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I have seen a lot of films in my time and they range from the truly awful to the absolutely brilliant. However, the films that hit these extremes are usually not the norm and the vast majority of what I see can be described in bland words such as OK, nice, 3 stars. I sometimes get to a point of desperation where I want to watch anything that makes me feel something - even if it is abject pain on viewing a dreadful shambles. Therefore, when 'Transformers 2' was critically mauled I didn't decide to shun it entirely, but actually anticipated seeing it on BluRay. As a fan of the first film what could Michael Bay have done to make the sequel so poor? Imagine my disappointment when I saw the film and realised that is was surprisingly OK!
Sam has gotten over the adventures of 'Transformers' and is getting on with his life. He is setting off for University and this means leaving behind his girlfriend and his loyal robot/car Bumblebee. However, life in the movies is never easy and moments after arriving at Uni, Sam is once more swept up in events. It seems that a shard of material has survived since the first film and Sam must get it to a desert location before the Decepticons reach him. With the aid of the evil Fallen, Megatron is more powerful than ever and Optimus Prime and allies may not be able to save the day. Who will win the war that could bring about the Revenge of the Fallen?
The first 'Transformers' film was by no means intellectual viewing. However, as films go that star giant robots hitting one another it was pretty thrilling and had a decent amount of humour and character development. In essence it looked brilliant and was prefect summer blockbuster fodder. With its massive box office success in tow the second film, 'Transformers 2: The Revenge of the Fallen' was always going to be in for a bumpy ride with the critics, and there is a lot to criticise. Firstly, the story is abysmal - essentially the classic maguffin of getting something to somewhere by some time. There is no real reason for any of the plot, but as an excuse to string together action set pieces. This is a shame as the first film actually made some sort of sense.
Secondly, the acting is wooden. Megan Fox as the eye candy once again proves she can't really act and she is given far less to do in this film than the first. Also it appears that Shia LeBeouf's recent run of so-so films is starting to effects his mojo. Once he was a sharp and funny actor, now he appears jaded and a little bored. The rest of the cast is filled with embarrassing comedy turns and a few meatheads that have little of note to say or do.
The final area that I found displeasing was the bizarre humour that snuck into the film. 'Transformers 1' had some witty dialogue, especially amongst Sam and his family, but in 'Transformers 2' it borders on smut. This is a film made for a 12A audience with the hope that families will come in with children for 5 upwards. The various nods towards robot testicles, humping robots and dubious racial stereotype robots did not sit comfortably with me at all. Michael Bay has created some pretty juvenile elements in the film that are distasteful and would be more in keeping with the 'American Pie' films.
However, despite the many faults with the film, when it gets back to the basic elements of giant robots hitting giant robots, the film works. The scale is larger than before and some of the action set pieces are fantastic. The fact that the fully CGI robots have a weight and depth to them means that the special effects are amongst the best you will see on BluRay. Bay is an awful director when it comes to serious drama, but there are few better at massive explosions and kinetic energy. I was once more swept away by the sheer scale of the film and couldn't help myself enjoying the fights.
On balance, it is easy to see why some people hated 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen', it is an empty headed action movie that borders on the distasteful. However, it is also clear that the action in this second film is bigger, brighter, and indeed better, than in the first film. For the mammoth face offs that pepper the film I would gladly sit through 10 or 20 minutes of ill judged material. This film is by no means a classic, but as a way to pass a brainless two hours it surely does the job.
Director: Michael Bay
Starring: Shia LeBeouf and Megan Foxx
Price: Amazon uk £16.99 (BluRay)
Play.com £16.99 (BluRay)
BluRay may have just been made for this type of action movie. A lot of money has been spent on the special effects of the film and the HD format makes it shine.
The discs themselves are packed with a series of extras from commentaries to making of movies. For those people who have an iPhone or iTouch you get a digital code in the box.
The beach can be the perfect place for people to visit. For a family it is ideal to get the kids running around whilst the adults can relax. For the young couple there are plenty of bars to visit and sun to enjoy. And for the insane there is always the fair. No matter who you are, if the sun is in the sky you should have a great day. Even in the off season the beach can be a nice place to visit. The deserted stretches are a perfect place to walk the dog and the remaining arcades are nearly all offering cheap deals on the latest games! However, the winter months may also wash up some surprises with the increased wind and rain. A stronger current can drag the sea floor and deposit all manner of curios and oddities onto the beach. Like a corpse perhaps?
Early retirement and a divorce were not on Carole's mind as she reached her mid 50s, but this is exactly what happened to her. With her newly found independence she decided to buy a cottage in the sleepy village of Fethering and take to walking her dog. Her tranquillity is shattered one morning when she discovers a body on the beach only for it to be gone by the time she returns with the police. Carole is adamant that she is not going doolally so with the aid of her new neighbour, the flighty Jude, she decides to investigate the dark underbelly of a seemingly perfect English village.
'Body on the Beach' marked the debut of Simon Brett's 'Fethering Mysteries' which follow Carole and Jude through a series of misadventures as they investigate murders in Fethering and the surrounding area. Having read some of them already, out of order, I have found that they struggle to be believable. Would two older ladies really be able to glean a confession out of someone just through idle chitchat and the grape vine? In many of the later books Brett is seemingly forced to drag the narrative forwards by having a suspect/witness reveal far more to Carole or Jude than feels natural. It may seem strange when Agatha Christie wrote Miss Marple in a similar manner, but Christie was almost always able to make it seem more natural.
What sets 'Body' apart from the later books is that Brett has yet to fall into these later traps as the book flows in a natural and realistic way. Over one story you can believe that the people of Fethering are a little naïve and open to revealing more of themselves than they wanted. There is also the use of a witness in this book that ties things together and you can believe that they exist. Throw in a decent enough mystery in of itself and you have a book that reads well.
Another criticism I have of the series is the relationship of the two lead characters. They are chalk and cheese; not in the opposites attract manner. There seems little reason that these two people would want to hang out together and it becomes increasingly strange as the books go on. However, once more 'Body' does not suffer from this issue as the staid relationship they have is perfect for two people who do not know each other well. Brett gives the reader little glimpses into the minds of each woman and what they feel about the other. It all seems very truthful this early on in the series, but as time progresses they do not appear to be in any more ease. Normally a fractured relationship would not prove troublesome in a book, and perhaps even encouraged, but when you are investigating murder together, it pays to be close.
'Body on the Beach' is the first, and from what I have read, the best of the Fethering books. Brett has created a template for this series and in Book 1 it all makes sense. The idol gossip seems to make sense and there is no reverting to the coincidences that mask the cracks in later books. Despite being arguably the best in the series, this does not make it a must read. The characters are only semi interesting and the mystery is effective, but not a thrill ride. As a piece of gentle whimsy that won't scare the more fragile of crime readers then 'Body on the Beach' is more than a passable read - for everyone else it's a bit mediocre.
Author: Simon Brett
Price: amazon uk - £5.49
play.com - £5.49
They move in silence and kill without remorse. They are Ninja. They are Assassin. So how come they whisper the word 'Ninja' when they are on the job? Personally if I were to become a silent hit man I would be just that, silent. I wouldn't give my potential victim a few seconds head start by whispering sweet nothings into their ear canals. To give them this advantage would be stupid and incorporating the idea into a film would be daft. Welcome to the world of 'Ninja Assassin'.
For thousands of years a clan of Ninjas have worked for the rich and powerful as trained assassins. They work for anyone, but follow their own code. To become a Ninja Assassin you must enter as a youth and through years of cruel training you will gain the magical skills needed to execute in silence. However, not everybody in Ninja Assassin School is happy and one such student, Rain, decides to break his vows and flee the movement. Now he is on the run with the entire clan on his tail. Can Agents Mika Coretti and Ryan Maslow help him to bring down the ancient cult from whom he once belonged?
When it comes to film I am no snob and, in fact, often like the cheesy genre films that are release between Blockbuster seasons. 'Ninja Assassin' sets out its stall early on as a B Movie with lashing of blood and guts. Indeed, the opening scene is a brilliantly violent one that promises a lot in terms of action set pieces. However, the film is unable to maintain the pace that the opening hints at.
The core issue with 'Ninja Assassin' for me was that it was yet another origins story. Once again it is about someone leaving their oppressive past and fighting the group they once belonged to. For a teenager this storyline may feel slightly fresh, but for a jaded person like myself I cannot take yet another origin fable. The structure of the story means that you pretty much know what is going to happen once the main characters are introduced. There is absolutely nothing new to the Kung Fu genre in 'Ninja Assassin' and whilst that can be excusable for the first few you have seen, by 2009 it is no longer acceptable.
It is a real shame that the storyline is so dull as many other elements of the film actually work. The cast is nearly all decent with Naomie Harris and Ben Miles as Agents Coretti and Maslow doing a solid job in a film they must have been well aware was hokum. As the lead Ninja, Raizo has almost no charisma. In terms of action and movement he is great to watch, but when any sort of emotion is needed the film dies. Perhaps the script writers purposely created Rain as a cold fish so that it worked with Raizo's acting style?
I believe that the main faults of the film have to lie with director James McTeigue and his unwillingness to do anything with the genre but cover very old ground. The film had a decent enough budget, but there is not enough to show for it. On BluRay the various special effects look even cheesier that they should do. McTeigue has failed to give the film the momentum or the tone to hold a viewers interest. The substandard detective plotline plods along and the actions of the so called uber Ninjas are often farcical. Why is it with any Ninja film that the hero is so much better than all the people he trained with? I'm sure that at least one of the highly skilled evil Ninjas would have hacked off one of Rain's legs, even if by accident.
I like a brainless action flick as much as the next genre fan, but even I could not handle the slow pace and daft directions that 'Ninja Assassins' took. Many of the elements of the film work; a decent budget, good action, acceptable co-stars. However, all these are undermined by lacklustre direction and some weird moments e.g. 'silent' Ninjas whispering to their victims. The important thing about brainless fun is that it is actually meant to be fun, 'Ninja Assassin' is not.
Director: James McTeigue
Price: Amazon uk £9.99 (BluRay)
Play.com £9.99 (BluRay)
The none-action elements of the film do benefit slightly from a HD transfer, but when the shadowy elements occur the poor use of black and substandard special effects are shown up.
The BluRay comes with a DVD and digital copies of the film as well.
Looking at my calendar I see that it is that time of year again - Christmas. What do you say? September is far too early to be thinking of the winter festivities? Well in the world of book sellers this is clearly not the case, as they want their work front and centre of people's minds when it comes to gift buying. The new Bernard Cornwell and the new Terry Pratchett are out, as well as countless other best selling authors. Non fiction also has a payday at Christmas with the various TV tie in novels and cook books. One final group of books that booms over Wintermas is the comedian's cash in - the book that an established stand up or TV personality creates to make a few extra quid. As a rule they used to be pretty good, but as sales have increased, so has the number released each year. Unfortunately, an increase in quantity does not equate to an increase in quality as 'Robin Ince's Bad Book Club' shows.
Robin Ince is a stand up comedian who sometime appears on TV and radio. During his tours of the country he whiles away the hours before a gig by visiting the local charity shop in the search of something to read. Whilst the majority of us would look for something fun or of interest, Ince is a fan of the 'bad' book. Within 'Robin Ince's Bad Book Club' is a series of chapters that cover the various types of bad books that he collects from self help to sex. There are so many poorly written or misguided works out there that Ince just feels the need to share the human misery with us all - thanks for that Robin.
I was given this book by a friend who could not complete it as he found it hard going. As someone who has been known to read the odd 'bad' book he felt that I may succeed where he failed. It did not take me too long to see exactly why my pal struggled with the book - it is a very strange read. The structure Ince uses is to examine a genre of 'bad' book and then pick out some choice items to comment on. The chapters vary in length and in quality. At its best the book works when Ince has his teeth stuck into an idea and the chapters almost feel like a stand up routine in themselves and the books described are evidence to back his comments up. In the chapter on columnists, Ince goes off on one about how ridiculous they are and uses several examples of the genre to support his stance. Some of his offhand comments are very astute.
The other decent chapter is one based on the concept of 'Sex'. This is the rudest of the chapters, but also by far the funniest. Here the concept of enjoying bad books makes sense as they are truly awful. Reading about a collection of short stories where people describe their fantasies about 80s pop stars is both disturbing and amusing. There are some weird people out there and before the internet existed they were able to get a fair few books published.
The problem lies with the other 75% of the book where Ince bibliographic style of writing just does not work. In chapters based on something like 'Romance' he is essentially talking about Mills and Boons, and not much else. Who is he to decree that these books are bad? He concentrates on too narrow a selection of books as there must be far worse books out there, but by writing in his list style he seems to be suggesting at times that this is the definite set of worst books. One person's bad is another persons comfortable, being a little cynical about a genre that is not aimed at him is not really big or clever. It is unfortunately not funny either, which the book purports to be.
In the end the vast majority of the book feels like a weird list of strange items that Robin Ince has randomly bought over the years. To me this is not something that I really need to know about or care about reading. There are just too few books in 'Bad Books' for it to be comprehensive and Ince would have been better discussing the ideas of bad fiction and non fiction without going into detail about individual titles. Ince is clearly a bibliophile and treats the concept of books with more respect than you would expect from someone who writes about bad works. However, in the end 'Robin Ince's Bad Book Club' suffers from the cardinal sin of being boring and pointless - just like many of the books he chose to ridicule.
Author: Robin Ince
Price: amazon uk - £7.67
play.com - £7.69
Anime, or Manga as I still like to call it, is not the most popular of film styles in the West. However, in recent years Studio Ghibli has risen on a wave of acclaim to produce some of the best loved animations of the past 5 years e.g. 'Spirited Away', 'Howl's Moving Castle'. However, for all their success I find these films a little dry for my liking and they have too much of sense of their own self worth. Give me 'Catgirl Nuku Nuku' or 'KO Century Beast Warriors' any day of the week. I like my Manga full of bright characters, inane chatter and preferably a character that is half human and half animal. Step forward 'Ponyo' the Hayao Miyazaki film that may just meet my needs.
Ponyo is a fish. When I say fish, she is a fish thingie that is born from a spirit of the sea and a bloke that has become magical. On other hand, Sosuke lives a far more straight forward life with his mother in their little house on the coast. His father is often at sea, and this is why Sosuke is always by the water. One day he catches Ponyo in her fish form so she decides to become human to see what it is like. Will Ponyo and Sosuke become friends and can they work together to rebalance the world as Ponyo used a very strong act of magic to change form?
I have watched pretty much all of Miyazaki's films and although I have enjoyed them to a degree, 'Kiki's Delivery Service' is the only one I would actively watch again. It is a film that is clearly made for children about a Witch that delivers parcels with her talking cat. 'Ponyo' is the first Miyazaki film since 'Kiki' to return to the genre of a true kid's film. The likes of 'Howls' and 'Spirited Away' did have child protagonist, but the material was far too complex for anyone under the age of 10 to really understand. 'Ponyo' is a new retelling of 'The Little Mermaid' and has a great sense of wonder and childlike enthusiasm.
The film starts off in deep Studio Ghibli territory with strange imagery and bizarre characters. I was not really looking forward to the rest. However, once Ponyo enters the scene her enthusiasm makes it a much lighter affair with more laughs than furrowed brows. Like with all Miyazaki films you cannot knock the animation - it is beautiful, especially on BluRay. The colours are vibrant and some of the images are unlike anything you have seen outside of the Anime world.
It is not the look of the film that was ever going to be the problem, but the story and voice acting. Thankfully, for once Miyazaki has kept things simple and 'Ponyo' is a straight forward tale that anyone of any age can sit down and enjoy. The voice acting on the other hand is a mixed bag. Manga has a poor record with voice acting with many straight to DVD films getting the same old shouty voice work. However, Ghibli has built a reputation to such a level that they can hire top Hollywood actors to voice roles. Is this a good thing? Liam Neeson sounds bored in the film and he really starts it off badly, Cate Blancett is not much better and there is not much need for Matt Damon to be on board. It is not until Ponyo and Sosuke, voiced by Noah Lindsey Cyrus and Frankie Jonas, appear that the voice work picks up. Usually there is nothing more grating than child voice acting, but for the character of Ponyo and Sosuke in an anime, the actors chosen are perfect. This is even more surprising when they are from the family Cyrus and the family Jonas.
With Cyrus and Jonas capturing the spirit of the film perfectly you are allowed to sit back and enjoy what is a visual feast that warms the heart. The story is simple enough to understand and you get small snippets of humour interlaced with some high concept animation work. I am not someone who believes that traditional animation is dead as BluRay and other HD formats should easily prove that hand drawn work looks magnificent. With a back catalogue that harbours more than its fair share of strange beasties, it is nice to see a film from Miyazaki that the entire family can understand and enjoy.
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Noah Lindsey Cyrus and Frankie Jonas
Price: Amazon uk £13 (BluRay)
Play.com £13.99 (BluRay)
The BluRay version of 'Ponyo' is a fantastic transfer and the vibrant colours and quality sound come away beautifully. In terms of extras there are plenty of featurettes on the disc, including one that looks at the different voice actors - always fun to see. There is also a video for the Japanese version of the 'Ponyo' song that appears in the film and gets stuck in your head. A bizarre video, but a catchy tune.
In most versions of the BluRay you should also get a DVD copy of the film included.
What would you do if you had a crazy tramp standing outside your house yelling abuse at your family? Calling the police would certainly be an easy decision, but not to be unkind, they rarely do stuff about crazy tramps anymore. In fact, in parts of the North West it's actually policy to allow as many shambling weirdos to roam the streets as possible; as a child I learnt early on to never to go to town on a Tuesday. With no one else around to help the next obvious decision is to enact some old school vigilante justice - when did that ever go wrong? I mean, no one will suspect you when the tramp that was standing outside your house ends up beaten to death, will they?
Jake Schiff is a pit bull of a lawyer who has worked his way up from the poor part of town to the classy suburbs of New York. He represents some of the biggest corporations and richest people in America who love his dogged determination. However, all of Jake's training as a lawyer never prepared him for what happens when your family is stalked. After Jake's wife meets a mentally ill tramp they find themselves constantly followed and berated by him. Who is this John Q? He was once a man with a decent job and a family, but circumstances have left him destitute and increasingly detached from reality. When Jake goes to extreme measures to get rid of the tramp he finds himself in deep trouble with not only the police, but the Mafiosi too.
If 'The Intruder' was a television programme it would be a Soap Opera. This is because like serial TV shows like Neighbours and Eastenders, the characters in 'The Intruder' are too stupid for a reader to enjoy or believe. In most Soaps, characters get themselves into a situation of their own making and rather than backing out early they make ridiculous decisions that drive them deeper into trouble. Jake Schiff is a buffoon who should have starred in a Soap because his actions in this book border on the insane, and are certainly stupid. A high class lawyer should be more intelligent than to become involved with thinly veiled thugs. However, author Peter Blauner expects us to believe that he would do just this to get rid of a tramp problem. As a reader you are not surprised at all when it goes pear shaped.
What underlines Jake's stupid actions is that the first part of the book is very sensible and well written. John Q, who becomes the crazy vagrant, is giving an emotional and compelling back-story that leads up to the present. Unlike in most crime fiction you feel that you know as much about the criminal as you do the victim. John Q is no a bad man, just one who is deeply disturbed. The first half of the book is almost equally split between the two main characters of John and Jake, flipping between how they finally clash. Once the bizarre incident occurs the book starts to concentrate on Jake, much to the detriment over all. It is a shame that a character as well realised as John Q is dumped as the book turns into a mindless legal action thriller.
Blauner is unable to balance the early intelligent character development with a sense of pace and thrills. It feels like Blauner wanted to write a quite cerebral look at mental illness amongst the homeless, but his publishers demanded a subpar John Grisham style. When you take into account that Grisham has written some poor books, a subpar version of him is bordering on the unreadable. Any moments of pathos and intelligence are undermined by Jake's actions and the final section of the book, which turns into a bizarre action thriller. One of the final action sequences has to be read to be believed - talk about keeping it in the family.
If 'The Intruder' had kept its tone consistent throughout I could have seen the book as an empty headed guilty pleasure, or an interesting look into the collapse of one man's life. However, it flips between the two styles and neither of them ends up working. The problems are compounded when you realise how stupid the character of Jake needs to be to get himself into the situation he does. I could imagine his actions from a hot headed journeyman, but a supposedly leading lawyer? His actions seem so out of character with what is needed in the profession. This jarring set of inconsistencies in term of characters and tone means that 'The Intruder' ends up being a rather poor book that will please neither fans of straight fiction, nor crime.
Author: Peter Blauner
Price: amazon uk - £0.01
Tom. Tommy. The Tomster. These are some of the names that I don't call Tom Cruise. To me he is the epitome of late 80s and early 90s US cinema with his flawless grin and tiny stature. There is no doubting that in recent years his off screen life has had a derogatory effect on his onscreen charisma, no longer is he the handsome guy next door, but a spooky mannequin of insincerity. However, to dismiss the man because he comes across as a bit of a kook is a disservice as his performances in films such as 'Magnolia' and 'Born on the Fourth of July' show that he does have some talent as an actor. Therefore, as much as every fibre in my body wants me to never watch a film starring the Cruisinator, the Cruisal, the CruiseforaCorpse (more names I don't call him), I will watch 'Valkyrie' in the hopes it is good.
By 1943/44 it was becoming increasingly certain that Germany was losing the war. The allies had grown stronger with the might of the American industrial engine and Germany was running out of young men to send to the front. This did not stop Adolf Hitler and his leading cronies from keeping an iron grasp on power. Throughout his reign of evil several attempts where made on Hitler's life, the most famous being Valkyrie, an in-depth conspiracy by some of the leading political and military thinkers in Nazi Germany. Could this batch of old fashioned German men overthrow Hitler before he destroys everything they believe in?
Spoiler Alert. Hitler did not die in 1944. This may come as a shock to some readers of this review who do not list history as one of their favourite subjects. With this in mind the outcome of 'Valkyrie' should be an obvious one and any tension in the plot mute. However, this is not the case as although some people will know the general results of the attempted coup, not many will know how the plan came about, who was involved and why is failed to achieve success. Bryan Singer rightly concentrates on these elements as a way of increasing the tension.
With this in mind you have a cast of characters played by a who's who of British talent. Established thespians such as Bill Nighy and Kenneth Branagh are joined by the likes of Eddie Izzard. Every British actor in the film plays their role well up to David Bamber as Hitler himself. However, a decent proportion of the audience are not watching this film for a British ensemble cast, but for Tom Cruise as Colonel von Stauffenberg, the man who would prove the eventual driving force behind Valkyrie. On set rumours where abound that the performance was abysmal and that Cruise was using a ridiculous German accent. On seeing the film, this is just not true as most of the cast use their own accents and so does Cruise. His performance is decent enough one and you believe he could be a war hero. However, he is not really able to shine against a great British cast until the very end of the film.
It is not the cast that are the issue with the film as they all do a good job. It is director Bryan Singer's approach to the material that falls short. When creating a film that is based on fact, a director has to decide early on whether to be liberal with the truth or not. Singer seems to have found some strange middle ground were he uses a lot of artistic licence and Hollywood hoopla, but in a film that almost feels like a docudrama at times. The static use of shots and over reliance on talky moments means that the momentum of the film ebbs and flows to such a degree that one minute you feel like you are watching a blockbuster, the next the History Channel. Over the course of the film, and especially the final third, 'Valkyrie' does justify itself as a feature film, but it could almost have been better designed as a documentary.
With its languid pace 'Valkyrie' is a film saved by a strong ensemble cast and an inherently compelling story. Very little of the tension in the film is created by Bryan Singer as a film maker, but the actual events that happened. Rather than draw the viewer into the world, Singer instead adapts a slightly cold feel to the film that comes across as documentary-esque. As von Stauffenberg, Cruise does a decent enough job to keep the audience at least partly engaged with the human element in the film, but overall the film is passable, but nowhere near as strong as a story of this magnitude could have been.
Director: Bryan Singer
Starring: Tom Cruise et al.
Price: Amazon uk £17.99 (BluRay)
Play.com £10.99 (BluRay)
I saw the film in BluRay and for a movie that has a lot of open countryside and period features it should have looked amazing. However, as mentioned before Singer's leaning towards a docudrama feel means that HD is not really needed.
Treat the aboriginal people of a country with respect. Sounds like an easy concept, but not one that our fore fathers chose to accept with some of the worst human rights atrocities of all time. Pesky Native American tribe in your way? Then why not provide them with some disease ridden blankets? Is your town surrounded by Aboriginal Australians? Perhaps methodical persecution and removal of their children will help? There are a lot of people across the globe that have historic reasons to dislike one another, but what would happen if these deep wounds were to open? Perhaps after all these years it about time they got some payback?
When a local slumlord had his throat slit it is not big news. The same level of ambivalence greets the death of a local racist. It is not until the death of a prominent business man that people start to see a pattern emerging. There are a spate of copy cat killings going on that see the victim approached in broad daylight and having their throats cut. Although the victims are not the most pleasant of men it is still the police's job to protect them. Therefore, a taskforce is set up and maverick cop Lucas Davenport is given the job of using his network of snitches to uncover what is going on. This could be Davenport's most difficult case as he comes up against the silence of the Crow community and a new partner that may prove somewhat of a distraction.
I am a long standing fan of the Lucas Davenport Prey novels, but have read them out of order. One moment he is a consultant for the police, the next he is a younger man back on the force. In my opinion some of the earlier books are harder to enjoy as Davenport is not the easiest of men to get along with. The darkness in his character is what makes him so appealing as he is willing to step across the line to get a case closed, even if it means killing someone. Most of the time, and especially in the later books, this all seems justified and in character, but 'Shadow Prey' is a book that also paints him as a man you may not like at all.
The violent edge to Davenports character is present in 'Shadow', but it his other vice that unbalances the book - women. By the time of this book he is in a relationship with a female reporter and they have a child together. John Sandford lets you know early on that Davenport's eye does wander, but the affair he has in this book is probably his lowest point. Not only does he fall for a colleague, but she is married and vulnerable to the advances of someone like Davenport. Around a third of the book seems to concentrate on this relationship and this not only detracts from the main action, but is also pretty uncomfortable as you see two people ruining their own lives, and those of their families.
Put aside the issue with Davenport's actions and you still have one of the weakest stories in the series. This is to a large part due to so much of Sandford's energy going into the relationship element of the book. Therefore, the action parts of the book feel very underdeveloped and you never get a strong idea of why exactly a multitude of different characters got together to seek the one common goal. The lack of bite in the story is only highlighted further when the finale comes and it is as action packed and well written as the rest of Sandford's work. He is a very talented thriller writer, but in the case of 'Shadow Prey' he just got off track.
It would be unfair not to allow every author at least one or two poor books in their career and 'Shadow Prey' is one of these for John Sandford. Instead of the usual back and forth between the hunter and the prey, you have a book that discuses the hunter's love life as much as their work life. I don't mind some character development, it is a must for a long running series, but portraying your lead as a love lost loser preying on married women does sit uneasy with me. Perhaps with a stronger central mystery I could have overlooked these shortcomings, but the action is second best when compared to the rest of the series. Having read the 'Prey' novels out of order I know that there are some genuine classics to come, for those who read 'Shadow Prey' early on, do not take it as a sign of the usual standard of the books.
Author: John Sandford
Price: amazon uk - £0.01 second hand
The 3D train is coming; either get on or get run over. This is seemingly the attitude that Hollywood Studio Execs currently have. 2010 has had a fair few 3D films, and 2011 is likely to have more. However, are they right? For a short period of time every 3D film that came out was a hit, but with the failure of both 'Step Up 3D' and 'Cats and Dogs 2' in the past few weeks the first 3D flops are happening. Perhaps the likes of 'Avatar' and 'Toy Story 3' succeeded on merit and not just 3D spectacular? The reason that these execs think that 3D leads to instant win was the release and massive success of 'Alice in Wonderland', a film critically panned, but financially a juggernaut. How does the film look on home formats? Did it deserve its financial success and/or its critical failure?
It is some years after the events of Lewis Carroll's original 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' and the titular Alice has grown into a beautiful young women whose head is in the clouds. Her family cannot have her dilly dallying all her life so they set her up with a rich suitor. However, Alice flees in panic and once more finds succour in the 'imaginary' world of Wonderland. The creatures of the land have been waiting a long time for her and life for her friends has grown a lot darker since she left. Can Alice reclaim her friendships and rid Wonderland of the Red Queen once and for all?
With the words of a hundred professional critics ringing in my ears I started to watch Tim Burton's 'Alice' with little relish. The director has proved very hot and cold throughout his career with classics like 'Edward Scissorhands' and 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' sitting right next to awful films like 'The Planet of the Apes'. In terms of look and feel 'Alice' is clearly a Burton film with his telltale art direction and use of darkness over light. The quirkiness that has signified most of his back catalogue is present here, but with the added extra of 3D.
Or not as the case may be. Not only was 'Alice' a retrofitted 3D film i.e. the technique was added afterwards, but most home versions will be in good old fashioned 2D, therefore, removing one of the films selling points. The lack of 3D shows itself in some of the shots that have objects of different sizes falling towards the screen; there is still a sense of depth, but not as much as in the 3D version. The problem with 3D is that you can have a film that is empty except for the effects, and this is the problem that people blamed 'Alice' of. A little unjustifiably in my view.
'Alice' is far from being a perfect film and in many ways it is all style and little substance. However, when style looks as good as this, even in 2D, then you can forgive an anaemic script. Whilst the film was playing I enjoyed the visual spectacular, the land, the characters, the colours; all looked especially great in HD. It was only after the film had finished that I realised it made little sense and not that much had actually happened. The film does have a poor story, but even so I still enjoyed it when I was engaged with the world of Wonderland. I can't imagine that I will ever want to watch the film again, but as a one off it doesn't feel quite like anything else.
One of the other major draws to the film was the list of stars on show. Johnny Depp is currently on a career high after the successes of the 'Pirate' films and his presence in another massive film will not harm this. I really liked his portrayal of the Mad Hatter as it is truly disturbing, that and the fact he one of a few Americans I feel can do accents well. For me Mia Wasikowska as Alice was a little frail and lost in the film. The rest of the cast is interesting with plenty of voice work from several British stars and roles for Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter. One of the stand outs was Crispin Glover as the devious Knave of Hearts, an actor whose reputation as a difficult character means he does not work as often as he should.
With its minimal storyline, that skirts on sacrilegious changes to Lewis Carroll's Wonderland, I can see why people dislike Tim Burton's 'Alice in Wonderland'. The home version of the film may look clean and crisp on BluRay, but it also suffers from no longer being 3D. However, despite the flaws there is no denying that whilst the film lasts there are enough interesting things on screen to keep you at least modestly entertained. The film is by no means a classic and will probably go down in history as a folly of 3D, but I still think it is worth a rent for people looking for a slightly darker family film.
Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp et al.
Price: Amazon uk £15 (BluRay)
Play.com £14.99 (BluRay)
The BluRay version that I saw was the 2D version that was a great transfer onto the format, but it did highlight elements that should have been in 3D. I think that with big budget special effects films like this that BluRay is the way to watch them if you can.
The BluRay version comes with the DVD version as well. In terms of extras there were a few featurettes on the making of the film.
I have never read a 'Twilight' book or seen any of the films. As an adult male this should come as no surprise because I get the impression that the phenomenon is aimed more at teenage girls and their mothers. Despite having little to no idea if the books/films are decent or not, I still have an opinion based on absolute conjecture. They seem soppy and paint vampires as lovely dovey romantic leads. Not in my world. If vampires did exist they would be the equivalent of a supernatural junkie hooked on blood rather than heroin. I ain't going near one of those blood sucking monsters. I prefer my vampire novels to have a much darker edge and perhaps teach teenage girls (and their mothers) that perhaps running in the opposite direction from a vampire is the better option than going in for a kiss.
In an alternative modern day America the vampire myth is a reality. Rather than being your common frilly neckerchiefs wearing fop, they are actually pretty rare and very brutal. The beasts are very real, but don't last too long as their rampages of bloody violence mean that they are hunted down. The leading vampire hunter in America is Special Marshall Arkeley, but he is getting old. When rumours arise of a pack of vampires, Arkeley decides to take the reliable State Trooper Caxton as a partner. Between the two of them they must hunt down a vampire family that is slaughtering people. Can they survive long enough to once more rid the US of the vampire menace?
As mentioned I am a big fan of the grungier side of supernatural fiction from the 70s exploitation style of 'The Strain' and the 'Joe Pike' books, to the self disarming comedy of Jim Butcher's 'Dresden Files'. What all these books have in common is that they paint the supernatural in a way that I believe. '13 Bullets' can be added to this excellent list as it too takes the vampire curse very seriously. There is no romance in this book; instead the vampires lure their victims using a form of hypnosis (is this were the notion of them having romantic powers comes from?) These are ugly beasts that use their raw power to tear through humans. As they grow older their thirst grows stronger; they can start small only picking victims that won't be missed, but eventually the blood lust will lead them on a killing spree.
The power that author David Wellington gives the Vampires is what makes them so compelling in '13 Bullets'. The idea that 13 snub nosed bullets may not be enough to finish one off makes them a formidable foe and genuinely a scary proposition. Wellington goes some way into reaffirming these undead as a genuine threat in terms of horror fiction and not the light hearted love trumpeters of many dark romance books of today. With a truly horrific set of creatures the book is intense as no character is safe. As a reader you are aware that at any moment either Arkeley or Caxton could be killed.
The two main characters cannot quite live up to the splendour that are the vampires in this novel. Arkeley is intentionally underdeveloped as a means of giving him some allure, whilst perhaps we learn too much about Caxton. Her home life increasingly comes into the story as the book progresses and I found this a little dull if I am honest. I was also unsure about the direction Wellington was going with the connection she had with the beasts. The book goes from being quite realistic (in terms of a book on vampires) to a novel based on ethereal beliefs.
'13 Bullets' is an impressive action novel that shows Vampires as they really would be; junkies with immense power. Wellington writes a good crime novel and throws in supernatural elements. His vivid descriptions make the violence hard to read, but compelling horror fiction. The only issue I had with the book was the fact that it begins to lose its way towards the end as the world of unreality begins to creep into the story. What was an almost believable view of vampires becomes something a little too whimsical for the nature of the story. This is still an excellent book and will satisfy any fan of hard horror.
Author: David Wellington
Price: amazon uk - £2.82 (2nd hand)
I don't claim to be able to see the future, but for a long time I had very special powers. I was able to view the cast list from a film and if the name Nicholas Cage was in it, the film would be rubbish. Cage is one of the most bizarre A listers around; part character actor, part nutter, part taker of pay cheques. For a long time I actually had a soft spot for him with 'Con Air' being a favourite film of mine. However, with the likes of the truly awful 'Wicker Man' and 'Bangkok Dangerous' remakes, I saw he was destined for film obscurity. However, you can't keep a twitchy toupee (allegedly) wearing actor down and recent form has shown him making genre films that once again peak my interest. The brilliant 'Kick Ass' is out on BluRay soon, but what about 'Knowing' a science fiction film that perhaps launched him once more into the realm of geek films?
50 years ago a group of school children buried images of what they thought the future would look like. No one thought anything of the time capsule until it was dug up. It's now 2009 and MIT Professor John Koestler's son has just received one of these images from the past. However, rather than hover cars and space boots John's son, Caleb, has received a piece of paper covered in numbers. John sees the numbers as a challenge and goes about trying to understand what they mean, there seems to be a pattern that involves dates, but what? His investigation will lead him on a journey that will change his life and perhaps the entire world.
I like a bit of old school science fiction nonsense and in this sense 'Knowing' was a perfect piece of film making for my tastes. The likes of 'Knowing' and 'Contact' are solid slices of sci fi that don't try to overegg the action and instead set out on a sedate story that investigates whether something is real of not. The central premise of a child possibly predicting future events if pure hokum and the journey that John takes us on is not much better. The less said about the final section the better as it only gets more bizarre. However, despite the kooky nature of the film (what do you expect casting Cage?) it was actually a very fun thriller.
Too many films are released that claim they are science fiction, but really they are boring thrillers or action films. Too many times the ideas that should make a science fiction film great are put to one side for the sake of a few CGI creations and an explosion or 10. 'Knowing' is a science fiction film that wears its geek badge on its sleeve. The character of Professor John Koestler is a man of science and he wants to know exactly what is going on. He is no gung ho hero, but a man scared for the safety of his child. Cage does play him slightly strangely, but having known a few academics in my time his eccentricities actually fit with the role. Having an intellectual as a lead allows director Alex Proyas to treat the storyline with intelligence and he does.
The way that the movie unfolds may not be to everyone's liking, but I actually found it charming. The problems with the film are not to do with the story, but how Proyas chooses to show it. 'Knowing' is a moderately budgeted film, but it has some big and expensive ideas. Ideas that Proyas could not really afford to make look good. On BluRay the special effects at times look incredibly fake. The fire effects and CGI are not of a standard that hold up to High Definition and some good ideas are slightly undermined. Proyas would have perhaps been better hinting at some of the ideas and saving the money to make the really big set pieces look awesome. This is the man ho made 'Dark City' a film that stretched a budget to breaking point and still looked good (if now a little dated).
With its cheesy storyline and dodgy special effects 'Knowing' will be a film that will instantly put some people off seeing it. It is the type of science fiction that people who hate the genre point to and say - "that is science fiction". However, if you are one of the people who actually love the genre, and miss the days of solid science fiction stories for the sake of themselves, then this movie will appeal. Yes it is pure hokum, and it doesn't look great, but despite this there are some really interesting ideas shown that are treated in a reasonably intelligent way.
Director: Alex Proyas
Starring: Nicholas Cage
Price: Amazon uk £9.71 (BluRay)
Play.com £9.99 (BluRay)
Like with any film that contains dodgy CGI 'Knowing' is pretty raw looking. I imagine the DVD version would actually come out on top as the special effects won't be able to do as much damage.
The disc contains the usual commentaries and featurettes.
What is it with High Definition and BluRay? In most of my film reviews you will either read about how good the picture or how there is no point paying extra fro a BluRay that looks the same as a DVD. At its best the format is fantastic, it makes CGI cartoons pop off the screen and summer blockbusters vibrant. A well shot drama or comedy can be enhanced with a rich palette and sense of weight that the HD gives. In short, in the right hands BluRay will improve your enjoyment of a film. I know this from experience, but even I overlooked some of the benefits of the format. The larger disc space allows for clearer images, but how often do you notice the crystal clear sound? 'Pontypool' is a film all about audio and it comes to life on BluRay.
The film opens up with a voice. This is the voice of DJ Grant Mazzy, a once popular shock jock whose poor attitude and drinking problems has left him working in a small Canadian town called Pontypool. The earlier morning shift usually consists of local gossip and a few musical tracks, but today is different. News trickles through of a riot in town where the usually peaceful locals have attacked a clinic. Before long the station is inundated with cries for help and requests for interviews from top media outlets like the BBC. Mazzy, his producer Sydney and assistant Laurel-Ann have been told to stay in the station or risk death. Can they discover what is going on outside and is anyone still listening to their broadcast?
I first came across 'Pontypool' in an article that suggested it may have been a subtle form of pro-French language propaganda. The film is set in Canada and it takes a very interesting and fresh approach on the zombie genre. These are not the undead, but people affected by something found within certain words. It just so happens that these words are in English and that French appears to be safe. Propaganda aside, the use of language as a medium for a virus (or whatever it is) is a unique proposition in my viewing and something that made the film extremely interesting to watch. As someone who regularly sits under an alarm I know that harsh sounds can have a physical effect on a person.
The interesting elements to the film do not stop at the concept of sound as a carrier. 'Pontypool' is obviously a low budget film, but like all good film makers, director Bruce McDonald does not allow this to make the film feel cheap, he instead uses the constraints to his advantage. The cast is kept to a minimum as you only really see four people; most of the cast are heard through the telephone or radio. The cast is unknown, but strong, especially lead actor Stephen McHattie as Mazzy. His gravelly voice and gravitas really adds to the feeling of depth in the film.
With the minimal cast comes minimal sets - one. The majority of the film is based in the radio station and you are forced to imagine what is going on outside by the various communications that Mazzy gets. It is testament to McDonald that I never felt the film was claustrophobic and that the characters staying within the given space made perfect sense. If someone can inspire your imagination, they do not need sets or CGI. It is the wonderful audio in 'Pontypool' that inspires. As mentioned the audio is crystal clear on BluRay and haunts you. The various accounts of what is going on float through the radio stations speakers and give you the same sense of isolation and dread that the characters trapped must feel. The various actors used to voice the unknown have done a superb job.
'Pontypool' is one of an increasingly rare breed of intelligent horror films. The actual visual horror on offer is not that high and director McDonald leaves it mostly to your imagination as to what is exactly going on outside. The confined space and small cast work to increase the levels of tension and claustrophobic that the interesting script provides. The lack of guts and big budget special effects may put off some film viewers, but if you are someone who is looking for a more cerebral thriller then 'Pontypool' is a must.
Director: Bruce McDonald
Starring: Stephen McHattie
Price: Amazon uk £10.93 (BluRay)
Play.com £11.99 (BluRay)
In terms of visual splendour the BluRay version of 'Pontypool' cannot do much with the limit sets. However, the transfer is a clean one and it does look good. Where the improvements lie most is in the sound mixing, the HD sound is fantastic and with a decent speaker set up the films quality improves even further.
On the disc are a few interesting extras including the radio audio that you would have heard if you had been listening to the fictional radio station during the film. There are also some cast interviews and a trailer.
Gay politics is not something that I can say has impacted on my life in any noticeable way. As a straight bloke it's got nothing to do with me right? Wrong. Perhaps the actual sexuality angle of gay politics has not got anything to do with me, but the politics of prejudices and freedoms effect us all. It doesn't matter if you are the most privileged while male from the upper classes, if you allow racism, sexism, homophobia, or any other negative attitude to dominate in politics we will all suffer. For woman to get the vote sacrifices had to be made. For black people in America to get the equality they deserve, sacrifices had to be made. 'Milk' is a film about some of the sacrifices the gay community went through during 70s US politics.
Harvey Milk was just a man in the closet with secret gay lifestyle until he met the youthful Scott Smith. Together they decide to give up their old lives and move to the more liberal San Francisco. Life in the city is better for a gay couple and Harvey and Scott are able to open a camera shop together. However, although life is freer in San Fran, this is still 70s America and the conservative right have a powerful voice. Prejudices and random attacks on gay men mean that the gay community feel threatened. They need a representative on the City Council, a man with experience and voice that can he heard. Could Harvey Milk be that man?
I have to be honest in saying that the name Harvey Milk is not one that has ever crossed my path before the release of the film. Not only was his success before my birth, but politics moves on so fast that the next break through or backtrack is just around the corner. However, not knowing who Milk was meant that I could view the film with an open mind and only have the smallest inkling of what would unfold.
'Milk' is a film that follows the current trend of Hollywood biopics that appear to be made for Oscar runs. These films should have a liberal agenda and a power house performance by a top actor. Well gay politics and Sean Penn fit the bill brilliantly. In terms of narrative the film is not much better than a made for TV biopic. It is based on historic events, but even so it feels pretty linear and derivative of a thousand other pictures. I would have expected something a little more daring from a director like Gus Van Sant, but for every 'Elephant' on his CV there is a shot for shot remake of 'Psycho' On its own it would have been an interesting film about politics in the 70s, but not much more. The High Definition version I saw was not really needed, except in the larger crowd scenes.
Like so many of these Oscar worthy films it is the performances of the actors that make them worth watching. If the story was slightly uninspiring, Sean Penn's portrayal of Harvey Milk was anything but. This is a classic method performance as Penn embodies the man. His sense of movement makes you believe that this is the person who went into the murky world of politics and not an actor with a history of rage issues. Penn also transforms his voice in a way that draws you into the story, rather than putting you off. His Oscar win was probably deserved as he commits to the role fully. As an actor I think you should be able to play any role and Penn tackles scenes such as kissing another man like the professional he is. The idea of playing a gay character is certainly not worthy of an Oscar alone, the likes of Daniel Day Lewis in 'My Beautiful Laundrette' were breaking these 'taboos' decades ago. The Oscar went for a great performance of Penn playing a real man.
'Milk' is certainly a film worth watching, especially if you are a fan of biopics of powerful acting performances. However, behind the standout lead there is a film that feels a little flimsy in terms of narration and direction. Van Sant obviously wanted to allow the performance of Penn to breath and the story to play out itself but in doing so it all feels a little flat. Important issues are tackled in the film, but they sometimes play second fiddle to Penn's acting, a shame when homophobia is still an issue today.
Director: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Sean Penn
Price: Amazon uk £9.99 (BluRay)
As mentioned the HD is not really needed in the film as it is a pretty tight drama. There are a few extras on the disc that look at the life and times of Harvey Milk.
There is an entire subgenre of American cinema that film viewers rarely see. This genre is the self serving indie pic and ever since Kevin Smith made 'Clerks' there has been a constant slurry of film school alumni producing cheap looking films about feelings. Being thrifty is not the only thing that these films have in common; they are also invariably rubbish, egotistical and shown on TV for the first time at 2 am. I have no interest about one man's crusade to have a date with Drew Barrymore or who your last 5 girlfriends may have been. Take you samey film school baloney back to Hollywood and make some generic TV cop drama. Despite my misgivings, once in a while someone actually makes a film in this subgenre that is not tooth pullingly poor, sometimes they can actually be pretty good.
The band 'The Jerk Offs' has only one straight member and his name is Nick. Being in a band that is mostly made up of gay men is not the reason that Nick is failing in love, but because he is obsessed by his ex, the manipulative Triss. Norah is also suffering from the relationship blues as no one seems to understand her, especially bitchy girl at school, Triss. Yes, the same Triss. When news spreads through LA that cult band 'Where's Fluffy' are planning a secret gig Nick and Norah set out on separate missions to find the event. Fate will intervene as they meet up. Will they see that they are meant for one another, or will their mess things up as usual?
I'm not one for romance, much to the dismay of my partner. This means that I find films that centre around grand concepts such as love at first sight and fate hard to understand. However, it is on these notions that 'Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist' hangs its entire premise. At the core of the film is the duos separate love of music and their similar tastes. For a relationship to work I don't think you need to like the same type of music, but it can be a great way that people meet - as is the case here when Norah hears one of Nick's mix tapes. 'Nick and Norah' is as much about music as it is about romance.
Is the music good? To be honest it was not to my taste. Lots of gangly American guitar bands talking about feelings in a slightly naïve voice. However, it's with great credit to director Peter Sollett that I didn't mind the music and that it felt completely in keeping with the film. The jolly poppy tunes don't have to be liked by the watcher, just the characters in the film. You get a real sense that Nick and Norah would be drawn to one another by their mural tastes.
The film is essentially a one night road movie. It has a lot in common with the first third of Doug Liman's 'Go', an underrated movie, or the classic teen angst films of the 80s. As a film it works more as a whole than the sum of its parts. Individually the elements should not work; the poppy music, the emotional core, the whimsy. Perhaps the actors themselves should detract from the film? Michael Cera is already past his sell by date in the movies, yet still he gets lead roles. As Nick he is once again the ineffectual wimpy stereotype who softly speaks his way into women's hearts. Kat Dennings as Norah is slightly better as at least her slightly off beat nature makes her believable. Together they somehow work and actually fit in with the indie spirit of the film.
By the end of 'Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist' I somehow found that I had thoroughly enjoyed myself. I was able to overlook surmountable problems like the name of the band that everybody loves, 'Where's Fluffy' (a band with a name like that would not last a year) and a self indulgent cast. The pace of the film is good and there are enough moments of joy and humour that you can't help getting to like the company of Nick et al. Perhaps the romanticised images of love and lust did eventually break my hard shell as I rooted for the titular duo to succeed. Whether they did or not will depend on you seeing the film and being able to sit through the poptacular soundtrack.
Director: Peter Sollett
Starring: Michael Cera and Kat Dennings
Price: Amazon uk £9.99 (BluRay)
Play.com £9.99 (BluRay)
I saw the film in BluRay and I think that it benefitted from the HD. A lot of the film is based in the city and driving around at night, the format really helps it looks its best.
The disc is crammed with extras including commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes and a puppet show!
It sometimes feels that for a modern film to be made it has to be fast. Fast action, fast dialogue, fast relationships, fast editing. Everything is shot at the blink of an eye for a generation of people with ADD. As soon as a film comes along that settles into the gentler pace of the 1940-70s, studios start to worry that an audience will grow impatient. What happens if you have a slightly more cerebral and slow thriller, but want to sell it to the masses? How about designing a trailer that has the one scene in the film that is Bourne-esque? This is exactly what happened with 'The International', it was sold as a fast thriller, but is actually more like a steady noir. Would I be disappointed by the slow pace?
Louis Salinger works for Interpol and he is on the case of a multinational bank that seems to be involved in secret arms deals. When his colleague is killed the evidence is not strong enough for Interpol and the rest of the national community to believe that it was murder. Therefore, Salinger must head out himself to uncover the truth with the aid of American law enforcer Eleanor Whitman. Their investigation soon leads them on a deadly pursuit for an assassin and his links to the banking industry. Can Salinger bring down the bank and remain within the law?
Slow burn is probably the way best to describe 'The International' as it is a thriller that is not afraid to take its time telling a story. There is no denying that in certain scenes the film feels a little like the 'Bourne' series, but in terms that they both feel based in real worlds. The kinetic action of 'Bourne' is replaced with a more methodical approach to investigation. For this reason 'The International' feels like an even more authentic experience. If you like a good procedural crime thriller like the 'Prime Suspect' TV movies then 'The International' will appeal to you.
Being based in a more realistic world of investigative police work should not put off fans of guns and explosions as 'The International' also has a few of these. There is one action sequence that takes place in a public space that is up there with the best that the modern Bonds have had to offer. The fact that this hard action comes in a film that is otherwise steady means that it really stands out. Director Tom Tykwer proves in this one scene that he can not only film good drama, but also great action.
Eric Singer's script holds up as it could almost come from the news, but to give it justice Tykwer had to make sure he cast the right people and in Clive Owen he did. I have to admit to having a soft spot for Owen as although he has failed to become a true superstar actor, he does make interesting film choices. Here as the downtrodden Detective Salinger he is perfectly cast as someone who is vulnerable, but also a man of action. The pace of the film allows his performance to breath and you understand some of the actions that he is willing to take as the finale encroaches.
The rest of the cast have a lot less to do than Owen and as the established female lead Naomi Watts does little with what must be considered a rather thankless role. It is the numerous shadowy bankers who perform well as they make for a believable bunch who are not cartoony in any way.
I saw this film in HD and as an action drama it really benefitted from the format. A lot of the film is set in buildings, but even then the HD highlights the modern architecture. However, it is during the numerous outdoor sections that the format shines. Tykwer directed a crisp film with some good cinematography. The clear colours give the film even more of a sense of class and the European roots of many of the production staff are clear in the style of the film.
In many ways 'The International' is the perfect mix of old and new film styles. The pace of the older films allows the story and characters to develop in a natural manner, whilst the action sequences are of a high enough standard that they should entertain those with a shorter attention span. Owen fits perfectly into a film of intrigue, but also of authenticity. As a hyper realised version of the banking crisis it both entertains and informs.
Director: Tom Tykwer
Starring: Clive Owen and Naomi Watts
Price: Amazon uk £9.75 (BluRay)
Play.com £9.99 (BluRay)
'The International' is one of those films that really benefits from the BluRay as it is shot so well. In terms of extras there is a commentary and a couple of interesting featurettes on the making of the film.