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Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Wildlife
Episode 7, Season 10

Animal instinct
Season 10 was not very good at all in its first quarter (pre-"Persona", which was when the season started to pick up), with the only episode to be above good being "Swing". "Wildlife" did nothing for me on first watch, just found it far too strange, silly and confusing. It sounded interesting on paper but another case of "too many cooks", felt that way as well with "Babes", except that in the case of "Wildlife" it was throughout most of the episode rather than the second half.

"Wildlife" still leaves me indifferent, with my reservations being the same. There are episodes of 'Law and Order: Special Victims Unit', and of the 'Law and Order' franchise, that didn't do much for me on first watch but fared better on rewatches. For some marginally, for some a lot (Season 5's "Poison" for example grew on me a lot). Sadly that is not the case with "Wildlife", 'Special Victims Unit' was no stranger to complex and strange episodes but very few of the previous episodes went too far on both in the way "Wildlife" does. This didn't feel like 'Special Victims Unit' somehow.

There are good things. The photography while very close up doesn't come over as too static or filmed play-like, while the production values are typically solid and have subtle atmosphere while not being drab and keeping things simple. When the music is used it is haunting and has a melancholic edge that is not overdone.

Also thought that the regular performances were very good, all things considered. Especially Christopher Meloni, while Andrew Divoff is chilling in the one supporting turn that properly stands out. The episode does start intriguingly.

However, "Wildlife" goes downhill significantly too early and never recovers. With it being primarily ruined by the complete mess that is the story. It is over-stuffed with too much going on and too many underdeveloped ideas, meaning it becomes confusing and at times strange. It also feels badly rushed and chaotic in structure, the suspense level is next to zero and it does get excessively silly at points, especially the ending.

Moreover, there are too many characters and only Divoff's is interesting. And even he becomes inept at one stage. The script is simplistic and heavy handed and also hated how unsympathetic how Olivia and especially Kathy were towards Stabler when he was merely doing his job.

Concluding, rather odd episode and one of the weakest of a generally disappointing Season 10. This is not me hating every episode of 'Special Victims Unit' just to say, actually like to love many of the show early and mid years episodes and even the later seasons (though the show has not felt the same for a long time) had episodes that were brilliant. This just didn't do it for me. 4/10.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Babes
Episode 6, Season 10

Too many cooks
Season 10's sixth episode "Babes" always did leave me mixed. Admired that it tries to tackle a difficult and sadly still relevant subject, but other episodes of 'Law and Order: Special Victims Unit' episodes do a much better job with their handling of far more difficult and a lot more controversial issues. On first watch, it struck me as an episode that starts off well, but loses its way in the second half from trying to do too much and not handling the subject tactfully enough.

On a few more subsequent rewatches over-time, my feelings on "Babes" are pretty much the same, meaning finding the same strengths and flaws, apart from disliking Greylek even more and feeling more strongly about its depiction of online media (while liking its depiction of cyber bullying). "Babes" is not an awful episode, none of the episodes of the generally underwhelming first quarter of Season 10 are, but it's also not really all that great either and it could easily have been.

"Babes" does have things it does well. Is well made, intimately photographed and slick with no signs of under-budget or anything. The music didn't sound melodramatic or too constant and some of the direction has tautness. The episode does do a good job showing a chilling and "brought a lump to the throat"-worthy depiction of the evils of cyber-bullying. Munch as a crazed homeless man was very funny.

Most of the performances are very good, that certainly applies to the regulars with one glaring exception. Also strong are the performances of Debi Mazar and Jesse McCartney, with Mazar playing a character that one roots for her to be sent down. The truth is a shock and very sad, the part with Tina at the end is also touching. The episode starts off very well too and does a good job at making one disturbed and left thinking.

However, a lot of issues were here. The second half after a very dramatic change of events is not near as strong and was where "Babes" became heavy-handed and had too much of a too many cooks vibe. "Babes" would have fared quite a lot better with less characters and tried to do less, the story later on feeling like a patchwork of over-heated ripped from the headlines ideas that had a feeling of too much too soon. Like the previous episode, the dialogue feels dumbed down, overwrought and ham-handed.

While it was admirable that "Babes" made a conscientous effort to tackle the issue of cyber-bullying and the dangers of online media, the portrayal of online media is too simplistic and one-sided. Giving the message that all online/social media is bad, which is not entirely true, cyber-bullying and trolling absolutely does exist but not everybody is guilty of it. Nearly all the supporting characters are unsympathetic and don't feel like real people, even the victims. Max is pretty much the only one one feels any kind of sympathy for (and Tina eventually at the end), due to the way he is treated. Greylek as a character has not in any way improved, a mess of over-exaggerated character flaws and one that is woodenly acted by Micaela McManus. Was mixed by what she says at the end, feeling that what she said and her wording was completely inappropriate for her job while finding too that she also had a very good point.

In conclusion, conflicting feelings here. 5/10.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Retro
Episode 5, Season 10

Lifeless denial
Am slowly working my way through writing reviews for all the episodes of 'Law and Order, 'Special Victims Unit' and 'Criminal Intent' with a long way to go. Some may know already how much admiration there is from me for anything that tackles difficult and controversial themes and issues. AIDS and attitudes towards it (especially denial) is definitely up there with the toughest and most controversial, as far as Season 10 goes this and "Transitions" have the most difficult subjects.

"Retro" could have done a lot better with it however. The actual denial element of the story is done well and the episode is made better by its guest performances. Guest performances that were even better than the regulars and were deserving of a better episode. "Retro" against all that also has one of the worst scenes of the season and of the show up to this point, the case could have been better. Greylek also in in one of her worst appearances and it is one of the episodes that shows why she is one of my least favourite characters of the entire franchise. Am not joking sadly when saying that.

Is "Retro" all bad? No. The production values are slick, gritty and professional. The music is haunting while not spelling out the emotions too much. The direction has moments where it is at ease with the material and in control of it.

Most of the regulars are very good, in fact all the SVU squad are finely characterised. As said though, some of the supporting/guest cast make a stronger impression, while Viola Davis and Donna Murphy are excellent, as is Paula Malcolmson when she is not made to go overwrought, it's the genuinely frightening Martin Mull that makes the biggest impression and dominates. The AIDS denial portrayal is effectively scary and even more so is the delusion that comes with it.

However, a lot lets "Retro" down. Mostly the story is very dull and thin on the ground, some of it is uneventful-feeling and there is a general lack of tension and surprises. The writers try to hide this with throwing in an overload of forced melodrama. The cringe-worthy examination scene (one of the worst in 'Special Victims Unit', and the franchise's history) being a prime example. There is also too much emphasis on shoe-horned and too convient using of technology and science to solve the case and make a solid argument, technology and science that has not aged well but oddly interesting.

Furthermore, the script is dumbed down, heavy handed and overwrought, especially Greylek's when in the courtroom. There is some truly sloppy and unprofessional police work, including yet another confidentiality breach from Olivia. Greylek was always one of my least favourite 'Special Victims Unit' regular cast characters in her thankfully short time on the show, this is one of her worst appearances. Her pomposity and aloofness are taken to wild extremes and we can now add bullying and unprofessionalism to the list. Micaela McManus was always stiff and robotic in the role and she is here while also over-acting in the cross examination scene. Other than Davis, Murphy and Mull, the support doesn't stand out that much.

Overall, didn't do much for me. 5/10.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Lunacy
Episode 4, Season 10

Space craziness
There are a number of 'Law and Order: Special Victims Unit' episodes that had highly publisised guest stars, many of them more than living up to the hype. When it came to the episodes overall, there were a number that were worthy of the guest star in question but there were also a number where the guest star was a lot better than the episode and deserved better. It is hard to not expect a good deal when a guest star for anything gets a lot of attention, and that can be said for James Brolin.

"Lunacy" is one of those cases where the guest performance was better than the episode itself. While his character is not a subtle one, Brolin's guest turn is great and lives up to the hype. "Lunacy" however as an episode is not so great and doesn't live up so much. It is far from a terrible episode and has a lot of good things, at the same it could have been better and should not have been the uneven episode that it turned out. Season 10 did show improvement with the previous episode "Swing" after starting off rocky but "Lunacy" is a step backwards.

Am going to start listing the good things. The photography and such as usual are fully professional, the slickness still remaining. The music is used sparingly and is haunting and non-overwrought when it is used, and it's mainly used when a crucial revelation or plot development is revealed. There is some suitably cotrolled yet tense direction when necessary. There is some intriguing and tight scripting in the middle and enough of the red herrings are interesting and unexpected.

Have no issues with the acting, Brolin is reliably strong though his character could have been less obvious. Chris Elliott is good too as is the steely intensity of Christopher Meloni. Fin and Munch are a joy in their (too) short screen time and we also have the bonus of an amazing looking Olivia.

On the other hand, "Lunacy" could have been a good deal more. Did think that there were too many red herrings and they eventually over-complicated the story a bit. The story does have its moments but it is also pretty predictable in parts later and not an awful lot leaves one floored.

Particularly obvious is the major reveal, which was easily guessable too early (like at the halfway mark). Some of the fight choreography is clumsy.

In conclusion, worth the watch but there was a better episode in there somewhere that doesn't quite come into proper fruition. 6/10.

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Yakity-Sax
Episode 14, Season 8

In less than perfect harmony
Despite being the second lowest rated episode of Season 8 (after "Non-Compete Clause") and third lowest rated of 'My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic' ("Non-Compete Clause" and "What About Discord", both show low points, being first and second), there was potential with "Yakity-Sax". The concept did sound good and potentially relatable and Pinkie Pie often is a very funny and endearing character (though she does have episodes where she is annoying).

"Yakity-Sax" did very little for me on first watch way back in 2018 and my feelings three years on are still the same, even the flaws are more noticeable. While it is not quite one of my least favourite episodes of 'My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic' and it is a little better than "Non-Compete Clause", it is not hard at all to see why it was and still is very poorly received in the fandom. A distinction that in my mind is deserved, with the episode being primarily ruined by two significant flaws.

The episode has good points. The animation is extremely good throughout, still love the vibrancy of the colours, the richly detailed backgrounds in both the big and small details, the increasingly polished character designs and inventive character reactions and expressions. The music always synchronises very well, with lively rhythms, a nice atmosphere and clever instrumentation, and the use of the yovidaphone was clever.

Also have no qualms with the voice acting, despite really not caring for Pinkie Pie here Andrea Libman does voice her beautifully and the blame for why Pinkie Pie doesn't work lies in no way at her door. Mostly the rest of the Mane 6 were in character and really admired how their want to restore Pinkie Pie's confidence seemed very genuine.

Sadly, "Yakity-Sax" was let down significantly by two primary things. One was the moral. Didn't mind that it was nothing new and that on paper it had good intentions. Less forgivable was that to me it felt muddled and ham-fisted, and would have worked a lot better if the Mane 6's criticism of Pinkie Pie's playing was a lot more subtle and didn't contradict the set up (there is a big difference being pointing out that it was disruptive and criticising the actual playing so bluntly) and if Pinkie Pie was much more likeable. The out of character character writing for Pinkie Pie is the bigger problem here, her behaviour here comes over as very uncharacteristically childish and selfish and her obsessiveness taken to the wildest of extremes. Have been known myself to overreact negatively to criticism but not in the dominate her life way seen here with Pinkie Pie.

While they are the biggest problems there are others. The episode did feel very bland, other than the heart-warming ending very little made me laugh, very little moved me and that aforementioned part with the Mane 6 was mean-spirited and had the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Other episodes had a much better balance of entertainment value and drama, here there is too little of both and it all feels manufactured. The story never properly engages and feels draggy and too thin, the ending as said is the best part but would have been even better if the moral resonated more.

Concluding, a disappointment despite some moments. 4/10.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Swing
Episode 3, Season 10

Dramatic swing
The main reason for seeing "Swing" was, other than finding 'Law and Order: Special Victims Unit' brilliant at its best (though it started to vary wildly from Season 7 onwards), Ellen Burstyn who has continually impressed me ever since being blown away by her performance in 'Requiem for a Dream'. While remembering it being a very good episode on first watch, expectations were a bit mixed, seeing as the previous two episodes did very little for me and the episodes that centre heavily around personal lives have always varied.

"Swing" still struck me as a very good episode and while falling a little short of being outstanding it is one of the better episodes of a season that wasn't all that great. As well as being easily the best of the lacklustre first quarter (pre-"Persona") of Season 10, being the only above good one. "Swing" has its shortcomings, namely pacing and Stabler has been much better written in other episodes, but the superb acting is the main reason as to why it should still be checked out.

It isn't perfect. "Swing" did feel dragged out and melodramatic at times, especially everything with the false story, which was one that didn't really ring true.

While understanding how complex the situation is, Stabler is a real jerk to a near-unrootable degree and everything he does makes things worse for everybody, it was good to see not one but two characters to spot on call him out on his denials and behaviour. Olivia's final line seemed to be an attempt at being cute and funny but it felt more like an embarrassing rubbing it in your face quip.

However, "Swing" is well worth the watch. As said, what makes it worth seeing is the acting which is all round superb. Christopher Meloni gives a performance of intense steel, despite disliking the way Stabler is written here the blame doesn't in any way lie at Meloni's door. Burstyn's performance in the final third or so is very powerful and one of the season's best guest turns. Allison Siko made me care about Kathleen for the first proper time. CHH Pounder really commands her screen time as does sympathetic yet tough talking Mariska Hargitay. Only Micaela McManus is bad, but her screen time is mercifully brief and doesn't stick out as badly.

Although not perfect, the story does have tension and poignancy. One that provides one of the better, more insightful and more investable looks into Stabler's personal life, with it showing how and why he came to be but more so for the first time since Season 7's "Ripped". The script is mostly taut and intelligent, despite lapses of melodrama. The production values are slick and have a subtle grit, with an intimacy to the photography without being too claustrophobic. The music isn't used too much and doesn't get too melodramatic. The direction has enough taut urgency when needed while giving the case breathing space.

Overall, very good if not outstanding. 8/10.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Confession
Episode 2, Season 10

"Confession" did very little for me on first watch, again like what was said for "Trials" this was quite a few years back. Great supporting cast but a mess story-wise. The subject is a tough one and the story does sound interesting, though is one where one does have to be careful in executing it as it is sensitive territory. One does hope for it to be unsettling and emotionally impactful rather than sleazy and muddled as it can easily go either way.

My negative feelings have not really changed, same criticisms with more problems found if anything. Was really hoping that it would be better than the disappointing "Trials", but no it was worse and it is one of my least favourite episodes of a not particularly great (with exceptions) Season 10. Is "Confession" a complete mess? No, and it is not quite as bad as has been said. It just doesn't do very much for me and could have handled sensitive territory so much more tactfully.

Am going to start with the good things. The production values are slick, gritty and professional. The music is haunting while not spelling out the emotions too much. Almost all the regulars are excellent with one (obvious) exception, with Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay as ever providing conscientous contributions.

This is a case though of the supporting cast making an even bigger impression. Teri Polo has never been more heart-breaking. Tom Noonan, giving the performance of the episode, is chilling personified (it's type casting but type casting is not a bad thing if it's done well, and Noonan does this sort of role pretty wonderfully). Marshall Allman does anguish very disturbingly and poignantly.

Only Micaela McManus is bad, in fact she is pretty awful and never did anything for me on this show, always lifeless and wooden to the point of annoyance. Greylek as a character is one of the worst the show ever had (she and Dale Stuckey were a very strong tie for this season) and was a complete deadweight, and McManus was always wooden. Never liked Greylek as a character, a mess of excessively written negative character traits and no positives (pomposity and aloofness being the prime ones).

Most of the supporting characters are overly cruel caricatures rather than real people, Berlin and Kelley especially. Even lost some sympathy for the mother later on. Also found them, and maybe it's just me who feels this, indecisively written. Whether Eric's remorse was genuine or an act is left too hanging in the air and the writers didn't seem sure whether to write Berlin as an irredeemably evil monster or a character where one can see his point of view. Both are attempted it felt and it made the motivations confusing, hence the polarised summings up of him here.

What was a massive problem here was the attitude of the SVU towards Eric and the case. A vast majority of the squad are far too judgemental and one-sided (with the sole exception of Olivia), immediately jumping to conclusions without considering other options or sides (this happened more than once this season). Particularly Stabler's, whose personal drama and loose cannon behaviour have gotten tired and predictable since the second half of Season 7, also contradictory as there have been past episodes where he has tried to help perpetrators or potential ones (i.e. "Nocturne"). The script is very soapy and long-winded. The story starts off well, Allman's big scene is beautifully played and written, but became increasingly muddled, bizarre and over the top, the final quarter is pretty out there. The tension and suspense are too far and between.

In conclusion, even more disappointing than the previous episode. 4/10.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Trials
Episode 1, Season 10

Trials and tribulations
Was really hoping that the Season 10 opener "Trials" would be better than the disappointing previous season's finale "Cold". It certainly struck me so when watching both episodes for the first time six or seven years ago. 'Law and Order: Special Victims Unit' has some cracking season openers, Season 1's "Payback", Season 4's "Chameleon" and Season 6's "Birthright". Having said that, Season 10 was for me was a mixed to unimpressive season which was disappointing.

It took some time to find its feet, with the first great episode being "Persona", and it did have some wonderful episodes in its middle period such as "Hothouse", "Ballerina" and "Liberties" ("Transitions" has fantastic things too) before ending badly with "Zebra". "Trials" was, or at least it struck me as on subsequent rewatches, a less than promising start for Season 10. It is not a terrible episode by all means and it is better than "Cold". By 'Special Victims Unit' standards, which was at its best brilliant in Seasons 1-6 and had many flashes of brilliance since, this was disappointing regrettably.

"Trials" did have good things. It does look good, with the usual slickness and subtle grit. Really liked too that the photography was simple and close up but doing so without being claustrophobic. The music has presence when used, and luckily it isn't constant, and when it is used it doesn't feel over-scored. Some of the direction is quite good, if more early on than later.

All the regular and guest performances are excellent. Mariska Hargitay particularly is good of the regulars and Jae Head frightens and at times moves. The episode starts quite promisingly, Olivia's personal life subplot was touching and there is some taut scripting.

Not much else works sadly. It is agreed too convoluted and far-fetched, especially everything after the perpetrator is figured out and how to go about proving it. The conclusion is one of the wildest (to an excessive degree) of the early-mid seasons. The truth is shocking due to the nature of the crimes, but it was considered by me a possibility some time before. What shocked me more was the naivety of one character when it's revealed. Most of the time "Trials" is too slow going. Most of the personal life stuff felt too much like padded filler, Stabler's was pure soap opera that doesn't say much new and doesn't see any of the characters come off positively. Only Olivia's trauma struggles interested or made sense, as well as making emotional impact, even that felt like it was setting things up.

Some of the writing is taut, but most of it is too exposition heavy, especially the newly introduced Greylek's, and talky. Speaking of Greylek, she doesn't make a good impression at all and she did nothing for me throughout her stint on 'Special Victims Unit'. She is too full of herself and aloof, with everything to do with the plea being far too rash a decision (something that Cabot and Novak would never had considered) and unrealistic. Micaela McManus plays her with the emotions of a robot.

Concluding, disappointing. 5/10.

Hiss and Hers

Hissing with mediocrity
To me, the Blue Racer theatrical series is one of the weaker ones from DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, along with Tijuana Toads and Crazylegs Crane. The only outstanding things about all seventeen cartoons made between 1972 and 1974 are the music and the opening credits. Blue Racer, the animation and the humour had moments and a couple of the later cartoons tried to be a little more creative. The cartoons though were generally undone by being repetitive.

As well as being cheap and having too many tried and tested retreads for gags and very unappealing supporting characters (especially that beetle). Although the first cartoon in the Blue Racer series, 'Hiss and Hers' is not the first appearances of either Blue Racer or the beetle. Both were introduced in the Tijuana Toads series, in 'Snakes in the Gracias' and 'Hop and Chop' respectively. 'Hiss and Hers' is a mediocre start and contains pretty much everything that is wrong with the series.

'Hiss and Hers' is not all bad. The best things about it are the music and the opening credits. The music has energy and character, with the main theme having a jazzy nature that was truly appealing on the ears. The opening credits have the creativity that was lacking in the humour.

Some nice colours here and there can be seen. The bridge gag comes off best of the gags, though that was only amusing. Blue Racer has the best line, "this is the first time that I've been beaten from the inside".

However, there are a lot of drawbacks in 'Hiss and Hers'. Most of the animation is scrappy in drawing and flatly coloured, the studio did do their cartoons in a purpsefully abstract visual style which was done beautifully in the 60s but here in 'Hiss and Hers' and much of the Blue Racer series it is overly-simple to the point of cheapness. Blue Racer was better as a supporting character in 'Snake in the Gracias', his personality is rather one-note and is not that distinct. Worse is the distasteful stereotype that is the beetle (think Mickey Rooney in 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' in beetle form and that's pretty much the character), and he is also incredibly annoying. The voice acting is very nearly as broad and stereotypical as it was in the Tijuana Toads series, Tom Holland's attempts at broken English is just cringe-worthy for words and Larry D. Mann actually sounds less crafty than he did in 'Snake in the Gracias'.

When you could understand the dialogue, it lacks wit and is very perfunctory. The beetle's final line is not funny (none of his final lines were) and has a "what did I just hear" vibe (what was said, not how). The gags, even the best one the one with the bridge, are pretty tried and tested retreads of ones seen before in other cartoons, how many times do we have to see dynamite-like objects used to catch prey. The story is very thin, all it is is like four stretched out gags, and predictable with a scenario that has been old for years. Oh and the wife character was also unbearable, yet another version of the abrasive, abusive wife cliche. The pace felt dull from the story feeling over-stretched and the ending is mean-spirited.

Overall, mediocre start. 4/10.

The Burglar's Dilemma

Fun dilemma
It's always interesting once in a while to see an old short film, especially one from over a century ago when film was still in relative infancy. It's even more interesting when it has a young Lionel Barrymore in an early role far removed from his villain and cantankerous roles and direction by DW Griffith at a relatively early stage of his extensive career in quite a prolific year for him. Which is the case for 1912's 'The Burglar's Dilemma' (a very curious and not particularly appetising title).

While 'The Burglar's Dilemma' is not up to the same level of 'The Mothering Heart' and 'The Musketeers of Pig Alley' as far as Griffith's short films go, it is still worth watching. And for more than just Griffith or silent short film completest sake, as it is still entertaining, interesting and well directed and acted. Despite a wildly uneven story that stops 'The Burglar's Dilemma' from being better than it was, which is a shame especially when you see the greatness that Griffith was capable of (even that year).

'The Burglar's Dilemma' has a lot that is good. Barrymore has fun in his role and looks at ease with his material, without being theatrical. Henry B. Walthall, despite his character not being near as interesting, is a good contrast and isn't anaemic or annoying. Robert Harron shows from his exuberance here why it is sad that he didn't have a longer career or life. Dorothy and Lillian Gish play their roles typically beautifully and are expressive without being stagy.

Griffith directs adeptly and with great technical skill and the photography is nicely crafted and not primitive. 'The Burglar's Dilemma' never came over as dull and packs in a lot in merely under 20 minutes and not in a way that feels strained.

By all means, it is not perfect. The story can be silly and contrived, with too much over-reliance on the big coincidence that hangs it together. A coincidence that is not always easy to swallow and makes for some lapses in suspension of disbelief.

Do think that 'The Burglar's Dilemma' would have benefitted from being longer, it's never dull and it always engages but it did feel over-stuffed and hasty in the latter stages particularly.

Concluding, pretty good but not essential Griffith. 7/10.

The Musketeers of Pig Alley

Making crime pay
DW Griffith did a fair share of fine work, feature and short films. Has everything that he has done been great? No, his Abraham Lincoln biopic which saw a rare foray into sound for him was a near-disaster and 'The Birth of a Nation' is controversial for good reason. When he was on form, his films were brilliant which is evident in 'Intolerance', 'Orphans of the Storm' and 'Way Down East' for example. While he is not one of my favourite directors, he was very influential in his day and a pioneer of silent film.

Of Griffith's numerous short films, 1912's 'The Musketeers of Pig Alley' is one of the best known, most influential at the time (with it being groundbreaking in the development of films about gangsters) and best regarded. There is a reason for all of that. 'The Musketeers of Pig Alley' is one of his best short films ('The Mothering Heart' is another one of his best) and a fine example of why Griffith deserved his fame. As far as his overall filmography goes, it for me is in the top half.

There are a few over-conveniences here and there, but there is a huge amount to recommend.

Lillian Gish as always captivates touchingly, while Elmer Booth personifies chilling foreboding without over-acting. The characters are interesting and don't come over as caricaturish. Griffith's direction is a big star here, technically impressive with some clever photography particularly and showing a real knack for a good deal of suspense and not too overheated melodrama.

Furthermore, 'The Musketeers of Pig Alley' is beautifully designed and made even more interesting by the photography and atmospheric lighting. The story is ceaselessly compelling throughout from the very start to the very close, it is only just under twenty minutes and a lot happens. All without feeling over-stuffed or rushed. The action thrills and there is a good deal of suspense.

In conclusion, very good. 9/10.

The Crown: Olding
Episode 1, Season 3

The beginning of an era
After two high quality previous seasons, expectations were very high for Season 3 of 'The Crown' despite the fact that the amazing actors that did so brilliantly in the previous two seasons were all going to be replaced. Also like many of the new cast members in other things and watched Season 3 with an open mind regardless of the many criticisms directed towards it and particularly some of the casting. It is not easy underdoing such a big change in a short space of time, and much of me appreciated Season 3 for doing what it could.

Will admit to finding myself disappointed by the opener "Olding", of the season openers for 'The Crown' it gets my vote as the worst. But not because it is bad, it isn't. It's just uneven, and, despite many good things, primarily suffers from too much change too soon. Change that didn't feel settled here in "Olding" and took time to get the head round. Although some may disagree, Season 3 actually did get better after with "Aberfan" for example being outstanding.

"Olding" does have many good things. As ever the production values are superb. The production and costume design are both classy and sumptuous, but it's the photography that stands out in this regard. The music is not overbearing or low key. There is some thought provoking scripting and intrigue and some of the story compels.

The episode is also a case of the supporting cast being better than the leads, in fact the supporting cast were excellent. Jason Watkins and Ben Daniels are note perfect in particular and John Lithgow is very touching in his final appearance. His scene with Elizabeth, the dramatic highlight of "Olding" easily, got to me emotionally.

However, even for a purposefully deliberately paced series "Olding" can feel too slow and a bit thin on the ground. The scenes with the spy distracted, confused the story on occasion and could have been left out. The writing is soapy in parts, which was seldom the case with Seasons 1 and 2.

Count me in as another person that didn't care for Olivia Colman and Helena Bonham Carter, like them both as actresses (especially Colman, who was fantastic in 'Broadchurch') but they don't fit their roles yet. It is hard filling in giant shoes and again it is a case of too much change too soon. It is not just because of them being too old for Elizabeth and Margaret (it was like they had aged twenty years and the time gap between the events of the previous season and the ones here was not large). But also because Colman came over as too melodramatic, too firm and awkward, while Bonham Carter suffers from Margaret not being very interesting here (her character development in Season 3 was nowhere near as good or progressed as much as in Season 2), being too mature and from that it was difficult shaking off all the memorably oddball roles she was doing in the late-2000s to not too long ago so it was like she felt out of place. Colman actually got better earlier on in the season once she calmed down, Bonham Carter was not as quick to accept and had weaker material.

Summing up, not bad and has a lot of things that are noteworthy but disappointing. 6/10.

Rediscovering Christmas

Not worth rediscovering
Just to say now, in my view not all Lifetime's Christmas offerings are bad. Actually was pleasantly surprised by some, which has been true of my film viewings of Hallmark/Lifetime etc Christmas films in general over-time. The concept is not really very exciting and is quite more of the same (if you see one Lifetime Christmas film and then you see 49 more or something it's like seeing one film fifty times), but there have been Lifetime Christmas films that still work in spite of that because of having charm and good enough acting.

Lifetime have sometimes done well with the Christmas offerings centering heavily around saving businesses, including in 2019. 'Rediscovering Christmas' is not one of those films. Of a very mixed to unimpressive year, 'Rediscovering Christmas' is by quite some way one of the worst of the 2019 batch for Lifetime if not quite the worst. Not completely unwatchable, but 'Rediscovering Christmas' fails more than it succeeds. Though there is some credit due for a component that is usually a weak link in their films is one of the best things.

'Rediscovering Christmas' has a few good things. The scenery is nice. As is the music, which is easy on the ears and is not intrusive or over-used. The final song is single worthy.

Best of all is Jessica Lowndes. Am usually not a fan of Lowndes and usually find her a weak link in her films, just find her performances lacking in variety and expression and don't find her at ease. Here she is completely at ease and is the most charming and nuanced she's been to me.

It is however a performance that deserved a much better film. The rest of the cast are the complete opposite, with BJ Britt being both charisma-free and annoying. Not only does he and Lowndes not have any chemistry together in a very under-developed romance, they are very mismatched too and his appeal to her escapes me. Didn't care for the characters other than Lowndes, everybody else are walking ciphers. The direction is only functional at best and has little spark.

The editing can be sloppy and the photography has nothing distinct to it. The script is like a cobbling together of over-familiar cliches, and then there is the overkill cheesiness and schmaltziness to the awkwardly flowing lines. The story is not just a tired variation of a done to death scenario but is also very, very thin, which does affect the pacing. Which tends to be pedestrian. It also has no charm and takes itself too seriously. 'Rediscovering Christmas' has some truly cliched character writing, that gives the characters like one or two character traits and not much else.

Overall, pretty weak. 3/10.

Merry Liddle Christmas Wedding

Worthwhile Christmas wedding
Very like its predecessor, 'A Merry Liddle Christmas', 'Merry Liddle Christmas Wedding' does not have the most inspired of film titles and is pretty corny to be honest. Did see it anyway though, due to liking 'A Merry Liddle Christmas' enough, that it was part of my quest to see as many Lifetime Christmas films as possible and because Kelly Rowland to me is a performer of solid talent as well as an engaging personality and really knowing her stuff when it comes to performing and mentoring.

Compared to 'A Merry Liddle Christmas', 'Merry Liddle Christmas Wedding' is perhaps about the same or maybe a little bit better. Was very worried about it falling victim to sequel-titis, where it would feel unnecessary, have little to set it apart or be a disgrace to it. While it is not the most original film on the block (lack of originality is a given when it comes to Lifetime films), 'Merry Liddle Christmas Wedding' is a long way from a disgrace as a sequel and is acceptable on its own. Strengths and flaws are similar to before.

'Merry Liddle Christmas Wedding' had room to be better than it was. Maybe it could have been better if it had a few less characters and developed the main ones a little more and had a little less going on in the story. Like the first film, it is a little slow to begin with and some of the dialogue early on is cheesy and could have flowed more naturally.

Thomas Cadrot's performance has not improved that much. His character is underwritten and he doesn't always look comfortable, again he could have emoted his lines with more feeling. There is a little more chemistry between him and the rest of the characters though.

However, a lot is good with the biggest saving grace being Rowland, who is delightful and has her usual charm and sass. Her scenes with adorable Nakai Takawira agreed had a lot of heart without being too sentimental. Did enjoy the enthusiastic, though occasionally overdone, performances of Latonya Williams and Bresha Webb. Did generally like the chemistry between the actors, it could have had more subtlety in parts but most of the time it was witty and warm.

Furthermore, the direction is fully competent once the story finds its footing. Visually, it looks good in particularly the scenery which is nicely complemented by the photography. The music is pleasant and not intrusive, not always the case with Lifetime (even more Hallmark) films. The script is far from perfect, but is sweet and raised a number of smiles while not being too heavy on the sentiment. The story isn't perfect to begin with, but is mostly very charming and warm-hearted with an authentic atmosphere. While the characters are familiar in type, my way of trying and failing to avoid the word cliched, they to me had personality and ones that didn't come over as stale or annoying.

Not a great film by all means but overall it was better than anticipated and a pleasant diversion. 6/10.

A Family Christmas Gift

Not too bad family gift
Hallmark Christmas films do have a tendency more often than not to be very predictable, cliched, very cheesy, too schmaltzy and over-scored, the worst of them also contrived and unrealistic. There have been many times where they have also been very cute, warm hearted, heartfelt, charming and appealingly acted. Really did want for 'A Family Christmas Gift' to be all of those latter adjectives, as Hallmark have shown quite a number of times that they can make watchable films.

'A Family Christmas Gift' is definitely watchable and not one of those presents that is immediately disposable after being opened, there is quite a lot that is good. At the same time, while charming and inoffensive enough it didn't strike me as a great film or a gift with a fair share of serious drawbacks. Hallmark have done a lot better than 'A Family Christmas Gift' but also a lot worse, 'A Family Christmas Gift' is one of the in between slightly above mixed feelings efforts.

Beginning with the drawbacks, will agree that there is not much of a story and what there is does lag and very little different to other films with the save the show idea (a familiar trope). Also didn't think that it didn't always flow well and felt awkward. Tension is lacking quite badly, especially in the final third, while the ending is very easily foreseeable early on and too tidy.

Some of the dialogue is on the cheesy and contrived side, especially in the early parts of the film. The early parts of the film are not easy to watch, where it is pretty uneventful and where the characters don't really appeal.

Luckily, 'A Family Christmas Gift' does get better. The production values still manage to be great. It's not too drab or garish in photography, the editing didn't seem rushed or disorganised and the scenery has a real charm to it. Often have found the music a problem in Hallmark Christmas films, but 'A Family Christmas Gift' is one of the few times where it not only has not been a problem but actually one of the best things about it. Very catchy and beautiful.

Did think that parts of the script entertained and had affecting good intentions and the characters did become more likeable later once they developed more and when the performances became more settled. While the story is very flawed, there are enough times where it is heart-warming and suitably light-hearted. Did appreciate that it didn't try to take itself too seriously. The acting is not bad, with an amiable Holly Robinson Peete and Patti LaBelle stealing the film in a zesty turn that to me avoided hamminess. She sounds incredible here too.

Overall, far from great but watchable. 5/10.

The Walking Dead: Some Guy
Episode 4, Season 8

Some big improvement
On first watch, expectations were not high for "Some Guy". Despite finding 'The Walking Dead' a brilliant show in its prime, the last three episodes in particular of Season 7 (which was a disappointing season generally) were big disappointments and disliked even more so the previous three episodes of Season 8. Which repeated the same mistakes of the previous season, while amplifying them and making more on the way. Having said all of that, a few of the Season 8 episodes were good.

"Some Guy" turned out to be one of those good episodes. It is lightyears away from being one of the best episodes of 'The Walking Dead', but is it better than the previous three Season 8 outings? Yes, a huge improvement and it is certainly a masterpiece compared to the near-monstrosity that was the previous episode "Monsters". "Some Guy" isn't perfect but it is easily one of the best of Season 8, one of the few good episodes of the season and the best since "Bury Me Here."

A perfect episode it is far from. Some of the action in the middle act is on the chaotic and silly side, with the chase scene being one of the most ridiculous in a while for anything and Carol's big scene could have done with a lot more tension.

Did feel too that some of the dialogue still comes over as too heavy on the talk, though nowhere near as much as with the previous three Season 8 episodes. Ezekiel's especially tends to ramble.

However, a lot is great here. It is the first episode of Season 8 to look good, it has a genuinely atmospheric look and it is one of the few Season 8 episodes where the photography, which tended to be disorganised and self-indulgent, wasn't a problem. Kudos too to the makeup and prosthetics, which are some of the most accomplished and creepiest in a while. The writing is not perfect but it is thought provoking and intriguing. The music is suitably ominous.

It is also the first episode of Season 8 where there is any forward momentum to story progression, so it feels like it's going somewhere rather than feeling like filler. It does have some tension and contains an incredibly movingly powerful ending that really stuck with me and broke my heart. It is the first time where Ezekiel isn't annoying and where it was easy to care for him, his character development was fascinating and insightful as well as really progressed his character. Can't fault the acting, with Khary Payton at his most gut wrenching making the biggest impression. Especially in his breakdown, that is one heart-wrenching breakdown. Melissa McBride also makes much of her material and Whitmer Thomas is chilling, more so than Negan has been in a long time.

On the whole, surprisingly good and a vast improvement over the previous three episodes of the season. 7/10.

Pinky, Elmyra & the Brain: My Fair Brainy
Episode 5, Season 1

My fair episode
Even as a child that never liked 'Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain' on the whole, "My Fair Brainy" was one of the show's best. Seeing it as a young adult after 10 or so years or something like it, part of me thought strongly that this could be a more watchable episode to usual from even reading the premise. It is a familiar one, but it is a lot more mature than most scenarios for 'Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain' and is the sort of scenario that wouldn't be too out of place in either 'Animaniacs', 'Pinky and the Brain' and 'Tiny Toon Adventures'.

"My Fair Brainy" is still not a particularly great episode, but it is infinitely better than all that came before it. It is the first 'Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain' episode to be watchable and despite being very flawed still it is one of the better episodes, as well as one of its most self-aware. The premise was an appealing one and while not executing it perfectly by any stretch "My Fair Brainy" doesn't squander it either and does things that few other episodes of the show did.

Am going to start with the good. Brain (in the spotlight) is spot on in characterisation, he was always an interesting and funny character and one of the few things the show ever did right. The writers clearly had fun with Brain in the Professor Higgins-like role that he was the perfect fit for. Maurice LaMarche also clearly has fun voicing Brain, it was a genius move bringing him back to the character and it is one of those cases where it is very hard to imagine anybody else as the character. Everybody else is good but LaMarche is something else. Did like that the setting was more confined than usual, which was closer to the intimate roots of the original 'Pinky and the Brain'.

The animation has moments of vibrant colour and careful attention to background detail. "My Fair Brainy" is one of the funnier 'Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain' episodes. There is less cutesiness and childishness (though they were still there with Elmyra) and there is more of a satirical edge, a satirical edge that has genuine sharp wit surprisingly. Absolutely loved the "Rain from Spain" satire, that was surprisingly inventive and is one of the show's best moments. As said, it is also quite self-aware as an episode, with it seemingly to acknowledge how annoying Elmyra is and how she comes over to other characters. Her chemistry with Brain connects a lot more too, as he is more the guiding role here than the chief sufferer of Elmyra's abuse.

However, Elmyra still comes over as one-dimensional in personality and is still annoying for the same reasons. Her cutesiness and childishness did feel at odds with the writing of everything else, which may have been the intent but there was too much of a disconnect there. The other characters have very little to do. The songs were not quite my cup of tea always, there are parts that are brilliant ("Rain in Spain") but there is a bit of a try too hard feel too.

While enjoying the scenario and it is a lot more mature than the usual 'Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain' episode, it could have had a wackier pace and had more of the surprise factor. The biggest surprise being the ending, which was not expected though that was a bit out of left field. The animation also could have afforded to have been bigger and wilder, it's competently done as said previously but it doesn't wow.

Overall, nice and refreshing to see a watchable episode of a pretty poor show, while still being a bit mixed on it. 5/10.

A Job for a Gob

On the ranch
Really like to love a good deal of Popeye cartoons and like the character of Popeye. Love Bluto more and his chemistry with Popeye has always driven their cartoons. Will admit though to preferring the Popeye cartoons from the Dave Fleischer era, the cartoons tend to be funnier and there is more originality and more risk taking in some of them. They also generally look a good deal better and don't look hindered by budget like the late Popeyes were.

'A Job for a Gob' is a relatively late Popeye cartoon and made in Famous Studios' roughest and most variable period, where budgets were much smaller in particularly the animation and deadlines and time constraints were shorter and tighter. All things considered, while there are infinitely better Popeye cartoons (especially during the Fleischer era) and there are signs of what made this period an inferior one for Famous Studios, 'A Job for a Gob' is not a bad late Popeye cartoon at all, a long way from it, and far from being one of the worst cartoons in Famous Studios' late output. Not great, but it definitely could have been worse.

As to be expected, the story is standard and formulaic and there could have a little more variety in the ways Popeye and Bluto fight against each other. Olive has very little to do, which was not unusual sadly for this stage of the series.

While much of the animation is fine, it does at times have some done in a rush-like drawing.

On the other, as said, much of it is very vibrantly colourful and the backgrounds are meticulously detailed and colourful. What is fantastic here is the music score, the consistent best thing of the mid-late-50s Popeye cartoons regardless of what the rest of the cartoons were like. It's beautifully orchestrated, rhythmically it's full of energy and there is so much character and atmosphere, it's also brilliant at adding to the action and enhancing it. The gags are executed well, not much original here but they are amusing and well timed. The final quarter is wonderfully chaotic, even if the outcome isn't in doubt.

Popeye and Bluto carry 'A Job for a Gob' beautifully individually, especially Popeye here, and their chemistry and tension is a lot of fun. Jack Mercer, Mae Questel and Jackson Beck give great vocal characterisations, Beck in particular and Mercer and Questel are the voice actors that spring to mind generally for me for Popeye and Olive's voices.

In summary, worth a look if not exceptional. 6/10.

The Living Desert

Beautiful desert
Between 1948 and 1960, Disney made fourteen nature documentary films, seven of them short subjects and seven of them full length and all narrated by Winston Hibler. Starting with 'Seal Island' and ending with 'Jungle Cat'. This series was called True Life Adventures, seen as a big fan of Disney and nature documentaries and after wanting to see some older nature documentaries. The True Life Adventures series is a more than worthwhile one and of consistently high quality (especially the short subjects) and do prefer all of them over most of the recent years DisneyNature films.

1953's 'The Living Desert' is the first feature/full length film in the series, following on from the short subjects. It is a very, very good start and one of the best feature length True Life Adventures films. It is not perfect and one scene that is often talked about doesn't work, but 'The Living Desert' has so much to recommend and is perfect for children and adults alike without going too far to appeal to one or the other. While not one of the best documentaries out there, it deserves its popularity and historical significance status.

Absolutely agree with the criticism regarding the scorpion mating dance scene, far too cutesy, was more forced than funny and it jarred tonally.

Not all the humour works, some of it being too jokey in an unsubtle way, which made it sound cheesy.

'The Living Desert' however looks wonderful, the colour photography is so vivid in colour and never static. Showing the majestic scenery, both beautiful and uncompromising, in all its glory. Apart from the strange and over the top corny use of hoedown music in the scorpion scene, the music has an infectiousness and a grandeur that is truly endearing. The animals, wonderfully varied, are a mix of adorable, sinister and fun to watch.

On the whole, the information presented is very entertaining and informative. The footage is beautifully shot and has a strong mix of emotions, boasting some memorable scenes. A big standout being with the wasp, a sequence that will leave one feeling uneasy (especially those with a phobia of them already). Hibler's narration has left one divided, personally liked his good natured and at times deadpan delivery.

In summary, very, very good. 8/10.

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: The End in Friend
Episode 18, Season 8

Am not friends with this episode
Rarity and Rainbow Dash are something of an odd couple, as the two are so different from each other. There have been quite a number of instances where odd coupling on 'My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic' has worked. Also like both a good deal as characters, Rarity is more consistently written on the whole and her best episodes are high points of the show. Rainbow Dash isn't as consistently characterised and has had some real low points, but she has also had a number of great episodes and interacts with the other characters often very well indeed.

Neither are well served here in "The End in Friend". It was not an appealing premise in the first place and the execution is even less appealing. Is it the worst episode of 'My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic?' No, it is not as bad as "What About Discord", "28 Pranks Later" and "Non-Compete Clause". Is it one of the worst episodes of Season 8? Yes. Not quite bottom 3, which consist of "Non-Compete Clause", "Yakity-Sax" and "A Matter of Principals", but to me it's somewhere in the bottom five. Season 8, which was uneven, actually did have some great episodes but this isn't one of them.

Am going to begin with the cons, as there is a higher number of them (the worst of them done terribly) and they are severe enough to stop one from enjoying much about the episode. Both Rarity, who is usually very funny and likeable, and Rainbow Dash are very unlikeable and it was like the writers had forgotten what made them great characters at their best. Their character flaws are very exaggerated and they have no redeeming qualities here, the latter actually rare for both of them even when written negatively. The chemistry between them is too acrimonious (and in a way that is too sudden) and one actually does have to see the earlier seasons to actually believe that they were friends. Starlight and Twilight are nicely written but there is too little of them and both are over-shadowed.

The writing, story and pacing are major problems here as well. The episode is too talky, with the dialogue tending to ramble and move too slowly. Other episodes have a much more natural flow in their writing too, what also is blatantly obvious is whose side the writers were on when it came to Rarity and Rainbow Dash at particularly the end. The story is far too thin, literally like less than ten minutes worth of minutes stretched out, and consists mainly (like "Non-Compete Clause", except not quite as bad) of two characters at each others' throats until things resolve too neatly.

It is also excessively predictable, with it being too obvious from pretty much the get go who was behind the plot and why. Was actually pretty amazed that it took as long as it did to be revealed. As a result of the story being too thin, the episode drags badly, having the feeling of a padded out filler episode, and everything resolves in a way that is far too rushed and too neat.

Having said all of that, "The End in Friend" is not a disaster. The animation is terrific. Not just typically rich in background detail, very vibrant and atmospheric in colour and with character designs that never look awkward or ugly, but it is also very inventive. A lot goes on visually but it doesn't feel cluttered and is done imaginatively. The music is as dynamic and beautifully orchestrated as ever.

Voice acting is great from all, despite Rarity and Rainbow Dash being poorly written that has no bearing on either Tabitha St Germain or Ashleigh Ball who both give perfectly professional voice overs. Starlight and Twilight are well written and characterised, though not in the episode enough.

Concluding, rather mediocre episode and one of Season 8's weakest but not without good things. 4/10.

The Racket Buster

What a gal!
1948 was a pretty decent year for Terrytoons Studios. Namely because it was heavy in the Heckle and Jeckle cartoons, which were all very well executed that year and because there were this time no misfires in the Mighty Mouse series that alternated. In fact, the weakest cartoons actually were ones that didn't feature any recurring lead/supporting character (the weakest of the batch being the only misfire that year 'The Wooden Indian').

'The Racket Buster' gets my vote as the best of the Mighty Mouse cartoons from that year. Was expecting something completely formulaic, all the other 1948 Mighty Mouse cartoons are, either being another riff on either of the "Mighty Mouse saving mice from cat trouble at practically last minute" or "operetta-style melodrama with Pearl Pureheart and Oil Can Harry" plots here. 'The Racket Buster' manages to actually not be entirely formulaic, structurally it's familiar but somehow it feels fresher than the other 1948 Mighty Mouse cartoons.

It's far from a flawless cartoon. The story is paper thin, of a 6 minute cartoon there is only about 2 and a half minutes worth that's stretched out. With the climax making up like over one third of the cartoon, and it is a climax that feels a minute too long and there is absolutely no doubt from the start how it is all going to end (ending pretty much exactly as expected). The cats thinking that their method of getting rid of Mighty Mouse would be effective is perhaps not easy to swallow.

While it is great that Mighty Mouse has more screen time than is seen in a lot of his cartoons, his role is pretty limited here (literally getting into a perilous scrape and rushing to the rescue in the nick of time).

As said though, it is great that he feels a little more like a lead here in 'The Racket Buster', he actually feels necessary to the story and his resourcefulness and bravery is ever admirable. Pearl's role is also quite one-dimensional but she is very charming and alluring as always. The most interesting characters are the cats, making a big impression in their truly sinister introduction, especially the one caricaturing the great Edward G. Robinson.

Expectedly, 'The Racket Buster' is very well animated, then again one doesn't in all fairness expect much less for Terrytoons at this stage. It is nicely detailed, lively and colourful without being garish and is really quite sumptuous, along with some nice details like the synchronised movements of the cat creeping about when introduced and the way the getaway is staged. Again, the music is a big strength, being again quite incredible. It is beautifully and cleverly orchestrated and arranged, is terrific fun to listen to and the lively energy is present throughout, doing so well with adding to the action.

Really enjoyed the cat characters on the whole, they are amusing and menacing. The main villain is great and the cartoon's most interesting character. The cartoon is not devoid of gags and they aren't as corny or as tired as they can be in the Mighty Mouse cartoons, at its best when going into the final third and Mighty Mouse's ways of outsmarting the villains. Most of 'The Racket Buster' has a good deal of energy, before beginning to drag later.

Overall, pretty decent and the best of the 1948 Mighty Mouse efforts. 7/10.

The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo: When You Witch Upon a Star
Episode 8, Season 1

Witches of the night
"When You Witch Upon a Star" was one of the few 'The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo' episodes to not do much for me when first watching the show at 12 years old as part of Boomerang's Scooby Doo Summer. It just struck me as very dull, forgettable and the witch characters annoying, while liking Marcella and Vincent's subplot. Remember the first time watching it close after "Reflections in a Ghoulish Eye" after following on from four episodes considered by me great at the time and very nearly gave up on the show because of those two episodes.

As of now, "When You Witch Upon a Star" is a little better now than it was when a lot younger due to getting a little more out of it (while also finding a few more problems). It is still one of my least favourite episodes of 'The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo' and my issues with the episode are quite similar. It is a case of the underused subplot being a lot better than the main plot, and an example of a great villain deserving a much better overall story. It is a shame that my feelings are indifferent towards it with it following on from one of the show's best episodes, and that it was a waste of a promising set up.

Of course, "When You Witch Upon a Star" has good things. The animation is well done, especially the scenery at the beginning accompanying Vincent's opening voice over, the character animation of Marcella (generally in mist form) and the truly creepy Evil Zone. The music is typically great, particularly in the climax, and the theme tune has a great Gothic horror vibe. The voice acting from the regulars is faultless, especially from Vincent Price, and BJ Ward is inspired sinister casting for Marcella and has seldom sounded this scary.

Marcella is a very creepy and uniquely designed (in mist and true forms) antagonist and just wish her role was bigger. Her and Vincent's subplot is interesting and has the mysteriousness and suspense that is missing in the main plot. Idesvig is adorable and felt sorry for him. There are a few amusing moments, such as the Brewski Sisters wanting Scooby for their spells and the posing as salesmen scene. The episode does start intriguingly when setting up the story and the climax is very exciting, the closest the episode gets to that.

However, the main plot for "When You Witch Upon a Star" sadly didn't live up to the promising opening five minutes or so. A big problem is that there is far too much of the Brewski Sisters and sadly they are not interesting or remotely funny. Actually have always found them very irritating in a rare occurance of supporting characters managing to out-annoy Flim Flam (who is still annoying), basically a female version of The Three Stooges except a lot more inept and a lot less funny. The story is very thin and feels dull from taking too long to get going and for feeling padded.

A few of the gang's antics are amusing, but some of it is very repetitive and doesn't add much to the story, the Paris encounter is pretty stereotypical. Tonally, and this is something picked up more when older, "When You Witch Upon a Star" feels out of place within the show. It is much too goofy, 'The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo' did have goofy antics throughout but none of the other episode had this much goof overload. It really sticks out in a show that can be quite spooky, only in the Evil Zone scenes and the beginning (as well as some of the climax) is where the episode is loyal to the show's overall tone. Apart from Ward, the support cast voice acting is below par, Gay Autterson's abrasive voice work for Wanda is ear bleeding.

Overall, watchable but one of my least favourite episodes. 5/10.

Phineas and Ferb: We Call It Maze/Ladies and Gentlemen, Meet Max Modem!
Episode 34, Season 2

Mazes and popstars
'Phineas and Ferb' was so good in helping me through many tough periods during its run. Still do get a lot of pleasure out of watching re-runs of what was, when airing, one of the few shows on the Disney Channel regularly worth watching. Admittedly the later episodes are not quite on the same level as the more creative earlier seasons, but 'Phineas and Ferb' at its weakest still managed generally to be better than a lot of animated shows recently at their best.

"We Call It Maze" is incredibly entertaining and has a lot of energy and charm, Phineas and Ferb helping out another character is always great to see too. For me, the better episode, or at least the one that gets the edge, is "Ladies and Gentlemen, Meet Max Modem", with it being funnier, more imaginative (as "We Call It Maze" is on the formulaic side whereas it didn't feel that way with "Ladies and Gentlemen, Meet Max Modem") and with more of an emotional core.

The animation is full of vibrant colour, quirky character designs and meticulous attention to detail in the backgrounds. The music is dynamic with the action and the theme song is insanely catchy with very clever and quotable lyrics that are so easy to relate to.

Both episodes are wonderfully written and fare equally. Very intelligent, never juvenile or confused and often very funny to hilarious. With the exception of the not particularly inspired Doofenschmirtz subplot in "We Call it Maze" ("Ladies and Gentlemen, Meet Max Modem's" is a lot more fun and inventive), the stories are lively in pace and are engaging. The main plot in "We Call it Maze" is charming and sweet, without being too much so, and the one for "Ladies and Gentlemen, Meet Max Modem" was nostalgic and brought a lump to the throat. It also clearly had a lot of fun with the unknown singer aspect of the plot.

Also loved the character writing, Lawrence's development in "Ladies and Gentlemen, Meet Max Modem" was just lovely and Doofenschmirtz is hilarious in that episode's subplot of his. The character interaction in both is great as is the voice acting.

In conclusion, great and even more so in the case of "Ladies and Gentlemen, Meet Max Modem". 9/10.

The Big Drip

A bit of a drip
1949's 'The Big Drip' could have gone either way of cute and amusing or corny and over-cutesy. Especially considering the premise that will be to some people's tastes and not appeal at all to others and that Famous Studios have gone either way throughout their whole filmography. Also that the whole Screen Song series from Famous Studios has been very mixed in this regard, with all the cartoons falling in either extreme or with elements of both.

'The Big Drip' has elements of both, but generally leans more towards being in the latter category of corny and over-cutesy. Which was true of quite a number of the series' cartoons, but it was something that was done worse in others ('Spring Song' being a prime example). It is neither one of the best or worst cartoons in the Screen Song series and is somewhere in the watchable but very average middle when ranking it with the others.

Am going to start with the good. The animation in 'The Big Drip' is good on the most part. Especially the vibrant colours and equally loved the background detail where a lot of care went into it, the setting looks handsome yet has grit too. The incidental music is even better, very lushly orchestrated and full of character rhythmically.

Furthermore, a few of the pun-heavy gags are smile-worthy amusing (if not hilarious) and there is some nice energy in the first third. The characters are well designed.

However, there could have been more gags and too many of the puns are very obvious and corny, not particularly amusing either. The final third badly loses momentum, and while the closing thirty seconds is indeed cute that is pretty much the only appealing thing about the saccharine, un-energetic and quite cheesy singalong portion that feels like a different cartoon altogether. The portion has dated pretty badly and what is actually a pretty good song is ruined by those groan-worthy puns

While the characters are well designed they don't have an awful lot to do and don't have much personality. Liked the pace to begin with but it does increasingly slacken by the slog that is the final third. The cutesiness and corn gets too much and the story is too slight and predictable.

Concluding, mixed feelings. 5/10.

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Fun in Midsummer
'A Midsummer Night's Dream' has always been one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, the story is complicated thoughts lots of fun and charming and the characters and dialogue are iconic. Am familiar with a good deal of Adrian Noble's theatre and operatic work (i.e. His Metropolitan Opera production of Verdi's 'Macbeth') and while he had some puzzling staging touches there are plenty of interesting ones. The cast are a very talented one, Alex Jennings and Lindsay Duncan being the best known to me.

This production turned out to be very good. Not everything works and neither does every staging touch. It is however visually striking, entertaining, creative and beautifully performed. It may not be one's idea of a traditional production, but many non-traditional productions of Shakespeare (as well as theatre and opera productions in general) have worked surprisingly well, and this production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' while not one of the best examples is one such production.

Beginning with the not so good things, count me in as one of those that didn't care for the presence of the boy. Didn't see the point of him and it felt like a distracting gimmick that confused the storytelling a bit.

Some of the effects are a little on the cheap side.

Generally however the production looks good visually, the more mystical parts really enchant and the darker hues fit well. Not lavish but also not amateurish and the production is shot with intimacy yet opened up enough to avoid being claustrophobic. The music has a nice atmosphere and Shakespeare's dialogue typically sparkles in the comedy and the emotion. The comedy is genuinely funny and isn't overplayed but the charming heart of the play is also intact.

While not a traditional production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', the production is true in spirit to it and does better than most non-traditional productions of anything with complicated stories at being coherent. Only the touch with the boy perplexed. The staging is mostly clever and imaginative, the human court and fairy court parrallel being especially ingenious, without falling into distaste or convolution. The performances are committed and very high quality, especially Finbar Lynch and Desmond Barritt clearly having the time of their lives.

Overall, very good and lots of fun. 8/10.

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