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House of Cards

After the magnificent skullduggery of the first two seasons, House of Cards runs out of steam
I've not seen all six seasons (and I am aware of suggestions that the six season is a clunker) but already I feel House Of Cards peaked long ago. The step change came when Underwood became president and, for one reason or another the writers had no idea where to take him next.

The premise of the first two seasons was that in Underwood we had an utterly ruthless man out for revenge who would stop at nothing to succeed in punishing those he felt had betrayed him. And that included murder. Then season two ended, Francis becomes the US top man and that was it: he changed character. He almost became oddly admirable. Bizarre: the Devil sees the light? Great premise but here it is simply down to the writers not knowing what came after 'becoming president'.

From the first episode of season three on he is simply not the same guy. Furthermore, HoC became just another drama about politics and those who dabble in its dark arts. But this was not what we signed up for. For God's sake, you could almost feel sorry for Underwood, trying to get his Amworks project underway, making sure there are no unemployed in the US. Would that really be such a bad thing?

OK, so he then resorts to a little political chicanery to find the funding for Amworks which Congress is denying him, but on a scale of evil where murder rates at 8 or 9 out of 10, that kind of skullduggery is shamelessly innocent.

In a word the essence of HoC was jettisoned and we get a variation on The West Wing. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that of course, but it was not what we signed up for. In addition various sub-plots are tacked on to ensure it doesn't all take place in the White House.

Well, I'll keep watching - I'm intrigued as how it all goes so wrong in season six, but . . . Marks: well the first to seasons deserve a solid 8/10. Season three spoils the party however. So I shall settle for 6/10. Shame really, but it's best to be honest.

The Night House

Don't get your hopes it - this film cheats
After a very strong and promising beginning, The Night House declines and disappoints. We are promised one film but are finally served up with in almost incoherent mish-mash of several others. That makes of the overall production a resounding disappointment.

But before hurling the brickbats, a bouquet to Rebecca Hall, who provides the film with performance far above what might have been needed. If anything, it is Hall's performance which lingers long after the film has ended rather than the - confusing and confused - ending to the film. Hall certainly takes central place, but is ably assisted by Sarah Goldberg, Vondie Curtis-Hall and Stacy Martin in what honestly must be regarded as 'bit parts'.

As for the film itself, it would be interesting to know how much of it resembled the original script. I ask because its many flaws, which I shall list below, were surely apparent from the off if that script is what we are presented with in the final cut. Was it 'rewritten' on the hoof? That is the impression given.

In sum The Night House cheats its viewers: we are presented with an intriguing set-up, only to be fobbed off with a conclusion for which there are no clues to speak of and which is, to be blunt, utterly incoherent.

Hall, the newly widowed partner of a man who for no obvious reason took a boat into the lake beside which they live and shot himself, slowly discovers her husband was - kind of - leading a double life. When she follows up various 'clues', she finally discovers that he had a penchant for torture and sadistic murder. Needless to say she was completely unaware of this tendency, which, frankly, is hard to believe.

But that is just one strand in muddle of other elements, most of them supernatural: it seems she is haunted by - who Death? - ever since she survived a horrendous road accident years earlier and was brought back to life by the medics. Crucially, this strand simply refuses to gell with her husband's murderous sadism which is eventually revealed.

In retrospect the questions about the non-sequitur nature of it all mount and mount: why did her husband kill himself. The suggestion is that the 'Death' figure drove him to it. But why? Who knows and frankly who cares? What happened to the house across the lake which seemed to be a mirror image of her own (both designed by her architect husband) which she comes across - wafted supernaturally across the lake in the boat in which he killed himself - but which then a little later vanishes.

Later she discovers another, half-built house near it and, to her horror, comes across what seem to be the bodies of his victims beneath the floorboards. Oh, and previously she had tracked down a young women in a bookshop who had been lined up as a victim but who, though oddly, doesn't make the cut. Unbelievably, that mystery woman follows up their meeting in the bookshop to drive 160 miles on a very dark and rainy night to explain it all to Hall. Then she drives home again, another 160 mile schlepp (presumably thinking her job in outlining the plot and driving it forward a little has been done. It's still dark and still raining). Believe it or not - but I didn't, not for a moment.

More questions: what is with the 'mirror image' theme which appears in the final denouement? Why didn't Hall contact the police after discovering a load of dead women beneath the floorboards of her husband's half-built house? Why didn't she explain to anyone about the ghostly goings-on in her house - the hi-fi turning itself on, the bizarre outline a figure which appears, the banging on the door? Why didn't the potential victim from the bookshop call her beforehand to announce she was coming and probably explain why? And on and on.

What had begun as an intriguing mystery was by the final third now just another cut and paste horror flick of no particular merit. So these questions are more or less redundant. In an intelligent thriller they deserve to be asked and answered satisfactorily. In a standard horror flick such as this they never trouble us.

I don't doubt The Night House will delight those with low expectations. If yours are higher, take it from me you will be disappointed, perhaps even annoyed that you have had your time wasted. A the end of the day The Night House simply cheats. It gets 4/10 but that's because the acting and production values are high (and higher than the script deserves).

Once Upon a Time in America

I just don't buy it, any of it. Misses by a country mile
Nothing, we're told, ages faster than this year's fashion. Well, for many years Sergio Leone was the man, but he has sadly aged and not aged well. Unfair? Well, no, not really. Because some films made almost 40 or 50 or 60 years ago have aged well. Despite 'old-fashioned' direction, acting, techniques and comparatively rudimentary cinematography they still have that certain something, that ingredient X which continues to make them memorable. Leone's Once Upon A Time In The West just does not. Sad but true.

Where to start? Leone is said to have shot ten hours of film and trimmed it to just six which he then wanted to release as two three-hour films. His producers said no. Finally, Leone got it down to just under four hours and the film was shown in Cannes to 'rave reviews', but that was still too long for his producers who released a butchered version to cinemas of just over two hours. Result? It didn't hang together, made little sense and bombed. Watch the 'director's cut' we are now urged. Well, I just have and it still doesn't work.

Quite frankly a director who can't manage to think his work through and ends up shooting ten hours of footage is tacitly admitting he had dire problems from the off. And no amount of fancy cutting will help or, as I now suggest, did help. Far, far too much crucial detail goes awol and the result is a patchwork which is not even pretty.

The relationship between the characters are suggested but simply sketched in. The supposed unbreakable bond is not shown: we are simply informed there is one. Well, try again. The budding romance between Deborah and Noodles as youngsters is touching. As adults it is two-dimensional and flat: something crucial is missing.

The decline of Max into a shouting, ranting 'crazy' boor is far, far too abrupt. Simply to be told 'Max is crazy' just doesn't cut it. His houdini act of not being killed with his two friends and to be - somehow - elevated a la Jay Gatsby into a successful businessman turned important politician is from a cartoon: it does not work and Leone insults us by suggesting we should suspend disbelief.

This is essentially an Italian film but made with American actors. Italian actors interpreting their own culture might have worked, this gang do not (and to add to the melange, they are not Italian but Jewish gangsters, and using the occasional Hebrew expression does not make them Jewish). Leone's schtick of making many scenes last almost a minute longer - a minute longer than necessary - is intended to convey profound meaning. But it doesn't. It just comes across as bad editing. And if that's how it comes across, it has lost.

THAT rape scene. In fact, there are two, but the second is the most egregious. After a - frankly very silly - dinner date it is simply - in the real sense of the word - incredible. Rape has nothing to do with sex: rape is nothing but power play. And such brutish behaviour - it is Noodles's second rape - is completely out of character with the thoughtful Noodles we are expected to accept. Nor would Deborah, shown as a strong woman of principle ever in a million years spend another second in the company of Noodles. Not one! Yet we are expected to believe she still loves him. Pull the other one.

Nor did I buy that four lads who were simply gutter hoodlums would evolve into nicely suited sophisticates. Nonsense. Thugs are thugs are thugs and remain thugs.

I often urge potential viewers of some films to 'ignore the low overall rating' because in my view the film in question is far better. Here? Here I urge potential viewers to ignore fantastical claims of 'a masterpiece' and the rest. Leone's film simply is not at all good. As for Morricone's incessant saccharine score, burbling in every five minutes or so, it even sets my teeth on edge writing and thinking about it.

This one: a very generous 5/10. And if you get the chance to see it, do so if you are really desperate.

The Hollow Point

Style substance (but none the worse for that)
Here's a dilemma: you like a film, it was entertaining, well-acted, well-filmed and well-produced but it has, er, flaws. So if you come across this and are thinking of watching, tell yourself it's one of those films you watch for 'style' rather than 'content'. That should do the trick and you'll be well-rewarded.

Expect a thriller which makes more than a little sense, and you'll be joining the ranks of those more inclined to give this 4/10 or, at a pinch 5/10. Me, I rate it higher.

I shan't go into 'plot' details because, honestly, they don't much matter. But for this viewer what the film does do, it does very well. Plot? Who needs a plot?

NB What we don't need, or what this viewer hated was the very final scene of the lovers driving off into the sunrise and, to make a corny point very even cornier, it is accompanied by the bitter-sweetest song of saccharine garbage I have spent most of life avoiding. And it is utterly out of keeping with the rest of the film. I suspect the producer's wife insisted and he just gave in for the sake of good night's kip.

As for the rest: style. Keep that in mind and you'll like this.

Inventing Anna

A very entertaining romp indeed
Inventing Anna is an entertaining, partly fictional account, of a quite bizarre story of how a young woman bamboozled New York's smartest and finest, but one has to add, not New York's smartest. At the root of it was money, for which read greed and the desire for every more.

I shall not retell the details of Anna Sorokin, aka Anna Delvey. For those read the many accounts online, but beware that Inventing Anna is a partly fictionalised account. Instead I shall talk about the series.

Elsewhere it was said to be too long. Well, not so. If a series is entertaining and intriguing and continues to be both, it cannot be too long: we can't get enough of it. When series overstay their welcome it is always because the makers have lost their magic.

The first six episodes profile the various folk Anna took in, but the seventh and eighth episodes took something of a left turn. Various directors were involved (as is usually the case with such projects) but there is always an attempt to keep them homogenous. However, stylistically the seventh and eighth episode adopted new schtick and although it was entertaining enough and worked within its own context, they stuck out rather and spoiled the overall shape.

That, though is my major gripe and it is not at all a deal-breaker. A minor gripe is the portrayal of 'the journalist', something which - this long-time hack who served, though without distinction, in Her Majesty's Press here in Britain - irritates. As always the public are fed the sanctified version of 'a journalist' a dedicated man or woman of principle who holds up the profession's ethics above all else. Really? Try again. It's the 'Lou Grant' bollocks.

The one, the sole, commandment all hacks are obliged to observe is the 11th: Don't Get Caught. Break that and you're toast. Observe it and you are a hero.

Thus Vivian Kent, the alter ego of Jessica Pressler who wrote the original story for New York magazine ('Manhattan magazine' in the series) is a little too good to be true.

But, as I say, that is just a minor gripe. Ignore the naysayers here: watch this and enjoy - and wonder just how did Ms Delvey/Sorokin manage it all. Oh, and a special shout out to Julia Garner, excellent in Ozark and equally good here. An actor to watch out for.

Overall, this gets a 7/10.


Two-dimensional twaddle that STILL manages to entertain
Don't be put off by the title of my review: yes, Kate is two-dimensional, unoriginal twaddle, but it does somehow pull off the trick of being entertaining despite having no plot to speak of (and if you set your sights pretty low).

I don't mean to sound pompous or condescending (though, of course, I will) but I am certainly not the 'target audience' for Kate. And I suspect that 'target audience' will enjoy the well-choreographed fights and chases, and the very graphic killings (er, Kate is an assassin).

None of it makes much, if any sense, but what the hell, that's not what the target audience want and what they do want is supplied in spades.

I must confess I watched it in four different sittings, i.e. Parts of it, in sequence, four times. I was rather underwhelmed by the lack of pretty much anything except glossy, well-choreographed punch-ups and unashamedly brutal gunfights and killings.

These are certainly a standout, though CGI makes it that much easier to achieve 'realism'. Oh, and as always the 'baddies' - well, they are all 'baddies', so I mean those chasing our heroine - are not very good shots and the lass - Kate - comes through their mayhem pretty much unscathed.

OK, she isn't completely unscathed because of a ludicrous plot device which I shan't give away so I can honestly tell IMDb that this review has no spoilers.

But overall, if you have the best part of two hours 'to kill', you could do worse. Just don't expect a great deal except, as I say, well-choreographed punch-ups and unashamedly brutal gunfights and killings.

American Rust

Slow, yes, but an excellent piece of work
Although American Rust gets a high average rating here on IMDB, the press gave it a rathe lesser welcome and judgment. That is unfair.

It is usually compared to the excellent Mare Of Eastwood, which plays in a similar downbeat environment. But comparisons, as the man said, can be odious. Yes, it covers the same ground but it does is just as well.

It might be slow-moving, but blame those who don't like that on those who don't like 'slow-moving'. American Rust tells more than just the superficial story.

It describes, in quite subtle detail the lives, problems and dilemmas of some folk who have been cast to live at the arse end of existence. And it does the job very well indeed.


There's absolutely no reason at all to watch this film. Avoid.
I have no idea why this film is so highly rated by some. Take away the - very occasional - special effects and it's just another run-of-the-mill 'adventure' film.

Some folk say they are 'intrigued' by the set-up involving aliens and Egyptian gods. Well, don't be: it's rubbish. It is nothing but what Alfred Hitchcock called the 'McGuffin' - the bull a director inserts to make it seem his film is different to all the other films, when it is just another in a long, long line of similar.

If sci-fi is your bag, there are plenty of excellent films out there to whet your appetite. Don't bother with Stargate.

One of Us

Thrilling for some, but in fact just another thriller by numbers
Sadly, for all it's rather artificial twists and turns, this is just another drama by numbers squeezed through the BBC sausage machine. Yes many will and do like it, but that comes down to what you expect.

At the end of the day this is little else but bog-standard Sunday night TV crime drama which doesn't stand out from any of its classmates. One giveaway is always the soundtrack: here and in similar, rather fake efforts, the 'drama' and 'suspense' are supplied by the music on the soundtrack. The best drama can do without such a soundtrack and speak for itself. One Of Us needs it badly to persuade us it is in fact dramatic and suspenseful.

From the production point of view this BBC effort yet again serves us up direction by number: it seems as though all the directors the BBC hires went to the same directing school, so similar are their ticks.

The acting suffers from the same fault thought that is not the fault of the actors - they do and act as they are told by the director and have no choice in the matter.

As for the plot, 'synthetic' doesn't do it justify. Add 'contrived' and 'dishonest' and you will be getting there. You can almost see how the various twists are bolted on (and one plot element, possibly injected as a red herring, although it didn't need one, is wholly irrelevant.) Not encouraging.

All too often the script is poor and out of the same school - though it went to the scriptwriting class - as the direction. Folk don't talk as folk talk, they talk as though they are in a TV drama, which of course, they are, but it is a shame to be reminded of it every clunky few minutes or so.

I have avoided giving much away because many might like this and don't want it to be spoiled for them. But I shall add that there are enough plot holes to satisfy the most demanding pernickety niggard. I happen not to be one and would prefer to do without plot holes completely.

I'll repeat: some - many, perhaps - will like this, but if you want something less like the product of a sausage machine, try something else. There are several far better efforts on Netflix produced in Europe.

The Tomorrow War

Completely pointless piece of rubbish.
If you decide to watch this, you'll watch one of the silliest films made since Adam and Eve. If you have watched this, you'll know exactly what I mean.

I little background is necessary: in the year 2022 the world is made aware that 30 years in the future aliens have invaded Earth and in the defensive war Earth is losing. So folk from the future come back in time to recruit more soldiers.

Everyone - around the world - is drafted (though as this is a Yank film for mainly a Yank audience the action takes place solely in Yankee land) and - somehow - taken to the future for a seven-day tour of duty. Most can expect to die. They get no training whatsoever. And we are expected to take this seriously.

The point is that the best CGI, rousing noisy score or pseudo-drama can rescue rubbish like this. Who are the aliens, who come a time travel has become popular? So many questions are posed which could have made a more interesting film yet we are fobbed off with this shooting fest.

If you haven't seen it, don't. If you have, you also have my sympathy.


More for bods who like their mystery to have the soap element. Me? Nah.
Hmm. I've just seen episode one of series one and Manifest doesn't strike me as more than TV mystery by numbers. In treatment its something of a soap - sassy medical researcher stands up to her boss, loving wife who thought her husband was dead and began a new relationship but now he's back and so on - and that does not bode well.

OK, it'll be fine if soaps are your thing, but they are not mine. I like a little more thought in my mysteries and this cheats at every turn.

I'll give the second episode a chance, but I'm not hopeful. File under standard schlock TV for those who like standard schlock TV. For those who might hope for something more, keep hoping. Gets 5/10 because strictly that's neither good nor bad. There's nothing dreadful about Manifest, but nothing to write home about, either.

Run All Night

You've seen it before, but what the hell, it's done well
I've adapted the phrase before: just as it's not the joke, it's how you tell it', 'it's not the film, but how you make it'.

Certainly, there's not much that's original about Run All Night and doubtless you've see it many times before. But here it is done with such aplomb that you forgive the little niggles - how come the 'hero' and his son get around New York so easily, how come they have an seemingly inexhaustible amount of ammo (except when not having enough ammo is crucial to the plot) and so on.

Some actors are supremely watchable and Liam Neeson and Ed Harris are two such actors. They don't, to be frank, get much to do and can play these kind of roles with their hands tied behind their backs - metaphorically - but both have that presence which can make a film and here they make it.

The slight 'storyline' of the hitman who walked out on his young family to 'save' them is a nice enough touch as is the eventual reconciliation with his son, but it is the obligatory nod to Yankee sentimentality without which most films are thought not to survive. It's not for me, but it is done with a light touch so what the hell.

Apart from that, there's not a great deal to say. Of its kind, its better example and if you fancy watching it, don't hold back.

The Gentlemen

More of the same Guy Ritchie schtick (and none the worse for that_
Here in Britain we talk of something being 'Marmite' (an odd and salty yeast extract spread): you like it or hate it. Well, I'm not talking about 'loving' or 'hating' Ritchie's films, but let's be frank: he's not going to go down as one of the world's greatest filmmakers, so you are either amused by Guy Ritchie's schtick or you find it increasingly irritating.

Me, I tend to like it, even though his various hits (and there have been one or two misses) are pretty much the same film over again. But then they say that 'it's not the joke, but the way you tell it'. And Ritchie has patented an entertaining way of telling what, let's again be frank, are nothing but shaggy dog stories.

It would be pointless to outline 'the story' of the film, because 'the story' is totally irrelevant. It's how Ritchie tells 'em which does the biz. And, oh well, I don't doubt my credibility will now go down the pan, but I like how he tells 'em.

His cast all turn in very entertaining performances, there are more than enough slick lines and turns of phrase to satisfy and it - as usual - rolls along nicely. The confusion is eventually sorted out. All you have to do is hang in there.

As for that cast, special mention should go to Hugh Grant who plays totally against type as a sleazy, gay, murky, East London hack who takes it into his head to try to blackmail Matthew McConaughey's cannabis big shot, and who is not quite as clever as he thinks he is.

As usual user reviews say this is 10/10 'brilliant, man' or that it's 1/10 'complete trash'. It's neither: it's unpretentious, entertaining Ritchie fare. And, and as I say, you either go for it or you don't. If you like his schtick, this is very much your bag so watch it. If you don't, well, find something else to do.

Mary Queen of Scots

Something of a good-looking failure
There's something decidedly off-kilter about Josie Rourke's take on the life, betrayal and death of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, but it is hard to say quite what.

The film is sumptuously produced and to an extent engaging, but it's as though crucial scenes have been cut and, missing, they interrupt the flow.

Rourke's background is in theatre and although she is not a first-time director, this is the first film she has directed, and 'theatrical' ideas come to the fore.

That is not to say they don't and can't work in film, just they don't quite seem to work in this film.

An odd, and in some ways unfortunate, symptom of Rourke's off-target attempt is a gratuitous use of black actors in leading parts. I should imagine in 100 years that will not seem strange but it does now. Elizabethan England (and quite possibly Scotland) did have one or two black faces, but not on Elizabeth's council or in Mary's court.

Admirable as it is to make the point that black actors are just as good as white actors (and need work just as much), in context it just doesn't work: this film seems the wrong one as a vehicle to make what is essentially a political point. It just gets in the way. I mention that because in an odd way it does typify Rourke's misdirected approach.

As for the history, the film never makes clear just why Mary Stuart had to abdicate. It is all just a little too muddy. That is a shame because in other respects Rourke's film is impressive. But she doesn't quite pull off whatever it was she hoped to pull off.

Get Out

Entertaining but could - and should - have been a lot sharper.
In many ways Jordan Peele's film Get Out is what we Brits call 'a shaggy dog story'. Why? Because the ride - listening to the story and getting to the end - is fun, but given the ride, the pay-off is a little lightweight.

Oh, it's entertaining enough and does make some satirical points, although they are delivered less like Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's 'polished razor keen' than Alexander Pope's 'oyster knife that hacks and hews'. But given its target, rather smug and quite commonplace left-liberal attitudes on 'blacks' and 'race' which are much in need of some critical attention and debunking, it would have benefited from rather a lot more lethal satirical cuts.

It also sails under false colours: the film you thought you might be getting is not the film you eventually get. And there's rather less to the film you do get, though it has its intriguing moments of suspense, than you might expect.

To be blunt, at the end of the day it is just another conventional horror flick, well-executed, certainly, but in no way is it original.

By chance I watched another horror flick recently, Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room and that, too, while broadly conventional did bring along several original twists. Peele doesn't.

Peele began his career acting in comedy sketches, and in some ways Get Out is pretty much a comedy sketch played out to a film's length. But I must be fair: it never drags or feels contrived as the charge of 'extending a comedy sketch' might suggest, and Peele certainly manages to take us, the audience, along with him at every turn.

A last point to be made is that, oddly, Get Out could only have been made by a black man (although Peele was born to a white mother and black father). Some white dude making it - satirising his own left-liberal attitudes to 'blacks' and race - might well have misfired. But in the satire, though, in my book we are rather short-changed, Peele doesn't misfire but his shots are increasingly blunt.

Lil Rel Howery as a very good Daniel Kaluuya's black buddy, who in some ways saves the day, provides a great turn.

My star rating might seem a little mean to some, but I justify it on the grounds that at the end of the day where we thought we would get a telling satire on smug liberals, we get nothing more astonishing than a pretty standard horror film.

Nothing wrong with that, but I can't help feeling it could just have been a bit more.Well made, entertaining satire that could just have been a little bit better.

Late Night

Neat little film that just about survives drowning in Tinseltown syrup
Why on earth do so many American producers want to drown everything - every emotion, every sentiment, every vaguely moving theme - in lashings of syrup? Why? It ruins everything. OK, so there is a subway army of jerks out there who disagree with me and can't get enough of this mawkishness but, let's be honest, they are jerks and wouldn't know excellence if it bit them on the bum ten times an hour for the rest of the year.

At least one good thing came out of watching Late Night: appreciating that one Mindy Kaling is 1) a good writer, and 2) is not a bad actor. I'd never heard of here before but I shall keep and eye out for what might be coming up. If, of course, she is responsible for most of the syrup then all bets are off. But I rather doubt that. I think it's likely that the Tinseltown moneymen had a greater hand in shaping this piece than was good for it. And that had Ms Kaling been given her head, it might not have been allowed to drown in so much syrup.

At least going by some of the lines (and implicit attitudes she came up with) there is a little more acid in the head of hers and it might hold her in good stead. I like to think that in her heart (her Indian heritage coming to the fore) she wretched as much as I did at the very last scene of the film in which we are presented with the 'perfect' 'ethnically diverse' writing team because of plucky little Molly. Well, pass the sickbag and spare me such sentimental drivel.

An astute writer, now long dead who went by the name Oscar Wilde (like Ms Kaling/Molly another outsider) once observed that 'sentimentality is a bank holiday from cynicism'. Think of those Christmas carol concerts organised by the SS in extermination camps when half-dead Jews on their way to a nearby gas chamber were forced to enchant their killers with sweet festive lullabies for the delectation of SS families, and you will know what he was getting at.

Similarly, no number of sickly sweet 'diversity' scenes as in the film's final shot of the writers' room can make up for nasty, unsentimental statistics that if you are ethnic and poor in the US, you are pretty much screwed. As Wilde reminds us: 'Sentimentality is a bank holiday' etc.

What does partly save the film, quite apart from the encouraging Ms Kaling and her gift for telling lines, are the performances by the, remarkably small, cast. I came across the film after looking up what else Reid Scott (the 'monologue' writer Tom) was doing as he is very good in the rather more satisfying - and a lot less sentimental - political satire Veep in which he gives us the horrifically cynical but very, very entertaining Dan Egan.

Then there's Emma Thompson and John Lithgow, two stalwart thesps who pretty much always bring a little extra zing to whatever they are presented with. And a potential flood of syrup was neatly avoided by the two of them when in a rather touching scene of a husband confronting his wife about an affair she's had they hit just the right note, and that is not easy.

Other performances in slight parts were also good so Late Night cannot be completely written off. But please, Hollywood, please, spare us the gallons of syrup. I know it's difficult to ditch the habits of a lifetime but do, at least, try. It might bring in less money but you will make better films. I dread to think of what Tinseltown would make of The Second Coming.

Time Trap

No great shakes, but it achieves something. I just wish I knew what
Time Trap is a curious mish-mash of genres which should please young viewers. I gather it was made on a shoestring so the writer/directors deserve credit for pulling off whatever they have pulled off. It's not really clear: what starts as a teen movie becomes a 'will they, won't they' adventure, then a sci-fi puzzler with no end of hokum, and ends finally on an upbeat note which I doubt any of us saw coming. I certainly didn't.

Along the way we touch upon - but swiftly pass by - any number of stock sci-fi tropes, as well as dip a toe in a some vague mythology, before alls well that ends well.

That at the end of the day, and despite initial hopes and suggestions of a white picket fence all-American apple pie happy ending, nothing much adds up to a row of beans curiously doesn't matter.

If the journey is more significant than the arrival Time Warp just about pulls it off. And the pre-teen to late-night viewing half-drunk student market will feel well served. The rest of us? Well, read the above but be reassured there is something likeable about this film which persuades you to forgive plot holes you could lose yourself in for ever and ridiculous twists that make Jack and The Beanstalk hard news reportage.

Go for it (and if you don't expect too much you won't be disappointed.)

Project Blue Book

The X-Files rides again (if that was our thing, it wasn't mine)
Project Blue Book might well be described as 'The X-Files' lite, except that when all is said and done The X-Files, though entertaining enough, was itself 'lite'. Both series employ that useful but ultimately dishonest technique of intriguing the viewer and dangling some kind of eventual explanation to keep up the viewer's interest, but finally never delivering. And the thing is nothing can be delivered, for two very good reasons: however likely it is that alien life does exist elsewhere in the universe - I don't quite know the figures, but there are more than a billion galaxies out there, each with more than a billion stars, each with its own solar system of planets and, for all I know, each planet with more than a million branches of Starbucks - the chances of us 'earthlings' ever meeting or communicating with them (let alone sharing a skinny latte) are as close to zero as it is possible to be.

For one thing, the speed of light - it would take more than a decade to get a message off to some planets and more than a decade to get back the dispiriting information 'sorry, wrong number' - mitigates against any possible exchange of views.

The second reason is that more pertinently for the makers of Project Blue Book (as was also the case of The X-Files) any 'reveal', 'grand explanation' or 'solution' would not only disappoint, it would also bring the shutters down: with no more intrigue left in the bottle, the fickle viewer would soon be off to favour some other tipple.

Having said all that, Project Blue Book is essentially weeknight TV entertainment and it fulfils its role just fine. There's absolutely nothing wrong with it on that level. For my taste it is distressingly formulaic. There is an openminded not-so-whacky professor trying to get at 'the truth' and who is cannier than one has any right to expect from an academic (and drives a beat-up saloon as we all know academics are not very well paid). There is his sidekick a USAF pilot who finds himself caught between two stools, i.e. The Truth and his career (but whose heart apparently is in the right place - that is also part of the formula).

The series also includes two 'bad guy' USAF generals (or whatever rank they are) who have an agenda of their own. Thrown into the mix is also a mysterious 'man in a hat' who is not above murder when he chooses, and who has a - I would like to say 'supernatural' but that would mislead - enviable ability to get from here to relevant there in no time at all and seems to know exactly where the not-so-whacky professor will be before even the professor does.

Grafted on to all this is an attractive blonde Soviet spy and her sidekick (good to see that in the 21st century roles are reversed and admirably the sidekick is a guy and the main spy a woman) who is keeping tabs on the not-so-whacky prof and if that were not just a tad improbable, even more improbably - and it is a wholly irrelevant plot line - we even get hints of a possible future lesbian relationship between the blonde red and the not-so-whacky profs wife. And that covers all the TV angles admirably: there's something for everyone, except, perhaps, for those looking for a reasonably intelligent series which treats the viewer as worthwhile rather than as weeknight fodder for the intruding ads.

In sum: if The X-Files was your thing, go for it. Project Blue Book is well-made (and with high production values) so you will get what you want and might even find ourself wondering why there is in this review a persistent and niggling griping quality in this review. I'll tell you why: however entertaining both The X-Files and Project Blue Book are, neither is quite my thing.

By the way: each episode begins with the legend - i.e. warning - that 'it is based on real events'. A short translation would be: it's completely made up. A longer translation would be: yes, it is based on real events in that real events gave us the impetus to come up with a lot of entirely fictional twaddle you might well find entertaining. We hope you do because we hope to make quite a bit of money by producing it.

This gets a 6/10 because it isn't at all bad (if it's your thing). The 9/10 and 10/10 and the 3/10 and 4/10 verdicts are way off-beam.


Useful but - sadly - just a tad limited. But still worthwhile
Very useful view of the history of jazz but oddly limited. Perhaps that was unavoidable given the essentially amorphous nature of the beast. But don't let me quibble: after watching Burns's 12-parter I now have a far better idea of how jazz evolved and thus a framework on which to build other knowledge.

There is a great emphasis, necessarily I suppose given the route jazz took in the beginning of the 2oth century, on horn players, and that emphasis continues, again necessarily when we get to the evolution of bebop (which is pretty much where jazz burst out and asserted itself). But the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s also saw other instruments make their mark, particularly the guitar and piano.

The piano gets half a look-in with segment a segment on Thelonius Monk, and other pianists get a mention, but the focus is pretty heavily on the sax and the horn. What about the very, very many jazz guitarists - guitar is my instrument? Why no mention not just of the playing but the contributions made by Wes Montgomery, Grant Green and others? Mingus also gets a look-in, but . . .

Burns might respond that he wanted primarily to outline the development of jazz over the last century, and he has a point. But the topic does cry out for a broader, a far broader attempt.

As I say, though, here is not the place to quibble. Burns's Jazz does (as we say in Britain) what is says on the tin and I for one have gained from it. Now I look forward to similar broader enterprises.

The Irishman

Tinseltown old timers try it one last time (and really should not have bothered)
Hollywood thrives on cliches: in many ways they are its lifeblood, but we shouldn't castigage the Tinseltown moguls. The moviegoer thrives on cliches, too, and if a mogul is criticised for serving up for the umpteenth time cliche 123/A, he or she is perfectly entitled to the defence that 'that's what the punter wants'. Because that is what so many of the punters want.

The punter, or most of them, want - no, they demand! - predictable. They want to see the same storyline over and over again. Give them something halfway original (as in all that dubious European art stuff) and many just run scared: the punter wants to see the world (which is usually just the American corner of it) on the edge of destruction saved by the love of a good woman for a man. Furthermore, they want that man to start out as a coward, but one who is able to find the brave core he did not suspect was there because of that woman's love. Or something like that.

Cliches are great both for directors and writers and for moviegoers, and work for both. Cliches mean that neither the director, the writers nor the moviegoers have to think at all. All they have to do is fill in the boxes and trace the story from A to Z. They are not required to use their nut one little bit.

To be fair, if the wind were to blow in the opposite direction and the moviegoing public suddenly decided it will settle for nothing less than pure originality and good writing, there is certainly enough talent in Hollywood that could supply that demand. But back in the real world a growth in demand for originality is as likely as Britain's Queen Elizabeth ditching Phil the Greek and shacking up with Pope Francis. Thus the cliche rules and rules supreme.

Naturally, cliches do move with the times because they have to - the 'good girl holds back from being bedded' routine would be risible in a modern film. Now it is de rigueur for ten minutes of no-holds barred sex pretty much from the outset. Yet essentially the cliches are the same, but in newer clothes.

I happen not to like cliches. After a lifetime working in newspapers, I have had it to here with cliches. At first they amuse, then they amuse because their use is so predictable. Finally, they irritate as little else can irritate once you allow it to do so.

One Hollywood cliche I spotted years ago, an evergreen that is about as entertaining as a day in the rain without a coat is the one when 'old timers' - whether soldiers, football players, mercenaries, an ageing band or what the hell you like - are summoned to come together for one last time and prove they can still cut it. And of course they always can. 'There's life in the old dogs yet' is the message, and ageing, geriatric cliche-loving moviegoers leave the cinema relieved that they aren't quite yet dead (which, of course, they are, but . . .)

Invariably, the old timers in the 'old timers' films are themselves old-timer actors whose day came and went long, long ago, but who, like the old-timer characters they portray on screen, want to prove to the up-and-coming young turks that they can still cut it - 'you snivelling upstarts, make no mistake, we're still around!'

Well, of course, they aren't at all really 'still around'. They are nothing but old lemons out of which Tinseltown wants to squeeze the last of the juice in one last film before dementia carries them off and TV rushes in to make those mawkish 'bios' in which we are assured by other old timers not yet scythed down by Death just how fabulous they were and how we'll never see their like again.

Such old-timer films in which the dried-up old lemons are squeezed ever more remorselessly are - for me at least - as embarrassing and pitiful as watching your grandad on the dance floor and realising he has no idea how bloody ridiculous he looks.

The film that always comes to mind when I think of the 'old timers' cliche is The Wild Geese (1978): in it old-timers and time-served 'stars' Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris, Hardy Krüger and Stewart Grainger strut their stuff as mercenaries who - would you know it! - are called out of retirement to make more money for the Hollywood moguls. But there are others.

It was the old timers' cliche which very, very soon came to mind when I saw The Irishman. The old-timers who we meet yet again in it are time-served stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel and - sad but true - the otherwise highly respected director Martin Scorsese, all going through the motions of strutting their stuff. All, even Scorsese, are as convincing as a cheap toupee.

They all, again even Scorsese, simply parody themselves. Quite apart from all of Scorsese's stylistic tricks, we get De Niro's wry smile, we get his menacing smile, we get his rueful smile; we get Keitel's menacing snarl, his menacing one-liner; we get Joe Pesci's menacing calm, his menacing frustration; we get Pacino chewing the carpet, Pacino being wry, and on it goes.

The problem is that we are just too familiar with all their schtick. It is no longer fresh, charming and new, not by a million miles. And we sit there - well, this viewer did - with that rictus smile we employ so as not to hurt feelings when some old relative bores us rigid with an 'amusing' anecdote she or he has told us a thousand times before.

It certainly doesn't help that all of them, Pesci, De Niro, Pacino and Keitel look way, way over 70, even when in flashback they are required to portray the young thugs on the make they once were - the digital whatever just does not work, and someone with a little integrity should have told the producers before this abortion was completed. Oh, but silly me: why bother with integrity and doing the right thing and wasting a good pay check?

In many ways the worst offender is Scorsese: he has proved time and again that he is an intelligent filmmaker, and he really should have known better. But he apparently didn't, and so he pretty much serves up a parody of a Scorsese film: if you've seen Mean Streets, Goodfellas and Casino, you've seen The Irishman.

It has the lot: his 'trademark' tracking shots, his convoluted storyline, his freeze-frame to give a brief biographical outline of a newly introduced character, his 'cool' violence, his voiceover - it's all there and it's all more than a bit sad in that what was once exciting is now terrible, terrible old hat.

OK, you might be part of the 99pc who like their cliches served lukewarm and who is only too happy to applaud a faded nightclub singer warbling off-key and forgetting lyrics because you are nostalgic and you liked his hits when you were younger. That's not me.

With all respect to Scorsese and the other old-timers, they really should have known better: it's all very well having to make a living, but I can't imagine any of them is on his uppers and needs those extra dollars. It can only have been vanity.

A Good Day to Die Hard

Solely one for boys who love big bangs, but even they are being short-changed
I have to confess that I didn't make it to the end of A Good Day To Die Hard. This is solely one for boys (and some girls) who like toys, big bangs, dislike dialogue and were happiest in primary school. Of its kind - genus mindless blockbuster - it might seem exemplary, even here it cheats. The first set-piece car chase goes on for far, far too long and must be filed under 'padding out the film'.

The usual ultra-fast cutting from scene to scene ensures you don't have a clue as to what is going on during the chase, and even the most simple-minded will have wondered 'they couldn't have done that, surely not?', but they did and do, time and time again, destroying most of the traffic on the Budapest ring-road (Budapest standing in for Moscow which wisely decided to have nothing to do with this rubbish). I also found myself, rather bored with all the chasing, wondering just how many cars were smashed up and marvelling at the budgets this kind of film gets.

But I persevered and only gave up after the scene in which Jai Courtney, the CIA agent outwitting the Russians at every turn (now there's a marvellous fictional twist) conveniently goes off somewhere to do whatever, allowing his dad Bruce Willis to confess to the nominal third character (Sebastian Koch) that he had been a bad dad, always working when he should have been at home with his wife and family.

Equally conveniently son returns just in time to overhear, unseen by dad, what dad says. Thus a second dimension is added to the film: sentimental garbage, and all the little boys watching can persuade themselves that it is all right to be in touch with your emotions.

Then I gave up: I had no idea what was going on and who the baddies were. Introducing Courtney as the second lead had a practical reason, too. It meant Bruce Willis, who must by now be be getting on a bit and feeling the strain, has to do none of the macho gymnastics and performs throughout either standing still or at a slow walk.

Oh, and this is the kind of film where Willis can, from nowhere, suddenly have to hand when he needs one a high-velocity, ultra-powerful, machine rifle (forgive me, lads, if I don't know the jargon) and can hijack a van or SUV with no hassle at all. Yes, it's that complex.

Oddly enough I am giving this a 4 rather than anything lower because the male toddlers for whom this is intended will most certainly love the flash, bang and wallop, but no higher because even they are being sold more than just a tad short.

Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood

The latest in a long, long line of Tarnatino clunkers. Baffling - why was it made?
First of all a fact: IMDb reports that Tarantino's latest (as of January 6, 2020, when I am writing this review) cost an estimated $90 million and recouped almost half that in its opening US weekend ($41 million). Released six months ago, it has already grossed $141 million in the US and £372.5 million worldwide. There will be more moolah to come, and even more once it is released on video. So there's just one reason why Tinseltown's moneymen will gladly finance any old hooey that Tarantino wants to produce: the returns are fabulous, and we all know that at the end of the day we must ignore all the bull about 'an important new film', 'artistic integrity' and I don't know what else and just listen to the sound of the only thing that counts, continual ringing of the till.

I liked Tarantino's first 'breakthrough' film, Reservoir Dogs, and I liked Pulp Fiction. Both were in their own way originals. Jackie Brown was also quite good, though I suspect that was more down to Elmore Leonard's story than Tarantino's filmmaking. But since then? Dear soul, what is going on? But while he sucks in the readies, Tinseltown doesn't care.

Tinseltown doesn't care in the slightest that Tarantino cannot for the life of himself, or rather seems to have forgotten how to, pace a film. He can write the occasional good line, but a good line here and there can't and doesn't excuse some of the mish-mash dreck he has been coming out with for quite a few years.

Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight and now this, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood are simply not very good at all. Certainly far worse films have been made and will be made, but far better films have been made, too. But not by Tarantino. But - I repeat - no one in Hollywood is going to argue with the simple fact with which I began this review: he makes very, very good money for folk who seem to be interested in little else.

What, specifically, to make of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood? It is certainly well-made, though that might be more to the credit of Tarantino's producers, but many TV commercials are superbly produced. And everything else about is confusing to pointless to incomprehensible. Essentially the obvious question is: just why did Tarantino bother? Why?

When it was released media reviews spoke (in that arch way reviewers have when confronted by yet another clunker by a former wunderkind and they haven't quite got the stomach to say so) of 'Tarantino's love letter to Hollywood', that 'Tarantino pays tribute to filmmaking' and more along those lines. Well, Quentin darling, every thought of making a documentary instead? Why waste your time - and not least our time - with this kind of self-indulgent bull?

What is it about? By my reckoning - the 'action' takes up the final 30 minutes of a very long film - something like nine-tenths of the film is redundant, utterly superfluous, pointless: so why include them.

Why rewrite the whole Manson family murder tragedy? What was the point? Was there a point? Tarantino must have had something in mind because it certainly isn't entertaining.

There are two saving graces to this film: Brad Pitt and Leonardo Di Caprio. Both can add polish to the biggest turd. As for the other actors, well, they just had nothing at all to do. Zilch.

So there you have it, another horrible, well-made, pointless clunker from Tarantino. But there will be more, don't worry, as many as he can make will he carries on turning dross into dollars.


TV by numbers - you might be entertained, I'm not
OK, I'll be straight: so far I have only seen about 30 minutes of this show, but I am not holding my breath. This kind of cod 'historical' nonsense is essentially TV by numbers. It has all the elements deemed necessary for 'a hit' but none of the elements necessary for 'a great show', one which treats the viewer as an intelligent being rather than as someone killing an hour of her or his time.

The opening scene was a giveaway, four Roman deserters strung up in the general's tent, each urged to win his freedom by killing the other three. What, messy blood-letting in the general's tent? Then, once the deed is done, it's immediately onto the ships to invade Britain? As I say, it's TV by numbers.

To prove the point we then transfer to the 'mystical' Brits and some kind of initiation of teenage girls into womanhood, with lots of white honkey voodoo going on. More TV by numbers.

Can you blame me for suspecting this is NOT going to get better in any way at all?

Certainly there is an audience out there for this kind of lowbrow. If you are part of that audience, go for it, you won't be disappointed. Me, I really can't be bothered. There's loads of other, far better stuff out there on which I can waste my time.

Deep State

It'll do if you got nothing better on, but no great shakes
Well, I've seen three and a half episodes of the first series of Deep State, and let's be honest: it's pretty low grade stuff. It's the world of television 'spying' where an operative sitting 1,000 miles away at a computer terminal can track down someone's whereabouts within 20 seconds by trawling I don't know what database and someone's life history in just another 20 seconds.

Back in the real world it's nothing like that (I know, my long-deceased father 'helped out' with Britain's SIS and told me a thing or two when he reached his dotage and he wasn't a show-off. Like 99.9 per cent of all like him who 'helped out' he was very discreet).

That makes many claims here in other user reviews complete nonsense: for example: 'You've got to peek (I think what the writer means is 'you get a peek') at the ugly workings in the intelligence and private military world'. Oh really? So how would the writer know? Did a bit of spying between leaving uni and getting a job running the Waitrose in Alderly Edge?

Intelligence gathering is necessary in even the dullest and most mundane of international dealings - knowing what the 'other side' knows or think they know can be very useful indeed and they are all at it. But 'spying' is not glamorous and can often be exceedingly dull, involving days and weeks laborious and monotonous trawling through list, files and I don't know what else before any analysis of what is known can be made and plans shaped. As for a department being run by just one man with apparently no need to clear matters with any superior of any kind and who can order assassination as easily as a skinny latte, well tell that to the marines.

OK, you say, but this is TV entertainment so don't get so anal and picky. Fair enough, but even as a piece of TV entertainment Deep State gets only two cheers, if that.

The story is both obscure and vague enough to carry you along but is distressingly two-dimensional. The various characters have no problem at all travelling between countries at the drop of a hat (one chap, dropped off in the back of beyond on the Turkmenistan managed to get back to Teharn - more than 500 miles away - with apparently no hassles at all and got straight back to work. Give that man a medal! The men never seem to need a shave, have access to unlimited funds, despited looking like tramps on their uppers never attract the attention of the police and never, ever, ever seem to charge their mobile.

I have gone to town a little because inexplicably Deep State gets an overall 7/10 from assorted fanboys but at the end of the day it is just one of several hundred such series produced annually the world over. It's not bad by any means, but it's not particularly good either. And because I have seen far better, it is irritating that the producers go for second-best because really that's all they need to do.

Whether or not this is your bag depends on your standards. If you want just the usual evening TV thrills with predictable lines and predictable plots, go for it. If you like something a little more challenging, give it a miss - you won't be any worse off by any means.

LATER: A few more episodes down the line and appalled by how bad Deep State has become, I couldn't resist an edit to say so.

Deep State really is the most one-dimensional twaddle I have chanced upon. Certainly there are contenders for silliest 'thriller', but Deep State has a head start. Since I wrote the above, the 'hero' and his son travel from Lebanon to France with ease, pick up two high-velocity rifles with ease, get involved in a gun battle which attracts no attention whatsoever, eventually cross the Channel where just as he is about to torture his former MI6 boss, the boss kills himself - and on and on and ridiculously on.

Deep State is not intended for those who have a small brain, but for those who have no brain at all. It is garbage. Don't bother unless you don't mind admitting your are less intelligent than a flea.

Be Cool

Astonishingly awful - nothing about it works
It is quite difficult to convey how surprisingly bad Be Cool is. It has all of the potential elements - well most of them anyway - for succeeding but somehow misses the target each time. That is not to say it could have been great, just not quite as bad as this.

Pretty much everything, from the cliched script, the cliched dialogue, the cliched performances, the cliched direction and the cliched setting hits the wrong note. In fact, it must be as difficult to hit the wrong note each time as to hit the right note, but Be Cool manages to do so with aplomb.

Really, there's nothing more to say. Quite obviously after the success of Get Shorty, which did manage to hit all the right notes, the producers took to heart Sam Goldwyn's dictum that 'if they liked it once, they'll love it twice' and went to broke, but broke is what they got. No one, not one of the 'name stars', and there are several luminaries who don't give the impression they think they are slumming it, has done him or herself any favours by being involved in Be Cool and I don't doubt that when they saw the finished product they wished they had said 'thanks, but no thanks'.

Elmore Leonard (who wrote both the novels Get Shorty and its sequel Be Cool) is on record as saying that of all the films made from his books, Get Shorty is the only one that he thinks is halfway decent, so perhaps his work doesn't easily transfer to the screen. Who knows?

So if this comes your way, somehow - I would never suggest you actually go looking for it - do yourself a favour and find something else to do. Whatever it is will be a damn sight more entertaining than this dire, sorry film.

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