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Secrets Of China - 2015 - 6/10

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Maddening three part BBC doc ought to be called Billie Takes Selfies In China.
Presenter Billie JD Porter whines, complains, pouts, acts disrespectful, and helps us understand China.
Evidently, she did no homework before filming began.  Not even simple Mandarin phrases.
In one episode she is in a boot camp for kids failing in school because of attitude problems or addiction to games.
Billie encourages one of the girls to keep fighting, but Billie will return to her posh life so she is giving bad advice.
Another episode focuses on marriage mania, and the insane money involved.
Third show displays the widening gap between poor and ultra rich.   Hey, didn’t Mao lead a revolution?
Billie pretends to embrace and commiserate with common folk, but she is obviously drawn to glitz and wealth.
Interesting points are made throughout, though the self absorbed host is distracting and culturally clueless.

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Roosevelt Game - 2014 - 8/10
AKA – Ruzuveruto Gemu // ルーズヴェルト・ゲーム

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Nine innings J-dorama, set in the corporate boardroom, in the research lab, and on the diamond.
Small manufacturing firm finds itself under serious attack by king sized competitor.
The larger outfit has deep pockets, and they launch every trick in the book to destroy the smaller group.
To add insult to injury, the big guys even poach three top players and coach from the small firm’s baseball team.
(Footnote - Corporations in Japan sponsor their own teams, have a season, and a tournament.)
To save money, the small firm initiates layoffs and decides to shutter the baseball club.
They compromise, however, and the team will be disbanded only after they lose in the playoffs.

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Bet you can see where this is heading?  Well, not exactly.
In the best tradition of J-doramas, the villains are wicked, sinister types.
But they are not stupid.  In the ballpark, or in the boardroom, they are crafty and intelligent.
They countermove every tack the smaller electronics firm attempts to stay alive.
An addicting, nine episode series, with the battles played across multiple fronts.
Of course, the ball teams will square off eventually.

Enjoyed this greatly, and I truly despise baseball, specifically overpaid, MLB players who give the impression they don’t even like playing the game, disdain fans who root them on.
The games in this are old-fashioned, and the players earn next to nothing, so they play for love of the game.
Baseball fans, track this down!

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Revealing Anne Lister - 2010 - 6/10

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Documentary about the scandalous Ms Lister, landowner and womanizer during the Regency era.
Womaniz - huh?  Say what?
Apparently this Sappho tale was an open secret during her time, though she did live in seclusion and was rich.
Money always helps cloak taboos.
She left journals totally 4 millions words, the juicy bits, seductions and graphic depictions, were written in a code.
The code was cracked in the 1890s, yet a descendant suppressed it.
The journals were deciphered again in the 1930s, again in the 60s, both times suppressed.
Finally, in 1988 the diaries were published.  It is astonishing they survived, instead of being burned.
Most of the “talking heads” in this are excellent, with wry humour.
The presenter, on the other hand, is an insecure soul who makes comments  throughout and brings up her own life experiences.
The story is interesting, the narrator is not.

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Fleming - 2014 - 6/10

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Potentially memorable 4-part series falters due to indifferent writing, wobbly storylines.
Dominic Cooper, usually a prune type, good as aimless Ian Fleming, the family disappointment.
Episodes linger over dalliances with eager young females, and his growing influence in Naval Intelligence.
Characters were based on actual people, relationships fairly honest, and most of the history accurate.
Fleming, being an embellished account, one should mistrust the “actiony” bits, however.
Fair warning - Last 20“ of the final episode are a plodding shamble.
Nice hints of Bond: plot turns, music cues, even players (eg:  aide Monday makes an ideal Moneypenny), maintain interest, though the overall series is rather a crusty bore.

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The Great War - 1964 - 9/10

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Grandfather of war documentaries and one of the greatest documentaries ever made.
At a whopping 26 episodes, this is thorough, well researched, and fair minded.
In 1964 many veterans of World War I still survived and they spoke throughout.
Officer aides, footsoldiers, villagers.  English, French, Germans, Austrians, Australians, Turks . . .
Minor shortcoming is that few of the interviewees are identified.
Mountains of newsreel footage, campaign maps and strategies.  Surprise victories, bitter defeats.
Initial episodes are not even battle related, but background history and events leading up to conflict.

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We are still in the 100 year anniversary of WWI;  this documentary shows how easy it is to slip into wars, all flag waving and shouting, and how difficult it becomes to get out of them.
Resentments, alliances, race hatred.  Realities true during Caesar’s and Napoleon’s era, resonate today.
Several years in, World War I becomes one of attrition, deprivation and endurance.
On both sides, on-leave soldiers grasp how civilians, far removed behind the lines, no longer care about the war nor the soldiers bleeding and dying in miserable trenches, who stand forgotten.  Much as today.

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Playing The Field - S01 - 1998 - 6/10

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First season following the trials and tribulations of woman’s football club.
Limited pitch action, focus more on domestic dramas.
Infidelities, revelations, screaming matches, tears, cursing.
Probably OK if you can tolerate a limited soaper.

Got this for my wife who follows Premier League, particularly, though not exclusively, Man U.
I was glad when this concluded, gladder when she said she was uninterested in S02.

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Eleventh Hour (UK) - 2006 - 6/10

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Four part series stars Patrick Stewart as Ian Hood, celebrated scientist working with Home Office, to solve crimes, outbreaks and other disasters.  Assigned to protect his is a female agent from Special Branch.
Stories involve cloning, Plague germs, contamination.
The female agent is shamefully written as a liability, more of a Doctor Who companion, asking questions, barely capable of protecting her charge.
Studios often cast one character as an imbecile to make another appear superior.  Feeble writing.
Worth catching for Stewart, who is outstanding, but if you desire more  . . .

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Eleventh Hour (US) - 2008 - 6/10

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Rufus Sewell stars as Jacob Hood, scientist who works for FBI to solve crimes, outbreaks, disasters.
Assigned to protect him is no nonsense female agent.  Hey ... wait a minute ...
Sound familiar?  After the UK series was dropped, creator Stephen Gallagher sold it to CBS.  In fact, three of the episodes are near word for word remakes.
One might assume this would be a no-brainer.  The BBC version was fresher, Stewart the superior actor.
Hold on, though, UK only had four episodes, while the US aired 18.
Despite being a Bruckheimer production, slick visuals do not predominate.  This series remains very much in the mystery thriller genre.
Stories about cloning, genetically modified food, human growth hormone, baby farming, manmade viruses.
Producers either learned from UK failings or the US market wanted a tougher female.  Cute notwithstanding, Hood’s protector has no qualms about shooting her gun or kicking the hell out of suspects.
Overall, the UK series is darker, with uncertain resolutions.  US episodes end more positively.

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First World War - 2003 - 8/10

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Excellent, 10 part companion to 1964‘s thorough, 26 episode documentary, The Great War.
Despite covering the same years, there is little overlap plus a lot of additional information.
Example - British encouragement of Japanese involvement against German Pacific territories laid the seeds for the Pearl Harbor attack
Or, Jews, fleeing Russian persecution, serve under the Kaiser and relocate their families to Germany.
Or the proposed German plans to attack Boston.
Much of the global conflict is referenced, Asian campaigns, Arabian adventures, African guerrilla warfare.
What is missing are the the first hand interviews and detailed campaign analysis.
Thus noted, one whole chapter is devoted the the Ludendorff Offensive, which almost turned the outcome.
Ending seemed rushed, though historians might say the same about the war’s resolution itself.
Marvelous series, perhaps easier to digest than the ‘64.

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Hidden Identity - 2015 - 5/10
AKA - 신분을 숨겨라

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Have only my own impatient self to blame for this.
Normally, with J-dramas and K-dramas, I wait to read end of year reviews on Dramabeans or similar sites.
Hidden Identity hailed from the same crew that did Bad Guys and had an excited buzz.
More fool me.
Elite, 5-member unit works outside usual law enforcement agencies to topple criminals.
Arc of the narrative is the pursuit of “The Ghost,” a mysterious unknown mastermind who is plotting ... something.
Action primarily fisticuffs, production values cheap, script padded, in run-of-the-mill cop show.
16 episodes ought to have been trimmed to 10.
Every character is wooden faced serious.  At first I blamed bad acting, but I had seen these actors in IRIS, Bridal Mask, Vampire Prosecutor, as well as several movies where they were more than capable.
No, the fault is clichéd writing and lame directing.  Can’t say how many lengthy reaction shots of every single team member I saw.  Easily two or three times an episode.
Hidden Identity = Boring Identity.

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The Pervert’s Guide To Cinema - 2006 - 6/10

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Slovenian philosopher, psychoanalyst Slavoj Žižek gives three lectures which orbit Film Appreciation 101.
Freudian analysis, obsessions, death, desire, phallus / vagina (fear - envy - worship), all probed.
Scenes from a diverse array of films are shown, followed by comments.
Žižek frequently inserts himself into scenes, exaggerating or undercutting concepts of reality or suspension of disbelief.
Mainstream studio fare as well as European arthouse used as examples:
Hitchcock - Lynch - Chaplin - Wachowski - Kubrick - Coppola
Tarkovsky - Haneke - Von Trier - Kieślowski - Eisenstein - Bergman
Observations and conclusions are, by turn, insightful, provocative, wrong-headed.
Those with a healthy resume of arthouse titles in their “seen that” list may be better able to agree with some of his theories, or hurl a sock at the screen.
For novices or aficionados, Žižek is entertaining and enthusiastic throughout.

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The Invaders - S01 - 1967 - 7/10

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I had not viewed this influential series for a couple decades.  Rewatching brought back memories.
The show boasts a gorgeous, “wet colour" look, over-saturated, but typical of Quinn Martin productions.  Dominic Frontiere provides an evocative credits theme and numerous music cues.
Architect David Vincent squares off against extra-terrestrial planet grabbers.
Mr Vincent wins stray battles here and there, but the potential outcome seems ominously one-sided.
Roy Thinnes plays lead (at least producers made him an architect, rather than a writer) who gets nowhere trying to convince officials and military brass he’s not some arm waving Sasquatch alarmist.
Special effects were barely more than mattes, models and dissolves, and there is no arc to the story (those were rare in 1967).  Dave hurries from point to point, thwarting one alien stratagem after another.

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My brother and I were wild about this when it aired, and we thought it almost equal to The Outer Limits.
Almost.  Not quite, though.
Midway, we started having problems with both alien intelligence, as well with our red-blooded hero.
The aliens had some damn good tactics:  weather disruption, mind control, contagion . . . except they kept launching attacks one at a time.  Giving their pesky architect nemesis just enough time to zoom in and foil them - - again.
C’mon, they mastered interstellar travel.  They could have figured out what flight he was on and zapped his airliner.
End of story.

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Another plus for Team Alien.  Sex appeal.  They had hotties.  Suzanne Pleshette and BarBara Luna (sic).
Is Vincent interested?  Heck, no.  (In a rival show airing in ‘67, Kirk would not have hesitated an instant, no sir.)
Another thing, and this is really big, where did ole Dave get his money?
Sure, he was an architect and drummed up business occasionally.  Yet enough for flights, car rentals, motel rooms, nice clothes, blue plate dinners, and the infrequent date with a big-haired blonde (strict earthling variety)?
Things cost money - plenty of money.  My brother and I had paper routes, so we grasped the concept of budgets.
Anyway, my brother, eight years old, figured it out one episode.

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A pair of Alien agents are chasing Dave all over West Virginia in their big Ford.
Dave eventually gets the drop on them and crisps ‘em both.  Another victory for architecture.  End of Part IV.
Then, during the Epilog, my brother points and hollers,  “Hey!  He’s driving their car!”
Sure enough.  Dave is rolling easy in the aliens' blue Ford.
“I bet he stole their car,”  my brother continued.  “I bet he emptied the trunk, searched the glove compartment.”
Oh?
“Yeah, he took all their money!  Probably found their motel room and swiped their watches, money stash, custom suits.  He stole everything!  We won’t see it, but he’s gonna sell that Ford, too.  Once he kills them, I bet he drives all their Fords to the Used Car lot.  That’s how Vincent does this week after week.  He’s a thief!  Like a grave robber!”
Pretty hard to argue with his theory, I must say.

The Invaders has not dated too much - depends on ones tolerance for the sometimes leisurely pace, I guess.  I might even get to season two eventually, say in two or three years.

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Luther: S04 - 2015 - 7/10

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Never saw this one coming.
End of S03, Luther and sociopath Alice walked off into an uncertain future.
Just as well, the series showed signs of flagging, and S03 heard repeated cries of,  “Where is Alice!?!”
None of that here.
Luther returns in a taut, grisly two-parter.  He is grayer, thoughtful, haunted by memories.
Several storylines snake and twist across both episodes, which could be viewed in one sitting.
Convoluted, though not maddeningly like Midsomer became.
Not as good (or original) as S01, but superior to S03.
Will there be a S05?  Will Elba get tagged for 007?  Will Alice get her own show?

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Hunderby - 2012 - 7/10

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Genius!  Sheer genius!
Wicked spoof of Jane Austen shows, overwrought Brontë series, even Gothic potboilers like Rebecca.
Eight part series follows young Helene (an identity she assumed) as she marries local curate (marriage #2 for him, after first wife disappeared), and all the shenanigans (primarily sexual) occurring in tiny village.
Each episode less than 30“ and features truly fruity dialogue.  Examples
“I wish I could lie with thee forever, nuzzling thy nectar nook.”
“You have conjured some fevered notion that I am eaten up with lust for another, and wake each hour with sticky britches.”
“I should love to plunge you, and stay inside you all day like a dozing mouse.”
All lines delivered dead-panned.  I don’t know how actors did this straight faced.

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And Then There Were None - 2016 - 7/10

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Three part adaptation of the Agatha Christie chestnut.
Ten souls, hired or invited, soon find themselves stranded on an isolated island.
One by one, they succumb to the Grim Reaper.
Just when you think you know who’s tugging the strings, they’re dead.
Top notch production values, choice casting, and a spectacular setting.
Most will already have seen one version of this or “Ten Little Indians,”
but this is quite handsome and more faithful than other renditions.

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Strippers - 2015 - 6/10

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Three part documentary of the stripper industry in Scotland,
focusing on dancers in three cities:  Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
“Decent” clubs are shown, where management seems to care about their girls.
No mention of crime, traffickers or drugs.
Girls fret about money - parents - boyfriends - stigma.
Not surprisingly, younger girls suffer more than seasoned professionals.
Mix of Scottish lasses, with those who travel a global circuit.
One Texas girl sported a Bettie Page look which the locals mistook for Amy Winehouse vibe.
Some may find this interesting, others might hit MUTE and crank grind music.
Chances are, this will entice those who appreciate artistic dance.

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Kurokôchi - 2013 - 7/10
AKA - クロコーチ

Sleazy, dishonest, crooked, scheming, even murderous.
Barely comes close to describing the used car ethics of Detective Kurokôchi.

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He squeezes money from politicians, covers-up killings by businessmen, blackmails anyone he can slip the wedge under.
For all that, he is almost a breath of fresh air in the entrenched law enforcement hierarchy.
And, as the 10 episode series unfolds, he digs deeper and deeper into a long buried mystery.
The 300 Million Yen Bank Robbery of 1968 (actual event).
Forces behind the vanished monies, one soon realizes, are powerful and secure.
Nevertheless, they never take the shifty Kurokôchi for granted.
He is partnered with a by-the-book individual, whom he shamelessly exploits.
Very much a game of lies, knives and smiles.  Irresistible!

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Arthur & George - 2015 - 6/10

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Three part series of Arthur Conan Doyle.
Sherlock mania in full swing, Sir Arthur is recently widowed and suffers depression.
He receives a letter from a recently released convict, potential solicitor, asking to review his conviction.
Martin Clunes makes a crisp Doyle.  Costuming seems impeccable and most of the goings-on take Doyle and his secretary outside of London, so plenty of afternoon and full sun framing.  
Story springs the odd turn here and there, but nothing too far fetched.
Because ... yes, inspired by true events!
The young solicitor, Doyle’s interest, and subsequent law change were all true.
Everything else onscreen, say dialogue or additional characters?  No, sorry, pure writer’s imagination.
Entertaining, and at three parts not an endless soaper, but starchy.

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Toast Of London: S01 - 2012 - 7/10

Perhaps an acquired taste, but if you are one for British humor, this is a gem.
Steven Toast is a journeyman actor, clearly on the downside of his career.
He does voiceover work, TV work when available, indie movies, theatre boards.
Currently his is acting in what is considered one of the worst plays ever.
He is pompous, cocksure (in more ways than one as there is a lot of rogering in this series), extremely annoying to those around him, and tearfully funny as episodes build.
This is packed with theatre jokes and many guest stars.
For a half hour show, it is generous with plot and laughs.
Example - In the S01 finale, Toast auditions for - he wrongly assumes 007 - and screws that up.

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Next, he loses a fortune to Lloyd Webber playing poker.  He runs from a hit man, shags a rival’s wife, finds time to act in his nude musical, and mangle his voiceover work.  Awesome Bond opening credits!
Priceless satire.

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Psychob!tches - S01 - 2013 - 6/10

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Brief (6 half hour episodes) sketch comedy of dead females going to psychiatrist.
Patients include Bette Davis & Joan Crawford (as above), Mother Theresa, Mona Lisa, Sylvia Plath, Diana Dors, Mary Queen Of Scots, Leni Riefenstahl, Betty Ford, Mary Pickford (using silent intertitles) ... dozens more.
Hit n miss, though more laughs than lulls.  Complaints, venting, and confessions galore!
Appreciation might depend on knowledge of subjects.
Worth hunting down.

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