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Colin D. Robertson (Edinburgh)

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Screamers 2 - The Hunting [DVD] [2009]
Screamers 2 - The Hunting [DVD] [2009]
Dvd ~ Gina Holden
Price: 2.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly good, 26 Jan 2012
This is a fun, fast-moving and interesting film. It's not as good as the first one, but it nearly is.

For what the film is (a direct-to-DVD sequel to a little-known 15 year-old film) it's surprisingly good.

It's written by one of the co-writers of the first film so you get the same twisty-turny plotline and interesting situations, but, contrary to what other people have said, I don't think it is just a repeat of the original. This one moves the story forwards. A third film would be welcome, though I doubt they could ever afford it.

It's also interesting to see what can be done nowadays with a small budget.

The only thing missing from this film was... it would have been great to revisit the locations from the first film, especially the Alliance base with its cool entrance!

Colour Book of Wholefood Cookery
Colour Book of Wholefood Cookery
by Carole Handslip
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars A charming book with nice, simple recipes, 21 Jan 2012
Adorned with pleasant line drawings of ingredients, this book is easy to follow and well-written. I've made the "lentil and vegetable soup" on p23 and it is delicious!

Doctor Who - The Deadly Assassin [DVD] [1976]
Doctor Who - The Deadly Assassin [DVD] [1976]
Dvd ~ Tom Baker
Price: 7.71

1 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly dull, 6 Jan 2012
This has always been talked of as a classic story, so I was looking forward to finally seeing it.

A disappointment.

It lacked enough plot for 4 episodes - 3, or even 2, would have been better. The entire third episode is a waste of time.

The Master is badly done, in terms of writing. He bears no relation to the character we saw in the Delgado era.

And just generally, it's a boring story.

Really disappointing. I'm sorry to have to write this review.

Dramarama: Spooky - The Complete Series [ITV] [Network] [DVD]
Dramarama: Spooky - The Complete Series [ITV] [Network] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Faith Brook
Price: 9.26

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 3 mediocre episodes, 3 good, 1 excellent, 23 Oct 2011
This series has been compared to an earlier Thames production, Shadows, which had aired from 1975 to 1978. 5 years had passed since then so you might expect a very different world, but it's alarming how similar Spooky is to its predecessor. It's still shot on tube cameras and the actors are still RP. There are differences: bluescreening has improved, camera work is slightly slicker, editing is better, titles look much cleaner, and the electronic music is clearly digital. But crucially, it still feels like the 70s, as if you're watching the last of that era of television.

The storytelling is also slightly more grown-up than in Shadows. Shadows had its great episodes (The Waiting Room etc.) but its worst episodes were generally so because of an excess of childishness. In Spooky, there's a new layer of "knowingness"; you sense the writers are playing with the medium in a way that never occurred to the Shadows writers. Not that this makes the stories any better - indeed, given time this postmodern knowingness did serious damage to TV drama, especially children's, which eventually became totally sarcastic and trivial. At their best, Shadows and Spooky have a kind of seriousness, a willingness to trust children, that was soon to be lost and will likely never be recovered. We're all too clever nowadays!

Now a few notes on each episode...

War Games With Caroline
This is a competently written and directed episode that, sadly, just doesn't have much going for it. The story is thin and predictable. Would perhaps have been better as a 10-minute piece. Nice sets, adequate performances, special effects for their own sake.

The Exorcism of Amy
A badly written and bizarrely made episode which, in the end, doesn't even make sense. It is knowingly surreal without ever justifying it. Feels like a trick that went wrong.

The Danny Roberts Show
The first "good" episode, in that it clearly doesn't want to be considered "just a kid's show". It actually feels like an adult programme with the swearing cut out. You get three engaging characters (or 4 if you count the disembodied voice), a convincing situation, a satisfying denouement, and substance. The story sees a shallow and disingenuous man getting thoroughly cut down to size. What's interesting is the way that it's done, and who does it. A good little drama.

The Ghostly Earl
A trivial episode with garish sets, rescued by good characters and endearing performances all round.

In a Dark, Dark Box...
A well-written and well-directed episode let down by a story which isn't interesting or complex enough for the 25-minute runtime. The endless repeating of "dark, dark" gets a little, well, repetitive and one feels short-changed. Fantastic atmosphere throughout and a lovely performance from Sheila Burrell. Could and should have been a great episode.

The Restless Ghost
Atmospheric sets and a promising idea are wasted in the execution. The first problem is indecision about tone; the story starts off whimsical then tries to be scary but the segue doesn't work. The second problem is terrible exposition; deep dark secrets are revealed by characters apparently eager to get the story over and done with. A real misfire.

The Keeper
Better than the rest put together, this episode was written by Alan Garner and the arrival of a writer with purpose really shows. There are stylistic echoes of Garner's earlier TV work, The Owl Service, but the clumsiness of that series is completely absent and instead we have a well-crafted episode of depth and intense atmosphere. Garner squeezes a story almost as complex as The Owl Service into a 25 minute slot, which is an incredible feat. The story is told with two actors and one set: an essay in economy. Manages to be as scary as a good adult drama, and as interesting as a good children's drama. This episode is really a great achievement and TV writers and producers could learn a lot from it.

Sometimes the first series of a programme is a test-bed, and the second series is when it really finds its feet. I think this would have been the case with Spooky. In particular, subsequent episodes would surely have learned from the example of The Keeper. Who knows, we may have got some fantastic stories. As it is, what we have is a curious and enjoyable set of episodes. Most fall short of their potential but I dare say their intended audience, children, wouldn't be as fussy as me.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 5, 2013 8:20 PM GMT

Shadows Of Fear Complete Series
Shadows Of Fear Complete Series
Dvd ~ James Gatward
Price: 13.50

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A curate's egg, 16 Oct 2011
Like most anthology shows this is a mix of good and bad, though in this case there are few bad episodes and at least two excellent ones. You get solid 70s drama, 11 separate stories, with some very good writing.

Some have compared it to Thriller but this is much better than Thriller, in terms of acting, writing, atmosphere, chills and depth. Perfect viewing for a rainy day or a dark, windy night!

ByteStor 16GB USB  High Speed "Dataferry" Flash Drive
ByteStor 16GB USB High Speed "Dataferry" Flash Drive
Price: 8.38

4.0 out of 5 stars Very good, 14 Oct 2011
I have only one complaint about this.

When you copy files from the computer onto the USB drive, long after the Windows "copying" dialogue has finished, the USB keeps flashing. Sometimes it stops flashing and you think it's finished doing whatever it was doing, so you pull it out but get an error message from Windows saying that some files were just corrupted!

Obviously this only happens when you're in a rush for whatever reason, otherwise you can just leave the USB in.

But I do wish the little red light on it was more reliable. You don't know when the thing is busy and when it's idle.

Other than that, it's great.

Shadows - The Complete Third Series [DVD]
Shadows - The Complete Third Series [DVD]
Dvd ~ Ronald Hines
Price: 8.10

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Quite good, 9 Oct 2011
NOTE: I refer to the three series here as s1, s2 and s3. I know this is a bit contrived but I think it's better than constantly writing "the third series" etc.

The most important thing is that this is an improvement on the second series, which IMHO was dreadful. It's not as good as s1, but it's still an enjoyable little show.

Of course some episodes are better than others. I'd say the best is "The Boy Merlin", which has wonderful atmosphere and great performances all round. "The Eleventh Hour" is also good, and perhaps the only episode which could have come from s1.

Thankfully gone are the awful social messages of s2, which seemed like a well-being manual for youngsters dreamed up by sociologists at some leftie 1970s college ("be confident, and be yourself!"). Also gone is s2's repetitiveness; all the episodes here are different. In fact a number seem like pilots for potential series - "The Silver Apple", "The Rose of Puddle Fratrum", "The Man Who Hated Children" and possibly "Honeyann". AFAIK, only "The Boy Merlin" got its own series.

The emphasis in s3 is on fantasy rather than the supernatural. I'd say s1 had established a pretty solid line in ghost stories for children; it took things seriously and was unafraid to send chills down the viewer's spine. There seems to have been a decision to go lighter. As a result, s3 tends towards the whimsical, and certainly never goes for the ominous (a la s1's "The Waiting Room"). Indeed some of the episodes are just silly and played for laughs - I'm thinking of Joan Aiken's "The Rose of Puddle Fratrum". Fantasy is all very well but they should have done it as a separate series because the title "Shadows" is no longer appropriate.

On the other hand there is "The Man Who Hated Children", which starts off whimsical (including a talking swan!) but suddenly gets rather hardcore at the end. A nice surprise.

In summary, if you like s1 you'll probably like s3. The episodes vary wildly, but the good ones are worth it.

Manhunt - The Complete Series [DVD] [1970]
Manhunt - The Complete Series [DVD] [1970]
Dvd ~ Peter Barkworth
Price: 20.30

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Flawed but excellent, 26 Aug 2011
Some of the criticisms by other reviewers are true. Manhunt is low budget (though some episodes are pretty pyrotechnic!) and there are some character inconsistencies.

But it is still excellent. Some episodes, namely the ones written by Vincent Tilsley, are among the best drama I have ever seen.

It's the epitome of 1970s British TV drama - great characters, great dialogue, depth, suspense, intrigue, psychology, universal themes, and endearingly low budget. (Of course the sets don't look realistic - that's what your imagination is for!)

Despite a dodgy beginning (the first 4 or 5 episodes suffer from meandering), this is a fantastic series and I am so glad I discovered it. If you like character-driven drama and aren't seduced by special effects and shallow blockbuster drivel, you should enjoy Manhunt very much!

It's worth it just for Robert Hardy as Gratz and Peter Barkworth as Vincent. Both characters, and both actors, can only be described as brilliant.

Noah's Castle - The Complete Series [DVD]
Noah's Castle - The Complete Series [DVD]
Dvd ~ Annette Ekblom
Price: 12.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good stuff, 19 July 2011
The DVD is fine, no complaints. There's not much extra material you can make 30 years after the show!

The show itself is quite good. It's very low budget but the acting is good, the dialogue interesting and the conflicts quite engaging.

The central performance of the father ruthlessly determined to look after his family is layered and convincing. I was a little bothered by the show's left-wing bent; you're never in any doubt that you're supposed to disapprove of the father for "looking after his own". If his viewpoint had been given more credence (as it is surely the viewpoint that any responsible father would take in the situation), the show would be more rounded for me and I'd be giving it 4 stars, perhaps 5.

However, for a children's series this is still very grown up and it puts modern children's programming to shame, though this hardly needs saying as I think we've all become resigned to the idea that programmes like Noah's Castle simply will not be made again.

Shadows - The Complete First Series [Series One] [1975] [DVD]
Shadows - The Complete First Series [Series One] [1975] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jenny Agutter
Price: 8.70

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 25-minute chunks of 70s goodness, 2 July 2011
This is a series of one-off supernatural dramas. It's very low-budget and very innocent, made in 1975 by Thames Television. Each episode has the old TT clip at the start (and the intrusive Fremantle one at the end!).

Ironically, there is almost no point talking about the episodes individually. They are so simple and small-scale that there isn't much to say. But I mean this as praise. They are delightful little things; 25-minute chunks of drama. Each one sets up a situation very effectively with attention paid to time, place and people, and then plays with it a little. It's delightful to watch. And of course if you don't like an episode, it's over very soon!

The standard line is that 70s drama was "slow and talky", but I found "Shadows" very engaging. It's a kids' show, and the makers get down to business quickly. And they do it well. In every case, I was more drawn into the story than I generally am with "Tales of the Unexpected". TOTU always feels a little disposable, as if each episode is a puzzle to be cracked and, once cracked, there's little point watching it again. The story is rather a cold mechanism. "Shadows" on the other hand feels very warm. There's a real sense of wonder, curiosity, possibility.

Another thing commonly said of modern drama is that it has more character depth. Again I think this is mistaken. In modern dramas, the characters seem to talk constantly about themselves (and their damned emotions). In "Shadows", characters speak about the story and, in doing so, reveal themselves naturally. And because they're talking about the story, you're thinking about it. This is how drama should be done!

Other people have commented on the lack of effects and CGI, and how old TV dramas managed to do without these things. It's true. "Shadows" is technically primitive, and all the more enjoyable for it! The episodes make a virtue of setting. (The sets for "After School" and "The Waiting Room" are especially atmospheric.)

Another reviewer said that the stories are too simplistic and benign to be of interest to modern kids. I tend to think this speaks in the stories' favour.

Sometimes the mysteries are not completely solved, which can be unsatisfying. For example "The Waiting Room" doesn't make total sense, feeling rather like the first half of a story. I'm not sure if these episodes were intended as possible pilots - it seems unlikely but it would explain why we never learn why events are repeating themselves at the station, or what is actually happening in the episode "Optical Illusion".

So the 25-minute length is both a strength and a weakness. But either way, the stories all succeed in their modest aims.

Special mention should go to Gareth Thomas's hilarious cameo in the episode "After School". He plays the most pedantic, patronising and unnecessarily rude schoolteacher you've ever seen in a red tracksuit with white stripes.

The one exception to everything I've written above is the episode "Dutch Schlitz's Shoes". It feels like a different programme altogether. The tone is comical, surreal and whimsical, and I didn't like it. Perhaps kids like nonsensical stuff (an aristocrat who wears a skeleton costume!) but I just find it irritating. This is the episode to avoid!

But for the rest, this is a charming series. Sadly series 2 isn't nearly as good. I'm hoping series 3 will be a return to form.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 20, 2013 12:16 PM BST

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