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I never did hear any of Alastair Cooke's famous Letters From America. I know they were good; I know they were from an English emigrant who fell in love with the United States. It's remarkable and sad to note that on March 2, 2004, at the age of 95, Cooke announced his retirement from Letter from America after 58 years, the longest-running speech radio show in the world. So with that in mind, it's with a certain reticense that I write about the offspring nation across The Pond, safe in the knowledge that I am a mere shadow in the footsteps of both Cooke and, well, quite frankly most writers, come to think of it.
It was only recently that I felt frustrated by the newly christened U.S. and A. courtesy of the ficticious reporter, Borat. Having contributed to popular culture: The Wall Street Crash, Prohibition, The Boston Strangler and Ronald Reagan's presidency along with hamburgers, fast food, American Football and Marilyn Manson, the country that the world loves to hate but also loves to love (but my baby just loves to dance, he loves to dance), also managed to initiate the sub-prime lending scandal, plunging the world economy into turmoil. Still, who am I to pass judgement following such a greed inspired debacle as that? Poor, vulnerable saps seeking home ownership were, allegedly, lured into fixed rate mortgages with unaffordable stepped increases in payments built into the deals, bucking the usual trend of long term fixed rate contracts. With the tidal wave of repossessions that followed as home owner after home owner gave up on their payments but only after a financial feeding frenzy for packaged sales of high profit inducing mortgage debts were bought across the globe in one of the biggest, high risk, sleight of hands seen since Donald McEastwood sold life saving Buckfast containing coloured water to the wave of new settlers, way out west. He never did get as far as Alaska but then he only had a fistful of dollars and a map that didn't feature land masses that far north.
I shouldn't be put off by these types of shortcomings, should I? Alright, there's still more things that I abhore about Americana like the continued application of the death penalty in several states, the spirit of capitalist greed that pervades the American culture and the rampant gun culture that makes so much of the U.S. a dangerous place to live. In actual fact, I remember visiting The Gold Coast many years ago and deliberately avoiding Miami due to my perception that this particular city was an outpost of lawlessness and a dead cert that I would be shot if I set one dainty, Brit foot in the flowery-shirted Hades of Crockett and Tubbs. Alternatively, we went to Treasure Island, harboured by the Gulf of Mexico, surrounded by the blue waters inhabited by manitees and dolphins and where the most dangerous thing was a golf shack owned by pensioners on the beach who may, just may, nod off in their wooden hut and not be able to rent you those crazy golf clubs to while away a stray half an hour or so.
Of course, there are good things to come from America. We have Bill Gates who revolutionised the world of computing with his Microsoft empire; baseball, that good, honest American pastime that's as popular as blueberry pie and icecream (has anyone actually eaten a blueberry pie in this dour country called England or anywhere else for that matter?) and New York, the city that never sleeps and you can't find an apple that defies the category of "big". I can endorse this by declaring that I really like baseball and have been to NY, falling in love with the place in the process. To be honest, Bill Gates may be a bit of a red herring, come to think of it. Oh, there's lots of other goodness that oozes from the land of plenty too. There's Walt Disney and his theme park legacy; there's Hollywood with its movie making industry. There's large cars with poor suspension and there's cowboys that kiss in the movies. There's rodeos that prove man's ability to cow the savage beast and there's the multicultural acceptance that's inherent in The Constitution. There's all these things that mark the USA as a beacon of hope to the rest of the world even if U.S foreign policy kinda forces that hope upon many and has its own, self interest at heart. Allegedly for America is the land of litigation, subpoena and counter-sue and a place where the CIA meet the MIB and fight aliens, whether illegal or from another world in just one more scene from a Will Smith movie.
As Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama look to break the race/gender mould in US politics, so it is that I ponder the multi-billion dollar merry-go-round that is the perpetual campaign for political office in that great country. Money that could be spent better elsewhere, perhaps, like on a system of healthcare that doesn't exclude the poor, like on a social welfare safety net that protects the vulnerable. All these things are mocked in media culture; just watch the subtext in programmes like The Simpsons. Come to think of it, yep, The Simpsons, and maybe in that dysfunctional family with a stable, moral code at its heart, those yellow-featured, cartoon caricatures sum the country up with an image it would like to own. Then again, Mr Burns and his run-down nuclear plant may be closer to the truth. Hmmmm.....Smithers.
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Sometimes, just sometimes, a movie comes along and surprises, giving you something you hadn't expected. In my case, I love most things associated with sci-fi writer, Philip K Dick and having enjoyed the screen adaptations of "Total Recall", "Minority Report" and most famously "Blade Runner", it was a delightful revelation that the movie "Next" (not to be confused with the retail chain) was a loose adaptation of a Dick short story called "The Golden Man".
What would happen if you could see two minutes into your own future? Two minutes in which you could alter things and shape your destiny. That's exactly the special ability possessed by Las Vegan magician, Cris Johnson (Nicolas Cage). The exception to this is a beautiful girl that he sees in a diner, over and over again. Whilst at a casino, his gambling draws the attention of the resident security men and, by seeing the future, Johnson prevents an armed robbery, restraining the assailant but the arriving guards jump to the wrong conclusion assuming the magician to be the instigator, causing him to flee.
Meanwhile, FBI agent Ferris (Julianne Moore) is working on a case that involves preventing a terrorist gang detonating a nuclear device. Aware of Johnson's talents, she heads up a team intent on catching the clairvoyant in a bid to enlist his help in the urban terrorist operation. As they close in on Johnson, he finally meets up with the dream girl from his premonitions and having spent the night with her, wakes to realise that their cabin is surrounded by FBI agents ready to take him in. As he escapes, a future unfolds that cancels out his new found happiness, plunging him into a nightmare scenario involving the FBI, the terrorists and the potential, violent death of his new girlfriend. Somehow, some way, Johnson must find a future that side steps an apocalypse and guides him to a fulfillment that he's sought all his life.
"Next" was released in 2007 film and is a science fiction/action movie directed by Lee Tamahori. To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of Nic Cage. He was compelling in "National Treasure", poignantly funny in "Family Man" and strangely depressing in "The Weather Man" and in "Next" he slides away from his sex symbol status, what with markedly longer hair and a ponderous role in which he spends nearly the whole of the run time looking thoughtful. Jessica Biel as Liz Cooper sounds a babe alert as Cage's love interest, with a damsel-in-distress part that's more than enough to engage the males in the audience (and some females if you are into that kinda thing or maybe you just appreciate her thespian qualities).
Peter Falk gets a curious cameo as Cage's confidant and looks decidedly ancient, albeit sans dirty mac but still sporting that Columbo accent and glass eye squint, even if he doesn't get a chance to wear down the bad guy into confessing all. Julianne Moore is on safe ground as an FBI agent, having traversed that particular territory in the Hannibal Lecter franchise and the stereotypical foreign terrorists all look and sound ominously foreign-terroristish in that typically non-American way that terrorists always are in Hollywood movies. [Golden rule in Hollywood: Always make the bad guy either a foreign terrorist or English!] Perhaps the strangest thing about the whole piece is the lack of explanation as to why the terrorists are looking to nuke the city. Gary Goldman and Jonathan Hensleigh's screenplay makes it pretty hard to follow as to why the evil, non-US persons are trying to convert the city into radioactive wasteland and I couldn't work out why they were doing what they were doing with a tenuous link to Johnson and his newly threatened girlfriend thrown in to the melee.
The special effects are up and down at times. The blue/green screen shot of a car jumping a rail track beating the train to the mark doesn't look overly convincing but the rock slide, action set piece as Johnson tries to escape the FBI is much better while the time-splitter like sequences with the lead extending his powers of seeing into the future are original if a little confusing. Perhaps the most oblique aspect of the movie is the anachronistic debate that the audience is tempted to have around the ability and ramifications of controlling 2 minutes and above into your own personal future but if you suspend belief and just let the plot wash over you then it is possible to engage with the story. [Cue bizarre script like: "Liz: I don't want you to die. Johnson: It happened. It just hasn't happened yet."]
With a run time of 96 minutes, certificate 12A and music from Mark Isham, "Next" is a decent addition to the fashionable catalogue of Philip K Dick adaptations, if not startlingly good compared with other movies in the same genre. The film will appeal to older children and adults looking for action and drama with a sci-fi theme and the movie rattles along at a good pace without getting bogged down in sub-plots. With a decent cast, good story and a frenetic finale, "Next" is a good excuse to buy/hire the DVD or pay for it from Sky Box Office. Quite frankly, I enjoyed it.
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Phil Connors (Bill Murray) yearns for more status. Tired of doing the local weather and the occasional quirky news story, he's generally dismissive of the people that work with him, unkind to strangers and feels that life's a drag. So when he gets asked to cover the annual Groundhog Day celebrations in Punxsutawney yet again, he reluctantly goes together with his pretty producer, Rita (Andie MacDowell) and cameraman, Larry (Chris Elliott). Holing up in a local bed and breakfast, he's woken at 6am by his radio-clock alarm to the strains of Sony and Cher's "I Got You Babe" followed by the inane babble of two of the radio station's DJs.
Connors shoots the scene involving local celeb, Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog who can apparently predict whether there's going to be an early Spring but on attempting to leave town afterwards, the crew are sent back following the closing of the roads due to a blizzard. The following day at precisely 6am, the alarm goes off again playing exactly the same song and followed by word for word babble from the two DJs. Connors meets the same man on the stairs, replays the same scenario at breakfast and bumps into the same ex-school chum in town. Confused, he lives out the same day as before only to find that the following day is another exact repeat. As every day unfolds the same as the previous one, Connors comes to realise that he's in love with Rita but what does he have to do to break the repeating cycle?
"Groundhog Day" is a romantic comedy film released in 1993. Directed by Ghostbuster, Harold Ramis (who gets a cameo as a doctor), it is based on a story by Danny Rubin with the screenplay co-written by Rubin and the movie's director. I must admit, I am a big fan of Murray. I love the Ghostbuster movies, thought he was great in "Scrooged", wasn't so keen on his character in "Lost in Translation" and generally find his deadpan humour funny.
In "Groundhog Day", Murray is on top form. Classically laconic and mostly cynical, Murray's wry stare pre-empts many of the golden one-liners that litter the script. Compelling as a man caught in a time-loop, Murray's character steals bags of money from security vans guarded only by doddery old men, courts women having built up a winning formula too woo them following several days of punctuated chat and even tries to commit suicide in numerous different ways. At one point, having realized that whatever he does, he can operate with impunity, he goes on a joy ride, trailed by cops, eventually crashing the car. As a stern officer wanders over to the smoking vehicle, Connors winds the window down, looks out and says: "Yeah, three cheeseburgers, two large fries, two chocolate shakes and a large coke.". Needless to say, he, along with his co-drinkers, get thrown in jail but he wakes again the following day at 6am on the dot as though nothing has happened.
MacDowell is delightful in her co-lead role. Best remembered (by me, at least) for her role in "Sex, Lies and Videotape", she plays along with Murray's deadpan humour beautifully. Sure, it all gets a bit sugary towards the end as the love story plot gathers momentum but it's in context and MacDowell's smile lights up the screen, scene after scene as the metaphorical girl next door. Chris Elliott as Larry makes a great foil for Murray's biting wit as the grey jumper wearing, nerd whilst Stephen Tobolowsky as Ned Ryerson provides a wonderfully funny sub-plot as the insurance salesman, ex-school chum who Connors simply can't remember. There is a moralistic undertone to the movie, seen before in films like "Scrooged", with a blatant message about man's humanity to man, true love, being kind to others and all that kinda thang, that some producers/directors can't resist sermonizing over but it doesn't derail the comic momentum behind many of the set pieces and Murray's cynicism is just enough to add an edge of credibility that allows the audience to feel warm and fuzzy without feeling guilty about any saccharine intentions laced in the plot.
The setting of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania is just adorable with snow filled streets and charming town bandstands and it's almost a throw back to sets like Bedford Falls in "It's a Wonderful Life", all idealistic, rustic charm and good natured locals going about their business (notwithstanding, I'm not sure whether there was any hidden intentions behind calling the rural, park area of town "Gobbler's Knob". The mind boggles). February 2nd is a real life celebration in the town featured in the movie and in 2006, Groundhog Day was added to the United States National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". Because of the dates involved, there's always been a special resonance for me as the day after the festival happens to be my birthday, although I've never been able to wander out of a cage, sniff the ground, look for a shadow and whisper into someone's ear that an early spring is due.
At a reasonable 101 run time and with a PG certificate, "Groundhog Day" is a delightful comedy that will appeal to older children and adults. Having won numerous awards including several BAFTAs, the movie has a sparkling script, a barn full of deceptively funny one-liners and with both leads on top form, this a movie that deserves the status of classic. I watched it again the other night and loved it. If you haven't seen it before then it's a must-see. If you have, tune into Sky Movies, rent the DVD or steal it from a friend and watch it again. Whatever you do, this is a brilliant film.
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In a genre dominated by movies featuring young children emerging through wizardhood, battling he who should not be named and throwing star-spattered conical hats in the air at the end of every story, there was decreed (only because we were getting a bit bored with the bespectacled young hero) a changing of the guard and a new fantasy franchise borne of a different author. Yes, having spanned the years dating back to 2001, the Harry Potter phenomenon finally looked like it had met its successor, having flirted with serious competition in the guise of Disney's "Chronicles of Narnia" saga, in the shape of the blockbuster release of this Yuletide: "The Golden Compass".
In a parallel universe amongst an Infinite number of universes, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) is determined to prove the existence of "Dust", a substance that originates in another universe and enters a person's body through their daemon (an animal residing outside of a person's body that equates to their soul). Fearing the implications of this discovery and the threat to their power, the ruling body - The Magisterium - is determined to stop Asriel proving his theory. Appealing successfully for funds to undertake a hazardous expedition to the frozen North, Asriel leaves with both the mystery of the recent, sinister disappearances of children still unresolved and his niece, Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards), determined to follow him.
Following a visit to Jordan college by "an important person", Lyra (who is a ward of the college) is offered the opportunity to assist Marisa Coulter (Nicole Kidman), on her own journey to the (Arctic) North, after having been giving a device called an alethiometer by the master of the college. The alethiometer is the last of its kind, the rest confiscated by the Magisterium, and has the power to answer any question, stating the truth, assuming that the owner has the power to read it. Discovering that Mrs Coulter is actually the head of the General Oblation Board, which appears to be the official name for the insidious Gobblers, a twilight gang who are responsible for kidnapping the children, she escapes along with her daemon and sets off in pursuit of her uncle, followed closely by Coulter and the full fury of the Magisterium.
The Golden Compass is a fantasy film based on Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy of books, "The Golden Compass" (known as "Northern Lights" in the UK) being the first in the sequence. At $180 million, it is one of New Line's biggest-budget projects and attempts to translate the best-selling book to film, capturing the theology of the book in the process.
In terms of big screen presence and spectacular effects, the results are impressive. Directed and screen written by Chris Weitz, the set pieces shot in Norway are stunning, as are the CGI sequences that go with it. The polar bear creations are adorable and a sure-fire winner with the kids, even if the armoured bear subplot, complete with Scandinavian names like Iorek Byrnison and voiced by British luvvie, Ian McKellan, takes us into the most violent sequences in the story. The Oxford colleges used in filming for the earlier shots look magisterial and the apocalyptic battle at the end is a dramatic way to close out this installment, even if the effects merging the witches in with the other battle participants isn't so convincing.
There are lots of things that don't work with the movie. The cast of children led by Dakota Blue Richards all look and sound like urchin rejects from the cast of "Annie the musical". What with all those irksome colloquialisms from the imagination of Pullman and a borderline, Cockney child, chimney sweep look, for the most part the kids grated on me, even if shadowy figures in the night were continually snatching them and whisking them off to a secret location for nefarious purposes. I almost expected Dick Van Dyke to turn up, holding his braces, singing "The Lambeth Walk" in the most dreadful, imitation Cock-er-nee accent ever with a line of soot-faced kids trailing after his nibs.
With the story needing explanation to begin with, the movie takes quite a while to settle down and for anyone unfamiliar with the book then I would suspect that they would find it all a bit dull to start off with. Perhaps most of all, the ending wasn't as I remembered it in the book and the tepid link to the second movie was all a bit too cautious for me when we already had a decent denouement outlined in Pullman's literary work. Both of the leads seem decidedly understated. Daniel Craig doesn't look like Craig but is rather hidden under an explorer's beard and constant frown while Kidman looks so prim and full of authority that it seems like she's still miles away thinking about her "Something Stupid" duet with Robbie Williams. It was hard to empathise with either of them.
Still, the religious dogma from the book is brought out for the most part and the quasi Catholic church of The Magisterium is suitably sinister, with robed priests trying to poison their opponents and grim looking daemons up to no good at their master's behest. The whole concept of the Middle Ages type thinking is neatly outlined and you do get the feeling that The Magisterium and its minions are determined to control the population, both in terms of behaviour and beliefs. Better still, the movie lays the groundwork for future conflict and the customary struggle between good and evil.
With a PG certificate and a run time of 113 minutes, "The Golden Compass" is a big budget, fantasy production that will delight most children. With polar bears and witches, aeronauts and cute, animal daemons, the movie possesses all the ingredients to keep younger children and undemanding adults interested to the back beat of a perfunctory musical score by Alexandre Desplat. With adventure and battles, chases and dramatic show downs, "The Golden Compass" is a passable introduction to the "His Dark Materials" trilogy although, there is a genuine opportunity, just like the first Harry Potter movie, to improve on a ponderous opening and establish the franchise fully in the sequel. With the screenplays for the second and third installments "The Subtle Knife" and "The Amber Spyglass" commissioned by New Line, the production of any subsequent movies is dependant on the final takings for the first movie. A relatively poor performance in the U.S. was followed by success on release world wide, making the decision to press on with more movies increasingly likely. If and when they do get made, no doubt I'll be there watching and hoping that the director takes more of a risk with the sequels.
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Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) is a hard-bitten cop with an ex-wife and daughter. Assigned to bring in a young computer hacker, McClane walks into a fire storm at the hackers apartment, eventually fleeing from the scene having dispatched several of the assassins in the process. On the way to the FBI HQ in Washington D.C. and the safe house of Deputy Director Bowman (Cliff Curtis), the duo encounter traffic chaos whilst the US Stock Market is de-railed by the urban terrorist, Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant). As it becomes clear that Matthew Farrell (Justin Long) is the only surviving hacker of a network that has been unwittingly helping Gabriel with his unraveling master plan, McClane is ordered to take Farrell into protective custody. Challenging Farrell to put himself in the shoes of the terrorists, he deduces that to pursue his plan, the instigator would have to target the utilities, consequently taking them off to the power hub in West Virginia. With the resultant struggle with the bad guys resulting in the death of Gabriel's assistant and lover, things get personal and the architect of the current chaos goes after McClane's daughter, telling his adversary of his intentions and prompting the all action cop to reply, menacingly that he's coming after him.
"Die Hard 4.0" (released as "Live Free or Die Hard" in the U.S.) is the fourth movie in the Die Hard franchise. Directed by Len Wiseman, the latest adventures of John McClane, the cop always in the wrong place at the wrong time, comes some 19 years after the original movie was released back in 1988. Loosely based on an article called "A Farewell to Arms", "Die Hard 4.0" reflects on what might happen following an attack on America by cyber terrorists and is the latest in a long line of movies to have a strong undercurrent of post 9/11 paranoia.
You have to hand it to Willis, even now he still looks the part with dirty vests and blood splattered clothes. He is the archetypal action hero and is as important to the genre as our Arnie, the Austrian Oak. Looking distinctly older with no hair left on top, Willis pouts, grimaces, wise cracks and generally sashays his way through the movie just like the good old days of Die Hard's 1, 2 and 3. In fact, I couldn't help but reflect on how much more like a James Bond movie this was than the Bond movie I'd seen recently with Daniel Craig in it. Determined to stave off any anachronism, Willis now has a daughter with his ex-wife apparently long gone and the strain of their father-daughter relationship gently mapped in amongst all the carnage. The sight of McClane knocking on the steamy car window as his teen daughter makes out with a boy and the ensuing debate between them about whether her car-sharer is a boyfriend or not, all after McClane has just told the young man to get outta the car, is a nice touch and one fathers could relate too in general. Indeed the chemistry between Willis and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Lucy works reasonably well, even if Lucy is reduced to female in distress for the most part.
The supporting cast is pretty credible. Olyphant as the criminal mastermind isn't as effective as some of his predecessors but then Alan Rickman set an almost impossibly high bar on the psychotic terrorist front in a previous Die Hard outing. Cliff Curtis looks like a poor man's Denzil Washington whilst Justin Long reminded me of Sam of Sam and Mark fame from Yoof tv in the mornings on the Beeb. Cute, chubby-faced and clever as well as being brave, he's an unlikely side-kick for the gritty Willis who lets go of the secret of his incredible natural ability for the most eye-popping gymnastics whilst kicking ass left, right and centre. He still goes to the gym, it seems. Still, Long gets to spar with Willis with some great exchanges like "Farrell: "Awww, great. Your phone doesn't work." McClane: "What, did they drop the satellites or something?" Farrell: "No, your battery just died." And Farrell: "You just killed a helicopter with a car! McClane: "I was out of bullets."
There is plenty of cliché in the movie, what with Warlock (Kevin Smith), the housebound couch potato with a vast array of computer equipment and the ability to hack into just about anything a la Matrix and Farrell's comprehensive knowledge of all things cyber-bound, I'm sure Hollywood have yet to realise that most people are struggling with the technology behind operating their Wii, never mind connecting with satellites and hacking into the Pentagon. Notwithstanding, the action sequences are stunning. I loved the scene in the tunnel where McClane was faced with 3 lines of traffic coming at him from both sides and the demise of the pursuing helicopter is brilliant if decidedly unlikely. The sequences towards the closing finale just keep raising the ante and the sight of Willis in a huge truck being stalked by an F35 fighter plane on the freeway is worth the admission money alone. It's reminiscent of the freeway set piece from the Matrix franchise and every bit as enthralling even if it does go nutzo when McClane jumps from the truck onto the plane's wing at one point!
With a 12 rating and a run time of 129 minutes, "Die Hard 4.0" is a highly successful update to the action movie genre. With a rollocking musical score, relentless pace, wall to wall action and ridiculously over the top stunts, the movie is an adrenaline-fueled road trip that's more than enough to keep action junkies happy everywhere. Willis looks a little older, his life looks just that bit sadder but it's not enough to stop him kicking ass and downing the bad guys whilst draped in a metaphorical flag of the Stars and Stripes. Quite where the Die Hard franchise goes from here is anyone's guess but I'm not sure that I'm entirely comfortable with a geriatric, wheelchair-bound McClane throwing his walking stick at the hordes of criminals intent on ripping his shirt a bit more. No doubt, regardless of age, health or any other obstacle hurled in his way, he'll still manage a "Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*****!"
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A group of British sales execs are on their way to a team-building weekend in Hungary. As the tv screens on the coach recycle promotional videos for Palisade Defense, the driver pulls up sharply, the road blocked by fallen trees. Refusing to take a detour down a narrower road running off at a tangent, the driver throws everyone off the bus and drives away. The stranded party set out in the general direction of their intended destination, eventually stumbling upon a run-down lodge which they assume is the one meant for their weekend. Reluctantly establishing themselves in their new home, the group speculate over dinner as to the history behind the lodge, with Jill (Claudie Blakley) suggesting that it was a centre for Russian war criminals.
With Harris (Toby Stephens) having found a cabinet with Palisade documents written in a foreign language and Jill subsequently spooked after seeing someone lurking in the trees, the group start to get nervous and agree to send a search party to try and find the coach driver. In the meantime, the rest of the party stay behind and embark on their team building exercises by playing paintball. As Gordon (Andy Nyman) steps back, his leg gets caught in a bear trap and as Harris and Jill return after finding the bloodied body of the coach driver stranded on waste ground, they look on in horror as the repeated attempts to free Gordon succeed only in severing his leg at the knee. Hurrying onto the coach, their desperate flight to freedom is cut short by a stinger devise draped across the road and they quickly realise that they are hunted prey by an unknown enemy.
"Severance" is a British horror flick, released in 2006, directed by Christopher Smith and co-written by Smith and James Moran. I was drawn into watching it by the billing that it was from the director of "Creep" (another low-budget horror flick from 2005 set on the London Underground). Whilst "Creep" was suitably dreadful, it did have its moments with occasional sequences of genuine inspiration and so I thought I'd pick up on director, Christopher Smith's latest efforts.
Well, in every way this has a low budget feel to it. Again, there are moments of ingenuity. Smith attempts to inject black humour throughout although this is overwhelmed at times by the blood and gore count. Steve's (Danny Dyer) attempts to squeeze the severed leg into the fridge on the coach, the scene shot from the back of the fridge, is original and the sight of him having to take the shoes and socks off the stray limb before wedging it in at an angle was something I hadn't encountered before. As Harris is walking along, defending the ethics of Palisade's weapons, he reflects on the more inhumane aspects of killing devises down the ages. Commenting on the fact that victims of the guillotine would not have been dead after the dreaded blade had fallen and would have been aware of their surroundings for up to 3 minutes after decapitation, ironically he suffers that very fate himself after having been thrown clear of the coach following the booby trap, dispatched by a machete. With a spinning shot of the view from his severed head, the detached body part comes to rest with a clear sight of his body. Macabre but original.
On the whole though, "Severance" is not a great movie. The acting is pretty woeful for the most part with a very tired looking Tim McInnerny taking the lead as Richard, the man in charge. It's virtually impossible to think of McInnerny without hearing Stephen Fry's raucous shouts summoning Captain Darling and the twitching, boot-licking character from the annals of Blackadder turning up. Richard is a lamentable, jelly of an individual and with no decent lines other than his faux pas about sending Harris and Jill up the hill, McInnerny is mainly restricted to feeble management cliché like "I can't spell success without "u". And you, and you, and you..." and so, when his does get his comeuppance, it's a blessed relief. Unfortunately, even Richard's demise is a bit tepid with some pathetic special effects enshrining the main lead being blown up by a land mine. The effect is all a bit cartoon and perhaps it's appropriate that he leaves the screen in such a flaccid manner.
As for the rest of the cast then the only one that manages to engender any empathy at all from the audience is the mushroom-taker Steve. With a cock-er-ney, geezer-like outlook and a glint in his eye, Danny Dyer does a reasonable job of getting us to like him with his penchant for drugs and the odd laddish quip and he's about the only one I found myself rooting for to survive the onslaught from the balaclava wearing maniacs stalking in the woods. Quite why the paramilitary looking outfit, armed to the teeth with machine guns and with an unlimited supply of machetes and knives, have such a big problem with this arms company is never made overly clear, just as taking a road running in a different direction by the company suckers when their map shows that the main road and the country road (which is clearly more creepy) join up again later on looks distinctly odd. Personally, I would have just stepped over the obstructive tree trunks and marched down the main road, hoping to encounter a Shell service station selling sandwiches and the odd bit of petrol. Needless to say, nobody can get a mobile phone signal at any stage (the stock in trade of the horror flick) although Maggie (Laura Harris) does find a phone in a disused building whilst trying to flee the Ker-azees trying to kill her after having survived several rape attempts and demolishing a bad man's head with a large rock, only to be put on hold by some Hungarian operator who clearly doesn't understand the lingo.
With a run time of just 91 minutes and an 18 certificate, "Severance" is a horror film for adults only. With a daft script, ludicrous plot and enough inventive slaughter to turn this into a respectable gore-fest, "Severance" is worth a watch, if only to plot director Christopher Smith's progress since "Creep". Brownie points for attempting black humour, thumbs up for some inventive set pieces but, ultimately, this is a run-of-the-mill, low budget horror to while away an odd hour and a half too. Quite frankly, I enjoyed it in the same masochistic way that I enjoyed "Creep"; Smith seems to be establishing a groove.
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I'm sick. There you have it, I've said it now. For the record, I don't generally get sick. I'm really quite healthy y'know but this year I picked up a sickness bug some time on Boxing Day and I can't fu...lipping get rid of it even now. Things seem to have settled into a mere cold now as opposed to anything more extravagant and at least it wasn't that projectile vomiting that was...erm....spreading across the country (ewwww...picture that). So anyway, I'm taking Beechams Cold and Flu Hot lemon to ease the pain of my manflu *reader rolls eyes*
For the princely sum of £1.80 I got a wee cardboard box with a piccie of a mug with steam coming out of the top and a couple of lemons out in front...just in case you missed the lemon association with this product. Your best part of £2 will get you 10 sachets and the product trade mark is Beechams who are part of the mega conglomerate Glaxosmithkline, a HUGE player in the pharmaceuticals market. Needless to say, both the brand name and the company have been around for years and are generally trusted when it comes to medicines.
To imbibe this product, basically, you pour boiling water into a mug, stir and sip away to your heart's content. As it contains paracetamol, there is a limit on the amount you can take i.e. no more than every four hours up to a maximum of 6 sachets in a 24 hour period. This is designed for adults and children over 12 years of age and if symptoms persist, you are recommended to go and see your doctor (like wot I did only to be prescribed antibiotics that had a rather horrible side effect so I stopped taking 'em after a couple of days and preferred to continue suffering instead. Brave, aren't I?)
The box tells you that this will help with the symptoms of fever, headache, aching limbs, blocked nose, sore throat pain, painful sinuses and shivers. You can add sugar to taste if you find it too bitter, what with the main constituent making it taste like lemon. Each 6g sachet contains paracetamol 600mg, Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) 40mg, Phenylephrine Hydrochloride 10mg along with sucrose and the sachets are meant to be kept at below 25°C, otherwise the chemical ingredients start to break down. Personally, I don't add sugar because hard men like me don't need such airy fairy additions but you may not be as tough as granite like me so knock yerself out. I have to say, I do like the taste.
Where can you purchase this miracle cure, I hear you cry? Well, places like Boots and Superdrug will sell it along with most good chemists and some bad ones too. It should be available on shelves in most supermarkets e.g. Tesco and the like. Aaaaaaand does it work? Well, does it? Nah, not really. It's a bit of a placebo. I only bought it because I was too tight to buy the Lemsip Max Strength capsules that retail in excess of £3 a box and I didn't feel like paying that much. If you want a product that will help then the max strength capsules contain caffeine amongst other things that gives you a short, sharp lift and saved my life when I went to New York a few years ago. Sure, the paracetamol will ease the pain a little (it being a pain reliever) and the ascorbic acid will help with a sore throat but if you have problems with your sinuses I was recommended to put my head over a bowl of hot water, head covered with a towel to allow the steam to clear my sinuses with this being a natural way to shift the problem rather than resorting to products like Sudafed.
All in all, not really recommended unless you want to feel better for taking something like me so spend a bit more on summat that actually works like the capsules mentioned above :o)
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Glaxosmithkline Consumer Healthcare, Brentford, TW8 9GS.
Lieutenant Boyd (Guy Pearce) is an apparent hero during the American war with Mexico in the 1840's. Having been promoted to captain, his commanding officer discovers that he is a coward and transfers him to the remote Fort Spencer in the bleak, but picturesque, Sierra Nevada mountain range. With Boyd having met the dysfunctional fort team, Calhoun (Robert Carlyle) stumbles into camp looking bedraggled and traumatized. He tells his story about a wagon train, lost and cut off from the outside world after attempting a short cut that went wrong. As his story unfolds, the fort inhabitants listen in terror as Calhoun recounts a tale of desperation and depravity as the wagon party is killed and eaten by the remaining survivors, eventually leaving just him, a woman and Colonel Ives. Fearing for his life, he fled the camp, leaving the woman at the mercy of the colonel.
Honour bound to investigate, the fort soldiers mount a search party, led by Colonel Hart (Jeffrey Jones), into the mountains to see if there is anyone still alive in the cave where the atrocities took place. As Boyd realises the grim truth that Calhoun has killed all of the wagon party himself, leaving just the eaten cadavers stranded in the cave, the agitated Calhoun waiting by the side of the cave entrance digs up a concealed knife and sets about maniacally killing the search party. Cornered on the edge of a forest ravine, confronted by the insatiable cannibal, Boyd jumps into the gorge, falling through trees and tumbling down the mountain side where he lands along with and along side the body of one of Calhoun's latest search party victims, still barely alive but soon dead within seconds of landing. Frozen in terror for several days and with a badly broken leg, Boyd resorts to cannibalism himself by partially eating his compatriot and having temporarily fixed his leg, he makes it back to Fort Spencer. Having had his tale of terror dismissed by the latest fort inhabitants as wild fantasy, Boyd is introduced to the latest camp commander, Colonel Ives. As the uniformed Colonel Ives turns to greet Boyd, the escapee finds himself staring back into the malevolent Calhoun's eyes; Calhoun being Colonel Ives.
"Ravenous" is a horror film released in 1999, directed by Antonia Bird and starring Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle and Jeffrey Jones. The essence of Ted Griffin's screenplay draws inspiration from other literary works centering on cannibalism. Where ever it came from and no doubt there will be true accounts of people eating human flesh in 1840's California, a mystical edge is added to the story with Red Indian accounts of the mythical wendigo fueling the rationale behind the more craven aspects of the movie and the notion of cannibalism at that time.
The most noticeable thing, other than the story, is the stunning sets. Predominantly shot in Slovakia, the rural backdrop is simply beautiful with an amazing snow bound vista dominating the early scenes in the movie and flawless cinematography from Anthony Richmond. Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle are on top form as the two main leads. Pearce is the bearded, honour-bound soldier who goes through the mill having escaped the crazed Calhoun/Ives on one occasion only to be confronted by him again in the fort camp. Carlyle is outstanding as the cannibalistic villain of the piece and the apocryphal scene where, having killed the rest (and eaten some) of the search party, Ives, blood dripping from his mouth, eyes ablaze with madness, corners a terrified Pearce on the edge of the ravine with nowhere to go but down several hundred feet, is wonderfully conceived and shot. The last thing the audience expects is for Boyd to jump off the edge and, of course, that's exactly what he does!
There are moments where suspension of belief is required. Eating human flesh seems to cure any ill, making the person committing a cannibalistic act almost indestructible by absorbing that person's spirit. As Ives tells Boyd of all the medical ailments that eating human flesh has cured including tuberculosis, his plans for future settlers using that trail become clearer and Boyd realises that he has to put an end to Ives.
Bird directs the movie with aplomb, the plot nicely paced as the tension mounts and the twists and turns unfold. There is a deceptive black comedy aspect running underneath the story highlighted by Colonel Hart's aside at one point. Having been resurrected via forced cannibalism by Ives and reflecting on the possibilities of the three of them forming a triangle of friendship, he observes, with a rye smile "It's lonely being a cannibal. Tough making friends." The finale is as creative as it is unexpected and the *musical score from Damon Albarn (best known for being in the band "Blur") and Michael Nyman is just superb with a blend of synthesizer mixed with plinking, banjo riff set to a American, wild west theme.
"Ravenous" has a respectable run time of 100 minutes and with visceral violence and plenty of blood and gore, it's very much an 18 certificate and one for adults only. There's a black comedy feel to the movie although the story is played straight for the most part with only subtle, comic undertones. It's a winning combination that makes "Ravenous" a stylish, original horror flick with a great plot that just flies by. I saw it again the other night and enjoyed it every bit as much as when I saw it for the first time. With Pearce and Carlyle at their best, it's a must see movie for horror fans. As Ives tells Boyd, memorably, "Eat to live. Don't live to eat."
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*opening scene and a sample of the musical score at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQC4ZnX8FQQ
Jamie (Christian Bale) is a privileged, young boy living in the suburbs of Shanghai in 1941. His father is a rich businessman with a large house complete with servants allowing his spoilt son to attend prep school, sing in the choir and dream of growing up to be a fighter pilot. His dreams are shattered when Japanese forces invade Shanghai sparking an exodus during which Jamie gets separated from his parents. Returning to an empty house, he finds the servants ransacking the furniture but upon challenging them, rather than getting the respect he's used to, he gets a slap across the face instead. Eventually realizing that his parents aren't coming back, Jamie ventures into Shanghai, where he is stalked by one of the local waifs determined to steal his shoes. Nearly run over by the American opportunist, Basie (John Malkovich), Jamie or Jim as he is re-named, persuades his new American friends to scout the houses in his old neighbourhood for loot only to be captured by the Japanese and sent to a detention camp. It's here that Jamie is fully exposed to the horrors and remarkable aptitude for survival amongst the victims of war as his unique position in the camp allows him to see both sides of the terrible conflict.
Empire of the Sun was released in 1987, directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Christian Bale, John Malkovich, and Miranda Richardson. Based on the novel of the same name by J.G. Ballard with a screenplay by Tom Stoppard and Menno Meyjes, the movie was critically acclaimed, being nominated for six Oscars and winning numerous other awards. The story is semi-biographical of author Ballard's early years in war torn China.
The acting in the movie is impeccable. From a young Christian Bale experiencing every kind of high and low you can imagine for someone in that situation, as he moves from childhood to a harsh world of war-torn adulthood, to a flawless performance from the magisterial John Malkovich as Basie, the cast deliver an extraordinary story about the plight of people in the direst of circumstances and the victory of the human spirit even in the depths of despair. There are so many credible performances in the movie; from Leslie Philips as the horticultural Maxton to Nigel Havers as the besieged Dr Rawlins; from Miranda Richardson as Mrs Victor to Masatô Ibu as Sergeant Nagata, the whole movie is an imperious imagination of what life would have been like in those darkest of times.
John Malkovich is extraordinary as the scavenger, Basie. With little in the way of morals, his desire to survive appears to know no bounds as, at one point, he orders the impressionable Jamie to steal a potato from the clutches of a dead person in one of the disease-ridden, detention areas. With a glint in his eye and a tattered appearance, Basie is every bit the chancer that would have been common place in those desperate times and yet he still manages to engender empathy from the watching audience, which is a testimony to his portrayal of such a shady individual and yet we understand why he does what he does even if we know that, ultimately, he will let the poor boy down.
What sets "Empire of the Sun" aside from virtually every war movie ever made at that time is its depiction of the enemy and the humanisation of the Japanese soldiers. The film contains one of my favourite scenes of all-time when Jamie wanders over to a Japanese fighter plane at sunset. With it in the process of being repaired, he watches, silhouetted against a dark, night sky as the sparks from the welding light up part of the plane. It's a visually stunning set and typical of the outstanding cinematography of Allen Daviau. Towards the end of the film, Jamie is found standing, staring at Japanese kamikaze fighter pilots taking a final drink, about to get into their planes with a full, orange sun shining on the horizon. As the pilots start to sing, Jamie breaks out into a solo of the Welsh hymn Suo Gân. It's enough to stand the hair on the back of your neck and put a tear in your eye as the camp sergeant looks on at the unexpected admiration and respect paid by the young boy to the Japanese pilots. The planes take off and, suddenly and quite unexpectedly, one explodes in the air as the camp is raided by American fighter planes. As one of the American pilots flies low across his target, he waves to the young boy as the camera sweeps across Bale, the young boy waving back in a moment of euphoria.
It's the meticulous attention to detail that makes the film so good. As the inhabitants of the camp are forcefully evicted and marched to a new destination following the devastating attack by the American fighter planes, Jamie sees a bright light in the sky and equates it to one of the dead, camp inmate's soul ascending to Heaven. A subsequent radio broadcast reveals the Atomic Bomb attacks on Japan and Jamie realises what the bright light was after all. It's metaphorical touches like this that elevate the movie to the status of a classic.
With a wonderful musical score from Spielberg regular John Williams, rated PG and a long, run time of 154 minutes, "Empire of the Sun" is a war drama that can be enjoyed by adults and children generally older than, say 8. It's a sumptuous screenplay with outstanding cinematography and an uplifting message about the human spirit that blurs the boundaries of war time rights and wrongs, humanizing the Japanese forces in the process. From an individual perspective, I've seen the movie several times and enjoy it every time I see it. With seminal scenes that rate amongst my all-time favorites, "Empire of the Sun" is an outstanding movie and must rate as one of Steven Spielberg's greatest directorial achievements.
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James Bond (Daniel Craig) is out to earn his 00 status. Ruthlessly dispatching a corrupt MI6 operative having already taken care of his contact, Bond goes to Madagascar in pursuit of an international bomb-maker named Mollaka (Sebastien Foucan). Having chased his target across the city, he spectacularly kills his prey, blowing up part of an embassy in the process. Courtesy of Mollaka's mobile phone, he traces Alex Dimitrios (Simon Abkarian),an associate of international villain, Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), whose party piece is short selling successful companies and then engineering terrorist attacks to sink their stock values. Subsequently eliminating Dimitrios, Bond foils Le Chiffre's plans to destroy the prototype Skyfleet Airliner, plunging the banker into severe financial problems. Under pressure from his clients, Le Chiffre sets up a high stakes poker tournament which Bond joins in an attempt to derail his opponent and force him to support the British government in exchange for protection from his rather nasty creditors.
"Casino Royale" was released in 2006, directed by Martin Campbell and is the 21st film in the James Bond series. With a new Bond in the form of Daniel Craig, the movie is based on the 1953 novel of the same name by Ian Fleming and adapted for the big screen by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Paul Haggis.
The first thing you notice about this latest James Bond adventure is how un-James Bond like it is. Designed to be a "reboot" for the franchise, the concept behind the movie was to establish a whole new timeline and narrative allowing for a new breed of Bond, more susceptible to mistakes and just generally more human. According to the media reviews I read following release, the majority of critics loved it, many claiming that this was the best Bond movie in many a year.
There are some high points in the film. Despite the dire reports during filming that Daniel Craig was a bit of a wuss and had real problems with many of the stunts, the reality proved to be somewhat different with the new lead looking every bit as tough and durable as any of his predecessors. With a notable set piece early on with Craig chasing the bomb-maker through various cranes and building sites, the director takes an early opportunity to take a vertiginous route allowing for adventurous camera angles and spectacular back drops. It's a dizzying sequence and one to get the pulse racing. On the whole, Craig makes a credible Bond with the customary allure for attractive women and an earthier approach to violence not seen before in a Bond movie. The set pieces are big enough to fill the screen with mayhem at times, most notably the fight in the collapsing house in Venice scene, the attempt by our hero to prevent the destruction of the airplane as well as a further fight scene in the hotel stair-well during the poker tournament. It's the aftermath of the latter that endorses the whole new approach to Bond violence as Craig's love interest, Eva Green (Vesper Lynd), sits in the shower tray, hugging herself, distraught at the violence and mentally shocked at what she's just witnessed. To be fair, Green does justice to the leading lady role, giving an air of respectability to the Bond girl format, even getting the notoriously fickle agent to tell her he loves her.
The problem I had with "Casino Royale" was empathy. I found myself craving for the witty one-liners after Bond has dispatched the latest villainous henchman; I found myself desperate for a more appealing storyline than the one that ended in a cul-de-sac only to be climaxed by an afterthought involving the immortal "My name's Bond. James Bond"; I found myself wanting to see someone trying to take over the world even if it meant a nod and a wink to Austin Powers; I found myself desperately missing the new gadgets that Bond would be introduced to and use at the appropriate time. All of these things were part of the Bond brand and by jettisoning them so coldly it felt like I'd ended up with in return, a glossier Bourne Identity. Incidentally, I had watched the Matt Damon vehicle a while ago and given up on the franchise after the first movie, blinded by the complexity of an over elaborate Cold War-esque spy story and bamboozled by all the twists and turns that movies like this feel obliged to take. I hadn't got a problem with the Bond theme taking a more modern stance but it seemed to be at the expense of entertainment and that is why I go to the flicks for the most part. In essence, the new format left me cold. After all, if you trace this particular plot line then, on reflection, most people would realise just how dull it actually is.
Rated 12A and with a whopping 144 minute run time, "Casino Royale" will appeal to older children and adults who have a hankering for explosive, action movies. With the customary musical score from Bond regular, David Arnold, and the music orchestrated by Nicholas Dodd, this latest trip into the twilight world of lethal espionage will be essential viewing for Bond completists but, personally, I didn't rate it at all and hope that the next movie injects more life into proceedings. If I'd wanted a cold, calculated Spy movie, I would have called up an old Harry Palmer flick. I didn't, I wanted the latest James Bond. And got something completely different.
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The History Boys are a group of grammar school lads set on going to Oxbridge after their A-levels. Set in Sheffield back in 1983, their intellect burns brightly fueled by the unorthodox teaching methods of their general studies tutor, Hector (Richard Griffiths). The headmaster (Clive Merrison) is keen to get as many of the lads through to the best universities as possible and so hires Mr Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore) to help them with their preparation for the extra exams involved. Crowther, Posner, Dakin, Timms, Akthar, Lockwood, Scripps, and Rudge all find that they have to adapt to a radically different way of thinking with Irwin's emphasis on spin rather than truth which is diametrically opposite to dear, old Hector's values and beliefs. With established history teacher, Mrs Lintott (Frances de la Tour) monitoring events, Hector's habit of giving the boys a lift home on his motorcycle turns out to have unfortunate consequences, stirring the waters up over their rites of passage which is an undercurrent of their progress through their studies.
Released in 2006, "The History Boys" is an adaptation of the play of the same name written by Alan Bennett. Directed by Nicholas Hytner, the movie takes much of the production and cast from the original play and translates it into a screen format. A recipe for success you might think, bearing in mind that the play won a number of awards including a Tony in 2006. There are plenty of things to like about "The History Boys". There's the familiar "Grange Hill" effect of youths in school uniform wrestling with the various life challenges that come their way as they battle to grow up. It's all here as you would expect: sex, smoking, drinking et all along with the intellectual cut and thrust of the boys challenging concepts thrown at them by the teachers. There's an extra political twist in the ongoing debate about non-public school kids making it to Oxbridge and an entertaining sub-plot about the essence of teaching. As Rudge puts it succinctly on a number of occasions "History is just one fucking thing after another".
However, I couldn't help but have mixed feelings about the way the movie turned out. Hytner directs and the assumption would be that a great play makes a great film. In this case, it doesn't. Many of the scenes look staged with camera work and script making both the action and dialogue look clunky and forced. It's as though the boys invariably take a deep breath before delivering their lines when a much subtler style of delivery would have had better effects. The characters and story are engaging for the most part and the sub-plot involving one of the boys being a homosexual and learning to live with it seemed credible and a story worth tracing. What I couldn't follow was (presumably Bennett's) mild obsession with homosexuality and the debate around it as a whole when we had the plotline we needed in youth struggling with his emerging sexuality. An old man on a motorbike routinely fondling his charges, Dakin offering sexual favours to his male teacher even though he's allegedly straight and his fellow class mates pondering their own susceptibility to homosexuality to the point where they ask for a report about how the offer of oral sex with the male teacher went all made me uncomfortable, not in a homophobic sense, but in the sense that the playwright and subsequent screenwriter seemed to be taking huge indulgences with the subject matter at the expense of a good story.
Maybe it's me but I found much of the script just that bit too clever. Often I found myself listening to exchanges shaking my head thinking that we'd just been taken down yet another metaphorical cul-de-sac. Another exchange, another occasion where nothing material had actually been said and it was more a kind of high brow, points scoring exercise. There are notable exceptions, though and maybe to a large extent, the movie is captured in the exchange between two of the boys considering their lives at present: Posner: "Do you ever look at your life?" Irwin: "I thought everybody did." Posner: "I'm a Jew... I'm small... I'm homosexual... and I live in Sheffield." [pause] Posner: "I'm fucked." Notwithstanding, de la Tour is imperious as the established teacher that everyone trusts (I desperately tried to forget her Miss Jones character from "Rising Damp"), Richard Griffith's is eccentrically excellent as the confused but passionate Hector and Clive Merrison does the best, inadvertent impression of Bill Nighy I've seen in a while. Campbell Moore is a bit limp as the supply teacher and the lads are all clearly good actors albeit a little over-the-top on screen as opposed to in the theatre.
With a run time of 109 minutes and a 15 rating, "The History Boys" is a movie for adults and older children. It's essentially, a rites of passage movie with a compelling plot and a fascinating debate about the essence of teaching. With plenty of humour, drama and a finale that the audience will care about, for the most part I enjoyed the movie. Incidentally, the movie's score rocks hugely for fans of 80's music with contributions from Echo and the Bunnymen, New Order and the Cure amongst others. The gay subtext takes away some of the ground made by the story and the director's translation from play to movie works only in part and so the film is flawed but then history isn't perfect; it's just one fucking thing after another.
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Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is best in class. Dedicated, dynamic and meticulous with detail, he's breaking police records all over the place. With an arrest record four times better than anyone else, his superiors decide that he's making everyone else look bad and so he gets promoted to Sergeant and posted to the safest spot in the country: the village of Sandford. Quickly getting into action, Angel clears the local pub of under age drinkers, eyes graffiti on a fountain and runs a local in for threatening to drive whilst under the influence. Things look even less exciting when he meets the team he'll be working with at the station. Under the watchful eye of Inspector Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent), the local constabulary is made up of misfits and n'er do wells including Butterman's son and Angel's new partner in crime-busting, Danny Butterman (Nick Frost). Charged with tracking down a missing swan, the duo stumble upon a series of accidents resulting in a string of local deaths. Convinced that something is afoot, Angel utilizes his considerable policing talents to uncover a sinister plot that threatens to derail the sleepy village and reveal the fate of his predecessor.
"Hot Fuzz" is a 2007 action comedy film written by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright and re-unites the leads from the previous box office smash "Shaun of the Dead". Whereas SOTD was a homage to zombie flicks, this latest partnership takes the genre of buddy cop movies and parodies it with no small measure of love and attention. There are aspects of the movie open to criticism. The run time of 121 mins is on the long side with a potentially overblown finale. You could even claim that the rural setting makes the whole cops and robbers thing seem absurd at times. On reflection, though and having taken in the whole comic scenario, for so many reasons, "Hot Fuzz" is the funniest comedy movie in years.
All the hallmarks of the Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg filmmaking style are present in the movie. There's the immaculate comic timing that comes with a carefully thought out script with wonderful delivery from a cornucopia of British comedy talent. For anyone that's traced Pegg's rise to fame then the surreal, quick motion links that come with a whooshing noise first seen in the comedy series "Spaced" and then again in SOTD are present once more; there's the situational comedy aspect of taking something relatively mundane and exaggerating it for comedy effect (e.g. the scenes with the hoodies and especially the shoot out at the finale) and the customary deadbeat, comedy duo act so reminiscent of the classic comedy partnerships from movie yesteryear (think Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy).
The supporting cast is outstanding. With Bill Bailey on duty at reception in the police station, Jim Broadbent making the team buy rounds of cakes as punishment for misdemeanors and Timothy Dalton as a gloriously over-the-top, mustachioed supermarket owner, the leads get wonderful apathy in their pursuit of the coweled killer. Having realized that the drunk about to get into a car and drive off from the previous night is, in fact, the son of the station inspector and a fellow police officer, Angel looks around, staring at the police team eating cake. Angel: "Why is everyone eating chocolate cake?" Inspector Butterman: "The Black Forest gateau is on Danny, as punishment for his little indiscretion." Angel: "His...? Sir, I don't think driving under the influence can be called a "little indiscretion." Inspector Butterman: "No, the gateau is for misplacing his helmet the other week. Last night's incident will require something a rather more serious. Do you like ice cream?" It's vintage retro-Ealing comedy with small town humour and a nod to English village life, brought to screen so vividly by the cinematography of Jess Hall.
As ever, the chemistry between Pegg and Frost is irisistible with Frost's comic indifference the perfect foil for Pegg's over exuberance. The heart of the film and the essence of their professional motives is captured in the scene where Butterman Junior invites his partner back to his digs. With the click of a button, a door slides open to reveal a huge collection of DVDs and the two sit down to watch the Keanu Reeves/Patrick Swayze blockbuster "Point Break". As the DVD film's lead fires his gun into the air with an anguished cry, both men inhale and fire up on adrenaline and it's this obvious love of movies that appears to have inspired both this one and the previous hit, SOTD. The scene also provides the link with the plot that unravels with a lovely twist to the motive uncovered by the hyperactive Angel. The film's score is by British composer David Arnold, best known for his work on the James Bond movies and with a heady mix of 60's and 70's rock (The Kinks, T-Rex, The Move), the film's frenetic action is underlined by crashing, classic rock.
The finale to the movie takes "Hot Fuzz" onto a different level with one of the most ridiculously funny shoot outs in film history. Complete with American slow mo, rolling through the air, pumping bullets shots to THE bizarrest of shoot 'em up scenarios and settings, Wright and Pegg proceed to tear the place down with a beautifully conceived sequence that ties up loose ends and brings the movie full circle from its humble beginnings.
"Hot Fuzz" is rated 15 with scenes of violence and bad language and is for adults and older children only. It's a very funny movie and probably the best comedy film I've seen in quite a while. With a brilliant blend of action and offbeat humour, the movie's star could almost be re-establishing a renaissance of comedy last seen in the silent era of Buster Keaton. Slap stick, knockabout, sight gags and great one-liners, "Hot Fuzz" is first rate comedy gold and well worth a couple of hours of your time.
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DVD available at Amazon from £7.97
America is in the midst of a future, dystopian battle against drugs. Using an intrusive system of State surveillance, the cops have set up a myriad network of informants and undercover operatives to counter the distribution of the widely available Substance D. Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is an undercover agent assigned to infiltrate the drug supply chain by posing as a drug user and befriending crooks caught up in the drugs racket. When on-duty, Arctor's identity is protected by a constantly changing, digitized suit that continually scrambles his appearance. Code-named Fred, he reports regularly to his superior, Hank, along with the resident medics who keep a check on his mental and physical health. Arctor uncovers a lead by developing a relationship with Donna Hawthorne (Winona Ryder), a cocaine user, hoping that she will lead him to people higher up in the drugs chain. As the effects of Substance D begin to take their toll, Arctor finds distinguishing between his role as a police officer and partner in crime with the other housemates more and more difficult as their paranoia increases and the undercover cop finds the boundaries between reality and a drug-infused alternate existence more and more of a problem.
"A Scanner Darkly" was released in 2006, directed by Richard Linklater and based on the Philip K. Dick novel of the same name. What's unusual is that it was filmed digitally and then animated using interpolated rotoscope (transferring the film to Quicktime for a 15-month animation process) over the original footage. This gives it a cartoon appearance albeit you can see the character's features very clearly defined at times. Originally shown at the festivals in Cannes and Seattle, the movie has had critical acclaim which triggered my interest in watching it in the first place. The movie certainly has an A-list cast including Keanu Reeves in the lead role, Winona Ryder, Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey, Jr. I am a fan of the author's work and have been fascinated by Philip K Dick for some time. Dying in 1982, his work has led to a cult status with a number of his novels translating to the big screen including "Total Recall", "Minority Report" and the magnificent "Blade Runner" to name but a few. With such an illustrious list of great movies associated with Dick, I desperately wanted to like "A Scanner Darkly" and there were good things in there.
Fans of Dick's work (known as Dick Heads?) will recognise many familiar themes from his books paid due homage in Linklater's movie. With the main thrust being around the battle against drugs and the lengths the police will go to in order to get a result, there's a certain paranoia set within an authoritarian State that features in many of Dick's other stories. Big Corporations, the hallucinogenic world of drugs and the impact on ordinary lives are all brought to bear in what is, essentially, a tight, clever story with a notable twist at the finale. The imagination employed in both the scramble suits and the police force's ability to visually record and track most of the population by a system of voice recognition media and telescreens is futuristic even if it has a certain "Big Brother" feel of voyeurism to it and for those that have seen the excellent "Minority Report" then the concepts will be familiar.
However, the run time of 100 minutes is hard work. Graham Reynolds provides the musical score but it's a constant tinkling, twilight sound that definitely creates a dream-like backdrop but also fails to change the mood for the majority of the film's viewing time. It's difficult to gauge acting performances when the effects are clearly designed to take pride of place but I didn't get along with the similarly concieved "Sin City" and here again, I simply couldn't see what these visual effects were meant to add. I guess there will be some reasoning around creating a comic book feel on-screen but it's something that doesn't work for me and the whole script plods along, failing to engage or excite the audience at any point. Maybe there's a certain irony that Reeves actually looks as cartoonly wooden in this film as he does in more conventionally shot movies with even his delivery of the script both low key and staccato. Harrelson and Downey Junior look and sound as though they are permanently on speed and maybe that's what was intended but, again, it was nigh on impossible to find any empathy with any of the characters which was only enhanced by the unique way in which the film was shot.
"A Scanner Darkly" is a 15 certificate with adult themes. The movie has won awards and has, on the whole, been well received by the critics. For me, the whole idea around shooting the movie like a cartoon, the sound track and the lack of general engagement made it a long couple of hours out of my day. For fans of Philip K Dick's work then it will probably be an essential addition to other screen adaptations of his books and for those with more patience than me then you may find me being to harsh. Quite frankly, I was really disappointed and absolutely wouldn't recommend this to anyone other than die-hard fans.
Thanks for reading.
DVD available at Amazon from £14.01
Having recently returned to Dooyoo after nearly 6 months away, I had achieved my longest ever break from the site having been a member for over 6 years. Then, as per usual, I got suckered into posting again following a chat with a young lady over on Tooyoo who said that, for some strange reason, she liked my movie reviews (yes, it's your fault Lisa!). So what's this got to do with anything? Well, I guess you get to put things into perspective when you are away from the site for so long and it's easier looking from outside than when you are operating from within. Mostly. So the one thing that has been constant for me in all of that time is the payment system. Sadly, I missed the financial bonanza of the first 12 months of the site when it was paying ridiculous amounts of money to get folks to fill its pages with much needed content and came in when things were as they stayed until only recently with 3p per member read and £1.50 for a crowned review.
You do need to consider why Dooyoo exists. It's a commercial enterprise with its own income streams which come from pay per clicks on the various banners and pop ups and commission from click throughs when browsers buy products from either affiliated sites or by using Dooyoo as the channel to access the site that the consumer buys the product from. I've no doubt that Dooyoo has other ways of making money but those would be the most obvious and over the years it has reduced its cost/income ratio by cutting back on staffing numbers with its former office in London closed down and its support staff structure stripped back. No surprise given the harsher economic conditions Internet operators have found themselves in like the rest of us over the last few years. So, in essence, the site needs as it always has done: content. So what's the quality threshold i.e. what will the average consumer read?
I read reviews at other sites. I like to read movie reviews at www.rottentomotoes, I like to read the news at www.bbc.co.uk and www.thetimesonline.co.uk and I'll read the odd product review at Amazon and the one thing they all have in common is reasonable length. In the case of Dooyoo, it classes a premium review as at least 150 words which means that you are eligible for the new posting bonus of 500 miles or 50p. If you equate that to the sites listed above then you ain't that far off what's typical on the Net. To get a crown standard on Dooyoo, I personally believe that you need to be anywhere between 800 and 1300 words without being prescriptive but anything more than that and you are into "kitchen sink" territory and I do find those reviews that go on ad nauseum about a subject very trying. I suppose it's a bit like trying to answer a question in an exam by simply throwing everything you know about a subject onto the paper. The fact is that the examiner will still mark you down as you haven't really demonstrated that you understood the subject and whilst I've never gone as far as marking someone down for it (preferring to simply bail out, more often than not), I have been tempted and would absolutely not nominate an opinion for a crown if I thought it was too long. I do wonder whether it's something that's inherent on Ciao (with respect although is it still the culture that diamond winning reviews are "War and Peace" efforts?) that makes people want to write such lengthy pieces and, on reflection, I've written some long ones myself in the past but you pick up on feedback and adapt and if there is one thing that I hope the new payment structure achieves, it's too encourage a more concise review style.
As members, the bit we forget is that most of the traffic is re-directed from other channels, Google being one of the most popular. That means that whilst we get paid for member reads (less now at 1.5p per read after the initial posting bonus), the majority of our audience is actually outside the membership which is obvious from the total read count. Again, this emphasises the need to post readable reviews of the right length and will be a factor in the reduction in incentive for posting in Speaker's Corner. With no initial 500 miles for submitting a discussion piece and just 1.5p per read then you would expect a reduction in volume in this category. I guess with the main focus being around consumer products then SC hardly fits in with the ethos of the site although you do wonder how many click related sales come from folks reading pieces over there. Possibly more than we think and it would be a great shame if this part of Dooyoo was allowed to fade away.
The main concern over volume has always been the worry over churning. The exact definition is open to debate but, generally, anything over 3 postings a day is thought of as churning. So why would folks worry about this? In the main, writers that post review after review will knock other writers off the main page a bit quicker than they would like and there is a certain stigma in writing short pieces. Even if a new breed of reviewer did come along that had done the maths and decided to write between 4 and 6 pieces a day, their reads would soon dwindle if they didn't read around as that's what happens after a while so, worst case scenario, if nobody read their reviews at all then they would be making between £2 - £3 per day. This seems a soulless way to earn money. It would be quicker to get a bucket of water and sponge and offer to clean someone's car!
So will the new payment structure spell the end of Dooyoo as we know it? Well, it depends why you write. Most people don't actually post because of the money. Having seen many members come and go, most folks seem to write because they enjoy the thrill of being published, they like to express their opinions, they like the interaction with other members and there's a certain pride in putting together a review that others will read. I don't see that the new payment system changes any of this and I know that, if and when I eventually leave, I would miss many of the members (not all but most). It's nice to see the usual suspects (the movie category has never been stronger) and I don't see this changing. I just hope that this works for Dooyoo and the site goes from strength to strength. The Dooyoo admin team have made mistakes in the past and plenty of them but it's still the best site of its kind and where else can you post your musings, interact with like-minded people and read about everything from a Sainsbury's yogurt to The Simpsons movie DVD?
Gotta go: 1150 words!
Thanks for reading
New payment scheme at http://members.dooyoo.co.uk/community/_page/advice_dooyoomilesFAQ/#topic1
Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), is a young girl with a vivid imagination. Traveling with her pregnant mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil), they arrive at her step-father's posting with the Spanish Civil War raging around them. With her mother due to give birth soon and her Fascist step father, Captain Vidal (Sergi López i Ayats) engaged in the ruthless pursuit of the rebels hiding in the hills, Ofelia retreats into a fantasy world that brings with it three challenges that mirror her life. Discovering a labyrinth close by, the young girl meets a faun (Doug Jones) who gives her the Book of Crossroads with the caveat that three tasks must be complete by the next full moon. Upon completion, she will become the mythical Princess Moanna once more, restoring her to immortality amongst the spirits of the Underworld. As Ofelia's attempts become more desperate and daring, events around her spiral downwards into a sea of suffering and despair.
Written and directed by Mexican film-maker Guillermo del Toro, produced and distributed by the Mexican film company Esperanto Films, "Pan's Labyrinth" is a non-English movie with sub-titles. Set in Spain in 1944, del Toro recreates a twilight world of fantasy that becomes an allegory for the harsh events that go on around it. With it being a foreign film, few of the cast are likely to be well known to much of the audience but that doesn't stop a number of the key players from turning in top performances. Sergi Lopez Avats is almost demonic as the cold, ruthless Fascist captain, always immaculately dressed, he shows little emotion other than a steely passion to have a son. He revels in the horror that goes with suppressing the enemy and his methods employed in dealing with two locals caught in the earlier scenes and the subsequent torture he uses to gain information from a captured rebel is spine chillingly, merciless. Mercedes (Maribel Verdú), is the housekeeper who keeps the key to the stores, the central focus of the rebels' desire and her anguish at tending to the captain is neatly traced, the guilt building within her as her relationship with the freedom fighters becomes more apparent.
Ivana Nabquero is a delight in the lead role as the young girl, Ofelia. Faced with a constant, brooding violence in her new setting, she picks her way between fantasy and reality with astonishing ease. Interacting with the fairy-like creatures of the Underworld, the scenes with the faun are both spellbinding and magical with the sets beautifully conceived and could almost be an updated version of a Lewis Carroll reverie. Ofelia is the conduit for the principal plot, linking the fable from the opening credits with the finale at the close with metaphors crashing all around. The weaving of the alternate plot strands is seamless with a degree of ambiguity at the closing credits that leaves the audience not sure whether to be happy or sad. Álex Angulo as Dr. Ferreiro crops up in many of the key scenes and provides the visual clues linking the traitors in the camp with the hideaways in the woods. Faced with the dilemma of assisting the occupiers and treating the rebels, Ferreiro is in a similar position to Mercedes and straddles that fine line with a quiet, yet ultimately tragic dignity.
Both the sets and the conception of the magical creatures is stunning. Using elaborate make-up, puppetry and CGI, the faun looks amazingly authentic as do the stick-insects that become faeries and the chase scene during the second challenge where a faceless monster employs eyes on either hands is truly remarkable. I guess you could be picky and observe that the mandrake plant that goes underneath the pregnant woman's bed to make her better seems a little derivative of the Harry Potter movies but then when you actually stop and think as to how much J K Rowling's work has been influenced by literature from down the ages then putting it in those terms, it's the merest of foibles. It's the conception and delivery of the make believe element that sets the film apart from other fantasy fables and is so visually stunning and Guillermo Navarro's cinematography deservedly won an Oscar. The movie's musical score was composed by Javier Navarrete and was nominated for an Academy Award. Apparently structured around a lullaby, Naverrete's work moves through the fluctuating moods created in the film, adding to the aural effect that goes with the visual delights on screen.
Del Toro's movie went on to win 3 Academy Awards and numerous other gongs and with a run time of 119 minutes and a 15 rating, "Pan's Labyrinth" is a dark, fantasy tale with graphic violence that will appeal to adults and older children. I watched the movie transfixed, completely immersed in the story and the unfolding fable that surrounded the gripping events of the lingering aftermath of the main body of the Spanish Civil War. The director has made a truly stunning film that must rate as the best release of 2006 (general release in January 2007). Watching a film like "Pan's Labyrinth" for just short of two hours is a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours and I can't recommend the movie highly enough.
Thanks for reading.
DVD available at Amazon from £5.98