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The Man From Earth [2007] [DVD]
The Man From Earth [2007] [DVD]
Dvd ~ John Billingsley
Price: £4.79

4.0 out of 5 stars 30 something caveman, 11 Feb 2011
Plot:

Professor John Oldman (David Lee Smith) is given an informal farewell party by his fellow teaching colleagues on the day he is set to leave. Oldman offers no reasonable explanation for his decision to go, so all his friends push him for an answer. Eventually he concedes to their wishes and reveals that he is a 14,000 year old Palaeolithic man...

Review:

Science fiction is typically thought of as a medium for fantastical visual realities. Whether it is written form or, like the subject of this review, a film, our sympathetic nervous system is titillated by imagery from beyond the boundaries probability. It conjures up images of man-made monsters, aliens from other planet and amazing technology. From Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to Jule Verne's 20,000 Leagues under the Sea to Star Trek and Star Wars, science fiction has come to mean material wonders that tantalize us with the thought that they could somehow exist. So, what happens when you strip down the action to conversation and dispense with the special effects?

The Man from Earth is as close to puritanical filmmaking as I have seen in the science fiction genre since 1994's Without Warning. In many ways it is Jerome Bixby's masterpiece and it is fitting that it was his final work. Bixby apparently started writing the script for the film in the 1960s and finished it on his deathbed when he dictated it to his son. Bixby, an accomplished short story writer, also penned four episodes for the original Star Trek series, including the hugely influential Mirror, Mirror episode. Interestingly most of the cast for The Man from Earth have strong connection to Star Trek. Bixby comes from an era when science fiction was about the exciting exploration of ideas and possibilities. It was a time that saw science fiction authors, like L. Ron Hubbard, become religious leaders and philosophical psychologists, like Timothy Leary, use the imagery of science fiction as powerful metaphors. Aside from typical pulp and space opera, science fiction can have a hard intellectual core and one can understand a certain degree of frustration that some science fiction writers must feel when they have to compromise the philosophy of their art with "noisy" space battles and little green men. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, was a known humanist and agnostic who often inserted secular and pro-science philosophical messages in his work. So, with this in mind, The Man from Earth unashamedly takes us to that core, using the metaphorical vehicle of the fantastical on a journey through logic, spirituality, reason and morality.

The film not only dispenses with special effects, it also doesn't change location - keeping entirely to the exterior and interior of John Oldman's house - and is very sparing with its subtle musical soundtrack, scored entirely by Mark Hinton Stewart with a theme song sung by Chantelle Duncan. There are no experimental or unusual camera angles or even any handheld gimmickry. Clearly in respect for Bixby's work and under the watchful eye of his son, who co-produced the film, the film stands on the screenplay and those who act it out.

All of this is accomplished with a hint of pretentiousness. No one over-acts and there is no attempt to hog the camera. David Lee Smith keeps his cool throughout the picture, playing the films lead with consistent restraint. His incredible tale told as answers to the questions posed by his intellectual jury of peers elicit emotions and intrigue. By choosing academics as the characters, it is easier to believe that Oldman's audience would have been more tolerant of his claims than your average person and be lured at the thought of an intellectual exercise. They certainly show varied emotions and are believable as real people rather than merely symbolic of their respective beliefs and disciplines, but their intellect allows more of the ideas to flow rather than to turn into a clash of personalities. The degrees of credulity and acceptance are very interestingly presented through convincing individual performances by lesser known actors.

Only Dr Will Gruber comes over as an overwhelming presence in all the scenes he occupies. However, he is not consistent through the film. He arrives later than everyone else and periodically leaves. It works perfectly, as his role is very significant for the final scene. He is also unique in the respect that he provides explosive intervals that relate to questions regarding life and death whereas the rest of the cast more interested in history and spirituality.

There is little I can fault in this film that would also make an excellent play and hopefully will be considered sometime soon, if its cult status increases. Admittedly this is the realm of science fiction and the film's premise is intentionally fantastical, but here and there we find a few unintentional errors. The fallacy of dietary detoxification, as promoted by the alternative medicine fringe and having no basis in science, is implied by Harry the biologist. Please, this is science fiction not pseudoscience! Also Oldman's fear that Columbus might sail of the edge of the world alludes to the "Flat Earth Myth". This is the modern misconception that most scholars during the middle ages believed the Earth to be flat. In fact, knowledge of the Earth being round had been in existence since at least the times of the ancient Greeks.

Nevertheless, the film presents some fascinating ideas about man's capacity to believe and disbelieve. The different characters present fascinating responses to challenges to their faith or assumed knowledge, as well as the very nature of religion. Just as the film is extremely restrained on its effects, the story keeps itself solidly in the realm of a single person's word. Oldman refuses to allow Harry to conduct any tests on him on the grounds that he might end up incarcerated for observation and yet no one bothers to challenge on his claim that he doesn't scar. A photograph that would provide evidence of his agelessness is simply explained away by Oldman as being "already packed". The whole thing comes down to faith, which is where the film heads for its most dramatic revelation and its moralistic centre.

The Man from Earth was produced on a tiny budget of $200,000 and made movie history when one of the film's producers publically thanked those who illegally distributed the film through file sharing. This helped raise public awareness and the picture has gone on to win a large number of awards at various festivals. It certainly deserves more attention and I recommend to anyone who would like to see science fiction devoid of its most recognizable trappings, and to those who would enjoy a mental exercise in credulity.


Orphan [DVD]
Orphan [DVD]
Dvd ~ Vera Farmiga
Price: £3.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This isn't Oliver, but it has a twist!, 6 Feb 2011
This review is from: Orphan [DVD] (DVD)
Plot:

Kate (Vera Fermiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard) are a loving family with two happy children, Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) and their younger daughter, Max (Aryana Engineer) who is deaf. Kate has recovered from alcoholism, but suffers trauma from having given birth to a stillborn child. They decide to adopt a nine year old Russian girl called Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) a local orphanage. At first Kate, John and Max take to their new addition to the family who seems delighted with her new home. However, Daniel has reservations from the beginning. This seems like jealousy at first, but soon Max starts seeing some increasingly odd behaviour at school but is sworn to secrecy. Before long she is on a terrible secret. Meanwhile Kate begins to uncover some disturbing truths about Esther that may threaten the very lives of her family...

Review:

"Orphan" takes a regular "cuckoo thriller" and executes it in fine style. This includes some tight direction, some outstanding performances by the film's child actors and a very original twist that no one in our house saw coming. Like an Alfred Hitchcock thriller, the film starts with its emphasis in a different direction to where it will be headed - Kate's anguish over her stillborn third child. It's a dream sequence and it also has surreal quality that we won't see again for the remainder of the picture. In the hands of a hack, the scene could very easily have stuck out like a tactless ghost sequence in Coronation Street or Neighbours. Given Jaume Collet-Serra's work prior to this - the terrible if financially successful horror remake "House of Wax" and the forgettable "Goal II: Living the Dream" - a hack's work is exactly what I expected. I am delighted to say he proved me wrong from start to finish, carefully complimenting the clever plot provided by David Leslie Johnson and Alex Mace without being tempted to insert cheap shocks or transparent red herrings.

Far from being a clumsy distraction, the opening sequence helps us understand and, more importantly, sympathize with Kate's need to adopt. After this scene the film wastes no time in getting into the drama proper and the antagonism Kate will face with her new "daughter" works as a great early twist. However, despite an all round good adult cast it is the trio of Jimmy Bennett, Isabelle Fuhrman and, in particular, Aryana Engineer that are at the real heart of the film. This is the young Engineer's first film and was cast on her ability to use sign language - a casting agent saw her communicating with her deaf mother. However, not only is Engineer so convincing in the role as a deaf child, but also one who is thrust into exceptional circumstances. It is largely her performance that makes the emerging threat of the movie's cuckoo so effective. Her character's sense of vulnerability, confusion and courage act as powerful contrasts to Fuhrman's cold and manipulative Esther.

A good thriller/horror works best when the director knows how to play an audience and hits them with the unexpected. Hitchcock knew this and Spielberg timed it to perfection with "Jaws". "Orphan" might not be remembered as one of the greatest suspense movies ever made, but the usually commercial Collet-Serra is clearly willing to take some risks that will throw viewers off the formulaic route. They pay off when they happen, especially with that aforementioned twist, but I think the film's alternate ending (viewable on DVD) would have been a better choice. I don't know how much this was the studio's choice, but two production companies were involved, which might have something to do with the decision to go with an action-packed and non-ambiguous finale. A similar decision was made "Fatal Attraction" and the debate over whether or not this was the right choice continues to this day.

"Orphan" is a slick and clever turn on a familiar theme. Despite being considered a horror it is more in line with pictures like "The Hand that Rocks the Cradle" and "Fatal Attraction" than "The Omen".


The Science of Fear: Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn't--And Put Ourselves in Greater Danger
The Science of Fear: Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn't--And Put Ourselves in Greater Danger
by Daniel Gardner
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "There's never been a better time to be alive", 6 Feb 2011
According to Dan Gardner, bad news easily outsells good news. He should know, having worked within the newspaper industry for his entire career. Gardner has first hand experience of seeing the way papers are driven by a need to report shocking headlines. Popular writing excites the senses and there is no quicker way to make something a "thrilling read" than to use fear. That's great when it comes to writing fiction or even an exciting event in history, but when it comes to reporting events that seem to have direct and real effect on our lives this becomes an altogether more serious affair. However, the media are not alone. As a species the human brain is still best suited for times when we were being chased by sabre tooth tigers. We are hardwired to deal with the immediate dangers of pre-civilization not the hi-tech and high information world of today.

Dan Gardner feels that irrational fear has damaging consequences and the resulting panic after the 9/11 terrorist attacks are proof of this problem. After the attacks road traffic accidents and deaths skyrocketed. Gardner crunches the figures and reveals that even if the US suffered one air terrorist attack a week, you would still be far safer flying than driving by car. This subject is handled in the book's prologue and our disproportionate fear of terrorism is covered in the later chapter, "Terrified of Terrorism".

It is by using hard figures and common sense that Gardner provides a very optimistic view of living today. Why is the rise in death by cancer a good sign? Because the overwhelming main cause of cancer is old age. Thus we are living older. Why the rise in infant cancer? Because before then children were being killed by diseases that have either been eradicated or are no longer considered to be life threatening.

Another key area Gardner returns to is the way the brain assesses new information. This is the study of evolutionary psychology. Gardner explains how the modern brain evolved throughout the Palaeolithic era. Natural selection during the thousands of years our ancestors spent in Africa is perhaps responsible for many common phobias, such as a fear of snakes and spiders, as well as many other far more universal fears. Through pre-agricultural times - when we were purely hunter gatherers living off and trusting fast instincts - we first developed System One or "Gut". This is the part of our brain that is most closely referenced by people in my industry - self protection.

A work considered to be a virtual bible on the subject is Gavin de Becker's "The Gift of Fear". In this, his most famous work, de Becker makes a very convincing case for a theory of intuition. It's a book I regularly recommend when I am teaching straight self protection courses. However, science is a continuous ongoing process and I am always open to new research. I bought Gardner's book and also Ben Sherwoods' "Survivor's Club" on the recommendation of combatives expert W. Hock Hocheim. Hocheim cited them as more "in-depth" publications and also praised the amount of reference material mentioned.

The truth is de Becker's book is still a useful civilian self defence soft skills book, but it should be read in conjunction with "The Science of Fear" (UK name "Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear") to understand the other side of the intuition story. System One may be a very effective survival tool. It might be our most important, but it is also woefully flawed. Luckily we also came out of the Palaeolithic era with System Two or "Head", conscious thought. Its inherent flaw is that it is comparatively slower than System One. Reliance on it would spell certain doom in high risk situations. However, without it we jump to irrational conclusions and expend unnecessary energy. So, why do we still jump to irrational conclusions anyway? Gardner explains that the problem with "Head" is that despite its rational and calculating nature, it has to be educated first. So, if it doesn't understand the complex information being fed to it today - information such as detailed figures or the fact that "correlation does not prove causation" - it is more likely to rely on the impulsive first reaction offered by "Gut". Gardner goes into detail how "Brain" will often try to rationalize the irrational decision made by "Gut".

I look at this book as a vital resource for the instruction of self defence. The chapter "Fear Inc." reveals how the whole personal protection industry trades off fear along with politicians. It is vital for the integrity of our service that we be guided by facts and science rather than be lured into manipulating our clients through fear-mongering. I know far too many instructors who inadvertently teach paranoia rather than a healthy sense of awareness. Knowledge from this book might help them get the balance right.


Hancock: The Lost Radio Episodes: Sid James's Dad and the Diet
Hancock: The Lost Radio Episodes: Sid James's Dad and the Diet
by Ray Galton
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £7.69

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More recovered Hancock, 24 Dec 2010
Tony Hancock's days in radio were definitely his best. This doesn't take anything away from his physical comedy, but everything just seemed to gel with Hancock and his supporting stars when they were on radio. Therefore, having purchased two "lost" TV episodes preserved in a dodgy audio format, I was delighted to see some radio episodes had also been unearthed. There are two radio CDs available, although seeing as all previous Hancock radio tapes and CDs contained four episodes I don't see why they all couldn't be contained in a double-pack. Sadly the sound quality, like that of the recovered TV soundtrack, isn't very good, but somehow more forgivable.

The episodes contained here, "Sid's Dad" and "The Diet", come from the fourth and third series respectively. This is coming into an era most beloved of the majority of Hancock fans. Unfortunately Hattie Jacques hadn't come into the picture yet, but Hancock, Sid James and Bill Kerr had established their characters and relationships, and Kenneth Williams were set as the resident character actor. We see Williams here playing the part of Sid James's apparently oblivious father who comes to stay with Hancock, as his son covers his regular court appearances with the lie that he is judge. As you can imagine, it's a fun exercise with Hancock and Bill doing their best to cover for Sid only to discover that the apple might have not fallen that far from the tree.

"The Diet" is an interesting inclusion, as it seems to have been partly recycled in the fifth season for "The Publicity Photograph", an episode that was released with the BBC's first 10 Hancock audio tapes. Here Hancock desperately tries to lose weight to get the part in a movie whilst his rival, Bill Kerr, is told to put it on. Meanwhile Sid James, in his normal fashion, takes advantage of the hapless too with his revolutionary diet plan. Often when I listen to Hancock (and future Steptoe and Son) writers, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson's wry observations of the fads of their times - and we're talking the mid-50s here - it is amazing to see how little human society has changed. Fad diets were a focus of a book I read this year "Fads and Fallacies" by Martin Gardner, again written in the 1950s, and its astounding to see the same unscientific nonsense is still be trawled out in women's magazines and so-called health books. Galton and Simpson were very aware of the quackery going on and Sid James has routinely been used as a vehicle to send it all up.

As I previously mentioned, the sound quality is pretty poor, which is only highlighted by the much superior quality of the inserted theme, incidental and link music. This obvious later insertion was done with the re-release and later release of the original 10 Hancock tapes and CDs, but the process was far less noticeable. However, as annoying as it is I am just grateful that these episodes have been recovered and they now reside in my collection. Although these aren't the best episodes, they're still very good and better than the TV recordings. If you can put up with the bad sound quality by cranking your volume up to the max, then I would say it is a worthwhile buy.


Hancock: The 'Lost' TV Episodes: WITH The Flight of the Red Shadow AND The Wrong Man (BBC Audio)
Hancock: The 'Lost' TV Episodes: WITH The Flight of the Red Shadow AND The Wrong Man (BBC Audio)
by Ray Galton
Edition: Audio CD

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Uncovered lesser gems?, 20 Dec 2010
There are certain old comedy actors/performers/comedians that I re-discovered and there are those I was practically weaned on. I won't bore you with my reasons for loving the guy and finding his work something of a comfort - that's better reserved for a more biographical writing entry - suffice to say that he came from a golden age of British radio comedy. He also made a very successful switch to television, which demonstrated he and many of his colleagues - Kenneth Williams, Sydney James and Hattie Jacques for example - were not just vocal talents. All had a background in live theatrical work and grew up in the Music Hall tradition, a tradition that is sometimes a close relative and sometimes exactly the same as my own cultural heritage in circus. This made them all pretty good at adapting to the changing entertainment mediums from stage to radio to television, albeit with having to suffer being pigeonholed. Of course, this sacrifice was something that would haunt Hancock, Jacques and Williams who were all very intelligent, educated and talented - and all had personal internal struggles between egotism and self-doubt. All longed to play more challenging roles and all of this could be seen whenever they were interviewed.

Hancock was a genius in front of the camera, but he was best on radio. For some reason all the best elements came together - Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, Williams, James, Kerr, Jacques and several other regular cast members - and they were all relatively young and enthusiastic. Unfortunately this CD is not of one of these radio episodes. It is another curious example of the BBC selling the sound recording of a TV show as an audio book. I have bought a few of these in the past, but never thought they worked out 100 per cent. Comedy can be a bit annoying as there are clearly visual cues and gags throughout the programmes, which the listener obviously cannot pick up. This leaves us with extended scenes of laughter, which really should be edited out. On top of that the sound quality is not very good. This is sadly due to the fact that the recording comes from someone putting a radio microphone up to a television screen. We should count ourselves lucky that at least that much was preserved.

So, production and background aside, what is the actual content like? Both episodes come from Hancock and James era, the early days of Hancock's television career. Neither one stands out particularly, but if you are a fan there is a feel of being among old friends. One thing you notice with Hancock's TV career is that there are far more gaffs than there were on radio. In fact, the radio gaffs have become classic moments because you remember them. The TV gaffs, being more common, are fun to a certain degree, but can get a little tedious at times.

If it doesn't make you laugh out loud it should bring a knowing smile to your face. This isn't to say there is some great delivery or some very witty lines, but this is not "The Bowmans", "The Lift", "The Missing Page", "The Radio Ham" or "The Reunion Party" territory. "The Flight of the Red Shadow" is something of a pleasant link-in to the radio show with Hancock's career as a member of the East Cheam Reparatory Company. He is forced to go on the run when he upsets a member of the Company and assume many aliases. "The Wrong Man" is a send-up of Alfred Hitchcock's classic of the same name. Galton and Simpson did a fine job with their spoofs of other works, creating classics of their own. Many of today's spoof writers would do well to learn from their restraint with this particular type of comedy.

I guess you could call these uncovered gems, but of a lesser stone.


Daybreakers [DVD]
Daybreakers [DVD]
Dvd ~ Willem Dafoe
Offered by TwoRedSevens
Price: £2.69

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deal with God Part 2, 19 Dec 2010
This review is from: Daybreakers [DVD] (DVD)
Plot:

It is the year 2019 and the world is besieged by a vampire plague that turned most of the population into bloodsuckers. The remaining humans are either on the run or being processed via huge blood farms. The vampires face a catastrophic problem when they realize that the human population is nearly depleted. Blood supplies become rationed and a state of anarchy threatens to engulf the cities. Meanwhile the poor end up consuming vampire blood and become deranged animalistic bat-like creatures known as subsiders. A top pharmaceutical company, Bromley Marks, headed by Charles Bromley (Sam Neil), seeks to hunt down the remaining free humans, including Bromley's still-human daughter, Audrey (Claudia Karvan), who leads a resistance group, whilst their main haematologist, Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), seeks to find a blood substitute...

Review:

If, like me, you are sick of vampires being angst-ridden teenagers with American Christian undertones or hordes of unconvincing CGI monsters being fended off by a Lara Croft wannabe, then "Daybreakers" might be the movie for you. I think, along with "Let the Right One In" and the series "True Blood", it signals new hope for a genre that always feels like its last drop of originality is about to be drained out.

"Daybreakers" works using a creative slant on the horror/sci-fi formula established in Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend". Rather than having the grotesquely evil element in a story being a minority element set against an otherwise normal world, Matheson turned the whole horror concept on its head. He had the normal human as the minority fighting against a world of vampires. George Romero and many subsequent zombie apocalypse films were apparently inspired by this simple role reversal. However, what twin Australian filmmakers, Michael and Peter Spierig have done is score on many fronts. Creating empathy, politics and complexity in the ranks of vampire hordes is nothing new, but all this usually only occurs within a shadow organization or secret brotherhood of some sort (think Anne Rice or Brian Lumley's novels or the "Underworld" movies or the "Blade" comics or "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" TV series). In this instance the shadow fraternity are the human resistance.

There are also some other interesting elements thrown in that add interesting twists to the storyline. What often makes for a good vampire story in recent times is the re-exploration of certain elements of the myth or interesting additions. "Let the Right One In" did this very effectively with the invitation-only part of the vampire myth. "Daybreakers" goes for an area that would seem absurd for most conveyors of horror: a cure. Vampire-cures are normally best reserved for children's TV shows and vampire-lite fiction. This then asks the questions how could this be achieved and whether or not vampires want to be converted back to humans. This part of the plot brings in former vampire "Elvis", played by the ever-reliable Wilhem Dafoe, as the obligatory voice of experience character. There is also the rarely asked question - I cannot think of a time when it has ever been asked for that matter - what happens when a vampire feeds on another?

The end result was a film that perhaps works best a science fiction thriller than a horror movie, but it is neither wholly predictable nor unfulfilling. It delivers in terms of character development, casting and outright action. Ethan Hawke takes the lead, but he is understated in his performance, allowing Sam Neil and Wilhelm Dafoe to eat up scenes in same way as Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush did with Orlando Bloom in "Pirates of the Caribbean". The surprise performance of the picture is Claudia Karvan as the rebellious Audrey. Her character's relationship with the film's main characters drives everything and in each instance Karvan does an excellent job as foil, inspiration and colleague.

The Spierig Brothers definitely seem to be the current twins to look out for. Their other work includes the zombie movie "Undead" and their most anticipated work is their sequel to George Lucas/Jim Henson/Frank Oz's puppet magnum opus "The Dark Crystal". Why the odd title for this review? Well, it's the second film in the space of a couple of months I have seen that has a connection with Kate Bush's classic hit "Running up that Hill (Deal with God)". The first time was its inappropriate use over the end credits of the 1988 teenage drama "The Chocolate War". In this instance Placebo, normally a good band, did a rather drawn out and whiney rendition of it on the trailer.

Overall the film is strong contender in its genre, but that really isn't difficult given the dross pumped out in all things vampire. Unfortunately it doesn't have any standout moments or even any great dialogue. It's a good film, but it won't go down as a classic.


Rowan Atkinson's The Atkinson People (Classic BBC Radio Comedy)
Rowan Atkinson's The Atkinson People (Classic BBC Radio Comedy)
by Rowan Atkinson
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £11.05

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Before Blackadder...but not as good, 15 Dec 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I have never thought the scope of Rowan Atkinson's comedy talents has really been appreciated. He is certainly a success and a shrewd one at that, having a fortune estimated at around £65m thanks to his share in the production company Tiger Aspect. However, he is not one of life's driven comics or comedy actors, more a strange anomaly that falls into a rich diversity of work. Like Frankie Howard and the great American comedian, Bob Newhart, Atkinson is afflicted with a stutter that he works beautifully into his dialogue. Listen to his pronouncements of the name "Bob" in "Blackadder II" and "Blackadder Goes Fourth" for examples of this wonderfully unique comic verbalization. Atkinson was apparently bullied at school for this along with his somewhat odd appearance. This is perhaps the reason why many interviewers have found him to be painfully shy and very difficult to pin down. We live in a time now where Atkinson has played the lead role in two of the UK's biggest comedy institutions and exports, "Blackadder" and "Mr Bean". He also played a spoof secret agent, Johnny English, in a series of Barclaycard commercials that evolved into a rather disappointing motion picture. My favourite memories of his work are most definitely contained in the "Blackadder" series. This CD boasts work that was the forerunner to this exceptional comedy.

However, if you are expecting to hear a prototype of Edmund Blackadder then the CD's blurb on the back is somewhat misleading. "The Atkinson People" was a four-part radio series written by Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis, produced by the comedian Griff Rhys Jones. The series is more of an exploration of typically British satirizing of their own pomposity, pretentiousness and the intelligentsia. One of the characters, the philosopher George Dupont may be French, but this is used as means to show the way the superficial sophisticates of Britain twist themselves into ridiculous intellectual pretzels over fashionable foreign ideas. It would be revisited again in the "Blackadder the Third" episode "Nob and Nobility". Other characters include polymaths like Sir Benjamin Fletcher and Sir Corin Basin. This is typical British humour again, that rather than celebrating artists with an extraordinary number of talents it sends it up, characterizing Fletcher as an untrustworthy fop and Basin as a bore. Finally we have a parody of the life of a pop star, Barry Good, which is perhaps the best episode of the lot. Here Atkinson and Curtis nail perfectly the commercial singer with the egotistical desire to be seen as a serious artist.

Atkinson and Curtis, of course, would be the combined talents behind the first series of "The Blackadder" before Ben Elton arguably realized the show's full potential with the second to fourth series. I cannot say I am a big fan of Richard Curtis's work. After "Four Weddings and a Funeral" he seemed to pick up a sickly middle class British romantic comedy formula and never really looked back. Even his subsequent "Blackadder" special, "Blackadder Back and Forth" did not match up to the other "Blackadder" specials. "The Thin Blue Line", which reunited Atkinson with Ben Elton may not have been as good as "Blackadder", but seemed to prove to me that Elton was the man responsible for the all-round cleverness of the series. Atkinson's post-Blackadder solo work was more enjoyable that Curtis's. He was able to fully explore the mute slapstick side of his comedy talent with "Mr Bean", which predictably became perhaps one of the most successful British comedy exports since Benny Hill. Bean was definitely exceptionally good and it even spawned two movies. However, I quickly grew bored of it and longed for the days when we heard Atkinson speak. We got it to a light degree with "The Thin Blue Line", but this was all soft sit-com stuff. I liked the savage and sharp wit of Blackadder, but I have not seen it return. The closest I have got so far, is in listening to some of Atkinson's stand-up, some of which is contained in these episodes.

My overall concern for the work was that although it was funny in parts and does contain material which would go onto be considered classic Rowen Atkinson it ends up becoming what it set out to satirize. In their efforts to parody pompous intellectuals, longwinded politicians and egotistical pop starts, Atkinson and Curtis end up creating a series of lengthy gags that drag on and become boring in their own right. The whole piece has the feel of a student project, a pilot or a promotional project rather than a self-contained series. It is definitely worth listening to if you really enjoy Rowan Atkinson' s non-slapstick work - which I do - but don't expect sidesplitting one liners or clever wordplay that became the hallmarks of "Blackadder".


Chocolate War [DVD] [1988] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Chocolate War [DVD] [1988] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ John Glover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Deal with God (part 1), 9 Dec 2010
The Chocolate War (film)

Plot:

At the all-boys Catholic school Trinity High acting headmaster, Brother Leon (John Glover), sees a chance to grab power. He brings in the backing of a secret society of students to help him influence the school population to double their chocolate box sales from the previous year. This society, the Vigils, is deftly manipulated by the intelligent and amoral Archie Costello (Wallace Langham) who routinely sets assignments for students. These range from pranks to outright demonstrations of the group's power over the student body. Archie agrees to a deal with Brother Leon, in order to secure his unofficial backing for the Vigils, but also assigns one student, a freshman called Jerry Renault (Ilan Mitchell-Smith), not to sell any boxes for 10 days. This is to demonstrate to Leon their influence. However, Renault, a troubled boy who has recently lost his mother to cancer, has other ideas. When the 10 days are up he will take on might of Leon and the Vigils...

Review:

Robert Cormier's book and its sequel remain among my favourite books. I read them when I was 13 and 14 years of age and recommend it to any adolescent or adult for that matter. It focuses on key issues and is unforgiving in the way it addresses humanity. In fact, I would go as far as saying that it at least equals William Golding's "Lord of the Flies" by comparison. After waiting 21 years to see the film I was just inviting disappointment wasn't I?

The truth is the film isn't bad. It's better than most movie adaptations, but not among the best. Much of it is fairly faithful to the original novel in terms of content and its message. The book was highly controversial and the DVD sleeve even boasts that it was "The most banned book in America", but the film went virtually unnoticed. It is little surprising there isn't a region 2 DVD copy available; I am amazed it made it off VHS! The whole film feels like it is locked in the `80s. And not the kitschy nostalgic `80s either, but a colder and less accessible side many would sooner forget. In hindsight the era seems to fit perfectly with the story's central theme of power. Unfortunately the music doesn't seem to gel very well with the film. It is almost like Keith Gordon - who made his directorial debut - selected his favourite tracks and had them stuck on the soundtrack with little regard for their dramatic relevance. Even the final track, the always impressive "Running up that Hill (Deal with God" by Kate Bush, just doesn't work as we are drawn into the end credits. Actually I have latterly learnt that there was very little left for the film's music budget and all of the artists allowed their pieces to be used for minimum pay. David Bowie wouldn't come down on his price, however, and Kate Bush's piece was used instead. The original novel was published in 1974 and its sequel, set a year later, was published in 1985, and both seemed fairly timeless. Of course, it would virtually impossible to make a movie set in a school without making the era obvious. However, I feel it could have been played down and songs just weren't a good idea.

Gordon shows a great deal of maturity for a first work and his direction is good even if his decisions with the script disappoint. John Glover is a convincing Brother Leon and Ilan Mitchell-Smith bring Jerry Renault to life. Brent Frazer captures Emile Janza pretty close to the way he is depicted in both novels and Corey Gunnestad's Goober is passable. The 27 year old Doug Hutchison wasn't the best choice to play Obi. The novel presents an altogether more human and sympathetic "normal" kid than the snivelling two dimensional two-faced toady that is on display here. I guess this really isn't all Huchison's fault given the direction and scripting for the character, but he camps it up to a level that makes him the closest thing to caricature. This is both out sink with the original material and, worse still, with the rest of the movie.

This brings us to the real star of the story, Archie Costello. Jerry Renault may be the story's most heroic and sympathetic character and Brother Leon the representative of ambitious evil, but Archie Costello is the story's most memorable and important character. He symbolizes intelligent, cold and unemotional evil, and Cormier wisely never allowed his weaknesses to show or anything that resembled a human side to surface. I like shades of grey and humanization in my characters - good people who do bad things and bad people you cannot help but find to be appealing - but this amoral symbol of darkness made "The Chocolate War" and "Beyond the Chocolate War" powerful teenage fiction. Sadly Wallace Langham is not the Archie Costello of Cormier's vision. The performance lacks any sense of cold menace and this is not helped by the way his character is scripted.

Gordon decided to bring an element of "Beyond the Chocolate War" with the mutiny in the Vigils. Although a bit premature given the limited time of a movie it could have been pulled off. Unfortunately it ends up weakening Archie's presence. Gordon even decides to go a step further and have him intimidated by Carter halfway through the movie. This leads up to a thoroughly disappointing end. It is unfair to say that Gordon completely bottled out, as it's hardly what you would call a fairytale ending and has shades of "Beyond the Chocolate War", but it is a heavy compromise. Cormier's bitter message, represented in Jerry Renault's final stand, is mainly lost.

However, as I said, it is far from being all bad. The age old story of human power struggles is present and intact, as is the inspirational idea of a single voice willing to stand up against the masses.


The Private Patient: Radio Drama (Adam Dalgliesh Mysteries)
The Private Patient: Radio Drama (Adam Dalgliesh Mysteries)
by P D James
Edition: Audio CD

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Stone circles and scars, 5 Dec 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's adventure for Sherlock Holmes, His Last Bow (Sherlock Holmes), the great sleuth declares to his closest colleague and friend, "I'm an anachronism, Watson - a precision instrument on a mass-produced planet." Doyle understandably kept most of Holmes's adventures in the era that he had created him, the Victorian age. Looking at her work in terms of style, characterization and themes, it seems very odd that the hugely successful mystery crime writer, Talking About Detective Fiction didn't save herself a lot of trouble and kept her stories in the 1920s. Her work is unashamedly set in the mould made famous by Agatha Christie, but curiously she has kept them in contemporary settings. I haven't read this 2009 novel in the Adam Dalgliesh series and nor am I really that familiar with James's work. If the truth be told, my most vivid experiences of P.D. James's works are childhood memories of various adaptations of her work by Anglia Television in the 1980s.

There is little you can fault with this radio adaptation's production values. The sound quality is excellent; the play's direction, its acting and its editing are all tight and well executed. Even some of James's ideas come through nicely. Ever since I saw episodes of Cover Her Face: BBC Radio 4 Full-cast Dramatisation (BBC Radio Collection) and The Black Toweras a child, I was attracted to the gothic aspects of her work. In "The Private Patient" we have the story of the stone circle (Britain is full of them), where a 17th century witch burning occurred. However, this is often so much lightweight superficial dressing. There is little sense of peril, looming dread or even a serious attempt at supernatural implication, all of which are the hallmarks of the gothic genre. "The Private Patient" is no different in this respect. Actually, one has only to read through the various synopsises James has written since 1962 to discover this is pretty much trudging the same old familiar ground albeit lacking much of the energy of her earlier works, if The Guardian review is anything to go by. I guess in James's defence her career has spanned four decades now and continued to be successful in spite of major dramatic changes occurring both in crime fiction and crime fact.

I really had a hard job getting into this play. James might be going for a deeper more psychological approach to the crime story, but this doesn't really come out in the drama. It's not that I dislike old fashioned crime writing or even the particular style that focuses on the privileged classes - reminiscent of Georgette Heyer's foray into the detective novel - but it just seems a little forced. The Amazon reviewer, Barry Forshaw, may be impressed by the author's "affectionate reinventions of the devices and conventions" of an older era, but unfortunately I just don't buy it. The mobile phones and internet references just seem to be exhibited in a gauche fashion to prove that a Dagliesh mystery can thrive in a 21st century setting. And yet the drama only ever seems to pick up when we get back to the stone circle. Outside of that the use of the Dalgleish character seems little more than the equivalent of a "cheque please acting performance". I really couldn't engage with him in the same way as one might with an Ian Rankin Rebus: The Early Years - Knots and Crosses / Hide and Seek / Tooth and Nailor an Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot: the Complete Short Stories. He may be a sensitive character, but I just didn't have any sympathy for him.

This is not say that Richard Derrington doesn't do his best with the script, playing its hero convincingly or that any of the other cast members don't do their respective jobs well. I like the format with Carolyn Pickles narrating the piece and other members of the cast also telling parts of the story. This latter idea is a nice change of dynamic to this medium, as you get the part benefit of listening to an audio book as well as a radio drama. Such ideas were just enough to keep my attention to listen to the whole CD.


Public Enemies [DVD] (2009)
Public Enemies [DVD] (2009)
Dvd ~ Johnny Depp
Offered by Discs4all
Price: £2.50

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Public Enemies... singular!, 18 Nov 2010
This review is from: Public Enemies [DVD] (2009) (DVD)
Public Enemies

Plot

Based on Bryan Burrough's non-fiction book, this is the story of John Dillinger (Jonny Depp) and his bank robbing associates, Alvin "Creepy" Karpis and George "Babyface" Nelson. In depression era America a team of bank robbers play a relentless game of cat and mouse with the authorities, as they avoid capture, are captured and repeatedly escape prison to rob again. In the time of James Cagney and Clarke Gable, Dillinger, ever conscious of his public image, rose to become something of Robin Hood figure in the eyes of some. However, for the hugely ambitious Federal Crime administrator and pioneer, J. Edgar Hoover, Dillinger is the excuse he provides to exerted more power. He puts his untested "G Men" led by the determined Purvis (Christian Bale) to the task of hunting down the whole gang...

Review:

Dubbed as Michael Mann's new "Heat", "Public Enemies" had the proverbial sizzle without the anticipated bang of its predecessor. How alike are the two movies? Well, both centre on a charismatic leader of a bank robbing team and his nemesis, a driven cop. Both roles are taken on by two of the darlings of the movie acting world. Like Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, are movie stars that have proven to be great actors too. However, the balance is not quite the same. De Niro and Pacino have been compared since Godfather Part II and few critics can get a cigarette paper between them as far acting ability or star quality goes. They are on even ground and many would argue after their second team-up, that ground is on something of a steep slope as they seem destined to slide into the later problems of Marlon Brando's career. Depp and Bale are not evenly matched. This is not to say one has better acting ability than the other, but Depp is the current undisputed occupier of the mega star throne. Bale is a rapidly climbing pretender to the position, but he is up against Leonardo De Caprio and others of his generation.

The characters they play do help us see Bale being placed on an even footing either. Depp is given the perfect opportunity to do the stuff he does best. It has been a while since we've seen play anything remotely straight for a while. Here he returns to similar territory he explored with "Blow", providing a three dimensional personality behind a real-life criminal icon. Unfortunately for Bale he is thrown the Elliot Ness-type role that Kevin Costner played in Brian De Palmer's "The Untouchables". Costner was brilliantly casted in this respect as his limited and wooden acting leant themselves superbly to the role of a straight-laced puritanical cop who would always be the straight man to Sean Connery's scene stealing Malone and De Niro's charismatic Al Capone. Bale does a credible job, but you feel his understated performance wastes the talents of an actor of his capabilities.

I am discussing the two lead actors in this picture because the whole film is clearly pegged on them. It's a team-up that many movie fans were looking forward to, having been robbed of a Johnny Depp/Heath Ledger match-up in Terry Gilliam's film, "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus". According to an interview in "Empire" magazine Gilliam, Depp turned down a role opposite Ledger due to fears over competition. For some reason - and maybe it was the script - he didn't have similar concerns with the very promising Bale. I was hoping to see an acting stand-off comparable to Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson's golden verbal duals in "A Few Good Men". Sadly "Public Enemies" doesn't have the script to carry this sort of thing off. In its defence Purvis and Dillinger never actually met, so I guess I cannot fault it for attempting some sort of stand-off the brief and only scene that Depp and Bale share. Who would have thought I - a decrier of "JFK" and "Braveheart" - would bemoan a film for not being more liberal with history.

The story loses many ample opportunities that it could have drawn from real history. In reality John Dillinger's fame and elevation to the position of Public Enemy Number One was an overblown publicity sham. Yes, he was a daring bandit who cultivated media interest, but much of this was down to the ambitions of J. Edgar Hoover who spent much of the 1930s and `40s turning hoodlums like Dillinger, Karpis and the Barkers into infamous legends whilst covering up his own ineptitude to deal with the serious fallout after Prohibition. In short, Hoover denied the existence of the mafia or any sort of organized crime network up until the 1960s. This was in spite of the fact he appropriated the moniker Public Enemy and Public Enemy Number One from the Prohibition era gangsters. Before Dillinger, Nelson, Karpis, the Barker gang and Bonnie and Clyde this term was applied Al Capone, "Bugs" Moran and other Chicago mafia gangsters. "Public Enemies" doesn't do anything but help propagate the same old myths. Granted Hoover isn't painted in a particularly pleasing light and Purvis just comes across as the pressurized G Man leader, forced out of his league to help propel his boss's ambitions. We don't get to see much of Dillinger's associates either. Make no mistake; the film's title is a misnomer. It should not have been pluralized. We see virtually nothing of Karpis, the Barker gang are only referenced, Bonnie and Clyde are completely absent and even "Babyface" Nelson is a relatively two-dimensional figure. This film is all about the legend of John Dillinger and the mission to take him down.

Style-wise Mann is a refreshing director. The action sequences have a certain feel of realism to them. There is little in the way of incidental music and you do feel like you are watching a TV documentary rather than a feature film sometimes. This doesn't mean there isn't much music. The obligatory orchestral scores come into play, but Mann is very sparing with them and it makes for a different type of crime action drama. The film should win good marks for being far more historically accurate than the majority of Hollywoodizations of famous real life stories. There is much obvious romancing, but one breakout scene - the famous "wooden gun" incident - is actually toned down considerably, with Dillinger taking far less hostages than he actually did. Now there is a text book example of life being too far-fetched for cinema! Outside of that I also give credit for writing team's basing certain imagined ideas on more than a semblance of truth. Mann does mess with the timeline for dramatic reasons, but this is forgivable. The acting all round is excellent and only let down by a lumbering and predictable script. "Public Enemies" is a fairly enjoyable film, but with many missed opportunities.


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