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Theo Robertson

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It Entertains But The Lack Of Logic Is A Problem, 28 July 2014

After getting burned that the reboot franchise of the Apes films are something special ( They're not ) I thought I'd revisit the original franchise . What that series did expand upon a circular storyline of a film that must surely have been conceived as a one off movie with a twist ending . By the third film of the franchise the producers had moved in to themes of time travel and self fulfilling prophecies that resemble cerebral time paradox that you'd later see in the likes of THE TERMINATOR . The problem with doing this is that you're in danger tying yourself up in knots and painting yourself in to a corner . Certainly I thought CONQUEST a much more entertaining and enjoyable film than RISE which mirrors this film to a large extent but the lack of internal logic is very problematic

CONQUEST is set in 1991 , almost 20 years after the film was produced and is a future where cats and dogs have died out and apes have replaced canines and felines as pets initially but have now effectively become slaves . The scenario quickly falls apart when given much thought . Is a gorilla a type of pet you'd want ? I'm guessing it's very difficult to keep even if it's toilet trained and a fruit bill alone would make keeping one prohibitive . One fact is that a chimpanzee is the most vile , violent and vicious of primate . An adult male chimp can literally tear a human being from limb to limb so there's no way anyone would want to have one in the same household . It's pointed out to the humans in the previous film that humanity will be replaced by the apes as the dominant species so what does the human race do ? " I know let's breeds millions upon millions of apes , keep them in every city on Earth where they outnumber us because they're cheap labour " I understand both greed and short termism but if anyone had any common sense this problem would be easily averted . I'm certain it'd also be impossible to condition apes in to doing relatively complex tasks but I guess you have to suspend disbelief or otherwise there would be no story

This is a shame because Paul Dehn's screenplay does contain rich food for thought . I found this America of the future absolutely fascinating along with the locations that have austere functionalism and are entirely credible . Bad enough about apes but there's a very large elephant in the room where bad things happen to " troublemakers " no questions asked . The fact this type of fascism is specieist rather than racist doesn't make it anymore commendable and the first half of the film is much more compelling than the second as we're shown glimpses of this scenario and allows the actors to give incisive and economical performances with their roles , especially Severn Darden who resists the temptation to do any goose stepping and underplays everything . The second half of the movie concentrates on the Ape revolution and probably isn't violent enough for my liking but I'm guessing I've only seen PG version where much of the violence is excised . It is very noticeable that the fascist militia seem to suffer from tunnel vision and can't see apes creeping up on them from the flanks

Despite all the numerous flaws CONQUEST is a fairly enjoyable film and I liked this much better than the remake / reboot / reimagining from 2011 . It does however require turning off your brain in order for the narrative to work and sometimes this is a bit too difficult especially if you remember the internal continuity of the previous and following film

48 out of 92 people found the following review useful:
Much Better Than The First Film Which Isn't A Massive Endorsement, 20 July 2014

After seeing RISE on Channel 4 last night I promised myself I wasn't going to waste two hours of my life and money on a bus and cinema ticket to watch a Hollywood blockbuster sequel . Maybe the Summer heat has been frying my brain because I found myself taking a long walk to Edinburgh city centre and spending £8.20 on a ticket to watch DAWN . Perhaps I was trying to teach myself a lesson in that I should always stick to gut instinct ? When someone makes a decision they should stick to it otherwise bad things might happen

DAWN starts in exactly the same manner as RISE finished . Simian flu sweeps across the world killing billions of humans and this economy of storytelling is very effective indeed . Unfortunately when we're introduced to the surviving humans there's been a massive spanner thrown in to the works because they're all living in a small district of San Francisco . What's wrong with that you ask ? Common sense should tell you that's the worst place you can stay in after a catastrophe . As John Wyndham and John Christopher point out in their novels a city is nothing more than a concrete desert . Surely they'd be hundreds of thousands of dead bodies in the city ? Won't this lead to all types of secondary diseases ? How you going to farm crops in a city ? I suppose there might be some supplies left but after ten years of industrial collapse people still have access to cigars and cigarettes . I'm guessing simian flu only affects non smokers ?

I'm also guessing you're not supposed to think too deeply about this scenario because it doesn't really hold up to much examination . Characters are shown to having access to military hardware but the military are conspicuous by their absence . This is probably down to plot function . The human survivors need access to a hydro dam just outside the city in order to gain electricity and kick off the plot . The human enclave need electricity in order to power communications to contact other human communities but it's impossible to believe that in ten years after the flu outbreak not one single warship has berthed in the docks , or a military plane has landed at the airport or a self sufficient military unit has entered the city

Another slight problem is that the characters are like in the previous film rather one dimensional and underwritten . We've got the nice male human character , the nice female human character , the bad ethnic minority human , the good ethnic minority human etc and this is mirrored by the ape community . If you've any knowledge of Soviet history you might just second guess how things pan out in the ape community and it's the actors playing the apes in a motion capture suits who make the biggest impression . If you're going to cast Gary Oldman at least give him a part deserving of his talents and have him do something interesting with his character

It's a pity the film is let down by a succession of small flaws because I did like it but wanted to love it and the movie doesn't quite pull it off . It is a solid relatively dark blockbuster better than the film that preceded it and better than most Summer fare that's been released over the last few years but don't think it's anywhere near deserving of its position of 150 on the IMDb top movies list and feel like the HOBBIT movies will quickly drop out of the list . As it stands the original franchise was probably more enjoyable as a whole due to its imagination

5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Give Enough Chimps Enough Typewriters And They Could Write A Better Screenplay, 19 July 2014

I've no idea how I managed to miss RISE . It came out three years ago and I recall it going on my watch it when it comes out on DVD list but never got round to it for some reason . Now that the sequel DAWN has opened to almost universal praise it's very timely that Channel 4 decided to give it its British TV network broadcast . I saw the trailers on channel 4 last week and made sure I wasn't going to miss it and if I enjoyed this film I might just go out of my way and spend money watching the sequel in the cinema . Hmmmm . After seeing RISE it looks like I've just saved myself the price of a bus ride and a cinema ticket

To be fair the producers deserve some credit on not going for a reworking of the original Pierre Boulle novel . A rocket travels to another planet where Apes at the top of the evolutionary ladder and there's a shock twist at the end . It's been done before and very well in the 1968 film and abysmally in the Tim Burton version so congratulations for trying a different spin this time with a reworking of CONQUEST

The unfortunate thing is the storyline is very predictable and lacking in any imagination . Okay in CONQUEST apes are used as slaves and it's up to Ceaser a self aware chimpanzee from the future who is a fugitive leading a revolution by apes to overthrow their cruel masters . There's not a lot of realism to that plot but the great strength of the original franchise was that it was made with so much imagination plausibility didn't matter " The good bomb made us all " indeed and for that we should be grateful . Here however everything is so recognisable that it ends up becoming , insipid , vapid and very mundane

This most especially extends to the humans who are one note clichés . Good scientists , trying to benefit mankind , sick relative , sadistic guard type character and worst of all rabidly greedy corporate company boss . It says something that the best performance comes from Andy Serkis and he plays the film in a CGI suit swinging through trees and rattling bars but to be fair again Daniel Day Lewis would be incapable of bringing much to the roles of humans in this screenplay

There's a saying that " If you give enough chimpanzees enough typewriters they will eventually write the complete works of Shakespeare " Apparently this is an untrue truism and according to the likes of Richard Dawkins and other scientists involved in biology there's neither enough chimpanzees or typewriters for this to remotely come close to happening . That said if you give a typewriter to someone like Paul Dehn and sit him in a committee of Hollywood film producers he can string out a highly entertaining and imaginative series of movies based upon a film adaptation of Pierre Boulle;s original novel. There's nothing like that here and you feel you're watching something not all that far removed from the Syfy channel

Undoubtedly One Of Television's Greatest Dramas, 15 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

!!! Suggestive Spoilers !!!!

A few years ago I wrote a cursory view of this show based on memory . It was a good show according to memory but having recently seen the show in its entirety again I thought I'd give the show the respect it deserves because this remains 35 years after it was broadcast one of the greatest productions British television has produced

The title sequence sets out the tone of the series . Its impact is in its simplicity of editing archive war footage of bombs being churned out of a German factory, being loaded on to Luftwaffe aircraft and ultimately their destination on to the British mainland . What makes this title sequence so attention grabbing is the incidental music composed by Simon Park which mirrors the very best of an oppressive Wagnerian opera

Produced in 1979 when the war was still very much within living memory there might have been a danger of revisionism and rose tinted spectacles . Indeed since the 1950s we've all been accustomed to John Mills and the boys brewing up tea while giving those damn Nazis what for with fatalistic servitude . As historians are quick to point out the war wasn't any type of crusade against murderous fascism happily fought by democracy but was fought by countries forced in to it by Nazi expansionism and was reflected in the people who fought the war . From the outset this is mirrored by Brian Ash who finds himself conscripted in to the army and thinks his military career will be digging tunnels and building bridges only to be told his wartime service will revolve around bomb disposal

" Don't I have to volunteer for that ? "

" No " Replies his CO " None of us volunteered for it "

And the camera perfectly captures the shock and horror as Ash digests this news . His horror and fear is compounded by the fact that no one in bomb disposal has any formal training and it's a case of trial and error in surviving the job

There's a real danger of making Ash a hero . He is a hero but it doesn't make him a knight in shining armour and later in the show embarks on an affair with someone else's wife . This blurring of morality also extends to the rest of the squad where light fingered spivery isn't cured simply by sticking someone in to uniform . The characters are in the army because Hitler wants to conquer Europe , not because these characters want to be soldiers. It also makes subtle use of the painful class distinction Britain had at the time

Another great aspect to the writing is that scripts are built upon . A seemingly throw away scene where an officer chastises Ash for wasting food sets up an episode where the officer becomes company commander and takes a personal dislike to Ash . It's also a show not scared to kill off characters . A character is introduced in the second episode then as you think he's going to be a regular he's killed off . Despite having different writers and directors there's a continuity rarely seen in television at that time along with genuinely cinematic production values

Anthony Andrews was expected to become a major star after the series and despite being the lead in BRIDESHEAD REVISITED quickly disappeared from the radar . Two actors did become stalwarts of British television and film Maurice Roeves and Kenneth Cranham . Cranham especially is excellent as Jack Salt a likable but ultimately doomed and haunted character who has every right to feel hard done by destiny

So 35 years after it was broadcast DANGER UXB remains one of the greatest shows in the history of television . If you've any interest in military history this is a show to enjoy . In fact if you like television in general you'll still enjoy it

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Totally Pointless Homage, 16 May 2014

You remember BLAKES 7 don't you ? No ? Written in the mid 1970s by Terry Nation it burst on to our TV screens in January 1978 and was set in the far flung future where interplanetary space travel was routine and humanity lived under the fascist jackboot . The first episode saw political dissident Roj Blake framed for child molestation and sentenced to the penal colony of Cygnus Alpha

" Child molestation ! Hey Theo don't tell me this was a BBC show ? "

Yes it was * . A 1970s BBC fictional show featuring a convicted child molester compared to real life 1970s BBC presenters and pop stars still to be convicted and this premise alone indicates that it's not some simple generic BBC answer to STAR TREK or STAR WARS . It was a rather bitter and cynical science fiction action adventure that relied on character interaction , wonderfully sharp dialogue and internal continuity . In some ways it was ahead of its time in that each season had a running story arc that led up to an end of season climax which is common with most television drama nowadays . Occasionally rumours surface that it might be resurrected but considering everyone involved behind the scenes is either dead or retired from television it'd be impossible for a new production team to capture the unique feel that the original show had

This spoof short film is a case in point . It's totally clumsy as an idea featuring the crew of the Liberator now confined to travelling through the Galaxy in a car and stopping at a service station . Continuity is totally ignored with Dayna being part of the crew alongside Jenna and Gan . I don't have to point out that Jenna and Gan left the show after series two and would never have met Dayna since she was introduced at the start of season three but considering all the characters are merely names devoid of their well thought out and crafted memorable personalities this is doubly disappointing

This failing is compounded by having Avon and Vila . Much of the entertainment of the show was watching the performances of Paul Darrow and Michael Keating who both nailed the characters perfectly and gave very idiosyncratic performances that were a joy to watch . Here Mark Heap and Martin Freeman are playing characters respectively called Avon and Vila who dress like and very vaguely look like the characters from the show but aren't really the characters from that show . Some people might enjoy well known comedy actor McKenzie Crook in drag as arch villain Servalan but the whole thing feels pointless as both homage and as a comedy short film . If it's darkly comical wit you're after stick to the original BBC series

* Now I come to think of it BLAKES 7 is probably the only BBC show from the 1970s not to have a convicted paedophile as its star

Zero (2010/III)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Adorable Animation Let Down By A Too Obvious Message, 5 May 2014

I came in to this short film thinking it might have something to do with mathematics . My own memory from schooldays reminded me that " everything is based around maths " but for some strange reason it's not a subject that figures very often in cinematic subject matter . Off the top of my head only two films feature the theme , one being Darren Aronofsky's feature film debut PI and Ron Howard's Oscar winning A BEAUTIFUL MIND . As it stands ZERO doesn't need to join them in the cinematic maths box because it has nothing to do with mathematics and everything to do with social hierarchy

The subtext is a bit too obvious but social structure is important - perhaps far too much - to the human race . It differs in some cultures . Despite not officially existing in the Indian sub-continent the Hindu caste system is one of the most rigid social structures on Earth . Nazi racial hierarchy - itself owing vague connections to Hinduism and Indo-Aryan culture - was an example of a social order with zero social mobility . On the opposite side of the idealogical fence communism had party hierarchy where someones standing in the party allowed them privileges such as state house , sate car and state shops where party members didn't have to queue all day unlike non party members . Not even a secular democracy can guarantee true meritocracy and often social class is a life sentence except for a gifted few

This might be the problem of ZERO . I constantly found myself asking what this type of society was and wanted to learn more about but it's an animated short that appeals more to the heart than the head and being animated means the animation is everything . This shouldn't be taken as a criticism because I did find the woollen puppets impressive both as a concept and as characters and you really do feel for the characters and their predicaments even if you're equally aware you are being manipulated to a degree . Perhaps in a world where Pixar animation is becoming far overused a film studio might like to employ Christopher Kezelos and his puppet animation for a feature length family blockbuster . I'm sure with the right screenplay the results would be impressive

Dogs (1976)
Stop Grabbing My Leg You Bad Dog, 5 May 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

After reviewing a film where dogs disguised as rats kill people I thought a nice antidote might be seeing a film where dogs playing dogs go on a rampage and kill people . Variety is the spice of life and these type of movies are as spicy as a glass of cold water but the premise seems to have a relatively cheesy and predictable storyline and expectations are definitely not high so there's probably not much chance of being bitterly disappointed by it's quality . I mean we are talking about a film that stars David McCallum

McCallum is a Glasgow born actor with a very international background . That's one of the problems with a film starring McCallum - his accent is grating and distracting and comes closest to sounding Australian while never actually sounding Australian . At least his accent if not his performance does have an impact even if it's not in a positive way because everyone else is extremely bland . Dogs are being driven wild by pheromones via medical experiments . Don't ask if this is scientifically plausible because you're not supposed to examine the science in any great depth . You will be able to examine the rather poor acting as people are attacked by dogs including a biker who is savaged and gives the impression he's being molested to death judging by the rather sexual sounds he's emitting surrounded by a couple of mutts . An old lady comes to his rescue then just as she realises what's happening she gets jumped by a dog and turns in to a stuntman wearing a white wig and she too starts moaning " oh oh oh God " almost as though she's getting rogered by a mammal that has a fetish for older woman . . Biker boy staggers away while there's a jump cut to the next day with Aussie Scotsman getting told a biker has been mauled to death by some wild dogs . This scene doesn't make much sense since it's highly unlike the injuries sustained by the biker would be fatal . And what happened to little old lady/stuntman ? Did the dogs hide her body or consume her so completely nothing remained of her ? As the film continues we're treated to more and more outlandish plot turns that are highly unlikely such dog victims being found in cupboards . There is a deranged quality to all this which means DOGS has an entertainment value even if that value is totally unintentional

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Attack Of The Sausage Dogs, 5 May 2014

Writer James Herbert was something of a folk hero to people of a certain age . You can praise any writer of literature as much as you want but to be a teenager in the 1980s no book was more enjoyable than one by Herbert . The 1980s was a golden period of horror and much of it was kick started by Herbert's 1974 pulp fiction horror novel THE RATS that launched a whole host of other writers such as Guy N Smith who tried to emulate Herbert's style . Time hasn't been kind to his work because horror nowadays isn't as fashionable as it was once and Herbert's books have a very formulaic , predictable structure where every chapter alternates between one that is vaguely important to the plot followed by another that serves to introduce a character only for them to be killed off at the end of the chapter . There's a lot of truth in what critics say that if you read the even numbered chapters in a Herbert novel you can still follow the plot to a tee and the odd numbered chapters are mere padding . That said if you take his books on their own terms they are rather enjoyably disturbing and entertaining . It does become noticeable that the writer had one eye on the cinema/TV market later and DOMAIN the book that ended his Rats trilogy seems a conscious attempt to pitch his novel to a film company hence the nuclear devastated landscape of London is made more film-able by having many key scenes take place in the pitch blackness of or in mist shrouded day scenes which saves on a potential budget . Apparently the writer was very unhappy about his previous books THE RATS and THE SURVIVOR being translated to screen

It seems a bit arrogant of Herbert . Despite bigging up the alleged subtext that THE RATS is supposed to have it's pretty obvious that he wasn't going to win the Nobel prize for literature . Whatever it's faults or merits THE RATS does lend itself very much to cheesy cinematic horror . The screenplay does follow the structure of the novel for the most part with the audience being witnesses to a series of episodic rat attacks and being one step ahead of the main protagonists in the story . There's two problems though . One is that the cinematography is very dark and murky and it's painfully obvious Roger Deakins didn't work on this film but maybe I was just watching a very bad print so should be forgiving . What is less forgivable is the production team trying o get around realising rat attacks on screen . Some of the close ups see animatronics used which are serviceable but for medium and long shots the production team use dachshunds made up to resemble rats . They're made up very badly I hasten to add and the effect is often laughable and even if you didn't know they were sausage dogs you're painfully aware that they're not rats either . Well let's be somewhat charitable and say there is an element of fun to all this as people are eaten alive by the dachshunds and stops the film from having a cynical mean spiritedness

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Horror With Humanity, 5 May 2014

!!! SUGGESTIVE SPOILERS !!! In the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse ( Yes another one ) where a cure has been found for the zombie virus a scientist called Ben Jacobs goes home to his wife who has been infected and worries that she may develop the full blown zombie disease

Obviously zombie apocalypses are popular with short film makers and it's easy to see why due to their easy production needs . You don't have to spend a fortune on elaborate make up etc . I can't help thinking that zombies a bit overused though . To be frank ALICE JACOBS IS DEAD doesn't necessarily have to use the tired cliché of human beings turn in to infected/undead and could have worked just as well with a virus that kills its victims stone dead . I can see what writer director Alex Horwitz is trying to do and it reminded me a little of another zombie short called CARGO where the human elements are very much to the fore . At the heart of the story is the present continuous love affair of Ben and Alice Jacobs a couple in late middle age . It's very much a human drama that doesn't rely on shock jump scares . The pace is very sedate which is by no means a criticism and the musical score is noticeable without ever becoming manipulative and intrusive and does have a lot of appeal to fans of short films and indie cinema . If there's a flaw in the ointment then it's to do with a pivotal scene at the end that relies far too much on violence and gore which seems included simply to appeal to the hardcore zombie fans which is a pity because it jars with the very understated nature of the majority of the film

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A Misleading Title, 5 May 2014

Children shouldn't play with dead things ? That's really great advice and let's not forget if we're giving out sage advice then children shouldn't be left alone with members of the clergy , not even one moment and the same applies to children not being left alone with personalities from BBC television . This isn't a public information film along the lines of Charley Says . It's a horror film and the most striking thing about it is there's no children involved . You might be forgiven for thinking this might be some sort of surreal avant-garde black comedy by Dennis Potter where adult characters play little ones but this isn't in fact the case . The characters are definitely legal by a good ten years and considering the strange speech patterns they have along with a purple prosaic volcalbury they must have spent a good thirty years doing nothing except eating dictionaries morning , noon and night . What a great pity they didn't invest some time and money in some acting lessons , but hey that's showbiz

I was slightly reminded of George A Romero because the film has that sort of low budget , guerrilla film making type of look but at least Romero understands subtext and no matter the technical faults of his films at least his films make bold , often subversive statements . Here however we have a not very well acted film with an entirely camp feel , One can understand it becoming a cult classic but like so many other films holding that dubious honour it's not a very good film

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