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3/10
Bertolucci's visually auspicious but narratively inauspicious debut
16 February 2020
It seems cruel to be excessively harsh on the writing / directing debut of a 20-year-old (!!), especially when you are just an armchair amateur critic (like all of us here are). With that said, "La Commare Secca" would probably not have seen the light of day, much less be restored and released on DVD as part of the Criterion Collection, if the name of Bernardo Bertolucci wasn't attached to it. In all fairness, Bertolucci already shows that he is a visually gifted director here. But in terms of telling a story, or even stringing two sequences together coherently, he had absolutely no idea what he was doing, to put it bluntly; the film alienates the viewer in the first 5 minutes and never really wins them back. * out of 4.
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Australian Survivor: Episode #2.19 (2017)
Season 2, Episode 19
10/10
I'm a beer man myself
16 February 2020
Warning: Spoilers
Strategically, one of the best and most complex episodes in the history of Survivor; 3 people blindside 6 people, and without any idol plays. The fluidity is exhilarating: people who are working together on one vote are against each other on the next, and vice versa. Oh, and phenomenal challenge beast Ziggy wins her 3rd individual immunity (if you count the tribal A-Frame challenge, which I do). **** out of 4.
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Dead to Me (2019– )
8/10
Sometimes slow but compelling mixture of comedy, drama and suspense, with a wonderful Linda Cardellini; needs a second season
16 February 2020
Warning: Spoilers
The mixture of comedy and drama in this series is well-balanced: the result is both funny and touching. Sometimes it can feel too slow, but never to the point where you would consider to stop watching. And you really shouldn't, because the ending is great and cries out for a second season, with new dynamics. The other main facet that keeps you watching are the two female leads: it's nice to see a grown-up Kelly Bundy in a totally different part, but for me the real standout is Linda Cardellini, still gorgeous at 44; her sweet, gentle, vulnerable, quirky Judy is probably one of my favorite female characters in a TV show ever. *** out of 4.
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5/10
The title is catchier than the film itself
15 February 2020
Medium-grade giallo with some high-grade nudity (particularly from Femi Benussi). Slow to get going, and writer-director Andrea Bianchi is no Dario Argento by any means, but the plot is sufficiently twisty-turny in the classic convoluted genre tradition. Some gore, but the most haunting and disturbing image is by far "Maurizio" in his underwear. ** out of 4.
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3/10
Tediously talky final chapter
9 February 2020
90% talk, 10% action, 0% plot - and 90% of the action is blatantly stock footage. Colorful Istanbul scenery (including an imposing real castle) and a perky Rosalba Neri machine-gunning down some baddies are its only assets. At the end, Fu Manchu announces that he will return - not surprisingly, after this bore, he didn't. * out of 4.
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Australian Survivor: Episode #2.13 (2017)
Season 2, Episode 13
8/10
Michelle's amazing breakout!
9 February 2020
Warning: Spoilers
If you, like me, were wondering what Michelle is doing in the current All-Stars season, and you (justifiably) didn't get the answer in the first 12 episodes of this season (she had been very quiet so far), watch this episode and you will know; she could get voted out straight after this and she would STILL deserve her spot in All-Stars! What she achieved here is incredible: she just cost her tribe the challenge; she is the newest member of the tribe; she has well-known connections with the other tribe; she is a much bigger social and strategic threat than Ben (people say that in confessionals); Ben has people who state that they want him to stay for the benefit of their games (Jarrad, Ziggy); his allies on the other tribe are gone; and yet, they decide to keep Michelle and send Ben home! It's so obviously the wrong move for them, but it didn't just happen accidentally, nor are they bad players; Michelle MADE it happen and fought like hell for it, both at camp and at tribal. It is one of the greatest single-episode performances by a player I can remember in any version of Survivor - and it is all achieved through good old-fashioned social play & the power of words and not with the help of idols. *** out of 4.
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5/10
Tame, neutralized Franco
8 February 2020
If you read the plot synopsis of "Blood Of Fu Manchu" it sounds like exploitation gold, but don't get your hopes up: it doesn't make the most of its premise (to put it kindly). Despite noted smut peddler Jess Franco in the director's chair, it is quite tame, and despite being part of the Fu Manchu series, a stereotypically fat, unshaven, cackling bandit has by far the most screen time (Shirley Eaton fans will also be disappointed; her part is a 2-minute cameo). Location filming in Brazil and Christopher Lee's commanding (even if unconvincing) performance are pretty much its only assets. ** out of 4.
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5/10
Slickly photographed but disappointing horror entry
2 February 2020
There are three main problems with "The Deadly Bees": 1) the script is dull, trying for a mystery approach to the identity of the "real" villain but it's obvious early, 2) the special effects are highly variable; the parts with real bees are effective, but when they attack "en masse" they look unconvincingly superimposed, almost animated, 3) Suzanna Leigh is miscast as a damsel-in-distress; SHE should have been the master (mistress?) of the killer bees instead! ** out of 4.
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Australian Survivor: Episode #2.5 (2017)
Season 2, Episode 5
8/10
This is what Survivor is all about
2 February 2020
Warning: Spoilers
An 8-person alliance, a 9-person tribe....and yet the odd person out does not receive a single vote to go home, as two separate fractions within the "8" plan and execute their own blindsides! Tessa is the cat with nine lives. This is how Survivor is meant to be played. A fantastic tribal. *** out of 4.
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Blind Chance (1987)
5/10
Boring film on intriguing concept
2 February 2020
Warning: Spoilers
"Blind Chance" is one of those films which play better on paper, or inside your mind after you've seen it, than while you're seeing it. Krzysztof Kieslowski's alternate-realities concept is intriguing (I'm a big fan of it, actually), but while it precedes the more famous "Run, Lola, Run" by more than a decade, there have been earlier films with similar ideas (try to find and watch a little-known gem from 1934 called "Dangerous Corner"). The film itself is sometimes confusing, and most of the time undramatic; the protagonist, although presented as God's gift to women in each and every scenario, is not all that engaging. The you-can't-escape-your-fate gag / shock ending is worth waiting for. ** out of 4.
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Love in the Wild (2011– )
7/10
Enjoyable guilty-pleasure program; a cross between Survivor and a dating show
1 February 2020
Warning: Spoilers
It's a little surprising that this lasted only two seasons, when many similar products go on for years and years. Filmed in Costa Rica for its 1st season and in the Dominican Republic for its 2nd, it's an enjoyable blend of exotic scenery, physical challenges, weekly eliminations (but only with a bare minimum of strategy), flirting, kissing, connecting and clashing. The 1st season is the better one, thanks to a more engaging cast (especially Heather, who is gorgeous, athletic, funny, smart, compassionate - the perfect woman). The 2nd season adds some rather unnecessary twists, and also switches hosts; while Jenny McCarthy is hot as hell, she is also more intrusive than the laid-back guy they had in the 1st season. What does elevate "Love In The Wild" above most other matchmaking shows (I assume here - I don't watch them!) is that a handful of the final couples seem to genuinely fall in love with each other and be ready to commit to a long-term relationship; in fact, a quick google check reveals that three or four couples who did well in this show are now married and some of them even have kids together! Inspiring, in a way. *** out of 4.
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Royal Rumble (2020 TV Special)
7/10
Royal Rumbles are entertaining by default, but some of the booking here is questionable at best
30 January 2020
Warning: Spoilers
The two Royal Rumble matches in this event are almost the opposites of each other: the women's rumble (***) is definitely more consistent, and reveals more overall depth of roster, but much of the NXT talent is underutilized, and the winner is questionable (as booking), to put it generously; the 2nd entrant, for example, would have made a glorious alternative winner and the crowd was ready for it. On the other hand, the men's rumble (also ***) has a WTF "let's see how far they will go with this" first half that makes most of the roster look weak, but a much better, much more audience-pleasing ending (the kind of ending the women's rumble deserved). One thing both rumbles do have in common is that they feature some welcome returnees. Elsewhere, Roman Reigns and "King" Corbin have a typical, slow Falls Count Anywhere brawl (**), Bayley's Smackdown title match vs. Lacey Evans proves that her heel turn simply isn't working....at all (**), the "Fiend" Bray Wyatt and Daniel Bryan have a Strap Match for the Universal Title which is OK I suppose if you like the stipulation (**1/2 ), and Becky Lynch & Asuka have a Raw title match which is definitely superior to Bayley / Evans; The Man and The Empress mesh well together in the ring (***).
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Immoral Tales (1973)
3/10
These tales may be immoral but they're also really, really dull
28 January 2020
In the spirit of "I'll try anything once", I watched my first Walerian Borowczyk film; it is also probably going to be my last. His brand of pseudo-arty, antiseptic, plotless soft-core porn is totally not my cup of tea (besides, we already have Jess Franco for that). The first story is the best, because it's at least the most honest; the worst is probably the third, in which the shower scenes go on for what seems like three centuries. * out of 4.
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6/10
Humdrum story told with some flair
27 January 2020
Ordinary film noir setup is given some flair by direcror Jean Renoir, and a capable cast: the opening nightmare sequence is impressive, the test-of-blindness at the edge of a cliff is also memorable. The ending feels rushed - probably the chief result of the producers' interference. **1/2 out of 4.
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5/10
Labored slapstick farce
26 January 2020
Ingmar Bergman cuts loose with this atypical homage to bedroom farce and (sometimes silent) slapstick comedy, a lark for one of the most serious filmmakers around the globe. There are fun moments, especially when Bergman breaks the fouth wall and winks at the audience ("these fireworks are not meant to be symbolic"!), but overall the film is stilted, static, and rather tiresome. The women are dazzling, but mostly wasted; despite the title, the central character is a man, and he occupies something like 90% of the running time. ** out of 4.
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Russian Doll (2019– )
7/10
OK series, but never really fully lives up to expectations
21 January 2020
Warning: Spoilers
The premise is intriguing, if hardly original anymore (it's basically the becoming-a-better-person-through-time-loops-and-existential-loneliness concept popularized by "Groundhog Day"), but the show doesn't realize its full potential. It takes too long to kick into high gear - for example, two early episodes are preoccupied with tracking down a drug dealer; this turns out to be entirely irrelevant to the plot. The strong penultimate episode suggests that the roots of the heroine's situation lie in her past, but then this thread is not followed through in the final episode, which puts her and her male co-star / mirror image in different time zones. I liked the actors, the music and the N.Y. atmosphere, but I wouldn't classify this series as a priority to watch. *** out of 4.
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6/10
Esoteric, ambitious, weird, sometimes disturbing, at other times pretentious
19 January 2020
Warning: Spoilers
Not entirely successful (the Greek Tragedy Chorus parts are rough), but worth a look for when you're feeling adventurous. On one level, it's about art vs. reality, with references to Bergman and Bertolucci; on another, it's about Melina Mercouri herself, in her last film appearance (and last of many collaborations with husband-writer-director Jules Dassin), returning to her roots and baring herself (figuratively, not literally) in front of the camera. The acting by the entire cast is strong and committed to this off-the-wall project. **1/2 out of 4.
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Survivor: I'm Not Here to Make Good Friends (2016)
Season 32, Episode 10
9/10
Superb
19 January 2020
Warning: Spoilers
The way Aubry manipulates Tai in this episode, through transfer of both power and responsibility, to make a move that is bad for his game (as an alliance with Scot and Jason was a free ticket to the F3, and even if they tried to cut him at F4, him winning one immunity at that point would be a much safer path to total victory than any he has after this tribal council) but good for him as a person, is phenomenal. This episode also includes what is probably the first memorable / fun moment of Michele so far, when three people are still competing in a reward challenge while she is voraciously eating a huge hamburger with fries without even bothering to look at them! One could argue that this is almost a metaphor for the way she plays the entire game. ***1/2 out of 4.
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Witness for the Prosecution (1982 TV Movie)
7/10
The perfect cozy mystery for a dark & stormy night
13 January 2020
Enormously enjoyable courtroom murder mystery. Agatha Christie's simple yet ingenious concept (which has been copied many, many times by other writers, e.g. Joe Eszterhas) is brought to life by a terrific cast, headed by the impeccable Ralph Richardson. Diana Rigg and Donald Pleasence (old James Bond veterans!) are also superb. Only Beau Bridges seems a little out of his league in this company, but he comes through at the end. One of the better made-for-TV Christie movies, and perfect for a night-in with a cup of hot cocoa (or anything else you might prefer). *** out of 4.
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Once a Thief (1965)
5/10
Mostly dreary caper movie, despite attractive leading couple
12 January 2020
Warning: Spoilers
After a rather stylized opening, "Once A Thief" settles down into a mostly dreary caper film, not helped in this case by dour black-and-white cinematography. The cast is good, though Ann-Margret is wasted in a thankless role (she gets slapped on two separate occasions). John Davis Chandler steals the film as a nasty killer who is hinted to be, as far as an MGM film of that era was allowed to hint someone to be, possibly both a pedophile and a homosexual. ** out of 4.
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Susana (1951)
6/10
A radiant Rosita Quintana sparks this Bunuel trifle
11 January 2020
This is a slight comedy-drama from Bunuel's Mexican phase, though the seductive, curvy and funny Rosita Quintana is certainly well-cast as an unscrupulous home-wrecker. The only ironic Bunuel touch I could spot was making the most Christian character also the most hateful and nasty; maybe viewers more experienced in the director's work will find more! **1/2 out of 4.
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7/10
See this for Eleanor Parker in Technicolor - the ants are just a bonus
8 January 2020
Warning: Spoilers
If you go into "The Naked Jungle" expecting just a killer-ants film, you'll probably be disappointed; the word "ant" is not even mentioned until halfway through the film, and an ant is not seen until the last 20 minutes or so. But do not despair! Beautiful Technicolor, exotic locales, campy dramatics (especially when Heston equates a previously married woman to a used piano (!) and, later, sprays perfume all over her), and a hot (by any era's standards) Eleanor Parker (the scene where she invites Heston to rub her is undeniably erotically charged) in a surprisingly progressive female portrait, carry the movie for the most part; the killer ants are just a bonus. Although the film never really succeeds in making the ants scary, the scenes of their "swarming" in billions, as well as the scenes of flooding at the end, are quite impressive. *** out of 4.
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5/10
Good-looking but unengaging film
6 January 2020
"Bloodhounds of Broadway", which is set in 1928 New York, is actually a film ahead of its own time (1989) in some aspects; with its interlocking stories of tough guys, beautiful dames, underworld figures, bars, gambling, all taking place in a dark megacity, it reminded me of an early "Sin City"! But the filmmakers have put a lot more care in getting the "look" of the film right than in engaging us in the stories and the characters, some of whom are even difficult to keep straight in the first half. The all-star cast is not used to its full potential, although Madonna looks great with a dark bob haircut and has a brief and PG-rated but still hot "strip" number. ** out of 4.
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6/10
The critics were wrong on this one: good fast nonthink fun
6 January 2020
Energetic farce with fast pacing, fun 1980s music, some great vehicular stunts, and one of Madonna's better performances; she makes her kooky, flaky character real. And even though it requires little to no thinking, it still manages to satirize New York's Upper West Side high society more successfully than a more pretentious movie would. Ignore the critics and give this one a chance; it's fun. **1/2 out of 4.
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Quintet (1979)
5/10
Altman's ambitious folly
5 January 2020
"Quintet" is at times visually striking, but hopelessly muddled, painfully slow, and fearfully pretentious; the ultimate lesson appears to be the not-exactly-profound "even in the future, life sucks....and then you die". If you're in the mood for obscure / abstract Altman, I would suggest his "Images" from 1972, which at least has more visual clarity; in "Quintet", the edges of the lenses seem (and IMDb's trivia section confirms it) to be smeared with cream or something, making them hazy. ** out of 4.
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