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Styx and Reo Speedwagon: Arch Allies - Live at Riverport

Good - but strictly for completest
OK, first of all, let me say for the record - I DO LIKE this concert. Really, I do. It's a fair spread of hits from two of America's hardest rockin' bands. The performances are very good - especially the jam at the end with both bands on stage doing one of each of their hits all together.

This was actually the first time I saw anything of Styx live (although I had a couple of live CDs), and also my very first exposure to REO Speedwagon. So it's special in that regard.

HOWEVER - there's a few things that are worth pointing out. They don't as such detract from the show, but it's worth mentioning a few details:

1. Neither band is in its "classic" lineup.

This affected Styx more than it does REO Speedwagon (at least it did for me), as Styx are a band with multiple lead singer-songwriters. And, talented though Lawrence Gowan is, his voice just sounds wrong on "Lady".

2. The concert is incomplete.

Since seeing this on video for the first time I have managed to obtain on audio a complete record of the concert. But I had to get three separate CDs to do so: the CD of this, Arch Allies; Styx - At The River's Edge and REO Speedwagon Live Plus.

There's three songs by Styx and four of REO that are not included on this video/DVD. Actually, in the case of Speedwagon, I've already said this was the first I saw or heard of them, and it later transpired that two of the "missing" songs became two of my favourites of theirs (Keep Pushin' and That Ain't Love). So this show very nearly failed to convert me into an REO fan!

3. Alternate releases.

OK, this one needs a little more explaining. With reference to the two points I've already made, if you want a *really* amazing Styx show, you'd be much better off getting "Return To Paradise". Apart from Todd Sucherman on the drums replacing John Panozzo who had recently died, this is the classic lineup. As for REO, there are no other shows of theirs available on DVD, but it is possible to find the complete REO set of this show on their Live Plus DVD. Although it should be stressed here that the entire Styx portion of this show is NOT similarly available on video/DVD, and the two-band jam is not available anywhere else.

However, for all that, it's still an enjoyable show. Two bands for the price of one, performing a very good selection of songs. My favourites from this show would be (Styx): Brave New World and Blue Collar Man, and (REO): Ridin' The Storm Out and Back On The Road Again.

So, to sum up - this is strictly for completest. It's not a bad show by any means. It's just that there's better purchases out there.

Back in the U.S.

Great concert atmosphere, but no understanding of how DVD bonus features work
When I saw Paul McCartney live a couple of years ago, I was very impressed - even more than I thought I would be. So, when I bought a DVD player last year, Back In The US was one of the first DVDs I got to go with it.

Sadly, it was also the first DVD I took back. Why? The concert atmosphere is amazing, the songs are great . . . but my problem is the fact that they insist on switching to the life-on-the-road footage after every couple of songs. Why can't this be a separate feature? When I get a concert DVD I want to see THE CONCERT! I don't want it interrupted by all this documentary stuff every five minutes. Just imagine if they did that live when you saw them! Going off-stage every five minutes and playing a video of some aspect of life on the road! The audience wouldn't stand for it! I have the same problem with his Red Square DVD - which I bought yesterday and just took back today.

It's a real shame, too. Because there is such a great live vibe running through it all, it's a shame it keeps getting interrupted. If it wasn't for that, this show would have pride of place in my DVD collection. Same comments for Red Square - Paul, when are you going to release a PROPER live DVD, that doesn't keep interrupting the concert with documentary footage all the time!!!!!

Babylon 5

Intense, breathtaking, incredible . . .
Well, what to say? For starters, I'm a die-hard Classic Star Trek fan, who had until recently been aware of B5 without ever having seen it. Then, about four months ago, my best friend lent me his B5 DVDs of season 1. And I have to admit, I'm impressed.

To be fair, it took a little while - I was a little wary at first, but it quickly grew on me. Once I got a feel for what was going on, and how the characters worked, yes. It grabbed me. I especially liked Jeffrey Sinclair as a leader-type - someone more thoughtful than your bog-standard action-hero.

Then, after a long wait, my friend lent me seasons 2-4. Again, I was a little wary at first; it had been a while since I'd seen season 1, and I knew that Sinclair had been replaced by John Sheridan. Out of the two leaders, I prefer Sinclair, and for the first few episodes of season 2, I was unconvinced. Then, about a third of the way in, the pace quickened up - considerably. And while I still prefer Sinclair as a leader, by about episode 8 of season 2, I found that I didn't have the time to miss him, things were moving that quickly, there were so many plots unravelling . . .

And therein lies the hook. The amount of detail is extraordinary, the way all the characters and plots became intertwined is amazing. The series is so intense - I was watching up to eight or nine episodes a day, for a week solid! And might I say again, I was a Star Trek fan who had never seen B5 before in my life! As many people before me have said, this show isn't a nice neat everything-gets-resolved-in-the-space-of-one-episode type. Details get carried over. There are long story-arcs. There are things happening all the time. Everything has a reason. You see an insignificant detail in season 1, suddenly it is explained in season 3 as being very relevant for reasons you didn't even know about back in the first season.

If there is one stumbling block for B5, I would have to say that some of the computer-generated images (CGI) are not always up to standard. This is especially true of planet surfaces, in particular Mars. But that's quibbling. The key to good science-fiction is believability. The characters have to act as if the basic premise of the series is perfectly normal to them. That's what makes it work. That's why in the original series of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry made a point of not explaining the workings of anything. For example, Captain Kirk picks up a phaser and fires it without stopping to explain what it was or what it did - after all, in a contemporary series, nobody goes out of their way to say how a gun. We know how it works - so by watching Kirk fire his phaser, we understand implicitly that it is a weapon. The same principle applies in B5 - although to a lesser degree.

Moving on to the acting - this show was blessed with some wonderful people. In particular, Mira Furlan as Delenn is worth watching; she is possessed of a presence and an aura most actors can only dream of. She is one of those people that when she is speaking, becomes the absolute centre of attention without really trying. Also, as stated above, I am a fan of Cmdr Sinclair - and I think Michael O'Hare's portrayal of him is wonderfully underplayed. It would have been so easy just to play him as an action-hero, but no. I really do miss that character. Another favourite would have to be Stephen Furst as Vir - DS9 fans just think Rom, and you're halfway there. Not to mention the "odd couple" of Peter Jurasik (Londo) and Andreas Katsulas (G'Kar) - wonderful.

Actually, that's another point - the aliens. The aliens in B5 are more real than the aliens in Star Trek. Their agendas are much better fleshed out. We understand the whys and wherefores much more than the stereotypes of so many Star Trek races (and remember I'm a longterm Star Trek fan). To use Trek parallels, the Minbari are like the Vulcans and Bajorans combined in temperament, the Centauri are probably most comparable to the Cardassians, and the Narns, well, I'd say Klingons, but that's selling them short. Klingon-Bajoran, perhaps. Any hardcore B5 fans offended by those descriptions - sorry, I'm just using them as guidelines to the uninitiated Trek fans. These B5 races are much more real, less stereotyped. (Although the less said about the Drazi, the better!) To summarise, then - I think this is the best sci-fi since Original Star Trek. Watch this show! Star Trek fans will not be disappointed!

The Return of the Musketeers

Not quite the same, but still good
Well, I see that the reviews for this are all over the place. Some people praising it, others panning it, and no discernible clever-stupid divide (unlike some films on here, where all the reviews of one opinion are full of spelling mistakes and bad punctuation and grammar, and the other side has all the intelligently written stuff).

So here's my two penn'oth on this film. Firstly - for the people who say it's not as good as the originals, of course it isn't. But that doesn't mean it's no good at all. Far from it. It's still the same crew, and the same, definitive, cast - apart from the characters who aren't with us anymore - although Jean-Pierre Cassel does make a cameo appearance as Cyrano de Bergerac!

One thing that nobody else has done on here is compare it to the book. If you look at the reviews for the Three and the Four Musketeers, everybody is falling over themselves to say how closely they stick to the book. This film, on the other hand, does make some big changes to the book "Twenty Years After" on which it is based - possible spoiler alert here, decide for yourself.

Firstly - and most significantly, in the book, the chief villain, Mordaunt, is Milady de Winter's SON. In here, we have her daughter Justine, who as somebody else said, does seem a bit more 20th century than the original, Faye Dunnaway (sp?). Secondly, in the book, Athos' son Raoul was mentioned, and had a very small part - but did not have any influence on the events in the story. His appearance served as an introduction to him in readiness for the Vicomte De Bragelonne trilogy. In the film, his part is built up - enabling him to have a minor romance with Justine (how predictable is that!).

Also, moreover, in the film, Aramis walks out on the others after they discover they were on opposite sides. This doesn't happen in the book - although I did hear somewhere on here that Richard Chamberlain expressed a lack of interest in this film, possibly after Roy Kinnear was killed. So they probably had to rewrite the script to incorporate it. And they didn't quite cover everything - (spoiler ahead) when Rochefort tells Justine the names of the Musketeers, he starts with Aramis, and she acts like she recognises the name. And yet, Mazarin only gives her the names of D'Artagnan, Porthos and Athos. Woops!

Oh yes - that's another thing. In the film, Justine is Rochefort's child, but that was an necessary consequence of the economies made in the original films. But yes - Aramis is away for large chunks of the film, which is probably what caused Raoul's part to be increased.

So - this film is based on the book, but doesn't stick rigidly to it. But in this case, it's not entirely a bad thing. I have read the entire Musketeers saga: The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After, The Vicomte De Bragelonne, Louise De La Valliere and The Man In The Iron Mask - and let me tell you, not one of those sequels has anything like the same oomph as the original book. Under the circumstances, I think that all concerned did a very good job. 7/10 for effort - no, 8/10. It is the definitive cast, after all!

Going Straight

Who said sequels don't pack the same punch!?
Well, I got the DVD of Going Straight the other week, and put it with my DVDs for Porridge. I've read all that stuff that says GS wasn't received as fondly as Porridge - and I've also read that Ronnie Barker thinks it's just as good. I am in full agreement with Mr Barker here.

First off - yes, Going Straight dispensed with the "less is more" approach that made Porridge (and almost all the greatest sitcoms bar Fawlty Towers) so brilliant. But that's the only problem I have with it.

I suspect that the people who dismiss this show were disappointed because it wasn't just more Porridge. Well, the whole point is that he's been released on parole. Alternately, for the people who miss Warren, Lukewarm and Grouty - remember that they were all sent down from different parts of the country, and so when released, all went home to different parts of the country. To have them all on the outside together would not be realistic. The only fellow ex-con to be kept in the series was, of course, Lennie Godber. Plus Fletch's daughter Ingrid has a much bigger part in this series - again, to be expected.

Certainly, the series still has the same emotional resonance - Porridge dealt with the pressures of being in prison, and Going Straight deals with life on the outside for ex-prisoners, and the prejudices they are up against. Much like the prejudices that sequels tend to be up against . . .

Overall, I like this series. Not quite as much as Porridge, I'll admit. But certainly enough to recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Porridge. Who said that sequels aren't as good?!

Life Beyond the Box: Norman Stanley Fletcher

An interesting back-story to a great character
When I saw this mock-documentary about the nation's favourite convict, I was impressed. Not as much as I was impressed by the original Porridge series, but this was a very interesting insight into the whole life of Fletch - before, during and after his memorable stay at Slade Prison - and to the one person on this site who has given Porridge a negative writeup and called it obvious - get real! Porridge is anything but obvious. Comedy in a prison? Who would expect it at all? Let alone done so well! And I was only 10 when I first saw Porridge, and it was an instant hit with me - so it does appeal to younger people as well as older people. Still, you said you just don't get it. Fair enough, but give it another go, from the very start. Anyway, yes, this mock-documentary - I like it.

It manages to reunite the large majority of the cast, with the exception of Brian Wilde (Barrowclough), and those no longer with us - Richard Beckinsale (Godber), Fulton Mackay (Mackay) and Michael Barrington (Venables). David Jason (Blanco) is also absent, but that was probably a wise choice - much as I love David Jason, the chances are that the character of Blanco would be dead by now anyway.

As for the actors no longer with us, they navigated around the lack of Richard Beckinsale even better than I'd expected. There were a number of options they could have used:

1. Get another actor to play Lennie - which nobody would have wanted 2. Say Lennie had died - possible, but not the best option. After all, Lennie would be 53-54 now, and clearly looked after his health. This would have complicated things. 3. Say Lennie and Ingrid (Fletch's daughter, the two got married at the end of the spin-off series Going Straight) had got divorced. This was what I expected them to do, but they didn't.

What they actually did was have Lennie as unable to make it for an interview - Ingrid got a call from him, he was stuck in Colchester (still working as a lorry driver). Nicely done.

As for the other missing actors, they covered most of the main staff at Slade. It's a shame Brian Wilde couldn't make an appearance (anybody know why?). As such, the only "official" who did was Mr Gillespie, the oft-mentioned but never seen welfare officer.

It was very interesting to see how the other characters had got on after Porridge as well, and we caught up with most of the main ones. Curiously, Lukewarm is given the name Timothy Underwood here, however, in one episode of Porridge, he is addressed as Lewis, and also unofficially has a first name beginning with P. Another inconsistency in this show is that Fletch seemed to go into crime while still a child, while in the pilot of Porridge, his first criminal activity didn't happen until after he left school.

Inconsistencies aside, this is very entertaining - catching up with Lukewarm, Warren, McLaren (here given a first name James), Ives (also given a first name here, Bernard), and of course, Grouty. And, to be honest, it's Grout who steals the show - or should that read embezzles? You can't help but nod and chuckle as the activities of Grout, on the outside, are brought up. Harry Grout is a wonderful character, and is used here to great effect.

Equally impressive is the amount of story the writers have concocted out of so many little details from the show - most notably Fletch's affair with Gloria - "Gloria? I don't know no Gloria . . . oh yeah, there was one once! Well, lots of times actually."

Overall, I was impressed - however, it's not quite in the same league as Porridge itself. Equally, it's probably unwise to watch this if you haven't seen Porridge to begin with (I could be wrong). As such, it's a tough call on which groups to recommend it to. Overall: 7/10

The Count of Monte-Cristo

As good as it could be
When you convert a novel of 1100 pages to a film of about 100min, you're inevitably going to lose a lot of details - probably a few important ones. But under the circumstances, this film was about as good as it could get. I love the original novel, and was a fan of the 1973-74 films of "The Three Musketeers" (in which Richard Chamberlain played Aramis, incidentally), and so was interested to see this.

The most obvious change is that the first half of the film deals with about the first quarter of the book - making it a little unbalanced. But then, the book has so many subplots, it was probably necessary to let go of a lot of them.

The other obvious change is that in the novel, Danglars is the main villain, whom Dantes pardons at the end. In the film it is Mondego - which makes more sense from a film point of view, as Mondego took Dantes' bride. But apart from that, here, Dantes does not show any mercy - whereas in the book Danglars was pardoned, in the film he does not show any remorse until all four villains are either dead or locked up - and only then because Mercedes does not love this new version of himself. So that's a pity.

Still, changes aside, this film is about as good as it could be. Someone else said probably best for those who've not read the book. They're probably right. But that doesn't mean you can't enjoy it if you have read it. I'd give this 7/10.


As big-screen adaptions go, excellent
If you're going to make a film of Porridge, this is it. The nature of film demands a "big" storyline, and what could be bigger than the plot of this?

Some people have said that the film doesn't quite have the same zest as the series. That is true - but then it goes to show how amazing the series was, because this is one heck of a good film.

It has also been said that the plot (which I won't give away for people who haven't seen it) is weak. Here I disagree. The only minus point I have about the plot is the fact that the subplot about new arrival Rudge disappears about 2/3 of the way in. As for the main plot, see above. It's the only story you could do when making a film of Porridge!

OK, so the pace of the film is a little slow - BUT you must remember that some people watching the film aren't familiar with the TV series, so they had to set the scene first.

They could easily have re-used hundreds of scenes and lines from the series, but to their credit, they didn't - both Fletch and Godber are nearing the end of their stretches, and they brought in a new "first-offender", the aforementioned Rudge - that way, Fletch is able to dish out a little bit of advice to him the way he did to Godber in the series - again, to ease in "first time" Porridge-viewers.

When you consider the number of TV sitcoms that were adapted for the big screen, and how much the quality varied, the good ones stand out all the more. And this is one of the best.

Red Dwarf

The most original comedy of the last twenty years.
Where to start? The writing, the cast, the effects . . . superb.

Firstly, the writing. The situation is so unbelievable it works. Three million years out into deep space, with the unlikeliest crew you could find. And bizarre and funny things just keep happening. The secret? You might ask the same question of previous comedy greats. It just is.

The effects - especially since remastering - are breathtaking. I don't know how "true to life" it is, but it doesn't need to be. Seeing Starbug come crashing through the cargo bay doors is a joy to behold.

And the cast. Sensational. Chris Barrie (Rimmer) is the outstanding comedy actor of his generation. With the possible exception of Rowan Atkinson, I don't think there's a single man alive who could play the smeghead so well.

Equally, Craig Charles as Lister - a complete slob who is in fact the most decent person among the crew. A beautiful irony, and Charles focuses on the slob part so well that we tend to forget the character's decent side. This is not a bad thing - quite the reverse. When the decent side does appear, it is all the more prominent for it.

Norman Lovett (1-2, 8) and Hattie Hayridge (3-5) as Holly, the computer. I prefer Lovett's take, and don't fully understand why he was replaced. Hayridge did a fine job (indeed there's some moments that Lovett couldn't have done), but Lovett is the definitive Holly. He has the comic face for it.

Not forgetting Robert Llewellyn as the guilt-happy mechanoid Kryten, who overacts beautifully, as does Danny John-Jules as the vainest life form ever to have existed. Brilliant.

These ingredients made Red Dwarf amazing. Rob Grant and Doug Naylor's writing collaboration was a thing of beauty. As a team, they function superbly.

Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. Something's missing when they're not together. Series 7 had its moments, but was distinctly lacking - not least because Chris Barrie was in less than half the episodes. Series 8, it dropped even further. Barrie was back, but that was the only plus. Bringing the entire crew back was a very big mistake.

Overall? I'd say 8/10 for originality and sheer zaniness!


Simply the best.
I've seen some great sitcoms in my time - and some not so great. But this is definitely one of the great ones. The very idea of a comedy set in prison doesn't sound like it can work. But it does - and how!

Ronnie Barker is perfect as Fletch. He's nobody's fool, and doesn't suffer other people who are fools, but underneath is a heart of pure gold - he just doesn't show it very often. This is to his credit when it is displayed, for Godber (Richard Beckinsale) or Blanco (David Jason). As with everything, Barker's timing is superb, and the simplest little line can have the viewer in stitches. This man will always be the guv'nor!

Richard Beckinsale as the first-offender Lennie Godber is just as wonderful. He takes it at a slower pace, highlighting the contrast between the two characters. A gentler man for the role it is hard to envisage. And who would want to!

Not forgetting Fulton Mackay (Mr Mackay) and Brian Wilde (Mr Barrowclough) - similarly fast and slow-paced. There is never any doubt that Mackay is an authority figure over them, and can make their lives hell if he chooses to, whereas the long-suffering Barrowclough is the perfect foil, like Sgt Wilson to Cpt Mainwaring.

This is of course due first to the wonderful writing of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, whose names grace the credits of many wonderful shows. They have created a masterpiece. A wonderful with believable characters. Everything fits together perfectly. Not one line needs changing.

Great cast, great writers. 12/10! The best sitcom ever!

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