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Reviews

The Invention of Lying
(2009)

Ricky G Rom-com
A Ricky G written, directed and acted in rom-com in a parallel universe where the truth is universally spoken, until one day....

Inevitable trajectory of said genre leads to... You guessed it. Suitably light (rare for him) and comedic script (US market). Has wide appeal.

Extras
(2005)

Ricky Gervais, but palpably growing into his acerbic self
Caught on Netflix in 2021 some 14+ years after this was originally screened on the BBC, ostensibly because I am a fan of his more recent work. The shows premise revolves around Andy and Maggie (Ashley Jensen); two jobbing extras looking for their break into the acting profession. Stephen Merchant plays 'Andy's' hopeless agent, ably assisted by 'Barry' (Shaun Williamson). Series 1 follows this arc until Andy has a sitcom (he has written) commissioned. Enter S2! One of the key elements of 'Extras' is the featuring of both Hollywood and UK acting heavyweights (e.g. Sir Ian McKellen and Robert De Niro are two).

Ricky and Stephen skillfully blend these heavyweights into the narrative of social faux pas and scathing commentary on social mores.

Knocked Up
(2007)

feel good movie
I've seen this movie before, but am revisiting as, (although a predictable plot) it has that 'feel good' vibe coupled to an easy going, gentler comedy.

Worth watching if you want your faith in human nature restored.

Better Things
(2016)

The travails of a working mother
Just caught this on BBC Iplayer and was curious. Sam Fox (Pam Adlon) is an actress and mother. This series is very much about the struggle to balance work, parenting and (trying to have a) personal life.

Although set in LA, this isn't a glitzy exploration of what it means to be an actor in tinsel town, but rather an honest, frank and often comedic look at the travails of balancing the conflicting objectives of life. I've only watched S1, ep 1 - 4 so far, bit all is looking good!

Better Things
(2016)

The travails of a working mother
Just caught this on BBC Iplayer and was curious. Sam Fox (Pam Adlon) is an actress and mother. This series is very much about the struggle to balance work, parenting and (trying to have a) personal life.

Although set in LA, this isn't a glitzy exploration of what it means to be an actor in tinsel town, but rather an honest, frank and often comedic look at the travails of balancing the conflicting objectives of life. I've only watched S1, ep 1 - 4 so far, bit all is looking good!

Pulling
(2006)

Great sitcom detailing the noughties for the 30-something crowd
I came to this from 'This way up' and one episode of 'Catastrophe'.

The bulk of episodes were filmed around 2006 and this (imho) captures much of the zeitgeist around the noughties and the anxiety around being in one's thirties. Which incidentally was the decade when I too was a 30-something.

Sharon Horgan, Rebekah Staton and Tanya Parks play characters compriing the trio of women trying to play the hands they've been dealt whilst battling their own (and their other halves) demons. There's plenty of early noughties nuance here (clothes, music) which I love! A great supporting cast and scripts makes this a must watch in the UK comedy cannon.

Rising Damp
(1980)

A welcome stay at Rigsby's house
Caught this on ITV Player with <6d to go, I guess, a left over from Christmas. I am a fan of sitcoms (especially anything from the 70's, 80's and 90's).

This movie plays on the main thrust of the plot from the sitcom series, arguably it worked better as a sitcom rather than a film. However, with Richard Beckinsale unfortunately passed away, Chris Strueli provides a sterling performance as 'Alan'. 'Rigsby', 'Miss Jones' and 'Phillip' segue effortlessly into their roles to make for an entertaining (albeit familiar) visit to Rigsby's abode.

I would recommend for the period features of 80's Britan (attitudes left-over from eariler decades) and just all round easy entertainment.

Diamonds Are Forever
(1971)

Classic Bond - Beautiful people, locations and a deadly foe with a darstedly plot
Another of those Saturday night ITV4 oldies that was worthy of my time.

Connery leads a robust cast across countries on the trail of a diamond smuggling network. Sumptuous cinematography, both studio and on the Las Vegas locations. A well paced script and good storyline make this Bond a treat.

This was Bond, how Ian Fleming intended. Notably, Bond displays some rope techniques (when escaping underneath the rig) that would surely of been true to the character's naval training. On another note, I'd love to know where the 'summerhouse' was, that Willard White was held captive in. A very fine example of mid century modern architecture!

Dad's Army
(1971)

Classic British TV transplanted to celluloid!
It's hard to provide an unbiased review of this film. I grew up watching the TV series and I've seen this movie countless times.

Others have pointed out that the film is set in an idyllic England that never was. To me that's part of the charm. It's an idealised view of Britain during the war years, and maybe Churchill's government of the time encouraged that for the purposes of propaganda.

Anyhow, back to the movie. This is a classic 'David and Goliath' tale with Capt Mainwaring playing 'David' against the British Military establishment and moreover the Nazi threat. That it's told with great comedic aplomb is why the TV series and films are so beloved.

Strike
(2017)

intriguing crime drama with Strike and Robin as multi layered characters
Fantastic scripts, the pairing of Tom Burke and Holly Grangier really makes the series plus a great supporting cast.

The story telling is tight and keeps you guessing until the end. Well worth a watch!

Ricky Gervais: Humanity
(2018)

Brilliant!
Carefully observed comedy with its eyes firmly on those who challenge freedom of speech.

I'm a middle aged man, I don't get out much, have a mortgage and bills to pay and I think it would be fair to say I don't laugh much. I laughed a lot at this! All I can say is it's your right to be offended. Exercise that right.

The Dictator
(2012)

heavy handed, gave it two / ten, because I finished it
Appalling stereotypes, heavy handed humour (irony?). If you are a (young) adolescent of the male variety you may find some of this funny, otherwise give it a miss.

The Death of Stalin
(2017)

stellar cast, script and subject matter!
A stellar cast and great script make for a well paced black comedy. How else should one treat Josef Stalin; who's genocidal reign likely eclipsed that of Hitler's.

"Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." As I paraphrase that famous quote I'm minded that as a species we still appear to have not learnt. Totalitarian doctrine and all the paranoid delusional thinking and the results of that continue across the world. Let's hope for better in what remains of the 21st century.

Zodiac
(2007)

Fascinating (albeit dramatisation) real life investigation into a Serial Killer
I had previously watched this some years ago, but added to my Netflix watchlist as I thought it was worth watching again.

Zodiac was a serial killer, active sometime between 1969 and the early 1970's within Southern California. His identity as the movie portrays was unknown to the SFPD many years after the murders attributed to him stopped. However, the movie (IMHO) comes down in favour of one of the particular suspects, in its conclusion.

Both Jake Glyenhall and Mark Ruffalo's characters are gripped by the case and indeed do the bulk of the investigative work. What I particularly like about the film, is what I presume is it's 'true to life' portrayal of a complex investigation, where certainty is in short supply, but tenuous evidence is not. The murders are particularly gory, and not for the feint hearted. The real investigation is still open, and as was reported today, investigators have deciphered a letter Zodiac wrote in a complex cipher over 50 years ago. Still fascinating now.

Yes, God, Yes
(2019)

Amusing 'coming of age' feature length sitcom
Catholicism always appears to be portrayed in the media as the Christian denomination that emphasizes 'sins of the flesh' (versus other denominations). How true to life (or indeed false) that is, I'm unlikely to ever find out.

However, this is a suitable vehicle for the subject of this feature length sitcom. The ever bankable Nathalie Dyer's teen character is torn with lustful thoughts and is persuaded that attending a voluntary weekend 'camp' emphasising clean living and the evils of lust will remedy this.

If I were to tell you that the camp certainly doesn't do that, I do hope you're not too suprised. Because many of the central characters are female, the storyline is I think 'gentler' insofar that were this written to portray male characters the script world have been more overt in expressing their desire. Funny, amusing, I wouldn't have called this a 'dark' comedy as Netflix did.

The Railway Children
(1970)

An all time Children's movie classic
An impromptu (but timely, as will become apparent) look at BBC iPlayer brought me to this movie. As the 50th anniversary of the release draws near (20th December), my own is days away also. How I've never seen this before escapes me.

This is a charming children's story of a prosperous family falling on hard times. Their substantial means are taken from them, leading to a move from gentrified London to the wilds of Yorkshire. The family bear this 'loss' with admirable good character. Escapades ensue for the three children in the scenic (and surprisingly sunny) worth valley. The coda of the film leading to a satisfying and happy end for one and all.

They just don't make films like this anymore, a gentler, more humane story for a time likewise (at least to me growing up in the 70's). A great family movie!

Nightcrawler
(2014)

Great story, believable study of TV news reportage
A grifter looking for a way to make money, becomes intrigued by TV news journalists filming a car accident on the freeway. Via a stolen bike which he trades for camera equipment he starts to compete with established crews for work.

Jake Glyenhall plays a believable chancer who has an unwavering focus on his job coupled with a psychosis that becomes increasingly apparent across the course of the movie. Rene Russo's character is a Director of News for one of the many LA cable stations, unfortunately with low ratings. Glyenhall's character offers her the chance to redeem her journalistic credentials in the eyes of the Station bosses, by purchasing his footage. There is a very real moral dilemma presented here; 'What footage constitutes reportage versus voyeurism?'. Nevertheless, Russo's character sees through his veil, that he is not a 'latent' observer, with the ever more shocking footage he brings to her, making one of the closing scenes all the more curious...? If it weren't for that slightly discordant part of the script, this movie would have scored higher. Recommended.

Une nouvelle amie
(2014)

Nuanced romantic drama
Picked this up from iPlayer without knowing quite what to expect. A tragedy begets a husbands strange way of coping. His befriending of his wife's best friend leads to them both embarking on a friendship that neither of them might imagined. There's some great cinematography and if not gripping, then a beguiling storyline.

Dream House
(2011)

suspenseful and intriguing thriller
Caught this on iPlayer, a little known (to me at least) thriller with the husband-wife team of Daniel Craig and Rachel Weiz headlining. The story trajectory is at first glance straightforward, but that quickly starts to dissipate as you move towards the middle of the movie.

Both Craig, Weiz and the supporting cast do a great job of carrying a reasonably complex plot that is condensed into just over 80 min. The premise of the film is a good one, but not so unsurprising to the seasoned movie go-er. Plenty suspenseful and intriguing once you've summited the initial shock.

Life
(2020)

Robust drama detailing the interweaving lives of the principal characters
A robust drama, with great characterization and storytelling. Filmed largely in and around (Greater) South Manchester.

Tales of the Unexpected
(1979)

Remarkably good short stories
My younger self recalled having watched these short stories back in the 70's (80's) when they first aired. The recent re-runs have been a real treat, although owing to time, I have only been able to capture a small sample.

Each episode is a short story in its own right and the storylines vary across the psychological thriller / horror genres. All intriguing and rarely disappointing. Recent series such as; 'Inside Number 9' are close relatives and indeed more modern takes on this genre (also worthy of a watch). I guess I should also own up to the 'nostalgia' value of such a series. All in all a great watch from a master storyteller!

We're the Millers
(2013)

An enjoyable journey through an implausible plot
I watched this on the strength of Jennifer Aniston's performance in a 'Life of Crime' (worth a watch!). Not a comedy per se, but a great vehicle for demonstrating the breadth of Aniston's acting. However, I digress.

'We're the Millers' has great ensemble casting here, that means the jokes work well. The sightly implausible plot plays to the ridiculousness of the situations the family find themselves in. It's all good. Worth a try ;-)

People Just Do Nothing
(2014)

Original sitcom - wry look at life in the city suburbs
Can't believe I didn't pick up on this sooner. A peculiarly British take on a crew of DJ's hoping to make it big via their pirate radio station. The thing is none of them are particularly good. The underdog theme gives the character's appeal that world have otherwise been lacking. You do inevitably root for the likes of Grindah, Beats, Steve's and Chabuddy G, hoping at least some of their ill fated ventures come to fruition. The writers obey the first rule of creating a plausible story, by writing about that of which they know. I'm really enjoying it. Worth a watch!

Passenger 57
(1992)

Wesley Snipes vehicle - does what you might expect
Caught this on Sony Movies recently. It hasn't aged especially well. The principal baddie looks like Michael Bolton and therefore may start balladeering at a moment's notice.

Doubtless this served Wes well in respect of showing off his martial arts prowess to the producers of the Blade franchise. In fact the choreography of the fight scenes is the best part of the movie, all in all I'm not sure this would have been good in the early nineties either.

Blade Runner 2049
(2017)

A worthy successor to the original
This was a big ask of Denis Villeneuve. In my estimation 'Bladerunner' was very probably the best sci-fi movie (movie?) of the 20th century. Recapitulating, the set, storyline, dialogue was a great challenge; but I'm pleased to say I think '2049' lives up to the expectation.

It doesn't eclipse the original, but certainly updates and extends the storyline in a coherent and plausible fashion.

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