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The Eagle Of The Ninth (BBC Radio)
The Eagle Of The Ninth (BBC Radio)
by Rosemary Sutcliff
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £13.25

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dusted off in time for the movie!, 1 Jun. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The Eagle of the Ninth (audio play)

Plot:

The audio play tells a tale of a noble and very brave centurion, Marcus Aquila (Tom Smith) who is almost crippled when he attacks an enemy chariot in battle. As he recovers he saves the life of a gladiator, Esca (Tony Kearney), and buys him as his slave. Having formed a bond with the man he then releases him from slavery, but asks him if he would like to accompany him on a perilous journey. Impressed by his former master's kindness and a desire to see the homeland he was originally taken from, Esca agrees to accompany Marcus.

Marcus's mission is to find the Eagle of the Ninth Legion. This standard is thought to be in the possession of a Caledonian tribe in the north of Britain, a tribe that destroyed the Ninth Legion in 117 AD, not long after the erection of Hadrian's Wall. This legion's demise brings possible disgrace on the Roman Empire and the thought of a British tribe using it as inspiration for others, is enough encouragement for Marcus's superiors to let him go on the mission. However, Marcus has other reasons for going on the quest. He wishes to discover the truth about the last stand of the legions of First Cohort Commander - his father...

Review:

With 2011's release of a somewhat amped up and bloodthirsty major motion picture rendition of the much loved children's classic "The Eagle of the Ninth" by Rosemary Sutcliff (filmed under the alternative publication title, "The Eagle") it is little surprising that earlier dramatizations would suddenly get the re-release treatment. This radio play was last aired in 1996. It was a good decade for Radio 4's radio plays and one that saw such ambitious projects as the full dramatization of the complete works Sherlock Holmes - the first and only time this has ever been done in any medium. "The Eagle of the Ninth" is a well produced drama, but - with all due respect to the able cast - it contains no obvious stars. The book has remained popular since its publication in 1954, so it was hardly a controversial decision to dramatize it in the first place, but there is no record to indicate it was a popular adaption. It would probably have been gathering dust in the archives if it wasn't for the release of "The Eagle" film. The fact that there wasn't a dramatization of any of the book's sequels would seem confirm this statement.

The play is well produced with good sound effects and a capable cast of BBC character actors. The musical soundtrack is comprised of contemporaneous Roman instruments and there is a feel of authenticity to the work. Unfortunately the action that drove the book and the new movie are conspicuously lacking. "The Eagle of the Ninth" is a story about relationships and contains a cast of interesting characters, but its appeal comes from the physical action described - both through flashback sequences and in the main story. This is not easy to convey in radio dramas and I have heard a wide variety of successes and failures in this department. Director Sêan Damer works well with the "talkie" scenes, but he might have done well to have taken a leaf out of Jane Morgan and Penny Leicester's 1981 very good adaption of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Exposition is a difficult and dangerous technique to use, but it is pretty essential for radio plays, especially those that contain a lot of action. "The Lord of the Rings" slips up a little from time to time, but mainly carries it off. "The Eagle of the Ninth" could have done the same, as can be seen during Esca's brief gladiatorial bout and with the discovery the Eagle. Instead they err on the side of caution and the result is a rather uneventful action adventure story.

That being said, the script is managed fairly well and the scenes that deal with storytelling are entertaining enough. For those seeking more depth to the film adaptation I would point them to Sutcliff's book. However, more patient fans won't be disappointed by the fact that the BBC team remained loyal to the original text and might enjoy experiencing the tale through another medium.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 13, 2012 5:46 PM GMT


The Valley of Gwangi [DVD] [1969]
The Valley of Gwangi [DVD] [1969]
Dvd ~ Freda Jackson
Offered by DVD SOLUTIONS * FAST WORLDWIDE DELIVERY * SAME DAY DISPATCH BEFORE 3PM MON-FRI * GUARANTEED TO BE IN STOCK
Price: £14.10

4.0 out of 5 stars Cowboys + Dinosaurs - what more could you want?, 28 April 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Plot:

TJ Breckenridge (Gila Golan) struggles to keep her rodeo and is threatened to be bought out by former fiancé Tuck Kirby (James Franciscus). However, TJ has one last hope in the form of a miniature horse, believed by palaeontologist Horace Bromley (Laurence Naismith) to be extinct ancestor of the horse. A travelling group of gypsies claim the animal will bring a terrible curse and take the animal back to its home in the "Forbidden Valley". They are followed by Kirby and TJ, the former hoping to discover more prehistoric animals. He is not disappointed and during a hair-raising adventure he plans to capture the awesome Gwangi, a ferocious allosaurus, and display it as star attraction in a new show. However, it would appear that Gwangi is the very curse Kirby and TJ were warned about...

Review:

1969's "Valley of the Gwangi" seems to finally exorcize Harryhausen's ideas regarding the dangers of humans messing with nature, specifically the topic of taking a "natural" wonder into human civilization. In the film that inspired him, "King Kong", audiences felt some sympathy for the ferocious giant gorilla that slew all other monsters that challenged him and ate humans, when he fell for the beautiful Ann (Faye Raye). Seeing that many were upset at the final demise of the great ape as he fell from the Empire State Building riddled with bullets, Harryhausen assisted Kong creator, Willis O'Brien in the creation of "Mighty Joe Young". This time a smaller giant ape was cast entirely as a sympathetic character and we got a happy ending. With "Valley of the Gwangi" we get the other side of King Kong personality in Harryhausen's last prehistoric-themed feature film and Kong's old arch-foe from Skull Island, the allosaurus, gets centre stage as an emotionless and relentless force of nature that man foolishly thinks he can harness.

However, such considerations were certainly far from my mind when I first saw this as a five year old on a Saturday morning TV matinee. For many a young boy, "Valley of the Gwangi" had had the perfect formula: cowboys versus dinosaurs. It was among the first monster movies I saw and part of the reason why I fell in love with Ray Harryhausen's films. Few filmmakers can be forgiven for as much as this dealer in innocent fantasy adventure. I love my history and mythology, and am usually a stickler for facts and anachronisms. However, without Harryhausen I don't know whether I would have that passion in the first instance. So I care little for his mixing of legends, times and ideas. Years on and we see more inaccuracies with the depictions of his stop-motion dinosaurs, but this just to seems to add to the whole other worldliness of the Harryhausen experience. Harryhausen's dinosaurs rarely resemble what scientists believe they looked anyway and the man himself admits of his ignorance, basing Gwangi's design more on a tyrannosaurus rex than an allosaurus.

Interestingly this was not the first time that Hollywood decided to create a genre crossover. 13 years previously "The Beast of Hollow Mountain" also featured a rampaging allosaurus in the old west. Despite being based on a concept conceived by stop-motion godfather, Willis O'Brien, "The Best of Hollow Mountain" is one of the most disappointing entries of a genre that began with 1925's "The Lost World" and finished with 1980's "Clash of the Titans". I love a good build-up as much as the next person, particularly when dealing with the fantastical and the monstrous, but this feature takes the whole idea of slow-burn way too far. The poorly animated allosaurus has about five minutes of screen time at the film's finale. It seems that Harryhausen took note of the film's lacklustre performance and addressed all these errors with "Gwangi". The result is an action-packed adventure with a good mixture of cowboys and dinosaurs. The acting is reasonable and the simplistic story serves its purpose, using the Harryhausen charm to allow us to wilfully suspend disbelief.

"Valley of the Gwangi", like the earlier "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms", is perhaps the closest Harryhausen came to science fiction and you can see he has little time for it. He casts the scientist as the amoral meddler in the natural world. Being an ardent supporter and promoter of science and the scientific method, not to mention one who has grown up in the culture of an animal circus, you would think I would be in aggressive opposition to this sort of picture. However, I can appreciate it through quasi-child eyes and see it less as an anti-scientific sentiment and more as an audacious cry out for the innocence of juvenile fantasy. On this note it seems appropriate that the closing scene features a child with tears in his eyes.


The Godless Boys
The Godless Boys
by Naomi Wood
Edition: Paperback

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Seven days of change and consequence, 17 April 2011
This review is from: The Godless Boys (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Set in an alternative history where England is ruled by the Church and the secularist community has been banished to a solitary island, Naomi Wood's debut novel, "The Godless Boys", is a story about a dramatic week on the island. Nathaniel, the son of an original member of the secular movement, leads a gang of teenage boys, the Malades, who are determined to protect the island from any religious influence. This means intimidating potential "gots" and prowling the streets at night. Eliza Michalka lives a sorry existence on the island - a part-time prostitute and a part-time undertaker who drops corpses into the surrounding ocean - she pines after her lost love, the aloof fishmonger Arthur Stansky. However, this week all their lives will be changed when Sarah, daughter of 1976 church-burner, Laura Wicks, stows away to seek out her mother on The Island...

We are living in a time that has seen the rise of fundamental religiosity and New Atheism. Therefore it isn't difficult to see where the author's inspiration came from. Why she decided to set it in 1986 is another matter altogether. There is little in the way of obvious parallels with the real 1986, but I guess it helps to keep matters simple without the presence of the internet and the normalcy of mobile phones. The whole book is markedly minimalistic without being pretentious. This is perhaps reflective of the two radically opposing philosophies that form the backdrop of the story.

Wood does not explore the details of either the Christian dogma that now rules England or the strict secularist movement of The Island. Two vital dates are given for when secularists, usually involved in anti-religious activity such as church burning, were deported - 1951 and 1976 - and we are given an overview of the violent struggles between the state and rebels, but otherwise the history of the whole conflict is kept down to a minimum. Likewise aside from Christian imagery and the hatred certain characters, such as Nathaniel's Malades, have towards religion, there are little intricate details regarding what each side actually believes. Despite one newspaper critic describing The Malades as Richard Dawkins in bovver boots, there is nothing whatsoever mentioned regarding a scientific argument against the Christians. The Secular Movement's problems with the church are never lain out or described. Therefore, this could be a story about any society divided into polarized factions.

This leaves the story to be entirely character-driven and concerned with the relationships its players experience over seven days. One man, an ardent first generation secularist, will re-evaluate his relationship with God. Nathaniel will be made to reconsider his devotion to The Malades. Arthur and Eliza will have to look at the personal defensive walls they have created. However, the driving force for change in all of this - the story's catalyst - is Sarah. She enters having already received a revelation after 10 years not knowing her mother had been arrested for being involving a Secular Movement terrorist attack. Although the story follows her fact-seeking mission, she seems to be the only character that isn't experiencing personal changes in her attitude, having already gone through a dramatic personal crisis.

Despite some of its adult content, "The Godless Boys" reminds me of the typical sort of material read for GCSE English. This is not a slight on its simplicity, but I think there might be a lot teenagers can relate to in the text. "The Godless Boys" is also a story about consequences and the way different individuals react to dramatic changes. Nathaniel is a part of his tragic father's legacy, but little does he realize he is leaving a legacy of his own in The Malades. His personal philosophy and beliefs have their own consequences. Wood succeeds in getting this across, providing certain moral twists reminiscent of David McKenna's "American History X" that provokes a lot of thought.


The Survivors Club: How To Survive Anything
The Survivors Club: How To Survive Anything
by Ben Sherwood
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Would you survive?, 16 Feb. 2011
Despite our disproportionate fear of improbable disasters and the awe we hold those who survive them there is relatively little research into the psychology of what we collectively call the survivor. This might be because the term is so widely applied and too many factors seem to be involved for any single expert in one discipline to consider a connection. Rather than find one unifying principle, Ben Sherwood sees different survivor personalities, but each of them possess at least some of 12 common survival tools. "The Survivor's Club" is a broad study into the "science" behind what makes certain individuals defy the odds and continue living. It is written for a mainstream readership by a writer whose only relevant qualifications only lie in journalism and economics. Sherwood's career success is based mainly in his work for television and his bestselling novels. However, his research is extensive and a good number of his sources are highly respected scientists and peer reviewed studies.

The book looks at the theories behind intuition and survivor behaviour. The latter area is apparently taught to certain professionals, such as airline attendants, who look for the most likely individuals who will do the right thing in a crisis. He introduces the "10-80-10' rule - out of 100 people 10 of them will do the right thing, 80 of them with freeze like "statues in a storm" and await orders, and 10 will panic and do the wrong thing. Like Dan Gardner did in "Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear" (aka "The Science of Fear") Sherwood is quick to deliver statistics that assuage irrational fears of such things as flying. However, unlike Gardner, Sherwood is not pushing a sceptical argument. He has his beliefs and we will come to them a little later.

As well as providing valuable insight into the minds of those who choose to listen to safety information as it is provided on aeroplanes prior to take off and eventually an insight into your own through his carefully set up survivor personality test, the book also provides interesting tips on survival. It debunks a good number of myths, such as the amount of time you have available to live if you fall in a frozen lake - it's a lot longer than you think. It also provides interesting trivia, such as the safest place to have a heart attack (here's a clue, it's not a hospital!) Sherwood's survivors are an interesting array of human beings. They include well known survivors like rape victim, Trisha Meili, the "Central Park Jogger" to a man who survived jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. The book also includes victims of supposed terminal cancer and a man who survived the Twin Towers tragedy in the most incredible of circumstances.

My only quibble with the book is its strong bias towards faith. The author is a man of strong if apparent moderate Christian faith and admits that little research into the faith of other religions has been done to discover whether there is a connection with their beliefs and survival. His assumption that faith is the strongest tool in the survivor's kit is largely based on the accounts of survivors who wax spiritually about their experiences or in desperation called on a higher power in their moment of need. That and a single study conducted by Texas University and the opinion of a scientist who happens to be religious. To Sherwood's credit he references the scientific rebuttal about the power prayer and Carl Sagen's debunking of the apparent miraculous faith healing of Chimayo. Sherwood's confirmation bias in the respect of these two subjects is a little worrying, so I am grateful that he did feel some balance was required and brought in some good oppositional studies. He isn't afraid to do this with a number of his subjects, but the whole faith issue essentially boils down to his irrational belief that if you believe that God has a plan for you, you will be saved. It's really a non-sequitur when you consider how many people who did not survive in certain instances were more than likely believers and also thought God had plans for them as well.

I grew up in a family whose profession was all about taking high risks. We were a circus family and in addition to the perils one might encounter from being constantly on the move, my father was and remains a wild animal trainer and my mother's family consisted and still consists of a lot of wild animal trainers. Animal attack on humans, even in these circumstances where the risk is increased, are thankfully very rare, but it happens. In addition to that I am a self protection and mixed martial arts coach, where dealing with risk in extreme circumstances is part of the education. So, it is little surprising that a book like this would interest me. For the amount of research and the bringing together of different studies, I would highly recommend it for those who are seriously interested in finding out new information on the age old question of why some people live and others die in certain situations. The survivor profile online test is good fun too and seems to have been put together using an exhaustive amount of research.

The book is full of useful endnotes with references to a wide selection of books and scientific papers. "The Survivor's Club" is written in an entertaining style blending the author's quest to find out answers regarding survival with interesting anecdotes of the survivors and the findings of experts in the field.


The Man From Earth [2007] [DVD]
The Man From Earth [2007] [DVD]
Dvd ~ John Billingsley
Price: £6.09

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £3.69

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

3 of 3 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's Half Hour The 'Lost' Radio Episodes: Sid James's Dad & The Diet
Hancock's Half Hour The 'Lost' Radio Episodes: Sid James's Dad & The Diet
by Alan Simpson
Edition: Audio CD

5 of 5 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's Half Hour The 'Lost' TV Episodes: The Flight Of The Red Shadow & The Wrong Man (BBC Audio)
Hancock's Half Hour The 'Lost' TV Episodes: The Flight Of The Red Shadow & The Wrong Man (BBC Audio)
by Alan Simpson
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 ReNew Entertainment
Price: £2.46

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.


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