Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review (or “Sunset of the Village of the Apes”)

July 18, 2014

When you look to review a movie, or at least try to find a means of scoring it, I think you have to look at a number of factors.

There’s no doubt that in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the CGI is excellent. But I would argue these days that CGI is excellent as standard. It’s no longer something to turn your head and make you go “Wow”, but rather should only be remarked upon if it’s bad. If I was scoring a film now, there would be no extra points given for excellent CGI, because you’ll find every blockbuster is the same; instead, I’d only mark it down if it wasn’t up to scratch.

So if you ignore that, you’re then left with the acting and the writing.

There’s nothing wrong with the acting here. Then again, there’s nothing majorly right about it either. The humans – played by actors like Gary Oldman, Keri Russell and Jason Clarke – all do a decent enough job for the rather shallow characters DawnPOTAthey are given to play. Meanwhile, the voice actors of the apes hardly have a serious amount of work to do in their jobs, and so I found them unremarkable.

So we can check that off as being nothing to write home about either.

And what of the writing?

Well here’s where it gets interesting for me.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has a plot that has been done time and time again in science fiction. The notion of two different races trying for peace only for warmongers in their respective ranks to bring about conflict instead is nothing new. As a Doctor Who fan, it’s essentially the plot to Doctor Who & The Silurians, The Sea Devils, Frontier in Space, Warriors of the Deep, The Hungry Earth & Cold Blood and probably a handful of other stories that don’t spring to mind right now. And that’s just from one TV show. It will have been done in other mediums before as well, not least in the 1973 film Battle for the Planet of the Apes.

And what’s so crushingly familiar is that they don’t bother to deviate from the same plotline at all. The humans meet the apes, there’s initial mistrust, the leaders of the respective races look for peace but their lieutenants aim for war. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes doesn’t even try to be different. And that disappoints me.

Don’t get me wrong; taken as a self-contained piece of work, this is fine – good even – but because it’s so unoriginal, I just cannot understand the ratings that it’s been awarded, such as 8.5/10 from 30,000 votes on imdb, a 92% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and an average of 4 stars from journalists across the globe.

Why?

For a film to be rated so highly, I think it either has to have something extraordinary about it – which this doesn’t – or for it to be a fine variation on a theme – which this isn’t.

Even away from the basic formula, I watched it and found myself  pondering the following issues…

  • It seems as though this has been written in the same dodgy way as so many science fiction and horror shows before it, in that a planet has been condensed to a handful of square miles for the benefit of storytelling that can’t be arsed to think in terms of scale.
  • As powerful as these apes are supposed to be, they remain susceptible to bullets and can be easily killed.
  • Moreover, they are only one relatively small colony living in the hills near San Francisco. There are more humans than apes!! “Planet of the Apes” indeed; more like “Village of the Apes”.
  • There’s no good reason for why they weren’t killed off years earlier.
  • Now you could argue that they weren’t because most of humanity has been wiped out by Simian Flu, but that’s clearly not the case; there are thousands of people – more than enough to succeed as a society – living in San Francisco alone, surviving thanks to immunity. You would therefore expect that there will be survivors all across the US and the globe. Where are they? And how did the people of San Francisco lose contact with them?
  • Or is it that we’re supposed to believe that the majority of humanity has decided to settle within walking distance of the apes and that there’s only one dam in the whole of the US that they can draw power from? Even though they’ve been getting on fine for the last 10 years using petrol?
  • With so many survivors and – you’d imagine – communities, how come civilisation didn’t manage to be maintained anyway? Like I say, the sheer number of people living in the settlement suggests the problems facing humanity in shows like Survivors just wouldn’t apply here.
  • And lest we forget that in shows like Survivors where a huge proportion of the population have been wiped out, settling in cities is out of the question because of the amount of death and disease remaining in them. There was none of that here at all.
  • If – as appears to be the case – the apes are soon to find themselves on the receiving end of organised military attack, it doesn’t seem feasible that they would survive; they just don’t have the numbers for it. So how is this the dawn of their planet rather than its sunset?

So it doesn’t hold up to me at all when you take a moment to think about the plot. And I’m sure there will be some of you reading this thinking I’m being pedantic, but I’m not. It wouldn’t have been difficult to redress the scale of both the ape colony and the human settlement to make this seem even remotely believable within the confines of the world it’s supposed to be set.

But they didn’t do that.

Therefore, I would say that while this is a decent enough film if you switch your brain off, it doesn’t have a plot that holds up to scrutiny, nor does it have one even slightly original.

And because of that, I just don’t get the hype, or the ratings.

 

 

 

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TV: 24 – Live Another Day Review (or “One of These Days, The Daleks Will Show Up”)

July 17, 2014

Let me first start off by saying there are spoilers in this review, so if you haven’t seen all of 24 – Live Another Day, then I would suggest you skip it.

Anyway, for those of you who have seen it, here are my thoughts…

24 – Live Another Day Review: What’s It About?

The British widow of an Al-Qaeda commander killed in a drone strike by the US plans on taking over US drones and attacking London with them unless President James Heller – on a state visit to the English Capital – turns himself in.

Naturally Jack Bauer has heard about this and emerges from exile to help stop them.

And sure enough, he’ll kill lots and lots of people to make sure he doesn’t fail.

Also, because this is 24, once that initial threat is over, there’s suddenly a newer, bigger threat than ever before. Oh!!!! Em!!!! Gee!!!!!

24 – Live Another Day Review: Who’s In It?

Apart from the obvious one, 24 – Live Another Day brings back old cast members like the incredibly wooden President Hellerbot (James Devane), his daughter with the face like a soup ladle, Audrey (Kim Raver) and the fidgety and awkward to

"Destroy him! Destroy him at once!!"

“Destroy him! Destroy him at once!!”

watch Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub).

Other than them, major parts go to the likes of Yvonne “Typecast” Strahovski, Steven Fry, Tate Donovan off the O.C. and the most b00-hiss of panto actresses, Michelle Fairley.

Oh, and in terms of minor parts, there’s only bloody Denis Lill as the captain of a Russian ship!! Denis Lill getting TV jobs in 2014; awesome.

24 – Live Another Day Review: My Thoughts

Well in every way, this is the standard 24 formula. Jack Bauer reluctantly emerges to deal with a threat, the local authorities initially mistrust him and  – despite his record in the past – believe he’s fighting for the forces of evil until he proves himself; then the threat becomes critical, it gets stopped just in time, only for another, bigger threat to turn up. Throughout it all, Jack happily slaughters dozens upon dozens of people that he deems unworthy of living while screaming in people’s faces saying “WHERE IS (insert critical piece of information here)” and then just before the end he comes up against some kind of personal tragedy. Oh, and as always, someone working with Jack turns out to be a villain.

But who cares if that’s the formula, it’s a great laugh when it’s done correctly.

And unlike the last couple of seasons of 24 – which seemed to be unimaginative, uninspiring and at times plainly ridiculous – this did manage to get it right.

I’ll be honest; the first few episodes were a wee bit disappointing, and in general the Margot Al-Harazi storyline was let down by Michelle Fairley’s rather dodgy acting skills (cue Game of Thrones fanboys sending me angry emails), but it soon picked up pace.

And by the final quarter when the Chinese turned up, it was just fantastic.

Indeed, the bit where the Chinese showed up was such a great and unexpected swerve, that it reminded me as a Doctor Who fan of the end of episode one of Earthshock where the Cybermen suddenly appeared out of nowhere. The screen grab there reflects that.

So overall, I found it an enjoyable return to form for a series which shows that it still has legs. Long may it continue

Random Observations

  • I laughed at the bit where Heller tells the British Prime Minister “You’d have done the same if roles were reversed”. The understated look of “Don’t think so, mate” on Steven Fry’s face was great.
  • Going back towards the start of the season, was that meant to be the House of Commons Heller was speaking to the MPs in? If so, that was rotten.
  • I find that Yvonne Strahovski just plays the same part in every show now, and I’m getting pretty tired of her. There’s no doubt she’s well suited to playing the intense high action roles she’s cast in, but you’d think she’d try to amend her acting style at least a little bit.
  • At least we won’t see William Devane in the show again. What summed his acting ability up was the way he wandered back aboard Air Force One with a coffin containing his recently deceased daughter, and his emotions and expression were no different than they had been at any point in the show previously.
  • Hey look, it’s Kevin McNally off Dad!
  • I think Cheng Zhi would have been better if he was played by Ken Jeong
  • Do you think Jack will face any kind of enquiry for throwing Margot out that window?
  • You can’t not laugh at the bit where her daughter was hit by that bus.
  • In a real life situation where someone – even the US President – had to get to the centre circle of Wembley Stadium on a night when it was closed, they’d have far more trouble getting access than they did. Inevitably there’ll be some simpleton groundskeeper with the keys who would have come out with the line “I don’t care if you’re the Queen of Sheba mate, you’re not getting in there tonight” 
  • There’s a bit where someone – I think it was Strahovski – tries to get a shell-shocked child to open up to her by offering her a can of Ginger Beer. Ginger Beer? Really? I imagine most children these days would have told her to fuck off.
  • As always with 24, there were plenty of example of people being beaten to within an inch of their life in one hour, and being seemingly fine in the next. You’ve got to love it.
  • Similarly, the ease in which they got through traffic was astounding.
  • 24 simply has to have an episode where the Daleks show up towards the end. Surely you agree with me on that?

 


TV: Murder One Review

July 13, 2014

Back in the mid 1990s, Sky One was one of the best channels available in the UK. Whether it was Games World (anyone remember Big Boy Barry?), The Simpsons (when it was still good) or WWF, there was plenty there to keep me occupied.

Now I can’t even remember the last time I watched Sky One, or what is even on it anymore (I just checked; it’s still The Simpsons, but also Modern Family, and that’s about it).

The point is, it used to be as important a channel to me as BBC One.

And one thing I remember most of all about it back in those days was a TV show I never even watched.

Murder One.

I think what made it such a striking show, purely based on the weekly adverts, was the sight of leading man Daniel Benzali; an actor with a head like a white chocolate Malteser. The vision of him clearly stuck in my mind.

Fast forward nearly 20 years, and I decided to buy the boxed set, based on nothing but those memories of the adverts. I didn’t even check whether it was highly rated before I bought it.

So far, I’ve only seen the first season.

Was it any good?

Murder One: What’s It About?

From the mind of StevenBochco – probably the most famous TV Crime writers in America with hits like Hill Street Blues,NYPD Blue,Columbo (a few episodes at least) and L.A. Law to his credit – Season One of Murder One focuses on the

There's the man with a head like a white chocolate Malteser, Daniel Benzali

There’s the man with a head like a white chocolate Malteser, Daniel Benzali

“Goldilocks Murder Case”, in which famous movie star Neil Avedon is accused of raping and murdering the 15-year-old call-girl, Jessica Costello. Avedon must call upon the help of Defence Attorney Theodore Hoffman and his team to prove his innocence.

But with the millionaire businessman – and alternate suspect – Richard Cross seemingly intent on making the defence’s lives as hard as possible while claiming to be on their side, Hoffman & Associates have their work cut out for them.

Over the course of 23 episodes, the case – from Avedon’s arrest through to his trial – is fully dealt with before the truth is finally revealed.

Murder One: Who’s In It?

The leading man is Hoffman, played by the aforementioned Dr Bunsen made flesh, Daniel Benzali. Other than him, recognisable actors these days would include Mary McCormack (West Wing, In Plain Sight), Stanley Tucci (he makes movies you know) and Gregory Itzin (the rat bastard slimeball President from 24)

Murder One: How Highly Is It Rated?

Murder One is critically acclaimed and has a cult following. In the UK and Europe it was a hugely popular show at the time, but in the US it struggled with ratings, with viewers apparently unable to cope with the season-long story arc format. Those silly Americans…

Right now on imdb, it gets an 8.0 rating.

Murder One: Was It Any Good?

I would say so, yes.

In some respects, Murder One is quite dated. Now that’s not going to come as a shock seeing as it’s 18 years old, but being dated can sometimes work to a show’s advantage. Personally, I love watching old episodes of Columbo, as they have a time capsule like quality to them; it’s like you’re watching a show made in a completely different world. Stuff from the mid-90s though can be dated in a poor way. You look at the outfits, the hairstyles and the production values and think “Urgh, I remember those days”.

Mostly what dates it is the aforementioned production values. The opening credits look extremely old-fashioned, and they are made worse by the attempts at using “hi-tech” CGI. Then there’s the incidental music, which often sounds like something from a Sega Megadrive game. Awful.

As well as that though, the mid 1990s were a time when TV wasn’t taken quite as seriously across the pond as it is now. It feels as though Television acting wasn’t deemed as worthy as the cinema back then, and arguably the reverse is true now. But what that means is that you watch the show and see some examples of acting – like that of Bobbie Philips and Patricia Clarkson, who played Julie Costello and Annie Hoffman respectively – that are so bad, you know that they wouldn’t be deemed acceptable in 2014.

So in those respects, it suffers, but thankfully the good outweighs the bad.

Daniel Benzali and Stanley Tucci are both excellent in their starring roles and bring a sense of authenticity to the part, and while most of the other actors are of a good standard, Gregory Itzin must also get a special mention for being possibly even more unlikable as the slimey District Attorney, Roger Garfield.

Beyond that, the season long story arc is well paced, and though there are the occasional lulls and distractions – like Hoffman’s marital crisis which came out of nowhere – I felt it kept moving smoothly from episode to episode and kept me entertained.

It was also interesting to see court procedure laid out in more detail than you’d usually expect on TV. In particular, I found the episodes dedicated to juror selection intriguing.

Finally, the conclusion to the whole thing kept me guessing, and I found myself pleased to know I hadn’t manage to work out the ending in advance.

Who Should Watch Murder One?

I’d recommend that anyone who enjoys crime drama or long, winding story arcs would enjoy Murder One.

I certainly did.

Give it a shot.


The 75 Game Challenge: Game #2 – Typer Shark! Deluxe

July 3, 2014

Next up in the 75 Game Challenge is Typer Shark! Deluxe

Typer Shark! Deluxe: What Is It?

Another one from the PopCap Collection, this is a game where you play as a diver trawling the seas for booty, and have to fend off sharks, piranhas, squids and pirates by typing the letters/words written on them before they have a chance to

It's simple; you type the words on the sharks in time or you die

It’s simple; you type the words on the sharks in time or you die

cut your line and drown you.

Typer Shark! Deluxe: How Much Did It Cost?

I got it as part of a £20-£30 collection of 35 games a few years back. Today it sells on its own for £4.25

Typer Shark! Deluxe: How Long Did I Play It For?

Four hours.

Thoughts

Typing games are the sort of thing that sound boring but really aren’t. When you think about any game, it mostly involves your ability to press the right buttons or make the correct gestures at the appropriate time on a controller or screen. How is a typing game any different to that? You press the right buttons on your keyboard in time; simple!

And there’s no doubt about it; Typer Shark! Deluxe is strangely addictive. You have three lives (but can get more if you score enough points) and you have to get through as many levels as you can. Not only does it have that moreish quality where you want to play it again when you die – something, incidentally, that AstroPop Deluxe didn’t have – but it also feels quite frantic when the difficulty level ramps up.

Ultimately, after a number of tries, I completed the game in about four hours on Hard Difficulty, but it’s definitely one I would go back to, because the replay value and challenge is there.

Proving that sometimes its the most simple games that are the most enjoyable, I think Typer Shark! Deluxe would be well worth the money at full price, but even better value as part of that pack.

Incidentally, there are other games like it, such as Typing of the Dead and Bookworm Adventures that I would recommend just as highly.


The 75 Game Challenge: Game #1 – AstroPop Deluxe

July 1, 2014

With the Steam Summer Sale over, I found myself shocked to discover that I have 75 unplayed games sitting in my Steam Library.

Like I said yesterday, the vast majority of these games are not high value efforts, and only a handful cost over £4 to buy, but that doesn’t excuse me not at least trying them.

So that’s what I’m planning on doing, and it starts with AstroPop Deluxe

Astropop Deluxe: What Is It?

A simple game from The PopCap Collection where you have to clear a number of lines of coloured bricks. You suck in a brick by clicking the left mouse button, and once you have at least four together, you release them by clicking the right Astropopmouse button. Then they “pop”. Each level gets progressively harder with new lines appearing at quicker intervals.

AstroPop Deluxe: How Much Did It Cost?

I got it as part of a £20-£30 collection of 35 games a few years back. Today it sells on its own for £4.25

Astropop Deluxe: How Long Did I Play It For?

30 Minutes

Thoughts

Well it’s pretty simple, and mildly fun.

Clearly though, this is the sort of game that would be better played on a mobile phone or tablet. On a PC with a mouse it just feels a wee bit clunky.

Bearing in mind this was made in 2006, it was probably a decent game back then, but has been surpassed by what is available – often for free – in 2014.

I’d say it’s the sort of game that I’d happily play again, but it also feels as though it’ll be instantly forgettable and will just sit in my library untouched.

I did get value from it though as part of that package. For £4.25 though it’s not worth your time or money.


Why Ryan Gauld’s Proposed Transfer To Sporting Lisbon Is A Good Thing

July 1, 2014

So it looks as though Dundee United starlet Ryan Gauld is set to complete a move to Sporting Lisbon for a fee of around £3m with the potential for more in add-ons.

The news has captured the imagination of Scottish Football fans across social media, and as you might expect, the reaction has been interesting and diverse.

While most observers seem to agree that it’s a good move for both the player and the club, there are some interesting viewpoints out there.

One United fan suggested that we shouldn’t sell him, but instead loan him out to a lower division side in Scotland to get first team experience.

Plenty of Aberdeen fans have amusingly suggested that if Gauld is worth £3m then Peter Pawlett must be worth at least £5m. I somehow don’t think a bid of that much is forthcoming…ryan-gauld-131125c

Then you’ve got Dundee fans saying he’s rubbish, that they can’t understand why he’s going for so much and – knowing as they do more about United’s financial security than Stephen Thompson himself – that all the money would go to servicing debt.

And one punter – whose allegiances remain a mystery – suggested that he felt Gauld would be making a massive mistake going to Portugal ahead of “The Premier League” (that could either be England, from where no bids have been received, or Scotland where he currently plays) and that he was “throwing his career away”.

Of course, a lot of that is nonsense. A player is worth either what a club is willing to pay for him or the opportunity cost of that player leaving the club. That’s it; there’s no magic formula to it.

United and Sporting have agreed a deal, and for me it’s not only a terrific piece of business for both clubs in terms of value, but it’s also fantastic for the player himself and for Dundee United’s reputation.

Some Arabs remain unconvinced, as they think if we held onto him for another season, we could get higher offers.

I would ask those fans to consider this…

As good as he is, Ryan Gauld has had a poor run of form since January. There have been a number of theories put forward for why that is, including his obvious growth spurt, his turning 18 and discovering alcohol (which I really hope isn’t true), overconfidence or jadedness. I’d say mostly his form dipped because teams seemed to set out to stop him playing. They bullied him and marked him out of games. The sort of performances we saw from Gauld in the run up to Christmas are not 100% likely to happen again because of that.

If I was Gauld – who has said in the past that he sees his future on the continent rather than in the UK – I’d be thinking “If I’m going to reach my potential, I need to play in a league where I’ll have more time and space on the ball and won’t be an instant target for other clubs”.

Meanwhile, if I was Stephen Thompson, I’d be thinking “I know this guy is a huge prospect, but if he plays the whole of next season the way he played the latter half of last season, he won’t even attract bids of £500k let alone £5m”

So the time is right for a move.

Like I say above, it’s great for United’s reputation too. The club sells itself as a place where players can learn their craft, play in the first team and then move on to a higher level. Say United decided to reject the bid; how bad would that look to Gauld and any other player thinking of moving to Tannadice?

To lose a player of Gauld’s ability will be sad for the fans, but there are plenty more fish in the sea. We’ve still got a front four including Nadir Ciftci, GMS, Stuart Armstrong and Ryan Dow, and coming up to challenge them are the likes of Charlie Telfer, Blair Spittal, Aidan Connolly, Scott Smith and Scott Fraser, so the future is still bright as far as I’m concerned.

I wish Ryan Gauld all the best, and hope for himself, the Scottish National team and Scottish Football – for if his move is a success it might encourage more teams to spend big bucks on our players –  that he fulfils his undoubted potential. He’s got a great chance to do it, and I hope he grabs it with both hands.