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Theo Robertson

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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

8 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
An Uneven Christmas Gift, 26 December 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I had rather low expectations for this story . The Christmas specials have always been very hit and miss with an attitude of " Oh well it's Christmas therefore the audience won't be expecting much " . Add to this some stunt casting with Nick Frost as Santa and my expectations weren't high , especially when the pre-title sequence seemed to go on for ever , tried and failed to be amusing and by this point I was more interested in what I was drinking rather than what I was watching on screen

To be fair once the story gets to the North Pole it does pick up greatly and becomes similar to a base under siege story meets ALIEN . For those middle aged fans this is what DOCTOR WHO has always been about , a sort of family friendly horror show that appeals to the dark , vivid imagination of children . Okay it's not original and there is a strong element of post modernism where characters name check the Ridley Scott horror movie but these are by far the most effective parts of the special and is very enjoyable

The problem is Moffat loses focus and there's a very uneven and disjointed aspect to all this and every time Santa appears he took this viewer out of the drama involving the dream crabs . In fact I often found myself thinking that the television had miraculously switched channels and one moment I was watching a childish fantasy then I was watching a horror movie . This can only be described as a failure of sorts . Some people have mentioned INCEPTION and like Nolan's film the storytelling feels the need to constantly tell the audience what is happening and why it is happening . I suppose the one thing in its defence about the dream within a dream plot is that it doesn't appear from nowhere , but at the same time it is bludgeoned over the audiences head in much the same way as the incidental music tries to tell the audience as to what they should be feeling

In conclusion this isn't the worst Christmas special the show has come up with . But by the same token it's not the best one either . It's overlong , disjointed and the tone veers all over the place . It's very good in parts but as a consistent whole it's unsatisfying

A Disappointing Chick Flick For Grumpy Old Men, 21 December 2014

This was on my to watch list for a while . Six years to be precise . How on Earth I never got round to seeing it I've no idea . It's highly regarded by my peers on this website and it's by Eastwood who if nothing else is an inspiration in the way he constantly churns out movies without pausing for breath . He might not be on a par with Scorsese or Aronofsky but he's definitely not some third rate journeyman hack director who thinks he's doing an MTV ident while over dosing on cocaine which seems to be the in house Hollywood directorial style these days . That said despite the praise it has received GRAN TORINO is a disappointment

The problem is that the narrative is an all too obvious redemption plot . Eastwood plays Ebeneezer Scoorge / Victor Meldrew with a dollop of bitter and twisted racist overtones thrown in to the uneasy mix . When he's referring to ethnic minorities in general and Orientals in particular with nasty racist names I kept expecting him to scream " I don't believe it " . As soon as he gets friendly with his Asiatic neighbours you understand where the story is going and there's little in the way or surprises . The tone is often a problem . The foul mouthed and racist tirades totally jar with the schmaltzt and manipulative plotting . Ask yourself if it didn't star Eastwood and didn't contain strong language would you not expect this to be a production from the Hallmark Channel ? That said it does the intelligent point if you want to survive in the American ghetto then running with the pack is probably the only option and Eastwood is always good value but I expected more considering the high praise this movie received on its release

Gritty Violent Thriller That Deserves To Be Better Known, 21 December 2014

I caught this on BBC 1 one night many years ago . I forgot the title but could vividly remember a number of scenes especially a line of dialogue where two characters describe a third one having his genitals mutilated . This type of movie would be broadcast on television 30 years ago and no one would blink an eyelid but at the same time you can understand why it wouldn't be shown on network TV today . It as also a sign of the times back then that the TV broadcast had the F word overdubbed to something less offensive but the racial slurs against both black and whites remained intact . Perhaps the fact this film is consciously insensitive and hard hitting works against it ? This is a pity because it's not some " Blaxploitation " fare but more of a New Hollywood thriller at its best

The story itself is no great shakes - a couple of black dudes rip off and kill a few members of the Mafia and the black underworld and also kill a couple of uniformed cops in the process and find if not the entire world against them then at least the law enforcers and law breakers of NYC wanting to cap their ass . It's the sort of film Tarantino has been inspired by but unlike Tarantino's work this movie is devoid of post modernism and crippling self indulgence and is a relatively tightly plotted screenplay where lots of nasty things happen to lots of nasty people . There's a subplot featuring character interaction between Anthony Quinn's nasty racist white cop and Yaphet Kotto's not very nasty by the books black cop that might have been clichéd but does seem fresh and realistic , probably down to the fact the performances and writing portraying a rather amoral relationship between the two men and the wider world . And this does feel like an exceptionally amoral film that we never see nowadays more is the pity

25 out of 46 people found the following review useful:
An Almost Satisfying Conclusion To An Often Unsatisfying Trilogy, 17 December 2014

I almost gave this a miss . I fell in love with Jackson's LOTR trilogy and found myself often underwhelmed by large segments of the other Hobbit films which often took a long time to go nowhere . Even the title THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES conjures up what to expect - big overlong battles realised by some dodgy CGI . On top of that I'm not really a great cinema goer down to the fact you have to share an auditorium with other human beings and Hell can indeed be other people . None of this is helped by certain cinema chains allowing food and drink in to the showing . The first trailer was an advert for the Odeon's Croma Pizzeria where patrons can walk in a showing guzzling their ugly fat faces on pizza and I can confirm this temptation was too good for some salad dodgers to pass up . Bad enough cinemas are full of people slurping drinks and munching on crunchy popcorn but now respectful cinema fans have to endure the stench of jalapeños wafting around . We're not allowed to smoke in public places but we're allowed to annoy innocents with junk food . Sorry Odeon cinema you've just lost a patron for life . And this conclusion had better be bloody good in order to distract me from the stench and noise of the present cinema environment

So did it ? Just about . The third part is the strongest part of the trilogy as with the previous two films less would have been much much more and you're aware of the very cynical marketing trick of making three films each lasting on average 2.5 hours when you could have had a superb film lasting three hours . One thing I did notice early on is that I'd forgotten who most of the characters were since I hadn't bothered rewatching the two previous films and if you can't remember who was who and how they fit in to the story this must be seen as a creative failure of sorts , but to be fair the plot isn't exactly taxing and it's easy to pick up what's previously happened . Perhaps even better it's easy to pick up where it's going and several scenes do overlap in to the narrative of the later LOTR trilogy . One thing the LOTR trilogy was very good at was pointing out that greed for money are ultimately self destructive and again we see the same sort of subtext which nothing else means Jackson's stream of six films are very consistent

One wishes that Jackson had kept to subtext but unfortunately he himself becomes greedy for spectacle and so has to introduce overlong battle scenes which soon outlive their welcome . To give the director some credit a few of the fight scenes do contain extras involved in intricate choreography in the fights but there's often a reliance on sweeping shots that don't entirely convince you that they're anything more than something created on computer software . Like so much of this trilogy bigger is not necessarily better

So in summary apart from the unwanted smells and sound effects emitting from the audience I don't really feel I had wasted my time and money visiting the cinema to watch the Hobbit trilogy . This conclusion is darker in tone than its two predecessors but unlike LOTR I wasn't totally blown away and one hopes Hollywood can stop all their cynicism by making a story with two hours plot in to a franchise which unfortunately is becoming more and more common as seen in the TWILIGHT and HUNGER GAMES franchise

0 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Potentially Pointless But Likable Blockbuster, 14 December 2014

I've absolutely no idea why Hollywood feels the need to do reboots . Well maybe it might be down to money and director's vision ? Regardless of why there the narrative dead end of having to set up the characters once again . Anyone going to see a Spiderman film will know who Peter Parker is . A geek boy who leads a double life as Spiderman , a web slinging , roof top bounding crime fighter with special powers who takes on villains who use their own special powers as a force of evil . Because of my own familiarity of the backstory and premise I didn't bother wasting my time watching THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN from a couple of years ago since I'd already seen the trilogy by Sam Raimi a few years earlier so didn't want to watch a film whose runtime is going to be going over old ground and only watched this sequel because of a chance to watch a recent blockbuster for free

There's not a lot here that can be called groundbreaking or original but for what it is - a big budget Summer blockbuster - it functions very well . I do consider Sam Raimi as being one of the most underrated directors in the last couple of decades and while Marc Webb might be an inferior director at least Webb knows how to make a marketable Summer film . I definitely found Andrew Garfield a more impressionable Peter Parker/ Spiderman than Toby MaGuire . Garfield job is made easier by having his Spiderman make wisecracks which never becomes as silly as it could have been . Garfield's smouldering good looks and his character interaction with Emma Stone's Gwen Stacey is obviously produced to rope in the TWILIGHT demographic but I thought this aspect worked fairly well . It was also nice to see Peter Parker/Spiderman have Harry Osborn / The Green Goblin as an equal of sorts . The downside is that Jamie Foxx Electro seems shoehorned in as a subsidiary villain , and at the end of the day THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2 is nothing more than a big budget superhero blockbuster though it's a superior and likable one

3 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Efficient But The Short Film Was Much Better, 12 December 2014

I saw Jennifer Kent's short film MONSTER a couple of hours ago and if there one thing more shocking than the scare tactics in that film it's how easy it is to find online the feature length film MONSTER inspired . If nothing else it means that a film that would have remained unknown and obscure as been given a much wider audience . The question is if it's worth seeing ?

The answer is probably yes but with rather strict reservations . If you're looking for an expanded version of MONSTER unfortunately you might be left a little disappointed . Where as in that short the monster was the focus of the story here it's little more than a plot device and its great strength was scare tactics which it carried off brilliantly . Here however it's the mother / young son dynamic that is important and the horrors are of a more psychological nature . Despite being written and directed by Jennifer Kent THE BABADOOK doesn't share a lot with MONSTER

The flaw with THE BABADOOK is that there's not a lot of narrative drive . We get hints that something is not right in Amelia's household but nothing really happens until well in to the second half of the movie . Before then the story revolves around the mother Amelia and her son Samuel . Essie Davis as Amelia is good in her role but the character is rather unlikable and unsympathetic , and you get the feeling the producers are trying a bit too hard to get a few mainstream award nods for Davis . Unfortunately Noah Wiseman as Samuel is simply dreadful and one of those irritating kids you hope something nasty happens to

In summary THE BABADOOK is efficient as a psychological horror film . It relies on suspense and mystery rather than violence and gore but if you've seen MONSTER then all the things you loved about that short are conspicuous by their absence so this version isn't really a version of the short but still manages to get a generous 7/10

Monster (2005/I)
I Jumped Out Of My Seat !, 12 December 2014

AS the title character in DOCTOR WHO once stated " The most frightening place in a universe is a childs bedroom " . True even if it may be stating the obvious . Living on an island as a child I was sometimes worried about an incursion of Sea Devils and worried they could squeeze up the U bend of the loo and come crashing in to my bedroom before I knew what was going on . This short film by Jennifer Kent plays on that fear

The film is somewhat minimalist taking place entirely in one house featuring a mother , her young son and the protagonist of the title . I notice IMDb legend Bob The Moo has reviewed it. . Let me reveal a closely guarded secret about The Moo - he doesn't like horror movies and as he's stated he had hoped for a bit more space and development and looks forward to seeing the feature length film this short started off as . As for myself I can take each and every horror film on its own merit but often lament how difficult it is to do something new with a tired and staid genre . That said yesterday I saw a sci-fi horror called EXTRATERRISTIAL featuring a bunch of horny teens in a remote cabin which had nothing new to say to the audience and yet managed to compel and creep out this audience member . Kent does something similar here . Okay it's down to the obvious cheap tricks of using fast movement and silence followed by sudden loud noise which caused me to jump out of my seat . If I was watching this in the dark late at night I'd be running to switch the lights on and having difficulty sleeping . Compared to the monster in this film the Sea Devils are small fry

Unoriginal But Does What It Does Brilliantly, 11 December 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A bunch of horny adolescents depart to the sticks to partake in a few nights of naughtiness involving sex , alcohol and certain herbs . As in this type of genre there's a price to be paid for their hedonism and find themselves under threat from n alien incursion

Let's be honest here , the premise is an absolute dog of a movie that's been done to death and probably wasn't all that great first time it became fashionable . This did show some promise by having The Vicous Brothers in the credits . They were the team who did GRAVE ENCOUNTERS yet another film featuring the tired clichéd formula of lost footage formulaic cinema but one that was very effective and did spook me

There is nothing original about this movie and is a mix of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS , SIGNS and THE X-FILES . If you're someone who dislikes the horror and science fiction genre then I won't force you to watch but this is one of the most unsettling low budget movies I've seen in a long time . It's not difficult to create a brooding nihilistic atmosphere to a horror film . Just film everything in the dark , throw in a thunderstorm and have something nasty just outside of frame . It say it's not difficult but most of these type of movies leave me unmoved if not proactively bored but here everything come together to make something rather compelling

There are some flaws . I did think the aliens and their spacecraft were going to remain enigmatic and their environment would have been left in the air and it was a somewhat dubious that the inside of their craft and possibly their home world is revealed late in the film . There's also maybe a bit too much crammed in to the ending which again owes a lot to THE X FILES if not George A Romero which is the only self referential post modernist aspect to the film and is a film that is very enjoyable and creepy

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