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Facejacker (2010– )
Almost 10 out of 10
1 June 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I've just given a 1 star review to PhoneShop, so I wanted to redress the balance by giving almost perfect review to both series of Facejacker. If anyone reading my other review thinks I don't understand modern comedy then hopefully this will set them straight: it's not me, it's PhoneShop that is the problem!

Evidently phones are much more fun when they're "jacked" rather than "shopped", as it were, as Kayvan Novak proved so deftly in the original prank phone call show. Terry Tibbs became an immediate sensation, and in Facejacker the strange car-salesman is brought to life.

Taking an overview of both series, Terry Tibbs started off amazingly, then tailed off slightly, then made a great comeback. The first couple of Terry Tibbs appearances, when he hijacked proceedings at Pricedrop TV and then his stunning Come Dine With Me spot, were hilarious! As with Fonejacker, the comedy comes from people's bemused reactions to this obviously full-of-it cockney spiv. Adding to the prank are frequent appearances by Terry's son and daughter, just about the only other people on camera who are in on the joke.

After a few less funny sketches, Terry bounced back in Series 2 with "Talk To Terry", the new Jerry Springer show and one which should be commissioned as a real series. Terry takes to US chat shows like a duck to water, although he will have to perfect the art of running through the audience without falling over! "He's a gay! He's a gay!" he gets the crowd to chant after one poor guy fails a lie-detector test, having denied he is homosexual. Lord alone knows what the audience made of this, but they seemed to have fun on the set, and I certainly had fun watching at home.

The final Terry Tibbs sketch was "The Apprentibbs", which also featured a hilarious new character Patrick: exactly the kind of eccentric person I've met at various workplaces, making you think: "where DO these people come from?". This is the kind of caricature Kayvan is so good at, not just boring clichés but genuine three-dimensional characters with an implicit back story that makes you wonder about the rest of their lives. You can see this with Terry himself - from a voice on a fake phone call, he evolved into a real man with a real family, real kids and many real ex-wives!

You can also see it with Ray Fakadakis, a late addition to the show but a highly welcome one! Ray probably became the star of the second series, and I for one am crying out for more Ray in the future! On one level the shifty ex-con Liverpudlian is a very obvious stereotype, and in lesser hands it would have just raised a yawn. But in Kayvan's genius hands Ray becomes a hero, a pathos-inspiring creature who is desperately, frantically trying to remain positive and happy whilst fighting some very dark demons. It's going to take him a lot of time and a lot of affirming "I'm amazing!" before he finds the contentment that he genuinely wants to impart into the next generation. It's probably going to take an even longer time for his hapless students to fully comprehend the wisdom of Ray's advice, especially his altruistic gift of a Cup-a-soup to a gobsmacked young teenager.

I haven't even got to Brian Badonde yet, another true star. His finest encounter was possibly with the LA rappers, poor guys! This was closely followed by Bick at the Fine College with his nude class (I mean, we've all stood naked in the middle of the room while some nice friends paint us, haven't we?) Everyone in Brian's path ended up obliterated by the bonkers, braying, barking art critic and his Bourette's syndrome. The funny thing is watching people gamely trying to maintain dignity and an academic tone while this charlatan pseudo art expert talks gibberish.

Another treat was the various guises of the talking machine: from Moira's Drive Thru to an automated tourist kart in San Francisco, the machine unfailingly misheard its instructions, broke down with technicalty difficultings, and just plain confused its users.

Augustus Kwembe tried scamming people using hypnosis, he pretended to be a traffic warden and a supermarket cashier, plus many more scams besides.

Dufrais was probably the hardest character to watch, and the most thought-provoking. I would even say on one or two occasions he crossed the line into actually being unfunnily obnoxious, but even in those moments there was clearly a point to Dufrais. How much slack do we cut disabled people for saying or doing things that would otherwise be totally inappropriate? Should we apply exactly the same social rules to them, or should we pussyfoot around and treat them with kid gloves? Almost all Dufrais' victims were incredibly patient, some were patronising and others, most hilariously, didn't give a monkeys about his disability and totally lost their temper regardless. I'm thinking of the bus driver on the baseball tour.

There were several other equally funny characters who only made one or two appearances. The comedy often had a real heart and soul to it, as well as making subtle points about human psychology. You could debate whether these points were deliberately pondered by Kayvan, or whether every prank show tells us something about ourselves and how we try to make sense of the most bizarre circumstances. I suspect that, for example, Kayvan has thought deeply about people's slavish obedience to machines, or how easily we place our trust in professional-looking camera crews, even when doing so defies all reason. In other words, there is some real intelligence at work here - it's not just Beadle's About or Trigger Happy TV.

I could go on, but it feels really good to be able to enthuse wholeheartedly about an original, innovative, fresh, good-hearted, varied, high quality British comedy and to demonstrate how good comedy can really inspire us!
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Columbo: Columbo Likes the Nightlife (2003)
Season 13, Episode 5
A New Style For Columbo
28 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
What a shame this was the last ever Columbo. If only there had been "just one more thing": a final send-off episode, featuring the Lieutenant reluctantly forced to retire but not before solving his most impressive case! Back in the 70s "The Conspirators" was a perfect way to end the original series - an epic, "fin-de-siecle" episode that closed the chapter with its fitting slogan: "this far and no farther".

As it stands "Columbo Likes The Nightlife" doesn't feel like the last ever Columbo ever, it feels like the start of something new. This is why it's a shame: Columbo had turned a corner with this episode, still finding its feet with the new style, and had a few more episodes been created in the same vein we could have had a last hurrah for the Lieutenant (as opposed to a last salute for the commodore!).

If anything, the new direction of "Columbo Likes The Nightlife" is almost like a return to the very first appearance of "Columbo" in "Prescription Murder". It's interesting to compare the first and last episodes, and in fact they have more in common than maybe first apparent. For starters, the character Columbo in each episode is slightly less goofy and pretend-dumb: the murderers know he isn't stupid (unlike your "Death Lends A Hand" and "Columbo Goes To College" type episodes in which he readily plays the fool). He's definitely more serious here and the style of the piece is less wacky and whimsical than usual.

If the humour is downplayed in an episode of Columbo, what replaces it? In this case, as with the original episode, what replaces it is genuine suspense. A male murderer with a female accomplice both have to deny knowing each other (well, in "Prescription Murder" they know each other professionally but have to deny they are having an affair). Matthew Rhys is a new kind of Columbo villain in terms of appearance and fashion, however typically charming and "respectable" when dealing with Columbo (though with a not very secret dark side). Jennifer Sky was absolutely superb in this episode as his accomplice. Not only is she stunning, her acting was really pitch-perfect, getting more and more worried as the net closes in.

Another similarity with the original episode is the modishness of the setting. In fact, the best Columbos (apart from a few of the late 70s ones) tended to revolve around some new fad or new technology, very indicative of their era. Whereas "Prescription Murder" was very late-60s with its cheese and wine parties, "Columbo Likes The Nightlife" was a pretty good snapshot of early 00s rave culture. I was heavily into the culture at the time (we all go through that phase when we are growing up!) so it was frankly amazing to see Columbo enter that world, and what's more do it with style and lightness of touch. The world of rave is not really that different from the world of magic, a la "Now You See Him" and the Great Santini. After all, it's all done with smoke and mirrors. And, as I have said in my other reviews, any Columbo that features an outwardly glamorous backdrop makes a great setting for intrigue and foul play.

Any faults with "Columbo Likes The Nightlife" and this return to the serious, cutting-edge type Columbo? Not his age. Somehow Columbo appeared to be slightly younger here than in the previous few episodes, maybe it was his seriousness and that there was less of his absent-minded rambling and shuffling about here. I think Peter Falk definitely had at least one, if not two or three more episodes left in him after this. He was as sharp as ever.

The ending was ever so slightly disappointing for two reasons: one, if the music was stopped at a rave people wouldn't just stand around in silence, there would be catcalls and "wtf" reactions from the crowd! It would totally confuse the ravers to be honest. And the evidence about the fish kind of came out of leftfield, which to be fair happens in loads of Columbos. Maybe I need to rewatch it to see just how quickly he picked up on the discrepancy in the numbers of fish.

All in all though, this is an interesting, original and excellent episode made even better by the wonderful Jennifer Sky and daring use of the rave environment. "Columbo Likes The Nightlife" ended up being an artistic statement that seems to say: just because Columbo is in his mid-70s, this is not an old show or a show aimed at the nostalgia market, this is a serious piece of modern police drama aimed at a younger audience (hopefully without alienating the die-hard fans who remembered the show from decades ago).

On that level, you have to say it works tremendously!
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Columbo: Strange Bedfellows (1995)
Season 13, Episode 1
Highly Underrated, This Is A Classic Episode
22 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
All the elements are in place here, great acting and an interesting story. Columbo's trademark mind games about smoking and mice are especially hilarious. What's great is that he suspects Graham McVeigh from the very beginning and is deliberately toying with him. It's a particularly good combination of comedy and suspense in this episode.

The triple-bluff restaurant scene was excellently planned by Columbo, and as in "It's All In The Game", he will gladly go to great lengths in socialising with people (in this case the Mafia) in order to get his conviction. But it's made clear that Columbo is a "cream soda" kind of guy, so it's not out of character at all, just what he has to do to get enough firm evidence of McVeigh's guilt.

I honestly don't think you can say this is in any way inferior to the original 70s episodes. It's perfect, timeless stuff.

One of the best.
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Are You Having A Laugh?
25 November 2011
When The Whistle Blows was revived for one season (plus Christmas special) in 2006. The show was relocated to a factory in Wigan, Northern England and concentrated on the factory floor banter between Ray Stokes (played by Andy Millman) and his motley collection of employees.

The show's undoubted potential was sadly smothered by incredibly broad, lowbrow production values in a desperate attempt to win viewers. It ended up being the kind of show that 4 year olds would enjoy, due to the overuse of catchphrases and silly wigs etc. There were a couple of inappropriate celebrity appearances as well which seemed forced and contrived, either for camp kitsch value, eg Keith Chegwin's appearance as "Keith"; or else blatant product placement, eg Chris Martin from Coldplay who just happened to turn up in the factory to plug his new absolutely ridiculous, mental scenario.

The Christmas special, which proved to be the last ever episode of When The Whistle Blows, involved flying the regulars out to Spain.

Andy Millman's career never really took off after the dire reviews received for When The Whistle Blows. True, he made a notable appearance as a slug in Doctor Who, and his appearance on Celebrity Big Brother was briefly famous for an emotional outpouring of hatred for the celebrity lifestyle, but sadly for Andy the public still only associate him with When The Whistle Blows.

Shaun Williamson (Barry from EastEnders) was rumoured to have been lined up to replace Andy Millman in the role of Ray Stokes, but due to management/agency issues, the BBC never commissioned another series.
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Like A 3 hour long episode of "The Twilight Zone"
12 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I am currently reading "Four Past Midnight", the book of four Stephen King novellas which opens with "The Langoliers". I have just finished reading this story and immediately checked out the movie version. I wasn't disappointed.

Something about this story, like many of King's, really touches a nerve. The quality is mainly in the basic concept rather than the sometimes-clunky dialogue. I like the idea of the past still existing physically, until it eventually becomes swallowed up by the Langoliers, the so-called Housekeepers of Eternity who hoover up the past to make way for the present. Incidentally, while reading the book I assumed the emphasis in the word was on the "o" - langOliers, to rhyme with magnolias. But no, the emphasis is on the "i" - langol-Iers, to rhyme with chandeliers. Either way, it's a strange word used to describe a very strange (but somehow not totally unfeasible) type of creature.

Like all good "Twilight Zone" episodes, which this reminds me of, such a great underlying premise leaves a really strong, unnerving impression. As such, it doesn't matter so much that the acting and special effects aren't amazing. The atmosphere and plot are totally faithful to the original book. In a way, the slightly wooden, stilted acting suits the wooden, stilted world in which the characters find themselves. An airless, stuffy, oppressive world where you can barely light a match, where the wind either doesn't blow (according to the book), or else blows on the ground level but doesn't move the clouds (according to the movie, because they couldn't stop the wind blowing on location!). A world lying in the dumpster, slowly atrophying, thrown on the scrapheap by the constant forward motion of time's winged chariot.

Always good to see Dean Stockwell, a man who is no stranger to travelling through time! Not his greatest ever performance here, but he certainly brings enigma to the part of writer Bob Jenkins. Bronson Pinchot brought just the right amount of creepy-but-sympathetic insanity to Craig Toomey, the dictionary definition of a loser in life, and a stark warning to what can happen to children later in life if they are belittled by their over-demanding parents. By comparison, David Morse as Captain Brian Engel was low-key and understated, but that was the exact impression I got of him from the book. If you were flying in an airplane through a rip in the space-time continuum, you would certainly want your pilot to be calm and unflappable!

Unlike some posters here, I actually thought Mark Lindsay Chapman's Anglo-American accent was spot on. And I say this as a Brit who has spent considerable time in America. Out of necessity for being understood clearly and not sounding too "plum in mouth", Brits in the States have to slip in a few American sounding inflections here and there. So kudos to Chapman for a great, convincing performance as Americanised British secret agent Nick Popewell. I'd go so far as to say that his English accent was better than Harry Shearer's immortal Derek Smalls character (Spinal Tap). As for the ladies - well thumbs up for both Patricia Wettig and Kimber Riddle for certainly being very watchable, if not the most three-dimensional performances I have ever seen. And unlike many people here, I had no issues with Kate Maberly as blind Dinah.

Finally, the effects of the Langoliers themselves. No problem! Once again, my image of them from reading the book was as funny sort of bouncing balls with teeth, which is more or less how they turned out on screen. These are not hi-tech computer generated monsters full of whizzbang explosions, they are like parasitic insects that feed off the scraps of the past. I don't see how they could have been better represented to be honest.

So what we have here is a TV movie that transcends the limitations of its slightly second-rate format, by dint of the strength of the basic source material and the fact that they adhered to all the elements of the book. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

I'm sorry that not everyone enjoyed the movie, and I appreciate the negative comments it has received from some. For me it boils down to the concept of the Langoliers being something that really intrigued me, in a scary way, and I can't get enough of reading about them or watching them. For that reason, the movie gave me exactly what I was looking for.
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Fargo (1996)
Ya Darn Tootin'
14 February 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Firstly, I'd like to weigh in with my thoughts on the Mike Yanagita scene. This is possibly my favourite scene in the whole movie (amongst several classic unforgettable scenes). It's funny enough when you first watch it, even though you find yourself feeling guilty about laughing. What IS funny about someone's wife dying from leukaemia exactly? The more you try and suppress your laughter, the harder you start to guffaw. I believe the Coen brothers wanted people to laugh guiltily at this poor chap breaking down.

It's even funnier when you realise later that Mike never in fact married the woman, she never died from leukaemia and the whole thing was some sort of creepy fantasy of his.

I don't really believe there is a deeper meaning behind this scene in terms of plot development or changing Marge's motivation, though I do accept it gets her scratching her head at how nice people can barefaced lie (or deceive themselves). I just think its a wacky piece of black humour, a set-piece slightly on a tangent but very very funny and therefore worthy of inclusion in the film. Does EVERYTHING in a movie have to be directly part of a linear plot line? Is there no room for random vignettes simply included to add to the atmosphere and entertainment value?

The quirkiness of the Yanagita scene leads me onto my next observation about "Fargo": Marge is the natural successor to my hero Lt Columbo (who I have reviewed several times on IMDb). When she first checks out the car wreck, in between barfing and drinking her coffee, Marge's style of deductive police work is pure Columbo. When she interrogates people, it's with the same "dumb friendly" schtick Columbo uses. Not that she's a one-dimensional copy of the Columbo character, far from it, just cut from the same cloth. Works for me!

Everyone in this film, every piece of dialogue, every snowy scene, every "ya" just works somehow. It would be much easier to analyse what's wrong with a movie than what's right, but in this case I find very little to criticise. The acting all round is stupendous. I actually rewatched "Reservoir Dogs" after this, so impressed with Steve Buscemi's acting that I wanted to see more of him. For the first time ever, I felt disappointed with "Reservoir Dogs", a film I normally love. Watching it back to back with "Fargo" revealed the superiority of the Coen brothers' movie to Tarantino's (still a great film don't get me wrong).

There are so many little touches that make this movie entertaining: the appalling muzak at the cafeteria; Carl's hilariously ill-at-ease facial expressions under the glare of the traffic cop's torchlight; Jerry "co-operating" with Marge, before getting carted out of his own house in his underwear, screaming like a baby; and all the peripheral but memorable, eccentric characters like the waitress at the diner, the escort girl at the Feliciano show with Carl and the "pathetic piece of (whatever)" parking attendant etc. Shep also plays his part excellently.

Just absolutely chock-full of great scenes, I actually watched Fargo three times yesterday and didn't get sick of it once. I feel like watching it again! And this is not because of hype or a feeling that I'm "supposed" to like this movie. I just do! I really feel it is something unique, not the most upfront, dramatic movie of all time, not a movie with a great profound message, just a lovable slice-of-Minnesotan life and some very entertaining winners and losers going about their business.
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The Professionals (1977–1983)
He's Armed...Intercept...Arrest!
31 January 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I love The Professionals. Great acting all round from the excellent trio of Lewis Collins, Martin Shaw and Gordon Jackson. Gripping, complicated story lines and great action sequences...never a dull moment! Surprisingly undated (aside from the cars and clothes, obviously). Bodie and Doyle's gallows humour and irreverent banter is so true to life.

I did have issues with Bodie's racist attitude in the "Klansmen" episode. Not because I shy away from dealing with serious issues in drama (and in all other respects "Klansmen" tackles racism very directly and bravely). My main issue was just that I didn't feel it suited his character to start making pig-ignorant racist comments, it seemed thrown in by the scriptwriters simply to make a point. (SPOILER: Point being that, by the end of the episode, having been treated by a black doctor and nurse, Bodie is miraculously no longer racist). I didn't want to hear that kind of talk from Bodie because, with all his life experiences he just wouldn't think like that. By all means have other characters in the storyline use those terms in context, but not a "professional" like Bodie!

As for sexism. Na! Just harmless blokey banter. Nothing's changed over the last thirty years apart from the feminisation of the TV industry. Ask Andy Gray or Richard Keys...

Out of all the episodes I've seen, "Klansmen" (well Bodie's dialogue in "Klansmen") hit the only wrong note. As for my favourite episodes: Hunter/Hunted", "The Madness Of Mickey Hamilton", "In The Public Interest", "The Rack" and "Heroes" all stand out. But all the episodes are watchable thanks to Collins, Shaw and Jackson.

Now I wanna get a Capri!
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Columbo: Dagger of the Mind (1972)
Season 2, Episode 4
The Worst Columbo I Have Ever Seen...But Still Enjoyable In It's Own Way
4 January 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I received a box set of Series 2 DVD's for Christmas and rapidly devoured every episode, even though I have seen nearly all of them before. Yesterday I finally plucked up the courage to watch "Dagger Of The Mind" again, this time with my reviewer hat on.

The result was that I saw more good in this episode than I had noticed before, having been comprehensively turned off last time by the appallingly bizarre parallel-universe version of London on show here. It can't be London, England. Maybe there's another city called London somewhere in California where people speak with these peculiar accents, but it sure as heck isn't the London I know and love. (And it's not an era thing, as one poster pointed out, look at The Sweeney or The Professionals for a much more realistic glimpse of 70s London, not REALLY that different to today).

But yesterday when sitting down to watch "Dagger Of The Mind", I was prepared. I KNEW that what I was about to view bore no resemblance to any real location, so I deducted points for the misrepresentation of London at the start of the episode, and from then on simply allowed myself to watch the detective story, which isn't that bad.

It's not that great either, but there's so much going on that despite its flaws, this episode is never boring! Richard Baseheart and Honor Blackman actually made pretty good Columbo villains, and it was a good touch having two villains instead of the usual lone operator. Columbo's UK host Durk is played rather more subduedly, one of the less cartoony characters here.

Needless to say Columbo himself was played perfectly by Falk. It never ceases to amaze me that even in the worst Columbo episodes, whenever Falk comes on screen he elevates the quality of the viewing experience. I would like to see more of Columbo in London, because the idea of the LA cop checking out an important London murderer has real potential IMO, once over the novelty of Tower Bridge and Big Ben (which according to my DVD copy has the most bizarre chimes ever - did the sound guys drop a cassette of the chimes in a cup of hot coffee or something? The chimes play ridiculously slowly, and start speeding up halfway through, even though Columbo and Durk are having a normally pitched conversation over the top of this strange noise). One thing's for sure...I'd like to see Columbo detour into Harlesden or Peckham!

If the nature of my review is slightly scattergun and disorganised, that's a reflection of this real mixed bag of an episode. It has great actors mixed in with awful ones. It has a good murder mixed in with a bunch of unbelievable clues and coincidences. It is a silly episode, but yet it's actually quite watchable.

I'll give it a 6 out of 10, because of the watchability factor. actors really ponce around quoting Shakespeare in real life? As Lily says to Nicholas: "stop acting!" This could have been a lesson for the makers of this episode. Real acting doesn't mean affecting a hammy voice that nobody ever speaks like in real conversation, it means bringing a character to life and making him or her believable. Less is more, as Falk proves. If only a few of the extras hadn't "acted" so much, instead just played their parts in a more low-key, well-observed way then the show may have been more realistic.

The only reason I bring it up is that in almost every Columbo episode (possibly not the Sky High IQ one), the beautifully subtle, understated bit-parts add to the realism and atmosphere of the show. Whereas with "Dagger Of The Mind", it's this out-of-place "acting" that causes all the problems with this episode. A bit less acting and the whole thing wouldn't seem so ludicrous!
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The Secret (2006 Video)
A Superficially Attractive Starting Point To Self-Improvement, But Ultimately Worthless Without Any Underlying Substance
11 September 2010
My personal favourite piece of self-help/New Age literature is that trusty old warhorse from the late 60s/early 70s called "Zen & The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance". The main theme that I found so inspirational in "Zen..." is the idea that goodness derives from the equal combination of romantic, surface quality and classical, underlying quality. In other words, the best things in life are those that are nice on the surface but also have real depth and substance.

It strikes me that "The Secret" scores adequately (if you like that sort of syrupy aesthetic) on the romantic, surface side of things...but falls to pieces totally if you scratch beneath the surface and analyse its underlying substance, or lack of.

I first heard of "The Secret" while having a chat with someone who said I was the most positive person they had ever met, and I MUST have studied "The Secret" to make my attitude so positive. I sheepishly told them I hadn't, in fact I had never heard of "The Secret". So, with my ego suitably inflated, I thought I'd check out this inspirational movie to see whether its philosophy indeed matched my own.

No, it doesn't. Yes, positive visualisation is a good way of starting a venture. In fact, it's a fundamental of all business strategies - ask yourself what your aims are, imagine your desired outcomes and then find a means of achieving them. But it's the finding a means of achieving them that is the stumbling block, missed out entirely by "The Secret", and the cause of the eventual fallout between me and my former admirer! You see, the person who told me how positive I was totally missed the point that real positivity comes from balancing "the secret" of visualising good things with a much more pragmatic approach to analysing the underlying nature of things. You need faith in order to be able to believe you can solve a problem, agreed. But you also need knowledge and logic. The road to hell is paved with good intentions...

"The Secret" is tailor-made for those type of people who don't like to analyse or think logically about solving problems. It encourages people to believe that success is entirely down to thinking good thoughts (does this remind anyone else of "The Twilight Zone" episode "It's A Good Life"?).

The point was brought home to me when my former admirer told me how "The Secret" gave her the idea that one can drive all the way across America in the fog with no headlights, just by the power of positive thought. That may, feasibly, be true, assuming you don't drive off a cliff or headlong into an oncoming truck. But why would you want to? And surely, even though you MIGHT be able to drive around in the dark, surely it'd be a quicker, more enjoyable and safer journey if you spent some time fixing your headlights first! That in a nutshell is the problem with "The Secret". It encourages people not to bother with science, critical thinking, rationality, understanding underlying substance, or the real nature of logical reality. To be fair, any video which was overly atheistic and cynical would be equally narrow-minded in my opinion eg some of the Richard Dawkins stuff.

If they could update "Zen & The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance" for the new millennium - in my line of work it is Zen & The Art of Desktop I.T. Support, lol - then that would be a far superior movie and message to "The Secret". Yes it's good to have faith and positivity, but without underlying logic and reason, then it is worthless.

A couple of final the I.T. industry, disaster recovery and business continuity are essential, ie visualising worst case scenarios and finding preventative solutions. Likewise for the police, the medical profession, firemen and anyone else who has to be prepared for bad things happening in order to act rapidly and minimise harm during a crisis. Visualising the worst thing you can imagine happening is often an effective way of putting a system in place to ensure it never does happen for real. This is the exact opposite to "The Secret"!

But the worst thing of all about "The Secret" is that, of all the philosophies and religions of the world, the one it seems to have most in common with is Satanism.
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Ever Decreasing Circles (1984–1989)
Surprised How Funny And Relevant This 80s Sitcom Is
23 March 2010
I don't quite know how I stumbled across Ever Decreasing Circles again, over twenty years since it was made. But having rediscovered this sitcom, I have watched several episodes and frequently find myself rolling around in laughter at Richard Briers' character Martin Bryce.

"Ever Decreasing Circles" deals with the relationships between Martin, an an obsessive, neurotic control freak, his lovely wife Ann (Penelope Wilton) and neighbour Paul (Peter Egan). The humour mainly derives from Martin's laboured, heavy-handed attempts to organise everything from bingo games for old ladies through to football matches for 11-year olds. Up in the box-room of his house Brooksmead, Martin has reams and reams of paperwork detailing all the numerous committees and teams that he manages, plus his beloved duplicating machine.

In contrast, neighbour Paul has effortless charm, he has friends left, right and centre that he can call on to do favours for him, and he is better at everything than Martin. This leads to a brilliant comedy of frustration, jealousy and bitterness as Martin finds himself thwarted and humiliated by Paul at every turn. Paul never really intends to demean Martin, the frustration normally stems from Martin's own ridiculous attempts to try and get the upper hand.

One example, from many: Martin is organising a dance. His most loyal friend Howard comes up with the bright idea of a Vicars & Tarts theme, Martin is impressed and enthusiastic until he finds out the idea actually came from Paul. At every step of the way in the planning, from the catering to the band, something goes wrong with Martin's attempts to organise it, with Paul eventually having to phone up his mates to help resolve each problem.

But Martin thinks he has the last laugh. His wife Ann realises he is up to something because he is unnaturally gracious to Paul after the dance. Martin boasts to her that the editor of the local newspaper will mention Martin's name 18 times in the write-up of the dance, whereas Paul's name will only be mentioned once, and misspelt at that. Ann asks why a reporter would agree to do something like that, to which Martin replies with glee: "I blackmailed him!" The reporter's son plays for the football team Martin coaches, and if he doesn't write up the story to Martin's satisfaction then he will drop his son from the team.

I didn't really do the above plot justice, you have to see the episode "Vicars & Tarts" to really appreciate how funny it is! There are also some utterly hilarious scenes where Martin kicks his bed in an angry fit of class-envy about how easy it is for some people in life (ie Paul).

Despite the middle-of-the-road suburban setting, there are very subtle hints of a more subversive, satirical nature to "Ever Decreasing Circles". Martin is hellbent on keeping "his" Close a pleasant place to live, but the bureaucratic way he tries to enforce his rules, plus his self-proclaimed role as leader of the Close, does seem like a gentle prod at a certain kind of authoritarian attitude. In one episode Martin even wonders aloud if maybe a benign dictatorship is the best way to achieve things. By contrast, Paul represents an upper class, slightly untrustworthy, playboy type.

In fact, dour Martin Bryce could almost be Gordon Brown, whereas Tony Blair is more like slippery charmer Paul. One imagines similar bad-neighbourly exchanges occurred in Downing Street several times throughout the 90s!
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The Knowledge (1979 TV Movie)
From Manor House To Gibson Square
14 March 2010
As someone who used to spend hours driving around the backstreets of North London in an attempt to avoid the horrific congestion, this film immediately appealed. Throw in my interest in what London was like back in the late 70s and you have the basic premise for my version of TV heaven! On paper the film ticked all the right boxes, and having just watched "The Knowledge" the actual movie itself certainly lived up to, if not exceeded, my high expectations.

Visually, I was surprised how different London looked back then (I lived in Islington in the 90s, long after gentrification had transformed the area). It truly came across as grimy, tatty and down-at-heel. London may still have bad housing estates, but the general feel of the place is much cleaner, brighter and pleasant nowadays (based on what this movie shows rather than my own memories).

As for the story and the acting, well top marks obviously go to Nigel Hawthorne as The Vampire. Absolutely brilliant! He acts deliberately unpredictably, alternating between total straight-faced severity and surreal mindgames in order to unnerve the Knowledge Boys as he puts them through test after test.

All in all this was an excellent, thoroughly enjoyable trip back into a very specific time and place that I find endlessly fascinating. But even if you're not especially interested in London circa 1979, you'll still enjoy following the witty dialogue and likable characters of "The Knowledge".
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Columbo: No Time to Die (1992)
Season 11, Episode 2
The Columbo That's Not A Columbo
5 March 2010
Hmmmm...this is a real curate's egg. If only this wasn't marketed as an episode of Columbo, then it would actually be a perfectly acceptable standalone kidnapping movie. The thing is, although "No Time To Die" features Lieutenant Columbo, it's not stylistically or structurally a "Columbo" show as such, and doesn't really deserve to be viewed as part of the series.

What it does do is reveal just how important the normal formula is to the success of the show. Although I have no issues with experimental variations on the basic formula, a Columbo without a murder is just not a Columbo. When you sit down to watch an episode of Columbo, you want the familiarity of the basic plot structure so that you can really get into the characters and how their lives have become enmeshed in the horrific aftermath of a sudden homicide.

"No Time To Die" just doesn't work in the same way. The whole format is so different from normal that if you're in the mood for a traditional Columbo, this is bound to leave you feeling short-changed and a bit cheated.

On the other hand though, if you're fully aware before viewing that "No Time To Die" is a kidnap movie rather than a murder mystery, then you'll probably find it quite a gripping story. And at the end of the day, Lt Columbo's presence will only add to your enjoyment.

I compare this to a musician's guest appearance on another artist's album, as opposed to their own release. It's like Lieutenant Columbo is making a guest appearance on a totally separate movie, rather than being the star of his own.
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Columbo: Murder in Malibu (1990)
Season 9, Episode 6
Not Bad, But Not Good Either
5 March 2010
This is the lowest I have rated a Columbo so far (haven't got to "Dagger Of The Mind" yet though!), but after twenty reviews each rating 7 or more out of 10, I have to be honest and say "Murder In Malibu" doesn't really have a lot going for it.

It's perfectly pleasant to have on in the background, but I find it very hard to sit back and concentrate on this episode without drifting off. Even though it's playing as I type, I'm struggling to describe what's going on. There's an awful lot of shouting though, that's for sure.

Very much a "filler" episode with everyone on autopilot. I can't imagine anyone ever thinking "Murder In Malibu" is their favourite Columbo.
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Columbo: Swan Song (1974)
Season 3, Episode 7
Columbo In The Music World Equals Television Perfection!
5 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Well, maybe not "Murder With Too Many Notes", although that was good in its own way. But, hot on the heels of watching "Etude In Black" and giving it a perfect ten, I am currently rewatching "Swan Song" just to see if it too deserves ten out of ten. The verdict? Hell yeah! Maybe it's because the world of music is so full of backstabbing prima donnas that it makes such a good setting for Columbo episodes. There's something innately intriguing in the contrast between uplifting musical performances onstage, and the secretive, dark dealings that go on behind the curtain, unknown to the adoring fans in the audience.

In "Swan Song" the musical connection goes even deeper than "Etude In Black", because whereas John Cassavetes merely waved his arms about a bit and asked members of his orchestra to "play some Chopin"; in "Swan Song" we have a real musician, bringing total credibility to the role of gospel singer Tommy Brown. Obviously John Cassavetes is a far more natural actor than Johnny Cash, but because Cash is playing a singer not unlike himself, what he lacks in technical expertise he makes up for in his own real-life experiences. The first few scenes after the brilliant musical introduction made me a bit tentative about how successful Johnny Cash would be in his acting venture. He doesn't really gel with Ida Lupino, who plays his wife, the business brains behind their musical career. Their acting seems rather stilted and artificial, but to give them the benefit of the doubt, they are playing a couple with a terminally damaged relationship (though she doesn't realise it just yet), so it's only natural I suppose that their conversation will be forced.

This is one of those Columbos where the murderer has already decided to murder his victim before the episode even starts (other Columbos involve either unplanned murders, or ones that only occur after an on screen dispute). As murders go, deliberately crashing a plane into a mountain and bailing out at the last minute in a home-made parachute is as good a way as they come! (I'm joking, before anyone gets any ideas...) The price of this stunt, a broken leg, is a small price to pay for Tommy Brown, when the alternative is to be held to ransom for the rest of his life by his domineering, unloving wife, who withholds money from Tommy and denies him the right to sleep with starstruck young groupies.

It takes a bit of time before Columbo finally catches up with Tommy Brown, and rather unusually for Columbo, he is strongly urged to go after the suspect from the beginning, by the victim's brother. It's normally Columbo's own intuition that leads him to the murderer, but this time he is initially rather hesitant and only questions Tommy at his brother-in-law's insistence.

It's at a rather tactlessly joyful party Tommy Brown is holding in the wake of his wife's death that the brown stuff first hits the fan. It was at this point, when Tommy violently loses his temper, that I started to warm to Johnny Cash's acting ability. The worse his character behaves, the better his acting becomes.

As soon as the episode settles into the traditional Columbo cat-and-mouse, Johnny Cash hits his stride and really starts to shine. The rapport between the two of them is tip-top Columbo. Johnny Cash brings to Tommy Brown real charisma, cockiness and the perfect mixture of respect, affection, condescension and irritation towards Columbo (for a non-actor, the ability to express all these emotions simultaneously really was a great achievement). Columbo continually claims he is just tying up a few loose ends to please his superiors, it's just routine etc etc.

It looks like Columbo has got Tommy Brown firmly in his sights, but just before Columbo can pounce, Tommy skips town, supposedly to do some dates hundreds of miles away. Columbo follows him to the airport, and there is a hilarious scene where Tommy spots him and yells out to him. I just love the way Tommy Brown laughs in Columbo's face. He knows Columbo knows he did it but has no proof.

In fact, the only piece of evidence to conclusively link Tommy to the murder is the parachute, stashed inside a tree on the mountainside. But Columbo has planted a seed of doubt in Tommy's mind that a massive group of people has been enlisted to comb every inch of the mountain the next morning. So Tommy flies away, then immediately flies back and drives up to the mountain that night in a desperate search for the parachute before daybreak.

Columbo has already twigged that this would happen, in fact it was his plan all along and Tommy has walked straight into it, incriminating himself whereas if he had not returned, he would probably still be free. Columbo calmly picks up the parachute and offers to drive Tommy to the police station. Being an expert in the psychology of murderers, Columbo figures Tommy is secretly glad he was caught, he is too spiritual a man to evade his punishment forever.

In conclusion, this gets ten out of ten because it's so unique and gripping. Johnny Cash was a real gamble, but he pulled it off with style. The story might not be the most believable or watertight, but there's nothing particularly jarring about any of the details. The music is sensational as well, especially if you like Johnny Cash's music (who doesn't?!).

One of my Top 5 episodes, if not Top 3.
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Columbo: Étude in Black (1972)
Season 2, Episode 1
My First Ten Out Of Ten!
3 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
After repeatedly saying how brilliant so many Columbo episodes are, it's time to honour an episode with maximum points. "Etude In Black" is not 100 percent perfect, but it's certainly more than 90 percent...maybe 96 or 97!

Last week I reviewed "Just Married" and compared it unfavourably to "Meet The Parents". Well here's one of the parents, Blythe Danner, in a much earlier role as the wife of famous orchestral conductor Alex Benedict, played by the legend that is John Cassavetes. Alex has been having an affair with Jennifer Wells, a girl in the orchestra (not his first affair, one suspects). She is blackmailing Alex to leave his wife, but as his wife's mother holds the purse strings for the orchestra, Alex doesn't think it'd be such a smart move to destroy his career and marriage overnight. Instead he hatches a plot to sneak out of the concert hall before a performance and murder his young lover while making it look like a suicide.

Enter Columbo and guess what? It takes him about two seconds to realise that homicide is more likely than suicide. It doesn't take much longer for Columbo to connect Alex to the victim, and soon he's following him around wherever he goes. Even though Columbo is certain Alex is his man, it actually takes quite a while and a few false leads (none of which Columbo really swallows) before he has the vital piece of evidence.

Along the way there are some top-notch extra characters, ranging from the precocious young neighbour of Jennifer Wells and the English mechanic who sounds like he would be more at home on Coronation Street, through to the bedraggled looking brass player who nearly finds himself fitted up for the murder (he had also been seeing Jennifer Wells, the busy girl!). And there's even a brief cameo from Commandant Lassard from the Police Academy films. As with Leslie Nielsen in "Lady In Waiting", it's impossible to take him seriously (I bet you're thinking of that speech he made at the podium, aren't you?!)

But it's Blythe Danner, John Cassavetes and Peter Falk who steal the show here. Blythe is absolutely divine as Mrs Benedict. From the moment she spots Alex dialling Jennifer Wells' number from memory, she feels deeply troubled by exactly what their relationship was. It's a masterful performance as she struggles to trust Alex despite her intuition telling her something is very, very wrong. Columbo doesn't help matters by interrupting her game of tennis to ask her impertinent questions about Alex's relations with members of his orchestra.

As for John Cassavetes, well it's a shame he didn't make any repeat appearances as Columbo villains, because he could have been up there with Jack Cassidy and Patrick McGoohan as one of the all-time greats of the show. But this performance is superb! He's another one who falls into the "highly irritated" category, losing all patience with Columbo rather than befriending him and indulging him. Despite this, when the game is finally up he does grudgingly acknowledge Columbo's genius.

Well it's a really, really fantastic show. It loses a couple of very small points for its rather sledgehammer view of classical music, as highlighted by many of the posters here, but none of these have any bearing on the logic of the story or the characterisations. And at least the music is good, dramatic and exciting!

Finally, if you haven't come across it, there is an absolutely amazing clip of John Cassavetes and Peter Falk on the Dick Cavett show from the early 70s. I'm totally convinced Steve Coogan watched this clip and based Alan Partridge on it. Everything about the clip resembles Knowing Me Knowing You, from the cringeworthy introduction to the total humiliation of Cavett by his guests. Even the orchestra get in on the act, playing circus music while Falk, Cassavetes and their friend Ben Gazzara fool about and ridicule the host.

It might not be strictly relevant to this review, but the Cavett show clip gives a nice insight into the deep friendship and professional relationship between Peter Falk and John Cassavetes. It's clear to see from the quality of "Etude In Black" just how well the pair worked together!
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Columbo: Suitable for Framing (1971)
Season 1, Episode 4
Yet Another Classic
2 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The murder in "Suitable For Framing" must be one of the earliest to occur in all the Columbo films. No lengthy build-ups here, just a short burst of piano music interrupted within seconds by a gunshot. I always remember this episode and its startling introduction from years ago, and it's probably the one I've seen most of all.

Dale Kingston is a tremendous villain. I love the fact that he is so short-tempered, nasty and utterly disdainful of Columbo. I have no problem at all with there being no love lost between the two of them, it means there is always tension in the air!

Columbo's facial expression at the end is awesome (even though I ticked the "spoilers" box, I still don't want to reveal exactly what his evidence is). Without saying a word, he conveys with his eyes: "Come on mate, why are you making such a fool of yourself?! Everyone knows you did it, so why not just quit all this pointless shouting and getting angry, it's ridiculous!"

Up there with "Death Lends A Hand" as one of the standouts of the first series.
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Columbo: Rest in Peace, Mrs. Columbo (1990)
Season 9, Episode 4
It Really Clicked After Three Viewings
1 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Wow! After watching this a couple of times, it didn't stand out as particularly special, but somehow on the third viewing all the quality of this simply superb episode was revealed to me. I've just watched it for a fourth time and it just gets better. It's an incredibly rich, exquisitely textured episode, full of great dialogue and an intriguing storyline.

Columbo himself is in top form, Peter Falk at the top of his game. I can see why one poster said Columbo's mock-grieving wasn't very realistic, but I think that was almost intentional, his way of gently taking the pee out of the murderess. Knowing full well that she is insane, Columbo deliberately has some fun with the whole scenario! Plus, Columbo isn't an actor. So Peter Falk is doing a good acting job in portraying a cop trying his hand at acting.

I love the little things in this episode, such as the saga of the abysmal chili cooked by Heinrich, not the previous chef with "one blue eye, one brown eye"! One wonders if this is a sly piece of self-deprecating wit regarding Falk's own distinctive eyes...

I also love the golf course scenes with the excellent Ian McShane. They remind me of the scenes with Robert Culp in "Double Exposure": Columbo bumbling around on a stuffy golf course, totally disrupting the game and embarrassing the man he's interrogating.

The climax of the movie, where Columbo gets his confession before admitting the whole funeral for Mrs Columbo was a fake, is a classic Columbo ending.

This is yet another modern episode just as good as the 70s ones. Maybe one reason why many people don't rate the modern ones as much is that they are less immediately gripping, they take a few viewings to really appreciate them. But I wholeheartedly recommend watching "Rest In Peace Mrs Columbo" over and won't get bored of it and you'll catch something new in each viewing.
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Columbo: Short Fuse (1972)
Season 1, Episode 6
Worth An Extra Point For The Scenery Alone
27 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
If it wasn't for the stunning mountain scenery and the role it plays in this story, I'd probably only give this episode seven. But the dramatic cable car scenes certainly add an interesting dimension to this intricately plotted Columbo adventure.

Roger Stanford is extremely annoying, I can't deny, but I don't have any problem with Columbo murderers being annoying. It just makes their eventual arrest that much more satisfying. And the way in which Stanford incriminates himself is very enjoyable.

I find the ins and outs of the plot quite a lot to take in, despite repeated viewings. It all revolves around the wheelings and dealings of a large family-run chemical corporation. The murder is caused by a home-made bomb planted into a cigar case.

It's not the best, it's not the worst, but it's highly watchable.
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Columbo: Lady in Waiting (1971)
Season 1, Episode 5
Nothing Spectacular But Pretty Good
27 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Whenever I feel like watching a Columbo (rather a lot since I decided to review them all), this episode never grabs my attention. But I do enjoy it. Whereas some Columbos inspire me to write about them, it's actually quite difficult to think of anything interesting about this one.

The only thing about "Lady In Waiting" that really gets my attention, not for the right reasons, is Leslie Nielsen. I know, I know, it's ridiculous to judge a drama that was made years before he turned to comedy...but come on, it's Leslie Nielsen! It's scientifically impossible to regard him as a serious actor, and I don't mean that disrespectfully: if anything it's a compliment to how deeply his comedy schtick has imprinted itself on our collective consciousness. He's not a bad actor (far superior to, say, William Shatner)...but he's Leslie Nielsen for heaven's sake!

I wish I could find more to say about this episode of Columbo, other than the fact that it's entertaining and reasonably dramatic. There's certainly nothing that stands out as irritating or flawed to spoil it in any way.
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Columbo: Murder by the Book (1971)
Season 1, Episode 1
Great But Not Quite The Best In The Series
26 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Along with Patrick McGoohan and Robert Culp, Jack Cassidy was an iconic Columbo villain. The very first "proper" episode of Columbo, following two standalone pilots, "Murder By The Book" is not far off classic status.

Jack Cassidy plays Ken Franklin, one half of a murder mystery writing partnership. His partner Jim is the talented one, whereas Ken has no talent other than the gift of the gab and a skill for promoting the books. As soon as Jim has decided he no longer requires Ken's marketing skills, Ken hatches a plot to kill Jim. Except it's not a new plot, it's actually the implementation in real life of a murder storyline originally intended for one of their books.

It doesn't take Columbo long to work out that Ken is the murderer, although unfortunately another murder has to take place (Ken romances and then kills a key witness) before Columbo has enough evidence to secure a conviction.

Nothing whatsoever wrong with "Murder By The Book", but it's not quite top-notch. I would just give "Publish Or Perish" the edge over this: both episodes feature Jack Cassidy and the world of publishing, but "Publish Or Perish" is a fraction more tense and unpredictable. But this is still a great episode.
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Columbo: Death Lends a Hand (1971)
Season 1, Episode 2
Brilliant Early Episode
26 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
"Death Lends A Hand" is one of the pivotal early episodes of "Columbo" that helped define the show for the next thirty years. It marks the first of Robert Culp's four appearances (three as a murderer), playing much the same role in each show.

In this case Culp plays Brimmer, the head of a large private detective company who is asked to investigate whether the wife of a wealthy newspaper magnate, Mr Kennicut, is having an affair. Although she is, Brimmer decides not to tell Kennicut, in the hope that he can blackmail his wife in return for snippets of information about her husband's business associates. She reacts badly to this suggestion, an argument ensues which rapidly turns violent as Brimmer whacks her across the face. Because he is wearing a large ring, the blow knocks her to the ground and kills her.

There are some really priceless moments in this episode. One of my favourite scenes is where Columbo pretends to be into palm-reading, although this is in fact a ruse to discover the shape and size of Brimmer's ring without admitting that he knows the killer wore a ring. Columbo being Columbo, he only reveals what he really knows when the time is exactly right to turn the screws a little. So initially he goofily plays the part of a rather simple-minded man who gets excited by the "lifeline going over the mound of the moon", or some equally ridiculous palm-reading mumbo-jumbo.

Another great scene is when Brimmer tries to offer Columbo a job for his firm, effectively bribing him to stop poking his nose around. Again, Columbo doesn't reveal that he knows what's going on, he pretends to be honoured and excited by this job offer.

And there's another where Columbo says to Kennicut, in front of Brimmer, that he wishes the murderer could hear their conversation. He wants to hint to Brimmer that he is onto him, without directly accusing him, so he rather cruelly (but understandable in the circumstances) decides to play mindgames on Brimmer in order to spook him into panicking and doing something stupid. Which of course he does! All the while, the grieving Kennicut is unaware of the subtext of this conversation. It's only near the end that Columbo explains all to Kennicut (not shown on screen).

I won't reveal how Columbo finally nails the killer bang to rights, but let's just say there's a potato involved...

A really really good episode, possibly the very best of the first series. If you liked this then you'll like "Double Exposure" too, also featuring Robert Culp.
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Just Married (2003)
Theoretically This Is A Terrible Film. However...
25 February 2010
...due largely to Brittany Murphy it is highly entertaining. I can't say I disagree factually with the scores of dire reviews this movie has received. Yes it is banal, clichéd, unoriginal, predictable and soppy. But the amount of gusto Brittany Murphy put into her performance (probably knowing in her heart that the script was pretty ropey) made this film fun to watch.

Meet The Parents and Meet The Fockers each have twice as many quality jokes in the same running time as Just Married, while covering a lot of similar themes (the litany of accidents and catastrophes that happen to the happy couple, the below-par guy who has to impress the snooty parents of the bride, the clingy ex who gets on great with her dad etc). But whereas the Meet... films show gradually changing interpersonal dynamics as trust is slowly earned, or respect gradually lost (eg how Mr Focker starts off full of love and excitement but gradually gets more and more freaked out and annoyed by "El Stiffo"!), in Just Married one minute the groom's dad is threatening him down the phone, the next he is congratulating him and wishing him well! Similar about-turns and random changes of heart abound in this film resulting in a lack of continuity. Our young lovers jerk violently back and forth between arguing acrimoniously and cooing over each other romantically. It's almost like a series of disjointed sketches with no real flow between them.

But maybe a film can survive on a threadbare, inconsistent plot, if the individual sketches are good and the characterisations appealing. I think that's the case here - as Brittany and Ashton were a real-life couple, the chemistry between them is more authentic than any scripted contrivances, and I think that shines through and makes the film feel good.

So what we have here is a technically mediocre at best movie, but still an entertaining one, if you're dragged along to see it by your better half. Scarface it is not though! And finally, after seeing this film I felt genuinely upset and tearful thinking about the tragic loss of Brittany Murphy. No matter what people think of Just Married, it's a great way to remember her as a funny, lively, very attractive young actress who virtually saved this movie. God only knows what this would have been like without her.
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Columbo: Columbo Goes to College (1990)
Season 10, Episode 1
Yet Again, Another Fantastic Columbo
24 February 2010
Sorry to repeat myself over and over, but here's another great Columbo episode. I guess that's why I'm such a fan - most episodes really are great! The best episodes always have a standout feature of some sort, and in this case the murderer and his accomplice are possibly the youngest ever Columbo villains.

After watching a lot of episodes where Columbo and his adversary act like close friends, it's good to see an episode where tempers fray and bad feelings rise to the surface. It just gives an episode a bit more drama and bite. Columbo is rapidly onto the fact that the two students who claim to be helping him are not very secretly laughing at him and feeding him false clues. He happily plays along, deliberately turning up the bumbling in front of them to make them underestimate him! But of course he knows instantly when they are talking baloney.

The murder itself is another complicated one, along the lines of The Bye Bye Sky High IQ episode, with a sophisticated chain reaction of events that manages to kill the intended target while providing the assassins with a seemingly watertight alibi. In the intervening years between 1978 and 1990, the technology has moved on from record players and firecrackers to remote control car locking systems and hidden cameras.

Stephen Caffrey puts in a great performance as Justin Rowe, the obnoxious, spoilt student. Gary Hershberger is low-key but good as his "yes-man" friend Cooper Redman. And it's nice to see Robert Culp as Mr Rowe, Justin's dad.

A very satisfying episode in all ways.
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Columbo: It's All in the Game (1993)
Season 12, Episode 1
Awesome Columbo Episode
23 February 2010
"It's All In The Game" is another superior modern Columbo that easily ranks alongside the best 70s episodes. This is a timeless episode. All the elements of vintage Columbo are in place, with a few added twists.

The main attraction of this episode is the undercurrent between Columbo and murderess, played brilliantly by Faye Dunaway. As she says, you're never quite sure what Columbo is thinking. So you have conversations that work on different levels - superficially both Columbo and Dunawaye's character Lauren are flirting with each other and looking halfway to getting romantically involved, but under the surface they are basically just playing each other. That doesn't mean there isn't a genuine spark between the two, it's just a complicated mixture of head and heart. And with Columbo, his head always rules his heart - no matter how much he likes a murderer, he will never fail in his job to put them behind bars.

In this case the murderess has an accomplice, and Columbo goes so far as to spare her from arrest in return for Lauren's confession. The murder is a straightforward shooting, no trained dogs or magic markers balanced on record players. The relative simplicity of the case means that the episode can focus more on the dialogue and characterisation than an elaborate plot.

All in all this is a real classy episode that manages to be sophisticated and upmarket without ever becoming dreary in the process. The whole show was virtually single-handedly created by Peter Falk (well maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration) but it seems the more involvement he had in an episode, the better. He of all people knew how to get the best from Columbo.

Finally, no I don't think Columbo was ever remotely tempted to take his relationship with Lauren any further. The title explains everything: the flirting, the gentle frissons of romance are ultimately nothing more than Columbo's way of playing the game...
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Columbo: The Conspirators (1978)
Season 7, Episode 5
Minor Flaws But Otherwise A Brave And Ambitious Finale
22 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
This is an extraordinary Columbo episode quite unlike any other. Although not 100% successful, the ambition of this final episode from the 70s marks it out as a great ending to the series. This far, and no farther...until 1989! It's quite something to see a show as quintessentially Californian as Columbo tackle the Northern Ireland troubles. What's more, the producers, writers and actors do a pretty good job of examining some of the characters involved in terrorism, whilst simultaneously adhering to the usual Columbo formula.

Joe Devlin is a notable comic poet who regales his audiences with blarney, banter and bogus pacifism. The adoring crowds happily dig into their pockets to contribute something towards keeping the peace, unaware that their hard-earned cash is secretly being used to purchase weapons for the IRA.

All in all Devlin is a first-rate Columbo villain, although I really wish a few stupid errors had been spotted before broadcasting. Joe Devlin has a broad Southern Ireland accent as opposed to a Northern Ireland one, and no Republican would ever refer to Derry as Londonderry. Bearing in mind that the research and accuracy on this show was generally pretty good, these goofs really shouldn't have slipped through the net.

Another small gripe is that once again, like many of the late 70s episodes, the murderer never really gets annoyed by Columbo, well not to his face anyway. Plus, if Devlin is callous and violent enough to kill an arms dealer and trade in huge quantities of weaponry, would he or his gangster associates not try to bump off Columbo? Unarmed and wandering around alone, he would make a very easy target. Instead, Devlin always seems remarkably pleased to see Columbo whenever he shows up on the scene, relishing their verbal sparring and swapping limericks and wisecracks like old buddies. Although I do like to see banter between Columbo and the villains, it's always best when there is an undercurrent of antagonism between the two. Otherwise it seems a bit too cosy.

But these glitches are a minor issue, because I can't think of any other American drama show that even attempted to use the Northern Ireland issues as a backdrop for a storyline. To do so with such a controversial, divisive topic, without falling flat on its face or alienating half the population makes this Columbo worthy of great praise.
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