TV Review: Blackadder (1983-1989)

Also known as: The Black Adder (Series 1), Blackadder II (Series 2), Blackadder the Third (Series 3), Blackadder Goes Forth (Series 4)
Original Run: June 15th, 1983 – November, 1989
Directed by: various
Written by: Richard Curtis, Rowan Atkinson, Ben Elton
Music by: Howard Goodall
Cast: Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson, Tim McInnerny, Miranda Richardson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Rik Mayall (cameos)

2entertain, BBC, 24 Episodes (plus 3 specials), 30 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2014.

Rowan Atkinson is pretty much a comedic genius. Add in Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Tony Robinson, Tim McInnerny, Miranda Richardson, Brian Best and a bit of Rik Mayall and you’ve got a dream team of British comedic talent.

This is one of the best sitcoms ever produced. It is also quite unique in that each series was different and completely new. Series 1 took place in the British Middle Ages, Series 2 was set during the reign of Elizabeth I, Series 3 takes place during the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, while Series 4 takes place on the Western Front during World War I. The one thing connecting all the shows is Rowan Atkinson’s character Edmund Blackadder or just “The Blackadder”, who is a different character each series, although each incarnation is a part of the same lineage. Many of the characters on the show are also different people within their own long lineages.

Out of the series, I really enjoy the fourth series the best. All of them are good but for some reason, in the fourth, they really hit their stride and knocked it out of the park in each episode. Going backwards, I also loved series 3, as it brought Hugh Laurie in full-time and gave the show a new and permanent dynamic that really upped the ante. Series 2 is my least favorite overall but it is still a level above the majority of televisions shows from that same era. The first series is pretty fantastic too and as good as Atkinson is in it, Brian Blessed really brings something exceptional to the show.

To this day, the show still feels timeless, is pretty damned hilarious and never really seems to get old. Maybe the the fact that each series is its own period piece, helps this show have that timeless vibe. I probably watch through each series almost annually. I feel like Atkinson’s Mr. Bean has become a more popular character, at least in the United States, but his greatest work comes here, as Edmund Blackadder.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: A Bit of Fry & Laurie and The New Statesman.

Film Review: Hard Rain (1998)

Also known as: The Flood (working title)
Release Date: January 16th, 1998
Directed by: Mikael Salomon
Written by: Graham Yost
Music by: Christopher Young
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Randy Quaid, Minnie Driver, Edward Asner, Richard Dysart, Betty White, Ricky Harris

UGC-PH, Tele-Munchen, BBC, Nordisk Film, Marubeni, Toho, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Mutual Film Company, Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Look! We just want the money! You guys can walk away, we won’t kill you!” – Jim

This film has more studios, distributors and countries involved in its creation than I have ever seen. Okay, maybe not ever but there is a whole shit ton of people behind this little action movie.

It also has a pretty big cast for a movie about a town vacated due to massive flooding. But the big cast of characters was actually a benefit as this movie has so many twists, turns and character morality shifts that at its core, this is very much film-noir.

Christian Slater plays an armored truck guard. He and his older mentor, played by Edward Asner, get stuck in the flood waters as they are transporting three million dollars from the small town’s bank to safety. They are quickly overcome by a group of thieves, led by Morgan Freeman. Asner’s character is killed in the initial confrontation but Slater escapes and hides the money away in a tomb. As the water rises further, Slater is on the run from Freeman’s gang, who have acquired boats and jet skis to more easily navigate the flooded city streets.

The town is also protected by a three man police force led by Randy Quaid. They seem like a heroic lot but as the film progresses and greed takes over the hearts of nearly everyone in the film, we see the worst come out in those tasked with keeping the peace.

Minnie Driver is thrown into the film because you need eye candy and someone for the hero to try and hook up with. You also have an elderly couple who stayed behind, played by the great Betty White and Richard Dysart. There is also the town’s dam operator, played by Wayne Duvall.

Hard Rain is a guilty pleasure of mine. I know it isn’t a good movie but it is great, mindless fun for ninety minutes. The action is good, there are a lot of layers to the story and there really isn’t a dull moment. I can’t say that the script is good either but at least the plot moves swiftly, offers up some decent surprises and is interesting enough to keep one engaged.

The highlight of the film is the three male leads, all of whom played their parts well and seemed to be having fun with the material.

This is a quintessential ’90s mid-budget action picture. It doesn’t try to do too much and stays pretty grounded in reality. The premise made for an ambitious picture, especially in regards to how much water was needed to create the scenes, but it never felt over the top or ridiculous. The shootout inside the church is marvelously executed and still looks good today.

This is just a fun movie with a good cast that I have to revisit once in awhile.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Broken Arrow, another Christian Slater action film from the same era.

TV Review: Red Dwarf – The Modern Era (2012- )

Original Run: October 4th, 2012 – current
Created by: Doug Naylor
Directed by: Doug Naylor
Written by: Doug Naylor
Based on: Dave Hollis: Space Cadet by Rob Grant, Doug Naylor
Music by: Howard Goodall
Cast: Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn

Grant Naylor, Baby Cow Productions, BBC, Dave, 18 Episodes (so far), 28-30 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

After the success of Red Dwarf: Back to Earth in 2009, Doug Naylor and the Red Dwarf crew came back together for a full season in 2012. Since then, we’ve had seasons in 2016 and 2017 with even more on their way, from what Naylor has said.

I was hugely impressed with the tenth season when it debuted in 2012 and it was my favorite season since the sixth, way back in 1993. Everything about it just felt right. Additionally, I loved the look of the show. While Red Dwarf had lots of set changes from season to season, this one had my favorite sets since the first two seasons of the show. Plus, the writing for Red Dwarf X was absolutely stellar and there are episodes in this series that I consider classics now.

I didn’t like Red Dwarf XI as much as X but it was still pretty damn satisfying. I wasn’t a fan of the set changes but for the most part, I was captivated by these episodes. Again, good stories and great execution of the material from the cast, who, at this point, are so comfortable together that they feel like actual family.

The most recent season, Red Dwarf XII just debuted a few months ago. I got to check it out with my Britbox add-on for my FireStick. It was a pretty good season but out of the modern stuff, I still like Red Dwarf X the best. The last episode of the season was nice though, as there were some cameos of old school Red Dwarf characters that haven’t been seen since the classic run of the show in the ’90s.

The modern era of Red Dwarf is a great continuation of the series that is more in line with the show at its peak than Back to Earth and the last few seasons of the classic era.

To be honest, I would watch Red Dwarf till the end of time and there’s a part of me that hopes that we get to check in with these guys once in awhile for years to come.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Anything Red Dwarf.

 

TV Review: Red Dwarf – Back to Earth (2009)

Original Run: April 10th, 2009 – April 12th, 2009
Created by: Doug Naylor
Directed by: Doug Naylor
Written by: Doug Naylor
Based on: Dave Hollis: Space Cadet by Rob Grant, Doug Naylor
Music by: Howard Goodall
Cast: Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Chloë Annett, Sophie Winkleman

Grant Naylor, UK Gold Services Limited, BBC, Dave, 3 Episodes, 25 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

It took a decade but after the weird eighth season that capped off the original run of the Red Dwarf televisions series, we finally got the promised followup. While a theatrical film was teased for years, it never materialized. Instead, we got this three-part special that aired over Easter weekend in 2009.

Back to Earth was a vast improvement over seasons seven and eight, which left many fans baffled and sad. It also brought Red Dwarf back into people’s minds and allowed for the show to actually return in its normal form which happened in 2012 and we have since had three seasons of the show following this special.

For the most part, this is a pretty good outing for Lister, Rimmer, Cat and Kryten. I wasn’t a fan of the multi-episode experiments they did in season eight, as they really contributed to the slow and drab feeling of that series. Here, the concept works though. But thankfully, this was the last time that they did a multi-part story.

This three parter is called Back to Earth because the Dwarfers actually get back to Earth but it is the Earth of our time. Furthermore, it isn’t the Dwarfers Earth it is literally our Earth. You see, the Red Dwarf crew discover that they are fictional characters made up to entertain us in the real world. They then go on a quest to get their show to continue because they don’t want to die with its cancellation. Of course, there are some twists in the plot and luckily for us, the show did continue beyond this.

This series is also an awesome homage to the sci-fi/neo-noir classic Blade Runner. It has a lot of gags and moments that are recreations of key scenes from the film and they are done beautifully. It added a cool aesthetic to this story.

Also, the story is a throwback to a really popular older episode. I’m not going to say which, as it may spoil some of the twists.

The only really weird thing about this series, is that it didn’t have a live audience or even a laugh track. The lack of canned laughter is actually kind of distracting but you do get used to it, once the Dwarfers leave their normal surroundings and get to modern Earth at the start of the second episode.

The crossover between Craig Charles’ two biggest shows Red Dwarf and Coronation Street was really damn cool, as well.

Ultimately, this isn’t as good as the classic series, as a whole, but as a standalone story, it is one of my favorites. Had it been the final time we saw these guys, as many believed in 2009, it would have been a fine and honorable sendoff.

But I’m pretty happy that we’ve gotten three more seasons after this with more presumably to come.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Anything Red Dwarf.

TV Review: Red Dwarf – The Classic Era (1988-1999)

Original Run: February 15th, 1988 – April 5th, 1999
Created by: Rob Grant, Doug Naylor
Directed by: Ed Bye, various
Written by: Rob Grant, Doug Naylor, various
Based on: Dave Hollis: Space Cadet by Rob Grant, Doug Naylor
Music by: Howard Goodall
Cast: Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Norman Lovett, Hattie Hayridge, Chloë Annett

Grant Naylor, BBC, 52 Episodes, 28-30 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Red Dwarf is one of the greatest television shows ever produced. In its classic run, it was a near perfect comedic masterpiece until the early parts of season seven and the entirety of season eight. Still, six really stellar seasons is more than most shows can accomplish and even if the quality dipped, by that point, we were still spending time with these beloved characters.

The plot is bizarre but pretty original and kind of cool. Dave Lister gets put into stasis for bringing a cat on board of the mining space ship Red Dwarf. When he wakes up, he’s three million years in the future, the crew is dead, except for a hologram of his annoying superior officer and bunk mate, Arnold Rimmer, as well as a character evolved from his pet cat, appropriately named Cat. In season three, the crew are joined by the butler mechanoid Kryten. There is also the ship’s computer, Holly.

There first two seasons of the show are actually my favorite, mostly because it’s new and fresh and for a long time, it was the only portion of the show I had access to, thanks to VHS tapes sent to me from a friend in the UK. But I loved the sets and style of the first two seasons. After that, the show evolved visually where there were a lot of aesthetic changes and inconsistencies from season to season.

The real spirit of the show is strongest however from seasons three to six. That’s where the show found its proper footing, had its full cast without any extra flourishes and also featured the best writing. While Lister, Rimmer and Cat were fun in the first two years of the show, seasons three through six are where they really become real people that you care for, which is just a testament to the great writing as well as the talent of Craig Charles, Chris Barrie and Danny John-Jules – the original three stars. Robert Llewellyn’s addition to the cast as the full-time version of Kryten (he appeared in one episode of season two, played by a different actor) was a real cherry on top of the sweet sundae that was this group of characters.

In season seven, things go a bit downhill. Rimmer left the show in episode two and just had two very brief cameos in the season. In the cast, he was replaced by the show’s first and only real full-time female star, Chloë Annett. She played Kochanski, the woman that Lister obsessed over since the first episode of the show. While I actually did like Annett and the character, where most fans did not, she still felt out of place and it disrupted the dynamic of the show. I don’t blame Annett, it was just that the show had a certain formula and with her there, that formula was gone.

Season eight was pretty atrocious though and is the main reason why I can’t give the classic run of Red Dwarf a perfect rating. It was an ambitious season, as far as how drastically the show was altered but ambition is often times misguided. Had the show ended at season six, it would have been absolute perfection.

The show would then leave the airwaves for a decade. Over the course of that time there was a Red Dwarf movie being discussed but it was in developmental hell for quite some time. In 2009, the show would return with the three-part special Back to Earth, which I will review on its own. A few years after that, the show was resurrected and is still in production today. I’ll also review that separately.

TV Review: Doctor Who – The Ninth Doctor Era (2005)

Original Run: March 26th, 2005 – June 18th, 2005
Created by: Sydney Newman, C. E. Webber, Donald Wilson
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: various, Murray Gold (since 2005)
Cast: Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper, John Barrowman, Camille Coduri, Noel Clarke, Bruno Langley

BBC, 13 Episodes, 45 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

It has been a while since I’ve watched the Eccleston era of Doctor Who but I wanted to go back and start with the 2005 revival series from the beginning.

This is certainly the best place to start with modern Who but the beginning of any Doctor’s run is still a decent starting place. However, Eccleston’s debut is more pivotal than David Tennant’s, as it helps to establish Rose Tyler and her friends and family into the Doctor Who mythos, as they do carry over into the show when Tennant takes the reins from Eccleston.

The show starts off with a bang and features an episode with the evil Autons, a classic Who alien race that was always cool to see on screen but have not returned to the show since that first episode of the revival series.

The show then goes on to reacquaint us with what Doctor Who is and how the Time Lord operates in this vast universe, throughout all of time and space.

We meet new aliens but we also get reacquainted with the Daleks in three episodes. The first of which, being titled just Dalek. Still, to this day, it is one of the best episodes of the revived Doctor Who series.

Apart from Rose Tyler and her family of characters, we also get to meet Captain Jack Harkness, played by John Barrowman, who would also play Merlyn in Arrow and other CW shows revolving around DC Comics heroes. Harkness was so popular, actually, that he would get his own spin off show, Torchwood. Harkness is also one of those characters that fans have been clamoring for the producers to bring back. In this season of the show, Harkness is at his best.

All in all, this is a pretty good revival of the long running show. This season isn’t as good as what was to come with David Tennant (the Tenth Doctor) but it was a good foundation for the iconic series to return. Sadly, Eccleston left after these thirteen episodes but that also gave us Tennant, so I can’t be completely broken up about it.

Film Review: Doctor Who: The Five Doctors (1983)

Release Date: November 23rd, 1983
Directed by: Peter Moffatt, John Nathan-Turner, Richard Martin, Pennant Roberts
Written by: Terrance Dicks, Terry Nation, Douglas Adams
Music by: Peter Howell
Cast: Peter Davison, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Richard Hurndall, Tom Baker (cameo), William Hartnell (archive footage), Anthony Ainley, Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson, Carole Ann Ford, Nicholas Courtney, Elisabeth Sladen, Lalla Ward (cameo)

Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), 90 Minutes (television), 102 Minutes (extended edition)

Review:

“A cosmos without the Doctor scarcely bears thinking about.” – The Master

While this was not a theatrical movie, it was a feature length special episode of Doctor Who and treated like a feature length production when it came out. It was created to celebrate the show’s twentieth anniversary and for only the second time in history, it teamed up multiple incarnations of the Doctor. This was also the biggest Doctor team up of all-time.

I want to treat all these feature length special episodes as films as opposed to just episodes mixed into the long running show. There are several of these and I want to review them separately, as their own bodies of work.

I was fortunate enough to see this one on the big screen, courtesy of RiffTrax. Now while it was a riffed version with hilarious commentary from some of the former cast members of the original Mystery Science Theater 3000, it was still an amazing experience seeing classic Doctor Who on a thirty foot screen. Especially a story that featured five Doctors.

While this isn’t particularly great as a film on its own, it fits beautifully within the Doctor Who mythos and is one of my favorite Doctor Who stories of all-time. Sure, it really only features three actual Doctors, as the First Doctor is not portrayed by William Hartnell, except in the intro as archive footage, and the Fourth Doctor really just has a brief one scene cameo and is really left out of the story. But all five of the Doctors are represented in some fashion.

The bulk of the acting duties falls on Davison (the Fifth), Pertwee (the Third), Troughton (the Second), Hurndall (as the new version of the First), Ainley (The Master), as well as some of the Doctor’s most famous companions: the Brigadier, Sarah Jane, Susan Foreman, Tegan and Turlough. Lalla Ward’s Romana II also cameos alongside Baker’s Fourth Doctor.

The story is a bit strange but that’s sort of the norm for old school Doctor Who, back in the days before the franchise had any female fans. But any excuse to bring multiple Doctors into an adventure, always works for me. Essentially, there is a big conspiracy and all the Doctors have to work together in order to save themselves. Each Doctor also has a companion from their runs as the character.

The special effects are on par with what was the standard for television show. It is low budget British television science fiction, so one has to sort of look passed the imperfections and hokiness and fill in the blanks with their imagination a bit. But this is always what I loved about classic Who. As a kid, it introduced cool concepts, with cheesy effects and it made my imagination run wild.

This story also features the Cybermen, a Dalek, the Time Lords and the super dangerous Raston Warrior Robot, who is a dude in a silver leotard and helmet that dances around, teleports and shoots spears.

The Five Doctors is far from perfect but it is a hell of a lot of fun for those who are fans of the original Doctor Who series, way before the 2005 revival. This is also my favorite of the multiple Doctor stories.