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One such movie is the French Canadian thriller 5150, Elm's Way, a quietly efficient tale of religious psychopaths, suburban imprisonment and chess. Directed by Éric Tessier, it is a film that takes an unconventional approach to the killer and captive story, managing to navigate its way successfully through a plot that, in less assured hands, would collapse under the weight of its own implausibility.
It begins when we meet Yannick (Marc-André Grondin), a young man recently enrolled in film school, who has just moved into his own place and seems to be on the verge of a new life of exciting possibilities. Cycling along an ordinary suburban street, he has an accident after a cat dashes across his path and so, hurt and unable to ride his damaged bike, he calls at a nearby house for assistance. However, through a series of contrivances he ends up entering the house uninvited and, after hearing someone shouting for help, is imprisoned when the owner of the house drags the pleading incumbent out and locks Yannick in.
It is at this point that seasoned horror fans could be forgiven for thinking that they're going to be subjected to prolonged depictions of torture, brutality and gore, all leading to a protracted chase sequence and a bloody showdown between killer and captive. However, this is not the case because the man who has imprisoned Yannick does not live alone, but rather shares the house with his wife and two daughters. And far from it being a charnel house of pain and degradation, it all looks rather normal, the only unusual aspect being that Dad considers himself one of the 'righteous' with a mission in life to punish the 'unrighteous'. Granted, we soon learn that he is a religious maniac but as psychopaths on a mission from God go, he's rather a sympathetic one. So when his wife persuades him that Yannick may be one of the righteous he resists the urge to murder him and instead has to work out what he's going to do with him.
Jacques Beaulieu as Normand D'Amour is the film's main strength, the father of the house and the film's chief antagonist, eschewing as he does any temptation to rant or gurn his way through scenes in order to convince us of his religious mania. Instead he seems (for the most part) like the sort of guy you'd be quite happy to have as a next door neighbour, his attempts to use only reasonable force against his prisoner at odds with the cold flash of steel we glimpse in his eyes when he expresses a need to get back to work on his 'project'.
Jacques's relationship with the rest of the family, all of whom are aware of Yannick's imprisonment, is one of the most interesting elements of the movie and it is a credit to the actors concerned that they are all such convincing characters, managing to sustain our interest and belief in a situation that could so easily have been one dimensional. There is the hot headed daughter Michelle (Mylène St-Sauveur), desperate for her father's approval but constantly incurring his wrath for her use of unnecessary violence; his timid but basically decent w ife Maude (Sonia Vachon), whose main purpose is to placate her husband while keeping her younger daughter, Anne (Élodie Larivière), safe from her father's occasional bursts of anger; and then there is Anne herself, who is clearly psychologically disturbed by her home life, prone as she is to putting rat poison in her father's coffee.
For most of its running time the film switches between Yannick's attempts to escape and Jacques's efforts to keep his domestic situation under control while carrying on with the work of punishing those he deems deserving. He does this while seeking to initiate his eldest daughter into the business of killing with a view to continuing his mission when his 'project' is complete.
The main psychological strength of the film is in the burgeoning relationship between Yannick and Jacques as the latter's complete conviction in the rightness of his actions is challenged by the former. Yannick's need to prove to Jacques that he is insane and that what he is doing is not the work of God gradually comes to eclipse his desire to escape. So when Jacques proposes that if Yannick can beat him in just one game of chess he will accept he is wrong and release him, Yannick's desire to do so becomes all encompassing.
Throughout, Yannick is attempting to resist his own descent into insanity, made manifest through hallucinatory sequences brought about by his feelings of claustrophobia and his obsession with proving Jacques wrong. But, in keeping with its habit of gently subverting your expectations, the film resists the temptation to pursue a resolution that seems inevitable at this point and, by doing so, retains both the credibility of its story and the integrity of its characters.
This is a film that won't be for everyone with a taste for horror/thrillers, as its pacing is occasionally uneven and there may be those who find the running time of 110 minutes a tad indulgent. In truth, the film does sag somewhat around the half way mark before picking up again once the chess challenge has been made. Also, the plot developments as it nears its finale will perhaps be a step too far for anyone unable to ignore the practical difficulties of one revelation in particular. But for me the dénouement was a gloriously ghoulish finale that, though pushing the bounds of credibility, exhibited a Grand Guignol sensibility that meant I couldn't help but admire the audacity of it all.
5150, Elm's Way surprised me a lot, there being very little in it that I thought was predictable or formulaic. This being a film that was made in 2009 it seems a shame that it seems to have garnered such scant attention (at least in the UK) since its initial release. I'd therefore advise anyone with an interest in seeing a thriller that offers something a little bit different to rectify that oversight, now that it has found a release on DVD.
Ratina: You trust this man?
Ali Khan: Like my own brother.
Ratina: You killed your brother.
Ali Khan: That is why I trust him.
You might think that any film featuring dialogue like this, where one of the principles is a wildly over the top Oliver Reed, might at least be worth a look for the delights of its script alone. Sadly, this exchange is one of the few highlights of a Hammer studios production that wastes an intriguing premise and is notable only for being Reed's final film for Hammer, and for the possibility that it may well have been the inspiration for Carry On Up the Khyber.
Ronald Lewis plays Lieutenant Robert Case, a serving officer of mixed race descent in the British Raj. And as this is set in the 1880s, this means he has plenty of enemies who object to his rise through the ranks. However, because this was made in the 1960s, it also meant casting an actor who looked about as Indian as a Yorkshire pudding and blacking him up.
Racial insensitivities of yesteryear aside, the action kicks off with Case reporting back to his superiors following the capture of a fellow officer by local bandits. But what's that? The captured officer was also the husband of the woman with whom Case was having an affair? Well, that's just not cricket now, is it? So before you can say "trumped up charge", Case is jailed for cowardice, escapes and is forced to join up with a group of rebels led by Ali Khan (Oliver Reed), a half-mad, Oxbridge educated despot (some things never change). Case then swears to take revenge on Colonel Drewe (Duncan Lamont), the man responsible for his downfall.
At this point you might be hoping for a fast paced drama of derring-do that examines the conflicting loyalties at work within a character who feels the pull of two distinct cultures, but knows he can never truly be accepted by either. Although this may have been the intention, such efforts are undermined by plodding direction, unconvincing performances and some muddled characterisation.
Director John Gilling would go on to deliver a couple of excellent Hammer horrors the following year with Plague Of The Zombies and The Reptile. Both of these films would demonstrate comparatively high production values that belied their limited budgets and proved how effective a director Gilling could be. However, The Brigand Of Kandahar looks like a movie that has been thrown together, an impression compounded by the fact that it saw Oliver Reed, Ronald Lewis and Yvonne Romain seeing out their Hammer contracts, as well as being the last film Columbia Pictures co-produced with the British studio. A sense of "let's just get this one of the way" permeates the whole production.
Its cheapness is illustrated best in some battle scenes that initially look impressive, before one of the actors is superimposed in the foreground and you realise that Gilling was using stock footage from another film entirely (the Victor Mature vehicle Zarak in fact). The only original battle footage Gilling musters up is very studio-bound, and although the leads and dozens of extras attack these scenes with gusto, it takes the sort of suspension of disbelief found only in the most devoted fans to find any of it particularly convincing.
None of which would be insurmountable if the performers were more believable. Unfortunately, Ronald Lewis as Case is terribly miscast and wears the same unyielding expression throughout, a stoic mask of supressed fury tinged with a whisper of sorrow. At least that's what you might guess he was attempting to convey. Most of the time he wears the sort of look of impotent rage you might see on someone who'd just got home from a hard day at the office, only to find that one of their kids had finished off that chocolate éclair the Mrs had got for them, and which they'd really been looking forward to all day.
As for Oliver Reed, his performance consists mainly of the kind of dastardly cackling only ever associated with maniacal movie villains, the kind that in real life usually ends in a lung busting coughing fit and some concerned pats on the back. As good an actor as Reed was, he could also be a ham of Porky Pig proportions, and this movie proves it, showing little sign of the heights he would be capable of hitting at other times in his career.
Although there are very few actors who come out of the whole enterprise with much credibility, one who does is Glyn Houston, a very familiar face from British films and TV for almost 50 years. As a journalist sent out to the region by the Times, Houston appears destined to emerge as the hero that the film so desperately needs, the one character who exhibits any sort of moral compass and with whom the audience can identify. It's a shame, then, that he is too readily side-lined for this to ever transpire.
So what we're left with is Lieutenant Case, Ali Khan and Colonel Drew; three antagonists who frequently seem as bad as each other, although clearly our sympathies are supposed to lie with Case. There's a moment towards the end that seems to be urging us to believe that Case was the tragic hero, as it attempts to evoke (and blatantly rips off) the melodramatic climax of King Vidor's Duel In The Sun (1946). But given that the scene takes place between two characters who up to that point have demonstrated an almost complete absence of any feelings for each other whatsoever, it comes across as flat, half-hearted and disingenuous. Rather like the film itself.
Despite all of this, it is good to see some of Hammer's historical adventures getting a release on DVD with this film being released at the same time as Gilling's The Scarlet Blade. Although it held a deserved reputation for producing distinctive and memorable horror films for well over three decades, it was its adventures, mysteries and comedies that saw the studio grow from its inception in the 1930s.
Unfortunately, The Brigand Of Kandahar isn't the sort of film that can compare with the best of the studio's output. As an example of Hammer's alternate fare, it is unlikely to persuade anybody other than genuine devotees that the studio's talents were best employed on anything other than horror.
Even if you've never seen an episode of The Twilight Zone, it may feel as though you have. This is due to the fact that, although it wasn't the first television anthology series, it was certainly the most influential. Subsequent TV shows such as The Outer Limits, Star Trek, The X Files, Lost, Fringe and many more owe a huge debt to it. Also, films like Planet Of The Apes, Child's Play, The Truman Show, Final Destination, Poltergeist and Donnie Darko (amongst others), all lifted their ideas straight from individual Twilight Zone episodes.
And then there was the influence it exerted on people like Steven Spielberg, Stephen King and Gene Roddenberry and much of their subsequent work. Suffice to say that many of the popular culture staples that we take for granted today may not have turned out in quite the same way had it not been for The Twilight Zone.
The show was the creation of Rod Serling, who wrote twenty-eight of the thirty-six episodes included here in season 1, and it's his take on human nature (and, in particular, the American psyche at the time) that makes many of these tales so watchable. Each individual tale conforms to the same basic template, opening with a piece of Serling narration that is as iconic now as it was classy and timeless then:
"There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call The Twilight Zone."
It's an introduction that sets the expectation bar high before we meet an average all American man (or woman) and follow them on a journey that can take us just about anywhere, that can take place at any time, and in which almost anything can happen. Each episode diverges along vastly differing paths and it's one of the strengths of the series that its stories are so diverse.
In order to appreciate the episodes to their fullest, it's best not to know too much about them, but issues such as racial prejudice, political corruption, societal conventions and the cold war are all examined and explored under the guise of stories bedecked in the garb of science fiction and fantasy. Sometimes they're comedies, sometimes they're dramas. Frequently they're psychological horror. As you might expect, the quality varies from episode to episode, but at its best, season 1 of The Twilight Zone is original, unpredictable and compulsive viewing.
Standouts are numerous and include I Shot An Arrow Into The Air, which tells the story of a group of astronauts landing on an asteroid and fighting for survival. This is one of many episodes that explores how man can become a very different beast when placed in circumstances he can not comprehend (it also includes one of the most well remembered Twilight Zone twists).
Then there's Time Enough At Last, where Burgess Meredith plays the solitary survivor of a nuclear blast who loves to read, but has always been hampered in his attempts to do so by other people. (It's a story that includes one of the biggest 'doh!' moments of any finale to be found in season 1.)
And then there's The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street, an episode liberally dosed with lashings of Cold War paranoia, as residents of a suburban street begin to turn on each other when they suspect their neighbours of being alien invaders. This story, in particular, is redolent of some of the great alien invader movies of the 1950s such as Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and It Came From Outer Space, where people's physical appearance should not be taken at face value and the familiar is not to be trusted. It's an obvious commentary on much of mainstream America's concerns about the growth of Communism throughout this era and exposes brilliantly the destructive tendencies of an America obsessed with the notion of 'reds under the bed'. What's more, in its examination of perceived threats from without, it is still as relevant today as it was then.
In fact, apart from being entertaining dramas in their own right, much of The Twilight Zone can be seen as a fascinating commentary on a country that was experiencing considerable change, both at home and abroad.
The United States of the late 1950s was a country very much concerned with the burgeoning conflict in Vietnam, feeding fears of further threats from the Soviet Union. There were also huge social changes being brought about in the civil rights movement, and the open sores left by the communist witch hunts of both Senator Joe McCarthy and the House of Un-American Activities had yet to heal.
Set against this backdrop, it's easy to infer from much of season 1 that Serling was examining the fears and concerns of a viewing public that could feel many of the old certainties slipping from its grasp. A new American identity was emerging, but many were as yet unsure of what that identity would be.
And no theme dominates the first season of The Twilight Zone more than this one, as again and again characters struggle to come to terms with a reality that they do not understand and in which they're not the person they believed themselves to be.
So, there are tales of people unable to move forward because of the pull of the past (Walking Distance, for instance, where a man visits his childhood and meets his teenage self in an idyll he doesn't want to leave, and Nightmare As A Child, where a woman is compelled to remember secrets she'd buried as a result of the promptings of a strange little girl).
Then there are tales of people deluding themselves that they're leading ordinary lives, only to have their blinkers removed by some very creepy characters (The Hitch Hiker where a woman sees the same man by the side of the road over and over again no matter how far and fast she drives, and The After Hours, where a woman awakens in an empty department store with only some very lifelike mannequins for company).
But perhaps the most powerful of these is And When The Sky Was Opened, in which three astronauts thought lost, return to Earth as heroes, only for one of them to disappear soon after their return. The episode focuses on the terror and confusion of Colonel Clegg Forbes, as he is the only person who can remember his vanished colleague, with everything, including news reports and medical records at odds with his version of reality. It's a thought provoking look at what happens to heroes when they return home from wars and is oddly prescient in its prediction of how America would soon treat its soldiers on their return from Vietnam.
But in case I'm giving the impression it's all doom and gloom, be assured that it isn't. Most of The Twilight Zone episodes in season 1 are highly entertaining, with some excellent comedic episodes. Examples include Escape Clause, the story of a hypochondriac who sells his soul to the Devil for eternal life (but soon gets bored) and A Nice Place To Visit, the tale of a gangster who dies in a shootout and wakes up in the afterlife where he is soon granted everything his heart desires. And even the darker episodes can be viewed primarily as first rate thrillers, with extra layers of subtext there for those who choose to look for them.
If The Twilight Zone is familiar because of its TV legacy, you only need to watch a handful of the stories that make up season 1 to notice that it's also familiar in that each of the episodes look very much like the mainstream cinematic output of the time. Partly this owes much to the high standards of production design, but it's also due to the fact that this season features a range of talent who, if they weren't already, would later become recognised as mainstays of the film industry. Some of the episodes feature scores by Bernard Herrmann and Jerry Goldsmith, scripts from Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont and performances from the likes of Kevin McCarthy (Invasion Of The Body Snatchers), Jack Warden (12 Angry Men), Martin Landau (North By Northwest) and Vera Miles (Psycho). So, The Twilight Zone is a TV series wed very much to the cinema of the era.
But for all that I've banged on about the familiarity of The Twilight Zone, it should be emphasised how original and fresh much of it still seems today. Occasionally, you'll find yourself about ten minutes ahead in terms of working out where the story is going, and there's the odd bit of exposition that is reminiscent of the psychologist's monologue at the end of Psycho (i.e. completely unnecessary). But it's rare to find a programme capable of delivering a perfect and complete story satisfactorily in less than half an hour, and this is exactly what much of season 1 delivers. This is due in part to the consistent brilliance of Rod Serling and others in scripting episodes that rely on situation to draw you in and intrigue you, with little to no time available in which to grab you with characterisation. For this reason alone, they deserve to be seen by anybody who has an interest in the history, potential and development of the art of television drama.
But fundamentally, these episodes stand quite simply as examples of classic television, of a TV series that has lost very little of its ability to provoke, disturb, amuse and entertain in the fifty-two years since it first aired. Rod Serling once set out his vision for television thus:
"The exciting thing about our medium is its potential, the fact that it doesn't have to be imitative. What it can produce in terms of novelty and ingenuity has barely been scratched. We want to prove that television, even in its half-hour form, can be both commercial and worthwhile. This is a medium that can spread out, delve deep, probe fully and reach out experimentally to whole new concepts. The horizons of what it can do and where it can go stretch out beyond vision."
With The Twilight Zone he went a long way to achieving much of that vision.
Roughly half of the episodes feature either commentaries from the actors appearing in them and/or isolated scores from the episode (and let me tell you, it's never a bad thing to listen to a Bernard Herrmann score).
One of the highlights is the Rod Serling lecture that plays over the Walking Distance episode, which provides an insight into the demands Serling made on himself as a writer. Throughout, he highlights the problems he has with the story and the script, making it something that became almost unwatchable for him.
There are further Serling lectures accompanying And When The Sky Was Opened, Where is Everybody and The Mighty Casey, which should be required listening for anybody with aspirations to become a script writer for television.
Also commentaries from actors including Martin Landau, Kevin McCarthy, and Martin Milner highlight how big a deal it was for actors to appear in the series and get to work with Rod Serling, even at this early stage in the formation of The Twilight Zone.
However, because these commentaries invariably feature only one participant, they can sometimes lose momentum and often go a little quiet without a co-commentator to work with. There are, however, interviews in lieu of commentaries, and some of these work much better. (There's a good one with I Am Legend author, Richard Matheson, on season finale, A World Of His Own).
The bonus material on disc 6 includes the pilot of Where Is Everybody, an edition of a Rod Serling hosted panel show called The Liar's Club, awards footage of Serling receiving his two Emmys for 'Outstanding Achievement in Drama', a Serling blooper, Twilight Zone billboards and a photo gallery.
The lack of any sort of overview or documentary on The Twilight Zone is a disappointment, but there's some small compensation in the form of a handsome PDF reproduction of a Twilight Zone comic.
Trading in my iPad 2 was an easy choice; I like to have the latest technology. Deciding to stay with Apple on their fourth generation adventure was again an easy choice; I find their gadgets fit my lifestyle perfectly and they are on the whole rather reliable. Deciding whether I wanted a mini or a regular was a tough choice; mainly because I am supposed to be saving up for a wedding and every pound counts and there is also that innate testosterone fuelled man in me wanting a big toy rather than a small one... And they say women are complicated. I had to do some serious weighing up and consider my options. I like to be able to watch movies on my iPad so having the larger device seemed the more appropriate model, plus the retina display was making me drool and part of the reason I wanted to upgrade was my old device was being sluggish. I wanted the fasted version and the mini just did not float my boat. The pricing was the only thing swinging in the mini's direction. I knew what would happen though; I would buy a mini, never feel fulfilled, take it into work and see my pals with their new regular iPad fours and feel mightily jealous. In the end, I sucked it up; I got £250 for my old iPad and lied to the fiancée about how much I spent on the new one. Everyone was a winner! I'm sorry but if she really wants wedding chair coverings at £5 a go then I can have a little luxury of my own and I will be the one benefiting rather than all our friends and families derrieres. My mind was made up.
I love movies and I spend a lot of money downloading them, whether directly from Itunes or from other sources but generally my old iPad was filled with films, games and music and in terms of memory, from experience I realised how frustrating it is to have a small memory. I went for the big one 128GB and again this was another reason I wanted the regular over the mini. The mini only goes up to 64 GB so I felt I may as well push the boat out and get the biggest one seen as I was already parting with quite a lot of cash for it. I only chose the WIFI version though as I have WIFI access in my place of work, gym (yes, I do go) and at home. If I am not here I am lurching around Costa and Mcdonalds where the coffee flows and the wifi is free. See I am more than a pretty face; I have no need for cellular so I didn't buy it. As I spend a lot of time downloading films and streaming programmes, this kills your data allowance anyway so I thought it was best to just completely avoid the option. By doing so, it also made the machine marginally cheaper. I paid £620 for the ipad 4 128GB and by doing this I got a keyboard for £19 and this was supposed to be £45 so I saved money here too, being able to trade in the old model made the price much more achievable and I only had to actually part with £370.
==Shape, weight and feel==
Let's get the measurements over and done with and then we can play about with the toy. The ipad has a height of 241.2 mm and it is 185.7mm wide with a very small depth of 9.4 mm. It weighs 650 g. The ipad feels sturdy; it has a strong presence about it. The exterior round the back is matt aluminium finish and the front has a black gloss finish with an integrated screen. The back scratches quickly and just pushing it across a table scuffs it so be careful, get a case as soon as possible. The weight of the ipad suits me and when playing around the mini I found it was too small, it felt flimsy and I couldn't hold it comfortably in one hand. The regular pad feels great to hold and even landscape which not my preferred style feels good to grip; its solid and easy to manipulate.
The screen is 9.7-inch (diagonal) that is LED-backlit and features Multi-Touch display with IPS technology. It has 2048x1536 resolution at 264 pixels per inch (ppi) with Retina display, making this one of the most powerful screens on any tablet of the current time. It is a marvel to watch movies in full HD and even playing some of the games is incredible It has a wide viewing angle which me loved at work when we watched a football match on it and it was so clear for everyone to see, no matter what angle they were sat at. The screen is bright and the colours are so vivid. The screen reacts quickly to your touch and you can open and close applications easily, blow up web pages, zoom in on pictures and complete various tasks quickly with only two fingers. As the screen is constantly being touched the glass is finished with a fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating. I have a plastic film on my screen which loves finger prints but I would rather have this on and be careful than have it without.
On the front of the ipad is the standard home screen icon and it may be worth mentioning that on my model, the home screen arrived broken. It was sticking which it really should not do so I had to return it which I was really cross about but the next model arrived fine and luckily I had not had chance to do any syncing before I realised there was a problem. It also meant I got two chargers out of it. The ipad was swapped and I was supposed to keep all the bits and pieces and just the tablet would be posted out however a completely new boxed version arrived. I phoned up and was advised to keep the charger I already had. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I hung up quite pleased! The lighting connector is new in design so I now had two which was great. The new data cable is so quick to sync the device to the laptop, I could really start to see how obsolete my old ipad 2 had started to become. There are only four buttons on the exterior of the frame, these control volume, on/off and mute and it is great to see that the design is sleek and uninterrupted by ugly buttons. There are all in a square inch of each other and keep the ipad looking streamlined.
First to mention is that the iPad 4 comes with a Dual-core A6X with quad-core graphics. This chip is super fast and the device responds quickly to commands. The way games play and load so quick along it is certainly worth getting the new model, it is impressively powerful. The homescreen features all your apps and downloaded items and it is quick to file these and to delete them. There are six hot keys across the bottom which you can move and play around with to personalise your device, this is two more than you get on the iphone. The ipad runs io6 which is very simple to navigate around. The icons are large and you can keep filling page after page of icons as long as you have the memory for them. If you swipe down the homescreen you will see all your notifications and this is something that can be reached no matter what you are doing on the ipad, whether watching a film, playing a game or surfing the web. You can also tweet and facebook update directly from this bar. This makes the ipad really multifunctional as you can get game updates and emails while you are doing something else. There are some nifty tricks too, such as if you double tap the home screen or touch the screen with all your fingers and swipe, you will be able to flick though recently used applications. The device has a Three-axis gyro so you can turn the device upside down, round and about and the screen will always be facing upwards. The WIFI is fast, and the device is quick to log on to hot spots. When you download you can achieve speeds of over ten MBPS which is great and it is much quicker to download. When you stream from youtube or sky, you find that the process is much smoother.
The frequency response is 20Hz to 20,000Hz. The audio formats supported are AAC (8 to 320 Kbps), Protected AAC (from iTunes Store), HE-AAC, MP3 (8 to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Audible (formats 2, 3, 4, Audible Enhanced Audio, AAX and AAX+), Apple Lossless, AIFF and WAV. The sound quality is good and the speakers have over gone some work making them much better than o the previous models. Sound quality is improved for films and you will notice that you can have the device on louder without the quality being compromised. You can use headphones or use the speaker, both give really good results.
The battery is built-in and it is a 42.5-watt-hour rechargeable lithium-polymer battery. From this you are supposed to get up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching video or listening to music. I charge it every other day and it gets at least 3-4 hours of use each day. I am happy with the battery life as I was getting less than 3-4 hours of use before it crashed and needed charging. Charging is via power adapter or USB to computer system. I tend to charge it at work mostly, and after a day of being plugged in, it is full again and I can go exhaust it.
There are two cameras. The front facing camera has the following spec:
* 1.2MP photos
* 720p HD video
* FaceTime video calling over Wi-Fi or a mobile network6
* Face detection
* Backside illumination
* Tap to control exposure for video or still images
* Photo and video geotagging
The rear camera has the following spec:
* 5MP photos
* Face detection
* Backside illumination
* Five-element lens
* Hybrid IR filter
* f/2.4 aperture
* Tap to focus video or still images
* Tap to control exposure for video or still images
* Photo and video geotagging
I do not really use the camera; I only really use it to take photos of items that I want to sell on eBay. As a camera it is not easy to hold and position. It takes average pictures but it takes better ones than a 5MP camera as we learnt with my partner's camera and compared the results. The front camera is fine for facetime though and this is such a cool service for free with WIFI all you need is a friend to use it with. I use it to talk to the Mrs and it works really well. As well as taking photographs you can also shoot video and it recorded in full 1080p HD. The video features image stabilisation so you can have steady films and it has silent zooming which is activated on the screen with a tap. I am not into the cameras but I would not be happy if the ipad did not have them. I do love Facetime though, it is very fun.
==Internet, email, contacts, notes, e-reader, music and apps==
Surfing the web is fun and I spend a lot of time on forums which I can do easily from my ipad; I find pages open quickly and there is hardly any load time. I can save links and bookmark pages to come back to. I find reading from the screen easily. I am a bit of a geek and I feel at home in front of a computer screen so unlike my parent for example, I can quite happily read literature on here. You can download books and magazines quickly and I have enjoyed reading some full colour, interesting articles on here. As you download them you can view them offline so it does not need wifi to connect. In terms of email you can set up your account with the device and if you select push notifications then you will get your emails downloaded to your device as long as you have wifi and you will be alerted to this. I like having my email client on here as it means I am always on hand to read important emails, although most are purely junk! I write to my friend in Australia via email and I blog regularly, both mean that I need to be able to type quickly and the keypad on the device is easy to use. I enjoy using the touch screen keypad and predictive text is useful but I prefer a bigger keyboard with plenty of space for my gangly arms so I tend to use the add-on keyboard these days rather than just the screen. I have long fingers and I feel a little cramped after a while using the screen like this. I do like that I can store information about my contacts and share them from device to device.
I have a lot of music on my ipad, much of which is also on my laptop and I simply synced in across. I enjoy composing playlists and scrolling through hundreds of songs. My partner and I play Russian Roulette with the music and pull on the screen so the song names fly past and then randomly select one. It is fun and something you cannot do with a regular hifi. The large screen shows the album artwork too so you never get the feeling that you are missing out not having access to the CD. Whilst listening to music, I will often be found playing games, I am enjoying playing New Star Soccer which is getting me in trouble at home as I am totally addicted but I also enjoy playing annoying games such as Candy Crush.
To sum up the ipad, I will say that this is a fast and furious device that keeps up to date with the vigorous tasks that I ask of it. I was disappointed that my home key broke on my first ipad but I am hoping this is not a common theme with the new model. The design looks exactly like the ipad two when it is in sleep mode and if I had not admitted to the Mrs that I swapped the device, she really would probably not have guessed! I think on the next model the home screen button has to go and the device should be completely touch screen. I am pleased with the speed and capacity of the device and this should serve me for a good number of years, although they do hold their value if you a new one does come on the market!
Fans of racing games usually like two things, being able live the fantasy of owning and driving a mean machine and being able to drive like an idiot at silly fast speeds. I really enjoy racing games as I find it involves a lot of skill and they have always been my genre of choice. Racing round a track is boring though, even when you get to see different scenery, which is why the new breed of Illegal Street racing games is much more fun. Midnight Club 2 and 3 were my first taste of adrenaline fuelled street racing games and then I borrowed a friend's copy of Need for Speed: hot pursuit. I enjoyed it, it was thrilling and it pushed the boundaries of street racing. The sheer quality of the game structure and the craftsmanship is superb and there is so much attention to detail. Mightily impressed, I awaited the release of Most Wanted.
Most Wanted is a well constructed game and the graphics are outstanding with an extremely high level of attention to detail. Racing through dusty streets will kick up dust on your screen, driving off road will cause wet blades of grass to cling to the screen and if you have a collision you will have to contend with broken windows and loose parts which hamper your performance. Small details such as struggling to have your eyes adjust to the darkness of driving through a tunnel and then dealing with blinding light as you emerge from a tunnel create a very believable driving experience. Driving underground also causes your sat nav to pick up static and slows the music. As you fly down the highway at 180 miles an hour you still have time to savour the delightful driving experience; puddles on the road, cracks and bumps in the tarmac and changing driving conditions all create a fast paced, ever changing game. Although things in the distance do not hold as much detail, every bridge, road, sewer, drain and area of land you can see is available for the driver to use. There are no unhealthy load times and disjointed shots as game scenes load and you can drive relatively seamlessly for the whole of the race. Criterion showcases each of their races with an introductory video that highlights the detail they have put into building the city.
==Need for speed: The cars==
The main reason you want to play a racing game though is for the cars. You don't get many racing games that involve push bikes do you? No we want fast, furious slick machines and most wanted gives it to us. There are 41 cars in total and there really are some beauties, the downside though are that you do not have to win races or score points to upgrade to a better motor; you have to find them! They are hidden under bridges, down alleys and on rooftops and you need to keep an eye out all over or you can miss a mega find! From the Bentley Continental Supersports Convertible ISR to the Porsche 911 (930) Carrera Turbo, there are some great cars for you to drool over. Even the Ford Focus RS500 and the Range Rover Evoque look magnificent; the Focus has a top speed of 165/mph which is impressive but you would never pick it over the top spec cars. Each car comes as standard with basic chassis and tyres for example and to upgrade you need to win speed points, these are accumulated by entering street races, triggering speed cameras, smashing though billboards and outrunning the cops. There are 156 billboards in the game but only a few that you can use with a 200 yard jump; to get the others you will need to consider a nitrous exhaust for example. The more races you win, you will be given modifications such as a reinforced chassis for smashing through roadblocks, off road tyres and different gear sets. What I like most about the game is that you have so much power over it and you get to make decisions that have a significant impact on your performance. Sometimes though this can be a downside, the fact that you have so many cars available to you from the beginning loses some of the incentive to progress in the game. Why would you race with a Ford Focus when you have a Lamborghini at your fingers?
==Need for speed: The races==
The races are really varied and compose of a selection of sprint, speed runs and circuits. Each car has five races open to it. Ambush events are one of my favourite aspects of the game as I love a good chase. Here you have to avoid the cops and you can either put your foot down or hide; this depends on the car but overall these are good, adrenaline fuelled events. The police do feature heavily in other races through and you will often have them on your tail, ramming you and dropping stingers. You get the chance to draw attention to yourself in front of them, it is fun to have them on your back and as your 'heat' level increases they send in faster cars to chase you and then call in the SWAT teams. Here you need to be able to change your car quickly and modding is done via the Easy Drive menu where you can upgrade your car with the D-pad. This is not a quick, swift change though and it's brave to mod in the middle of a race.
The game is easy to pick up, literally go as fast and furiously as you can, there is no time for taking it slow as you will lose! The fast paced races do not start from a static point, you are thrown into the middle of a furious race so you have no choice but to commit to it and drive hell for leather.
So the games ultimate aim is for you to reach the title of becoming the city's most notorious racer. As you earn speed points you can then challenge the most wanted. If you win you get their car, this is certainly a nice little touch to the game.
Multiplayer is one of the best aspects of the game and you can drive around a private city with pals, smashing into each other, racing and challenging each other. From executing the longest drift to jumping the furthest you get to ridicule your friends and show off your skills. Even in multiplayer, the game is smooth and seamless. Competition is of the essence here and as you drive around, billboards will carry the face of those friends that hold the highest speed when smashing though them. This is a nice little touch and all adds to the competitive spirit.
Despite multi player performing really well and being competitive and fun, the single player aspect of the game does not offer the same sort of motivation. I like racing games when you move forward and earn the better cars and I find it unusual that you can jump straight into a Bugatti. You should have to get faster and better at the game first. The game seems to be aimed at though who do not usually like racing games, or those who are not very good at them as you don't really incur any penalisation if you miss stuff. This game is also available on the Vita and I had a little go on my friend's to compare. Obviously the graphics are not nearly as good as on the PS3 and it is a lot less hectic, the races are much more linear and much safer. It is interesting being able to compare both games. Would I recommend it? Yes I would, it's still a fast and exciting game with some amazing cars but I have got bored of it rather quickly.
I was quite upset with Kevin Smith on July 4th 2011. There I was, on my way to a preview screening of Red State, when I got an email telling me that the screening had been cancelled. Fair enough I thought, these things happen. But later that evening I read some stuff about why Smith had decided to cancel the press preview and instead offer places at a future screening to his fans via Twitter, mentioning something about them being more deserving than the 's**t scribblers'.
Now that hurt. So when the opportunity came to attend a subsequent preview I was cautious to say the least, making sure that the Mrs was on standby with a 50 Hilarious Sporting Injuries DVD and a pot noodle, should I return home early as the result of another cancellation.
However, the film went ahead and after seeing it I can happily say that Kevin Smith (whether he likes it or not) is forgiven. Because as far as I'm concerned, if he keeps making films like this then he can call me and my ilk whatever he likes (within reason). Red State does have its flaws but it's been a long time since I've sat down and watched something so compelling without having the foggiest about what will happen next or how things are ultimately going to turn out.
As the story gets underway we meet Travis (Michael Angarano) who, on his drive to school, observes members of the Five Points Church picketing the funeral of a gay teenager. After some admittedly awkward exposition whereby a school teacher explains just how bat shit crazy this group is, we then head into horror film territory with a scenario that seems familiar enough: horny teens and the price they'll have to pay for not being able to keep their hormones in check. Travis and his two friends, Jared (Kyle Gallner) and Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun), have arranged to have group sex with a woman in their neighbourhood. However, shortly after arriving at her trailer they are drugged and subsequently wake up to find themselves in the hands of the Five Points Church and their leader Abin Cooper (Michael Parks). It soon becomes apparent that Pastor Cooper and his congregation aren't the types to leave the punishment of sinners to the Almighty.
One of the most impressive achievements in this first half hour or so is the way Smith ratchets up the intensity and tension as though he's been directing thrillers all his creative life. In one extraordinary sequence in particular, Abin Cooper delivers a chilling yet mesmerising sermon to his congregation while a figure that is concealed by a white blanket occasionally stirs on a crucifix behind him. That this sermon lasts for about 10 minutes, the camera seldom straying from Parks, is a testament to the confidence Smith has in both his script and the actor delivering the lines. Parks, who many people will recognise as Texas Ranger Earl McGraw from Kill Bill, Death Proof etc, has rarely been better than he is here, his laid back tone of 'lets be reasonable about this' sincerity providing a chilling contrast with the religious insanity that falls so easily from his character's lips. He also has this way of blinking slowly that in some awful way reveals the immutability of the Pastor's religious mania, a characteristic he last utilized this well when conveying the ruthless misogyny of Esteban Vihaio, the Mexican pimp he played in Kill Bill Volume 2.
Cruel, taut and unsettling, this first act is dominated by the character of Cooper and it is only when the film moves into its second act and introduces Joe Keenan (John Goodman), an Agent with the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau), that you feel like you can take a deep breath and clear your lungs of some of the malignancy and oppression built up while inside the Five Points abode. Again we have some overdone exposition as Keenan receives a phone call from his superior and is told that he must investigate Cooper's compound following reports of the possession of illegal firearms. How this investigation will play out given the horror film set-up established so far isn't easy to predict but it is only when Jared attempts to escape that the film becomes something completely different. It does this, not in a slowly evolving transition from one thing into another but as suddenly and unexpectedly as, well, as a rifle shot ringing out across a still and silent morning landscape as a terrified teenager makes a run for it.
One of the objectives of film is to put us into a place or situation and make us experience those events as though we were there, not merely to observe but to empathize, take part and respond to what we're seeing. As members of the church pursue Jared through the compound and then the sound of that single rifle shot is heard, there is one glorious moment when the characters on screen seem to share their bewilderment with the watching audience, a moment where none of us, the watchers and the watched, know any more or less than the other for just that single instant. It's a rare thing to experience in cinema and isn't something that can be sustained but this instance provides a brilliant undermining of the audience's omnipotence as events veer off down a path that was completely unexpected.
Once Keenan and his men make it to the compound events conspire to create a scenario in which few characters emerge with any credit, as Smith presents a conflict that shows how easily men (and women) can become inured to the consequences of their own actions most readily when they perceive an offer of absolution from either God or the State. Memories of the Waco siege are evoked as Keenan's superiors order him to take action that goes against every moral instinct the man has. Personal morality, the desire to do what is right for its own sake, is rendered impotent as Keenan, the one good man in the midst of this insanity, is left bewildered and floundering. He feels powerless and there's a good chance you will too as you scour the screen for the character on whose shoulders the hopes for some sort of redemptive resolution to the story will rest.
But then just as the film is careening to an ending that threatens to deliver the bleakest finale since The Wild Bunch, we're taken in another direction with a turn of events that finally enables us to recognise Red State as a Kevin Smith movie. It comes with a punchline that may well split audiences, reminiscent as it is of the rather abrupt conclusion to proceedings in the Coen brothers' Burn After Reading. I was so utterly thrown by what was going on that I half expected two characters from Smith's Dogma to show up in the final act (you'll understand who I mean if you see it), as I really couldn't imagine what the alternative resolution would be. In deciding to implement such a huge shift in tone Smith takes a risk but somehow it's one that pays off and for my money he succeeds where the Coens failed, conjuring up a finish that is satisfying and wryly amusing.
Up to that point you'd be hard pressed to recognise this as a Kevin Smith film at all, displaying as it does few of the familiar tropes of slacker culture and an obsession with the minutiae of the everyday that is evident in much of his other work. First it's a horror, then it's a war film, then it's a drama. However, it moves through the gears with such consummate ease that you never feel as though the whole thing is going to spiral out of control at any point, a confidence that is repaid when Smith takes the chequered flag with some style before whipping off his crash helmet and revealing it was him behind the wheel all along.
With Red State, Smith isn't saying anything particularly original or profound about religion, tolerance or belief, but he does say it all with such hellfire and brimstone intensity that I was happy to watch and listen anyway. I'll admit that much of my enjoyment was derived from how utterly this film confounded my expectations, so I'm not sure how well its narrative would stand up on a second viewing once its surprises and inventive twists have been revealed. But for now I'm just delighted that Smith has proven himself to be a filmmaker whose movies are more worthy of attention than his pronouncements on social networking sites and, with Red State, he has made his finest picture in years.
DVD extras: "The Making of Red State" documentary, Audio commentary with Kevin Smith, Sundance speech with introduction by Kevin Smith, Sundance ending, Deleted scenes with introduction by Kevin Smith, Poster Gallery with introduction by Kevin Smith.
There are some video covers that hold such an allure for 80's film fans. Sometimes these covers were titillating (The Perils Of Gwendoline), horrifying (The Driller Killer), or intriguing (Alien), and sometimes they spoke promises of such unmitigated violence and debauchery that you were sold from the moment you laid eyes on them.
One such release was The Exterminator, a video cover that featured a muscular, leather clad, motorcycle helmeted avenger brandishing a flamethrower. Looking at it now, it could only really excite an S&M enthusiast with a fondness for Top Gear, but back in the day, it epitomised all that was thrilling, dangerous and forbidden about the home video explosion.
Watching it at home when the folks were in bed, terrified that the clunking mechanics of the top loading VHS recorder would disturb the household from its slumber, it was a film that, at the time, more than delivered on the violence front, even though that black clad avenger bore little relation to the movie's central protagonist. Machetes were brandished, bad guys were fed into industrial meat grinders and sexual deviants were torched and executed in the festering dens of iniquity in which they indulged their vile, criminal practices. In short, it had everything a discriminating teenage boy could demand of a video that he wasn't supposed to see. So whatever rating I've ended up giving this, my 14-year old self would probably insist on adding an extra star at the very least.
However, watching it now, it's easy to see the deficiencies that existed in a film from a director (James Glickenhaus) who maintains that he was attempting to examine the effects of the Vietnam War on the psyche of a man no longer able to discern where the boundaries of fighting that war lay. The story of John Eastland (Robert Ginty) a Vietnam veteran whose best friend Michael Jefferson (Steve James) is attacked and paralysed by local thugs, it follows Eastland as he takes to the streets as a vigilante calling himself the Exterminator; first to seek revenge on those who attacked his friend, and then to mete out justice to any criminals foolish or unfortunate enough to cross his path.
There are nods to the possibility of post-traumatic stress disorder playing a part in Eastland's actions, as well as cursory allusions to the political fallout generated by having such a character on the streets, but essentially, it's a fairly simple film: bad guys do something bad, bad guys die screaming in agony (albeit off-screen for the most part).
The performances range from competent to bad, and the characters are mostly sketches providing no real depth, while the main story follows a path that throws up little in the way of intrigue or surprises. There is a subplot involving a romance between a female doctor (Samantha Eggar) and a Detective (Christopher George) who is attempting to bring The Exterminator to justice, but you should pay it little heed. It exists purely to give the relatively well known Eggar something to do, while contriving a reason for the policeman to be in a hospital at the same time as Eastland during a crucial moment. It's a ham-fisted coincidence designed to bring about the break in the case the police need, and ensure that the film can safely proceed to its concluding face-off.
So, the acting is variable, the plot is no great shakes, and it's nowhere near as violent as I recalled, none of which is to say that I can find a reason to be any less fond of this film than I was 26 years ago.
Although thematically similar to Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (both films feature a Vietnam veteran meting out vigilante justice on the streets of New York while trying to save a prostitute from a life of abuse), The Exterminator, despite its $2million budget, is made firmly in the exploitation tradition. A narrative that is driven predominately by the need for revenge, with set piece sequences featuring depictions of extreme violence and two-dimensional villains who perpetrate some very vile acts indeed, its main accomplishments are its capacity to thrill, shock or entertain, the retribution administered to the bad guys in particular proving amusingly (and gruesomely) cathartic.
But the real appeal of this film for me now lies in two aspects of its production that would have totally passed me by on first viewing. The first is its depiction of New York itself; the city's grubbier aspects during this period providing a huge part of the film's allure (something that distributors Arrow clearly recognise, as they have included a 'then and now' stroll along 42nd Street as part of the extras package).
There are few cities in cinema as recognisable as New York, particularly the 70s version of seedy no-go back streets, litter strewn sidewalks and porno theatre doorways populated with brooding low-lifes every 10 yards. It's a world familiar from such films as The French Connection (1971), Death Wish (1974), Taxi Driver (1976), The Wanderers (1979), The Warriors (1979), Driller Killer (1979), Maniac (1980) and Basket Case (1982); instantly recognisable and a pleasure to see again here.
This is a New York that, shot artfully through the lens of a film camera and from a safe distance of over 30 years and almost 3,500 miles, it is strangely easy to romanticise; a seedy, vicarious thrill that is as integral to the experience of enjoying the movies in which it appears as is the Paris of love, magic and romance depicted in Gigi, Funny Face or Amelie.
In The Exterminator, we visit all the backdrops one might expect, including the gaudy neon-lit exteriors where hookers tout for trade, a scummy hotel where wholesale slaughter is administered to paedophile sex traffickers, a barren and dangerous looking park in which an old lady is mugged, and an abandoned and desolate dock-side that provides the scenario for a climactic showdown in the early hours. It's the sort of action that just wouldn't come to life in the same way if set in any other city, New York and exploitation cinema going together like Pam Grier and the line "The baddest one-chick hit-squad that ever hit town!"
The film's other main strength is its lead, Robert Ginty. He's not the greatest or most charismatic actor you've ever seen, but his essential ordinariness really works within the confines of a story like this. If made today, The Exterminator would likely be a glossy vehicle for someone like Liam Neeson or Jason Statham, men who look like movie stars and seem about as vulnerable as genitals in a cast iron codpiece at a one-legged ball-kicking contest.
Ginty, however, looks like someone you might work with or live next door to, exactly the sort of fellow who, with a sufficiently traumatic past in the arena of war, is likely to snap one day and wreak havoc on those he feels deserve it. Ginty's is a performance that helps to ground the movie in some sort of reality, reigning things in just when the potential for things to get very ridiculous indeed seems possible.
It should also be noted that the production values are actually quite impressive in places, the film's budget being put to particularly good use in the explosive Vietnam prologue. Also, one thing that can be said of Glickenhaus is that he knows how to draw out the aesthetics of a mob boss being fed into a mincer, offsetting the grisly action in the foreground against a silhouette of the action on the warehouse wall in the background.
There are, however, times when the experience proves less than immersive (a car chase in particular, when a teenage hoodlum driving one vehicle suddenly transforms into a middle-aged stuntman in an ill fitting wig), and the script was never going to make any viewer question the moral issues of a society that asked men to die for it but didn't know what to do with them when they didn't.
Yes, it's rough round the edges, some of the acting fails to convince, and it may not appeal to those who are unfamiliar with the exploitation tradition from which it emerged, but somehow this is a film that adds up to more than the sum of its parts. It will never be considered a great movie, but it contains sufficient spectacle, technical flair and good old-fashioned carnage to deserve its cult status. But ultimately, it will appeal primarily to video nostalgists with a penchant for an era when all you really wanted to know about a film was what the picture on the box looked like.
I was pleasantly surprised at how good the film looked, the disc featuring a rather impressive transfer that only really suffers from visible grain in some of the night time scenes. The sound is occasionally muffled at times, but for the most part is clear and lacking in extraneous noise.
Arrow has not been without its critics, particularly when releasing films in the wrong aspect ratio (yes, I'm looking at you, Bird With The Crystal Plumage) but they've done a decent enough job with this release. Besides the film looking about as good as anyone had any right to hope it would, the extras and commentary are entertaining and enlightening. 42nd Street Then And Now - a tour of New York's former sleaze circuit (15 mins), in which the film director Frank Henenlotter laments the changes which have occurred in the area, goes a long way to explaining the production design that informed some of his cult classics such as the Basket Case trilogy and Frankenhooker, while also highlighting the rich exploitation, horror and porno heritage of the street's former theatres which have since been sacrificed in the name of tourism and progress. It also features footage of a man hammering a five-inch nail up his nose if that's your 'bag'.
There's also a very brief introduction to the film from director James Glickenhaus, along with a more substantial interview running to 20 minutes, in which he discusses the movie's origins, influences and enduring appeal. Finally, the commentary with producer Mark Buntzen, moderated by film critic and exploitation authority Calum Waddell, is packed with anecdotes about the making of the film, the rapport between the two proving consistently engaging throughout a conversation that doesn't flag for a second.
Part of the appeal of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was brought home to me by something that novelist John le Carre said about his most enduring creation (and this story's central protagonist), George Smiley. "He sees a lot and can do nothing about it. And seeing a lot is very painful".
In bringing le Carre's novel to the big screen, Director Tomas Alfredson ensures that his audience also "sees a lot" and does so in such a way that it seems as though almost every frame is loaded with some degree of significance. However, for the audience (unlike Smiley) seeing a lot is far from painful. Instead, it is an absolute joy, as the film's complex narrative of secrets and lies within the Secret Intelligence Service unfolds against the flawless backdrop of a perfectly realised 1970s Britain.
The story starts with Control (John Hurt), the head of British Intelligence, sending agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) to Hungary to bring out a General who has intimated that he has information of vital importance. However, the mission is a disaster when Prideaux is shot, and in the ensuing political fall-out, Control and his deputy George Smiley (Gary Oldman) are forced into retirement. Percy Alleline (Toby Jones) takes over as Control, having established his credentials by delivering highly valuable information from a Soviet spy, which he plans to share with the Americans on a quid pro quo basis. Meanwhile, Smiley is summoned by a senior civil servant to covertly investigate allegations from a British Agent that there is a mole at the top of the Secret Service. Smiley has his suspicions, and also doubts the veracity of Alleline's Soviet source.
When I was leaving the cinema after seeing this at the end of last year, I overheard a punter joking that the British lighting industry was obviously dead if this movie was anything to go by, while his partner admitted that she was baffled by the events that had just unfolded. I couldn't agree with the former, as I felt that the film's dour shades perfectly reflected the story's sombre themes of suspicion and betrayal. However, I did have some sympathy for the latter, as this is a film that makes few concessions to an audience looking to be led by the hand through its complex plot.
With minimal exposition, few narrative signposts and a habit of casually divulging important information in the middle of conversations that quickly move on, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy makes the sorts of demands of its audience that few mainstream films do. Nevertheless, give this film the time and attention it deserves, and you'll be rewarded with one of the most engrossing British spy films of all time.
As he demonstrated with Let The Right One In, Alfredson has the knack of convincingly setting extraordinary events within mundane context. Here, we see some seemingly very ordinary men and women operating within a world of secrets and information so jealously guarded that constant paranoia is the accepted way of thinking; a state of mind that is worn on the face of almost every character who makes up the higher echelons of the British Intelligence Service. And what faces they are, Alfredson's camera eagerly exploring the lines and furrows of the likes of John Hurt, Toby Jones, Ciarán Hinds, Mark Strong and Colin Firth so closely that we learn more about them from their expressions than we do from their words.
This is especially so of Gary Oldman's George Smiley, Oldman playing him like some sort of human x-ray machine. His eyes often fill the screen, every flicker enhancing the impression that Smiley reads and understands people to a greater extent than most. He often says very little, but still gives the impression of a razor sharp mind, as well as the repressed emotions and buried hurt of a singular individual who dares to offer neither judgement nor trust. To convey all this in a performance that is so still and so restrained really is a remarkable piece of acting.
In a pivotal scene, he and Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) are discussing Karla, the head of Soviet Intelligence. Tired and slightly drunk, Smiley recounts how he once met Karla when tasked with the job of persuading him to defect to the West. Smiley says that he failed because Karla is a fanatic, and that is why he knows he can be beaten, as all fanatics hold a secret doubt.
In this moment of vulnerability, Oldman really lets us see who Smiley is; a man who holds no such doubts, because he sees the world and everyone in it exactly as they are, making him somebody who is too pragmatic and world weary to hold the kind of ideals that could ever be threatened. This enables him to do the job that he does, to witness betrayals both personal and professional and sometimes even use people himself, all the while retaining the semblance of a good man. It's a moment that brilliantly conveys the pain le Carre spoke of, Alfredson's lens enhancing a sadness that is already evident behind the thick frames of Smiley's spectacles.
All of these performances are supported by a story and script that gives immense depth to every character, even those with whom we're only briefly acquainted. A romantic subplot involving British agent Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) and Irina (Svetlana Khodchenkov), a Soviet operative desperate to defect is genuinely affecting; all the more so because of the brevity with which it is resolved.
Then there are the devastating consequences on Guillam's private life when Smiley warns him he may be under suspicion from colleagues, a distraught Guillam having to ask his male lover to move out of the flat they share together. Such scenes manage to deliver maximum impact with the greatest of economy, and it is a testament to the skill with which Peter Straughan and the sadly departed Bridgette O'Connor have constructed their screenplay that these things matter to us without distracting from the central plot.
In many ways, this is a spy movie that succeeds because we see the protagonists as vulnerable and flawed individuals, much like us. Its story is about international espionage and Cold War intrigue, but its concerns of trust, suspicion and sacrifice are our own. It's about as far removed from the high octane approach of 'the other fella' as you could imagine, eschewing broad brush strokes and instead working its canvas with precision and restraint.
The period detail is flawless, from the wallpaper that adorns the walls of Control's office, to the brown and grey suits that move through rooms clouded in cigarette smoke. The cinematography is superb, enhancing the British noir stylings of the film's design, while portraying a world of drabness and frayed edges in that hyper real way that only cinema can ever really achieve.
In fact, this is a movie where every aspect of the production is perfectly attuned, as Alfredson's direction, the actor's performances, and a superb script combine to imbue every scene, every glance, and every verbal exchange with possible meaning; some of it important, some of it not. Either way, all of it is enthralling.
I don't know if this is it for Gary Oldman and Tomas Alfredson as far as George Smiley is concerned (both have hinted it may not be). Le Carre wrote two sequels to his novel with The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley's People both furthering the rivalry between Karla and Smiley. There's something about the way this film ends that feels like the beginning of something else. However, if this is the end for Oldman's Smiley, then the final scenes provide us with some degree of closure, a montage set to Julio Iglesias singing a disco version of La Mer. Like almost everything else about this film, it is exquisitely judged.
There are plenty of extras to get through, although their quality varies. The highlights are a wonderful 30 minute interview with John le Carre (although the sound doesn't pick up the interviewer, meaning that you can barely hear the questions) and a commentary from Alfredson and Oldman. Another strong feature are the interviews with several members of the cast, where it is clear just how much of a labour of love this was for most of them.
There are a number of featurettes on various aspects of the production although much of the content is taken from the more extensive interviews found elsewhere. A Sky Movies special is more of a throwaway piece of fluff, along with a featurette that covers the UK premiere.
Finally, the opening two chapters from the other two books in le Carre's Karla trilogy are included (as audio books read by Michael Jayston) along with the usual teaser and trailer.
Well that was a bit of a surprise.
Sometimes it's difficult to judge just how much one should know about a film before seeing it. Find out too much and you're in danger of heading into spoiler territory. Too little and there's the distinct possibility you'll end up watching something that ordinarily wouldn't interest you. I hadn't read much about The Adjustment Bureau prior to viewing the Blu-ray release, having only glimpsed the trailer and gleaned enough to know it was based on a Phillip K Dick story, so I was expecting something akin to a sci-fi conspiracy thriller. What I actually got was a romantic drama/fantasy that wrong footed me until at least 45 minutes into its running time, by which point I began to realise that actually, nobody's life was in danger and that 'the bad guy' wasn't going to be making an appearance in this picture any time soon.
So let me assure those of you who, like me, may have seen the images of Matt Damon and Emily Blunt being pursued by shadowy figures in trench coats and fedoras, that the Adjustment Bureau mean you no harm. Because what they are is a group of semi-omnipotent beings charged by God (well 'The Chairman') with ensuring that everything goes to plan in the great entanglement of human affairs.
The Adjustment Bureau opens with a sequence depicting the political rise of man of the people David Norris (Matt Damon) as he appears poised on the verge of securing a US Senate seat. However, due to an unfortunate mooning incident at his college reunion that is then exploited by the tabloids on the eve of the elections, his chances are scuppered. Retreating to the gents in disappointment he meets ballet dancer Elise Sellas (Blunt) and the two of them develop an instant and overwhelming attraction. There then follows a period during which it appears that shadowy forces are up to no good, as the aforementioned men in fedoras (John Slattery and Harry Mitchell) set about 'putting things right'. This involves getting Norris's political career back on track, as well as ensuring that he never sees Elise again because it is not in God's plan. However, Norris is determined to cock a snook to the grand designs of the Creator and so does everything in his power to foil the Adjustment Bureau's efforts to keep him and Elise apart, even if it costs him (and her) two brilliant careers.
This was the point at which I realised nobody was out to assassinate or blackmail Norris and it became clear that what was actually at stake was the love of a good woman (oh and the Presidency of the United States if he doesn't give her up). In that sense it's a very old fashioned kind of movie, in spite of its sci-fi flirtations and neo-noir leanings.
While its romantic elements are delivered with conviction and no small degree of charm, the rest of the movie just doesn't provide the thrills I strongly suspect Director George Nolfi intended. When a movie makes such great play of its chase sequences you expect to feel a certain degree of jeopardy but for me this was wholly absent. No doubt these scenes are clever, even enjoyable due to their ingenuity, but there's never any real sense of peril, the only consequence if Norris fails being that he won't see Elise again. Not nice for him certainly but he'll get over it and she seems to get on with her life alright in the three years that they're apart. As far as the Presidency is concerned he's made it clear by this point that he's not really that arsed.
There is some talk from the Adjustment Bureau of erasing Norris's mind if he reveals the truth but as this threat is delivered by the ever affable Slattery, it's difficult to believe that they would ever really go that far. After all, they are angels remember, agents of a loving and benevolent God? Even when Thompson (Terence Stamp), a supernatural fixer with a fearsome reputation, is called on to intervene, it doesn't stop Norris giving him a hefty bunch of fives and easily giving him the slip by virtue of a hat he borrows from an angel sympathetic to his plight. Stamp's final scene sees his supposed infallibility immediately undermined by a subordinate and the poor man literally shuffles off screen in the manner of a failed music hall comic. The conclusion never seems in doubt.
However, the film features good performances from the leads, the chemistry between Damon and Blunt being particularly potent. Oh sure, she's the kind of kooky cat who does things like answer his mobile phone before dropping it into his coffee, but in films these things are charming rather than the incitement to throat-throttling that they would be in real life. Damon makes a character who is probably too good to be true just about credible enough for you to be able to buy into a romance that is worth incurring the wrath (well, mild annoyance) of God for. It also looks wonderful, its slick visuals and shiny surfaces making New York look as good as ever.
Fundamentally though, once you get past the wrapping, this is a very familiar story, and one that lacks the depth it could have had when it comes to addressing ideas of free will and self determination. Beneath the fantasy elements that may distract the eye and its squandered potential to thrill, the film represents that most enduring of all Hollywood clichés, which is that love conquers all when two people are meant to be together (even when they're not).
==Blu ray extras==
The Blu ray extras are not bad at all, my favourite being The Labyrinth of Doors: An Interactive map of New York. This is an interactive feature that allows you to follow David and Elsie's journey through New York in the film's climactic chase sequence, as well as offering behind the scenes footage from each of the locations. There are also some interesting featurettes including a look at Blunt's preparation for the role of a ballet dancer, interviews with cast and crew, a look at the romantic plot and some deleted scenes. Nolfi's commentary is worth listening to as it is full of technical information as well as his own thoughts on the themes of the movie, even if some of this did confirm that he doesn't always achieve what he sets out to accomplish. You also get the option of downloading more films from universal, thanks to BD Live, this is not something I will be taking them up on.
I am not one of those guys that can go down to the gym and pump iron for hours, growling at each other and grunt like warthogs. I feel rather uncomfortable in the gym; I look like the guy from the Mr Muscle advert with my floppy black hair contrasting against my pale skin, my Batman t-shirt and long Hawaiian shorts. I am not a gym person. As with most activities I partake in, I prefer to exercise alone, with my thoughts and my music. I was always good at running; I was very gangly at school, as thin as a bean with an over quick metabolism. Running long distances was my bag and something that I was quite good at. After school, I gave up running. At university I discovered alcohol, women and preferred to spend my free time in a dark room playing computer games or watching movies. As an adult, again exercise never really appealed to me and because my metabolism, I never had to worry about keeping fit for weight loss reasons. A year ago, I took a trip to the quacks as I was suffering with a cold that kept coming and going and the doctor told me that I had to start exercising as my life style of take away food and too much alcohol was raising my blood pressure and I was becoming very unhealthy. For once in my life, I did the adult thing and I actually paid attention to someone who was trying to tell me something. The same night, I went out for my first 'jog' I donned my old trainers and tracksuit bottom and headed out. Within a couple of minutes, I was sucking wind through my bottom! I headed home, tail between legs and I realised how unhealthy I was. It was time to sort out my act. I downloaded an app for my phone that was designed to map your running routes and told you how many calories you burnt. I loved the app but it was not as accurate as I liked. As I got into running, I was doing better and better and gradually feeling stronger and healthier. I decided that as a treat, I would invest in a little gadget such as this which would do some of the tasks that the phone app did but it would do them better. I always wanted a tool that would measure my heart rate and this led me to finding the Garmin Forerunner 410.
In the box: USB ANT stick; heart rate monitor; two additional soft straps for smaller or larger wrists; AC charger; charging clip; owner's manual on disk; quick reference guide.
The Garmin Forerunner 410 is an interesting item and it has so many functions, including a heart rate monitor. The forerunner has the measurements of 4.8 x 7.1 x 1.6 centimetres and it weighs 60 g so it is not unlike a regular watch. The display is 2.7 cm in diameter which is clear enough for you to see whilst running. The Forerunner runs on a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. It needs to be recharged regularly, but in terms of battery life I am pleased with how long it lasts. The battery lasts around 6-8 hours in training mode and then for two weeks in power save mode. It is much more efficient having a battery such as this as it works out better value than having to buy batteries; it always keeps the machine nice and light for your wrist. To charge the device you get a charging clip, once you connect this to the power you then need to make sure the connectors at the back of the watch are in contact with the clip which runs over the face of the watch and it should start charging straight away.
As part of the package when you buy the running watch you always get access to some free software. You can visit Garmin.com/intosports to download software so that you can store and analyse your workout data. Garmin Connect free online training community and Garmin Training Center software are compatible with Windows XP or newer and Intel-based Mac running OS 10.4 or later with Safari. The device comes with straps for large and small wrists. It fastens like a watch, there is a lot of scope to move the straps small and larger, especially with the spare strap. This means that it can accommodate a slim or chunky wrist. It is made from rubber and it is very soft, I like it quite tight as I hate it moving around when I run, but you can wear it loose it you want. I like how it feels and even when I get sweaty, the rubber strap does not aggravate my skin. I am allergic to leather so always need a rubber strap; this is one of the softest I have come across.
As with any gadget, it needs some TLC to keep it ticking over. Firstly, this is not waterproof. It can be taken in water for 30 minutes and submerged to less than 1 meter, but any more than this and you will have a soggy little watch. To clean it, you need to avoid detergents and only use a damp cloth. As the strap gets quite sweaty you will need to wipe it over regularly as it can get quite dirty and you want to preserve the strap as long as possible. The face needs cleaning too and again a damp sponge or cloth will clean this up nicely.
==Controls and functions==
Let me talk you through the watch face. Firstly the bezel round the edge of the screen is multi-functional. You can tap it, this toggles the menu, changes pages, and makes a selection. You can also touch and hold it; this switches modes when you hold one of the four labelled areas: time/date, GPS, menu and training. Double press, this back lights the device so you can see it in the dark. Finally you can touch and drag; you can use the bezel as a scroll and run through menus quick and easy or increase or decrease figures. When the first open the watch, you need to acquire satellites and set up the GPS. This allows you then to set the date and time; to set up the GPS you need stand outside in an open space and angle the antennae of the machine towards the sky. This antenna cannot be seen and is loaded into the base of the watch so you need to position it with this skyward.
The pack comes with a heart rate monitor that you connect to your chest. You need to wear it directly on your skin. If you snap the heart rate monitor onto the strap and then wet both electrodes on the back of the strap, this creates a strong connection between the transmitter and your chest. If you bring the Forerunner close to your body it will pair and a heart icon will appear on the device. You can then monitor your heart rate. The device displays your heart rate in beats per minute and it has five heart rate zones that you can customise. Monitoring your heart rate is important for runners as it helps prevent you running too fast at the beginning of your run, it also helps you to monitor your recovery and it is an important part of threshold training if you want to increase your timings.
One of the best features I have found is the Virtual Partner. This is where you configure a virtual partner to run with, so you set the device to see whether you fall behind or run ahead. It really helps you keep to a targeted pace, the device gives you accurate feedback about where you are in the race. As part of your training programme, you can create three different types of work out. Firstly, there is Simple Run. This is a programme for a specified time, distance or number of calories. Next there is the Interval Run where you incorporate rest periods into your training. The third is a heart rate run where you can set the device to keep you in your heart rate zone, this is my preferred style of training. You can configure more advanced workouts through the Garmin Connect tool online.
The Garmin Connect website is amazing as you can create custom courses with location markers to track your progress. These can be uploaded onto the watch so that you can follow the courses when out running. The device helps you navigate back on the correct route if you get lost. You can also set goals, such as 5 Km , 10 km, marathon and track your progress against your goals.
Many of the functions rely on the computer to do the work for you and then load these on to the device. The USB stick is the key and allows you to wirelessly sync your device to your computer or laptop. This is how you load on courses and download your data.
Wireless Sync: The USB ANT stick supplied with the Garmin Forerunner 410 enables wireless sync both to and from the device and your PC. You can download all saved activities and associated data from the device whilst also being able to upload goals, courses and location markers from Garmin Connect via your PC.
This is a device that I am really enjoying having and I use it all the time. I find that it helps me work harder and train harder as it gives me focus. It helps me follow my progress and I can see improvements in my training which spurs me on to work harder. The device is relatively cheap compared to some of the premium devices out there. I am nowhere near at competing level and I run for run, I do not need an expensive machine at all. This does what I want it to and it does it well. There are some cracking features, such as, it pauses automatically when you have to stop at traffic lights and the display is easy to read and follow. The device pairs instantly with my lap top and I find it so useful being able to device courses online.
The GPS is hit and miss, sometimes it takes a second to connect and sometimes you are stood for five minutes waiting for it to connect. I have no idea how to improve the accuracy of it in these initial stages but overall once it locates a signal, it does not lose it. The watch, on the whole is easy to control, although the bezel is not the easiest way to navigate round the machine. The new model by Garmin is completely touch screen; this is far more accurate and easy to control. It is very tempting to upgrade after seeing it in the shops.
I have seen so many improvements in my health and fitness and I love having the control over my body that this provides. I am not interested in cycling, but of you are you can buy a holder so you can use it on a bike as well as on your wrist. I needed a GPS receiver so I could plan more adventurous runs and I find the heart rate monitor really imperative to how I like to train. If this is your budget then you will find that this offers you a lot for your money; however you can be a little disappointed if you are wanting a top of the range model. You will have to part with more cash if that is the case.
Price? This can be bought for £130 from Running shops and Amazon
The title of Gustavo Hernández's effective little spook fest is particularly apt as, for large parts of its running time, it features one very quiet house indeed. Horror films can be noisy affairs what with all that shouting, screaming, and the sound of the dry heaves, so it's an unusual experience to sit and watch one where the majority of the dialogue is delivered in the opening ten minutes and where about two thirds of the film features very little in the way of any dialogue at all.
With The Silent House, so much has been made of the technical achievement involved in supposedly filming its entire eighty-six minutes in one continuous take that its use of sound (or lack of it) has largely been overlooked. However, much of the success of this film and what it achieves is as much to do with what you hear as what you see and how you see it.
The story is a simple one. Laura (Florencia Colucci) and her father (Gustavo Alonso) are due to carry out some renovations on a cottage owned by Néstor (Abel Tripaldi) prior to him selling it. Being conscientious sorts, they decide to spend the night there before starting work early the next day.
Unfortunately, It isn't long before Laura is hearing some alarming noises emanating from upstairs, and when her father goes to investigate, she hears his startled cries and is very soon reduced to a shrieking, blubbering mess, desperate to escape from whoever (or whatever) attacked her father and left him for dead.
As events unfold in real time, director Hernández follows Laura with a hand held camera that never lets her out of its sight (apart from when it goes dark, obviously), meaning that we see what she sees and hear what she hears. Sometimes we're right beside her, at others the camera withdraws and hides behind a piece of furniture peeking out at her. In this way we move back and forth between a sometimes intense identification with her terror, to a voyeuristic sense of observing the trauma she endures, as we watch from what feels like a safe distance.
Style, atmosphere and action
This stylistic approach proves to be more than just an interesting technical exercise, as it also pays dividends in building an atmosphere of suspense and dread. The shifting sense of perspective, combined with the protracted sequences of utter quiet, creates an incredibly unnerving atmosphere; the thick and leaden silence broken only by the creak of a door hinge or the groan of an upstairs floorboard. This sort of thing is done so well that you can feel the oppression of the situation building by the second, and it is no surprise that Laura is almost as unnerved by things not happening as she is when they are.
Admittedly, much of the action consists of Laura creeping around in the dark being occasionally driven to new heights of fear as a result of a sudden noise, or something she thinks she sees out of the corner of her eye. However, the single-take technique establishes such a fine mood of suspense that a vase being knocked over down the other end of a corridor delivers scares more effectively than many yah-boo slashers.
Most horror movie fans will, at the very least, be subconsciously familiar with the sorts of filmmaking conventions used in editing to achieve shocks within the genre. When such conventions are removed, it can be a disorienting experience, making it less easy to predict when the scares will come, and therefore not affording you the momentary breather you're occasionally grateful for. The cumulative effect in The Silent House is that the movie becomes a more tense experience throughout, with little respite from the feeling that something is going to happen any second.
At its best, it produces some very chilling moments, none more so than when Laura has to rely on a camera flash for illumination and is therefore only able to glimpse the room she's in in single frozen moments, her surroundings seeming to subtlety suggest something new each time the flash goes off. What she sees on one occasion was enough for me to let out a shamefully girly shriek of surprise, an unfortunate occurrence that meant I was glad I was watching it on my own.
Although it does a fine job of drawing you in throughout its first sixty minutes, unfortunately, much of this good work is, if not undone, then undermined by a conclusion that doesn't really deliver in terms of a satisfying resolution. Too much of what has gone before doesn't make sense in retrospect, and one development in particular suggests that Oscar Estévez's screenplay may be trying to be a little too clever for its own good in offering an explanation for everything that has occurred up to that point.
It's a shame, because, it's at that point the film becomes something conventional once more, and is far too reminiscent of one or two other horror plot developments seen in recent years.
But overall, this is a significant and rewarding film that rewards close attention for anyone willing to abandon themselves to its brilliantly sustained mood of menace and dread. Remarkably, it was shot on a photo camera (a Canon Mark II 5D), and acts as quite an advert for the HD capabilities of this comparatively affordable piece of kit. Also, for a film that reportedly cost $6,000 to make, it really does lay down a marker for anybody with the desire to make their own film, and puts much of the mainstream output of big budget, studio horror films to shame.
Scary, tense and capable of creating wonderful moments of creeping dread, The Silent House is only let down by a final act that fails to follow through on much of the ingenuity that proceeds it. Its frequent fades to black may cause the more cynical to doubt that it was really shot in one take but either way The Silent House is an impressive technical and artistic achievement.
Just a trailer, unfortunately, as a director's commentary at least would have been very interesting for a film made on such a shoestring and in this way.