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Theo Robertson

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Whiplash (2014)
Intense But The Hype And Awards Possibly Work Against It, 27 March 2015

Do you know who I am ? " asks the film's protagonist as the audience are introduced to him

Yeah you're that Nazi dude who enjoys raping all the new arrivals at the Oswald State penitentiary . Yes JK Simmons is back playing an Oscar winning role which isn't all that different from the role OZ fans know him for . It's nice to see that this years Oscar nominations were heavily in favour of indie cinema . It's even nicer to know that this is the film my fellow members of this site was the pick of the crop from 2014 film releases so sat back hoping to get blown away by it

So is it any good ? Yes but I should quickly qualify this by stating it's not really the masterwork some people might claim it to be . One criticism THE HURT LOCKER received was that you could easily rework the story as someone who has become addicted to adrenaline . Instead of a bomb disposal man you could have the story involve a fireman who takes more and more risks and so it's the same with WHIPLASH . How about a brutal drill instructor trying to turn weak civvies in to efficient killing machines ? That's already been done a hundred times before and so here we've a reworking of a familiar story in a slightly unfamiliar setting of a music school . It's a slightly predictable story and in order for it not to be so predictable there's a few plot turns involving situations that become rather contrived and unlikely to say the least

What stops it all falling apart is director Damien Chazelle using all the tools at his disposal involving editing , sound mix and cinematography to disguise the flaws in the story telling . Certainly many directors nowadays think editing revolves around taking as much cocaine as possible while mutilating any coherent on screen action . The editing style of WHIPLASH is some what showy but is genuinely admirable at the same time . It's nice to actually watch a film and notice the editing while never being irritated by it WHIPLASH is one of the better films of 2014 but it's probably a film that's easier to admire than to like . I did like it but didn't love it and I'm not in a great hurray to watch it again

Prometheus (2012/I)
A Film So Aeasthetically Pleasing The Flaws Don't Matter, 27 March 2015

Ridley Scott is one of those auteurs who has a reputation for attention to detail . Everything he does revolves around a visual level so much so that he sometimes forsakes narrative . It's not necessarily a crime and whatever you think about his prolific body of work he often makes beautiful looking films replete with great technical merits . PROMETHEUS probably sums up the Scott style perfectly

In the late 21st Century The Weyland Company finance a multi-national team to find the origins of mankind . A simple premise and while possibly doesn't develop the story to its full potential you're left with the feeling that he doesn't need to . PROMETHEUS was Oscar nominated for its special effects but to be honest it also deserved an armful of other nods for cinematography , editing , production design and make-up . This is an absolutely gorgeous film to look at and watching it on a cinema screen or at the very least on a wide screen TV is more of an experience than a film . There's not a lot happening story wise but this is doesn't matter in the slightest when everything is this good looking . It's also refreshing to see actors playing scientists who give the impression that they're in awe at the beauty of science . They're taking part in the greatest scientific discovery in the history of mankind and they give the impression they're at a landmark in human development

After this slow burning beautiful first half the film then realises what it really is - a prequel to the ALIEN franchise and here the film unravels to an extent . It's by no means dreadful but the pacing is all over the place as characters runaround trying to stay alive , things happen with little explanation and set-pieces involving spectacle then starts taking precedence over everything else which is something of a pity since I was enjoying the moody , atmospheric and mysterious first half . Perhaps worst of all the audience are then left with the headline that we'll be getting a sequel down the pipeline somewhere . On top of this I've recently learned we're also getting yet another ALIEN sequel ! Are we really crying out for that ? As it stands PROMETHEUS is an uneven film that's mostly enjoyable but one had hoped for a self contained movie with a more ambiguous ending

RoboCop (2014)
Generic Hollywood Actioner, 26 March 2015

I had this immediately marked down as ROBOFLOP . Hollywood has the temerity to remake Paul Verhoeven's original , one of the most brutal , bloody and oh so enjoyable films of the 1980s ! That comes close to sacrilege and the very lukewarm reviews this remake received on its release meant that if I wasn't going to literally burn the film I should at the very least put it on the backburner . By chance I came upon it and watched through terminal boredom

I wasn't expecting much and at least it wasn't as terrible as I was expecting but by the same token it's not some instant classic that surpasses the original and falls very short . It does get off to a good start with Samuel L Jackson as an anchorman hosting a broadcast that is obviously based on Fox News . The good start continues with Alex Murphy aand his partner going undercover trying to infiltrate a street gang and find out what corrupt cops have been supplying them with weapons . This is one of the better aspects of the film since director Jose Padilha first came to my attention with the ELITE SQUAD films where a pair of incorruptible supercops try to clean up corruption in their own precinct in the slums of Rio

This early promise proved to be a bit too premature and the story quickly turns in to a typical Hollywood movie of its era . To be fair to Padilha I wasn't constantly thinking I was watching a travesty of the original ROBOCOP but was aware I was watching something similar to a superhero movie , a sub-genre that usually leaves me cold . As cyborg Murphy races through the streets of Detroit on a high powered motorbike I was often reminded of Spiderman swinging through New York or Batman in the Batmobile . There's also another aspect all too painfully shoehorned in to Hollywood movies and that is the mawkish nuclear family

A little kid

"Oh dad" A little kid

"Oh mommy and daddy"

Looking on the bright side there's no family dog but when you've got a pretty blond wife with tears streaming down her face that her husband has been turned in to a Cyberman there's probably little reason to throw Fido in to the mix

All in all a rather average and generic commercial action thriller for those not expecting much

Sunday Evening Religious Genocide, 26 March 2015

This is a mainly forgotten show . It was released in a blaze of publicity by the BBC with the tag that it was the most expensive historical drama ever made by the BBC . In an era of GAME OF THRONES and other shows that have truly cinematic production values watching a 1983 series from the beeb means the acting is somewhat stagey and theatrical with production values that are rather dated , but if you like historical dramas there's a lot to recommend from this show

Series one revolves around the lead up and fighting during the English civil war . King Charles is raising an army from Catholic Ireland and the Protestant parliamentarians are out to stop him . Certainly there's some bias from the narrative where the audiences sympathy are asked to lie with the Lacey family especially the noble Sir Martin Lacey and his son the swashbuckling Tom Lacey . To its credit what the drama does very well is paint the English Civil War not as a conflict between the divine right of kings against democratic parliamentarians but as a religious war between Catholics and evangelical Protestants similar to the type of present day conflict between Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims . In fact for a drama broadcast pre watershed on a Sunday night just after SONGS OF PRAISE there is a very gritty element to the dialogue with constant references to "whores" and "papists" with Hannibal Marsh having a very unhealthy interest in wanting to rid the world of said whores and papists

Series two revolves around the aftermath of the civil war with Cromwell now in power. With Sir Martin Lacey written out of the series I did think I was going to miss Julian Glover's excellent performance as Sir Martin but this is quickly forgotten as Peter Jeffrey's performance as Oliver Cromwell takes centre stage . This is a historically warts and all portrait of Cromwell who isn't trying to replace monarchy with parliamentary democracy but a machevillian dictator who wants to replace tyranny with more tyranny . Actually one point the writers do get wrong is painting the Levellers as good guys and while they did want to introduce a small modicum of democracy to the people it was no more than a small modicum . In reality the democracy we know in this country owes far more to the chartist movement of the early 19th century rather than Cromwell or the Levellers . Another slight irritant to the production is the rather intrusive and manipulative incidental music played over every pivotal or emotional scene

As it stands BY THE SWORD DIVIDED is an impressive drama made when network TV stations made impressive dramas . You have to meet it on its own terms to a degree and the somewhat static camera work and production values might put some people off but if you like history as a subject then you'll like this show

The Black Stuff (1980) (TV)
Unfocused Coming Of Age Tale With All Too Brief Flashes Of Brilliance, 31 December 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Play For Today gave birth to several series . GANGSTERS was one while RUMPOLE OF THE BAILEY was another . Perhaps the most acclaimed series was BOYS FROM THE BLACKSTUFF which become so acclaimed and popular that the one off TV play that gave birth to the legend was very quickly forgotten . While the series got high profile repeats in the 1980s the original PFT did not . With hindsight one can perhaps understand why because THE BLACKSTUFF has a rather different feel to the 1982 black comedy

Before I saw this I had predictable expectations that the narrative was going to revolve around Chrissie or Yosser but this isn't how things pan out . If there's a main character it's Kevin Deans the son of Dixie a 16 year old school leaver setting out in to the bitter sweet journey of life and rather self conscious that he's not had sex . For long segments the story focuses on this character subplot which is strange because Kevin later gets relegated to a few walk on scenes in three episodes of the 1982 series

Another striking element is the fact the characters are working in legal employment , well almost . I say " almost " because with the exception of Dixie and his son the other members of the tarmac gang are what's known as cowboy builders whose standard of work leaves a lot to be desired . When they get involved in a get rich quick scheme with a couple of Irish Gypsies things go from bad to suicidal This aspect is by far the most enjoyable part of the unfocused story and found myself laughing out loud at some of the on screen action towards the end . It does however illustrate a fundamental problem with Alan Bleasdale's writing and that is there is no subtlety involved . Interesting that Yosser isn't the entirely psychotic maniac of the later show , here he's merely a violent misogynistic sociopath but enough of a streetwise sixth sense to think he and his gang might be ripped off . The ways events unravel on screen at this point leave no doubt that Yosser and the boys are getting ripped off and the audience are one step ahead of the suspicious Yosser . If only he'd trusted his instincts which the script feels the need to constantly point out

This leads to a different appreciation of the later series - much of their later problems are entirely self inflicted because the protagonists didn't quit while they were ahead . It's easy to see how all the critics and social commentators picked up on the parable of greed seeing it as a scathing attack on the ethics of Thatcher's Britain . The truth is slightly less political and the reality is that this teleplay was produced and filmed before Thatcher came to power in 1979 and it was an internal dispute that delayed its broadcast for almost two years . Indeed much of the scripts of BOYS FROM THE BLACKSTUFF were also written before the 1979 Tory election victory too

In summary it's somewhat bizarre watching this today . Bizarre in the sense that the play itself is obscure in some ways but features some of the most memorable and colourful characters British television has ever produced but these characters are often off centre and the script lacks a character focus . It's also rather unsubtle . Despite these flaws it's an often entertaining slice of social realist black comedy

An Episode Of Two Halves, 29 December 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I saw this episode a few minutes ago . Previous to this my last viewing was five years ago and previous to that 2009 viewing I saw it in the early 1990s . Watching it on BBC Four circa 2009 I was bitterly disappointed for most of the episode and found myself wondering how on earth this series gained so much critical acclaim on its initial broadcast and how the reputation remained over the following couple of decades . Everything about the episode . Everything about the episode seemed pompous , pondering and sententious along with the symbolism and politics which even in the early 1980s was probably unconvincingly idealistic and ultimately false . Then the location moved from a funeral wake to a pub then I realised why BOYS FROM THE BLACKSTUFF is still considered a masterwork of British television

Seeing it today there is no need for to revalue my opinion . Everything I wrote in the above paragraph I stand by . For much of the episode the focus is on George Patrick Malone who spends his last days in frail health but still a legendary firebrand . So legendary in fact that he has a sitting room acting as a surgery where the proles go for advice . Similar to a Doctor's surgery but where as Doctors cure physical ills Comrade George cures every social ill known to man . I can't emphasise how over done all this is and how lacking in credibility any of this is but everything revolves around heavy handed symbolism that constantly crushes any subtlety and subtext . Look carefully ad you'll see a portrait of Marx on George's wall . George is a Christian socialist and the script can't get off its marks quick enough to point out how this bizarre , contradictory type of cultism is hijacked by religion and its mortal henchmen . You could be forgiven for switching off at this point as the script effectively screams and spits in the audience's face

Director Philip Saville directed the original GANGSTERS for Play For Today . GANGSTERS started off as a gritty hard hitting one off drama along the lines of GET CARTER , but then eventually mutated in to one of the most insane pieces of television ever produced featuring self destructive meta-fiction . Somewhat shockingly Saville had nothing to do with the final series of GANGSTERS , but here in the final third of the episode what had begun as social realist drama has now changed in to a surrealist nightmare where the repressed psychotic rage of Yosser Hughes is a normal fabric of society

And so ends one of the most acclaimed dramas in British television from 32 years ago . At the time Alan Bleasdale was under heavy pressure to do a follow up series but to his credit he resisted the temptation and what we have is five episodes of impacting human drama . The disturbing thing about the dated feel is that even in the depths of Thatcher's Britain the state still had some compassion . Nowadays all benefit claimants are branded frauds and cheats and their job searching is handled by work providers . Hundreds of thousands of people are reliant food banks the 21st Century of soup kitchens . If the past is another country 1982 was a Utopian Republic

For Something That Contains So Many Great Qoutes It's Ironic .., 29 December 2014

.... That there's nothing left to say

Once in a while a television show you've no knowledge comes along and shocks you . I remember watching this on BBC 2 and not seeing any of the previous episodes I was under the impression I was going to be watching a period drama set in the midlands of 19th Century England . Blackstuff = Black Country . See my way of thinking ? From the opening of a man wading through a river clutching his children this isn't the case and an hour later I realised I'd been watching a brilliant but brutal black comedy that's every bit as disturbing as it is funny . It wasn't just me who was impressed with it because Yosser's line of " Gissa job " quickly became a national catchphrase . By accident rather than design it summed Thatcher's Britain . I even had a T-Shirt of the enraged Yosser's face smashing through a brick wall with the quote " GISSA JOB "

There's so many quotable lines and incidents that have entered television immortality that it's almost unfair to remember one particular line but one that did stick out was the ridiculous " Are you after my body " spoken by James Ellis drunken Scotsman which didn't go down very well with the readers of the Scottish rag The Daily Record who were outraged that television was playing up to the stereotype of drunken Scotsmen , especially one played by an Irishman ! I mean it's only on television you see drunken Scotsmen . interesting that after seeing this episode after a gap of many years I was struck that Ellis doesn't sound very Scottish and could very well be a Irish accent . That said The Daily Record did and still does have a rabid support of Glasgow Rangers so is probably using a whip to beat Irish Celts

One thing noticeable is just how disturbed Yosser comes across and one feels puzzled why the GP doesn't section under the mental health act , but I'm guessing that the point Bleasdale is making the worst evil in a democracy is indifference to the individual . It's a powerful piece of writing brought to vivid life by Bernard Hill in a powerhouse performance . Hill did of course get a second lease of life as the Captain of James Cameron's TITANIC and as King Thepden in LORD OF THE RINGS but Yosser is a role that became something of an albatross to the actor . That said Yosser is one of the greatest characters created for television

It Doesn't Matter If The Cat Is Black Or White - It Still Has Rabies, 29 December 2014

Chrissie and Loggo are ordered to attend the DHSS office where they are told they will be facing criminal charges , though they may have an unlikely ally who wants to prosecute Malloy By coincidence immediately after seeing this episode I chanced upon a 1980 edition of WORLD IN ACTION featuring dole cheats who have been caught , dole cheats who hadn't been caught and the people doing the catching . Apparently in 1980 a grand total of 19,000 people out of 5 million claiming supplementary benefit were prosecuted in one year or about 0.3 per cent . Interesting there's a lack of guilt from anyone . Not from those who got caught , those who didn't get caught and those who do the catching . Those who do the catching really fancy themselves as James Bond , though you replace the Aston Martin , cigars and vodka martinis with Ford capris , woodbines and pints of bitter . Nothing like James Bond in fact

You can see what Bleasdale is trying to do here . He's not trying to paint the world in straight dichotomy of black and white . He does this via Miss Sutcliffe played with flamboyance by Jean Boht best known for her role in BREAD who sees not so much as Chrissie and Loggo as villains but corrupt capitalist boss Malloy . Nice try to everyone involved but it doesn't wash . It's a bit like a defendant at Nuremberg saying he should be let off for crimes against humanity because he only gassed rich Jews and not poor ones " So I'm not all that different from the Soviets so let me off comrade " . If you're bringing politics lets not forget the sage words of Sino Socialist Deng Xioping " It doesn't matter if the cat is black or white - as long as it catches mice " Indeed you could have added " It also doesn't matter what colour the cat is - if it's got rabies it needs to be quickly put down "

Some people might be confused as to why Loggo still insists on working on the side if his benefit has been stopped but this is the irony of sanctioned benefit - you don't qualify for benefit but still have to be available for work . In 2014 anyone missing an interview , an appointment with he job centre or a myriad of other small infractions is subject to job seekers allowance being stopped for a period of no less than 4 weeks and during that time the jobseeker still has to actively look for work otherwise they're not allowed back to sign on . At anyone time there's something like 5 per cent of jobseekers subject to sanction . And if nothing else this particular episode shows the traumatic strain on family life with no income

Please Remind Yourself Of The Context When It Was Made, 26 December 2014

Dixie Dean claims unemployment benefit while working on the side as a security guard down Liverpool docks . Finding himself getting bribed to turn a blind eye while a local group of robbers steal from the ships he starts getting menacing phone calls . If none of this is bad enough he finds himself being investigated by benefit fraud officers who have recently been very successful in catching Dixie's erstwhile workmates

This seems to be the forgotten episode of the series and Dixie Dean as played by Tom Georgeson doesn't seem as well remembered as the other characters from the show . This is a pity because despite this episode never being a masterwork of social realist drama it still is a very solid piece of poignant black comedy

Unlike the character of Yosser Hughes the audience are supposed to easily relate to the characters in this show with Dixie this is very easy to do . I can see something of myself in him and I'm sure anyone who has experienced the dole can see the same . It's very easy to become bitter and Dixie is a bitter man at the hand has dealt him but still holds a modicum of self respect and pride . There does seem to be an element of unintentional irony to the narrative . Dixie is stealing from the tax payer but doesn't consider himself a thief until he's forced to take part in the thieving of boots , cigarettes and other merchandise from the docks . I doubt if writer Alan Bleasedale wrote this with any type of irony involved , at least not at the time

And this type of context has changed over the decades . Where as in 1982 the audience would have universally sided with Dixie it probably wouldn't be the case now . Dixie is defrauding the state and watch all the mainstream political parties get involved in a race to the bottom to catch and punish this type of law breaker . Indeed it seems almost laughable in 2014 that one crime that resources are put in to is benefit fraud . The fraud office operation here might seem surreal and heavy handed , resembling a SAS survillence operation in a republican ghetto of West Belfast but in the 1980s the left wing press would sometimes print stories of how far the snoopers would go to uncover benefit fraud so an intricate cover story of " I'm here to sell you some perfume " isn't as far fetched as it sounds . Another difference between then and now is that every single person claiming job seekers allowance is a suspected cheat and the simple mechanics of claiming and qualifying for benefits would make it very difficult to work on the side as seen here

Despite The Writer Siding With The Proles One Wonders If It Did More Harm Than Good ?, 26 December 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

There's nothing left to say about BOYS FROM THE BLACKSTUFF . It originally started off as a one off Play For Today in 1978 by Alan Bleasedale and the BBC spent two years trying to find a slot for it and didn't transmit until 1980 . In effect it was written before Thatcher came to power but this show is seen as the definitive voice against Thatcherism which really isn't really the point the writer was making and Alan Bleasedale is on record as saying this himself . For sure it's a heavily political series and one that instantly entered the public consciousness helped in no small part by Bernard Hill's superlative performance as the psychotic Yosser Hughes . Despite being on the side of proles I do worry with hindsight that this series might have done more harm than good . I'll come to that in a moment

What this series does brilliantly is mixing jet black humour with poignant human drama . From the opening scene we have a taste of this as Loggo points out to the DSS clerk that signing on is interfering with his golf lessons . To be fair in all my years of signing on and off at job centres I've always been treated with a modicum of respect and in those days the benefit rules were very liberal . Okay the money was hardly enough to live on but it was a case of turning up at the office every two weeks , being asked if you'd done any work and if not not signing your name and going away . There is a slight element of artistic license with this opening episode where the DSS sniffers are on the case of the dole cheats almost like the Nazis in the occupied territories hunting down the Jewish population and eventually catch Chrissie and co red handed

The moonlighter gang are beautifully drawn and you can see why they're doing what they're doing and Chrissie's conversation with Malloy does point out he'd much rather be doing legal paid employment but circumstances prevent this . He's a good guy doing what he has to do as do his colleagues . Even the police are drawn in a positive light via an ironic scene where the audience are privy to something the Trotskyite Snowy isn't and the only bad guys being the sniffers trying to catch out benefit claimants working for cash in hand

This however is what I meant by the show doing more harm than good . Politicians today must have seen this in their formative years and instantly jumped to the conclusion every single benefit claimant must be at it - doing paid work while claiming benefits . Since 1982 the rules claiming benefits have changed beyond all recognition . Nowadays if someone is out of work for a certain period hey are forced on to a job search provider such as A4e , Ingeus etc where the claimant has to turn up several times a week to meet an adviser and satisfy them they're pro-actively looking for work or else you'll be sanctioned ie benefits will be stopped . The idea behind this that you're unemployed because you don't want a job or you've already got a job working in the black economy . Add to this the utterly shameful rise of the food banks and 1982 despite all the downsides of poverty was another country . One slight difference was that people still cared about the unemployed back then where as obviously no one cares about them anymore

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