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Rick and Morty

Your time is too valuable to be wasted on garbage like this
Rick and Morty is many things. It is a sci-fi comedy/family melodrama mash-up from the minds of Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon. It is a show that manages to somehow provide a plethora of talented actors (who, by the way, do not deserve this) with a steady paycheque. It is arguably a condonement of f*sc*sm through its continued insistence on framing nihilism as the only logical worldview for an individual to possess. It is not, however, funny.

Let me be clear: I love adult comedy. I love it when animated shows made specifically for that age bracket manage to blend dirty humour with genuinely witty writing. In a perfect world, every animated comedy would be as amazing as Archer or Futurama. Sadly, and perhaps not surprisingly, Rick and Morty is nowhere near as good as either of those programmes. Simply put, it is a mess, and not even a beautiful one at that.

You see, rather than actually be clever, Harmon and Roiland are satisfied with just thinking that they're being clever. They like to think that alluding to their main character's tragic backstory is enough to get the audience invested in his plight despite the numerous atrocities he commits in the name of proving his outlook on the world is both morally superior and almost always correct. They like to think that constantly belittling and making fun of the patriarch of the Smith family for not living up to the traditionally masculine example set by his father-in-law is a revolutionary and bold concept instead of the same tired cliché that every single other animated sitcom produced in the last thirty years has done to death at this stage. They like to think that blatantly ignoring character development in favour of allegedly poking fun at the rigid and formulaic nature of television as a medium is edgy and cool instead of being incredibly frustrating for an audience that wants to see characters grow and change in their entertainment. They like to think that they are masterminds for pulling this off so convincingly that their entire fanbase has fooled themselves into thinking they are somehow the kings of comedic storytelling, and they also like to be able to blame that same fanbase for taking the 'wrong' message away from their show despite their inability to actually write it well enough so that it is made clear that they do not condone the actions of their protagonist within the programme's actual text.

So, yeah, it's basically a show composed mostly of mediocrity and bad decisions mixed in with painfully unfunny attempts at humour that rely far more on the delivery of the individual actors (not including Roiland, whose ability to perform dialogue with any emotion other than blatant disdain or intolerable self-satisfaction is practically non-existent) than I think any of the cast or crew would like to admit. My advice is to avoid it like the plague and watch something that is actually worth your time instead; at least the likes of Archer or Futurama won't (or, in the case of the latter, didn't) make fun of you for waiting with eager anticipation for new episodes to drop.

Oh, and could someone please make sure that Sarah Chalke, Spencer Grammer, and Chris Parnell are okay? I'm not entirely convinced that they aren't all being held at gunpoint whenever they turn up at publicity events and start waxing lyrical about how clever the writing on this show is...

Evil Alien Conquerors

Irredeemably stupid but strangely funny
I should hate this movie. I should loathe this movie to my very core. I'm one of the few people on Earth who hates Will Ferrell and his obnoxiously idiotic brand of 'comedy', for crying out loud, and yet I just cannot bring myself to say that I even dislike this movie. In fact, I kind it?

Listen, it's no cinematic achievement- not by a longshot- but Diedrich Bader and Chris Parnell's commitment to the bit is admirable, even if the both of them would probably prefer it if we were to forget about this little stain on their respective filmographies. There's something oddly winning about My-ik and Du-ug, from their desire to clog their pores with concealer to their complete inability to inflict an agonising death on one insolent b*st*rd of a cow, and it's mostly their oddly winning nature that does wonders for a script that is oftentimes more beer commercial than sci-fi comedy.

Throughout my entire viewing experience, I found myself wondering why on Earth such a ridiculously stupid film was making me laugh so frequently and sincerely, and on reflection, it's probably down to the number of genuinely funny jokes to be found beneath this B-movie's veneer of overwhelming stupidity. Gags about the titular evil alien conquerors feeling incredibly sexy in bathrobes or being unable to resist developing a drinking problem despite it not being one of their objectives never failed to make me giggle, and the fact that a film this sophomoric manages to wring most of its comedy out of its main characters' sheer incompetence rather than simply resorting to sexist or homophobic humour is honestly an unexpected bonus. Going into this, I expected something akin to Anchorman or a lesser SNL sketch; instead I got an unapologetically goofy and oftentimes delightful riff on slacker comedies and 80s schlock sci-fi alike.

Ultimately, I'd like to think that Chris Matheson would almost certainly die painlessly for producing such a ridiculous but legitimately entertaining film, one that is not nearly on the same level as the excellent Bill and Ted movies, but has enough self-awareness and cheesy charm to still be worth a look.

Arthur Christmas

Ho-Ho-Ho? More like So-So-So...
When I was twelve, Arthur Christmas was the best animated holiday movie out there. Now, eight years on, my perspective on this particular festive flick has soured considerably.

To its credit, Arthur Christmas does a lot of things right. The animation is nice- sometimes dazzling, even if the character models tend to dip into the uncanny valley from time to time- and the themes of inter-generational conflict, self-acceptance, and the importance of bringing joy to others are all explored well enough without making the entire film feel cheesy or overly-saccharine. Most of the comedy lands (provided you're a small child, that is) and the voice cast, which includes the likes of James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Ashley Jensen, Jim Broadbent, and Imelda Staunton, does their utmost with the material they're given. It's a perfectly servicable holiday feature, and that would be fine...if this wasn't Aardman we were talking about.

It's hard to believe that the same people who came up with Creature Comforts, Chicken Run, and the endlessly charming Wallace and Gromit franchise are responsible for such an uninspired and almost gratingly child-friendly product, and nowhere is this more clear than in the kind of humour on display. While characters like Nighy's mischievous Grandsanta and Laurie's tightly-wound Steve get to deliver snippets of Aardman's signature witty dialogue ("Christmas is not a time for emotion" is still a mainstay in our household's lexicon), the film's protagonist is sadly far less lucky, as is his main sidekick.

Accident-prone Arthur and over-zealous Bryony are, for the most part, relegated to screaming their dialogue in the hopes of making the audience laugh, transforming an otherwise entertaining experience into a near-insufferable one. I'm not entirely sure when it became popular to fill children's films with nothing more than perpetually shrieking and almost fatally incompetent main characters, but Arthur Christmas has to be the most egregious example of this thinking in action next only to 2013's Frozen. The fact that the film wastes both McAvoy and Jensen's talents in favour of making them wail into a microphone for a paycheque is another story entirely, rendering the entire experience even more frustrating for the adults in the audience who are aware of just how funny these actors can be with genuinely good material.

Therein lies the main problem with Arthur Christmas: it's just not funny enough. Gone is the absurdist humour, the clever sight gags, and the plain silliness to be found in previous Aardman efforts, replaced with limp one-liners, predictable puns, and uninspired setpieces that are representative of the entire film's lack of creativity. While there are plenty of heart-warming moments to be found within, there just aren't enough laughs to make the overall experience worthwhile, no matter how emotionally satisfying it may be to see Gwen finally opening her bike on Christmas morning and Steve handing the reigns of the operation over to his younger brother by the end of film.

All in all, Arthur Christmas is a passable holiday flick, one that will surely delight young children but will more likely than not leave adults yearning for the Aardman they knew and loved when they were nippers.


Pure, Lazy Drivel
When I first heard about Disenchantment, my gut reaction was to elicit a by now all-too-familiar groan of exasperation. A comedy series that makes fun of the ridiculous nature of the fantasy genre, as well as the 'un-feminist' nature of the fairytale princess by positioning its female lead as feisty and rebellious? Wow, how original! It's not as if Disney has been beating that long-dead horse for the past five years with films like Frozen and Moana, not to mention films like Shrek, Enchanted, and The Princess Bride that all affectionately parodied these tropes years beforehand! And let's not forget Bender's Game, a Futurama special that did exactly the same thing as the latter batch of these films! But, setting my complaints aside, I presumed that maybe there could be something of worth within this series. After all, Groening and his creative team have always been known for tackling creative conventions with a mixture of biting wit and genuine affection for them; maybe Disenchantment could capture some of this magic again while also bringing something new to the table?

Yeah, no.

Set in the magical realm of Dreamland, the series follows Bean, a rebellious, alcoholic princess who gets up to all kinds of wacky adventures with her personal demon Luci and her elf friend creatively named Elfo, all to overturn the rigid gender roles assigned to women in most fantasy stories and offer a fresh take on the least, that's what we were promised by Groening and Netflix during the run-up to this original serialised comedy's premiere.

What we get instead is none of these things. It is a poorly executed, utterly unappealing mess of a show, one that spends most of its time either forcing its characters to wander around aimlessly while forgetting that one of its main selling points was the interconnected nature of its episodes or making painfully unfunny jokes that were far more entertaining the first time they appeared in Futurama (or, failing that, simply don't bother at all to properly set up the punchline). In a word, this show is lazy, an attitude that is noticeable in every single aspect of its production.

For example, over the course of ten episodes, none of the characters evolve beyond the shallow stereotypes they are meant to be parodying in the first place, especially in Bean's case. Instead of rebelling for any good reason, possibly against the strict gender roles enforced by the era she lives in, for example, she merely does so because being a princess is so hard you guys, another concept that has been flogged to death by Disney long before even The Simpsons existed. In the case of Elfo, his character undergoes a 180 degree turnaround not five minutes after he is introduced to us, another example of the creative team's utter carelessness with regards to character. When we first meet Elfo, he comes across as a rather raunchy and cynical character, rejecting his life of sugar-coated happiness and instead choosing to seek out more visceral experiences elsewhere, but once he enters the 'real' world, he instantly turns into an adorkable idiot á la Fry from Futurama, wandering around a battlefield with an oblivious smile on his face. Even Luci is a mere rehash of Bender, carrying himself with the same amoral irreverence so typical of the loud-mouthed robot. As such, when their lives are put in danger and I'm asked to care about them, I feel absolutely no investment whatsoever, a response that is not helped by the fact that nothing in the show has any lasting consequences up until the last three episodes. This is just another example of the creative team's complete lack of effort; when events that you think would have world-changing consequences have absolutely no impact on the next episode despite the promises of the show's creator that the series is serialised, such as when Bean turns one of her suitors into a pig or when she releases a swarm of demons upon the realm, how can one remain invested in the world and its characters to actually want to keep watching it? Problems like these, when combined with the lack of consistent sound design (some scenes where the characters are running include their footsteps, others don't) and the unappealing art style, at least in my opinion, only seem to reinforce the idea that maybe the people behind this project just weren't really trying to create a good show, or even a passable one, at all.

In short, while Disenchantment has the potential to be something truly empowering and unique, its slapdash construction and over-reliance on better material, as well as the very tropes it promised to lampoon, means that it falls utterly flat when watched alongside Groening's other cartoon series. My advice? Re-watch Futurama instead; after all, Disenchanted could easily be seen as a far inferior version of the same show, only now, it's medieval!

Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas

An Enjoyable Festive Anthology
Full disclosure: I am well aware that this film is nowhere near a masterpiece. Some (if not most) of the segments fall flat upon revisiting them as an adult, the animation of the side characters is passable at best, and Goofy's section of the film is as cringe-worthy as I remember it being when I was a child...but even with all that said, I still can't bring myself to hate or even dislike this movie! Maybe it's the festive and cheerful nature of the whole thing, or perhaps my own nostalgia for Christmas' past when I would watch this film constantly, but in the end, my only feeling towards this movie is pure festive joy!

Following a similar pattern to Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas, this film serves as an anthology of shorts, each of which focus on a member of the Sensational Six and their respective relatives as they try to get through the Christmas period without any major disasters. This inevitably proves much harder than it looks, causing all sorts of holiday-related hijinks and hair-brained schemes to ensue. Minnie and Daisy get overly competitive in an ice-skating spectacular, Donald's nephews mail themselves to the North Pole in a Mission Impossible-style attempt to get their names on the nice list, Goofy causes all kinds of embarrassment for Max when he invites his new girlfriend home for the holidays, Donald struggles to find his Christmas spirit during his relentless pursuit of a nice mug of hot chocolate, and Pluto runs away to the North Pole after Mickey scolds him for ruining his Christmas decorations; standard scenarios with a festive twist, essentially.

While all of these scenarios may seem clichéd or hackneyed nowadays, the addition of classic Disney characters, festive cheer, some fairly solid comedic writing (such as the 'Jail-Break Bob' doll's one-liners and Jim Cummings' exasperated rendition of Blitzen the reindeer) and a few heartwarming moments (the triplets' decision to put Uncle Scrooge's name on Santa's list in the place of their own names is one example) ensures that the shorts still remain entertaining after multiple rewatches, especially if you're pining for some old-fashioned Disney magic to brighten up your Christmas or even if you just want to watch something around the period with any small children in your household.

Of the shorts listed, my personal favourites are probably 'Belles on Ice' and 'Mickey's Dog-Gone Christmas', not only because they have somewhat better visuals and writing, but also because of their clever nods to the continuity of past Disney films, primarily Fantasia (at one point, for example, Mickey proclaims that he'd "have to be a sorcerer to clean up [Pluto's] mess"!). 'Belles on Ice' is particularly impressive, especially since it makes good use of its soundtrack and animation to tell the story visually rather than simply stating it outright through cumbersome dialogue, and perfectly illustrates that this film, while clearly designed with children in mind, can still appeal to adults in a variety of ways. And, in all honesty, it's always nice to hear Wayne Allwine's voice coming from Mickey!

While not a masterwork by any stretch of the imagination, Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas manages to blend touching moments of sincerity, well-crafted comedy, and sneaky nods to extended Disney canon together to create a film that perfectly serves enough festive cheer for adults and children alike. I certainly intend to share this movie with my children when the time comes!

The Five

A superb drama with hardly any missteps
*WARNING: a couple of serious spoilers ahead, both of which relate to significant plot points in the series. Read ahead at your own risk!*

With the likes of Euro 2016 and Wimbledon currently on our screens, what a relief it is to see a well-written and brilliantly acted drama come onto shelves in nearby DVD stores. After the veritable deluge of unimpressive series on the BBC and other channels in recent months, Harlan Coben's crime thriller The Five was refreshing, addictive and above all else, intelligent.

From the minute that I heard about it in April I was intrigued. I love a good police procedural, and having watched the preview clips on Sky's YouTube channel, I felt a very distinctive 'Luther' vibe emulating from this particular show. Since my provider doesn't offer Sky channels, I awaited the July release date for the boxset with immense excitement and anticipation. Suffice to say, I was not disappointed.

The plot is all kinds of complicated, with unexpected twists and turns that are by now a staple of anything remotely connected to Harlan Coben. This does not mean that the show is predictable, however; it is anything but. The multiple revelations from the characters are handled deftly and with a witty and sharp script it would be a surprise if anyone had figured out the mystery of Jesse's disappearance by the final episode. It has its fair share of light-hearted and gut-wrenching moments alike, all of which smoothly weave into the larger plot in unexpected ways. This, coupled with great characters and wonderful cinematography and direction, is what makes The Five one of the best recent dramas on telly.

Speaking of the characters, each and every one is well-crafted and portrayed perfectly by the actors involved. Tom Cullen is suitably addled and frustrated by the possible re-emergence of his long lost brother as Mark, O-T Fagbenle plays the determined and diligent Danny with whole-hearted conviction and a dash of humour, our Batman-esque figure of Slade (or perhaps he's more like Watchmen's Rorschach!) is portrayed with both charm and charisma by Lee Ingleby, and Pru's disillusionment and uncertainty in life is vividly realised in Sarah Solemani's performance. Both Geraldine James and Michael Maloney also deserve praise as Mark and Jesse's frightened but hopeful parents Julie and Alan. There is not a bum note in this area of the production.

So, why only eight stars if the show comes with such high praise from me? There were but two problems on the whole for me in the entire series, a huge feat in and of itself! The first comes in Episode 5 when, after his friend Britnay (yes, Britnay) has been murdered, Slade immediately buggers off into the woods to have a good old-fashioned mope that even Batman would think was OTT. The second comes in a later episode (8, to be exact), when Slade is arrested in connection with a murder simply because his van was outside the fellow's place at the time he was killed. My one question is this; if the murder was also connected with the other one that they suspect Jesse was involved in, and if Danny was the investigating officer on this case, how could he not have known that Slade had been arrested? However, I will admit that is a minor gripe since the plot required Slade to have a sample of his DNA taken so as to heighten the sense of tension in the last two episodes.

Aside from that, I cannot recommend The Five highly enough. With a superb score (one that includes the likes of ABC's 'Poison Arrow'), pitch-perfect performances from all involved, fantastic cinematography and a riveting plot that keeps you guessing right up until the final episode, The Five is not a series you'll want to miss.

Captain America: Civil War

Pretty Underwhelming, it Has to Be Said
Let me start off by saying that I didn't come into this film with very high hopes.

When I heard that Civil War was the next comic book that Marvel was going to loosely adapt, I was concerned. Personally, I hated the comic, simply because it had too many characters, not enough substance and inconsistent characterisation out the wazoo. I was incredibly worried when they announced that this was their next project after the brilliant Age of Ultron (which I absolutely adored) and the surprisingly fresh and inventive Ant-Man. I was also deeply concerned that the Russo brothers were directing. While I did enjoy Winter Soldier, I found the tone to be bit inconsistent and worried that this would be the same.

As it turned out, the tone was perfectly fine, but in the end, I came out of this film feeling...apathetic, really. I wasn't emotionally invested, I wasn't riled up, and I wasn't all that interested in what happened to the Avengers by the end, all of which are a first for me when it comes to a Marvel movie.

Normally, I enjoy anything that involves the excellent Chris Evans and the wonderful Robert Downey Jr combating tyranny and evil with the rest of the team, but here I just felt exhausted. For one, the plot is unfocused. It moves at a break-neck pace with hardly any stopping to breathe, without any real character development (outside of Wanda, Vision, Spidey and Panther) and without real substance. By the end, I was so tired after seeing this film that I felt as though I could sleep for 70 years without any aid from suspended animation.

Then there's the lacklustre villain, Zemo, who gets the generic 'my-family-is-dead-because-of-the-recklessness-of-the-heroes' motivation that is extremely tired at this stage. To be perfectly honest, I don't really understand why this film needed a villain. The comic book didn't have an antagonist outside of Reed, Pym and Tony's recklessness and Cap being blinded by his own motivations. The conflict should have come from within the group, and Cap and Tony should have been fighting due to their ideological differences instead of having this villain lurking in the background. I genuinely feel that it would have been much more fulfilling if it had focused on just the team and their internal struggles, which could have led to fruitful interaction and development of their personalities.

Finally, I really disliked the whole 'he-killed-my-mom' thing with Tony, and the fact that Cap didn't bother telling him this incredibly important information that could have torn the team apart at a later date, as it did here. I understand that Cap was trying to convince himself that he was protecting Tony when he was just protecting himself, but it really bothered me. Despite the fact that Bucky is his best friend, I really don't think Cap would conceal such delicate information from his team-mates. It actually reminded me of him chastising Tony for doing exactly the same thing in AoU in relation to Ultron and his covert creation of the AI.

That said, there were some things I really enjoyed. I loved the introductions of both Spidey (who gets the best quips, IMO) and Black Panther, and especially loved to see Ant-Man and his fanboying over meeting Captain America. Giant-Man's transformation made me beam with delight and the whole airport scene was exhilarating and felt like the event we were promised. I enjoyed the chemistry between Wanda and Vision and Sam and Bucky's bickering over absolutely everything. Plus, I was really satisfied with the tribute to Agent Carter and I loved the quips and subtle nuances of Friday. It feels nice to have an Irish voice among all the American ones.

In the end, however, I wasn't overly-impressed with the results of this film. It was passable, really, and personally I feel it was on a par with Guardians. I'm still looking forward to seeing Doctor Strange and Ragnarok, but honestly, Civil War was not my cup of tea, and really not as good as First Avenger or Winter Soldier.

Still, they can't all be great, right?

Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham

Crap-Man, More Like
It's been five months since I first bought this game and I still want my money back.

When I heard that a third Lego Batman game was being released, I had my doubts. I thoroughly enjoyed the second in the series a few years earlier and I still have fond memories of playing the first in co-op with my father on the Wii. I was extremely sceptical about this game: surely they couldn't top the hilarity of the previous games in the franchise, not to mention the excellent Lord of the Rings and Marvel Universe instalments.

Short answer; they couldn't, they didn't, and they probably shouldn't have tried to.

Long answer; this game is not worth the £50 to £60 asking price- heck, it's not even worth £5! Trying to improve on their already solid formula, the development team behind Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham decided to incorporate a new mechanic from Lego Marvel Superheroes into it's game-play- the huge roster of DC characters. Boy, do they suck though.

You know that the characters are tremendously revolting when you (a) contemplate cutting off your ears in the place of listening to them, (b) mute the TV so you can slog through this game in peace or (c) turn the thing off altogether and go play a good Lego game- maybe Indiana Jones or something.

And seriously, who's idea was it to make the Green Lantern worlds look like we were in the middle of a British Gas ad? You know, the ones where home owners live in little houses on separate meteorites? Playing this game, sadly, makes me feel ill at the sight of it, and the lack of over-world maps to pinpoint collectibles is frustrating when all you can see for miles around is the same ruddy landscape over and over again.

I hate to sound negative about Lego games, but it's sort of a case of "the more I play this, the less I like it." Don't get me wrong, the story starts off well enough, but then descends into a kind of discount DreamWorks (before they got into the swing of making actually good movies), with pop culture references everywhere and a lack of real narrative.

There are two positives, however, hence the two star rating; the classic Batman level (the main reason I bought this product) and the Superman theme. Yes, one good level and a piece of music nearly 40 years old are the only saving graces of this game.

Lego Batman: Beyond Gotham? More like Lego Crap-Man: Bunch of Nothingness.

Fantastic Four

A Fair Enough Adaptation
As a comic book adaptation, Fantastic Four is average, at best. As a flick that is unrelated to Marvel Studios, it's a premise that could really work and one that could be seen as a fairly decent film. While it is nowhere near to the standard of some of the more recent Marvel movies, it is a fun piece in itself, and to some extent you can imagine that it would exist in the same universe as Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy.

This is not to say that this film isn't flawed- it is, mainly in terms of the climax (Doom just doesn't feel like a particularly threatening villain or even a real foil to the efforts of the team- more like an inconvenience, really), but it still is enjoyable in some parts.

The performances are actually quite good. Gruffudd is a nice choice for Richards and Alba is more than passable as Sue, but I really love Chiklis and Evans. When I picture the Thing, I can imagine that a man like Chiklis would be playing him, and the same goes for Evans with Johnny Storm. Yes, he's more remembered for Captain America, but he's still great in this role.

The characterisations do make some kind of sense. It's understandable why Ben would have a strong yearning to change back due to his appearance, but it also makes a kind of sense for Reed and Sue, too- they're scientists, so maybe they want to be recognised for their intellects and not their physical feats. While I normally don't like superhero movies where supers complain about having powers, I admittedly understand why they wouldn't really want them here (but that doesn't mean that I don't enjoy Johnny's love of his abilities).

The special effects are really well done, especially the Human Torch's "flaming on", as it were. I particularly love to see films using prosthetics in the place of CGI, so the Thing's rocky exterior is a highlight for me.

The only real negative for me is the climax. I don't really mind that there isn't a lot of action because, to me, Fantastic Four is a character-driven piece, but when it does roll along, it's a tiny bit anticlimactic. One of the things that irks me about comic book movies (and movies in general) is the whole "Remember that thing that we said (in passing, a half-hour ago) is probably a bad idea? Well you need to do it now." It bugged me in Iron Man 2 with the repulsors and it really bugged me here with Johnny's supernova effect. The final fight happens in five minutes, then boom! Doom's frozen and he's on a ship to Latveria. If Doom had been built up a bit more as a threat and not just as a fly trying to get at the proverbial cake, this could have worked. The final fight in Avengers Assemble took about a half-hour and it was epic. When it only lasts five minutes a la Iron Man 2 (and yes, even Thor to a small extent with the Destroyer), it's such a big letdown.

That said, Fantastic Four is a passable flick. Watch it on a flight to entertain yourself or even when it's on the telly- it's not compulsory viewing, but it is a nice little piece that works in isolation from the Marvel mythos.

If you forget that it's a Marvel movie, it's a fine flick.

The Looney Tunes Show

Really Bland and Quite Unfunny
One morning during the summer time, I sat in front of my television in search of something good to watch. Seeing the words "Looney Tunes" on the guide, I assumed that these were the original cartoons that I had viewed as a child which still make me howl with laughter, much like Tom and Jerry. So, oblivious, I switched it on. Surely it would be funny- I mean, it's Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, what's not to love? Well, sitting there watching an assortment of cartoons, I found myself rather unamused. Heck, I walked out half-way through some sort of Speedy Gonzalez musical number simply because I was so bored.

I have nothing wrong with the format- that is, the fact that the characters all live in suburban homes- it's just that the jokes were hilariously unfunny. The episode I viewed revolved around Daffy's purse being snatched at the mall and I found myself sitting there with a huge frown on my face. Bugs wasn't even that funny- the best joke in it was when he used his good ol' reverse psychology trick on Daffy to lock him out of the house. Apart from that, it kinda sucked.

As well as this, the characters are actually really annoying. I even found Porky Pig and Yosemite Sam irritating- a first for me.

To be honest, Looney Tunes is all about conflict. The Road Runner running from the Wile E Coyote, Daffy and Bugs' feud, Elmer's wish to finally track down that Screwy Wabbit and Sylvester hoping to eat little Tweety. The humour of the original episodes came from the conflict between these characters, but now that Bugs and Daffy are having normal conversations with each other with little to no real visible hatred (of course, there's a little bit of resentment there) the humour is gone for me. Also, it seems as if Daffy is now the main character. This is not a problem with a show, it's a matter of opinion. I've just always preferred Bugs to Daffy! Oh, and before I wrap up, I'm not too sure why they've decided to re-work the format of the Road Runner cartoons- it used to be five or six botched plans of the Coyote's, but now it's limited to one. Also, what's with those musical numbers? Anyway, I didn't enjoy my viewing and I don't think this show is for me. If you prefer old-school Looney Tunes then you should stick with them, and if you enjoy seeing the Looney Tunes characters in suburban scenarios then check this show out.

However, it's really not my scene.

Inspector George Gently: Gently Among Friends
Episode 3, Season 7

Gently on a High- An Excellent Episode
What a terrific new episode this was, even better than last week! The investigation was great and engaging, and the main cast were on top form as per usual.

This time around, the case centres on a man who was last seen at his mate's restaurant and who seems to have taken a tumble from the towering monolith of an overpass into a pile of rubbish, still present due to the refusal of workers to collect waste until they are given better pay. Gently, Bacchus (now an Inspector- to quote Victor Meldrew, I don't believe it!) and Coles delve deeper into the victim's life, and learn that his wife- slightly unstable in her suburban home- is a heavy gambler and that he and his pals were fond of brawls together in a 'just as mates' kind of way. At the same time, Rachel stresses over her Sergeant's exam, while John struggles to even say hello to Gemma.

The story this week is executed well and is engaging until the last moment. It truly emanates the vibes given off by earlier episodes as it focuses on the bond between Gently and Bacchus, as well as their friendships with Taylor and Rachel, which are coming along nicely. There are some good laughs this week, too, with the pair becoming drunk and wandering around their office with glasses balanced on their heads, as well as Gently calling poor Taylor 'Harpo' due to a chest infection which has rendered him unable to speak. I enjoyed the fact that the issue of Bacchus and Gemma's relationship has been cleared up nicely, too- however, it's the moments between the regulars that really shine.

The suspects are intriguing and the struggle between the three men who were so close is interesting to watch. Despite the fact that there are a limited number of suspects this week, I felt surprisingly hooked on the episode and I can't fathom why! One doesn't need to over-analyse the events of the mystery, they can just enjoy this one for what it is- a stylish, well-crafted detective tale with plenty of humour and a good story at the heart of it, along with a strong bond emerging between the main three.

Witty and well-written, this series of George Gently is fast becoming one of my favourites!

Inspector George Gently: Breathe in the Air
Episode 2, Season 7

Gently with Improvement- A Well-Done Episode
What an excellent, top-notch episode this week! Much better than the last, with a really affecting plot and brilliant characterisation.

Unlike the previous episode, this one provides ample insight into the lives of the main characters as well as into the actual murder enquiry itself. Spinning the tale of a suicidal GP, Gently begins to investigate the goings on in a linings mill within the boundaries of Rachel's small hometown, where she and her friend Esther used to play until she died of cancer at fifteen years due to asbestos poisoning.

Also in this episode, we see the proposed promotion of both Bacchus and Coles to DI and DS, respectively, and some great moments between the pair, one of which has Coles becoming fed up with John griping over a splinter and her resorting to yanking it out with ol' fashioned tape.

The relationship between Bacchus and Gemma is also handled much more effectively this week, actually reading like a heart-felt goodbye between two grown people in their late thirties than a false promise made by a teenager.

Bacchus, while remaining his usual cock-sure self, is more tolerable and genuinely likable this week, played excellently by Ingleby, but the real star here is McGrillis, showing the sensitive, fragile side to Rachel's character extremely well. Shaw is out-shined by his two subordinates, they're that good, and I hope that if Bacchus does become our lead that the friendship between these two great characters will blossom fully.

Plus, we get a little moon landings easter egg among the mystery, making audience members such as myself- a landings nut- sing praises.

Heartfelt, well-written and executed brilliantly, this is what detective shows should be- top-notch, quality who-dunnits with well-done story-telling and great character development. Excellent- a huge improvement on last week!

Inspector George Gently: Gently with the Women
Episode 1, Season 7

Gently with the Plotting- Needs Some Work
So, Inspector George Gently has finally returned to our screens for his seventh season- hurrah, says I! After the last season's good round-up of stories, I decided to become fully invested in this universe and in the characters, and so far all is going well on this front.

The mystery this week revolves around the rape and murder of a young woman who was last seen in the nearby coach station a few miles up from the river, just within the shadow of the ever-present, foreboding cathedral. Gently and Bacchus are called in to investigate, all while they make efforts to discourage to frequenting of a brothel in the same area, and soon the DCI uncovers hundreds of ignored complaints of rape- twenty-one of which were overseen by Walter Nunn. This places the good Sergeant in a spot of bother, since he constantly pops off early to go round to Nunn's house and engage in an affair with Gemma, the rival cop's wife.

While the plot is well-written and the performances are electric, the actual murder- what we have come to see- is side-lined by Gently's emerging illness, although nonetheless his health woes remain affecting, as well as Bacchus' teenage-like fling with Gemma. Those two effortlessly spout out lines like a pair of teens reluctant to return to separate universities after a long summer holiday, but knowing the approximate length of most of John's loves, this one will be done and dusted by the end of the third episode. This is not a weakness, however- at times, it is understandable that Gemma- a woman suffocated by her husband's ignorant ways- would turn to someone else for love, just not Bacchus, who in this episode spends the majority of his time making crass comments about rape ("Right, who's been raping ya then, pet?" he says to a prostitute after offering her a cuppa, before threatening her with charges for wasting police time) and being a little swine to Rachel. Obviously, Lee Ingleby's versatility is boundless, since this is the man who played George Mottershead less than a year ago in Our Zoo! On that subject, Lisa McGrillis is fantastic as Coles- a feisty, spirited, intelligent and grounded young WPC who's more than a match for her pig-ignorant superior. She's quickly becoming my favourite character, next of course to Taylor, who is nowhere to be seen this time around. Oh, and next to John- hypocrite, much?! In all, this was a fairly good episode, but the relationship problems with Bacchus and Gemma need to be resolved, otherwise poor old George will be dead in no time from prolonged exposure to sappy plot lines! Hopefully, the series can only get better from here on out.

Ashes to Ashes

Fair Viewing, Not as Well-Executed as LoM
For the record, I must state two things before I write this review;

1)I really loved Life on Mars, especially Sam and Gene's bile-filled, witty narks at one another and the fact that each of the story lines tied into his predicament back home in 2006 and events in his childhood in some way or another.

2) I have only seen the first season of Ashes to Ashes, so it is likely I will return to review the next two once I have completed my viewing.

Now then, we can commence! Life on Mars was an innovative series, cleverly tying timey-wimey plot devices, well-written and lovable characters and brilliantly dramatic story-telling together to form one man's struggle to return to his own time. So, with a fair bit of skepticism, I began to watch Ashes to Ashes, just to resolve the whole 'was it a construct, was it limbo' dilemma in my head.

It would be a lie to say that I despise the fact that it's now Hunt's show, because placing Philip Glenister as the lead is a stroke of genius. I don't know a person alive who detests the old "overweight, over-the-hill" DCI with "an unhealthy obsession with male bonding" and a love of fast cars and kicking in nonces across the country. With him is Chris Skelton, dumb and dim-witted but enthusiastic in his work- and my favourite of the characters- and Ray Carling, still violent and thuggish but more likable this time around, along with Chris' WPC girlfriend Shaz, intelligent and sweet in her world view but not afraid to take on the sexist blokes that litter her workplace. In the place of Annie, Shaz is a worthy successor.

However, I do seem to have a persistent problem with DI Alex Hardy, mainly because I can't emote with her as I did with Sam and due to the fact that Keeley Hawes- however hard she tries- is not as good an actor in my eyes as John Simm. She's quite annoying and aggravating, in my opinion, and I can't feel any sense of jeopardy over her situation. With Sam, one felt in peril at every moment, with one episode including him coming close to death at the hands of a hostage taker and his mother turning off his life support simultaneously, but Alex hardly ever receives messages from our world, instead being haunted by a sinister clown warning her of events to come in her assumed "dreamscape." This, I feel, is truly not as effective as Sam's predicament, seeing how Alex could just be a woman from the 80s and not from 2008 at all.

The plotting is still well-done, with Gene kicking seven bells out of anyone who won't give up the goods and being constantly accompanied by an air of mighty self-importance, Chris still acting the idiot at times and Ray remaining as sexist as ever in his outlook. That's all well and good, since we've seen these characters before, but again Alex's story seems to be the weakest of the series.

Since her shooting was linked to her parents' death, she endeavours to save them from their grisly fate at the hands of a car bomb, which more than rings a few bells with me. Sam wasn't run down due to his father's illegal activities, but he still felt the pressure of saving his idol while ignoring any negative and blatantly obvious evidence suggesting that maybe Victor Tyler wasn't the nice bloke Sam suspected him to be. Caroloine Price, Alex's mother, truly is a nasty piece of work, and the writers don't hide behind the smokescreen they offered for Vic in LoM. To be honest, I can't blame the killer for blowing her up, since she comes across as a real- well, a not-very-nice person, anyway.

In short, Ashes to Ashes is not as well-crafted as LoM, at least not the first season. However, the return of Gene, Chris and Ray to joyous fanfare, as well as the addition of young Shaz, ensures that I'll continue watching despite my qualms with the character of Alex. I only hope that the plot will veer away from the template set out by LoM, since the finale of the first season felt like a slight bit of a rehash of previous events.

Fair viewing, yes, but if you exclude Alex from the mix, Ashes to Ashes is just as good as it's predecessor, even if it falls short with the first series.


Stupidly funny- a great romp
I surprised myself with this one, I have to admit! I purchased this film on a whim and sat down with a packet of crisps and fairly low expectations- it's a sexist horror movie, normally the sort of thing I deliberately avoid. The moment I saw that Stephen Graham, Noel Clarke AND Lee Ingleby were in this, though, I had to see it to find out if it was good. Well, how surprised I was by the end of this ninety minute romp! The story is simple; Vince, going through a rough divorce, is brought away from the hustle and bustle of London by his group of bloke-y mates for a booze-filled weekend, organised by Mikey, Matt, Graham, Patrick and Neil. However, when they turn up in the village of Moodley, it turns out that all of the women have been transformed into, as Neil puts it, "an army, feminist cannibals." Now, the lads have only toy shops, boutiques and the safety of a church to protect them from the ravenous 'Zombirds' that lurk in the village, "looking for fresh meat".

So...yeah, it doesn't sound up to much, but once you give it a chance it becomes a stupidly hilarious comedy where the sexism is mocked beyond belief.

The lads are a mismatched group that somehow work well together; there's Mikey, the football-crazed hen-pecked husband, Neil, the sexist g*t with more mouth than mind, Patrick, a new-age hippie who has already suffered from a nervous breakdown, Matt, the Evil Dead nerd who's more concerned with references than plans of attack, and Graham, the only sensible bloke of the group next to Vince himself.

The actors are all proper blokes, casting themselves in a stereotypical light but still providing all-round great performances. Graham, Ingleby, Clarke and Terry Stone are all hilarious, especially Ingleby, portraying a nervous wreck of a nerd, and Stone as a manly soldier who's tactics are a bit...well, you'll have to watch the film to find out! The 'Zombirds' themselves are well done with prosthetics and hardly any CGI, something which I truly admired about this film. The fact that there are only two or three shots enhanced with CGI effects gives the film an authentic feeling to it, just as any horror film should be.

The laughs don't stop for anyone or anything, the cast is excellent and the effects are well-done. Doghouse isn't a masterpiece, but it's still a stupidly funny romp through a surreal setting that self-consciously mocks itself. Really well done- brilliant, even!

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby

Wonderfully made, I couldn't resist!
After viewing the 1999 version of that classic 'A Christmas Carol' featuring Patrick Stewart, I was intrigued by 'Nicholas Nickleby.' After struggling to acquire the drama, I simply watched it online, and my goodness, the price of the broadband bill was worth it! The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby is a slow and methodical journey, filled with wonderful characters and compelling drama at every turn. The tale is that of the Nicklebys, a family plunged into poverty after the death of their patriarch and forced to live with his cruel brother Ralph, a scheming businessman intent on destroying the lives of his new charges. Sending his nephew to Dotheboys Hall, a foul boarding 'school' for young boys abandoned by their families, he encounters the vulgar Squeers family and the timid, pitiful 18 year-old Smike, a drudge often mistreated by his abusive 'carers'. Leaving the horrid place after saving his new companion, the drama follows the misadventures and trials of the pair, including love, loss, grief and sorrow, all bound together by a strong narrative and an excellent cast.

James D'Arcy stands out as the emotive and kind Nicholas, as does Charles Dance as his wicked and corrupt uncle. However, most impressive is Lee Ingleby as Smike, a "wretched creature" as Dickens so aptly described him, who is quiet and skittish due to his lifetime of hardship.

All in all, I truly enjoyed this adaptation- intelligent, dramatic and excellently made. I do have one complaint though- the music. As others have mentioned, it has a tendency to drown out the dialogue, so much so that I found myself laughing during one of the most serious sequences in the drama.

That aside, this is an excellent, albeit short, rendition of the Dickens classic. Wonderful!

Our Zoo

Brilliant viewing...better than anything I've seen in years!
Without a doubt, this is far better than any of the fare offered up to us by Doctor Who or Downton Abbey in recent years. Brilliant cast, brilliant production values, brilliant story...I only wish it could have lasted longer! The story, at first glance, may seem like the usual shtick designed to entertain the family in front of the telly at tea-time, and in a way it is. It isn't overly-sentimental in it's view, though- it's not one of the many "those-were-the-days" shows clogging up our screens nowadays, and while it may look at the 1930s through those famed rose-tinted lenses, it's extremely sweet and charming in it's nostalgic intent. George's plight at the hands of PTSD (or 'shell-shock' as it was known those days) is heart-breaking to watch, as are the trials that his family must endure in order to maintain a tolerable standard of living. However, after encountering a customs officer with parrots and monkeys left on his hands, George buys them from him along with a mistreated old camel from a cruel circus owner out of compassion. And, when he discovers the forgotten Oakfield House on his way to a war reunion, the light-bulb goes off- a zoo. "A zoo without bars", no less. The numerous episodes are funny and light-hearted but can venture into serious territory at times (one involves George being accosted by an enraged bear), and at one hour long they're perfectly paced and a delight to watch. The cast is sensational, especially Lee Ingleby, Liz White and Anne Reid. Ingleby seems to be the perfect choice for these kinds of roles- sympathetic and kind-hearted but stubborn at times, he represents a tortured man who is trying to "put a bit of beauty back into the world." White is excellent as his long-suffering but nonetheless dedicated wife Lizzie, and Reid is in her element as his prickly but loving mother Lucy. Peter Wight, Ralf Little and Honor Kneafsey are all excellent too as the supportive Albert, the hilarious Billy and the innocent June, respectively. The production values are amazing, emulating a true dedication to period detail. And the animals...well, let's just say that I have a soft spot for those little penguins! One of the best sequences of the entire series was George and Billy walking 'em down the high street! In short, this was a sensational BBC drama that shows that they've still got it when they put their minds to it and manage to wrangle a great cast and crew. I only wish there could be more, but if there was it would become far too much like a soap opera! Amazing.

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