Another slam-dunk performance by Malkovich! Here, he plays probably his most quirky, unusual yet…a combination of different characters…all pretending to be Stanley Kubrick. What???? Yes, you read me right. Malkovich’s character plays a man named Alan Conway…who is obsessed with being known as Stanley Kubrick. Well, in addition to Kubrick, Conway is also obsessed with NEVER PAYING FOR ANYTHING, which he is able to get away with MUCH easier as Kubrick, than as Conway. Set in London in the 1990s, the tag-line for this film is “a true-ish story.” And, that would be pretty accurate…since there WAS a man in London in the late 1990s pretending to be Stanley Kubrick. But, that I believe is where the truth ends. All of Malkovich’s characters I would say are originals. If the imposter really did do some of the things Alan Conway gets away with, I would want to shake that man’s hand. Because Conway does and gets away with the more ludicrous things…they have to have been conceived in the mind of the screenwriter, right? But, then again, the idea of someone posing as a famous film director is pretty much out there already.

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A fun, lively film about an entertainer/magician/all-around-showman who has a final last hurrah in the spotlight, which is much more than he really deserves. John Malkovich comes across with a unique, completely original character that makes me respect him more as an actor. After playing bad guy after bad guy, his performances got a little monotonist. Here, though, Malkovich cannot be called anything but unusual and exceptional. The story of a “Kreskin-like” illusionist (actually, Buck Howard was inspired by The Amazing Kreskin, which you find out at the end) who we think is waning toward retirement. When he comes up with one last big idea to gain some popularity back, of course the audience thinks he’s crazy (which is pretty accurate). But, the idea, by some twist of fate, takes off and gives him more success than he’s ever had. The story itself is silly at times but Malkovich makes this movie with his quirky, distinctive performance.

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This film is what I wanted the film Under the Tuscan Sun to be…a true experience of the culture, people and general “soul” of the place. The region of Provence in France is a beautiful region…similar to Italy’s Tuscany in the way people rave of its beauty and its scents and its postcard images. This series is based on the book of the same title by Peter Mayle, a former ad man in London who, along with his wife, decide to retires early in a farmhouse in Provence’s Luberon region. Mayle’s book became a sensation (mostly because it is about someone who actually does something that most people just dream of) just like Frances Mayes’ book about “escaping” to Italy…Under the Tuscan Sun. Unfortunately, the film version of Mayes’ book was changed into more of an exploration of romance instead of a study of Tuscany and its people. This TV version of Mayle’s book, on the other hand, is exactly what the book is…and more! When I say more, I do not mean to criticize Mayle’s beautiful book in any way. I just mean that SEEING Provence in its full glory surpasses the written word some. And what sights you see here! A Year in Provence is filled with the “air” of Provence…the images, the language, the smells, the culture, etc. This is a FUN time…there is something for everybody: scenery, humor, culture, beauty. How can you miss!

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The first season was good. The second season is almost perfect (barring the silly season ending). This show is an example of why writing is so crucial to making a good idea great. The scripts are sharp and perfectly witty. The dialogue snaps off the characters tongues as if they are those characters instead of paid actors. This is not to say the plotting is not good…it is. But the sharpness of the writing is what, I feel, really makes this show stand out from the other “controversial” shows that cable offers. The basic plotline revolves around a recent widow with two boys (one teenager and one younger) who supports her family by selling pot in an upscale suburban neighborhood. Quirky characters and interesting subplots (and of course the snappy dialogue) make this show a must see!

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For a light, relaxing time in the Scottish Highlands, look no further than Monarch. But, sometimes, relaxing can be far from accurate…especially for new Laird of Glenbogle…Archie MacDonald. Archie was just another unassuming business owner in London…his girlfriend was also his business partner and they had a good, yet unadventurous relationship. Enter a sudden trip to the Highlands, where he finds out his family’s home and land is in threat of foreclosure…and Archie is forced (begrudgingly, at first) to become more of a Scotsman than a Londoner. The show is sweet and innocent…filled with colorful characters and breathtaking scenery of the Scottish landscape. A great show for all ages.

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What is there to say about Hyacinth Bucket???? She’s very fashionable. She’s cultured. She’s meticulous. She’s clever. And she drives people CRAZY! Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet, please) is a married woman living in what she feels is a superior home in an inferior area. She drives her neighbors to insanity, her husband to drink (well, not really), her sisters and brother-in-law to drink (really), the postal worker and the milk delivery person to hide, and everyone else around her to run in the opposite direction when she’s in the vicinity. But, is Hyacinth aware of all of this? No…she thinks she’s loved and admired — for her class and her breeding and for her impeccable taste and for her Royal Doulton with the hand-painted periwinkles and her INFAMOUS candlelight suppers. Patricia Routledge excels here as the ever-perfect, ever-annoying Hyacinth. She is able to make this over-the-top character likable even though it’s usually hard to love Hyacinth. She’s the woman you hate to love, but just can’t help it. And even though it’s the writing that creates a character, the actor is the one to pull it off seamlessly, which Routledge definitely does here.

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There are just some things that make people laugh. And, no matter how many times I watch it, Fawlty Towers is my thing. I finally had to buy the set since I don’t think I’ve ever really seen an episode uninterrupted since I’m always in fits of giggles. Shot in the mid-to-late 1970s in England, this show is a true cult classic…still on public television late at night sometimes and still has a VERY loyal, avid fan base…both in Britain and around the world. The premise all stems from the B&B in Torquay, England run by a husband and wife team, Basil and Sybil Fawlty. There is the flighty receptionist, the temperamental chef, and a whole cast of guests who are not exactly getting the best service possible. Only 12 episodes were produced but each of them is funnier than the next. Yes, humor is relative so what I find funny, you might not. But, give this one a try. Chances are, you will, at the VERY least, find it entertaining.

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In the world of show business, there is a lot of material for comedy. And The Office (the British television show) creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant use every last one of the opportunities for humor until the well is dry and until the audience is laughing so hard they cannot get off the couch to put the next disc in. Again, Gervais acts in the series also, as he did in The Office and his comic timing is just brilliant. He plays a struggling actor who makes a living as an extra in movies and TV. Unlike most extras, his character sees all of his “extra” roles as small, bit parts which will lead to larger and better roles. Naturally, this is not always the case, which adds to much of the humor. A series of “real” famous actors as guest stars helps make this comedy series a real winner.

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Edina and Patsy, the two main characters of Ab Fab are two of the funniest, rudest, crudest, most vulgar ladies ever to hit the TV screen. And, I love every second of it. Somehow, they both convey a sweet, sensitive side…mostly because of their tight, though highly dysfunctional, friendship. They are former Hippies who never really “out grew” the 1960s…they still think they are flower children, yet somehow they woke up in 40-50-year-old bodies (in Patsy’s case, we don’t know how old she REALLY is). Ab Fab is a British institution. It has been trying to become an American one as well, almost since it started in 1992, but it has never gotten off the ground. And if you don’t mind my two cents on why… The British, though considered stuffy and aloof (wrongly, most times), have a sense of humor (or humour) that is unexcelled in its weirdness, raunchiness and general chaotic cleverness. When The Office show appeared here, I was nervous, because the British counterpart that was such a success was nasty…really, really nasty. It made me feel uncomfortable with its unabashed humor. But, the American version has changed into a lighter comic romp…more of a skit show than a dark, devilish one. Changing Ab Fab under those same guidelines would ruin it. No question about it. You soften the characters, take the edge away, not to mention the chain smoking, drinking and harsh dialogue, and what do you have left…Roseanne? Or some similar lame sitcom that has nothing to do with the British show? Americans are not ready for Edina and Patsy. We would want to tone it down…people would not allow the smoking…and the sex talk, well “let’s put it on cable.” Even on cable, shows with certain edges have hard times finding their audience. Basically, what you and I will have to keep doing is watch the DVDs or find it on BBC America. Trust me, it’s worth all of that work.

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When I first saw this one years ago, I thought it was too much of a farce…too over the top…too silly. But, re-watching it, I am able now to see it’s fine details as one of America’s great broad comedies. Cary Grant is at his wackiest here…as the nephew of two matronly ladies who have begun an unusual pastime…murdering lonely old men and having them buried in the basement. We’ve all seen (and loved) Grant do screwball…but this is pretty much as slapstick as comedy can get. He’s physical and very expressive…perfect for this role as the befuddled nephew of these two crazy killers. Directed by Frank Capra, I think one of the reasons this one took a while to sink in is because it’s almost TOO over the top. But, I guess as I’m getting older, I find the need for more and more comedy. And this one will sure satisfy that need!

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