Category Archives: Reviews

Eagles, Foreword…

R-1521205-1509062258-6225.jpegI discovered the Eagles when I was a teenager and the rest of my peers were getting into dance music – back when I used to borrow music cassettes from the library. Yes, that long ago. I don’t think you can do that anymore. At the time I probably could only have named a couple of their tracks; Hotel California, and maybe one other. But I have always been open to new voices and sounds, and the ‘Best of’ collection that I picked up that day was just the kind of detour from my usual playlist that I was looking for.

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Leadon, Meisner, Henley, Frey

Although our musical tastes are – to one degree or another – influenced by those of our parents, mum and dad had nothing to do with my interest in the Eagles. From memory, I think the attraction was purely based on first impressions. It was the album cover; a needle-straight highway threading its way through Monument Valley. Google was still a handful of years away, so there was no way for me to research who these Eagles were. I just had to take the tape home and press play. So that’s what I did.

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Henley, Felder, Frey, Leadon, Meisner

Something about their music just clicked with me. From their expert musicianship to their perfect harmonies; from their biting lyrics to their indulgent instrumentals. They were not contemporary at that time – in the early nineties – and it was certainly not considered cool to like them either, so I don’t know why their music spoke to me, but it did. The Eagles produced the kind of sound I didn’t know I was missing, and from that day to this, they became my favourite band.

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Henley, Walsh, Meisner, Frey, Felder

The Eagles got together several years before I was born, and by the time I was old enough to have an opinion they had been split up for a number of years. They did reform in 1994 (after what Glenn Frey termed their ‘fourteen year vacation’), but by then the musical landscape had shifted, and their particular style of seventies country-rock was no longer in favour.

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Frey, Felder, Henley, Walsh, Schmit

I thought it would be interesting to take each of their seven studio albums and review them. Nothing too detailed; just a general feeling of what each record does for me. Maybe once I’ve done that I’ll get around to their miscellaneous stuff as well, such as Eagles Live from 1980, and Hell Freezes Over, from 1994, because they’re important to the story of the band too. At the end of it all I’ll probably throw in my top ten list of tracks, because who doesn’t enjoy a subjective list?

I was fortunate enough to see the Eagles perform live twice in Glasgow – first in Hampden Park in July of 2001, and then at the Hydro in May of 2014. They were two of the greatest concert experiences I have ever had. Of course, the passing of founding member Glenn Frey in 2016 changed the face of the group forever, and although the Eagles have continued without him, they have lost an integral part of what made them special.

So if you enjoy the music of the Eagles, come with me for the ride; and if they have never made it onto your playlist, perhaps I can encourage a few new fans along the way.

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Walsh, Henley, Frey, Schmit

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Potted Film Review: Lady Bird (2017)

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Lucas Hedges, Laurie Metcalfe, Tracy Letts

What’s it all about?
Lady Bird is a teenage girl who attends a Catholic school, but does not appear to have any strong religious beliefs. Like a lot of teenagers, she is trying to find herself. She has given herself the name ‘Lady Bird’ in order to assert her individuality, but it never really has any kind of pay off, other than as an example of her quirky personality.

She meets a boy at drama class and falls for him, but when he betrays her, she breaks off the relationship. She then meets another boy, but Lady Bird ends it when she discovers he has lied about his virginity (or lack thereof).

Ultimately, Lady Bird (superficially, at least) plays out a little like Juno, but at a slower pace and with less of the humour, and it turns out not to be about her blossoming sexuality at all. Instead, it is about the fractious relationship Lady Bird has with her mother, and how they eventually come together – not in an obvious or saccharine way, but through the subtlety of good performances and a solid script.

Watching it with the kids…
There’s a fair amount of bad language in here, including usage of the dreaded C-bomb, so stay away if that word scares you. There’s no naked skin to be seen, except for on the pages of a magazine, and there’s no violence either.

Verdict…
Lady Bird never really goes anywhere, which is not to say that it is a bad movie, just that it’s not a very exciting one. I can’t work up too much enthusiasm for it, but then again, such an emphatic reaction would be contrary to what this movie has presented over the last hour and a half anyway. It’s not going to get your blood pumping, but it is a well written and competently acted slice of drama. I think you really have to be in the right mood to watch and appreciate it, and perhaps when I sat down in front of the TV, I just wasn’t. Having said that, I still recognise what it brings to the table, so with that in mind…

Recommended (slightly) ↑

Knight Rider, in the Rear View…

*Edit — this was supposed to be a brief discussion about Knight Rider. By no means did I intend to write a 2200 word essay about it!

Knight Rider, a shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist. Michael Knight, a young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, the powerless… in a world of criminals who operate above the law.

The grandiose opening narrative is familiar to anyone who was a fan of the show, and that theme is a perfect slice of eighties synth-pop that is hard to rail against. That music holds up even now. The rest of the show – well, I’ll get to that…

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When I was a child – specifically, when I was about ten years old – Knight Rider was my favourite TV show by quite some margin. Yeah, the one with the crazy black car with all the cool gadgets. Looking back on it now, I can see that what I was watching was basically a watered-down version of James Bond – from the tricked out vehicle to the beautiful girls.

I had Knight Rider posters on my bedroom walls. I read the annuals. Hell, for a while I even thought I would grow up to look like David Hasselhoff with that big eighties bouffant he sported. Suffice to say, the show has always been special to me, but is it like that because I have continued to wear those rose-coloured glasses and refused to question the show’s validity in the twenty-first century, or are my reasons for keeping it close to my heart justified? Is Knight Rider as great today, as it absolutely was when I was a kid?

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Ski Mode

Although I have seen the odd episode here and there since its heyday, I haven’t watched the entire run, and I certainly haven’t done so with anything other than child-like admiration. I wasn’t critical of it then. I wanted to look at it with (ironically) fresh eyes – to see if I can appreciate it as a discerning adult, and also to see what it was about it that I fell in love with as an impressionable ten year old. Hopefully history has been kind to my memories.

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Turbo Boost

Because I was curious, I went back and counted: over one third of the show’s ninety episodes have ‘Knight’ in the title. I suppose this doesn’t mean anything really, but it does stick out to me as an example of the producers pandering to the children in the audience, and there were many of those, because what I came to appreciate while watching Knight Rider as an adult, is that it is most decidedly a show for kids. I should probably have known that, but I didn’t remember it that way at all. I genuinely thought it was a family show, but it’s really not. In fact, after watching all ninety episodes it’s apparent to me that I don’t actually remember many of them. Sure, I remember the big things that happen, and I know the feel of the show, but the minutiae of each episode – of any episode – has found a way out of my head over the last thirty-plus years. It’s a little alarming, but probably expected after such a long absence.

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Michael Long

Knight of the Phoenix is the movie-length pilot, and it introduces us to the three central characters that will persist throughout the show. Michael Knight is played by David Hasselhoff, but the series begins with a Michael Long. Long is played for not-very-long-at-all by Larry Anderson.

Devon Miles

Devon Miles is the elderly Englishman, played by Edward Mulhare, who leads the covert government operation known as the Foundation for Law And Government (FLAG). Devon is usually level-headed and also acts as Michael’s emotional balance when things get a little dangerous. He is presented as a father-figure for Michael as well. It’s a relationship which is maintained throughout the entire series, and one that even grows towards genuine friendship by the end of the run.

KITT is the modified Trans-Am that does all the cool tricks, and the real reason anyone who watched this show, did. He is brought to life by William Daniels, and as voicework goes, I’d say Daniels is nigh on perfect for the role.

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Michael Knight

So, back to the pilot…

Michael Long is a detective in Las Vegas who gets shot point blank in the face and left for dead… which also makes this quite a violent first handful of minutes for a programme that is aimed at children. There are a lot of jarring visual and audio edits before Anderson gives up the role, including sometimes over-dubbing Hasselhoff’s voice, and (even more oddly) occasionally substituting his body in longer shots. But it was the eighties, and production values were not what they are now. I can’t see this kind of editing faux pas making the cut these days. It took me out of the scenes, but I can grudgingly give it a pass. And yes, I agree: the set-up of the show is a little ropey, but it’s certainly not the wildest introduction I’ve ever seen on television.

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KITT

Long then awakens in the mansion of eccentric millionaire Wilton Knight, with a new face thanks to some stellar cosmetic surgery. His car has also gone under the knife, and it is now the souped-up machine that inarguably becomes the most iconic television vehicle of the decade. Everyone knows KITT, even those three people who have never seen Knight Rider.

The bromance between Michael and KITT is quick to get off the ground and the writers really don’t waste any time getting their banter up and running. By the time the pilot ends, and the bad guys have been dealt with, their relationship is fairly solid and well defined, and it stays consistent throughout the entire series. The camaraderie between man and machine is one aspect of Knight Rider that is still great after all this time.

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Bonnie Barstow

In the second episode we are introduced to Bonnie Barstow, played by Patricia McPherson. She is KITT’s long-suffering resident mechanic, and the Q to Michael’s Bond, to stick with that comparison. As well as being the good-looking grease-monkey, and technical whiz, she is the object of Michael’s chaste affections. He never gets anywhere with her, but then again, there’s only so much you can do with the audience sitting in front of the TV, so their budding romance never blooms into anything beyond a little flirtation.

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KARR

The first season as a whole is not too bad but I’ll be honest: it is mostly forgettable stuff. The first handful of episodes operate on an extremely small scale, where the stakes are mostly parochial at best, and it is perhaps telling that the only thing I genuinely remember about this season is the introduction of KITT’s nemesis KARR in Episode 8, Trust Doesn’t Rust. At least this battle makes things feel a little more important. For the first time, KITT and Michael are vulnerable. The episode obviously resonated with other viewers too, because once that challenge is dealt with, KARR makes his second and final appearance in the Season Three episode, KITT vs KARR.

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Goliath

On that note, the best episodes of Knight Rider are unequivocally the ones in which KITT is damaged or destroyed and has to be rebuilt, although seeing KITT busted and broken still saddens me, even as an adult, such is my affection for the car. As much as I never tired of Michael hitting Turbo Boost and watching KITT hit the ramp that was never quite as hidden as I thought it was as a child, I was always happy to see the protagonists face a new challenge because it would inevitably lead to KITT getting some kind of overhaul – be that a new function that would only be used for that particular episode, or a change in appearance that would fundamentally alter the way KITT looked.

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KITT’s new white jacket, from Junk Yard Dog

In Goliath, the Season Two opening double feature, which gives us perhaps the show’s greatest enemy, KITT has a laser installed after a collision with the deadly truck. The Season Three opening double header, Knight of the Drones sees KITT annihilated by a missile, after which he is rebuilt with a new dashboard. Junk Yard Dog, also from Season Three, lays claim to the show’s most horrifying death, where KITT is dumped into an acid pit. And finally, Knight of the Juggernaut; the Season Four opening double episode, gives KITT the most attention-grabbing makeover of the entire show, but more on that later…

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April Curtis

Bonnie is inexplicably absent from the show for the duration of Season Two, and is replaced by April (played by Rebecca Holden). Just as KITT is occasionally given a makeover, April – with the flowing red locks and the flashy smile – is certainly a visual upgrade, but her reason for being there is never explained. She has neither the chemistry with Michael, nor the gravitas to pull off a specialist mechanic, and she is released into the wild after Season Two ends, at which point Bonnie comes back for Seasons Three and Four. April is never referenced again. This makes Season Two somewhat of an anomaly, although not without its great moments – not least of all The Hoff trying to pull off the evil twin brother shtick in both Goliath and Goliath Returns with nothing but a stick-on moustache, a cane, and an angry intonation. Truly classic television.

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RC3

RC3 (played by Peter Parros) is the only character addition to Season Four. He is the token black dude the show runners obviously added to the cast to inject a little street smarts into the mix. He sometimes helps Michael with the heavy lifting and gets involved in a few punch-ups, but it feels like he is mostly there for cynical reasons rather than the development of any storyline. He’s harmless enough, but then he did give us Super Pursuit Mode.

I really don’t like Super Pursuit Mode. It allows KITT to travel 40% faster than his previous maximum speed of 300mph. This also means that every time it’s used (and trust me; it’s used a lot throughout the final season) we have to watch the same Transformer-style animation. It’s cool at first, but it gets old very quickly.

Super Pursuit Mode

Super Pursuit Mode was installed after KITT was taken apart in Knight of the Juggernaut, and it was probably intended to shake things up, to try and maintain the show’s relevance, but it’s an unnecessary upgrade. Its activation turns the sleek black Trans-Am into a hulking Lego-like behemoth that has more in common with Nolan’s Batmobile than it does the vanilla version of KITT pre-facelift. The function comes complete with the fantastically rubbish Emergency Braking System, which sees KITT stopping from a speed of over 400mph in a matter of metres with the use of, well… flaps.

Emergency Braking System

Oh yeah, and KITT now has a convertible option for those lazy days under the desert sun, but that’s just silly.

Topless KITT

Season Four is also noteworthy for the pivotal episode, The Scent of Roses, in which Michael gets married, only to (spoilers) watch his wife get shot and killed at the ceremony. Originally conceived as the final episode of the show – which would have wrapped up the character arc quite nicely – it actually sits oddly in the middle of the season which, from a storytelling perspective, doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. He’s back in the proverbial saddle in the very next episode.

So, after all that – is Knight Rider worth watching?

I can’t judge the show as an adult, because it is not meant for the me of 2019. Other than nostalgia, it does not have any merits for people my age, and why should it? It’s a show for children.

Am I disappointed? Sure. I have the complete box set, but I probably won’t be going back to it, and that’s undoubtedly the saddest thing of all. But it’s important to remember that Knight Rider is also a product of its time. A ten year old today will likely not get anywhere near the same enjoyment from it that I did, because television has changed, and the people who watch it have changed too.

Today’s ten year old uses technology on a daily basis that is far more advanced than a lot of the stuff inside KITT, but that’s all right. KITT was a super-advanced vehicle in 1982… but not so much in 2019. Yes, a lot of KITT’s functionality is still sci-fi and fantasy, but in other areas it is positively archaic. Kids nowadays would laugh at the so-called hi-tech computer graphics on the dashboard.

Having said that, Knight Rider was on the money with the satellite navigation system and the use of video calls. Both of those are common today. Self-driving cars are also in the early stages of becoming a real-world reality for the masses, so it’s only a matter of time.

And I don’t care what anyone says – that steering wheel is awesome!

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Potted Film Review: Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)

Starring: Grant Cramer, Suzanne Synder, John Allen Nelson, Royal Dano, John Nelson

What’s it all about?
An alien craft – which has the outward appearance of a travelling circus – lands in the woods behind a small town in the middle of America. The aliens who emerge are clowns. They carry guns that fire popcorn, and they kill people; or at the very least, they encase their victims in a plethora of pink candy floss.

Killer Klowns From Outer Space is (if you didn’t already know) a parody of all those bargain basement sci-fi B movies from the fifties that you have either seen or heard about, and it probably helps if you know that going in. Those movies were almost uniformly bad, which makes it hard for a parody of that style to be anything other than bad as well… So you see the dilemma?

Some of the practical effects are amusing in an eighties Muppets kind of way, and the writers should certainly be given credit for using the clowns in a variety of creative ways, but I didn’t find myself laughing much during the very brief running time.

Watching it with the kids…
Yeah, sure. Don’t let the title fool you. These may very well be killer clowns, but most of the actual deaths that appear on screen are characters being either vapourised or cocooned courtesy of special effects that would make even a fan of the original sixties Star Trek show balk. Everything is done with its tongue so far in its cheek, that even when there is a little blood on screen, it’s hard to take it seriously. Language is very mild, and despite there being ample opportunity for some skin, there’s none of that either.

Verdict…
I’m really torn on this one. On the one hand the acting is terrible, the script is less than basic, and the effects are a constant reminder that nobody behind the scenes gave a shit about realism; but on the other, it’s a fairly accurate reflection of those old genre tropes. So how can I hate on a movie that does exactly what it sets out to do?

I would wager that this movie is great to watch with a bunch of friends and a bottle of your favourite tipple. Ultimately however, while it has entertaining moments, I am just apathetic towards it, and I can’t give a pass to something that makes me feel that way.

Not Recommended ↓

Potted Film Review: The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018)

Starring: Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon, Justin Theroux, Gillian Anderson

What’s it all about?
After Audrey (Kunis) is dumped by her boyfriend – and he is subsequently killed – she finds out that instead of being the deadbeat that she thinks he was, he was actually a spy working for the CIA. Along with her best friend Morgan (McKinnon) the two of them then travel to Austria in order to deliver a secret package.

It’s been done many times before – two characters thrust into a world of espionage and explosions, who don’t really know what they’re doing but manage to stumble their way to the end credits anyway and manage to save the day.

There’s some great stunt work in here, and the action is well done, but I think all that should be in a better movie than this. To their credit, the girls do seem to be enjoying themselves, but they may be the only ones. They have good comic timing and are fun to watch, but this movie is not. And at a few minutes shy of two hours, it’s about twenty minutes too long.

Watching it with the kids…
There’s a lot of blood spilled, and some fairly grisly moments that are not suitable for the little ones. Language is quite ripe throughout as well, and although there is no sex, there is a cock and a pair of swinging balls that you may want to be aware of if you check this out.

Verdict…
Both of the two female leads deserve a better script than this. It’s billed as a comedy, but it isn’t all that funny. McKinnon’s character is called Morgan Freeman, which I guess is meant to make me laugh. To be honest, the movie is far too violent far too often, and as a result, I don’t know how I am expected to react in any given scene. The Spy Who Dumped Me may have succeeded if it was a standard buddy flick, but unfortunately the tone is all over the place, and I was just left waiting for it to be over.

Not Recommended ↓

Potted Film Review: Shazam! (2019)

Starring: Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Mark Strong

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What’s it all about?
At first blush Shazam! seems to be about a boy who meets an old homeless dude in a subway tunnel, says his name aloud, and then is able to use that name as a conduit to become a bumbling superhero… but underneath all that it’s really a story about family and friendships.

It starts off quite slowly with a very deliberate first half hour, to the point where I was concerned it was dragging on too long. However, once the origin/backstory is set aside, it develops into a fun romp with its tongue squarely in its cheek.

As it proceeds I started to feel a bit of a Big vibe, in the way that the central relationship plays out, right down to a funny blink-and-you’ll-miss-it homage that I’m sure was a nod to those who had recognised the similarities.

I’m a fan of Zachary Levi from his television work on Chuck, and – as this role is not a million miles away from that one – he slips easily into the superhero spandex here, giving a confident performance that is an easy paycheck for him. The rest of the cast I can take or leave, to be honest. Mark Strong feels like nothing more or less than your standard comic book villain, and the supporting children are fairly forgettable on the whole. They aren’t all that good, but then again, they’re not too bad either. This is Levi’s movie, and – combined with the sharp script – he is the primary reason that this works.

Watching it with the kids…
This is a family friendly movie through and through, with only the very young and sensitive who may be a little frightened by the monsters and demons on display here, but there’s no gore and no blood. There’s some mild language to be aware of, but it’s extremely tame, and nothing more than what you will hear in any playground.

Verdict…
I’m not an avid fan of superhero movies, so it takes something a little different within that genre to make me sit up and take notice. Shazam! manages to do that, and it is because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. How can it? It’s a movie with an exclamation mark right there in the title. It’s not dark, gritty, or edgy, like a lot of these comic adaptations try to be, and that’s absolutely fine.

Recommended

Potted Retro Film Review: Risky Business (1983)

Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca De Mornay, Joe Pantoliano

What’s it all about?
Cruise plays Joel, a suburban teenager who is on the one hand trying to get into college, but on the other, is just your typically horny kid whose primary concern is to get laid by a prostitute when his parents are away. Cue Lana, played by a sweet, butter-wouldn’t-melt Rebecca De Mornay.

The story escalates from one night of no-strings sex, to a stolen glass egg, to eventually Joel using his parents’ home as a makeshift brothel for a whole fleet of Lana’s colleagues to make some money. There’s a Porsche, a disgruntled pimp (called Guido, of course), and the whole thing is underpinned by the blossoming romance between Joel and Lana.

There are no real surprises here. There are some fun scenes, and the dialogue is on point, but it feels nothing like the benchmark title it is often considered to be. Cruise is on good early form, before he became a megastar a couple of years after this; and De Mornay is, well… she looks good, at least.

Watching it with the kids…
There are a couple of sex scenes here that you’ll want to avoid, and some stylised full frontal female nudity, done in the way that only a film made in the eighties could truly pull off. There’s also some bad language throughout. All things considered, given the reputation this has for my generation, it’s really very tame.

Verdict…
It had been many years since I last saw Risky Business, before this recent viewing. Was it as good as I remembered? No. For a comedy it’s not all that funny, and as a coming-of-age piece it has very few dramatic moments. I never feel the chemistry between Cruise and De Mornay, and their burgeoning relationship is clumsy and awkward at best. But as an early example of what the eighties was pushing in the teen genre – and before the market was flooded with this kind of thing – it’s hard to deny its influence and raw energy.

Recommended (slightly) ↑