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    • Reeker (DVD) / DVD / 97 Readings / 93 Ratings
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      01.03.2008 14:13
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      5 friends find themselves stranded at a mysterious, abandoned motel.

      When five students, heading for a huge party, find themselves stranded at a recently deserted motel they try not to let it dampen their mood. But when they start to discover mutilated bodies and a foul stench in the air, they begin to fear for their lives.

      ---------------------------------------------------

      Maybe with the name "Reeker" the films creative team was trying to give us a subtle warning that is that this film stinks. There are so many things wrong with "Reeker" that it is hard to see why a few reviews and critics have actually praised it, but strangely they have.

      When it comes to the plot "Reeker" is less than original, a group of students stuck in the middle of nowhere face a gruesome death, come on, been there, watched that and got the proverbial t-shirt. But then I suppose I can still see an audience for a film with this unoriginal plot line, that being teenagers themselves who may not have seen this sort of story line before done much more effectively in numerous other films. Whist the lack of originality detracted for me, what really made the film suffer was the countless plot holes which really do not make sense and makes it quite a difficult film to follow, well for me anyway. Throughout the entire film you are left wondering as to why the heck have they done that and sadly no matter how long you wait you will be none the wiser, especially by the time the rushed climax comes along. Even this ending, which attempts to piece everything together to explain what you have seen leaves you even more confused and you end up challenging everything it wants you to think has happened. But it is not all bad, and whilst the majority of the film is quite bad there are a few subtle moments of inspired ingenuity. One of these such moments was creating a character who was blind, thus making there other senses more alert than his friends and so he was able to smell the stench of impending doom a lot quicker than the others. But sadly these few moments are never used to their full effect and only leave you wondering what could have been with greater creative talent behind the film. It really does get so bad that you and others watching "Reeker" find yourselves taking the mick out of the scenes.

      What also seriously lets "Reeker" down is the lack of any real tension. There are no moments where you jump or reach for a cushion in fright, as everything and I do mean everything is so telegraphed that you can see any attempts to scare you coming a mile off. This leaves the film attempting to making you cringe with some seriously dodgy special effects and make up. Not since the early eighties have I seen mutilated corpses look as unconvincing as these. Right from the opening scene, which did show early promise, it delivers some of the least convincing make up I have seen and you start to wonder whether this is going to be more a horror parody than an all out fright fest. Now if they had made this into a horror-comedy maybe it would have worked ten times better than it does.

      Thankfully for me the cast was pretty much a band of unknowns, except for Derek Richardson who I recognized from the equally poor "Hostel", so I wasn't left wondering why their performances were so mediocre, and I am being generous with calling them mediocre. Everything about their performances reeked of inexperience and I am sure on more than one occasion they were reading their lines from an auto-cue. It didn't help that none of the characters was that well written and just added to the confusion of the plot, but when accents and general stiffness leaves you laughing, you know you are in for a bumpy ride. As for the dialogue, well I am sure even the least knowledgeable film watcher will be able to recognise some of the dialogue from other films.


      As you can guess I am seriously unimpressed with "Reeker", which is a shame as the underlying plot, although unoriginal, did have a slight cleverness about it, it was just a shame that it was so poorly executed. When it comes to horror films this really lacked everything I need to not only scare me but also to keep me watching. For me this felt like a mediocre attempt to modernise a run of the mill 90s horror which although was not in the same style as "Hostel" was about as effective. Surprisingly, despite the poor plot, acting and dodgy visual effects there was a feeling that a bit of money had been spent on this film. This is mainly down to some reasonable camera work and editing which for me kept the film moving and is the only reason that I don't give this film a single star. My advice is to stay away from "Reeker" as it leaves behind a foul stench.

      ---------------------------------------------------------------

      > Price & Availability

      www.amazon.co.uk : £4.98


      > Technical Details

      Certificate: 15
      Duration: 87 mins
      Year of Release: 2005
      Genre: Horror


      Director(s): Dave Payne
      Writer(s): Dave Payne

      Cast: Devon Gummersall, Derek Richardson, Tina Illman, Scott Whyte, Arielle Kebbel, Michael Ironside, Eric Mabius, Marcia Strassman, David Hadinger, Les Jankey


      © Christianfilm March 2008
      This review also appears under my name on Ciao.

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      • More +
        10.01.2008 18:10
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        A remedy for colds, coughs and catarrh from Olbas

        Every year I seem to get hit by a cold which then leads to severe catarrh and a tight chest for weeks on end; and every year I end up dosing my self up with medication to get through the day and also the night when I always seem to feel 100 times worse. My current choice of over the counter medication to try and ease the runny nose and constant hacking is Olbas Pastilles.


        >>>> The Look and the Packaging

        As seems to be the case with a lot of these types of pastilles they come in a silver foil bag which is then placed within a cardboard box and contains 45g of pastilles. Thankfully unlike other similar medicine the foil bag isn't glued to the inside of the box so you can easily remove it for opening and dispensing.

        The Olbas pastille itself is the typical oval shape and is a very dark green colour, to be honest the colour is quite off putting. Each pastille is generously coated in rather coarse sugar which amazingly stays stuck to the pastille rather than dropping off everywhere. The pastille itself is probably the hardest I have come across and definitely not at all chewable even after a lot of sucking.


        >>>> Smell and Taste

        When you open the foil bag you are literally blasted with the smell of Olbas and to be honest this is quite off putting, as if like me the smell is quite over powering and not nice at all. But this soon goes and when you return to the packet for a second pastille the smell no longer seems as powerful, either that or I have become immune to it. Although the smell from the packaging seems to disappear, I am dutifully informed that whilst sucking one of these pastilles the whole room smells of Olbas.

        On popping one in your mouth you again get a blast of taste, a mixture of Eucalyptus and Peppermint which the first time you try one of these you may well be tempted to spit it straight out. This soon mellows as the sugar coating kicks in and from then on in it is a reasonably enjoyable experience. What you have to be prepared for is the length of time the taste lasts and quite often a pastille will still be going strong in your mouth a good half hour after you have popped it in, and even then once the pastille has finished you are left with the taste for a good 10 minutes afterwards.


        >>>> Do They Work

        As I have found with the majority of these types of over the counter medication, they only really work when you are actually sucking them. They definitely help to soothe your throat, open nasal passages and generally improve a tight chest, but then in my case these symptoms seem to return about half an hour after finishing one of these pastilles. Compared to similar pastilles these definitely last longer, and despite the off putting colour and initial taste they are again rather addictive, although not as nice as fruit flavoured pastilles. One thing to note is that having too many in one go can lead to them working like a laxative and the daily recommended dosage is 8 pastilles.


        >>>> Price

        Olbas Pastilles can be purchased from a variety of outlets, including supermarkets, chemists and basically anywhere which sells over the counter drugs. They come in a 45g box, which is about 40 pastilles and cost the very reasonable sum of £1.49 in Wilkinsons, or £1.89 in Superdrugs.


        >>>> Ingredients

        Each pastille contains: Eucalyptus Oil BP 1.16%, Peppermint Oil BP 1.12%, Menthol BP 0.10%, Juniper Berry Oil BPC. 1949 0.067%,Wintergreen Oil BPC. 1949 0.047%, Clove Oil BP. 0.0025%, Sucrose, Glucose, Modified Starch, Chlorophyll.


        © Christianfilm January 2008

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        • pennymix.com / Internet Site / 91 Readings / 84 Ratings
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          28.11.2007 18:49
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          Another cashback site which although not huge is very well presented and offers reasonable earnings

          Pennymix is yet another cashback site which offers you both ways of saving money on your purchases but also earning money by doing searches on selected websites as well as signing up to offers. Whilst not as big as some of the more established cashback sites such as Quidco and FreeFivers, it looks far more professional than many of the sites which are appearing like wild fire.


          > The Website

          The first thing you notice about the website is that at the moment it is devoid of flashing banners which usually appear in every spare space and makes it much easier to focus on the main information. This actually gives the site a very clean look and with simplistic navigation running across the top of the page and your account information on the right hand side; it is a very easy site to use. You can use their very efficient search system to find the retailer you are after or you can browse the retailers which are available via alphabetical lists with each retailer telling you whether the reward for using is a percentage of the purchase or a set sum, plus there is also the option to add retailers to your favourites. Generally the site is well set up with the predominant use of dark text against a white background, but there are areas where they have used dark grey text against a light grey background which makes these parts a little harder to read. But this is a small negative and generally great thought has gone into the site and is very fast to load.


          > Signing Up

          As with all cashback sites you need to become a member to take advantage of both the cashbacks and daily clicks. This can be done by either being referred to the site by a friend (more on referring later) or navigating to it by yourself. They do push joining up on the homepage and offer the incentive of £3 for doing so. The actual sign up process is very simple and once you have entered your details they will send you an email so that you can validate your account which also contains your password which they set, although you can change it once you have validated your account. The whole process took me less than 5 minutes and it was a pleasant surprise to receive my validation email so quickly which also listed the currently available daily clicks. Once you have validated your account you can then update your profile at anytime and you need to fill in your address if you choose to be paid by cheque. Whilst I have never had any junk mail arrive from the site I would always recommend using a separate email address from your main one just in case this ever changes. One thing to note is that to become a member you need to be a UK resident and be 18 years of age.


          > Cashback

          As previously mentioned Pennymix doesn't have the huge amount of cashback options as the more established sites, but there is still a good selection and one which appeals to me is 3% on all Amazon purchases made through the site, a cashback which isn't available on some of the other cashback sites. Cashback usually appears for your purchases within 7 days but it can be credited immediately or even take up to 40 days. You can also leave feedback against any retailer you purchase from to help other members decide whether or not to use them. As well as cashback on purchases you can also earn set cashback for signing up to offers such as 50p for a trial of Cinema Paradiso DVD rental service.


          > Daily Clicks

          This is the part of the site which initially attracted me into signing up and although the opportunities are extremely limited, currently just two different daily clicks (dealtime, where2search) which can each be done twice, they are extremely quick to do and for about 3 minutes work you earn 17p. So that doesn't sound much but that does equate to over £60 a year if you actively do them. The daily clicks appear in your account very quickly and although the site says that your account is updated 4 times a week I have found that it updates everyday with one set of daily clicks appearing immediately whilst the other set appearing a couple of days later. All daily clicks initially appear as pending on your account and take 40 days for them to transfer over to be confirmed and so far I have not had a single one rejected.


          > Referrals

          Compared to other cashback sites the referral system on Pennymix is one of the most attractive. For each member who signs up through your referral you will receive £7 and then also the equivalent of 10% of their earnings for as long as they remain members of the site. Putting that into numbers, that equates to approximately an extra £13 in the first year if the member you referred only does the daily clicks on a daily basis. All money gained via referral appears on your account immediately as pending and remains so until the member has accrued £20 of confirmed earnings. They also have a small selection of banners which you can use if you have your own website or blog and do look very well made. So if anyone fancies signing up to this account and doesn't mind being referred by me please send me a message.


          > Account Update

          One of the things which I do like about Pennymix is that when you sign in you are immediately greeted by your accounts page so you can see all your pending, confirmed and unconfirmed clicks and cashbacks straight away. This is very clearly laid out with different tables for each of the states so you can quickly see what is going on. What is also nice is that no matter what page you go to you will always have your totals appearing on the right hand side of the page, where they tell you when they were last updated.


          > Getting Paid

          There are only two payment options and these are via cheque or paypal. Once your account has reached £10 of confirmed (payable) cashback they will automatically send your payment depending on the option you choose. This actually works on 45 days in arrears so if you reach the £10 mark by the middle of January you will receive your payment at the start of March. Although it would be nice to receive the money quicker, it does mean that once you have got your money you should be well on your way to the next cash out.


          > Miscellaneous

          My one real criticism of the site is that the Help page is rather limited and you end up scouring the Terms & Conditions for information such as when can you get paid. They do give you the option to contact them with any further queries via a contact us page which nicely fills in all your details so you only have to type in your message/ query. The people behind the site do respond reasonably quickly and I have had a response within 24 hours and they are always very polite and helpful.


          > Is it all worth it

          So the big question is whether it is worth it? Well you are definitely not going to make a living out of this site, or any other similar sites, to be honest. But compared to some other cashback sites which can take from 10 to 15 minutes to earn 30p for doing daily clicks, this site is not only a lot quicker but earns you slightly more per minute of your time. Hopefully in the future they will add further daily clicks to the site to make it more attractive to those who want to earn more but for me I actually like that the site can be done so quickly. What does make this site more attractive than others is the referral system which offers you not only a one off payment but also percentage earnings, making this site a potential money spinner for those who have a lot of friends they can refer or a website to place a banner on.

          http://www.pennymix.com/


          © Christianfilm November 2007

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          • archerfish.co.uk / Internet Site / 88 Readings / 81 Ratings
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            18.11.2007 09:06
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            A popular paid to click site where for a few minutes you can earn a few pence.

            In my ongoing endeavour to make a million of the internet, okay a few pennies then, I have spent a vast amount of time looking at the different methods which are available to the general public to make money from the comfort of their own home. One such site which I have been using for several months now is Archerfish, a PTC site (paid to click) which offers members a small financial reward for clicking on banners, emails as well as the chance of winning money in competitions and also earning through referrals. Archerfish is one of several websites which offer a similar system for earning money, but it is one of just a few which offers the rewards in pounds rather than dollars, so is primarily aimed at the UK market.


            > The Website

            The first thing you notice when you go to archerfish is that even before you login the page has numerous adverts which constantly change and for those not use to this sort of site it may look quite cheap and tacky. But thought has gone into the design of the site with the majority of the navigation staying firmly on the left hand side of the page, making getting use to the website a lot easier than some, where there navigation seems to move all over the screen from one page to the next. Also for a website which functions on displaying adverts, they have cut out needless graphics making it very fast to load and reasonably uncluttered. Whether intentional or not, the site is also reasonably good for those who have limited vision, with the use of contrasting colours for text and graphics, as well as alt text on all the images so that those who use text reading devices can navigate the site without feeling inhibited.


            > Signing Up

            With all PTC sites, you need to sign up to become a member so that you can earn the pennies, be that through navigating to the site yourself or through being referred by a friend (more on referrals later). On a slightly negative note they don't overly publicise that you can join from their homepage and you need to look closely underneath the logo for a text link which says 'Join'. The actual sign up process is reasonably quick and painless, with stage one of the process is providing them with an email address so that they can then send you one so that you can validate the account and your email address. Validating the account is just a matter of filling in a short questionnaire about you, your address, pretty much all the usual stuff that you get when ever you sign up to a site. Since joining several months ago I have not received a single spam email, or junk mail through the door which can be traced back to archerfish, so there should be few concerns about giving them your details. Although with all these sorts of sites I would always recommend having a separate email address from your main one just in case something does go wrong. One thing to note that to become a member you need to be a UK resident and be 18 years of age.


            > Earning Pennies

            Okay so you are a fully signed up member of Archerfish now and can start earning, there are several ways you can earn from the site:

            Emails - On a daily basis you will receive emails where by clicking on a link in the email an internet page will open for you to read, okay you don't need to read them, although some can be quite interesting. All you need to do is keep the page open for a set amount of time and so that you know how long to keep the page open, across the top of the page is an information bar which tells you how long you need to keep it open and how much you will earn for doing so. It actually is even more helpful as when the time has passed the page refreshes and the banner will change to say completed. Now I mentioned earlier that you get a small financial reward for doing so and a typical reward for doing one of these emails is 0.25p (that is a quarter of a penny), not much I admit, but on a normal day you can get several emails and it does build up over time. The time you have to keep the page open varies depending on the financial reward offered, but they are never more than a minute and are usually a lot less. An important part of the emails is that some of them you get on a daily basis but there needs to be 24 hours between doing them one day and then the next or else they won’t work and you will have to go back and try again later. Also some of the emails will expire quite quickly as they only have a number of clicks allocated to them before they run out, so it always pays to try and do them as soon as possible. With the emails you get the choice of having them delivered to your own email programme via the email address you used to sign up with, login to archerfish and picking them up online or even both. For me I have them send the emails to my own email programme as it works as a reminder to do them.

            Banners - On the navigation menu is a link for 'Paid to Click' which takes you to an area where you will be presented with several adverts which you can click for money. It tells you underneath each advert what the financial award is and then when you do click it works in an identical manner to the emails with a page loading which you need to keep open for a set amount of time. One thing to note is that these adverts can appear at anytime of the day and again if you don't do them when you have the opportunity they may not be there the next time you check, but on a typical day you can get from 5 to 10 ads to click on. Again the reimbursement for doing these clicks is small and varies from 0.20 of a penny to 1 whole penny but these are very rare and it all depends on how long you have to keep the page open for. In an attempt to make doing these clicks less of a chore, the people at Archerfish have tied this into a small competition where by every 10th advert clicked you will receive 0.5 of a penny, and above your available ads it tells you how many more to go before the 10th one is due to be clicked. This can be quite a good way of adding a few extra pennies to your kitty as you are competing against all the other members as it is an open competition and on a typical day I manage to earn an extra penny just by timing my clicks to coincide with when the 10th one is due to be clicked.

            Competitions - Since being a member of Archerfish the competitions have changed and the current ones include a weekly quiz where you can wager a small amount of your earnings in the hope of winning more at the end of the week by testing your knowledge. As well as a fruit machine where you can gamble a small amount of your earnings on the spin of the wheel. Now for me I like to hold onto my pennies as one day they make pounds, so I don't participate in these but when you look at the quizzes you can see they are quite popular. Just recently they have done away with one of their competitions which had been running for a while and introduced a new 'Cash Prize Giveaway' where by each week two members will be randomly picked and earn an extra £5, all you need to do is be an active member when it comes to doing your clicks.

            Referrals - As with all these PTC sites, they offer you the chance to refer your friends and earn money from doing so. In this case it works on a pyramid scheme that for every friend you refer you will receive the equivalent of 10% of what they earn, then for all their friends they refer you will earn 5% of their earnings. This goes on for 6 levels meaning where for a friend of a friend of a friend etc etc etc you could earn the equivalent of 1% of their earnings. There is a clause and that is that you don't earn anything until a referred member has earned a whole penny. In all honesty this is really going to be the only way to earn anything near decent money and if anyone wishes to join up and would like me to refer them please send me a message and I will happily oblige. If you have your own website you can also earn money by displaying ads for Archerfish on your site and gaining referrals for anyone who signs up via one of those ads.


            > Checking your earnings

            You can keep tabs of what you earn via the menu and it gives you a total and a breakdown of where your earnings have come from, be it clicking, competition wins or referrals. One thing to note that it looks a complete mess of numbers due to all the fractions of a penny you earn, so when you’re total earnings say £1.7965 you have effectively earned £1.79.


            > Getting Paid

            Having earned all those pennies you now have a choice of how you wish to be paid. Once you have earned £3 you can have the money transferred to your paypal account, at £5 you can get an Amazon voucher and at £10 you can get them to send you a cheque. It usually takes less than 7 working days to receive your desired payment, which is a lot better than other sites, although it will certainly take a lot longer to reach one of the cash out points.


            > Becoming an Advertiser

            If you have your own website you can actually use your earnings to have your own advertising campaign on Archerfish and for as little as £1.70 you can have a link to your website sent out to 500 members. You don't have to participate in Archerfish to advertise and there is a separate area for companies who wish to place there adverts on the site.


            > Miscellaneous

            In an attempt to make Archerfish more than just another PTC site there is an area where you can play games just for fun, although to be honest I have never bothered with this area. If at any time you want to change your profile you can easily do so via a link on the menu and from there you can also delete your account if you feel that it is a waste of time. On a positive note, I have only ever had problems with the site being down once and it was soon back up and running.


            > Is it all worth it

            To be honest you are never going to get rich from doing Archerfish, or any other PTC site, but over time you can earn enough for a DVD. On a typical day I earn about 3p for about 10 minutes of my time, which over the year you are looking at just over a tenner, although you could always win a competition which would definitely help. The best way to earn more is definitely though the referral scheme and from what I can see as long as you regularly participate you will continue to earn from your referral and your referrals referrals. What in my opinion makes Archerfish better than the other PTC sites, is you do get regular emails and banners to earn from, as well as the added competitions makes it feel less of a chore and in some ways a bit of fun.


            © Christianfilm November 2007

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            • More +
              11.11.2007 08:21
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              An insight into Richard Branson and the lessons he has learned from life

              I will readily admit that I have never been what you could call a fan of Richard Branson, with his outrageous self publicity and his record attempts I have often found him rather annoying. But then part of me admires him, as anyone who can create such a hugely successful business as Virgin must be doing something right. So when I got the opportunity to read his book "Screw it, Let's do it" I thought why not, maybe I will learn something interesting about the man, what drives him on and maybe just maybe a bit of his drive will rub off on me.

              "Screw it, Let's do it" was written by Richard Branson when he was approached to write a book for World Book Day 2006, since then it has become an International best seller and recently been expanded to include a new chapter on environmentally friendly business. The book is not so much an autobiography, although it does touch on many aspects of Richard's personal life, but a look at how Richard goes about his business as well as his life and the lessons he has learnt along the way. I believe the intention of this book was to not only to give an insight into Richard Branson but to encourage people to challenge themselves and live life to the full.

              The book is split up into several chapters each with a unique slant on an aspect of Richard's life and also a pretty standard title such as "Challenge Yourself" and "Be Innovative", the sort of title you expect from a self help book. There is no real chronological order to the chapters and each one flicks between his early days, through to starting the Virgin empire and the way it has expanded, right up until the present, although chapter 1 does look at what first inspired Richard to succeed in business. What I found interesting was the way Richard manages to cover so much within each chapter and he usually manages to talk about his days as a child, starting in business, record attempts as well as his business today in every single chapter with so much gusto that it never feels repetitive. As already mentioned each chapter has a different slant, whether it is about being honest, enjoying life or remembering family values, amongst others and each chapter is surprisingly interesting. For me the best parts of each chapter revolved around how he runs his business and the difficulties he has encountered along the way, but also the insights into his record attempts and his childhood really gives you an insight into what drives him on. It is also good that there is a slightly humorous aspect to each chapter, and when he dishes the dirt on one of his rivals and their dirty tricks campaigns you can't but help smile. Saying that, he also has no issues with dealing the dirt on himself and in a very open moment he tells about when setting up the Virgin record stores he fell fowl of the law in a tax dodge scheme.

              Part of the reason for writing this book was to give the readers life lessons which Richard has learnt along the way from his exceedingly eventful life, and each chapter delivers the desired message very clearly and for me every time I read a bit more it left me feeling motivated and encouraged. Learning about how he set up his first business, Student magazine, whilst still at school and using a telephone box to make all his calls, really encourages you that despite whatever obstacles are in your way there is usually away around them. The lessons are not all about business and a lot of them are about living life to the full as well as enjoying every moment and it is very clear from this book that Richard does indeed live his life to the full, especially through the highly dangerous record bids. Although I was not overly bothered about his achievements when it came to breaking records, they are surprisingly interesting and when he goes into depth about the dangers they entailed you begin to question his sanity, but then some people live for these sorts of thrills and it is very clear that he is one of them.

              Another key element of this book is his concern over environmental issues and he not only touches on this in many of the chapters but also dedicates a whole chapter to environmental issues and how he believes the way forward should be. The majority of his musings on this issue revolve around how to run a business in an environmentally friendly manner in particular how he runs the Virgin Empire. But he also gives his ideas on ways other businesses can improve their carbon footprints such as the airline business in general with aircrafts being towed to the end of the runway instead of burning fuel getting there under their own power. He also discusses how he got into the whole environmental scene and it is interesting to read that even back in the 70s he was heavily involved. Whilst most of his thoughts on environmental issues are high end and focuses mainly on businesses a few of them make sense on a domestic.

              There is only one negative I have about "Screw it, Let's do it" and that it is the feeling of 'look at me' you get whilst reading it. I am sure Richard is very pleased with everything he has achieved and takes great satisfaction in knowing that he has made a success of his life, but at times the way he says things in the book is just a little too much. Maybe it is just me, as I previously said that I do find him slightly annoying and his enthusiastic persona definitely transfers to print in the same slightly annoying way.

              At just over 256 pages "Screw It, Let's Do It" is not a long book and takes next to no time to read it from cover to cover. But then it is also one of those books you can pick up from time to time and read a chapter again as you learn something knew every time. It is also written in such a way that it is not all facts and boring information on business, but really grabs your attention and manages to engage even those who are not interested in the world of high power business. With a mixture of his life and business there is a nice balance between the two providing enough variation to break any monotony. But as I have mentioned, Branson's persona definitely comes across and whilst his enthusiasm is encouraging his constant 'look at me' attitude does grate, well for me anyway.


              >>>> Price & Availability

              Amazon.co.uk: £4.23
              WH Smiths: £7.99


              Paperback
              Pages: 256
              ISBN: 0753511495

              © Christianfilm November 2007

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              • A Good Year (DVD) / DVD / 62 Readings / 60 Ratings
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                07.11.2007 08:56
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                A high flyer in the city inherits his Uncles estate in France, which triggers some life changing eve

                > Synopsis

                Max Skinner (Russell Crowe) a high powered British stockbroker, whose aptitude and arrogance makes him as many enemies as friends suddenly finds his life taking a different track as he unexpectedly inherits his Uncles house and Vineyard in France. Journeying across the channel to make a quick sale on his inheritance he suddenly starts to reminisce about his childhood with his Uncle and whether his high pressure career is indeed what he wants from life.


                > Opinion

                I really was not sure what to expect from the comedy/drama "A Good Year" as not only did it have Ridley Scott at the directorial helm, a man who has made such visual spectaculars such as "Gladiator", but also it stars Russell Crowe who is more known for more serious roles. But curiosity got the better of me and whilst it is by no means up to their usual high standards it is a pleasant, often amusing way to spend a couple of hours.

                The film is adapted from Peter Mayle's novel of the same name, a writer who some may recognize as he also wrote the novel "A Year in Provence" which was adapted into a successful BBC mini-series. The story is beautiful in it's simplicity and revolves around one mans conscience as he starts to doubt whether his chosen career path is right for him and whether the lessons his Uncle taught him about life in Provence as a child had more weight to them than he believed at the time. There are no real major twists or turns or any moments of high drama, but it is the simple "road to Damascus" like journey that Max, the main protagonists, undertakes that makes you smile as you watch. Where the film really managed to score points with me was in the way it flick between the current time, as Max sets about fixing up the estate, and his reminiscing as he remembers what life was like as a child under his Uncle's supervision. It is like a journey of discovery as the smallest things sets him off thinking about the fun times he had, but in some ways it made me start to reminisce about the fun times I had as a child, although mine was purely UK based. It also helps that the film is full of humorous moments, such as his annoyance with a French speaking navigation system in his hire car, or rowing with the obstinate help on the estate. None of which are laugh out loud moments but just enough to make you smile and sometimes appreciate what he is going through.

                But unfortunately the story does suffer, most notably from the feeling of being drawn out and at times it does feel like it is dragging its feet, especially when all a different scene achieves is to reiterate something already clearly achieved in a previous one. Another criticism comes from it introducing new story elements, such as a cousin which Max never knew exists but then fails to really explore this avenue to its full advantage, in effect asking the audience to take certain things for granted, especially a romantic story element which is seriously under worked. But then I can appreciate why this happens as the whole emphasis of the story is on Max's personal journey rather than the other things. As is often then case with these sorts of films, and in my opinion modern cinema as a whole, is that it is all completely predictable. From the moment that Max returns to the estate with the idea of selling it on, we can guess what the outcome will be and it is just a matter of enjoying the journey to get there, which does have the occasional twist.

                Now before I watched this I would have said casting Russell Crowe as an Englishman would have been a terrible choice, and whilst he does a reasonable job, the fake accent is nauseating to say the least. Maybe he was attempting to show that his character was well educated and successful through the way he spoke, but it fails and is completely unnatural. Ignoring the accent, not an easy job I must admit, Crowe does put in a good performance and manages to carry the film pretty much by himself. Not since his slightly humorous performance in "Mystery Alaska" has Crowe shown a lighter side to his acting ability and it is a side I feel he should explore more often as he does humorous really well. Whilst Crowe is definitely the focus of the film, Albert Finney as his Uncle shows that despite his increasing years is still a first rate character actor and Freddie Highmore who plays the young Max in the reminiscing scenes shows capability beyond his years. Between these 3 actors, and despite Crowe’s annoying accent, they make this film a lot more than I originally expected.

                As previously mentioned, at the directional helm is Ridley Scott a man better known for his big budget, visually impressive blockbusters such as "Gladiator" and "Blade Runner" but one who is equally capable of making toned down films such as "Matchstick Men" and indeed this film. Despite a few problems with making the film drag, he does bring it to life using beautiful imagery and a lot of autumnal colouring to make it easy watching. Plus, the use of a fair amount of humour only adds to the films charm instead of detracting from the main emphasis of the storyline. What really does stand out is a varied choice of music which helps lift the film in moments where it seems to be flagging. Unsurprisingly there is a huge lean towards French songs but then an American or British piece would be thrown in to change the tempo. For me hearing "Hey Joe" sung by a French man with a mix of original as well as French lyrics was quite a shock, but an enjoyable one to say the least. Most importantly Scott manages to capture the feel of the story, whether it is focusing on Max here and now or when he's reminiscing about his childhood.


                > Film Summary

                Despite some flaws "A Good Year" is a reasonably entertaining film, which is very easy to watch and will make you smile on more than one occasion. It manages to deliver for the most it's goal, that of giving the audience a warm, fuzzy feeling but it is also very close to messing the whole thing up leaving the audience wondering why. Whilst Crowe's choice of accent is completely annoying, my biggest issue is that the whole thing feels slight over drawn out, and I am sure a bit of subtle editing would have managed to speed things up without spoiling the overall feeling. Whilst checking my facts for this review I read somewhere that some critics had compared it to a feature length Renault Clio advert, the ones which feature Papa and Nicole, and I have to say that whilst I think this is a bit harsh, I do agree that it has the same sort of feeling about it as the series of memorable adverts did.


                > Price & Availability

                Amazon.co.uk: £5.47


                > Technical Details

                Certificate: 12
                Duration: 118 mins
                Year of Release: 2006
                Genre: Drama, Comedy

                Director(s): Ridley Scott
                Writer(s): Marc Kein, Peter Mayle

                Cast: Russell Crowe, Freddie Highmore, Albert Finney, Rafe Spall, Archie Panjabi, Richard Coyle


                © Christianfilm November 2007

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                • Happy Gilmore (DVD) / DVD / 65 Readings / 62 Ratings
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                  04.11.2007 07:59
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                  An Ice Hockey wannabe enters the world of golf to earn money to save his Grandma's house for her.

                  > Synopsis

                  Wannabe Ice hockey player Happy Gilmore (Adam Sandler) finds his life going into crisis mode when he is rejected by the local Ice Hockey team, his girlfriend leaves him and his Grandma who he loves dearly is about to lose her house for failure to pay taxes. But all is not lost as he discovers he has an amazing ability to smack a golf ball further than anyone else and under the guidance of Chubbs (Carl Weathers), a golf pro, he plans to win the money to save his Grandma from losing her home. The only thing is, is the golf establishment ready for Happy's wild antics.


                  > Opinion

                  Love him or loathe him, Adam Sandler has on the rare occasion made some very enjoyable and equally memorable films. For me "Happy Gilmore" is probably one of his better comedies, although I am sure this is down to the fact it was one of the first films I saw from his ever increasing resume and so everything about it was still somewhat fresh. But saying that, even now when I chose to watch "Happy Gilmore" there is something about it which stands out from all the others.

                  To say the storyline is weak maybe a bit harsh but it is wafer thin and in all reality it is the comedy which carries this film. But then the film was never really going to be about whether Happy would save the day but how much Sandler could make us laugh with some set piece gags and the idea of a rowdy Ice Hockey player disrupting the seemingly sedate world of golf. Despite being weak the storyline does give us a set up and motivation for Happy's crusade, it's just by half way through this 88 minute comedy we no longer really care about it, we are just waiting for the next laugh. Plus, we can guess the outcome long before we get there as this is in essence a feel good film and to deliver anything but a predictable ending would go against Hollywood's code for such films.

                  Whether you will find this film funny depends on whether you like Sandler's style of angry comedy and also whether you have now become bored of pretty much the same jokes littered through out the majority of his comedies. For me, although I have become a little bored of Sandler and his jokes, the comedy in "Happy Gilmore" still works well enough to make me laugh. A lot of the humour does revolve around Sandler's trademark shouting and basically acting like a petulant child, but amongst the usual stuff there are some funny moments. Watching the crowd go wild when Happy smacks a drive is indeed very funny and the reactions of those around him also makes this film stand out from his other films. Unlike in his other films, Sandler manages to share some of the comedy moments with those around him, and this really does help to make this film seem a little different.

                  What always annoys me with Sandler's comedies is that his characters are all the same and that is no different with "Happy Gilmore". Again we see Sandler play the drop-out, the dreamer, the layabout, all characteristics which he fills nearly every character he has ever played with. Yes he may be pretty good at this but it is getting rather repetitive and is one of the reasons why some will find this film boring. To be honest I couldn't really find any reason to be routing for the character of Happy, but then not for a single moment do I believe any great thought when into creating this character and all the film's emphasis is on the comedy rather than anything else. Where "Happy Gilmore" does work for me is that it is not filled with Sandler's mates filling up the supporting roles and doing the same things over and over again. With the exception of Allen Covert who must have appeared in 99% of Sandler's comedies, the rest of the supporting characters are filled with fresh faces such as the funny Christopher McDondald as pro golfer Shooter Mc Gavin, the strangely funny Carl Weathers as Chubbs and the delightful Julie Bowen as golf tournament organiser Virginnia who ends up being the films not so surprising love interest. All these actors put in far superior performances to Sandler's mates and with the inclusion of cameos from several celebrities and professional golfers this film is much better for it.

                  Finally, it would be wrong not to mention the sporting side of "Happy Gilmore" or lack of it seeing that it is based around the world of Golf. In some ways you could compare this to the much superior "Caddyshack" another golf movie which concentrated more on events away from the course than on it, as this aspect is true of "Happy Gilmore". Yes, we see a fair bit of golf, but not in the sense of a normal sports movie and it is there only to provide a back drop for the jokes. "Happy Gilmore" is more akin to crazy golf than professional golf and in my opinion would not alienate anyone who is not familiar with the game.


                  > Film Summary

                  Whilst "Happy Gilmore" is pretty much the same as all of Sandler's other comedies and suffers from the same problems which plague them, I still like this more than others. The comedy is at it's best predictable, and Sandler does his usual shouting, which granted is not everybody's cup of tea, but unlike in his other films everything seems to work together rather than in isolation. Whether you enjoy this or not is down to whether you are a fan of Sandler and his style comedy or are bored of the repetitiveness of his films. For me, although I am bored of Sandler and his lack of anything new I still like "Happy Gilmore" and can happily watch it a couple of times a year without getting bored.


                  > Price & Availability

                  Amazon.co.uk: £3.97


                  > Technical Details

                  Certificate: 12
                  Duration: 92 mins
                  Year of Release: 1996
                  Genre: Comedy

                  Director(s): Dennis Duggan
                  Writer(s): Tim Herlihy, Adam Sandler

                  Cast: Adam Sandler, Christopher McDonald, Julie Bowen, Frances Bay, Carl Weathers, Allen Covert, Robert Smigel, Bob Barker, Richard Kiel, Dennis Dugan


                  © Christianfilm November 2007

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                  • More +
                    31.10.2007 07:11
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                    3 friends journey to a Hostel in search of wild times, but the wild times are much more than they ba

                    > Synopsis

                    2 American students and their Icelandic friend are currently enjoying the delights of Amsterdam’s sex, booze and drugs culture, as they back-pack across Europe, when they learn about a hostel in Slovakia where the women are easy, especially if you have a foreign accent. With the prospect of easy women to good to be missed the three friends head to the hostel where they discover that it is even better than they believed, except strange things start to happen whilst they are there.


                    > Opinion

                    I had heard and read some great things about Eli Roth's "Hostel" and although was never in a rush to watch it, when the opportunity arose to watch the DVD I sat down with expectations of being entertained as well as horrified. Well sadly I was neither entertained nor horrified, in fact I was more bored than anything as I really failed to see what all the fuss was about and I have even watched it a few times just to make sure it was not just me having an off day.

                    For me the whole film is riddled with problems right from the start which makes it less than interesting viewing, although I would imagine a younger audience may enjoy it a bit more than me. The first problem is that it tries to mix two genres, starting off with a sort of teen sex comedy, minus the comedy, something similar to the equally poor "Euro-trip" and then after half an hour of nudity and general debauchery it attempts to bring on the horror but nothing about it is scary and in general is highly predictable and quite laughable. Maybe I am missing the whole point of doing this but the first half hour fails to do anything but make you wonder when anything remotely interesting is going to happen and by the time it does you have lost interest. What really lets it down is an ending which is not only rushed but feels like the writers suddenly realised that the film had no real motive and so contrived one in an attempt to tie everything together. It is the ending which stretches the already implausible storyline beyond any realms of believability and for me makes the whole thing quite laughable. Have I got anything positive to say about the plot to the film, in all honesty no, I really expected a lot more and got absolutely nothing from it worth praising.

                    Another issue I have is for a film which is classed as a horror; it is far from scary, frightening or terrifying. The whole thing lacks, suspense, tension or anything which will play on your mind, the only thing is does have is some pretty unmemorable moments of gore. There was only one scene in the whole film where I cringed, which is pretty lame seeing I hate blood and guts, but despite some reasonable make up and special effects the blood and guts were a general disappointment. I suppose again some people will enjoy the in you face blood and guts, salivating at every moment of blood spilling action, but for me it lacked the build up or ingenuity to really scare me. What in my opinion would have helped would have been to spread out the horror aspect of the film through out rather than concentrating it all into the last third.

                    Whilst the casting of not well known actors in the major roles was a good thing, although I can think of a few A list stars I would like to stick a knife into, the actual acting and characters were not really anything major. Part of the problem lies in that I struggled to feel any compassion for the three friends and so whether they met a grizzly death didn't really interest me, in fact at times I was hoping they would and quite quickly to be honest. I actually felt that during the first half hour they did a reasonable job and were quite believable as back-packers in search of hedonistic pleasures, but the minute the film changed track they really started to struggle. When it came to the blood and gore aspect of the film, the acting really took a turn for the worse and was completely unbelievable as at times I didn't know whether they were crying in pain or laughing at the stupidity of it all. Out of all the actors I felt Jay Hernandez did the best job but that is probably because he did seem to be the lynch pin between the three friends and also got the most screen time. What I also struggled with was when it came to the films supporting characters, such as a gang of children who would hold people to ransom for bubble gum; it just didn't fit for me and left me questioning why not do more with them to explain things further.

                    Before watching "Hostel" I had watched writer and director Eli Roth's earlier film "Cabin Fever" and although I thought it was good I still felt that it lacked something and hoped that he would have found the missing oomph with "Hostel". Sadly I think it is actually a step backwards as for me the whole thing didn't really gel and so left me numb to the whole experience. The biggest problem when it comes to Roth's direction is his failure to build up any tension, he seemed more content to go with the obvious and throw stuff in your face rather than build up the atmosphere. What does save this film feeling more than just a straight to DVD outing is not just a 4.5 million dollar budget but decent product standards with decent camera angles, sharp edits and a reasonable sound track which fits the film.


                    > Film Summary

                    Well as you can guess I was less than impressed with "Hostel" especially after reading some impressive comments about the film. For me it is a poor attempt at turning the teen sex comedy into a serious horror flick and in doing so is confused as to what it really is. The first half fails to hold your interest and the second half is so predictable and in your face that at times it is laughable. I doubt I was the real target audience, being a fan of films with suspense and tension rather than just blood and guts, but even so I cannot see that there was enough of the gore to appeal to horror fans. Maybe some horror fans will get more from it than myself and with a sequel already available there is obviously a fan base for this film. The only thing stopping me from giving this just a single star rating is that the production standards save it from the dubious honour. If you liked the "Saw" movies then there is a chance you will like this but don't expect to be wowed with originality or ingenuity.


                    > Price & Availability

                    www.amazon.co.uk : £13.95


                    > Technical Details

                    Certificate: 18
                    Duration: 94 mins
                    Year of Release: 2005
                    Genre: Horror


                    Director(s): Eli Roth
                    Writer(s): Eli Roth

                    Cast: Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson, Eythor Gudjonsson, Barbara Nedeljakova, Jan Vlasák, Jana Kaderabkova, Jennifer Lim, Keiko Seiko


                    © Christianfilm October 2007

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                    • Saw (DVD) / DVD / 61 Readings / 55 Ratings
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                      28.10.2007 09:08
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                      A very visual horror which grips you from start to finish.

                      > Synopsis

                      Having woken up in an abandoned toilet block, Adam and Dr. Lawrence Gordon find themselves shackled at either end with no memory of how they got there and a dead body sprawled across the floor between them. But it soon becomes apparent that they have become the playthings of psychotic serial killer "Jigsaw" and unless they solve his cunning clues and do as they are told they will both be dead within 8 hours.


                      > Opinion

                      For me, the majority of modern horror films substitute classy suspense and genuine fear with cheap thrills and more blood & guts than you would find in a slaughter house. But occasionally a new film comes along and tries to buck the trend by giving the audience the best of both worlds, a splattering of suspense but with plenty of gore which modern horror fans crave. "Saw" is one such film which manages to make you jump from the unexpected whilst cringe at the level of macabre.

                      What is pretty surprising is that "Saw" has a huge amount of storyline, more than I would have expected for such a modern horror film. We have plenty of back story which attempts to explain why the psychotic killer has not only targeted his latest two victims but to the level of depravity he will stoop to in order to achieve his goal. What is that goal? Well unsurprisingly it is to teach his victims a lesson based on there crimes. In some ways the story pays homage to another modern film "Seven" with both of them touching on the subject of morality although for me "Seven" was far more suspenseful than "Saw". As well as the back story we also get a parallel story which sees two detectives racing against the clock to try and arrest the serial killer before his depraved games claim anymore victims. But despite "Saw" having a fair amount of back story and the subsequent parallel storyline the main emphasis of the film is the situation featuring the two men imprisoned in the toilet block and there bid for freedom. Amazingly this works really well and the way the whole film unravels as they piece together the clues to not only understand why they have been chosen but what they must do to evade their demise keeps you watching, not to the extent that you are on the edge of your seats but holds your attention even in moments where not much seems to be happening. What is very much key to this films success is that it is completely unpredictable and even though you may think you have the whole thing sussed the chances are you are going to be completely wrong. Right up until the films dying breaths I was left wondering what to expect next, something which many modern films fail to deliver. But there is a negative, well two really, at times some of the set ups feel overly complex as well as confusing and this is made worse by the flicking between the two victims in the toilets, the back story and also the parallel one leaving you desperately trying to sort out what is going on. The other negative is with Jigsaw the psychotic serial killer, other than a quick hint to why he is called Jigsaw the film never really explains the association with the name. Maybe it didn't need it, but I felt it would have definitely helped explain things a lot more if they had explored this association to greater lengths.

                      As already mentioned the film tries to be a jack of all trades when it comes to suspense and gore, giving plenty of both although focusing more on the gore than anything else. For me, being shocked by the unexpected is far more of a scare than just seeing blood and guts strewn all over the screen, but "Saw" cleverly combines these elements to near perfection. Most of these scares come from the elaborate torture that Jigsaw inflicts on his victims both psychological and physical, but also in the ingenuity of his methods of torture. Instead of just watching the victims get there limbs hacked off with a chainsaw, these poor people are part of a game where they have to put themselves through both physical and mental torture to try and escape the traps they find themselves in. This really works as you are kept in suspense wondering whether they will escape but also how disgusting their final demise will be if they fail, and for the most their demise is shocking, well for me anyway. Not every moment of horror hits the spot and some does fall into the category of gore for gores sake but for the most "Saw" does a reasonable job in this department. Where the film does fail is in its lasting effect, for a while afterwards you do find yourself thinking about the torture sequences but they no longer have the scare factor and you are certainly not going to be frightened anymore of walking into a public toilet block than you were before watching "Saw".

                      Another aspect of this film that works strongly in its favour is the lack of recognizable Hollywood hunks in the key roles, detracting from the film with baggage from previous characters. That is not to say the key actors are unknowns, far from it, but with the exception of Danny Glover none of them have ever really had major roles in any of their other films. Taking one of the lead roles is Leigh Whannell as Adam, interestingly one of the writers behind "Saw", and opposite him as the other victim is Carl Elwes as Dr. Lawrence Gordon. Together in the confines of the toilet block these two work really well together, both delivering emotions of fear and despair but in the few moments of back history where they are working by themselves or with others they seem out of there depth and a little weak. Thankfully, the majority of their time on screen is in the toilet block and for two pretty much unrecognizable actors they do a good job of making their characters interesting. But there is a problem when it comes to there characters, although they are interesting and to some degree I felt a little sorry for them being incarcerated against there will, I really didn't care whether one or both of them met an untimely demise, in fact I think part of me was wishing for an apt bloody ending for them both. Appearing in the majority of the parallel story is Danny Glover as Detective David Tapp, a man obsessed with arresting Jigsaw. Whilst Glover does a good job I was always going to struggle with separating this performance and character to that of Detective Murtaugh which he played in the "Lethal Weapon" series of films. Does he achieve it, well in some ways yes as it is a much more serious character but I still couldn't help thinking where's Mel Gibson when you need him.

                      Finally when it comes to "Saw" newbie director and writer James Wan has done a brilliant job, not just because he shows talent despite his lack of commercial experience but he has delivered a film which has both suspense and gore within the confines of a very small budget of just over a million dollars. Now don't get me wrong as the direction is by no means as masterful as say Hitchcock but he manages to create a decent amount of tension throughout the film which keeps you interested right up until the climax. For me the one thing he could have done a lot better was to take out some of the over complexity when moving between the now and the past as this really did make the film at times rather confusing. But for the whole he has done a very good job of creating a film which appeals to both the blood thirsty hordes and those who need a little more in the suspense area.


                      > Film Summary

                      When it boils down to it "Saw" is pretty typical of the current trend in gore infested horror films and in fact has now spawned 3 sequels which numbers 2 and 3 are definitely of a similar calibre. Whether you will really enjoy "Saw" all depends on what you need to be frightened, if it is lots of in your face blood and guts you will not be disappointed and if you need suspense then "Saw" has enough to keep you satisfied, but if you need anything else then you are more than likely going to come away disappointed. For me the deciding factor as to why I personally enjoy "Saw" is the ingenuity of the torture sequences both in what you see but also in the wait for the inevitable.


                      > DVD Features

                      I would hazard a guess that the limited budget for "Saw" did not stretch to any credible extras on the DVD as the few in this package are pitiful to say the least. What is most disappointing is the lack of an audio commentary, which has now appeared on different DVD versions of this film. Other than a music video by metal band Fear Factory, which can be watched in either a cut format or uncut and yes that is the only reason why this DVD package is called the "Uncut Version", as well as a making of said music video the only real extra is a small feature called "Sawed Off". At less than 3 minutes this is a very brief and slightly glossy look at how "Saw" came about and to be honest really tells you nothing about how the film was made and relies more on quick snippets from the film than any behind the scenes footage.


                      > DVD Quality

                      Despite the low budget, both the picture and audio quality of this DVD are as good as any big budget package. Colours through out the whole film are solid and although several scenes are filmed under subdued lighting the picture appears crystal clear. On a couple of occasions I felt there was a bit of noise within the picture, mainly a couple of what I would call crackles but not to the extent that it spoils the film. Sound wise the DVD is great with amazing use of all channels to build atmosphere with subtle sounds appearing from absolutely anywhere at any moment. Whilst the dialogue and soundtrack mix perfectly so that you never feel that one is over riding the other.


                      > DVD Summary

                      Well to say I was disappointed with the DVD package in terms of features would be an understatement. The few extras on this package are a complete waste of time and I don't honestly understand why they even bothered to include them. On the other hand the audio and visual presentations are brilliant and really help bring the film to life within your living room. As for calling this the "Uncut Version" well it is exactly the same as the one screened in UK cinemas and the only reason I know off as to why it has been called this is because of the additional music video.


                      > Price & Availability

                      www.amazon.co.uk : £5.48


                      > Technical Details

                      Certificate: 18
                      Duration: 102 mins
                      Year of Release: 2004
                      Genre: Horror

                      DVD Release: 2005
                      Subtitles: English
                      Audio: English
                      Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
                      Region: 2
                      Number of Discs: 1


                      Director(s): James Wan
                      Writer(s): James Wan, Leigh Whannell

                      Cast: Leigh Whannell, Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Ken Leung, Shawnee Smith, Tobin Bell


                      © Christianfilm October 2007

                      NB. This review also appears at www.maximovie.co.uk

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                      • Rounders (DVD) / DVD / 66 Readings / 62 Ratings
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                        24.10.2007 12:10
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                        A reformed gambler is drawn back to the game of poker and the dangers that it holds.

                        > Synopsis

                        Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) a promising young student and avid poker player, manages to lose all his money in one big game with the Russian Mafia. Vowing to never play again he sets about sorting his life out through hard work. But nine months later and seemingly able to keep his addiction in check, things take a turn for the worse when his best friend, Lester ‘Worm’ Murphy (Edward Norton) is released from prison and convinces him to start playing again.


                        > Opinion

                        It seems that over the last decade the game of Poker has become increasingly popular, with tournaments and games being held on TV most nights of the week, you can even buy your own chips and gambling tables in high street shops. So it is no surprise that the men behind the Hollywood movies would attempt to tap into this current fad with a glossy, star studded film about the world of poker. Whilst they have certainly achieved in making a very engrossing, slick drama, they have failed to portray the life of a gambler in anything but a glamorous light.

                        The concept behind the film of an ex-gambler being dragged back into the world of high stakes poker is actually quite good and sort of demonstrates the allure of the cards that any gambler has. But sadly the writers have failed to capitalize on this interesting premise by not only failing to show the life of a gambler realistically but also focussing too heavily on the drama at the poker tables than away from it. These two major faults combine to make what is quite a flawed film although one which still manages to maintain a certain amount of audience interest. The faults start quite early on in the film and after we see Mike lose a huge amount of money he seems to be able to walk away from Poker without any problems, anyone who has ever had a gambling addiction will soon tell you this is near on impossible and the lure of the cards will always tempt you. The writers do redeem themselves slightly as they attempt to show that even after 9 months he still has the mind of a Poker player but they could have done so much more to demonstrate how gambling ruins your life. This problem with not being realistic carries on throughout the movie and when Mike returns to the table which in turn causes his relationship with his girlfriend to end as well as his future as a lawyer, he doesn’t even bat an eyelid, in fact he laughs it off and heads for the poker tables again. Part of the issue with the film is that it is trying to be fast paced and in doing so has caused the problem with the lack of realism by skimming over things which are important, such as any real back history to the characters. One of the worst cases of this attempt to be fast paced happens when Mike and Lester take a huge beating for cheating at a card game, but they seemingly manage to pull themselves up off the street and get straight back on with things.

                        Another huge issue is with the dialogue in the movie, as it is littered with technical references to the game of Poker. Now I am no novice at playing Poker (nor an expert), but most of this dialogue went straight over my head leaving me wondering what on earth they were on about. This is heightened by the film relying on a narration from the character Mike where he attempts to enlighten us to the mind of a Poker player. Sadly this fails to really work due to the fact that what he says is so full of technical mumbo jumbo that it distracts you from what is happening on the screen. That is not to say the writers have done a terrible job with the film, far from it and I can honestly say that there is enough drama and action to keep you focussed on the screen, especially when they show one of the many poker games which feature in the film.

                        I also feel the characters and the cast seriously let the film down, and for a film which is billed as having a star studded cast I feel a little bit cheated. The problems with the characters come from the fact that the film doesn’t really stop to give us any real back history. Yes there is the narration which drops a few clues to why Mike and Worm are best buddies, but I felt it incredibly hard to really get a feel for the characters and also struggled as to why Mike remained loyal to Lester despite his cheating. Which is a huge point for me when it comes to how much I enjoy a film, especially a drama ,as I need to be able to relate to and understand the actions of the main characters. I also felt that the casting of Matt Damon in the lead was a huge mistake as he just doesn’t show any emotion at all. If you could ever criticize someone of monotone acting it is Matt Damon in “Rounders”. Saying that, he looked amazingly comfortable round the card tables and you really got a sense that he knew what he was doing. My issues with the cast don’t just stop at Damon and also found Norton incredibly hard to relate to. My main problem with Norton is that he just doesn’t look convincing as a quick talking card hustler and although he handled a deck of cards efficiently his mannerisms didn’t fit the character. Where I feel really cheated by the film is the labelling of it as a star studded cast. Whilst I cannot deny that the film has some remarkable actors and actresses in it, such as John Turturro, John Malkovich, Famke Jannsen and Martin Landau, the film focuses so strongly on Damon’s character and to some extent Norton’s character that these big names are nothing more than bit players.

                        Although I have huge issues with the way the film glamorises the life of a card player, and skims over much of the nasty side. I have to admit that director John Dahl has done a good job in making a fast paced, slick drama which will undoubtedly appeal to the legions of Poker fans. His style of shooting the poker scenes is brilliant and the mood he creates with the effective use of lighting really assists the film. I just wish he had taken the time to give us a better look at each of the characters allowing us to relate to them in a greater way than we can as the movie stands.


                        > Summary

                        Whilst the concept for the film is indeed very good the fact that the film fails to paint the world of Poker in anything but a positive light is rather annoying. Yes it does to some agree show the allure of the game to gamblers and does attempt to show how the addictiveness of the game affects your life, but it never does it to the extent that it feels real. Of course the film is nothing more than a slick action drama about the world of Poker and to paint it in a truly realistic light would have probably put many a viewer off of watching it. I also feel that the casting of the film seriously lets it down, with monotone Damon showing no real emotion and Norton looking uneasy as a hustler being the two main faults. Plus the over technical dialogue will leave many a viewer bewildered as to what is going on. So whilst I may find it a reasonable slick drama, I feel it would probably only find a true fan in those who enjoy the game of Poker.


                        > Price & Availability

                        Amazon.co.uk: £7.97


                        > Technical Details

                        Certificate: 15
                        Duration: 116 mins
                        Year of Release: 1998
                        Genre: Drama

                        Director(s): John Dahl
                        Writer(s): David Levien, Brian Koppelman

                        Cast: Matt Damon, Edward Norton, John Turturro, John Malkovich, Gretchen Mol, Martin Landau, Famke Janssen, Merwin Goldsmith, Sonny Zito, Michael Rispoli, Mal Z. Lawrence, Josh Mostel



                        © Christianfilm October 2007

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                        • More +
                          21.10.2007 11:14
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                          A heartless brother and his autistic brother hit the road in a journey of understanding.

                          > Synopsis

                          When Charlie Babbit (Tom Cruise) discovers that the huge inheritance he believed he was entitled to has been put into trust for an autistic brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), that he didn't even know existed, he takes matters into his own hands. Kidnapping Raymond from the care home, that he has lived in for the most of his life, the two go on a road trip back to Los Angeles, and learn about each other and life along the way.


                          > Opinion

                          Sometimes the Hollywood glitz machine manages to deliver a film which is not only commercially entertaining but is also educational in its subject matter. One such film is 1988's "Rain Man", an exceptional film which not only won the Oscar for Best Picture but also showed that a film can have everything from a decent story, fine performances, humour, emotion, drama, despair and make them work in perfect harmony to make a touching yet also entertaining experience.

                          On the surface the storyline to this great film may seem just a simple tale of greed, but below the surface there is a much greater story, one of a journey of understanding, compassion and learning which touches us, the audience, from start to finish. There are no clever twists or cunning subterfuge which make you wonder what is going to happen next, it is the sheer beauty of the developing relationship between the two brothers especially that of Charlie as not only does he realise that he loves his brother but also his understanding of the mental affliction which Raymond lives with day in day out. It is this journey that makes you sit there watching every moment, taking pleasure in the littlest things which although not played for humour makes you smile but at the same time giving you an insight into what Autism is all about. But the film is not perfect and at times the way director Barry Levinson headlines the emotion he wants to draw from the audience is embarrassingly obvious, but it works and it does achieve its goal. It also sometimes feels that Levinson dwells too long on a scene where the emotional punch has been delivered and this dragging out makes it lose its effectiveness. This need to overly dwell is part of the reason that the film feels uncomfortably long at 128 minutes and just cutting out some of these moments who have helped to not only make the film shorter but also move at a much more consistent pace.

                          Now I will readily admit that I know very little about autism and cannot think of a single person that I have met who suffers from this, but for me the character of Raymond and also the performance of Dustin Hoffman in this role is probably the biggest reason why this film was such a huge success on it's release and why I still enjoy watching it now. Sometimes I feel that the level of affliction Raymond suffers from is a bit over the top but even so it is an amazingly interesting character which helps the audience understand how Autism can affect someone. It is also testament to Hoffman as an actor that he manages to portray such a memorable character without over egging it, from the nervous ticks, to the need for routine and most impressively his mental ability with numbers as well as remembering things. Not only does he achieve great characterisation but he also keeps it going throughout the film, never lapsing for a moment. For Tom Cruise this was a role which proved that whilst he could deliver the over top, cocky performances such as those in "Top Gun" and "Cocktail" he could also do a reasonable job of drama. Coming in between "Cocktail" and "Born on the Fourth of July" this was a huge stepping stone which although still relied on Cruise's ability to be over the top also allowed him to demonstrate that he didn't need to be so flamboyant and basically cheesy. For me the best parts of Cruise's performance appear later on in the film as his understanding of what looking after someone with Autism entails, he manages to say so much with a simple expression rather than his usual grin. That is not to say his performance is perfect and sometimes you get the feeling he was not so much in awe of Hoffman but trying to show off in front of a peer. Is there anyone else in the film, well yes most notably the lovely Valeria Golino as Charlie's girlfriend but to be honest the film is about Charlie and Raymond and there bond.

                          Whilst I have already criticised director Barry Levinson for a couple of flaws which spoil this film slightly I will applaud him for managing to deliver a film which is as much entertaining as it is educational. You get a sense that he wanted to make a film which raised awareness of autism with out being overly factual and he certainly does this side brilliantly. Also the way he manages to make moments funny with out feeling like he is mocking this illness, such as when Raymond walks into Charlie's bedroom whilst he is having sex is very funny and helps lighten the mood of the film.


                          > Film Summary

                          So whilst I readily admit that "Rain Man" has its flaws it is still one of the best films I have seen which manages to combine entertainment with education. The two best things about the film are the brilliant journey of understanding and Hoffman's performance, which even now after nearly 20 years and numerous watches I still enjoy. Even Cruise puts in a performance which for those who dislike him would be reasonably surprised at. I actually find it hard to say if you like such and such then you will more than likely enjoy this as other than the loosely related "I am Sam" I cannot think of another similar film to compare it to.


                          > Price & Availability

                          www.amazon.co.uk : £5.97


                          > Technical Details

                          Certificate: 12
                          Duration: 128 mins
                          Year of Release: 1988
                          Genre: Drama

                          Director(s): Barry Levinson
                          Writer(s): Barry Morrow

                          Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise, Valeria Golino, Gerald R. Molen, Jack Murdock, Michael D. Roberts, Bonnie Hunt


                          © Christianfilm October 2007

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                          • Catch Me If You Can (DVD) / DVD / 58 Readings / 53 Ratings
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                            17.10.2007 08:57
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                            A teenage con artist fiddles his way through jobs as a pilot, doctor and lawyer.

                            > Synopsis

                            After watching his parents marriage fail due to the failure of his fathers business, teenager Frank Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio) goes on a rollercoaster of an adventure as he cons his way into jobs as a pilot, doctor and lawyer, all amassing him a vast amount of wealth. But hot on his trail is FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) who is determined to bring the young con man in.


                            > Opinion

                            Quite often when you read the blurb on the back of a DVD case, that despite what sounds like an intriguing plot as well a star studded cast and an exceptionally talented director the film is going to disappoint. Such is the case of "Catch Me if You Can" a film inspired by a true story of cat and mouse between a young con man and an FBI agent. Whilst disappointing the film is not terrible, it just has a few too many flaws which detract from what could have been a decent film.

                            One of the main issues I have with the film is that whilst it may have drawn inspiration from a true story the screenplay has obviously gone through tinsel town’s glitz machine and resulted in a slightly over the top, implausible plot line which although entertaining lacks the realism that the film deserves. Now there is nothing like a bit of escapism but this is pushing the boundaries a bit far and you really have to disengage your brain to accept some of the set ups and cons which are shown in the film. Maybe these actually are real cons and events but the way the film delivers them makes them seem cartoon like in their implausibility. Another huge problem with the film is you are split as to who you are championing. Do we route for Abagnale who is enjoying himself as he cons his way through life or are we supposed to route for Hanratty as he tires to uphold the law and bring the young man in. The film never really asks us to champion one or another and that leaves you in a conundrum as there is no good guy, bad guy set up and so I found I couldn't feel for either, and wasn't to concerned at a possible outcome as to who wins. More problems continue with the fact that the story line whilst entertaining is pretty flat, there are no real elements of suspense or moments which leave you drop jawed as something amazing happens. Everything seems to be two dimensional and just plays along in the hope that it is enough to keep you watching. I wish I could say the issues stop there, but the film is also spoilt by some terrible cliché dialogue which feels completely unoriginal. Saying all that, one of the good things about the story is that it moves along at a gallop and thankfully you are not left long at any time to ponder the implausibility of what you have just watched. You would think that I don't like this film, but when you disengage your brain the film is reasonable enjoyable and entertaining.

                            The casting of the film is a bit hit and miss, with a few good performances but equally some poor ones, mainly due to miscasting. DiCaprio show his usual talent for playing characters younger than himself and whilst his performance is not the most intense of his career his is probably the best performance in the film. But on the downside of this is his character is actually quite annoying and at times wafer thin, leaving you with a sense of who is this guy meant to be. Sadly although DiCaprio puts in a good performance, not once are you able to become so immerse that you forget you are watching him act. The same can be said of Hanks in his role as Carl Hanratty and in my opinion a major part of miscasting. Hanks excels at playing the nice guys but struggles at everything else and whilst Hanratty is by no means a bad guy it is a difficult character to play. It doesn't help that the character itself is seriously under worked making him just another character, no real background or motivation. Then maybe that was the whole idea, make his character so lifeless that he just has work, but it fails to really deliver this in the film. Other prominent actors in the film include the likes of Christopher Walker, Martin Sheen and James Brolin but again all their characters are seriously under worked even though they are minor characters. The underlying issue is not so much with quality of the acting but the under worked characters which fail to involve you in what they are doing.

                            What does come as a surprise is that this is a piece of directional work from Steven Spielberg, and from such a great director you would expect more. The whole film lacks the intensity that the concept deserves and at times the whole thing feels slightly rushed, pushed out just to make money, well a lot of director's make films for money rather than artistic merit so why not Spielberg. Part of this problem probably stems from 2002 being another year where we see Spielberg put out two movies in this case "Minority Report" in the summer and "Catch Me If You Can" in the winter. But despite feeling rushed the film has some positives, the most prominent one being that it captures the feel of the 60s, when it is set, brilliantly both in set design, costume and sound track.


                            > Film Summary

                            This is a film which technically has a lot of issues, but as already mentioned, if you can disengage your brain and watch it just for the entertainment factor then it is reasonably enjoyable. For me the first time I watched it I was disappointed as I did expect so much more from a top director and leading actors, but since then I have learnt to appreciate it for what it is, just a commercial piece of entertainment. If you enjoy films such as "Ocean's Eleven" and "Matchstick Men" then you will probably enjoy this.


                            > Price & Availability

                            www.amazon.co.uk : £5.97


                            > Technical Details

                            Certificate: 12
                            Duration: 135 mins
                            Year of Release: 2002
                            Genre: Crime, drama

                            Director(s): Steven Spielberg
                            Writer(s): Jeff Nathanson

                            Cast: Leoardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walkern, Martin Sheen, James Brolin, Jennifer Garner


                            © Christianfilm October 2007

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                            • Ali (DVD) / DVD / 69 Readings / 65 Ratings
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                              14.10.2007 11:11
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                              A biopic of boxer Muhammad Ali covering the years 1964 - 1974.

                              > Synopsis

                              “Ali” is the biopic based on the life of legendary heavy weight boxer Muhammad Ali from the period 1964, where he clashed with the infamous Sonny Liston, through a decade to 1974 and the now famous ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ fight against George Foreman.


                              > Opinion

                              The first time I sat down to watch “Ali” I actually turned it off after about 15 minutes as it was nothing like what I expected. Not only did I expect a full biopic of his life from his early days but I also had become accustomed to the glitzy, highly polished biopics which Hollywood usually churns out and “Ali” is nothing of the sorts. Instead “Ali” concentrates solely on a turbulent ten year period in the fighter’s life where he finds himself fighting for his boxing licence in the courts after refusing to go to war for America. But also, the whole film has a much rougher feel to it and at times it feels like you are watching an unedited, rough cut of a film. Saying that, I recently revisited the film and can now appreciate it fully as quite a masterful film, which although is by no means perfect, actually shows what is in my opinion a much more honest account of his life and one which doesn’t need a highly polished production to deliver a powerful story.

                              As previously mentioned “Ali” just covers a small period of the boxer’s life, but it as a period which was one of the most turbulent. The film covers in detail his conversion to Islam, his troubled personal life which saw the failure of his marriage and also his fight for the right to box after falling foul of the law when he refused the American draft. Whilst this single decade is obviously a bit of a disappointment, especially as the years prior and post this era have been just as dramatic, it allows the film to really go into significant depth on what happened. I have to admit that I wasn’t around for this era and only really know about the legend from more recent appearances and also from the countless books which chronicle his life, but it is really fascinating to see the troubles he went through. One of the best things about the film is that it disperses with the usual glitz which dominates biopics and its rawness allows the whole emphasis of the film to be on the story. It must have taken a lot of courage for director Michael Mann to not only make a film about someone who is still alive but also do it in such a manner that bucks the usual trend. It’s also interesting to see the depth of Ali’s relationships with all those around him from Malcolm X, to other boxers and most significantly his team who helped him train. The whole film surprising manages to hit an emotional note as you see a side of Ali which was somewhat different to the public persona which many of us only know.

                              Of course with a film about one of the most iconic boxers of all time the film is going to have a few action sequences featuring the actual fights and training sessions. Compared to other boxing films, such as “Rocky” and “Cinderella Man”, the fight scenes feel a bit under worked, but then for me they actually fitted in with the general rawness of the film. There were very few moments when it felt like a fight was overly choreographed and there were definitely no moments of over the top posing, although watching Will Smith bring alive the Ali shuffle and his general showman ship in the ring was an absolute delight. Again I feel Michael Mann has done a brilliant job of recreating these fight sequences and some of the clever camera angles he uses really makes you feel like you are in the middle of the ring getting smacked senseless. Likewise with the training sessions, they don’t feel like they are a fitness DVD which is the usual case with boxing films, but are far more realistic, displaying the intensity and emotion of the moment rather than bulging biceps and quads. A lot of praise should also go to the numerous real boxers who were drafted in to play the parts of legendary boxers such as Sonny Liston and George Foreman. For men who are not trained actors they did a brilliant job of convincing me that they were the great men themselves and I am sure using these real boxers aided in making the fights more realistic.

                              One of the most memorable things to come out of this film is that Will Smith is more than capable of serious acting, quite a feat seeing that not only is Ali one of the most iconic sportsmen of the last century but also in the fact that he is still alive. I did wonder how effective Smith would be at playing a heavy weight boxer seeing that prior to the film he always looked slightly scrawny. But not only is his performance first rate but the amount of training he must have undertook to build his frame up to that of Ali’s is impressive in its own right. When I say that not once do you feel that you are watching Will Smith perform is an understatement, it is as if Ali himself was appearing in the film. From his prowess in the ring, to his jive talking, poetic put downs of other boxers everything captured the legend of Muhammad Ali at his best. But it is not just Smith which makes this film so memorable, and performances from Jamie Foxx as well as Jon Voight really help make this such a great film. In fact I was unaware that Jon Voight actually appeared in the film as boxing commentator Howard Cossell and unless you knew this you really wouldn’t recognize him. That is one of they keys to this film, even though it has some very prominent actors you never once feel that you are watching the actors but the actual men themselves. Special mention should go to Mario Van Peebles, who again I didn’t realise appeared in the film, but puts in a stunning performance as Malcolm X.

                              If I had one real criticism of “Ali” is that at times it does drag it’s feet, and at over 2 and a half hours long you do feel every moment of it. Whilst I can understand that director Michael Mann was aiming to make a different sort of biopic, one which worked on fact rather than poetic licence, it felt at times that some scenes were dragged out longer than necessary resulting in it losing some of the intensity of the drama. One such scene which although highly moving, is Ali running through the African ghettos in the lead up to the legendary ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, everything about it built up to a nice emotional high but then it wne ton for about 2 minutes too much. Despite this I still feel Mann has done a remarkable job of making a film which really puts you in touch with the focal character rather than attempting to woo you with Hollywood glam.


                              > Film Summary

                              For me “Ali” is a very memorable film, one which manages to touch me no matter how many times I watch, with its raw, sometimes mean and moody production it differs from the majority of Hollywood Biopics and in doing so paints a much grittier picture than we have become accustomed to. Whilst it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it is well worth a viewing for two reasons. Firstly you learn a lot more about this Boxing legend than you would expect and also you get to witness one of Will Smith’s best performances so far and one which I feel should have won him an Oscar.


                              > DVD Features

                              This DVD package comes on two discs with the first disc featuring the film, whilst the second disc holds the bonus features. Sadly on this version there is no audio commentary which later appeared on the Director’s Cut.

                              Behind the scenes – This is purely a montage of behind the scenes footage, which heavily focuses on Will Smith and Jon Voight. Whilst slightly disappointing in the fact that it is purely a montage with no information on the making of the film, it is interesting to see that many of the actors stayed in character even when not filming. At just over 10 minutes long it is quite enjoyable and the adlib verbal sparring between Smith and Voight as they stay in character is very funny.

                              The Making of Ali – This is a much more substantial feature and at just under half an hour packs a lot in. Made in the usual style of film footage, behind the scenes footage and interviews it comes over thankfully as informative rather than a promotional piece and focuses quite a bit on the choice of Will Smith to play Ali and his transformation physically. Some of the best bits of this feature are when Muhammad Ali himself is on set watching the fighting scenes and despite his crippling illness still interacting with Will Smith. Despite focussing mainly on Smith it does deliver a lot of information on other aspects of the film. One negative is that some of the scenes which appear in the behind the scenes feature are repeated here.

                              Cast & Crew Soundbites – This feature, or actually a set of 17 features, are small edited interviews with key personnel from the cast through to the crew which can only be watched one at a time rather than all at once. Whilst some of the interviews are definitely more interesting than others there is a lot of repetition of information which came across in the “Making of Ali” feature. Probably one of the best interviews is with Michael Mann where he explains that he didn’t want to make a film which idolizes Ali but one which has a really authentic, realistic feel to it.

                              Also on the DVD is the trailer for the film which actually rounds this off quite nicely.


                              > DVD Quality

                              This is quite a difficult film to judge on picture quality as the whole film has a lot of rawness about it, but any problems with the picture I feel are from the original print rather than issues with the transfer. Where there seems to be problems are scenes which are filmed indoors where the image has a slight softness about it but then I am sure this was intentional. Otherwise colours are solid and the whole thing has an authentic feel about it. Audio wise the film is very impressive and during the boxing sequences the way the sound uses all the channels makes you feel like you are in the ring getting punched about. Otherwise, dialogue mainly comes through the front channel and the soundtrack spreads itself out nicely between the left and right fields, although at times this feels slightly week balanced against the dialogue.


                              > DVD Summary

                              Although the Behind the Scenes feature is amusing and The Making of is informative the quantity and quality of the bonus features is disappointing. My main criticism is that a lot of the interviews and clips are used numerous times making the bonus features feel very repetitive. Also the lack of an audio commentary is a huge disappointment and makes this DVD package feel quite week. The audio and sound quality is satisfactory although I feel that the way the film was shot and edited makes it feel slightly raw.


                              > Price & Availability

                              www.amazon.co.uk : £6.97


                              > Technical Details

                              Certificate: 15 (Contains some swearing and fighting)
                              Duration: 156 mins
                              Year of Release: 2001
                              Genre: Biopic, sport, drama

                              DVD Release: 2002
                              Subtitles: English
                              Audio: English
                              Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
                              Region: 2
                              Number of Discs: 2


                              Director(s): Michael Mann
                              Writer(s): Gregory Allen Howard (story), Stephen J. Rivele (screenplay)

                              Cast: Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Jon Voight, Mario Van Peebles, Ron Silver, Jada Pinkett Smith, Nona Gaye


                              © Christianfilm October 2007

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                              • The War (DVD) / DVD / 55 Readings / 53 Ratings
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                                11.10.2007 11:54
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                                A tale of a family dealing with the destructive nature of war on a domestic front.

                                > Synopsis

                                It's the summer of 1970, and Stu Simmons (Elijah Wood) along with his sister Lidia (Lexi Randall) and their friends, are spending their time building a tree house, in an attempt to escape the daily drudgery of their poor family life in the deep Mississippi. Their father, Stephen (Kevin Costner) is equally struggling to come to terms with being ridiculed as poor white trash, but also the trauma he witnessed while serving in Vietnam. As Stephen struggles to come to terms with everything, Stu and Lidia have their own war to deal with, as the local roughnecks, the Lipnicks, want to steal their tree house.


                                > Opinion

                                There have been lots of films made about the travesty of war, some great, some terrible but very few manage to balance the message they are trying to deliver with a decent storyline without spoiling the films overall feeling with being purely a political statement. 1994s "The War" manages to achieve than fine balance, admirably delivering a message about the destructive nature of war on family life whilst also charming the audience with a tale about two children and their own battles.

                                The story line to "The War" is a very multileveled experience with different elements seamlessly blending into one with a constant theme about war tying them cleverly together. The first of these storylines focuses on the Vietnam veteran Stephen Simmons and his struggles with life after the war, as not only is he struggling with the trauma of what he witnessed but also coming back to family life where money is short and jobs are hard to come by. This element to the film provides the basis for the whole film as everything ties into Stephen's story, but it is the sensitive way that this element is dealt with which for me makes this film so good. Instead of making the character of Stephen a bitter man who feels he is owed for his time in the forces, he is a very peaceful man, having become that way after witnessing war at its destructive worst. One of the finest moments of the film is when he is explaining what it is like to be on the frontline to his son Stu, a beautifully choreographed scene which combines dramatic war scenes with a touching piece of dialogue. The relationship between Stephen and Stu is another strong element which makes up the story, as you get a real strong bond between the two as Stu idolises his father despite his shortfalls since returning from war. There are some great moments in this film where Stephen and Stu really bond, usually where Stephen has to teach his son what is right and wrong. The third and probably most significant elements to the plot is the storyline around Stu, his sister and friends as they spend a summer building a tree house and battling with the children of the local roughnecks. In an attempt to bring the lesson of war down to a situation that those of us who have never been in the frontline can appreciate, we see the destructive nature of a child's battle get out of hand. For me the way the film manages to deliver its message through each of these interlinked scenarios without being completely in your face is first class and is with out doubt down to a brilliant story and some expert directing. If I was to find fault with the storyline, it is in the penultimate scene which sees the children stage an all out battle with each other using weapons which Stephen brought back from the war. In some ways it is a little over the top, especially if you sit and analyse the film, but in relation to the story and message I feel that is justified and works well.

                                When it comes to the acting in "The War" I have to admit it is brilliant, a fact I struggle with as it stars Elijah Wood and Kevin Costner, two actors who I honestly feel are over rated. At just the tender age of 13 Elijah Wood puts in a performance as Stu which for me surpasses nearly everything he has done since. You honestly forget that you are watching an actor but become immersed in this child's life and all of his battles. In some ways Woods performance reminds me of a young River Phoenix in "Stand By Me" and the way the film is made leads to some comparisons between the two films. Costner again puts in a performance unexpected of an actor who I often feel tries to steal the show when ever he can, but in the case of "The War" he puts in much quieter performance one which is in tune with his character. Like with Wood, you forget that you are watching a highly paid actor and become involved in this mans own turmoil's. Whilst there are numerous other top performances from the likes of Mare Winningham as Stu's mother Lois, and Lexi Randall as Lidia Joanne Simmons, the film belongs to the performances of Elijah Wood and Kevin Costner. Of course the performances are not everything, and all the characters from the Lipnicks through to Lidia's soul singing friends add a lot of charm and depth to this film.

                                The main reason I was initially attracted to watch this film was due to Jon Avnet being at the helm as director. When I first watched this I had also just seen his previous outing as director, the brilliant "Fried Green Tomatoes" and this kept up the momentum. Avent not only manages to bring the storyline to life but he also captures the period and setting of the film perfectly. The whole film has a very autumnal feel to it and that combined with a soundtrack which heavily features soul music makes for a surprisingly relaxing viewing experience. My only criticism of him as a director would be the previously mentioned penultimate scene which although I feel is justified may have been worked to better effect.


                                > Film Summary

                                Despite now being 13 years old, "The War" is still as charming as when I first watched it but it also hasn't lost any of its impact with its message. The whole film, from plot, acting, directing and soundtrack all work brilliantly together, but most importantly it manages to deliver a message whilst not detracting from what is a very engrossing drama. Maybe it's not a film I would recommend watching more than once, although I must admit I have probably watched it more than a handful of times since it's release, it is still a very good film which will not only touch the hearts of those who watch it but will also make them think about war and it's destructive nature on a more domestic front.


                                > Price & Availability

                                www.amazon.co.uk : £8.99


                                > Technical Details

                                Certificate: 12
                                Duration: 120 mins
                                Year of Release: 1994
                                Genre: Drama

                                Director(s): Jon Avnet
                                Writer(s): Kathy McWorter

                                Cast: Elijah Wood, Kevin Costner, Mare Winningham, Lexi Randall, LaToya Chisholm


                                © Christianfilm October 2007

                                NB. This review also appears at www.maximovie.co.uk

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                                • Matchstick Men (DVD) / DVD / 66 Readings / 62 Ratings
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                                  07.10.2007 11:58
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                                  A con artists life is suddenly thrown into turmoil when his daughter arrives on the scene.

                                  > Synopsis

                                  A phobia stricken con artist, Roy Walker (Nicolas Cage) and his young partner, Frank Mercer (Sam Rockwell) are on the verge of pulling of one of the most lucrative swindles of their careers. But when Roy's teenage daughter, from his failed marriage, suddenly appears on the scene, everything in his organized life is thrown into turmoil.


                                  > Opinion

                                  There was only ever going to be one reason why I wanted to see "Matchstick Men", that being Nicolas Cage, an actor who I have enjoyed in every film he has appeared in, and although not the best reason to watch a film has worked pretty successfully so far. That said, having watched the film a few times now on DVD it is not just the brilliant performance of Nicolas Cage, which makes this film so watch able but also the interesting plot and equally interesting characters, which for me makes this film an all round enjoyable viewing experience.

                                  One of the things I like the most about the film is that it follows a great three part structure, which although seems to lack a little something in the middle section is compensated by a brilliant intro which hooks you right away and a final section which again draws you back in for a very enjoyable last half hour. Right from the opening seconds of the film, it builds up the character of Roy Walker, the films main focus, and within the first 5 minutes we learn that he suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder brought on from his phobias, mainly that of being agoraphobic Of course this is not a laughing matter but the film manages to bring over his problems in such away that it doesn't mock this illness but still makes it light hearted so that it doesn't make the film too serious, all the time building up this fascinating character. Again the film wastes no time in dealing the main facts and we are given a quick glimpse into the world of the con man as Roy and his partner swindle money out of an old couple with a telephone scam. If you are like me, this element of the film is really interesting and throughout the film we get to see different types of hustles which are an eye opening experience at how devious yet simple these cons can be. Where I feel the film struggles is in the middle section, where having introduced us to all the main characters as well as the ground work to the big scam it sort of loses its momentum for a bit, and to be honest the first time I watched this I started to get quite fidgety by its meandering about doing nothing. It is in this middle section where the film explores the different sub stories, you learn more about how Roy deals with his condition and to the extent it controls his life. Plus you also get to watch him try and make up for lost time with a daughter who he has never met. Both of these are beautifully explored but do seem to drag slightly losing the wonderful momentum from the opening part. But then it soon picks up pace again and delivers an exceptional final part which grabs you with every single breath of the film. One of the things that have disappointed me with modern cinema is that most of it is completely predictable and unoriginal, thankfully "Matchstick Men" bucks the trend and caught my attention with a series of twists which I can honestly say I never saw coming.

                                  Whilst on it's own the actual plot to the film is brilliant, the way the whole thing comes across from the drama, dialogue, humour and action is absolutely captivating. Usually one of these elements would let the film down but not in the case of "Matchstick Men", especially the dialogue which is incredibly intelligent and meaningful. This may sound strange but not once did it feel like they had included any idle chitter-chatter just to expand the film or fill out moments of quiet. From the snappy dialogue of when a con is going on, through the arguments between Roy and his daughter, as well as the interactions between Roy and a cashier woman in the supermarket, everything had a real meaning and helped towards building up a very watch able film. Likewise with the humour, with a subject matter which features a man's issues with obsessive compulsive disorder, it would have been very easy to overplay this element and make it an uncomfortable viewing experience, but not once did it feel like they were mocking it. But the humour doesn't just focus on Roy's illness and again there are great moments of humour between father and daughter as they learn about each other. I suppose to class it as humour may be a bit misleading as it is more a touch of light heartedness which makes the viewer smile.

                                  What for me is quite a surprise is that "Matchstick Men" never received a single Oscar nomination, especially as for me this is one of Nicolas Cage's finest performances. Usually Cage excels at playing the over the top, full in your face characters, but here he shows that he can tone his act down to fit what is a very complex role. What I really liked was that he became the character, from sounding like a man who knew how to run an effective scam, to the man struggling with his phobia and especially the emotional side of a man who is trying to be a father. Where a lesser actor would have struggled to cope with what is nearly 3 different characters, Cage seems to revel in it and despite ample opportunity to over cook the effect of his condition, from the nervous tick, the need to have a routine and the uncontrollable grunting noises, he controls it impeccably to make the character very engrossing. Alongside Cage is Sam Rockwell playing his partner and protégé Frank Mercer, a con artist who is always in search of the quick way to make big money. Again this is another highly well thought out character, which provides contrast to the character of Roy. Where Roy is happy to play it safe and is comfortable with the quick low value hustle, Frank wants the big deal which will set him up for life. Not only is the character well thought out but also the performance of Rockwell who I have to admit seems to make one good film for every 2 bad ones. Making up the ensemble is Alison Lohman as Roy's daughter Angela and is as pivotal to the enjoyment of the film as any of the other actors. Prior to writing this review I had planned to say what a great performance from a teenager, but then whilst checking details on IMDB I learnt that she was actually 23 when she made this film. So I am actually going to say what a stunning performance from a young adult in convincing me I was watching a teenager. Although Nicolas Cage is obviously the main draw for this film, the combination of Cage, Rockwell and Lohman works perfectly, playing of each other brilliantly to the extent that at times Lohman actually steals the show.

                                  There are two final elements to this film which make it so good. Firstly taking the directional helm is Ridley Scott, a man who has given us "Gladiator", "Blade Runner" and "Alien" all good films in there own rights but all extremely very visual affairs. But in this case Scott appears to have controlled his need for big visual scenes and allowed the film to rely mainly on the story and the performances. That is not to say it is not visually impressive, and there are some brilliant snappy edits which help to hold your attention, but compared to many films the whole thing works in a beautiful balance which doesn't detract from the story. The other thing which really worked well for me was the soundtrack which relied heavily on the swing sounds with pieces which included Bobby Darin's "Beyond the Sea" and Sinatra singing "This Town". For me the whole image of these songs and singers fitted the image of con men but then I do enjoy this style of music.


                                  > Film Summary

                                  Simply I watched this film purely for another top quality Nicolas Cage performance, but was treated to what is probably one of the most entertaining movies I have watched in a long-long time. The whole mix of drama, humour, action, combined with some brilliant performances and a plot line which is a refreshing change from the norm makes this not only an exceptionally enjoyable viewing experience but one which I will happily return to again and again. If you enjoy films in the same manner as "Ocean's Eleven" then you are more than likely going to enjoy this, although this is definitely not as glitzy as "Ocean's Eleven".


                                  > DVD Features

                                  Audio Commentary - The audio commentary is an edited mix of director Ridley Scott and writers Nicholas & Ted Griffin giving their own experiences of the film. The balance between the three works brilliantly with Scott focussing on issues with the actual filming, small budget and choice of cast, whilst the Griffin brother's discuss adapting the book into the screen play. One of the best things for me as whilst the commentary comes across as being reasonably light hearted it isn't full of just general chatter, with the majority of the dialogue being about the film more than anything else.

                                  The Making of Matchstick Men - This is basically a full length documentary which can be viewed either in three segments "Pre-Production", "Production" and "Post-Production". At over an hour long this is a remarkably informative look at what goes on behind the scenes of making this film and with it being set out into three defined areas takes you on the journey right from initial concept through to finished product. Made in the usual style on film footage, behind the scenes footage and interviews, the documentary is mainly informative and rarely falls into the trap of feeling like a piece of promotional work.

                                  In addition to the audio commentary and "Making of" documentary we get the theatrical trailer which although is not a feature which I am particularly bothered about does complete the package nicely.


                                  > DVD Quality

                                  As you would expect from a recent film and DVD release the DVD quality is pretty faultless. The picture came across sharp with solid colours through out, although I did notice a couple of moments which appeared to be a little hazy, although I feel this maybe from the original print rather than from the transfer process. The audio was a particularly good experience with dialogue coming clearly from the front speakers and wide dispersion of all effects and music from all available channels. But for me the way the sound sort of closed in when ever Roy was suffering from his illness really helped to make you feel in the middle of what was going on.


                                  > DVD Summary

                                  Despite not being packed full of extra features, the couple which were included were of a very high standard, giving a vast amount of information for those who are interested on how the film was made. Whilst the picture quality has a couple of flaws it doesn't really spoil the overall viewing experience, where as the audio quality is perfect with a good balance between dialogue, music and effects but most notably it helps immerse you into the actual scenes.


                                  > Price & Availability

                                  www.amazon.co.uk : £4.97
                                  www.play.com : £10.99 (Delivered)
                                  Woolworths (in-store) :£5.00


                                  > Technical Details

                                  Certificate: 15 (Contains some swearing and minor violence)
                                  Duration: 111 mins
                                  Year of Release: 2003
                                  Genre: Drama, Thriller

                                  DVD Release: 2004
                                  Subtitles: English, Italian
                                  Audio: English , Italian
                                  Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
                                  Region: 2
                                  Number of Discs: 1


                                  Director(s): Ridley Scott
                                  Writer(s): Eric Garcia (Book), Nicholas & Ted Griffin (Screenplay)

                                  Cast: Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman, Bruce Altman, Bruce McGill, Sheila Kelley


                                  © Christianfilm October 2007

                                  NB. This review also appears at www.maximovie.co.uk

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