled, was relatively shiny,the 'three years older' Sharpe was unkempt, unshaven and his hair looked like a badly hacked horse hair wig. Gone was the virile handsome superstud who made the ladie's hearts beat faster. We are asked to accept that three years later was a middle aged man resembling a has-been pugilist with a drinking problem.

OK, that is a petty quibble, but it does lead to more questions. As the India films were not from the books but independently scripted based on earlier Sharpe novels, and given the actors natural aging, why did they not set them at least 10 to 15 years after Waterloo? The British were still in India and Sharpe by then would be in his late 40's or early 50's.

Another point to ponder from watching the 'making of' documentary, was why did they film it in such a dreary part of India which they kept telling us was in the middle of nowhere, with the scorching temperatures of March/April causing the actors to suffer in their heavy woolen costumes. Why then did they not find a location in the hills where it would have been cooler and the scenery more attractive? British India was concentrated in the North West region which borders modern Pakistan. Why have the actors dressed in heavy wool uniforms when they could have been made from brushed cotton, which would have been more comfortable and would have looked authentic on film? I grant that the outdoor scenes would have been uncomfortable, but surely the indoor scenes could have been filmed in an air-conditioned studio in Mumbai.

I could go on picking apart the decisions, but overall, I feel that Sharpe's Challenge and Sharpe's Peril were an attempt to milk the the cow until it ran dry, and an unforgettable series should have been left to stand alone.


Boring and silly.
Is this supposed to be a comedy? the only good thing which can be said about this series is that the period clothing and furnishings were spot on and conveyed the dreariness of post war Britain. Storywise, it came across as an convincing parody of spy thrillers.

I must confess that I cam getting mighty tired of episodic TV endlessly dragged out and with a cliff hanger ending hoping that the series will get picked up for a second and further seasons. If the Netflix selection team actually watch programs like this, rather than just accepting them based on a synopsis, I feel really sorry for them.

The Lost City

Why we saw no poor people.
Several critics and reviewers have commented on the fact that there were no poor people and the film did not address the reasons for the revolution, but that is exactly the point! The affluent land owning family lived in a privileged bubble, associating with others like themselves and would not have known any poor underprivileged people. Their servants and field workers would have been invisible to them and certainly not among their social acquaintances. When Fico's brother tried to explain the discontent leading to revolutionary fervor, Fico grew angry and struck him. Another brother thought the way to oust Batista was through assassination. When the revolution arrived, the Fellove family and their kind were totally blindsided, just as the French and Russian Aristocrats in their revolution. Even if they had been aware of the discrepancy between rich and poor it is unlikely that they would have done anything, feeling that it was the way things were. - 'the poor are always with us'. Their discontent with Batista was more likely that he was getting a bigger share of the country's wealth than they were.

I have watched the film several times and thoroughly enjoyed it. Perhaps the best scene demonstrating what was to come took place in the tobacco fields when the uncle was being ordered to hand over the tobacco plantation to the revolutionary government. Even supporters of the revolution discovered that the glory did not last very long and cold hard reality was setting in. Regime change was fine as long as it did not affect them.

Another more hilarious scene was the bossy woman declaring that certain musica styles were not longer allowed, and the saxophone was not to be played as it was invented by a Belgian, 'just look what they did in the Congo'. In many ways we are not too different today with the politically correct movement forcing their opinions on everyone else and declaring that this and that is no longer acceptable.

I particularly liked that the film did not close with a happy ending, as Fico's love interest decided to stay in Cuba and support the new regime. This was more indicative of real life than her chasing on to the dock at the last minute to be with her love. As we have seen in similar workds, such as The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, families take opposing sides and are torn apart. It was not a perfect film, but well worth viewing even for the music alone.

Top of the Lake

A brilliant unique season one degenerates into a ho hum "not that again" yawn.
Season One of Top of the Lake was unique in its south New Zealand setting. The magnificent scenery, damp forests and endless rain gave a 'Deliverance' vibe to the characters living at the end of the world who appeared to have turned their backs on society.

Season Two, how can I list the things where it has gone wrong?

1. They really blew it by moving it to Sydney, Australia, and Bondi Beach for that matter. Except for 'Mystery Road', ALL Australian police dramas take place in Bondi Beach. Australia is a vast country with stunning outback and semi tropical locations. Why stick to Bondi Beach? Moving the setting to Sydney meant leaving Johnno behind as he had a prior conviction which preventing him moving to Australia when his romance seemed to be going well.

2. The imported sex workers story line is old.

3. Elizabeth Moss. While I do not wish to be unkind, if she had been shown as executive producer I would have understood why an unattractive women was cast as a hot number whom ever man in the cast is lusting for. She looks 10 years older than her real age, and with her slouched posture, permanently downcast mouth and cold eyed stare, I find her to be unwatchable. An actress who is playing a magnet for men should at least be attractive and Ms. Moss isn't.

4. Killing off Matt Mitcham in a previous series. Peter Mullen was unforgettable and was sadly missed. Sending DG (Hioly Hunter) home was another mistake.

6. The irritating piano, an unfortunate signature of Jane Campion films is someone tinkling the high notes of a piano, one note at a time. At least we did not begin with lace curtains blowing in the breeze. I think I would have switched off at that point. If they MUST have the piano, tone it down!

To be fair, Season Two does have an excellent cast with Gwendolyn Christie, and surprisingly, Nichole Kidman playing a supporting role. It could have and should have been better, especially if they had stayed in NZ

Edwin Boyd

Couldn't take my eyes off Kevin Durand.
Very occassionally an actor lights up the screen and from the first appearance I feel as if I had just been smacked upside the head. "Who was THAT?" "This actor has star quality in spades." From the moment he appeared, Kevin Durand, had that effect on me. Looking up his filmography I noticed that I would have seen him before but thanks to his range, I had not recognized him. I watched the film through to the end and loved every minute of it, although I found I could not sympathize with the characters and they got what they deserved. Just one question, does Toronto every get a summer?


Very good series, but unneccessarily soapy. Several spolers ahead.
Despite most critics turning up their noses, and the dwindling audience which led to cancellation after Season 3, I found this to be one of the best TV series in years. The locations, sets, beautiful Islamic architecture and design all made this a feast for the eyes. Season 2 showed the frighteningly swift descent from a moderately affluent society of many faiths where women's head covering was optional, people drank alcohol, women attended university, where men and women associated freely and women did not need a male escort to set foot outside the home, to a war torn intolerant theocracy as religious fanatics enforced their narrow minded and warped version of Islam against the wishes of the majority by terror. Suddenly normal life is turned upside down as normality becomes daily bombings, enforced recruitment into extremist groups and years of violence and terror. I loved the multinational casting and recognized many top class actors from foreign language film and TV, but I did have a few reservations:

The American feminist bias: Clueless Molly and her children got on my nerves big time. Molly's selfish me, me, me, attitude and lack of understanding of the position her husband had been placed in really went against the grain. She appeared to have no understanding whatsoever of the position her husband had been placed in against his will and should have stayed in California. I realize she was shattered at the murder of her daughter, but hundreds of women around her were suffering the loss of their husbands and children without her self-absorbed tantrums. As a first lady she was a total fail. Having been married to a man from Abbudin one would have expected her to know something about the country and its culture. The transformation into Lady MacBeth and jealousy of Daliyah was out of character. Her equally clueless children can be somewhat forgiven as the US is very isolationist when it comes to other cultures unless they happen to be useful or the enemy of the week. Even then the news is unlikely to penetrate the video game/pop music world of the US teenager.

The casting: Although the huge cast was for the most part excellent, Ahmed, son of tall thin Leila and tall thin Bassam, was short and chubby. Bassam did not look or sound the slightest bit Arabic. It would have been far better for Keon Alexander to have been cast as Ahmed and Fares Fares as Bassam. Noah Silver was out of his depth in a major role and always looked stoned to me, even before we saw him smoking a joint. Only Moran Atias (Leila) and Alexander Karim (Ihab) really stood out. Alexander Karim was for me the most interesting and watchable character in the entire series. I have to wonder if some of the actors chosen were the 'names' needed to raise financing, just as the 60's blockbuster movies needed a big star from each country to ensure financing and distribution, or if they were wives, friends and relatives of the producers.

The use of English rather than subtitled Arabic: The accents were all over the place: Ashraf Barhom delivered his line one - word - at - a - time which painfully slowed his acting down to the level of a cartoon villain. When his character had to use English he should have been dubbed. Bassam's American accent should have given him away immediately when speaking to his brother. The Queen's English and Australian pronunciation popped up frequently and was not always explained by the character having spent time in the UK. English should only have been used when the English speakers were speaking to each other or with an Arabic speaker. All conversation between Arabic speakers should have been in Arabic with English subtitles. Non English speakers who were delivering their lines phonetically when it was necessary for them to use English, such as Jamal, should have been dubbed.

Too many characters: Even though I binge watched, I found myself turning to IMDB to refresh my memory of who was who as minor characters not seen for several episodes suddenly returned to be killed or whatever.

The unnecessary inclusion of gay characters: Why do so many TV series today seem obliged to include a gay storyline? I do not want to see a couple of men (or women for that matter) get naked. Rather than showing gays making love and kissing, it could be implied 'off camera' or with a shocked expression and/or lowered eyes by another character. The intolerance and persecution of homosexuals in one of the earlier episodes was well handled and made the point, but the love affair between Sammy and his professor was superfluous. I found myself fast forwarding through those scenes.

The killing off of characters who could have been further developed: Nushrat and Rami were a most attractive couple and could have carried a fourth season, but instead they were killed off. Rami could have been the contender for President. A big waste.

Too much soap opera: The revelations of previously unknown illegitimate sons were right out of a Mexican soap opera parody on Saturday Night Live. The story was also bogged down by tedious romances. I got really tired of Molly's histrionics and Daliyahs tearful eyes and trembling lips. At least Leila had some spine, but her 'romance' with General Clodhopper, the Victor Mature lookalike, had more of a whiff of opportunism. She was no slouch at playing both sides and switching allegiances when necessary.

Season 2 was far better than the first Season, but Season 3 was 'The Godfather on the Tigris'. The resemblance to the Corleone family was unmissable: Bassam as Michael, Jamal as Fredo, Leila as Connie, Sammy and Emma as Anthony and Mary, along with the supporting players unable to escape their destiny. The final episode left me with the desire to see the story wrapped up, but after watching it twice, I realised that it was spot on: The conflict would never end because it cannot end. There was no happy ending. no easy answers and that is how it is. Bassam would either be overthrown in a coup by General Maloof, and his family exiled or murdered, or he would double down and become a total tyrant and stay in power for the next 40 years. Leila now in exile may or may not prevail and will be courted by various foreign powers, until it is her turn. General Clodhopper would write a book and become a TV regular urging US action. Ihab would become public enemy No. 1 until he was taken out or overthrew Bassam and became President. Everyone would change sides. The US/Russians/Chinese would throw money at the conflict, probably supporting both sides at the same time. There are no easy answers. The US marines will not come riding to the rescue.

Overall, I found this to be an absorbing series despite the criticism listed. It had to be for me to binge watch three seasons over three days. Better casting would have made a difference.

Harley and the Davidsons

Almost Saturday morning matinee
I have just watched "Harley and the Davidsons" about the beginnings of the Harley Davidson Motor cycle company. The production values, sets, costumes, outdoor locations, and the recreations of the old motor cycles were top notch, but the overall feel of the show was of a cross between 'Dukes of Hazzard' and the Saturday morning matinee where the kiddies would be jumping up and down in their seats and slopping their ice cream at the motor cycle races. Boo the baddies, cheer for the goodies! Early Harley Davidson motor cycles substitute for the General Lee. The bad guys were stooping to every dirty trick in the book to stop Harley and the Davidsons succeeding and drive them out of business. Joe Merkel, boo. Axel Ford, boo. Eventually they were rescued in the mid 30's by the Japanese.

Overall, a feel good family friendly series with no sex, chaste kisses, no swearing, just a few villainous characters determined to spoil the party. Including a Boss Hogg parody - a fat white suited and hatted southern sheriff who contemptuously referred to the only African American character as 'boy!' (In Milwaukee?)

Judging by the amount of beer the characters consumed, I began to wonder if the financing for the miniseries had been provided by a Milwaukee brewer as they supped in every scene, especially while working on the bikes. The first two parts were excellent following the birth and growth of the company and seeing how they designed and assembled the engines. The third part got a little cartoonish descending into children's matinee territory as the young depression era enthusiasts who built their bikes from scrapped parts and held outlawed races were chased by 'Boss Hogg' and the crooked police until they finally won. References and legends hit over the head with a sledgehammer force: early in series, someone gave them a little pig as a gift - get it? the young enthusiasts were referred to as outlaws building their bikes from chopped up scrapped bikes - get it? after a violent race, the Harley team were referred to as a wrecking crew - get it?

The series ended with the introduction of the shovel head at one of the outlaw races. Whether this really happened or was for dramatic license I cannot say, other than the kids saved the day!

I would like to have seen more in the making of feature showing how the bikes used in the series were created from scratch using the original drawings, and how the sets and race tracks were built, especially the wooden track on which they raced at high and occasionally deadly speed. I can honestly say that this the first show I have watched in which more action took place in the machine shop and race track than anywhere else, and which held my attention as they ground down the metal parts and mopped up the oil.

The blue ray boxed set which came with DVD and Ultra Violet copies was well worth it.

The Handmaid's Tale

Elizabeth Moss's vanity piece endlessly dragged out.
After reading the book by Margaret Atwood and seeing the film with Natasha Richardson, I was interested in viewing the latest version, but oh was I ever disappointed! Had I not read the book I, like many viewers, would have thought the series was a brilliant concept of the writers.

Other than padding out a slim novel with fresh plots and back stories to milk as many seasons as the viewership and advertisers will tolerate, the main problem is the casting of Elizabeth Moss in the main role. As Offred had already had a child and the two year posting to Waterford's home was her fourth, the previous three possibly having been unsuccessful, we can assume that she would have been in her late 20's approaching 30. According to her biography, Ms. Moss is 32, but she looks much older. Whether due to the blue lighting and the endless extreme close ups of her scowling face, she just does not look like the healthy fecund young female expected to produce healthy children. The casting baffled me until I found out that she was the producer.

The other irritant was the glacial pace of the acting, especially the character of Nick. Again, like the blue lighting it might have been by design on the part of the director, and in the book it was never clear whether which side Nick was on, but expressionless stares and long pauses drag the show down. We are not doing a Harold Pinter play here.

The only redeeming feature of the series is the chilling subject matter, for which we have to thank Margaret Attwood. The fear that it could happen here is real - after all in recent decades it has happened in Russia, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan and various religious cults in the US - not always due to religious obsession but sometimes a political ideology. For those too young to remember, people of African descent were brought to the Americas North, South and Central, for about 200 years, enslaved and became the property of their masters who could sell them at will, including their children, and after the transportation of slaves was prohibited, use the women to breed more slaves which did not have to be paid for. To the best of my knowledge, no slave owner or white man was every prosecuted for rape of a female slave. Those same slaves were not allowed to read, in fact teaching a slave to read was a criminal offense. All this was sanctioned by the bible, and reinforced by the law. Millions of people in the US south actually went to war to preserve the right to keep slaves.

The warning is that we must be extremely vigilant to prevent it happening here. It has ALREADY happened once in the USA, and accounts of the creeping effects of Communism and Nazism sound very similar. Just read of the experiences of ordinary people in the countries, such as France, which were occupied by the Germans in WW2. Read the accounts of young women in Ireland who were forced into Industrial Schools (workhouses) due to being unwed mothers or just because there were too many mouths to feed in their families, and the unwed mothers whose children were sold off without their knowledge to adoptive parents in the USA.

Overall, if it had only run for one season and the leading actress had been somewhat younger and more attractive, I might have been able to watch it. As it was, I stuck with it for a while, then found it became an unnecessary and depressing ordeal. The story is a brilliant concept which the TV series fails to do justice.

The Auction House

Fascinating behind the scenes look at a British institution
Where would Britain be without its collection of eccentrics? While it is always fascinating to watch men at work, especially behind the scenes of a glamorous profession, 'The Auction House' suffered from a limited scope: nevertheless, it was fun to watch the ultra rich and eccentrics passing their time at the weekly auctions of too much clutter. Each week 700 items would be offered for sale by auction. The staff had to appraise, set a price and place it in the Sunday auction, which always seemed to have the same few attendees - over botoxed men and women with bad face lifts and bleached hair for whom money seemed to be no object who would stroll in with their tiny dogs. Items which did not sell were returned to the seller who was required to pay an 'unsold' fee and storage if it was not picked up.

The eclectic variety of some of the merchandise ranged from the truly awful to 'who would buy that? This was not a junk yard. Located in Chelsea, a fashionable an expensive area of central London, the clientele were quite happy to bid £5,000 plus commission on an item which they would put back in the auction next day as it 'did not look right'. Thousands would be bid on two four poster pet beds which every dog coming through the door had laid on. Huge models of gorillas sat next to buffalo skulls and designer handbags. Tacky 'impressionist' art alongside a Playboy Bunny costume. Old chandeliers, 60's leather furniture, antique furniture, brassware, statues and whatever might sell. The staff of 30, a manager, appraisers and muscle seemed to get on very well and appeared to have a line of work which was never dull. The owner had to keep reminding them that it was a business and would insist on trying something new each week to try to keep up sales.

Sometimes we would get a look inside the elegant five story town homes of the ex-wives of multi millionaires who were shopping for things to fill their homes, or to fill their time? We were introduced to a couple of said ex wives, an elderly gay couple of collectors with a vastly overcluttered home who used their expertise to make a lucrative living as very discreet anonymous buyers of antiques and object d'art for wealthy clients. A starving artist who would literally finish or change his paintings on the sidewalk outside the auction house. In one hilarious episode a dog walked over the still wet painting and he had to smudge around the paw marks. In anothe rhe decided to add three giraffes' heads to a cloud scene. He admitted that his wall sized paintings would only fetch about £50 at the market, but at the auction they would fetch around £500 (if they sold).

I watched every episode and loved it, but as I said earlier, the program had a limited scope as you can only watch the weekly grind so many times. I did enjoy the more gentle style of reality that we don't see often in the USA, - no nail biting competition, no elimination contests - just the friendly camaraderie and occasional friction of long time coworkers. If you like an inside look at a profession such as ballet, opera, the fashion world, the arts, you will enjoy this series.


Spoiled by loose threads and confusing plot twists
Not having read the book, which is not available in English, I found the story very difficult to follow. OK, a young teenagers disappeared on a school trip to Patagonia and many years later, one of the girls, now a policewoman - the maverick cop of course - defies her superiors to reopen the case. That was about as far as I could follow the story. Some of it was telegraphed ahead so loud and clear that I was aware of it in advance, but other parts were totally obscure or not followed through.

What was the significance of the mermaid tattoos.?

Who was the bald mustachioed man with the mermaid tattoo and why did he save a couple of the girls he was supposed to kill? Why did he continue to pursue and kill anyone who tried to find out the whereabouts of Cornelia? Was Alina working for the bad guys, and if so, why was she killed?

Why were the police so adamant that Alina jumped from the window when the apartment was in a shambles, indicating that she fought for her life?.

What did Pipa's boss, Oreyana, have to do with the affair and why was he working for the bad guys? He did say that he found himself in too deep at the beginning that he couldn't get out. Why?

Who were the couple in the mountain lodge in Patagonia, why were they killed and who was the young man who was killed along with them?. I assume they were part of the trafficking ring, but it was not clear.

I actually watched this twice and more of the story fit into place, but I could have used a full synopsis. The film needs to be taken back and recut to heighten the tension and clarify the plot twists. A good half hour could be left on the cutting room floor.

Bottom line: The scenery was nice.

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