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A Man’s Story - 2009 - 7/10
AKA - The Slingshot // Namja-I-Yaki //  남자이야기

K-drama squarely in the revenge genre.
Unlike Western vengeance that revels in payback and blood satisfaction, this studies the consequences of revenge.
The corrosion of the soul, and unhappiness that wounds friends and strangers.
Cha Do Woo, trying to acquire a competitor, destroys dozens of smaller companies.  Collateral damage.
Kim Shin’s brother loses all.  Business, money, respect, finally his life.

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Kim vows to destroy the man responsible.
If that means going to prison, if that means joining with gangsters, if that means stealing ... so be it.
The rich playboy, Cha Do Woo, is a marvelous villain.  

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A poised, polished sociopath, who regards 95% of humanity as dirt.
He has an easy time in early episodes, yet as stakes mount, ethics plummet.
Obstacles must crushed in pursuit of his grandiose scheme.
Both opponents analyze and exploit the weakness of each other.
Very much a chess match played across boardrooms and stock exchange.
Limited weeping - hooray.  Clever plotting throughout, the end stitches a few threads, leaves a few unresolved. .
Yong-ha Park (Kim Shin) was on a meteoric ascent with this, his final work before his suicide.

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Posted

Sleuths, Spies & Sorcerers - 2016 - 6/10

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Three part doc (of which I only watched E01, and am uninterested in the others) hosted by Andrew Marr
“Sleuths” charts the rise of detective fiction.  Poe mentioned, but Sherlock seems the starting point.
From there, Marr details cozy, targeting Christie (though Sayers and Marsh referenced).
After WWII, hardboiled Americans Chandler and Hammett, then to modern masters Pym and Rendell and current Scandinavian dominance.
Show is about the works themselves, as well as trends - less about author’s personal lives.
Current writers discuss bygone scribes and their own processes.
Breezy, slight, though enjoyable.  Marr a craggy host.

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Posted

Kampen Om Tungtvannet - 2016 - 7/10
AKA - The Heavy Water Wars

Norway gets occupied by Germany during World War II.
One of the factories the Reich is keenly interested in is Norsk Hydro, where they make fertilizer, ammonia.
Especially the by-product, heavy water.

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Story relayed from four points of view:
The Nazis, British Intelligence, Norwegian Resistance, and Norsk Hydro management.  The latter understood the huge profits to be made, plus they were keeping employees working.
Lavish production values, sumptuous sets (early on, worse as war prolongs).
Main threads  follow the experiments race and the sabotage.
While this series boasts strong ratings, sabotage is not necessarily action.
Sabotage involves stealth, subterfuge, and invariably silence.
That may be challenging to the viewer demanding gun battles, fistfights, explosions, superheroes.
There are also several languages, meaning subtitles.  γνῶθι σεαυτόν

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Outstanding historical war drama for adults.
Note:  For action diehards, Michael Bay is filming his version of this piece of history.
Expect stylistic differences, action, superheroics - Michael Bay’s trademark.

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Posted

Beware - Cooking Show Alert ! !

MasterChef Australia S01 - 2009 - 7/10

I watched four seasons of the US reboot of the British culinary show.
Eventually, I quit watching the US show in disgust.  It was phony, it was rigged, it was bait n hate.
The US FOX “reality" version was not about improving cooking skulls, the focus was pseudo drama.
The hosts (presenters) ought to be ashamed.
Big shout-out and thank you to Ben Starr for revealing what went on behind the scenes of the FOX troll show and for suggesting the altogether superior Australian version.

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From the onset, when one contestant made a dismissive comment about another’s dish, the host gently chastised him with,  “We’re not about that, mate.  We are not that kind of show.”
This set a bar, and one other versions of the template would be hard pressed to duplicate.
After a contestant was eliminated, the two host chefs gave remaining contestants a “Master Class.”
Top recipes with tricks and technique how to prepare.
When a winning team ate at a trendy restaurant, afterward they entered the restaurant kitchen to learn how to cook the dishes.
Once a contestant won an individual challenge, they got to square off against a celebrity chef.
The challenger invariably lost, but they were coached and helped throughout.
This was how those home chefs picked up their “skills.”

Were there unseen backstage dramas, rivalries, other problems?
Cram 20 souls together and, of course, there will be friction.
To its credit, the Australian version focused on individuals helping and supporting each other.
For viewers who prefer the positive, optimistic experience, MC Australia is for you.
Those who prefer animosity, backstabbing, grudges (know thyself) MC USA is your poison.
Thanks again, Ben Starr.  Best of luck on your path.

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Posted

The Secret Life Of Books:  S02 - 2016 - 7/10

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Superior followup to the first series (S01 marred by inferior presenters).
This season is a trifle more “English” with several titles less known outside of Britain.
Episodes include Spenser’s “Faerie Queen,”  Lear’s “Nonsense Songs,” Eliot’s  “Mill On The Floss.”
Also “Confessions Of An Opium Eater,”  “Cider With Rosie,” and “Swallows And Amazons.”
Each show is a mere 30 minutes.  Hosts read from the book, talk of their relationship with it, and the legacy of book and author.
Book lovers need no recommendation.  Others, this is a nice half hour show.

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Posted

Strange Report - 1968 - 7/10

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Short lived, cult favorite holds up well after several decades.
Anthony Quayle plays retired police superintendent Adam Strange.
He is tasked with mysteries, peculiar or delicate.
Kaz Garas is his assistant who does forensics, chemical analysis, lab work.
Finally there is ex Dr Who girl, Anneke Wills, neighbor, artist, undercover infiltrator.
Unlike much of the era, this is not campy, no heroics, no flashy nonsense.
Being the height of the 60s and Swinging London, the colours, fashions, sets are off the charts.
Plots include student unrest, Cold War intrigue, illegal immigration.
Show only ran 16 episodes (it was supposed to relocate the the States, but actors declined).
Noteworthy for one the of the best, and catchiest, opening theme music ever.

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Posted

Bron Broen:  S01 - 2011 - 7/10
AKA:  The Bridge

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Corpse is found on Øresund Bridge, midway between Denmark and Sweden.
Police from both countries arrive and they will decide jurisdiction when the identity is discovered.
Wait a minute -- The body is actually cut in half --  No, it’s two separate bodies put together.
The murders are the beginning of a series of well planned events and symbolic deaths.
Brief series starts slow, but accelerates to red-line quickly.
Not to be missed is the female Swedish detective, Saga.
She has virtually no social skills - in an extremely funny way - but her counterparts value her as a crack investigator.
Monster ratings across the Net, and for good reason.  Superb writing.

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Posted

Back In Time For Christmas - 2015 - 7/10

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Two part show lets nuclear family celebrate Christmas’ past.
40s - 50s - 60s - 70s - 80s - 90s
Decorations and presents climb from wartime austerity to 90s affluence.
Accent on that word, affluence.  Family lives a nice upper middle class lifestyle, no out of work types here.
Participants in this “real life” reenactment” are likeable, and seem less cautious or rehearsed than others.
The 60s house was bachelor Lounge to the max.  The two sisters wore appropriate hairstyles - nice touch.
Depends on your mood, I suppose.  Alternative to films you’ve watched till your sick.
Slade fans, you know what the 70s bring.

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Posted

Des Crimes Presque Parfaits - 2012 - 6/10
AKA - Almost Perfect Crimes

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Reenacted crimes from the 1700s to 1930s, analyzed and discussed by a variety of talking heads.
Something you might see on the Crime Channel (is there such a thing?) only this is French.
Everyone speaks in French (hard-subbed) save for the narrator.
Beware, most of the guilty climb the scaffold.
Moreover, some of those receiving the guillotine chop would be considered innocent in today’s eye.
Perhaps more interesting if you are dying of boredom.

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Posted

The Night Manager - 2016 - 6/10

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Acclaimed thriller about night manager of ritzy Cairo hotel involved with filthy rich armaments dealer.
His reasons are personal - ethical - and old-fashioned vengeance.
A nest of lies and intrigue enhance suspenseful plot.  Talent, locations, photography, all superb.
Hugh Laurie marvelous as the cynical, suspicious, amoral Richard Roper.
Watch it, then move on quickly, because you do not want to rethink this one.

Clichés run the gamut from hero who cannot refrain from forbidden fruit,
to the wary kingpin who lowers his guard, to the same kingpin not layering himself.
What else?  Hotel manager, really?  Yes, it is terribly swank.
Would manager of trendy high-end shoe store have worked?  Posh wine seller?  Mercedes Benz dealer?
Watch - don’t think.

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Posted

X-Files: S04 - 1996 - 6/10

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Initially, sheer joy.  Behind the shelves, I spied a still shrink wrapped S04 box that I had purchased in 2005.
Opener was with Roy Thinnes.  Great, great, great.
Turns out, this is not nearly as enjoyable as S02 and S03, at least for me.
Most of the one-offs, the monsters of the week, were decent.
The mythology arc, however, seemed to have run out of steam.
Revelations were incremental, no longer the eye popping leaps.
As the season advanced, a depressed, gloomy tone saturated characters and narratives.
I have my own theories about what happened.  Key departures, film version distraction.
For me, this was where X-Files lost its appeal.

Note - For those who only want a few seasons, S04 does feature a conclusion of sorts you can end on.

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Posted

Conspiracy In The Court - 2007 - 5/10

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Costume K-drama set in 17th century Joseon.
New king wants to relocate the palace capital to new area where there will be more food for citizens.
Most courtiers and power brokers do not want to move.
Labyrinthian maze of scheming, poisoning, assassinations, financial chicanery.  
Plot is confusing, though not impossible if you persevere.
More intrigue than action, with dozens of villains.

Biggest drawback gainsaying recommendation art the Elizabethan subtitles.
Verily, the sole subs hailst from the now-moribund Written In The Heavens sub chamber.
Dialogue be heavy over-subbed, configuring archaic words and syntax.
“Liar!” might get subbed “Thou liest, foul knave.”
Gentle viewers wouldst squander precious time reading and pondering obsolete verbosity.
Yea, methinks WITH aimed for historic veracity, yet hold steady!
Yon play is enhanced with modern pop songs (which were not subtitled).
Be thou warned, varlets and slatterns.

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Posted

Victorian Slum - 2016 - 6/10

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Not what I anticipated.
I expected a documentary, but this is of modern families reliving Victorian poverty in the slum.
Decade each:  1860 - 1870 - 1880 - 1890 - 1900.
Some are tradesmen, others grocers, bottom rung is unskilled.
Food is what would be available, work is manual, restrictions and limitations.
Apparently participants lived in the accommodations for three weeks, so this may be more “authentic.”
Last episode - 1900 - is the eye-opener, relevant to today.
Increased global competition (from Germany and US) means more goods for the poor, but fewer jobs.
Worrisome if you believe history runs in cycles.

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Posted

3% - 2016 - 6/10

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Unwashed masses teem and struggle “Inland,” while “Offshore” is an undreamed utopia.
Via “the Process” each coming-of-age bracket are put through mental, physical, psychological tests.
Only 3% pass, and they are allowed to journey to Offshore.
Elysium ... or Soylent Green?
Slow going 8-part parable from Brazil, in Portuguese with HC English subs.
Backstories unfold of unlikeable characters.
E04 was “Lord Of The Flies” excitement, but E05 ground to a standstill.
Near future is more dystopia than SciFi.
Budget and script-writing limitations apparent.
Doors left open for a second season.

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The Red Queen - 2015 - 6/10

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Splashy, lavish drama of Soviet fashion models through the Khrushchev and Brezhnev eras.
Focus is on the striking Regina Kolesnikova, premier model of the Soviet house.
Haunted by her past, she drinks, abuses drugs, falls into bleak despair, bordering on madness.
Most of the other models around her are equally messed up.  Soap opera territory.
Heavy handed melodrama boasts wildly over the top acting.

Real life glamour queen Regina Zbarska, the quintessential Soviet runway model of the 50s and 60s, was internationally famous.  Whispers persist she was also a secret KGB operative.  If so, she had access to Western designers, politicians, ambassadors.  Everyone.  KGB officials have neither confirmed, nor denied those rumors.

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Difficult to assess this production, which I enjoyed beginning to finish (I am a long Vogue subscriber).
As noted, the acting is broad to the point of histrionics.
Since I had seen many of the actors in other Russian movies, I wanted to blame inept directing.
On the other hand, this could well be camp homage to Douglas Sirk’s florid excesses.
Set designs are saturated Technicolor, evocative of overripe MGM musicals (there are musical numbers in Red Queen, as well).  After so many grayish looking US and Euro shows, this dazzles by comparison.
The studio press release also promised an exaggerated telling of Regina Zbarska which this certainly is.

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Posted

Faulks On Fiction - 2011 - 6/10

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Author Sebastian Faulks strolls through memorable character roles in novels.
1) The Hero = Tom Jones - Robinson Crusoe - Sherlock
2) The Lover = Darcy - Heathcliff - Tess - Chatterley
3) The Snob = Emma - Pip - Jeeves - Bond
4) The Villain = Fagin - Fosco - Dracula - Steerpike.
Passages are read aloud. Critics and writers discuss the novel, focusing on the topic character.
For non-reading souls, there are movie and BBC adaptation clips for every example.
Aside from bookworms, this is not essential viewing.

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Death In Paradise:  S01 - 2011 - 6/10

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Fish out of water detective series.
Tightass London inspector transferred to Caribbean Honoré.
Apparently that is a murder destination as there is killing every episode.
Always plenty of suspects, but our hero hones in on insignificant details - and - voilà!
Throughout, he misses cold, rain sodden London and gripes about sunshine and warmth.
Easy to take - easy to forget.  Multiple seasons followed.

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The Expanse:  S01 - 2015 - 7/10

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Yeah, there’s a sucker born every minute.
I can’t tell you how many SciFi shows I take a chance on when I know - I know - they are going to blow.
Most are pathetically lame, written by unimaginative hacks, with plots for the lowest common denominator.
Well - this one ain’t!  Probably because it is based on a clutch of well written novels.
This, set a couple hundred years in the future, details the conflict and intrigue between Mars and Earth.
Caught in the middle are the “Belters,” denizens of the Asteroid Belt who are treated as grunt labor.
Unlike most SciFi, this is packed with ships and space.  Multiple plotlines that converge, yes!

S02, which I have not begun, is ongoing.
BSG fans, hit this.

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Dix Pour Cent - 2015 - 7/10
AKA - Call My Agent

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Brief mini-series about stressed film agents and demanding clients.
Ones liking may depend on tolerance for actors and affinity for French fare.
Story revolves around four agents trying to keep company afloat.
A gallery of French stars fill the guest roles..
Funny, exasperating, infuriating.
Viewers who expect resolution and explanation, beware.

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She-Wolves:  England’s Early Queens - 2012 - 6/10

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Three episode documentary on six women who attempted to rule Medieval England.
Historian Helen Castor is several cuts above the witless, perky presenters who litter docs.
The material itself is a mix of intriguing and sketchy (as Castor confesses) from lack of records.
Narration, illuminated manuscripts, picturesque ruins.  No talking heads.
Not necessarily compelling, but interesting and entertaining for history buffs.

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