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The Americans (2013–2018)
7/10
Far too bloody and one-sided political drama. Still, not bad.
23 December 2018
The Americans is a good TV drama, with some serious shortcomings.

Firstly, there are way too many murders. 73 people are killed during the show's 75 episodes. I'm not against violence in TV dramas, but the sheer volume of killings was unrealistic. I suspect 73 killings are far more than all the USSR's agents ever killed in the USA since 1917. Also, many of the murders are completely unnecessary. I think the show would have been far better with a body count that was reduced by at least half.

Secondly, I would have appreciated more insight into the political drama that was going on between the US and the USSR. The first few episodes do this well, but the politics are pretty much dropped entirely after the first season.

Thirdly, we know the KGB was nowhere near as pushy with its agents as the show suggests. As former sleeper agent Jack Barsky reveals, the idea that they forced agents to do missions is complete nonsense.

More importantly, the show is hugely biased towards an American political viewpoint. The Americans are always the good guys and the KGB is only given a thin veil to cover their evil. The Soviet perspective is never really given serious consideration, so the show fails to offer the viewer the proper sense of ambiguity. The KGB is far too often painted as a caricature villain (especially in the later seasons). Maybe the KGB was that evil, but for us to invest in the main characters' motivations, they need to be able to believe they're doing the right thing, and I think it's often too far of a stretch, even for the 100% committed Elizabeth. She is, after all, not an idiot. All too often, the motives of Elizabeth and Philip's handlers were far too obviously evil, and the couple simply accepted it. Philip was at least depressed by it, but neither of them really questioned their handlers' motivations in any serious way until the final season. Better writing could have given the KGB more understandable and compelling motivations.

Still, I enjoyed the show. It's a good tense drama with some nice historical background. Personally, I prefer the German series Deutschland '83, which is a spy drama set in the same period, and which has none of the problems of The Americans, but it's a German language subtitled show, so it's a bit more of an acquired taste.
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The Wall (II) (2017)
10/10
An allegory of the colonial and Middle-eastern experience over the last century and a half
7 November 2017
Warning: Spoilers
The plot of this movie boils down the entire colonial experience in the Middle-east into an 80 minute movie. By the end of the film, you can see what both sides always get out of the situation - ruin. It's not an uplifting movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it does provide some food for thought, unless you went in expecting standard pro- military fare (as I'm sure many of the more negative reviewers did).
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10/10
Excellent military suspense drama
10 November 2008
I'd never even heard of Guns at Batasi before but I was amazed to find that it's a superlative film. I was expecting standard British stiff-upper-lip fare that the British did so well in the 1950s and '60s, but what I wasn't expecting is that a film I'd never even heard of rivals and even exceeds top-notch British dramas like Sidney Lumet's 'The Hill'.

The film stands squarely on Richard Attenborough's pitch-perfect performance as a Regimental Sergeant Major - the performance of a lifetime, especially when you consider that Attenborough is the complete opposite of the character he plays in this film - in reality he's soft-spoken and unassuming, yet the character he's playing is not at all those things. To say that this role was a stretch somehow doesn't do the performance justice - Attenborough literally becomes the RSM, and every moment he's on screen is incredible. Some reviewers assume that his performance is over-the-top, but I can assure everyone that British NCOs do act like this - or at least they did in the 1960s - I had the honour of knowing one of them.

Not that Attenborough is doing it all alone - the other performances are perfect too, as is the direction. The fact that the film was made in a studio in England makes you realise what a great job a truly great crew can do for a film - there's no way you'd think this movie wasn't made in Africa.

Altogether a fantastic movie - probably the best new film (new to me anyway) I've seen in the last two years. This blows everything else out of the water.

Oh, and for those worried that it's a war film - definitely not. It's a drama set in a military barracks, but psychological drama is what we have here, and unlike a lot of those kinds of films this one has a heart and a sense of humour. Don't miss this one!
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Planetes (2003–2004)
10/10
Great Hard Sci-Fi Anime
4 October 2008
This is anime for those who liked 'From the Earth to the Moon', 'The Right Stuff' and perhaps 'The Office'. It really is the most realistic and enjoyable sci-fi/comedy/drama film ever, beating out both '2001: a Space Odyssey' and the excellent sci-fi mock-documentary 'Voyage to the Planets' (known in England as 'Space Odyssey') in terms of its devotion to realism.

Although the series is set 70 years in the future, the show uses only the science we use now and that we can be fairly sure will exist at that time. No warp drives or matter transporters here, only good old fashioned rockets and good old Newtonian physics. I think I've learned more about the realities of space exploration from a few minutes of viewing this series than I ever have from years of keen interest in space documentaries and NASA TV. In my view, this show should be required viewing for astronauts in training - yes, it's that realistic and that informative.

This show proves that realism can make for truly great science fiction. We don't need di-lithium crystals when the real story is where it's always been (whether we're talking about Star Trek, Star Wars, 2001 or indeed Planetes itself) - in the interactions of well-written characters.

The show starts off a little over-the-top (more like 'The Office' in space) and there are a couple of episodes in the first few that are more than a little corny, but there are also a couple of episodes that are hilarious - the one where they meet ninjas on the moon is classic! After the first seven or eight episodes it settles into more of a thoughtful and well-written drama with the occasional humorous scene. I enjoyed the dramatic episodes equally as much as the comedy episodes - there's a lot to like in this show, and watching the characters grow is definitely a big part of that.

If I have any criticisms of the show, it's with the English dubbed version that can be found on US DVD releases. In some ways it's better than the Japanese version (e.g. Hachirota "Hachimaki" Hoshino's voice sounds more age appropriate in the English dub), but all the characters speak with an American accent - every single one - and this comes across as very odd, since it's quite obvious that at least two of the characters are Japanese and one is Russian. Now I can understand giving the Japanese characters American accents, since the DVD is intended primarily for an American audience which is meant to identify with the leads, but the choice for the Russian is just strange. But I'm not going to make too big of a deal of it - once we get to know the characters, their accents (or rather the lack of them) kinda fade into the background.

Altogether, Planetes is an excellent show that can be enjoyed by anyone who doesn't have an aversion to cartoons. Some episodes may not be entirely suitable for kids though - not because there's any unpalatable sexual content or violence, but because some of the issues discussed are more serious (i.e. the real effects of poverty, death, disease etc.). Like many Japanese anime movies and shows, this is definitely geared towards for teens and adults.

In my view this is the best show for space fans since HBO's 'From the Earth to the Moon'. Anyone who loves space exploration should take a look at this show.
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1/10
Horrible anti-British nonsense
25 June 2008
This show is (or was - thankfully I hear it has been cancelled) the worst show on PBS. As an Englishman with a small daughter living in the US I was afraid of the discrimination my daughter might face thanks to the appalling xenophobic tripe that Liberty's Kids was filling young minds with.

I feel strongly that this show was actually harmful to young people - it made virtues out of xenophobia and nationalism. Not only that, but it was bad history too.

I hope it never appears in re-runs or on home video. American kids deserve better than this simplistic and hurtful rubbish.
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Caillou (1997–2010)
1/10
Annoying and a REALLY bad example for kids
22 January 2008
As a 45 year-old parent of a 4 year-old daughter I must say I have to agree with some other reviewers here - this show is terrible. I guess the developers of this show fail to understand that 4 year-olds will see Caillou as a role model and they do not get the character arc. So when Caillou is being whiny or ungrateful and he learns how to behave in the last few minutes of the show, what kids remember is the whininess, not the lesson.

Caillou is a horrible show that teaches kids how not to behave. My daughter actually started to behave much worse after being exposed to this show than she did before seeing it. At one point she even copied Caillou's style of tantrum - where he falls on the floor and kicks his legs while crying - on one level that was amusing but it was clear that our daughter was using the show to learn very bad behaviour. Thanks to the title lock on our DVR this show is now blocked and our daughter has once again become the sweet, well-mannered and happy 4 year-old she was before she saw Caillou.
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The Last Express (1997 Video Game)
10/10
My favourite game of all time
3 January 2008
This game had a hard time being widely accepted, as it came out at a time when the gaming industry was hyping cutting edge graphics, and more thoughtful (but less graphically exciting) games like this were basically ignored.

This is a beautifully crafted game that takes the player back in time to an earlier era. The story takes place in the last days before the Great War changed the face of Europe forever. You are a rogue American adventurer named Robert Cath, and all the action takes place aboard the Orient Express on its final trip from Paris to Constantinople (modern day Istanbul).

Players will first notice that the game uses a sort of stop-motion comic-book style of animation. This is the game's only serious hurdle. Some folks dislike it, others don't mind it at all. I thought it added to the game, as the Art Nouveau style of the graphics lent the requisite old-fashioned air to a game set in Europe in the early years of the 20th Century. Had it been made using a more modern style, I feel it would have lost something. As it is, the visual choice that the developers made seems perfect for the period and serve to draw you deeper into the story.

Another choice the developers made was to make all the game action take place in real time. Again, this choice may be disliked by players who want fast-paced excitement all the time. At certain periods you have time to just drink in the atmosphere of Europe on the brink of war. This is part of the game's allure. It's a game for people who like to change into a robe on a winter's evening, set a roaring fire in the fireplace and curl up in an overstuffed armchair with a well-written historical novel.

The game presents players with a traditional adventure story, and a rich and deeply involving one at that. The action starts in a Paris train station, and you are soon aboard the Orient Express. As you board the train you have no idea what the next 48 hours will bring, but you will be called on to perform deeds that will determine the very future of Europe. As the story unfolds, you are torn between your allegiance to yourself and your responsibility to save Europe as it plunges into chaos. You will experience adventure, the temptation of riches, love, and tragedy as the Orient Express takes you inexorably towards your destiny.

This game is probably the best game I have ever played. I have owned it for 10 years and I've had it on my hard drive all of that time. In terms of atmosphere and story it is unmatched. I am not ashamed to say that it is the only game I've ever played that has made me weep for the characters. Emotionally engaging, deep and ultimately unforgettable, for me this is the perfect game.
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Rotten TV (2000– )
10/10
Great series that didn't get a chance
18 January 2007
As far as I could see after seeing only one episode (the one where he burns Sid's letter) this was an entertaining show with John Lydon being his iconoclastic and supremely entertaining self. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that only three episodes aired - after all TV is all about selling commercials, and Lydon is not exactly the kind of person who's likely to sell us to the sponsors. He's more likely to warn us away from them.

I'd like to see this series on DVD - perhaps they could do what they did with the TV series 'Profit' and release all the aired and unaired episodes.
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Doogal (2006)
1/10
Too many cooks (or scriptwriters) spoil the broth.
20 September 2006
Although this film has nice animation, talented actors voicing the roles, and a great subject - the hugely entertaining 1960s children's TV series 'The Magic Roundabout', this film is fatally flawed by a execrable script. This film had nine (count 'em) scriptwriters. Not even the appalling Judge Dredd had that many. This is a perfect example of how bad a film written by committee can be. Awful, awful, awful. Please, if you haven't yet seen Doogal (or as it's called in Britain 'The Magic Roundabout'), and if you value your intellect, don't see this film. Instead, buy or rent the old Magic Roundabout series (if it's available anywhere anymore). The series was great.
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Mad Love (1935)
10/10
Excellent horror classic. Where's the DVD?
18 July 2006
This movie, like many true classics of the 1930s, seems destined never to appear on DVD. It would be a crying shame if this film was denied DVD treatment, especially considering the fact that virtually any old tripe made in colour often gets two or three separate DVD releases.

Peter Lorre gives a masterful and scene-stealing performance as a brilliant surgeon called on, by the woman he is fatefully obsessed by, to perform surgery on her husband. The film is beautiful to watch, not only for a simple tale of horror well told, but for the sheer fun of it. This is one of those movies (along with Dracula, Frankenstein, and perhaps even The Hounds of Zaroff) that defined the classic period of American horror films.
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Space Race (2005– )
7/10
Good TV movie, but it misses a lot of detail
9 June 2006
Firstly I should say that I saw the US version of the miniseries - apparently this version has a different narrator than the English version. Why the creators felt that was necessary is beyond me - is an English accent all that distracting for Americans? I don't think so. The 'Walking with Dinosaurs' videos have the same problem, and are virtually ruined by poor quality narration for the American versions.

I liked this movie, but some things frustrated me.

I think the scriptwriter made a mistake in trying to cover both the US and Soviet efforts to land a man on the moon. I think the miniseries would have been better if it had concentrated on the Soviet side of things (as the US side has been virtually done to death). The Russian parts somehow seemed deeper to me - I don't know why - perhaps it was that the personalities were more likable, or maybe the acting was just a bit more nuanced. Anyway, I felt cheated whenever the action shifted to the US.

The movie is technically very good, with great special effects and good accents all around. When German is spoken it really sounds like German - none of the deeply accented German we're used to hearing with British/American productions. The Russian also seems good, although my knowledge of the Russian language is not that good.

Where the movie really fails is in terms of the scope of the production: far too much is squeezed into four hours, and a great deal of important detail is lost. We get about five minutes covering Yuri Gagarin's flight, and less for Alexei Leonov's first space walk. Valentina Tereshkova's flight (the first female in space) is not even mentioned - in fact she doesn't get any mention at all - one is led to believe that all the cosmonauts were men. Similarly omitted is the Soviet lunar module. Basically the Russian side of things is basically ignored as Apollo gets off the ground. Finally, I felt the miniseries fizzled out - the US moon landing was covered very sketchily, and that was the end. I felt the film would have benefited if the Apollo-Soyuz mission was covered - that was, after all, the true end of the US-Soviet competition, and it would have ended the film on a note of hopefulness and international cooperation.
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The Dead (1987)
10/10
Possibly the greatest movie ever made - where's the DVD?
27 March 2006
I first saw this film in Austria when it first came out, and I was entranced by it. It is a passionate and deeply moving work that should be experienced by all connoisseurs of motion picture art. What a shame that it has never been released in DVD format. Perhaps one of these days that will be rectified, as it would be a shame indeed if one of the best films ever made was forgotten and left to fade away in some film vault forever.

Why is it that 'B' movies like 'American Wedding' and 'Eurotrip' get widescreen and fullscreen releases, and often a special edition with multiple commentaries and extras, while great art pieces like 'The Dead' are all but forgotten?
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Penn & Teller: Bullshit! (2003–2010)
Penn and Teller's show is bullshit!
12 February 2006
The big problem with "Penn & Teller: Bullshit!" is that very little of the debunking that goes on in the show is all that scientific. Too many of their episodes come down to Penn calling people assholes and just contradicting what the targets of his ire are saying. The Gun Control episode is a perfect example - Penn and Teller interview an anti-gun nut and call him an 'asshole', then they interview a pro-gun nut and (without showing us compelling evidence) tell us he's right. That's not skepticism - it's propaganda, and not very well camouflaged propaganda at that. While encouraging the audience to laugh derisively along with Penn might be entertaining if one agrees with him, it's not all that convincing to someone who's truly skeptical (as opposed to merely cynical).

'Bullshit!' seems to me to be long on ridicule and short on hard evidence. In a way, what the presenters are doing is combating what they see as lunacy with empty rhetoric and bombast - it's sort of like their magic show - they present the audience with the illusion that their argument has weight when in fact it often does not. When I first saw 'Bullshit!' I was taken in by it, but it soon became clear what they were doing.

I would prefer such a show to do what the show 'Mythbusters' does - i.e. prove beyond a reasonable doubt that what they're saying must be the case. It's simply not convincing to tell me that I'm a dumbass if I don't believe Penn and Teller. In fact it's abusive. Penn and Teller should stick to magic tricks, because it seems to me that too many of their attempts at skepticism are doing true skeptics a disservice because their show merely polarizes opinion rather than teaching critical thinking.

In short, Penn and Teller are full of it. Their latest show is just as full of illusion as their magic shows are, and that's no bullshit.
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5/10
Not as good as it could have been.
7 February 2006
This film was done by the same folks who gave us the 'Walking with Dinosaurs/Prehistoric Beasts' shows, and the sequences involving the dragons are mesmerizing, but the bits with the supposed modern paleontologist's quest to find evidence of a dragon are contrived and very badly acted indeed. This was simply not the right way to present this show - it's just too much of a stretch to make dragons scientifically plausible, and I feel the production company would have been better served by hiring some real scientists to play the roles of scientists - rather than giving second-rate actors a horrible script. Just imagine if real scientists had been interviewed and allowed to imagine the plausibilities of dragons having been real, and then intercutting the CGI stuff, rather than contriving a modern scientific 'discovery' plot and hiring actors to play it out.

Basically, this film would have been better if it had included less of the modern storyline and just allowed us to suspend disbelief as we watched dragons soaring over plains and mountains and doing the things that dragons did in legend. They made an overly-serious effort to convince us that dragons were real, but they did it by using a simplistic Indiana Jones style plot full of holes you could fly a dragon through.

I like the DVD overall - I even own it, but I wish I didn't have to fast-forward through the appalling dialogue, the bad acting, the soap-opera plot and the pseudo-science in order to get to the good stuff.
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Serenity (2005)
8/10
Nowhere near as bad as some critics suggest.
2 January 2006
Many of the negative reviewers here (e.g. A real look at Serenity, 6 October 2005) choose to review based purely on the reviews of the so-called 'fanboys' - they cite Citizen Kane as if the movie ever purported to be in that class - it didn't. As well as forgetting to review the film at all, they knock off an extra 4 stars or so, presumably to 'even out' the excessive '10 out of 10' votes that others have given. As such, they become part of the same problem they're railing against. If only everyone would review and rate movies fairly, the system would work properly. Anyway, if I go on, my review will become part of the same issue, and I don't want mine to be solely a reaction to negative reviewers.

This is a good Sci-Fi film. Sure, it has some plot holes and some disappointing plot choices were made, especially towards the end where the film appears rushed. But there's a lot to like in this film too. I was not a Firefly fan before seeing the film - I had only ever seen one episode - but the film was good enough to prompt me to buy the DVD of the series, and now my wife and I are definitely fans.

As I said before, this film is not trying to be Citizen Kane or The Godfather. What it does try to be is the equivalent of a Star Trek movie. As such, Serenity succeeds far better than most of the Star Trek movies, and perhaps even better than the better Star Trek films such as Wrath of Khan. After having watched Firefly (the series) I have to say that like many Fox shows that were cancelled before they had a chance (anyone remember Profit?) this show deserves a break, and Serenity is good enough to perhaps get some network executives to give it a second chance, or perhaps we could see another movie. Either way, I'll look forward to it.
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Exotica (1994)
10/10
One of the great movies of the 1990s
24 December 2005
One of the best movies I've ever seen. This film is what movies should always be about - making people think about how they think, their preconceptions and prejudices.

The film seems to have been marketed as a borderline porn film, and although it has a single scene of partial nudity, that is by no means what it's about. The actors give wonderful performances and the director does a great job of crafting a thoughtful and thought-provoking masterpiece.

I'm not going to say more about the storyline because if too much is given away you won't get those moments of revelation. Just go out and rent or buy this masterpiece of cinema.
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The Shadow (1994)
8/10
Shadow is shockingly under-appreciated
21 December 2005
I really can't understand how anyone could see this film and not see its charm. In my book, this is THE most reverent and faithful pulp/comic adaptation that has ever graced the silver screen. The acting is good, and all the people involved understand that this film is intended to be a campy and tongue-in-cheek romp (something that apparently some viewers are incapable of appreciating).

I am astonished that so many people just don't get it. I suppose it's true what they say - there's no accounting for taste. The critical reaction to this movie has always been a mystery to me. Usually I can figure out what it is about a movie that an audience doesn't like, but the reaction to this one continues to elude me. None of the oft-heard criticisms make any sense to me. So I must conclude that many people are just clueless as to what this movie was supposed to be, and how well it achieved it.
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10/10
Excellent show, but with some slightly unbelievable aspects.
21 December 2005
Duck_of_Death needs to watch this film again, as his major criticism is completely baseless. The film never once forgot about the time delay, and it was mentioned explicitly in a couple of places. The crew were never shown having conversations with mission control that didn't obey the time delay rules.

One thing I did think was a bit far-fetched was the amount of risk involved - would a crew land on a planet on which pressure suits would only last two hours? I doubt it. Would a manned space ship go into a star's corona? I doubt it. Would humans land on a moon that was being bombarded with huge amounts of radiation? I doubt it. Also, the ship seemed overly sturdy. Would a ship designed like that risk atmospheric flight to slow it down? I doubt it. Would it survive being hit by comet debris? I doubt it. I think in both cases the stresses on the structure would be too much. But all-in-all, the unlikely scenarios were compensated by some nicely done special effects, good editing and production, and some good acting, especially by the actors portraying the ship's commander and the Russian cosmonaut.
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The Island (2005)
1/10
Plot holes you could drive that Mack truck through
18 December 2005
Honestly, this movie is absolutely HORRIBLE. They use quick cuts to disguise the fact that virtually nothing in this film makes any sense at all. They keep clones conscious - why? They bring Scarlett Johannsen's character back to the base and leave her armed with a pistol - why? These are just two major plot flaws in a movie so packed with them that the editors had to resort to a blazing fast pace and blatant cutting tricks just to cover them. Oh, this movie was foul. Everyone involved should be embarrassed about this train wreck of a film. Towards the end it got so bad that I was pleading for it to just end, but it just kept on going and going.
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10/10
Excellent portrayal of Hitler's rise to power
23 February 2005
One thing you'll notice in this movie straight away - the actors all look uncannily like their real-life counterparts. However, even with look-alike actors, a movie can fall down in terms of script and acting, but not this one. Considering this movie was made in the 1940s, and in the middle of WW2 no less, the acting and direction are great, the story is not overly propagandized, and we get possibly the best portrayal of Hitler on screen until this year's 'Downfall' (Der Untergang).

Another of those movies which deserve to be classics, but which are rotting in a film vault somewhere. It is a crime that this isn't available anywhere on DVD.
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Supernova (I) (2000)
10/10
I really liked it
10 February 2005
I thought this movie was great. True, it has more dialogue than most, but since when was that a negative in a sci-fi movie?

I guess I can understand why people brought up on slasher flicks posing as sci-fi might not like this film, but it is a perfectly good movie, with some good ideas and well-directed. The DVD sits in my movie cabinet, and if I had to pick my 10 best sci fi films I think this would be among them.

In short, it's nowhere near as bad as its critics suggest, and I would recommend it to anyone who demands thoughtful sci-fi rather than a pure action fest.
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Lackluster? Not bad? This was appalling!
23 December 2004
I can honestly say that this was the worst show of any kind I have ever seen. Wooden performances, horrible sickly sweet songs, a script that mangles Dickens. I believe this movie actually scarred me mentally.

The reviewers who say this was 'lackluster', 'disappointing', or 'good but flawed' must have been sipping too much egg nog. This thing - I balk at calling it any word that might make people think it was made for purposes of entertainment - was absolutely terrible. I dread to think of what could possibly cause people to actually like this piece of refuse.

The only reason I kept watching was because it was so incredibly bad. It had the horrible fascination of a slow motion train wreck.
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10/10
Another forgotten classic
15 November 2004
Whenever I surf over to IMDb I always seem to find forgotten classics that are unavailable in any format. This is another example of a great movie which never seems to resurface on VHS or DVD. At least this one was released on video at one time and can be found at secondhand vendors.

No one has ever done a better job of transferring this lesser-known classic story to the screen. Michael York, Simon McCorkindale and Jenny Agutter are seldom better than they are here in quiet and understated performances. The director achieves the very spirit of the book in a seemingly effortless manner.

Such a pity that no one who has the ability to resurrect this movie thinks it worthy of the DVD treatment it deserves.
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Richard III (1983 TV Movie)
Great adaptation - why isn't it available on DVD???
29 September 2004
Again, we see another example of a great 'lost' film. This is without a doubt the best Richard III on film (or in this case on videotape). Why, oh why, are so many such great films like this consigned to a film vault somewhere, gathering dust, when they could be making their owners lots of cash??? It's incredible to me that great works of cinematic and TV art are in danger of being permanently lost to us, while lesser works are on videotape and DVD in various versions including letterboxed, full screen, special edition, etc.

This teleplay is among the best British TV dramas ever produced. Won't someone please get great British TV dramas like this released on DVD???
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Should have won Best Picture Oscar
1 March 2004
I don't know what's happened to the Oscars. Maybe the Academy always voted for shallow movies? All I know is that Lord of the Rings must be about the least deserving Oscar winner of all time, and Lost in Translation must be the unluckiest Oscar nominee of all time. To my mind, Lost In Translation should have swept the Oscars this year. All I can think is that the judges just didn't get it. Shame!

This movie deserved better in terms of accolades. Not many directors can make such a subtle yet deeply moving piece of art, and the fact that this director emerged from a Hollywood environment makes her achievement even greater. Bravo Sofia Coppola and the cast and crew of Lost In Translation! This is an awesome movie, and the shameful lack of laurels it received from the industry only reflects poorly on those who couldn't see its greatness.
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