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Posted

Great Canal Journeys - S02 - 2014 - 7/10

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Once again, Timothy West and wife Prunella Scales helm the narrow boat on four canal trips.
Four part documentary offers canal history, beautiful scenery, and a leisurely pace.
Prunella’s cognitive decline more pronounced in this series, especially the latter episodes.
The couple are in their 80s and dealing with her condition as best they can, but you feel for them.
Credit the filmmakers and stars for unflinching honesty.
She often drifts into a fog - he can get irritable.
Worth a watch, even if you have not viewed S01.

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Posted

The Joy Of The Single - When Albums Ruled The World - Sound City

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Three recent documentaries about music.
First focuses on the single, usually the wax 45.
Mostly white geezers and burnouts warbling their memories, displaying collections and jukeboxes.
Gradually 7 inchers lost influence as LPs gained prominence.
Second doc is about albums, specifically concept albums.
Dylan, Pepper, Yes, Floyd - you know the terrain.

Third doc covers Sound City Studio, famed recording venue of the 70s and 90s.
Analogue studio.  Gone now, replaced by digital, Pro Tools, etc ...

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All docs were enjoyable.  The third wandered near the end, slipping from the heyday to Dave Grohl's attempt to recreate the era.

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Posted

Nikita - S01 - 2010 - 6/10

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Watched this on and off for almost a year.
I got this after doing a search for “most violent TV series,” scanning the usual entries, reading at the top,  “... and then there’s Nikita.”
The opening was sexy and had a nice body count.  Also laid the groundwork for what the arc would be.
Nikita used to be a top assassin for a clandestine government agency known as Division, now gone rogue.
Nikita herself turned rogue against Division, and each episode saw her trying to thwart one of their ops.
By turns interesting and predictable.
Worst fudge was Nikita’s mole, Alex, who crawled through air ducts searching for secrets.
Yes - air ducts.  Not the ones in your home or office.  Think 4 feet by 4 feet.  You know, the ducts that are piped in submarines and spaceships.
Body count sagged midway, though the deaths and conspiracies rallied at the end.
Decent twists.  Better for bingers.
There were only four seasons, and from what I read, Nikita does reach a conclusion.

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Posted

Catching Milat - 2015 - 7/10

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Engrossing two-part series on Ivan Milat, considered the worst serial-killer in Australia’s history.
Milat preyed on young hitch-hikers, particularly foreign visitors.
Series is more about police dragnet trying to find and arrest the Balanglo Forest killer.
Tense nail-biter with several grisly scenes.
Malcolm Kennard gives nightmares with razor keen performance.
Definitely worth seeing if you have ever hitch-hiked or if thumbing a ride is in your vacation plans.
Parents of hitch-hikers - no no no.

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Posted

Cilla - 2014 - 7/10

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Well done, if not altogether completely accurate, mini series of young Cilla Black.
Cilla was the girl singer in Brian Epstein’s stable.
She never succeeded in the States, yet became a telly institution in Britain.
Series covers the early days when she was a Cavern Club devotee and often sang onstage with the boys, through her hit making years..
One of her friends is Rory Storm’s drummer, Ringo.  Then there’s those other guys.
Numerous songs throughout, and several groups listed, including some that never made it out of Liverpool.
Sheridan Smith does her own belting and is terrific.
Story ends around the same time as the end of the British Invasion, but before the end of Swinging London.

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Posted

Nameless Poison - 2013 - 7/10
AKA - Namonaki Doku / 名もなき毒

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Eleven part J-drama, following two commonplace mysteries.
In the first half, the Chairman asks his son-in-law to assist the grieving daughters of his recently killed chauffeur.
They want to write a simple memorial about their father, with the hope whoever accidently killed him confesses.
Only - as the son-in-law delves into the chauffeur’s history, a dark history emerges.
The second half is about a serial poisoner who is injecting cartons in convenience stores with cyanide.
Again, the son-in-law is drawn in, while his wife pleads,  “Quit getting involved!”
So say we all.
No police - no detectives - just an ordinary man trying to help others, not always succeeding.
Even though he works full time, and has family obligations, he spends much of his free hours in a fabulously empty cafe.

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Posted

Galileo: S01 - 2008 - 7/10

Interesting J-drama of rookie female cop and science professor.
Tempted to score it higher but there were flaws.
For a serious drama, there was too much comic silliness.
Several music cues were goofy and slapstick, their noisy intrusion always wrecked the tone.
The story arc suffered implausible acid and oil romantic leanings.  Detective and professor were complete opposites and career driven.  The attraction was phony.
Rank this higher if your taste embraces mismatched hearts and occasional dim-bulb comedy.
Complaints out of the way, the 10 part series was entertaining throughout.

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Most of the crimes are “impossible” until university physics professor sets up testing apparatus.
Spontaneous combustion - Poltergeist - Fireballs - Ghosts - Premonitions
The plots are ingenious and clever - don’t know how valid the science is, however.
Almost must-see for geeks and nerds.

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Posted

Vexed - S01 - 2010 - 7/10

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Three episodes of acid comedy, satirizing cop shows.
Toby Stephens jaw-dropping as clueless, no-check-switch, politically incorrect police inspector.
Lucy Punch as his sharp-tongued partner, prone to violent outbursts.
Truly funny in a mean, cruel, black-humored manner.
For those who appreciated Touch Of Cloth, only more wicked.
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Have not viewed S02 yet.  It aired two years later and supposedly
replaced one character and toned down Stephens’ cringe producing behaviour.
If true, too bad.  Suits making creative decisions.

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Posted

Gaikôkan Kuroda Kôsaku - 2011 - 7/10
AKA - Diplomat Kuroda Kosaku /  外交官・黒田康作

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Well done spy thriller / sequel to Amalfi: Rewards of the Goddess.
Ten episode drama follows diplomat (ha!) as he attempts to solve a series of increasingly high profile murders.
The police are involved, as is the Foreign Department, finally whatever they call National Security.
He enlists an unappreciated police detective, and also a few unlikely allies (including a couple of cameos from Byung-hun Lee).
Kuroda is mostly a  one man show, however.
Cooperation and sharing details are not strong points, viewers have to work out mysteries on their own.
That will be fine for some, too difficult for others.
Closing credits of chess play symbolize the moves, counter-moves and calculated alliances.
The final two episodes forget the basic film rule of “Show, don’t tell” and are extremely talky and explanatory.
Excellent adult drama, nevertheless.

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Posted

Queen Victoria’s Letters - 2014 - 7/10

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Unexpectedly entertaining two part series on the Widow Of Windsor.
Victoria wrote an astounding 50 million words in journals and letters.
Many myths debunked here.
Until widowhood, she was used and abused by strong men.
She had a strong sense of humor, as well as a strong sex drive (9 children).
The memoirs published in her life were considered scandalous, and after her death her daughter Beatrice did serious redaction.
With so many, many journals, however, much abides.
Enjoyable documentary for Anglophiles.

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Posted

Joseon X-Files - 2010 - 7/10

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Young official is hired by Imperial house to investigate unexplained phenomena.
He gets a superstitious strong man cop for muscle, and teams with a scientific, medical female.
Their boss is a chain smoking type (pipe) who always knows much more than they do.
Sound familiar? Except this riff on the X-Files is set in 17th century Joseon (Korea).
Twelve episodes that include extra-terrestrials, alternate realities, witchcraft, political cults, and a couple head scratchers.
Definitely worth tracking down if you are a jonesin' for Mulder and Scully fare.

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Posted

Äkta Människor - S01 - 2012 - 7/10

Uneven parallel reality series where hubots (robots - cyborgs - cylons) are ubiquitous in society.
They are tireless, work without complaint, and are programmed to be maddeningly cheerful.
Employers love ‘em, human coworkers - who are being displaced - are less thrilled.

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A subset of hubots is programmed differently, or simply lacks programming.
They have free will and are on the run, led by the sinister Niska.

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Several themes are explored over ten episodes:  Hubot rights, cloning, government control, black market modifications, human - hubot relationships (and all that implies), discrimination, age ism.
There is also the uneasy reality of humanity being supplanted by our creations - as if we have done such a spectacular job of our stewardship.
Good SciFi / Speculative show, though the creators bit off more than they could chew.

This is the original Swedish series, with subtitles.
The US remake, Almost Human, was produced by that master of nuance, J J Abrams.
The setting there is a crime infested, future dystopia.
Two cops, human and robot, swap jokes, bond, and have shoot ‘em ups against villains.
Predictable formula show, easier to digest.

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Posted

Elegance And Decadence: The Age Of The Regency - 2011 - 6/10

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Entertaining, sometimes enlightening three part documentary hosted by Dr Lucy Worsley.
Nice companion if you read or watch Jane Austen and an good overview of formal Regency, meaning the ten year period while George III was unfit and son George ruled as Regent.
Architecture, fashion trends, art, rebellion, poets and revolutionaries.
The era begins during the Napoleonic wars, ends as smoke belching factories transform England.
Worsley can be an acquired taste, but she is always enthusiastic and easy to understand.
Producers opted for a modern soundtrack - a growing trend - which is often distracting.
Pink Floyd - The Beatles - The Who - too many others to mention.
In a similar period, I also watched another three parter, Rude Britannia and the first episode also covers this time with salacious and naughty illustrations.

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Posted

I R I S - 2009 - 7/10

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Convoluted K-drama actioner.
20 interlocking episodes with a cliffhanger or surprise ending each one.
Begins as espionage, gradually the existence of I R I S is revealed.
Conspiracies and plots spread like weeds.
Backstory and relationships are established in the first couple of episodes.  By #04, the pedal goes down.

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Gunfights galore.  Lavish production values, filming sprawled across several global locations.
Unbearable romance elements.  (the bane of K-dramas)

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I thought this ended at Ep 17, but no, there were still plot twists and fresh narrative.
Wildly popular in Asia, spawned two sequels (mixed reviews there).

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Posted

The Real Jane Austen - 2002 - 7/10

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Clever one hour documentary “written” by Jane Austen and hosted by one of her nieces.
Actors portray various friends and relatives as well as Jane.  Their lines come from actual letters.
Host Anna Chancellor played Miss Bingley (the Colin Firth version) and is also a great - great ... niece of Austen.
For hardcore Janeites, nothing is new, though hearing her juvenile works is a rare treat.
For newcomers, this will be informative without being heavy handed.
Breezy throughout with glowing photography and clips from numerous film adaptations.

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Posted

Northern Soul - Living For The Weekend - 2014 - 7/10

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Another documentary on the scene that flourished in Northern England from late 60s to mid 70s, stressing obscure hard soul songs hailing from the 60s US.
The region - at least those particular clubbers - ignored psychedelia, bubblegum, heavy metal and just wanted music to dance the night away.  None of that sitting and nodding stuff.
Athletic dance moves prefigure break-dancing, along with a juicy mix of stomping tunes.
This period has been covered in a couple other docs, but Living For Weekend seems target dated for the imminent release of the film version.
Packed with music, some of the usual clips, different shuffle of talking heads.
Should satisfy the curious and provide an easy introduction to Northern Soul.

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Posted

Almost Human - 2013 - 6/10

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Bit of a mistake, this.  I had watched the Swedish series Äkta Människor, then decided I wanted to view the remake.  Only I got this buddy cop series instead of Humans.
This is a slick, empty headed failure.  Glossy high tech, stereotype roles.
Angry cop, wise supervisor, nervous geek deep in his lab, mouthwatering chrome-femme colleague.
Angry cop’s new partner is a discontinued robot model (with synthetic soul, that way the actor doesn’t have to speak and move like other androids).
Plots are stale, outcomes predictably happy, dialogue is crap, acting stiff.
In the year 2048, there are still cellphones, cars, desk computers, nightclubs, as well as Frisbee sized drones.
There are noodle shops and plenty of booze.  Blame limited imagination on producer is J H Wyman (Fringe)
J J Abrams created the three-note opening music, yet the rest of the music, better, is by Crystal Method.
For the patient, by E10 the show finds its footing and voice.  Original ratings tanked around that point.
For the first time, the underbelly of an elite city is shown, also a growing class divide between normal humans and genetically perfect ones, and rudimentary story arcs appear.
After E13, there are a couple of loose ends, but no annoying cliffhangers.
I have read it is canceled,  I have read it is renewed.  Eh.

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Posted

How To Be Bohemian - 2015 - 6/10

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How indeed?  Is there even such a thing anymore?
Three part series hosted by Victoria Coren Mitchell.
First episode offers historical perspective of early 19th century Paris Decadents, popularized in famous book, “La Vie de Bohème.”  Followed by London types, PreRaphaelites and Aesthetes, think Wilde and Beardsley.
Second episode focuses on Bloomsbury Group and the “bright young things.”
The first episode were creative souls, striving against social norms, working for success on their own terms.
The second were mostly rich, privileged souls with affluent bank accounts.
Third episode begins at the 60s, sweeps to today.
Bohemia commodified and sold to middle class and hipsters who hope “looking unique” is the same as “being unique."

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Numerous talking heads throughout.  Some informed, some funny, others are aging, pretentious old farts.
Host Mitchell comes off as a bit bourgeois, though that is actually refreshing in light of affected posing elsewhere.
Wannabees, pretenders, hipsters roundly loathed by all.

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Posted

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Coma - 2005 - 7/10

Surprisingly, there are few Asian dramas that are Horror themed.
There are a couple that touch on elements, such as Vampire Prosecutor, but none go as full bore as this neglected gem.

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Five episode K-drama, set in a closing hospital.  Expect dark and deserted corridors.
Everything of value has been relocated and salvage employees scour floor by floor until they come to the door with the heavy steel bar, padlock, chains.  In the finest traditions, they break into the sealed room and unleash ...
First episode follows the insurance agent, handling the closure and dealing with patients, particularly one in a coma.
The agent had actually been there ten years earlier, so there are flashbacks showing what happened ten years ago and what in now unearthed.
Second episode, same night, follows the head nurse once the sealed room is open and flashes back to when she was a young nurse.
Third episode, the police detective.  Fourth episode - you get the pattern.

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Atmospheric sound design, inspired use of minimal budget, clever lighting.
Each episode reveals more grim history.
Halloween fare for spooky hospital fans, revenge seekers, dead wet girls.
Excellent, self-contained Horror series.

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Posted

Doll & Em - Season 02 - 2015 - 5/10

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Sad to say I watched all of this, as well as S01.
Six episodes of chick angst.  Dolly and Emily hole up in a lighthouse and write an autobiographical play.
Mikhail Baryshnikov provides the local Broadway theatre.  Ewan MacGregor is Ewan MacGregor.
Evan Rachel Wood and Olivia Wilde read the stage roles of Dolly and Emily.
Yes, stars are piling on to this brittle, uncomfortable comedy.
Dolly is even more passive aggressive than before, while Emily plays victim to the hilt.
Characters test their friendship and viewer patience with their thoughtless behavior.
Episode with Virginia Woolf is a standout.
Self abasement along the lines of The Trip, the series.  An acquired taste.

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