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stevek181

stevek181
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      22.11.2013 15:51
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      Great read at a great price

      The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared is about a 100 year old man (Allan Karlsson) who climbs out a window and disappears. This unusual course of action is due to two major factors; his upcoming and unwanted 100th birthday party and the unfair drinking restrictions imposed upon the residents of his particular old folk's home.

      This particular centenarian, however, is no ordinary vodka-drinking 100 year old birthday boy. He has (mainly unwittingly) witnessed and contributed to some of the major events of the 20th century during the course of his memorable 100 years on planet earth.

      The adventure he embarks on after climbing out the window involves gangsters, suitcases of cash, several grisly deaths, an elephant and copious amounts of vodka. For most folk it would have been the adventure of a lifetime. Unlike Allan, however, most people haven't spent a considerable amount of time wandering around the globe in the company of such characters as Churchill, Stalin, Mao and a collection of US Presidents.

      This book, a debut novel by Swede Jonas Jonasson, tells the parallel tales of the Allan's new adventure after his unexpected escape from the old folk's home, plus his incredible life story and how it led him to be the 100 year old man who climbed out the window.

      Along the way we meet some brilliantly drawn out characters who are as memorable as they are varied; from a hot dog-salesman to Einstein's idiotic brother to a "little loudmouth" Russian dictator to an elephant who's own life story draws strange parallels with Allan's.

      This is a whimsical and quirky tale that is occasionally laugh-and-loud funny, and constantly amusing, interesting and uplifting. Allan is a loveable, charismatic character who, like a geriatric Forrest Gump, is not aware of the impact he is having on the world around him including the Spanish Civil War and Reagan's Star Wars. This is not from stupidity; more a refreshingly innocent and carefree vision of the world that the reader can't help but admire.

      - - - "There are only two things I can do better than most people. One of them is to make vodka from goats' milk, and the other is to put together an atomic bomb" - - -

      Real praise should go to the translator of this Swedish novel, Rod Bradbury, which seems to have captured the feel and crucially the humour of the original (published in 2009) perfectly. The simply written page-turner of a novel flows beautifully and swapping between Allan's past life and his current adventure do little to diminish the pace of the novel.

      As far apart from the traditional Nordic Noir as it's possible to get, the book is unapologetically optimistic and carefree; periods of excitement and a kind of tension, interspersed with slapstick humour and hilariously unrealistic plot twists.

      Sometimes it pays to judge a book by it's cover and this is very much the case here; the zany and intriguing title prompting many (myself included) to pay the £3.99 price (kindle) £6.29 (paperback) to find out a bit more and propel the novel into the limelight as one of the best sellers of last year.

      I loved the book and finished it in a couple of days; some will obviously find it too light weight and may not find the humour to their taste. Others may find it difficult to like a character who actually does some pretty terrible things (albeit with a certain style) and judges the perpetrators of some of the greatest atrocities of the 20th century by how much vodka they are willing to give him. A gentle mocking is perhaps less than these monsters deserve; but whilst the book humanises them, it also ridicules them. One great scene involves the young Kim Il Sung being consoled on Allan's knee and another Stalin exploding quite spectacularly over Allan's choice of words.

      - - - "'I shall destroy capitalism! Do you hear! I shall destroy every single capitalist! And I shall start with you, you dog, if you don't help us with the bomb!'
      Allan noted that he had managed to be both a rat and a dog in the course of a minute or so. And that Stalin was being rather inconsistent, because now he wanted to use Allan's services after all.
      But Allan wasn't going to sit there and listen to this abuse any longer. He had come to Moscow to help them out, not to be shouted at. Stalin would have to manage on his own.
      'I've been thinking,' said Allan.
      'What,' said Stalin angrily.
      'Why don't you shave off that moustache?'
      With that the dinner was over, because the interpreter fainted." - - -

      Part farce, part fable, The 100 year old man pokes a satirical finger at politics, relations both human and international, and age whilst lampooning conventional thrillers. The book itself bears a resemblance to the titular character; charismatic, charming and surprising fast-paced and nimble.

      For those looking for an absorbing, feel good read that'll fill a few hours and leave you with a smile (and possibly a more laid back attitude to getting older), I couldn't recommend it enough.

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      • More +
        17.07.2012 17:38
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        Still the greatest city in the world after 2000 years.

        "Saying or writing that Rome is an open-air-museum is too easy. It should be demonstrated even in the little details."

        This message is scrawled on a piece of cardboard at the end of an outdoor art "gallery", perhaps one of the most unusual art exhibitions in Rome, if not the world.

        The gallery, the work of one Fausto delle Chiaie, consists of about 20 exhibits, all made up of an assortment of strange junk placed at intervals on a wall.

        One, an old glove with a couple of coins, bears the inscription (scribbled on a piece of cardboard by felt tip pen in English and Italian) "Better than nothing". Another, a collection of old ties and broken sunglasses: "Armani Emporium". A space where you would expect another object to be: "work stolen". As you walk further down, you notice a strange bearded man, arms crossed staring at you from across the road. The next exhibit is a photo. It's called "double take". It is a picture of a strange, bearded man, arms crossed...

        That message is absolutely right. The beauty in Rome is in the little details. Whether it is this quirky, whimsical yet strangely melancholy exhibition, an exquisite 16th century building that you stumble across whilst wandering the cobbled backstreets, or a magician in one of the city's many beautiful piazzas, beauty and art is all around you. There is something to see everywhere you look.

        Ancient history has been amalgamated into the way of life of these proud, friendly people who are so used to living in the shadows of history that they don't even seem to notice any more. This has led in some cases to neglect, with many monuments now reduced to rubble but in other cases history is just incorporated into modern life; the Pantheon, one of the most ancient and best-preserved temples in the world, is now used as a Christian church and surrounded by a number of pleasant restaurants.

        In a review, it is difficult to get across the sense of history, of importance, that is in the very air that you breathe; air once breathed by Julius Caesar, the mad Emporer Nero, Gladiators who fought and died for the pleasure of the people, and thousands of warriors who marched to the far corners of the Earth for the glory of this city.

        Every trip to Rome will be different, simply because there is so much to see. This review is my experience, some of my own highlights and findings and maybe a couple of things that it might be useful for potential visitors to know.

        Background
        ----------------

        Capital of Italy, and home to 2.8 million residents, Rome is the 4th most populous city in the EU.

        Rome is nicknamed the Eternal City and, during its two and a half thousand year history grew from a collection of huts to become one of the most important centres of western civilization before becoming what it is today; one of the most historically important and widely visited cities in the world.

        Tourist Attractions
        -----------------------

        The Coliseum, Palatine Hill and Forum:

        Palatine Hill is where it all began. According to Roman legend, this is the location of the cave where the abandoned brothers Romulus and Remus were raised by a she-wolf and where Romulus, after killing his brother, returned to found what would become one of the greatest cites and civilizations in history.

        Like the nearby Forum, you need your imagination (and a good tour-guide) to get the most out of a trip here as it is mainly ruins, with just glimpses here and there of the former incredible grandeur of the time. The sense of history, however, is palpable. This place spawned some of the most remarkable events and people in history and it's incredible to think that a place with such small beginnings left a legacy that still reverberates around the world today. Rome gave us the calender, central heating, straight roads and many of the laws and traditions that we know today. And it was born here.

        Perhaps the most famous of Rome's treasures, the Coliseum, is the remains of a 55000 capacity amphitheatre built around 80AD to host gladiatorial games.

        Anyone who has seen "Gladiator" will be familiar with the design, although unfortunately much of the original structure has been dismantled and the materials used elsewhere. Although based on the Roman Coliseum, footage from a similar structure in Tunisia was actually used for Ridley Scott's film as the original is sadly in such a state of ill-repair.

        This is due to the neglect of many of Rome's monuments; for years the Coliseum was essentially used as a quarry for other buildings. Rome is very much a "recycled" city in this way; many ancient treasures are now to be found in places where there were not originally designed to be kept. Our guide joked that an earthquake many years ago shook the coliseum so much that all the original statues fell out, bounced, and landed in the Vatican!

        That said, the coliseum is still an awe-inspiring site and, despite damage and discolouring, has lost little of it's grandeur. You can get a great view of it from the outside (and watch the Police play a hilarious game of hide-and-seek with the inevitable souvenir/crap salesmen plying their trade outside). It is well worth paying to get inside for a look round though.

        The cost is approx £12.50 for adults, and only £3.50 for concessions. Like many attractions, if you're between 18-25 (and can prove it), you also get a reduction.

        The downside of this is queuing. However, this can be avoided by going with one of the many guides you'll get approached by near the Coliseum. I'd thoroughly recommend this. Costing between £25-£35, not only will you avoid the queues, but you'll get a full tour of the Coliseum, the Forum and Palatine Hill (including all admission charges). The quality of the tour you get will vary admittedly but, if you're lucky (as we were) it'll really bring your trip to Rome to life. A guide is particularly useful when visiting the Forum as there isn't much in the way of signs and frankly, often it's difficult to know what you're looking at.

        The Vatican:

        Not part of Rome, or indeed Italy, the Vatican is a city-state which is only a short trip away from central Rome and well worth a visit to see the Vatican museums, St Peter's Basilica and St Peter's square. Again, a guided tour (costing a similar amount to the previously mentioned tour) will include all three of these things, prevent long queuing and give you an invaluable insight into where to go and what to see. The Vatican is home to the Pope, centre of the Catholic Church and the site of St Peter's tomb.

        The negatives first; it's here where you'll find most of the beggars. Although, in truth, there aren't many, it's a sad sight to see, particularly in this place with its frankly obscene level of wealth. There is one room in the Vatican museums (baring in mind this is a huge place) where the marble alone is worth half a billion Euros. That could feed a lot of beggars.

        Also, although I'm far from religious, it's faintly depressing and disrespectful to see the naff novelty items for sale within touching distance of this centre of religion. Recorded blessings from the Pope for all occasions, tiny bottles of holy-water, pope bookmarks, it's all a bit surreal and takes away some of the mystique.

        Despite this, there is no denying that the museums themselves are nothing short of incredible. You can find some of the most amazing works of art from some of greatest artistic geniuses of all time all under one roof. The Sistine Chapel, with Michaelangelo's "Last Judgement" and the Raphael Rooms are amongst the highlights but this is a collection of art and beauty like no other on earth.

        St Peter's Basilica is simply the most beautiful building inside and out that I've ever seen. A colossal building that can accommodate 20000 people and is a work of art in itself, this is a place not to be missed on any trip to Rome.

        These two trips are, in my opinion, the two essentials when visiting Rome. There are many other famous sights, many of which are in walking distance and all worth seeking out.

        Rome wasn't built in a day and can't be seen in a day either. There are people who were born in Rome who die with the same feeling a visitor can get on the aeroplane on the way home; that they haven't quite had the time to see it all.

        I would recommend four days minimum to see the major attractions, but this is not a City to be hurrying around, especially given the Mediterranean climate. Everything is in walking distance and you can often see tourists huddled round one of the City's many maps trying to find their way to the next thing to see.

        That will give you time to get a feel for the City, meet the people, try the famous ice cream (the best places are near the Trevi fountain), the pizzas and the Prosecco and see some of the must-see sites. It will also probably be long enough to fall in love with the City and to want to come back!

        I would suggest picking one or maybe two major things that you want to see per day, and spend the rest of the time strolling round, taking plenty of breaks for drinks and just to watch the world go by. You'll find that just by wandering the streets you'll happen upon many of the beautiful and interesting tourist hotspots - The Trevi Fountain, The Spanish Steps, The Pantheon. Many of these are just a place to look at, grab a drink and a photo, then make your way. Others like the spectacular Villa Borghese and the beautiful parks around it, could easily cost you a day. It's time well spent.

        Getting There
        ------------------

        Rome is about two and a half hours from Gatwick. The Leonardo De Vinci airport is about an hour away from central Rome by car, though you can also get a train for about £6. Leave plenty of time to find your departure gate on your return because, although the airport is extremely efficient and well run, it is massive!

        Transport
        -------------

        Buses are cheap but are also hot and crowded. You can buy a ticket from newsagents or other shops which give you unlimited use for the day for 24 hours for about £6. Bear in mind that they're often late, however.

        Taxis are in abundance at all the major attractions but you aren't supposed to hail them on the streets. They are quite expensive (especially as they also charge for the time taken to get to you) and often take the "scenic route"! The level of English depends on the taxi driver, and seems to get less if you try to question the price!

        There is also a metro-system which we didn't use but is supposed to be straight-forward and reliable and apparently "impossible" to go wrong-on. I didn't have time to put that to the test.

        Driving is not to be recommended unless you're extremely confident judging from the amount of near misses. There don't seem to be too many rules to speak of and driving seems to be less a pleasure, more a test in terms of reaction times/nerve/bladder capacity.

        The hop on hop off buses (of which there are plenty) are a great way to see the City and to get your bearings when you first arrive. Costing about £15, you get headphones for an audio guide and get use of the service for 24 hours (regardless what time you start). The audio guide is reasonably informative and the service itself fairly reliable if not particularly regular.

        The People
        ---------------

        Despite what we were told prior to our visit, the people were probably amongst the friendliest I've ever met. One night we got unbelievably lost (it actually took us longer to get back to our hotel than the flight from London to Rome took) and I can honestly say that the locals couldn't have been any more helpful. Whether they spoke fluent English, or just the odd word, they went out of their way for us. One man called the hotel for us, another searched for it on his WiFi, another even offered us a lift (admittedly he was obviously desperate for us to say no, but the offer was there)!

        I can also honestly say that I've never felt so safe walking the streets at night, and that includes in England. I didn't witness any drunkenness, violence or crime of any kind. Whilst visitors should take the normal precautions, and most guidebooks warn of pickpockets etc, walking at night is a pleasant experience.

        Cost
        -------

        Visiting big cities in Europe is rarely cheap, but there are some deals to be found. We stayed in a four star hotel just outside Rome which cost less than £500 between us for 4 nights including flights and transfers through Easyjet.

        The hotel we stayed in was the Excel, Monte Mario. In hindsight, we may have tried to find one more central, as it was a £15 each way taxi ride into central Rome, but we couldn't have any complaints about the price (it should have been £300 a night for the room alone).

        The price of food varies greatly. You can easily spend £80+ for two on a good quality meal, but if you just move away from the beaten track, you could pay a quarter of that for something of similar quality (if not the same views). My advice would be to make sure you know beforehand what roughly what the prices are, as the most expensive places keep this hidden from you until it's too late!

        The water in Rome is perfectly drinkable and there are fountains all over the place. I would recommend taking a few empty water bottles with you and filling them up every time to pass one - you'd be surprised how much you can save that way.

        Weather
        -----------
        Averages in the 20s throughout the year, and well into the 30s in July and August when we visited. We both loved this, although it maybe too warm for some people. April to June and September to October are a bit cooler, although still warm, and apparently not as busy.

        Summary
        -------------

        Rome is not perfect; it suffers from many problems afflicting modern cities, particularly those of historical interest.

        It's overcrowded, a little run-down in areas (although not as much as I was led to believe, and definitely a lot better than most capital cities) and plagued by a billion souvenier sellers trying to get tourists to part with their cash for a load of junk. A trip to the Trevi Fountain, in particular, was almost ruined by these people. It's hard to feel the romance when you're trying to force a half-dead rose back into the hands of a jabbering and possibly insane Italian salesman. Graffiti is prevalent as, apparently, are pick pockets.

        The biggest shame though, is the neglect of the monuments. The Coliseum, surrounded by traffic is stained and damaged beyond repair. Familiarity seems to have bred contempt for many of the Romans who take the history that surrounds them for granted. The Forum, long since reduced mainly to rubble is a testament to modern progress and neglect of history.

        That said, if you just use a little imagination, you can still see glimpses of the wonder of this magnificent place. It is a city that seeps with a vibrant and colourful history unlike any other place on the earth and despite everything, it's impossible not to feel it.

        Rome may not be for everyone. A pile of rubble, even when it's 2000 years old, is just a pile of rubble. Anyone with just a small amount of interest in history though couldn't fail to be impressed. The Vatican Museums are a monument to the Church's vanity and over excesses. They are also a collection of the most beautiful artefacts that it's possible to find in one place.

        I always wanted to go to Rome and I can honestly say that there wasn't one thing I saw that was an anti-climax or a disappointment. I got the trip as a surprise present from my other half and it was easily the best present I've ever received. I fell in love with the City, with the romance, the history and the people. I can't wait to go back and according to legend, a coin thrown into the Trevi Fountain will ensure I will.

        Two thousand years ago, Rome was the greatest City in the world. In my eyes at least, the Eternal City still is.

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        • More +
          14.06.2012 14:51
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          Mediocre padded-out epsiode of hit TV show

          FILM ONLY REVIEW

          "X Files: I Want To Believe" is the ultimate mystery film; the mystery being, unfortunately, why it ever got made in the first place.

          If it is a final goodbye to two beloved, iconic characters, it comes across as a damp squib. Mulder and Scully share precious little screen time together and, even in those fleeting moments, lack any chemistry or spark. The sexual tension between them has evaporated since they have become an item and not really been replaced by anything else. Both find it hard to recreate characters they had, in truth, long since left behind.

          Possibly it is intended as a finale to the much loved show, but it barely scratches the surface of the intrigue and supernatural mystery that made the programme so popular. Whilst the need to avoid getting bogged down in complicated conspiracy theories and explanations is understandable, the viewer is left with an unsatisfying, plodding and generic drama/thriller with vague supernatural undertones. There doesn't seem to be any need for Mulder and Scully to be involved at all, except I suppose to generate a bit of extra revenue.

          And herein lies the greatest mystery; the bizarre timing of this release. Six years after the show's final episode, interest had waned, resulting in a correspondingly low take at the box office. Even after all that time, I could've understood the point if it turned out to be an explosive finale, or even a dramatic prelude to an XFiles comeback, but instead it is a stand-alone. What, in that case, is the point?

          The plot revolves around a missing FBI agent and psychic/paedophile/priest/walking cliche Father Joe (Billy Connelly). Father Joe has psychic visions about the case and the FBI call upon their former supernatural-investigating agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) to help them out. The reluctant Scully, now a doctor, is "tired of looking into looking into the darkness" and reluctant to get involved but, as always, Mulder is drawn in against Scully's better judgement. Are the paedo-priest's revelations genuine or the work of a desperate and possibly insane mind attempting to make up for past evils? And, if they are real, will they be able decipher his visions and rescue the missing FBI agent before it's too late?

          The film isn't entirely without merit. It looks pretty good for starters; filmed in snow covered landscapes that emphasize the ever-present but hidden menace. Billy Connelly looks the part of a soul in torment and his performance is decent, given the clichéd character he is playing. Duchovny's performance is lazy but reasonable enough whilst Anderson outshines everyone on screen.

          However, it is difficult to get away from the feeling that this is a fairly forgettable episode of the X-Files, dragged out into feature length format. Although of reasonable quality, it feels very much a paint-by-numbers thriller with clichéd characters and low-budget action. It asks questions as faith, particularly as part of an almost irrelevant sub-story involving a seriously ill child and stem-cell research, but it's all kind of GSCE Religious Studies debate-esque.

          I was never hugely into the X-Files, I always watched the odd episode (which I generally enjoyed) and intended to watch more, but never quite got round to it. Even from my detached point of view though, I can see that the film lacks the geeky-cool appeal of the series and much of the style and panache that made it such a hit. I just can't see too many redeeming features here; for a fan it's a bit of a pointless disappointment, nothing's revealed here except that the previously dynamic duo got older and bitter (and Mulder grew a mad hillbilly beard). And as a standalone film, there's absolutely nothing to make it stand out from the run-of-the-mill, fatigued thriller that it is. To top it all, even the title is crap.


          Release: 2008
          Length: 104 Minutes
          Ratings: Pretty low all round, scoring 5.8/10 on IMDB and 32% on Rotten Tomatoes
          Family Suitability: It was given a 15 Certificate for some fairly gory scenes, mild swearing and discussions about paedophiles and child abuse.

          Summary:

          Director (and creator of the original X-Files series) Chris Carter seems a bit out of his depth here. X-Files: I Want To Believe is a pretty dull thriller that comes across as a feature-length episode stretched beyond breaking point. Technically, it is a reasonable effort, but it lacks in style. The dialogue, some decent Mulder one-liners apart, is poor and the whole movie is a bit under-developed with a patched together plot and fairly unbelievable scenarios involving an enemy whose lack of nous would make a scoobie-doo villain blush. Not recommended.

          The truth is out there. As are better films.

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          • Marvel Avengers Assemble (DVD) / DVD / 46 Readings / 45 Ratings
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            31.05.2012 15:10
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            Great super-hero ensemble that does exactly what it says on the tin

            - - -"There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people, so when we needed them, they could fight the battles that we never could..." - - -

            An intricate and complex storyline revealed strand by strand to an enthralled audience. Actors at the top of their games delivering rousing, Oscar-worthy performances. Three dimensional characters brought vividly to life by a believable script.

            If you're hoping for any of these things, my guess is that you won't be planning on watching Avengers Assemble. And you'd be dead right to avoid it like the plague. If, however, the idea of watching ten foot of genetically mutated green monster beat seven shades of the proverbial out of a Norse God floats your boat, then you're in the right place.

            Loki (Tom Hiddleson), understandably miffed as the banished adopted-brother of powerful all-round-good-egg Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has hatched a plan to swipe the Tesseract, a glowing cube of seemingly unlimited power, from under the noses of the Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson)-led SHIELD organisation. His aim is to give this artefact to the Chitauri, an alien race who have promised, in return, to lead an attack on earth that will leave Loki as the tyrannical master of the planet. All this sounds like pretty bad news for mankind. Lucky then there are an array of superheroes ready to defend it. Step forward Bruce Banner/the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Tony Stark/Ironman (Robert Downey Jr), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Cliff Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), called forth from their relative inactivity by Fury.

            - - - "But let's do a head count here: your brother the demi-god; a super soldier, a living legend who kind of lives up to the legend; a man with breath-taking anger management issues; a couple of master assassins, and YOU, big fella, you've managed to piss off every single one of them" - - -

            It all seems a bit one sided, a bit like a football World Allstar XI team against my Sunday League pub team, but all is not as straight-forward as it seems. Getting a group of super-egos to fight on the same team appears virtually impossible (as any recent England football manager would tell you). Plus Loki has more than one trick up his sleeve.


            In truth, it's a storyline you'll probably forget about as soon as you walk out the cinema. But that's not really the point; fireballs, exploding buildings, ultra cool gadgets, a sea of spandex, star names everywhere you look - it's easy to see where the astronomical budget went.

            That's not to say it's all about the action. The slick, charismatic Robert Downey Jr catches the attention armed with an array of one-liners, but it's the performance of Banner/Hulk that I most enjoyed. In amongst all the carnage Banner is a quietly spoken and slightly tragic hero struggling to live with his not-so-secret secret. As the hulk he is an unpredictable giant mountain of green muscle, and also provides the movies best laugh out loud moments.

            It's churlish to criticize a film so high on action-packed adrenaline and so lacking in pretension; The Avengers is a superhero ensemble piece that does exactly what it says on the tin. If I had to be critical, I would say the characters of Black Widow and Hawkeye don't add a lot extra, with limited super-powers they seem more like super-hangers on trying to cling on the capes of their super-chums. The plot, inevitably, is paper-thin and necessarily contrived, a story-line patched together from a million off the shelf super-hero tales, with a dashing of Transformers thrown in for good measure.

            In addition, there is little in the way of a back-story, often one of my favourite aspects of superhero movies. It plays a bit like a combined sequel to some of the other individual movies, making the plot, such as it is, somewhat harder to follow if the viewer hasn't seen the original films.

            These points seem trivial though when compared to the massive amount of enjoyment that can be gleaned from the film. There's a lot of *stuff* going on here, but nothing seems laboured, forced or rushed. Impressively, all the array of characters are fleshed out by ample screen time and each allowed to shine in their own way. There's a great variety of characters here, with hugely differing super-powers, from the genetically modified to the technologically enhanced.

            I like super-hero movies in general, and I've read the odd comic but I'm far from an expert; I've no idea how true it stays to the source material and nor do I particularly care. According to reports though, fans have proved to be more than happy with the movie-treatment of their heroes; Avengers Assemble seems to tick most of the boxes for fans and non-fans alike.

            Don't look for hidden messages or an underlying meaning; this is about shit exploding and is just about as two-dimensional as the comics from which it draws its inspiration. Yeah, the heroes figure out that by learning to work together and controlling all their super-egos, they are greater than the sum of their already not-inconsiderable parts, but we knew that anyway. The Avengers is film so super-confident in its own amusing, exciting and enthralling self that it doesn't need to pretend to be anything it isn't. Whenever it seems ready to take itself too seriously, Stark is there to point out the ridiculousness of it all.

            Director and writer Joss Whedon has done a fantastic job here. He may have had a high class cast to work with but has succeeded admirably into transforming them into more than just the sum of their parts, an attribute they share with the characters they play. The convincing, witty way they interact with each other suggests a level of thought and attention to detail that belies the tag of dumb-action movie that it would be easy dismiss it with. There are some proper laugh out loud moments some provided by physical comedy that is as unexpected as it is hilarious (there's one moment in particular involving the Hulk and Thor. I actually nearly died laughing.), but also in the snappy dialogue.

            - - -Bruce Banner: I don't think we should be focusing on Loki. That guy's brain is a bag full of cats. You can smell crazy on him.
            Thor: Have a care how you speak. Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard. And he is my brother.
            Natasha Romanoff: He killed eighty people in two days.
            Thor: He's adopted - - -

            It's almost impossible to watch Avengers Assemble and not have a good time. It's a bit naff and brilliantly tacky, but it's also a fun-packed, loud, vibrant assault on the senses with amazing special effects, great character interaction and a real charm to it. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a film with plenty of action, comic-book fan or not, and is well worth a few quid extra to watch it in 3D. If you miss it at the cinema, the DVD will definitely be worth purchasing.


            Release Date: 26 April 2012

            Length: 143 mins is pretty long, but doesn't feel it. Everything's packed in, but not at the expense of allowing the individual characters to shine.

            Ratings: Hugely popular with critics and fans alike. Smashed box office records and returned impressive scores of 8.7/10 on imdb.com and 93% on Rotten Tomatoes

            Family Suitability: 12A. Suitable for all ages; there is virtually wall-to-wall violence, but it's all of the comic-book variety, there is very little blood.

            Summary - The very definition of a summer-blockbuster, Avengers Assemble is a smart, witty roller-coaster of a movie, with sharp, snappy dialogue and mind-blowing effects that, for a change, justify the extra expenditure of watching in 3D. A few recent superhero movies I've seen (Batman particularly) have been in danger of disappearing up their angst-ridden arses, but the cast here seem to be having the time of their lives as they bash, fly, and wallop their way from one explosion to the next in their spangly cloaks and ridiculous hats. As a viewer, it's hard not to smile with them.

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            • The Book of Eli (DVD) / DVD / 94 Readings / 93 Ratings
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              13.01.2012 13:55
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              Decent example of the genre with a brilliant twist

              - - - "I need that book. I want that book. I want you to stay but if you make me have to choose I'll kill you and take that book"- - -


              FILM ONLY REVIEW

              They're a cheerful bunch these film makers. Watch any number of movies set in the relatively near future and you'd be under the impression that some time soon, the earth is set to be struck by a cataclysmic earthquake/nuclear war/virus leaving a small number of survivors destined to wander the wasted land entertaining themselves with murder/cannibalism/rape/blowing things up/listening to Tina Turner.

              Released in 2010, Book of Eli is yet another of these post-apocalyptic tales. What the actual event was is open to interpretation; war is mentioned, as is religion and "the sky opening up and the sun coming towards the Earth". Whatever it was, it has had a suitably devastating effect on a civilisation which now has to fight for its very survival.

              One of the survivors of the event, Eli (Denzel Washington) has spent the last 30 years travelling west (not quite sure exactly what's happened to the geography of this world, but that seems a long time to me) with a very important book. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to reveal that what he has is the last Bible in existence; after all, the promo poster pretty much gives it away.

              - - - "And then one day I heard this voice. I don't know how to explain it, it's like it was coming from inside me...It told me to carry the book west, it told me that a path would be laid out before me, that I'd be led to a place where the book would be safe it told me I'd be protected, against anyone or anything that tried to stand in my way. If only I would have faith" - - -

              Eli's wanderings take him to an old-west style village ruled by Mayor Carnegie (Gary Oldman). Carnegie, a ruthless and corrupt dictator, finds that Eli has brought the object of his desires to his very doorstep - the book that he believes will hand him ultimate power.

              With only Solara (Mila Kunis), Carnegie's runaway daughter, his faith, and an array of combat skills which would embarrass a superhero to protect him, Eli's sole purpose in life is to get the Bible to its rightful destination. Carnegie, all too aware of the power of the words contained within the book, will stop at nothing to own it.

              All of this offers the opportunity for Washington to mooch moodily through the desert wilderness; as an isolated gun-toting hero-figure, his performance is nothing original. He is adequate in the role but not spectacular. Most of his dialogue, which is sparse, particularly in the early stages, is delivered in "enigmatic" whispers. His character suffers from inconsistencies; a man of God, he will kill anyone who gets in his way, but will not stop to help anyone, believing his mission is too important to be risked.

              Kunis puts in a surprisingly competent performance, however unfortunately she looks a bit out of place, and too glamorous for the type of character she is supposed to be portraying.

              It is no surprise that Oldman creates the best character in the film. Whilst it is true that he could probably play this kind of megalomaniac, bordering-on-sane villain in his sleep, that does nothing to detract from an absorbing performance.

              Almost devoid of any colour, the film is an effective enough representation of a world gone bad; toppled buildings, ramshackle huts, wasted cars and human skeletons line the road.

              All of this seems depressingly familiar. The post apocalyptic hero thing has been done to death and much of a film seems to be a mish-mash of genre clichés; Mad Max, I am Legend, Stephen King's Gunslinger or The Stand, David Gemmell's Jerusalem Man, Waterworld, 2012 all spring immediately to mind.

              Where it differs from the majority, however, is in the inclusion of the religious ideology. Using the bible is an interesting concept that provokes a whole load of moral questions about the nature of man and religion. Some will find the film a bit preachy, but that's probably due to a hyper-sensitivity over any Christian message. The clash between Eli and Carnegie appears to be a microcosm of the clash that caused the disaster in the first place. The film is about power, whether physical or mental, and how that power can be used for good or evil.

              - - - "IT'S NOT A F****** BOOK! IT'S A WEAPON. A weapon aimed right at the hearts and minds of the weak and the desperate. It will give us control of them... they'll do exactly what I tell 'em if the words are from the book. It's happened before and it'll happen again. All we need is that book." - - -

              What really sets this movie apart, however, is the twist that comes near the end of the film and changes everything you've seen before. I'm a sucker for a good twist and this was one of the best I've seen. I had to watch the movie again soon after, and couldn't believe I hadn't seen it coming the first time. That's a good sign.

              It would be fair to say that "The Book of Eli" stretches the credibility of the viewer somewhat. How a society so fragmented can track down every copy (except one) of the most widely published book in existence is beyond me. You'd think they'd have more important things to worry about like access to fresh water or getting Sky Sports News back on air.

              Equally, some would (and do) argue that this ending is unrealistic and ridiculous; I would say that the idea of turning water into wine or raising the dead is equally unlikely. And I think that's kinda the point. Though you'll have to watch the film to see if you agree.

              Release date: 15 Jan 2010

              Length: 118 mins

              Directors: The Hughes Brothers

              Ratings: Not particularly favourable generally; 6.8/10 on IMDB, 48% Rotten Tomatoes

              Family Suitability: Rated 15, there are some fairly brutal scenes, rape implications, blood and gore, and some strong swearing. Although much of the violence is a bit comic-booky and stylised, this isn't at all suitable for young children.

              Price: Currently from £3.99 new on Amazon.

              Summary: "The Book of Eli" isn't a particularly original film, but it certainly has its merits. Although it will be too unrealistic for some, I found that its style and message is very fabulistic and therefore found its improbabilities easier to overlook.

              As could be expected, it's an aesthetically pleasing film, with decent acting performances and is full of hidden meaning. It asks some thought-provoking questions, treading a difficult line between action and sermon. Maybe it is a little preachy, but crucially it never becomes bogged down in its own message; the superb set-pieces ensure it is never uninteresting.

              Although not universally popular, I certainly enjoyed it and would recommend it, if not to buy then maybe to rent. Just be warned, you may want to watch it twice because of the twist ending which, however implausible, is worth an extra star on its own.

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              • Mary and Max (DVD) / DVD / 63 Readings / 59 Ratings
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                08.12.2011 14:44
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                Oddball animation that won't appeal to everyone but has tonnes of charm and is brilliantly done

                - - -"He'd always wanted a friend. A friend that wasn't invisible, a pet or rubber figurine."- - -


                FILM ONLY REVIEW

                An animated Australian film narrated by Barry Humphries (better known as Dame Edna) sounds like one for kids, if not one to avoid. altogether

                That the subject matter includes such topics as suicide, depression, loneliness, agoraphobia and Aspergers points to the fact that this definitely isn't one for children, but hardly makes it more appealing.

                Max and Mary seems to escaped the public consciousness to some extent, but was a film that came highly recommended to me. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised.

                Beginning in 1976 and spanning 20 years, the film tells the story of Mary Dinkle, a lonely and rather nerdy young Australian girl with an alcoholic mother and a distant father. Choosing his name at random from a New York phone directory, Mary writes to a certain Max Jerry Horovitz. a middle aged, obese Aspergers syndrome sufferer, in search of an answer to a question that has been puzzling her: in America, are babies born in cola cans? *

                Max has great difficulties with social interactions and an obsession with trivial subjects. Mary's letter, and the difficult and naïve questions she asks, causes a panic attack and almost a complete mental breakdown. Despite his misgivings, Max sends a reply, desperate for a friend and eager for Mary to answer some questions of his own: "Have you ever been a communist? Have you ever been attacked by a crow or similar large bird?"

                This unlikely pairing become pen-friends, drawn together by their loneliness and common interests in chocolate and kids cartoon "The Noblets", which Mary enjoys because "everyone was brown, lived in a teapot and had oodles of friends" and Max because "they lived in a delineated and articulated social structure with constant adherent conformity and also because they had oodles of friends."

                The film follows the progression of this "pen-friendship" as it develops throughout the years enveloping marriage, lotto wins and suicide attempts. Although each seems the ideal, perhaps only, friend possible for each other, the relationship is not without complications. Max is seemingly unable to cope with any kind of friendship, and their correspondence results in anxiety attacks for which he is later institutionalised.

                As Max discovers the nature of his condition, he feels hurt and betrayed when Mary seems to think what, to Max, is an integral part of his personality is an illness that needs to be cured. The two seem to do each other as much harm as they do good. However, both are united in the loneliness and the reluctance of the world to accept them.

                - - -"Dr. Bernard Hazelhof said if I was on a desert island, then I would have to get used to my own company - just me and the coconuts. He said I would have to accept myself, my warts and all, and that we don't get to choose our warts. They are part of us and we have to live with them. We can, however, choose our friends, and I am glad I have chosen you"- - -

                Through their correspondence we see these two very different characters live their lives through the years; Mary turn from a young girl into a woman and Max come to terms with who he is. The question is, will Max and Mary be able to overcome seemingly insurmountable difficulties to finally meet face-to-face?

                Max and Mary is an unusual and heart-warming tale that manages to be nostalgic and comforting yet also bleak and disturbing. In an era of text messaging, emails and facebook, a relationship like this would be completely different, if possible at all. The fact that all communication is through letters gives the film a slow, plodding place which only adds to its charm.

                Despite my misgivings, Barry Humphries is perfect as the narrator, lending the film a whimsical tone whilst remaining somehow detached, making it seem fable-like. He is certainly helped by a brilliant script; thought-provoking, believable and possessing a genuinely funny dry wit.

                Philip Seymour Hoffman as Max is understated and world-weary. Both he and Toni Collette and Bethany Whitmore (as the old and young Mary respectively) create three dimensional characters that the viewer can't help but love.

                Neither of the central characters are reduced to stereotypes. In Max's case in particular, this would have been an easy trap to fall into. Instead, his eccentric traits are portrayed realistically and sensitively; part of his warm personality.

                Other characters are secondary and seem to be deliberate stereotypes; the alcoholic mother, the effeminate husband and Mary's only other friend; an agoraphobic for whom she collects mail "He's scared of outside, which is a disease called homophobia".

                Claymation films are notoriously difficult and time-consuming to make; each of the animators contributed just four seconds of animation each day. The result here though is a clear result of a labour of love. Each of the characters are beautifully realised and show real personality. Some of the facial animation in particular is nothing short of amazing. The worlds which the two main characters inhabit are shown in different colours; Mary's in sepia, Max's in stark black, white and grey.

                To say it is the best animated film for adults I have seen would be damning it with faint praise; it tops a short list of one. So I will say that it is one of the best films I've seen this year.

                Release date: 9 Apr 2009

                Length: 92 mins

                Writer & Director: Adam Elliot

                Ratings: 8.2/10 IMDB
                94 % Rotten Tomatoes

                Family Suitability: Rated 12. An adult animation with some adult themes but I would recommend it to older, more mature children for the way it delves into a number of issues and for the sensitive way Max's condition is shown.

                Price: Currently £4.19 on Amazon

                Summary:


                Based on real life characters, Mary and Max is a hugely ambitious animated film about loneliness and acceptance. It is poignant, whimsical and charming but as far from sickly-sweet as you could get. Challenging and sensitive with regards to Max's Aspergers, it asks some difficult questions and never provides an easy answer. The characters, so alienated by the outside world, are so easy to love that we can't help but root for them. The nature of the film though, mean that a tragic ending is just as likely as the one for which we can't help but hope.

                * By the way, the answer to Mary's question:
                "Unfortunately, in America, babies are not found in cola cans. I asked my mother when I was four, and she said they came from eggs laid by rabbis. If you aren't Jewish, they're laid by Catholic nuns. If you're an atheist, they're laid by dirty, lonely prostitutes."

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                • 127 Hours (DVD) / DVD / 76 Readings / 65 Ratings
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                  01.12.2011 14:53
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                  What would you do?

                  FILM ONLY REVIEW

                  - - - "I chose this. I chose all this. This rock... this rock has been waiting for me my entire life. It's entire life, ever since it was a bit of meteorite a million, billion years ago. In space. It's been waiting, to come here. Right, right here. I've been moving towards it my entire life. The minute I was born, every breath that I've taken, every action has been leading me to this crack on the out surface." - - -


                  The making of 127 hours must have been something of a challenge.

                  Firstly, Aron Ralston's story was well documented at the time, and the book he wrote about his experiences has become a best-seller. The movie, therefore, has no real sense of suspense.

                  Secondly, there isn't much of an actual story to tell. For those who don't know, it's the true story of thrill seeker Aron Ralston (James Franco) who gets his arm trapped by a falling boulder when climbing down a crevice in Utah National Park back in 2003.

                  "I'm in pretty deep doodoo here."

                  Franco has no hope of rescue; he neglected to tell anyone where he was going. The boulder, quite clearly, isn't for shifting. Franco's in for a long wait (the clue may be in the title) before taking the only action possible. Deep doodoo indeed.

                  And that's kind of it. The film is, as director Danny Boyle, succinctly describes it "an action movie in which the hero doesn't move".

                  That the finished product is entertaining, inspiring, gruesome, thought-provoking and full of dark humour, then, is something of an achievement.

                  That is, of course, largely due to the performance of the lead actor. A film that is focussed on one character in one location relies greatly on the actor's performance and Franco does not disappoint. From the early scenes where he meets a couple of female hikers demonstrating his character's eccentric and easygoing character but also his natural arrogance, to the sheer terror as he comes to terms with his predicament, it is a nuanced and haunting performance.

                  Ralston is a resourceful character and after the accident tries a number of escape methods. We feel the pain and frustration with him as he realises the futility of these attempts and the gravity of his predicament dawns on him.

                  It becomes evident pretty early on that there is really only one way out of his predicament. And it's going to hurt. This leads to the film's central question and theme - "what would you do?". It's certainly a thought-provoking piece that captures in perfect elemental simplicity the strength of human endurance and that most essential of human characteristics; the ability to survive. Other themes of fate and loneliness are looked at, but such an intimate character-driven movie, discourages us from looking at the wider picture.

                  As dehydration and exhaustion begin to tell, Ralston's battle becomes both physical and psychological. Using black humour to keep himself sane, one of the highlights of the film is a mock interview which Ralston creates whilst trapped, with himself voicing both the interviewer and the interviewee.

                  Aron Ralston (as interviewer): Now... Is it true that despite, or maybe because you're a big f***ing hard hero... you didn't tell anyone where you were going?
                  Aron Ralston: (as himself) Yeah. That's absolutely correct.
                  Aron Ralston: (as interviewer) Anyone?
                  Aron Ralston: (as himself, shaking his head) Anyone.
                  Aron Ralston: (as interviewer) Oops...
                  [imaginary audience laughs)
                  Aron Ralston: (as himself) Oops. Oops

                  The cinematography and direction is nothing short of beautiful. Early scenes demonstrate the lure of the desert; camera angles and split screens highlighting the adrenaline-fuelled world that has become Ralston's drug of choice.

                  Later, with Ralston trapped in his self-made prison, the contradiction between the vastness of the bleak desert is made with what is now Ralston's world; an hour of sunshine a day, an eagle's flight-path, his meagre provisions.

                  Ralston divides his time between planning his escape, recording farewells on his camcorder, daydreaming (which gives a neat opportunity to introduce us to some more characters) and battling with his sanity.

                  The film's most famous scene, which I won't describe as it would be a spoiler for the few people who don't know, reportedly caused people in the audience to faint. It's easy to see why. In part, this is due to Franco's performance and the fact that we can identify and empathize with him so closely, having lived this nightmare with him.

                  127 hours is a wonderful achievement on behalf of Boyle and Franco. A plot that could be described in a few words is turned into 90 minutes of laugh-out-loud, wince-in-sympathy tension with some spectacular camera work, neat soundtrack and top-class acting. This is something we have come to expect from Boyle who's work, including Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire, I have always enjoyed. Not so much from Franco, best known for his role in the Spiderman trilogy. The performance here shows an ability never hinted at before.

                  All in all, 127 hours is well worth watching even if, for some, the most important and well known scene is unwatchable.

                  Release Date: 7 Jan 2011

                  Length: 94 minutes

                  Awards: Nominated for 6 Oscars

                  Ratings: 7.8/10 IMDB.com
                  Metacritic: 82%
                  Rotten Tomatoes: 93%

                  Family Ratings: Rated 15, for one fairly graphic scene in particular. Also some strong swearing.

                  Price: About £5 - £7 on Amazon

                  Summary: A unusual film this; a "true story" that is actually true. Ralston described it as "close to as a documentary as you could get and still be a drama".

                  There must have been a huge temptation to embellish and exaggerate on such a basic, albeit compelling, story. Credit must go to all concerned for, to a certain extent, allowing the story to tell itself. They do so with skill, simplicity and a real understanding and empathy.

                  All in all, an excellent film made from the most unlikely subject-matter. Boyle yet again demonstrates an ability for which lesser directors would give their.....well, y'know...

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                  • The King's Speech (DVD) / DVD / 89 Readings / 88 Ratings
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                    19.07.2011 18:23
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                    Royally Entertaining

                    "If I'm King, where's my power? Can I form a government? Can I levy a tax, declare a war? No! And yet I am the seat of all authority. Why? Because the nation believes that when I speak, I speak for them. But I can't speak. "


                    FILM ONLY REVIEW

                    Anyone with a fear of public speaking will understand the horror of being forced to stand up in a room full of people to give a presentation, or even just say a few words.

                    For someone with a stammer, it must be imaginably difficult just to say a few words one-to-one with a stranger.

                    Imagine then, being forced to give a speech to a quarter of the world's population. And not just any speech either, a speech designed to rouse and inspire, to show an empire that they have a strong leader who can lead them through any crisis. And imagine doing that with an uncontrollable stutter, with every tongue-tied noise coming from your lips being broadcast not only to the rest of Britain, not only to the British Empire, but also to enemies that will seize on every weakness. As personal struggles go, I would imagine, this rates even above cooking a meal to impress the mother-in-law.

                    The King's Speech begins with Prince Albert (Colin Firth), nicknamed Bertie, opening the British Empire Exhibition in 1925. A life-long stutterer, he seizes up in front on his audience and his agony and embarrassment are clear for all to see.

                    Fortunately for the Prince, as the younger brother of heir to the throne Edward (Guy Pearce), there is little chance he will ever become King. After all, with the introduction of radios, it has now become vital for heads of state to be everything Bertie is not when speaking; articulate, firm and decisive. With the looming war against Germany, it is important, now more than ever, that these qualities are expressed to the public. George V (Michael Gambon) may consider Bertie superior to Edward in most respects, but is painfully aware that Bertie's stutter is a limitation too far.

                    However, all does not go according to plan. When Edward renounces the throne to marry Simpson, the woman he loves, Bertie is thrust into the spot-light as the new King George VI. With the threat of Hitler on the horizon, King George VI faces an equally challenging nemesis; a little red light on a microphone informing him that his inadequacies are being broadcast to a demanding and unsympathetic world.

                    In desperation, his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), turns to an unusual source of help in the form of failed actor Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an Australian with a reputation for helping sufferers of speech defects using some very unorthodox methods. King George VI will shortly have to give one of the most important speeches in British history; will he be able to embrace Logue's unusual and over-familiar approach in order to overcome his own demons that lay at the heart of his difficulties?

                    The King's Speech is a master class in acting with a top rate cast. Firth is as close to perfection as is possible. His angst when facing the microphone, his awkwardness when dealing with his therapist and his frustration at his own limitations is etched onto his face. His struggles literally make the audience cringe in sympathy. The imitation of his real-life counterpart is wonderful, but it is a performance elevated well above mimicry.

                    Helena Bonham Carter demonstrates her versatility as an actress with a strong yet sympathetic portrayal of the woman who would become the beloved queen-mother, as is Timothy Spall who plays a wonderful Churchill in a terrific performance that is really little more than a cameo.

                    Rush as the speech therapist is also outstanding, his inward discomfort at treating such an important patient masked by his belligerent exterior. Quickly realising that the speech impediment is a product of his difficult past, Logue's solution is to get the King to open up to him. On this basis, an unlikely friendship is made utterly believable by two superb actors who show the mutual respect between these two very different characters.

                    There are wonderful performances everywhere however. Of particular note is Timothy Spall who is superb as Churchill in a performance that is little more than a cameo.

                    The King's Speech on many occasions lacks the grandiosity of other period dramas, but the tight, claustrophobic nature is deliberately and cleverly done by the film-maker; long corridors represent Bertie's constricting throat. The cramped environment in which he has to make his final speech is cramped, panic-inducing and terrifying. The audience can't help but hold their combined breathes.

                    This isn't a nostalgic tribute to the British monarchy, looking back at a time when Kings were Kings and commoners knew their place. Nor is it an attack on the ridiculousness of the institution. It actually walks a clever tightrope between the two; an affectionate yet wry look at all the pomp and tradition through the eyes of a cynical Australian and the man who would be King. But doesn't really want to be.

                    This is not the type of film or subject matter that I would normally be interested in but I found it inspirational, humorous and at times nerve-wracking. Bertie's battle with himself and the sheer force of his will-power are undeniably admirable and make the climax all the more memorable.

                    Release Date: 7 Jan 2011

                    Length: 118 mins

                    Awards: Four Oscar wins: Achievement in Directing, Motion Picture of the Year, Best Lead Actor and Best Writing.
                    Another 8 Nominations.

                    What They Said: "Proves there's fizzing life in old-school British period dramas" The Guardian

                    "A very entertaining, heartfelt and surprisingly funny crowd-pleaser with a glint of Oscar gold in its eye." Timeout

                    Ratings: 8.3/10 IMDB
                    88/100 Metacritic

                    Family Ratings: Rated 12A for some very strong swearing, which is virtually all in one scene as is used as part of the speech-therapy context

                    Price: Available for just under £10 on Amazon

                    Summary: As someone who this film didn't really appeal to initially, this comes highly recommended. More than just a period drama, this in an intense, character-driven story that, whilst staying broadly historically accurate, tells the tale of friendship and the will to succeed against the odds.

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                    • Top 10 Films in general / Discussion / 75 Readings / 66 Ratings
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                      18.07.2011 21:54
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                      My ten favourite films

                      I would call myself a film-fan, but I am by no means an expert. Certain classic films in my Top Ten will be conspicuous by their absence. Film critics would have me burned at the stake as a heretic for including the Lord of the Rings Trilogy over the Godfather trilogy or Paranormal Activity over the Exorcist.

                      The films that I've chosen therefore, may not be the best films ever made, or the most original. I haven't deliberately tried to include films that covered new ground or altered the course of film-making forever. I haven't tried to be clever and pick obscure foreign-language films that no-one has ever heard of.

                      They are however *my* favourite films. There is a bias towards more recent films, but then, these are the films I've grown up with. For every film I've included there's ten that I've left out that I would have loved to put in. However, as it stands, if my DVD collection was burned and I had to save ten, these are the ones I would choose.

                      The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

                      For me, the best film ever made by a mile. This word-of-mouth drama wasn't particularly successful on the big screen but became a cult classic on DVD and would be in many people's Top Ten lists.

                      Andy Dufresne is imprisoned in Shawshank Prison for the murder of his wife and her boyfriend. He experiences humiliation and beatings at the hands of guards and prisoners but never loses his dignity or hope. The Shawshank Redemption, based on a short story by Stephen King, is an inspirational tale of hope, suffering and pride in the face of insurmountable odds.

                      The cast is exceptional, especially Morgan Freeman as Andy's confidant, Red. Freeman narrates the story, a job he seems born to do. Despite the dark, brutal nature of the film, it is the most inspirational movie I've ever seen.

                      Donnie Darko (2001)

                      Donnie Darko is unlike any film I've ever seen. Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal), an emotionally disturbed teenager, narrowly escapes death by sleepwalking after a demonic bunny rabbit when a jet engine crashes into his house. If this wasn't enough, the plane from which the jet engine fell doesn't actually seem to exist.

                      After being informed by his new rabbit-friend that the world is to end shortly, Donnie finds himself in a race against time in which he will encounter worm holes, time-travel and a mysterious woman nicknamed Grandma Death to discover the secrets of the Universe and prevent an event that may have already happened.

                      This movie requires mental gymnastics just to understand it; it's a thought-provoking, mind bending riddle with no easy answers. It looks into the nature of God, life, time and the Universe but manages to do so without being pretentious. From the sublime performances to the wonderful 80s soundtrack (including *that* cover of Mad World), the film oozes class. Just don't expect to understand it, especially on first viewing. This is less a movie, more an experience.

                      Watership Down (1978)

                      From demonic six-foot rabbits to ones of the more cuddly variety, Watership Down is my guilty pleasure in this list. A beautifully animated children's classic based on the wonderful Richard Adams novel of the same name, Watership Down is about a group of rabbits who flee their warren only to run into dangers beyond their imagining, including tyrannical dictator Woundwort.

                      Wonderfully voiced with a myriad of talented actors, including John Hurt and Richard Briers, this is a parable about the dangers of a totalitarian regime dressed up in a fantastic yarn about a superbly realised group of characters you can't help but care about, young or old. The animation is breathtakingly beautiful, capturing the essence of the book. The "Bright Eyes" scene is, in my opinion, the best in the history of animation.

                      A Clockwork Orange (1971)

                      Withdrawn by Director Kubrick until after his death because of the violent nature of the film and copycat crimes it inspired, A Clockwork Orange is actually an incredibly stylish, witty and thought-provoking film that seems more like a piece of theatre than a movie.

                      The film is a black satire set in the near future revolving round Alex (Malcolm McDowell) and his three droogs (or friends) who are an ultra-violent gang. The writer of the original book, Anthony Burgess, invented a futuristic street-slang to future-proof the novel, which goes to enhance the strangeness and almost Shakespearean qualities of the film.

                      "But suddenly, I viddied that thinking was for the gloopy ones, and that the oomny ones use like, inspiration and what Bog sends"

                      Alex's is sent to jail for rape and murder and it is there he is offered the following choice; serve his sentence or act as a guinea-pig for a new remedial therapy technique. Eager to escape his sentence, Alex volunteers to undertake the therapy only to discover the drawbacks of his newfound inability to use violence when released into the brutal world he, in small part, created.

                      ACW looks at violence, punishment, free will, choice and the nature of good and evil in an absorbing, intelligent, humorous yet brutal way.


                      One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

                      One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest is Jack Nicholson's masterpiece, the film he based a career on. As psychiatric patient Randle McMurphy, he is a force of nature. Doing time in a mental institution rather than "hard-time" as a convict, McMurphy's nemesis is one of the most brilliant creations in movie history, the cold hearted Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). McMurphy quickly discovers in seeking the soft option, he may have made the worst mistake of his life.

                      OFOTCN possesses a fantastic array of characters and is in turns comical, though-provoking and heart-breakingly sad. Fully deserves every one of its five Oscars as an all-time classic.

                      Silence of the Lambs (1991)

                      Another one of my favourite actors, this is Anthony Hopkins' best performance on the big screen. His Hannibal Lector is one of film's finest creations; a malevolent, psychopathic, intelligent killer...yet with his impeccable manners and "unusual" moral code, there is a depth to him that makes it impossible to revile him completely.

                      In Silence of the Lambs, his first outing as the cannibal, he encounters young FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster). She has been roped in to using the jailed doctor to root out another serial killer. Yet time is running out before another girl becomes an innocent victim and Lector will only co-operate if he thinks it is worth his while.

                      Lector spends most of this film behind bars, but this only adds to the air of menace that is so apparent throughout. The scenes between Lector and Starling are electrifying and terrifying. Hopkins is only on film a short time, but casts a shadow over proceedings from start to finish. It is a truly magnificent performance.

                      Fight Club (1999)

                      Starring the brilliant Ed Norton and Brad Pitt in his best performance, Fight Club is a violent, bloody yet intelligent film that produces probably the best twist in a movie that I've ever seen.

                      Norton stars as an angst-ridden (unnamed) loner who attends self-help seminars for diseases he hasn't even got just to numb the pain of his mind-numbingly dull existence. A chance meeting with the charismatic Tyler Durden (Pitt), however, changes his life forever. The two form "Fight Club", on organisation in which the members spend evenings beating seven shades of the proverbial out of each other. The club develops into an anarchistic group with the seeming sole purpose of destroying everything. After all, "It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything."

                      On the face of it, Fight Club is a testosterone fuelled fest of fist-fights, explosions and violence. At its dark-heart, however, it is so much more than that; a superbly-paced and acted movie which is basically a satire on modern society. The stellar performances which aren't just limited to the actors on show. There is such invention on show, so many clever tricks that never appear gimmicky; it's a film that demands repeat viewing.


                      Schindler's List (1993)

                      Schindler's List is an unforgettable bit of film-making based on the story of greedy German businessman Oskar Schindler who became the world's most unlikely humanitarian. Moving to Poland at the start of the war in order to employ Jews at slave-wages, his sole objective seems to be to make himself rich. The way in which he risks not only his wealth but his life by the end of the movie is testament to the inherent goodness of man, even in such dark, evil times.

                      Filmed almost entirely in black and white, the film is told in a remarkably and impressively subtle way. Director Spielberg simply shows the viewer what happened without ever really attempting to explain or manipulate scenes; there is no explaining or understanding so many events that happened during the war.

                      The words powerful and emotional don't do the film justice; it is simply a masterpiece on all levels. It's over three hours long but, like the best films, this feels far too short.

                      Paranormal Activity (2007)

                      An unusual choice that wouldn't make most people's top 100, let alone 10. I've seen a lot of the classics; The Exorcist, Omen, The Shining (also a great film). All good films, but all dated now. I love the feeling of being scared by a movie, and this is the only one that really had a lasting impression on me.

                      A young couple move into a house haunted by a demonic presence. And that's it. No special effects to speak of, no huge budget, no glamorous location. This is a "found-footage" style film in which the increasingly terrifying action is shown via a newly purchased video camera.

                      It is the simplicity of the story and the ordinariness of the characters that's so scary. This could be your house, or your bed. Paranormal is not overly original, not brilliantly intelligent. But it is bloody scary. And that's the point.


                      Lord of The Rings (2001, 2002 and 2003)

                      Including all three films may seem like a cheat, but actually the Lord of the Rings trilogy is one huge nine hour film chopped into three still fairly huge three hour ones.

                      Based on Tolkien's book which was itself a masterpiece, the film, in my opinion is even better. Grandiose and epic on a scale never seen before in the history of cinema, director Peter Jackson seems to have looked directly into Tolkien's imagination and displayed the results on screen. The result is a breathlessly exciting and spectacular visceral treat that takes the viewer directly to Middle Earth.

                      The story revolves around Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) who finds himself in possession of the most powerful artefact in the whole of Middle Earth - the Ring of Power. Aided by a group of friends including other hobbits, dwarves, elves and men, Frodo must destroy the Ring of Power. To do this is to venture into the gates of hell; the only place the ring can be destroyed is Mordor, home to the dark lord Sauron, who desperately desires the ring for his own dark purposes.

                      Filmed in New Zealand, the Lord of The Rings is an indescribably lavish visual feast with quite incredible attention to detail that is strong in every department. It does what every truly great film should do; transport the viewer to another time and another place.

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                        15.07.2011 16:37
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                        A salvage job of a film that wasn't worth saving

                        FILM ONLY REVIEW

                        To a film maker, having your lead actor die on you half way through the film must rate quite highly on the annoyance scale. Certainly it was a setback from which The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus never recovered. How it might have turned out if it hadn't been for Heath Ledger's tragic demise is up for debate, but his untimely death certainly must have contributed to the disjointed nature of this bizarre movie.

                        The convoluted tale revolves around a sideshow troupe performing to a mixture of down-and-outs in modern-day London. The show involves leading members of the public through a doorway to a world created by the mind of the troupe leader, the immortal Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) where they find a world moulded by their own imaginations.

                        Unfortunately, Doctor Parnassus has a dark secret: in order to win the heart of the woman he loved, many years ago, he made a deal with the devil (Mr Nick played by Tom Waits). In return for being given back his youth, the doctor promised to give the Mr Nick his at-the-time unborn daughter on her 16th birthday.

                        Back to the present and things are looking bleak for the troupe as it struggles to pull in the punters. The doctor is all too aware that his daughter Valentina's (Lila Cole) date with destiny is fast approaching. Just when disaster seems about to strike the troupe find a possible saviour. Tony (played by Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell...but more on this later), a young man they rescued from hanging, seems just the charismatic frontman the act needs to rescue it. In addition, Valentina gets an unlikely lifeline; the devil makes another deal with doctor Parnassus. Whoever manages to seduces five souls first in the Imaginarium will get to keep Valentina.

                        Doubts, however, begin to arise; is Tony all he seems to be? No-one knows anything about his background, least of all Tony himself who has amnesia from his brush with death. Could it be his motives are not as pure as it seems? In addition, there is the unspoken question lingering in the air; can you really trust a deal with the devil?

                        There is no denying that TIODP is a spectacular film. The scenes inside the imaginarium are lavish and breath-taking, with no expenses spared on the surreal special effects and incredible cinematography. Director Gilliam's vivid imagination is realised on screen; gondolas, gigantic high-heeled shoes, gargantuan Faberge eggs, ladders acting like stilts that lead to the clouds are all shown in colourful, stunning detail.

                        Unfortunately, for me, this is where the film's merits begin and end.

                        The most obvious problem is with Tony's character. Heath Ledger filmed half of the scenes before he died. The result of this and the resultant fact that Gilliam tried to salvage as much footage as possible, is that many scenes involving him are included when other circumstances they would have ended up on the cutting-room floor.

                        None of the scenes with Tony's character inside the Imaginarium were filmed before Ledger's death. The solution to this problem was to have the character of Tony metamorphose whenever he goes inside. Thus, we have Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law also playing the same part. The net result is that the plot stoops to new levels of incoherency. It's also vaguely depressing - a tragic reminder of Ledger's death every time he steps foot through the entrance.

                        It's interesting to note that Depp, an actor I don't usually have much time for, is by far the best version of Tony. The others are adequate, as you'd expect, and I guess it's a credit to them that they don't try to out-act each other. The rest of the cast play such one-dimensional actors, its hard to get a real feel of their performances and even harder to care.

                        In a strange prologue, Gilliam states, to paraphrase greatly, that he wanted to really enjoy making the film, and didn't really give a damn what the audience thought. Well, I hope he had a lovely time making it, because I sure as hell didn't while watching it. You know when someone insists on describing the dream they had the night before and you don't really give a damn? Well, TIODP is like that. For two hours. The scenery might be a colourful dream-world, but the movie itself is a dreary, sludgy nightmare that I couldn't wait to wake up from.

                        I suppose the fact that Gilliam managed to make a film despite the loss of his actor half way through is commendable. Possibly, it was finished as a tribute to Ledger. If so, they needn't have bothered, as his superb performance in his last complete film, The Dark Knight, was the highlight of his otherwise mediocre career.

                        Release Date: 16 Oct 2009

                        Length: 123 Minutes

                        Awards: 2 Oscar Nominations (Art Direction and Costume Design)

                        Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOL-wZSCn_g

                        What they said: "The imaginary world he's created is awe-inspiring, but it's ultimately designed for an art house audience." - BBC News
                        "Veers wildly between the magical, maladroit and plain mushy" - The Guardian
                        "A scrappy movie with more ideas than it can control, but one born out of a passion and determination that are wholly infectious." - Empire

                        Ratings: 64% Rotten Tomatoes ,7/10 IMDB, 65/100 Metacritic

                        Family Rating: 12A for mild swearing and a bit of violence. Also the hanging scene may be potentially frightening.

                        PRICE: Available for £5 new and under £2 used on Amazon

                        Conclusion: TIODP is certainly a great looking film, but underlying themes of morality and mortality are never fully explored. It never pretends to be anything other than superficial, which would be forgivable if it wasn't so boring. The difficulties in filming have resulted in an unevenly paced, psychedelic, self-indulgent mess of a movie that muddles blindly along until it's ultimate, unsatisfactory conclusion.

                        So would I recommend it? In a word, no. Noteable only as Ledger's last performance, even the superb special effects loose their appeal after a couple of hours of the tedious story-line. Unfortunately it comes across as a salvage job of a film that wasn't worth saving.

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                        • Hearts In Atlantis (DVD) / DVD / 58 Readings / 45 Ratings
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                          04.07.2011 00:14
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                          A hidden gem of a movie

                          "Sometimes when you're young, you have moments of such happiness, you think you're living in someplace magical, like Atlantis must have been. Then we grow up and our hearts break into two"

                          Stephen King is sometimes written off as a schlock horror writer, but if there's one thing that he's managed to do throughout his career it's produce three-dimensional, believable characters. It's to this film's immense credit that the two most important characters here retain all the warmth and realism from the book.

                          "Hearts in Atlantis" tells the tale of an adult Bobby Garfield (David Morse), looking back on his eleven year old self (Anton Yelchin) growing up in the 60s. As always in King's world, childhood is defined by nostalgic radio stations, bike rides, candyfloss, baseball...and a lingering, faceless menace that lurks in the shadows. It is a film that evokes memories of two of his other classics, "Stand By Me" and "It" which were also brought to the big screen with similar style and intelligence.

                          Brought up by self-absorbed mother Liz (Hope Davis), who seems to blame all the evils of the world on his long dead father, Bobby befriends an old drifter by the name of Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins). Brautigan is a warm-hearted, charismatic old man who seems to be the father-figure Bobby desperately needs. In between offering him root beer, conversation and words of wisdom, Brautigan also offers his new friend the chance fulfil his young life's ambition; earn enough money to buy a Schwinn bicycle.

                          For the princely sum of $1 a week, Bobby simply has to perform two tasks for Ted. Firstly, Bobby is required to read the newspapers to the old man every morning as his eyesight is failing. Secondly, and rather more mysteriously, Bobby is asked to keep a look out for the "Low Men". There is a reason, you see, why Ted can never stay in a place too long; he is a wanted man.

                          Ted has a "gift" and that makes him a valuable proposition for those who would use his power for their own ends; he has a form of telepathy that appears to rub off temporarily on those he gets close to. It's vaguely hinted in the movie that these Low Men may be FBI agents wanting to harness Ted's powers for the good of the government but to Bobby and to us, the viewer, their exact nature is almost irrelevant. They are sinister, faceless entities who want to take Ted, a man Bobby has grown very fond of, and he will do anything to stop them.

                          All this may sound pretty far away from a romance; but there is undeniably a central theme of love. Bobby has two best friends Sully (Will Rothhaar) and Carol (Mika Boorem), and it is his relationship with the latter that provides one of the themes central storylines. Bobby shares his first kiss with Carol and this kiss, as Ted correctly predicts, will be the one by which all future kisses will be judged and found lacking. The two children's relationship is one of the warmest you will see depicted on screen and the heroic and innocent way in which he proves his love for her is endearingly sweet.

                          "It's funny how when you're a kid, a day can last forever. Now, all these years seem just like a blink"

                          Hearts in Atlantis is a beautiful coming of age tale with a supernatural twist. Childhood is deliberately looked at with rose-tinted spectacles. Present day scenes which bookend the film are shown in depressing blues and greys, contrast sharply with sepia tinted images of childhood days when the sun shone every day. It's an effect that has been done to death, but rarely with such beautiful effect.

                          King, in his writing, has the unique ability of making his reader warm and comfortable yet simultaneously nervous and uneasy. This film has managed to pick up on these contrasting feelings. Bobby's childhood, growing up in the epitomy of lower-middle class suburbia may seem almost idyllic but there are lingering sinister undertones. This may be Bobby's Atlantis but it's a fragile innocence that he has; a paradise built on shifting sands. For every fairground ride, there's a fraudster trying to take his money. For every first kiss, there's a less innocent advance. For every schoolyard bully, there's something far more sinister and deadly lying in wait. This may be Bobby's childhood, but childhood is fleeting, and it seems Bobby may have to grow up the hard way.

                          The child actors in this film are truly magnificent. Yelchin as Bobby gives a captivating, understated and assured performance and his relationship with Carol is adorable and utterly convincing.

                          Hopkins, of course, plays his role to perfection, an enigmatic, charismatic yet world-weary traveller who has accepted the hardships of his life but still possesses intelligence, wit and an unquenchable love of life. This has guy who has seen the worst mankind has to offer but still believes in the innocence of childhood. It may be Bobby's mother who gives him a library card for his birthday (not the bike Bobby wants, but then his "father didn't exactly leave us well off you know"), but it's Ted who broadens his horizons by telling him which books he should read. The scene in which Ted tells Bobby the story of Nagurski's comeback game with faint sounds of the action in the background wasn't in the original book but it is beautiful way of showing the growing friendship of the two characters who are, in many ways, worlds apart.

                          Davis as the mother is so believable you want to slap her for her selfishness. Her love for her son, although not always apparent, is certainly real and you fear for the moment when her naivety, like Bobby's, will lead to dire consequences.

                          An unashamed plodder, Hearts In Atlantis certainly won't be for everyone. It's not particularly exciting for at least the first three quarters, it's only mildly amusing at some points and it couldn't really be described as horror. It is however nostalgic, warm and heartening atmospheric that, for large parts, leaves the viewer longing for the safer and more care-free days of childhood.

                          It is a beautifully made film, with a strong script that sticks fairly closely to the source material and director Scott Hicks manages to evoke a real 60s feel. The attention to detail is excellent, the camera shots expertly done, and the use of colour and filming techniques used expertly, if rarely originally. It's a shame that this film seemed to have escaped most people's radars, it deserves better than that.

                          FAMILY RATING
                          This is a fairly gentle film with no nudity and little swearing or violence. There are suggestions about Ted's relationship with his young friends and one adult scene which wouldn't be suitable for young children. I won't say what the scene is because it's a bit of a spoiler, but I'm sure a search on IMDB.com would enlighten you.

                          AWARDS
                          A couple of minor awards, but was pretty much missed by cinema-goers and critics alike

                          RATINGS
                          Mediocre scores of 6.8/10 on IMDB.com and 55% on Rotten Tomatoes

                          STATS
                          Release Date: September 2001
                          Running Time: 101 minutes

                          PRICE
                          No so widely available in shops, but you can get it on Amazon for a couple of quid plus postage and packaging

                          EXTRAS
                          Includes one of the few worthwhile director's commentaries I seen...in fact it's the only one I've ever felt the need to sit down and watch all the way through. Other than, than just the normal film trailers etc

                          INFO
                          Not much about the nature of the Low Men or the background behind Ted is revealed in the film. Even the book only provides a few details. More information can be found towards the end of Stephen King's epic series The Dark Tower, in which Ted makes an appearance and the real reason the Low Men are after him is revealed.

                          SUMMARY
                          I've got the feeling I'm out on my own with this one. Hearts in Atlantis received a luke warm reception critically lost money at the box office and was pretty much ignored by the cinema going public. I can see why some people wouldn't enjoy it; it's not exactly Die Hard after all.
                          Personally, I think it's got a lot going for it. Anthony Hopkins as always is magnificent and he's well supported by a strong cast. It's wonderful to look up, evoking a kind of bitter-sweet nostalgia yet still managing to provide some real moments of tension along the way. It's uncomplicated, innocent and, in my opinion, a likeable and entertaining, if slightly slow, film.

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                          • Fracture (DVD) / DVD / 81 Readings / 78 Ratings
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                            16.06.2011 14:36
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                            Above average court-room drama which Hopkins makes into an entertaing and watchable film

                            "I used to candle eggs at his farm. Do you know what that is? You hold an egg up to the light of a candle and you look for imperfections. The first time I did it he told me to put all the eggs that were cracked or flawed into a bucket for the bakery. And he came back an hour later, and there were 300 eggs in the bakery bucket. He asked me what the hell I was doing. I found a flaw in every single one of them - you know, thin places in the shell; fine, hairline cracks. You look closely enough, you'll find that everything has a weak spot where it can break, sooner or later."

                            Anthony Hopkins must be quite used to life behind bars. In Fracture, he plays Ted Crawford, a structural engineer with an eye for detail and a talent for finding hair-line faults, whether discovering flaws in aeroplanes or in the people he meets.

                            After discovering his wife's infidelity, he professes his love for her then shoots her in the head. The murder scene is immediately surrounded by police and hostage negotiator Rob Nunally (Billy Burke) is called to the action, only to make a startling discovery.

                            The case seems cut and dried; Crawford, with an obvious motive, immediately confesses. In a bizarre twist, he shuns legal help and demands the right to conduct his own defence. Hot shot lawyer Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling), with a success rate of 97%, is called in for the prosecution and it seems this is the easiest case he'll ever have.

                            However, not is all quite as it seems. The arresting officer, after all, wasn't exactly a passive observer. Could it be that Crawford was intimidated into confessing? Plus, most mysteriously of all, no-one could have entered or left the house. So where is the murder weapon? It seems there may be more to Crawford than meets the eye; cracks are revealed in this seemingly watertight case. It seems that the wily Crawford may have discovered the fault in Beachum's personality that may mean he can get revenge on his wife and her lover. And get away with it.

                            Fracture is a decent enough and entertaining court-room drama/mystery thriller that carries the audience along and leaves them guessing for large periods of the drama. There are few twists and turns, just a gradual yet well-paced revelation of the pieces that go towards solving the puzzle.

                            It is far from Hopkins' best performance, relying on a watered down version of his performances in the superb Silence of the Lambs (he doesn't eat people) and Instinct complete with Oirish accent. Yet the fact is that Hopkins doesn't even need to try any more to produce a memorable performance. It is his interpretation on the intelligent, wily and unpredictable Crawford that elevates this from a straight-to-DVD court drama to an entertaining and clever movie.

                            The highlights of the film involve scenes with the two main characters Crawford and Beachum together. The twinkly-eyed murderer, against all expectations, runs rings around his cocky young rival in a similar way to Lector's encounters with Clarice Starling in the Silence of the Lambs. The scenes involving the two are humorous and revealing as the world-wise Crawford probes Beachum to find a weakness in his psyche that he can exploit. It is a game of chess in which Crawford always seems able to predict Beachum's next move.

                            It has to be said, neither of the main characters are particularly likeable. Yet Hopkins has the knack of producing psychotic characters with a likeable side and we again find ourselves siding with this malevolent killer. Whether that's the point of the movie is hard to tell; it may just be that Gosling's character's inferiority of the worldly-wise Crawford is reflective of their respective acting abilities. What is certain is that the movie suffers whenever Hopkins isn't in it.

                            This isn't the only fault in the movie; the ending, although seemingly neatly done on first viewing, is rather obvious and doesn't really hold out to much scrutiny. The plot struggles in the middle third when the film starts focussing on Beachum's unconvincing romance and the moral dilemma he faces. Unfortunately, his character isn't likeable or interesting enough to care.

                            For all that, Fracture is generally a lot of fun to watch. Director Gregory Hoblit (whose name makes him sound like he should be directing Lord of the Rings) does a slick job of presenting a stylish, colourful film with a real LA feel and some impressively lavish interior shots. Court-room dramas are far from my favourite genre, but this film in many ways transcends those limitations and, in fact, could have done with more of the legal skirmishes between the film's main characters.

                            It has themes revolving around arrogance, pride and the revelation and exploitation of flaws, but it is a film without pretention that exists primarily to entertain, and watching Hopkins' cuddly yet psychotic creation run verbal rings round the young, arrogant upstart provides enough entertainment to make this worth a watch.

                            FAMILY RATING

                            Rated 15 for a few strong profanities, a violent scene with some blood at the start, but nothing particularly graphic. Not one to give you nightmares.

                            RATINGS

                            A respectable 7.1/10 on IMDB and 68% on Metacritic which pretty much reflects my own opinions on it.

                            RELEASE DATE - 20 April 2007 (UK)

                            RUN TIME - 113 mins

                            SUMMARY

                            Fracture is a film that reflects its title and subject matter. On first viewing, I was impressed by this slick little thriller and Hopkins' formidable performance. The second time round, I was more aware of the flaws in the plot and the performances. For this reason, I would recommend this as a rental only. Hopkins just about scrapes the film over the four star barrier.

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                            • Black Swan (DVD) / DVD / 88 Readings / 82 Ratings
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                              02.06.2011 16:17
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                              Highly recommended

                              "We all know the story. Virginal girl, pure and sweet, trapped in the body of a swan. She desires freedom but only true love can break the spell. Her wish is nearly granted in the form of a prince, but before he can declare his love, her lustful twin, the black swan, tricks and seduces him. Devastated the white swan leaps of a cliff killing herself and, in death, finds freedom."

                              FILM ONLY REVIEW

                              "Black Swan" is the story of the production of a new version of "Swan Lake". Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) needs a dancer to play the joint roles of the black swan and the white swan. He settles for Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), who, although an accomplished and polished performer seemingly born to play the White Swan, lacks the necessary emotion to convey the passionate, sensual Black Swan.

                              The lines between fantasy and reality become dangerously blurred as Nina attempts to discover her inner Black Swan in time for opening night. Into this volatile mix steps Lily (Mila Kunis) who seems to have all the confidence and sexual freedom Nina lacks. Nina's jealousy towards the girl reaches uncontrollable levels when the manipulative producer, seemingly attracted to this new rival, casts her as understudy.

                              Nina is forced to confront the dark side of her psyche as the pressure seems about to tip this already vulnerable and emotionally fragile girl over the edge. Pushing herself mentally and physically to the limits, Nina reaches the limits of her own sanity as her desperation to succeed drives her closer to madness. This seems to be a case of life imitating art and, when the art in question is "Swan Lake", it seems unlikely there will be a happy ending.

                              It is a truly incredible performance from Portman who, like the character she plays, seems to push herself to the limit during filming, losing 20 pounds, performing with a fractured rib and doing many of the grueling dance sequences herself. She utterly immerses herself in the role and at times it is difficult to remember she is acting. Nina is an emotionally damaged ballerina who appears to already struggle with issues of self-harm and it appears that this added pressure will be too much for her to cope with.

                              Black Swan is an intensely visual film that concentrates as much on the physical demands as the mental. We see it all in graphic detail; the self-harming tendencies, the deformed toes, the cracked toenails, the blood, plus a lot more that may or may not be the product of Nina's overwrought imagination.

                              The camera echoes Nina's mental turmoil; pirouetting, spinning and dangerously out of control. Through clever camera angles, we see the world as she sees it; isolating and terrifying. Black shadows threaten to take over the screen, paintings bleed and laugh at Nina, mirrors take on a life of their own. At times this resembles a horror-film, but the question remains whether the demons are all of Nina's own making.

                              The two characters with the most profound effect on Nina's life are the ballet's director, the lecherous producer Thomas, and her infantilizing mother Erica (Barbara Hershey). These two are pulling in opposite directions; Thomas to turn her into the sexual adult he needs for the ballet, Erica to keep her a child forever.

                              It is a terrific performance from Hershey. Like so many characters, it is unclear what her motives are. On the surface, she seems a loving yet over-protective mother. It is clear, however, that something is wrong; it just doesn't feel right. Nina's bedroom, kept in a perpetual childlike state, feels more like a claustrophobic cell than a cosy retreat. It is revealed that Erica gave up her own career for her daughter, though whether jealousy or a desire for her to succeed are the motives for her strange actions is debatable.

                              "I got a little homework assignment for you. Go home and touch yourself. Live a little"

                              Cassel is perfect in his role as the sleazy director, manipulating and controlling his dancers with skill and ruthlessness. He based his character partly on co-founder of the New York City ballet, who he describes as a "control freak, a true artist using sexuality to direct his dancers". He prowls around the set, terrifying, transfixing and intimidating his dancers.

                              "Everything Beth does comes from within. From some dark impulse. I guess that's what makes her so thrilling to watch. So dangerous. Even perfect at times, but also so damn destructive"

                              Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder) is Leroy's previous protégé and the resultant damage is clear for all to see. It is a brief cameo, but Ryder's performance is brilliant, a stark warning for Nina of what is to come.

                              Rival dancer Lily is another character with ambiguous motives. Nina sees her as a threat, maybe even as the real personification of the Black Swan. The script, and Nina's altering perceptions, force Kunis into playing several different personalities, but she is more than equal to the task. The viewer can never be quite sure whether this sexually confident, unrestrained performer is out to help Nina or destroy her. Their scenes together crackle with sexual tension.

                              Black Swan is certainly not a movie for everyone, and although it has received a huge amount of critical acclaim, this has not been universal. Like the ballet it centres around, it is extravagant, powerful, visceral, melodramatic and almost unbearably dark. Like Nina's stretched and abused ligaments, it takes credulity to breaking point. It is best to enjoy the visual feast on offer without thinking too much about the believability of the unfolding drama.

                              Made as a companion piece to "The Wresteler" (Director Darren Aronofsky originally envisioned making a film about a ballerina falling in love with a wrestler), it straddles a number of genres, occasionally straying into the realm of horror. There is a deliberate discordant feel which makes it occasionally difficult to watch, a wonderful soundtrack combining Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" and the Chemical Brothers only adding to this tense, uneasy atmosphere.

                              The themes of the movie rely upon the obsessive quest for perfection and the loss of control. Nina is technically close to perfect but lacks the passion and the inner-fire to make her a true great.

                              "Perfection is not just about control. It's also about letting go. Surprise yourself so you can surprise the audience"

                              Her journey to become the dancer Leroy craves takes her on a journey that tests her sanity and provides the audience with a visual and emotional treat.

                              FAMILY RATING

                              "Black Swan" deals with adult issues including self-harm, drug taking, lesbianism and masturbation. Not only is this entirely unsuitable for children, I would not recommend it for more sensitive viewers, particularly those who would object to the depiction of mental illness in such a way.

                              RATINGS

                              Excellent pretty much universally, 8.4/10 on IMDB.com and 79/100 on Metacritic.

                              RELEASE DATE

                              21 January 2011

                              RUN TIME

                              108 minutes

                              AWARDS

                              A deserved Oscar win for Portman (leading actress) plus nominations for Cinematography, Directing, Editing and Motion Picture of the Year

                              PRICE AND AVAILABILITY

                              Fairly new film so still widely available in shops and still quite pricey - £8 to £10 on Amazon. Well worth it though.

                              SUMMARY

                              "Black Swan" is a truly magnificent film featuring fine performances all round, wonderful, atmospheric directing, a top sound track, and a decent script. Dark but beautiful like the ballet it is based on, this is a memorable film that I would highly recommend to film fans. You certainly don't have to like ballet to enjoy being immersed in this strange, surreal world. It truly is a work of art.

                              "The final act. Your final dance! You've tasted your dream. Touched it! Only to have it crushed. Your heart is broken. Wounded! Your life force fading. The blood drips. The black swan stole your love! There is only one way to end the pain. You're not fearful, but filled with acceptance! And you look down at Rothbart and then at the Prince. And then yes, and the audience! And then you jump!"

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                                19.05.2011 23:01
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                                Brilliant debut album

                                - - - -"For me, there isn't a word of filler on the album. I've made a very clear statement about where I'm at and who I am as a person, and that's one reason I'm so proud of it, that I was able to articulate it. At least I'm being given a chance to embrace the pain instead of being afraid to move through it."- - - -

                                It was through the unlikely source of Chris Tarrant's Radio 2 programme that I got to hear about my latest musical discovery, John Grant. It was through his show that I first heard "I wanna go to Marz" and stumbled upon one of those rare "Eureka" moments in which I realised I'd stumbled upon an artist I would want to come back to again and again.

                                John Grant is a 41 year old American singer, songwriter and pianist who had ten fairly unsuccessful years fronting The Czars. This lack of success resulted in a long period outside of music altogether which he spent overcoming his drug and alcohol addiction.

                                He was talked out of this retirement by Texan folk-rockers midlife, with whom he collaborated on his new album "Queen of Denmark".

                                The album is very much a product of Grant's upbringing as a homosexual living in a deeply religious family in the American southwest. Grant's mother died still unable to come to terms with her "disappointment" at her son's sexuality and it is the resulting self-hatred and cripplingly low self-esteem that this album looks at.

                                On first listen, it is difficult to tell what era the album belongs to. Overall it has a 70s feel, but combines a number of different sounds including The Moody Blues, The Carpenters, Rufus Wainwright, Elliott Smith, Elton John, Paul Young, The Flaming Lips and the Divine Comedy.

                                Throughout, there is a tangible other-worldly, dreamlike quality as Grant's gorgeously effortless baritone guides the listener over this stark yet beautiful landscape against the backdrop of pianos, flutes and synths. Despite the melancholy undertones there is a natural upbeat feel provided by Grant's warm voice.

                                The themes of the album are deeply personal but also universal; love, rejection, redemption and the inability to fit in. However, to Grant's immense credit, this is not an album full of self-pity and angst. Instead, it casts a wry look over his past in a humorous and often uplifting way.

                                - - - -"The world came crashing down on them with all it's ferocity
                                And Honeybear was terrified, he said do not take him take me"- - - -

                                The album opener, "TC and the Honeybear" sets the tone beautifully with Grant's effortless voice set against a sparse backdrop of flute, piano and strings. This is the first of three songs about an ex-boyfriend. "I met someone beyond special and he changed my life and that's all there is to it and that cannot be taken away from me." Although lyrically this, and the album as whole, is occasionally clumsy, it is painfully and transparently honest.

                                "I wanna go to Marz" is definitely the highlight of the album. The "Marz" refers to a sweetshop he used to visit as a child, and the lyrics simply list his favourite treats, reflecting on the innocence of childhood. It has a psychedelic appeal with a stunningly beautiful yet simplistic melody played on the piano in the back-ground.

                                His frustration at his inability to fit in is reflected in the album "Sigourney Weaver", which is another of the album's strong points and again reflects his admirable ability to point out his own failings and insecurities with humour. In it, he compares his feeling of being ostracised at school with Sigourney Weaver's battle with aliens.

                                Another highlight, "Where Dreams Go To Die" reflects Grant's ability to simultaneously be both melodramatic, but also thoughtful and subdued.

                                There are no weak tracks or fillers at all on the album; each song is a lovingly and painstakingly crafted piece of music. There is real variety within the album; light hearted ragtime pieces contrastingly sharply with melancholy arrangements.

                                This is an album which seems to have influences from all over the musical spectrum. The finished product however manages to transcend the sum of its influences and become something unique and quite brilliant.

                                The CD is now available from Amazon for just £6.99. As a debut album, it is the best I have heard in a very long time and I would highly recommend a listen.

                                - - - - "When I got out of bed this morning
                                I noticed that it didn't have a right side
                                And my head feels like it's filled to the top
                                With pop and rocks and cyanide" - - - -

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                                15.05.2011 01:51
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                                The Manics' Holy Bible

                                - - - - "The Manics are about more than Rock n Roll...In an era where most bands were about nothing, the Manics were about *everything*: an eloquent scream, a j'accuse to the entire moribund millennium." - - - -

                                To say "Everything: A Book About The Manic Street Preachers" is the best music biography I've ever read would be damning it with faint praise; music biographies are generally crap.

                                I will, therefore, go further and say it is one of the best *books* I have ever read.

                                I have to admit to some level of bias at this point; the Manic Street Preachers are, and have been for some time, one of my favourite bands.

                                Nonetheless, this book is an entertaining, well-written and at times heartrending account of the rise, fall and rise again of one of Britain's most vitriolic, opinionated and passionate mouthpieces. It would appeal not only to fans of the band, not only fans of music, but also to anyone with an interest in people in general; what motivates and inspires them - the durability of the human spirit. It's all covered here; suicide, anorexia, self-harm, passion, despair, drug abuse, friendship, apathy, success. The Manics have walked hand-in-hand with each of these issues at some stage of their career and have lived to tell the tale. And "Everything" is that fascinating story.

                                The Manic Street Preachers were formed in Blackwood in 1986 and consisted of James Dean Bradfield (vocals, guitar), Nicky Wire (bass and lyrics), Sean Moore (drums) and Miles "Flicker" Woodward (guitar). Flicker was soon replaced by Richie Edwards (lyrics and guitar), and it is this quintet which the book focuses on.

                                - - - - - "We'd be sitting on the bed on a Friday night discussing politics and music...and we'd here the clip-clop of high-heels on the street outside and think this isn't healthy" - James Dean Bradfield- - - - -

                                Author Simon Price takes us from James and Sean's bedroom, where the formulative band would discuss politics, 20th century culture, philosophy and make-up to the smoky crowded bars where the band would regularly be received with a hail or abusive and broken glasses and on to the huge venues that marked the band's rise to the very pinnacle of the British musical hierarchy.

                                The four were inseparable friends who grew up against the backdrop of the Miner's Strikes in South Wales and "disowned by the outside world, politicised by the class struggle on the doorstep and frustrated by their provincial prison". Influenced by such varied luminaries as George Orwell, Sylvia Plath, Andy Warhol, The Clash and Guns n Roses and frustrated by the insipid music of the time and the apathetic generation it represented, the four decided to form a band of their own. After toying with, and thankfully discarding, the name "Betty Blue", they opted for the moniker Manic Street Preachers.

                                The book briefly covers the childhood of the four members, but mainly tells the tale from this inception of the band to the period just after the release of "This Is My Truth", at which point the Manics were possibly the biggest rock band in the country.

                                This timeframe encapsulates the Manics' best and worst years and the most dramatic events in the bands tumultuous history.

                                - - - - -"Richie was the mouthpiece, the expert propagandist, and an oracle of wisdom to whom the other, younger Manics clearly looked up. He also had the best cheekbones, looked cool with a guitar around his neck and had a way with words" - - - - -

                                The most dramatic and interesting incidents revolve around Richie Edwards, the band's enigmatic lyricist, the driving force of the band. All of these are captured with poignancy and feeling in the book; his anorexia, his self-harming (during one famous incident he carved the words "4real" into his arm in front of a stunned Steve Lamacq) and self-hatred, his sensitivity and his eventual disappearance.

                                Richie left the Embassy Hotel in London on 1 February 1995. His car was found a few weeks later near the Severn Bridge. Of Richie, there was no sign and he has never been seen again. His disappearance left a hole that has never and can never be filled within the band and has influenced everything that has happened since.

                                There is always the danger that Richie's ghost overshadows the band and everything they have accomplished since, but the other three Manics are fascinating characters in their own rights. Whilst Price conducts a thorough analysis of Ritchie, as would be demanded by any Manics fan, he is careful to give the rest of the band the attention they deserve, delving deeply into each of their psyche's in turn and coming up with some occasionally uncomfortable answers.

                                Price is a self-confessed fan of the Manics which comes through strongly with the enthusiasm and passion in which he writes the book. Every word is imbued with Price's inherent fascination with and love for the band and the descriptive and flowing nature of his prose is intoxicating. His objectivity however is never in question; Price never lets them get away with anything. The occasional hypocrisy of the band and its principles comes under the microscope as do some of the unsavoury moments in their careers, such as when they provoked the most complaints in the history of the BBC when they turned up in terrorist regalia on Top Of The Pops, or when Nicky Wire stated he hoped that Michael Stipe of REM would go the same way as Freddy Mercury.

                                This is a biography with a difference; rather than a formulaic slog through the band's career, the story is neatly intersected with essays on a variety of subjects, including chapters on their unique fan base, their sexuality and Nicky's obsession with housework.

                                Also included are quotes both from the Manics' themselves and also their influences liberally spread throughout, along with transcripts of various informative and entertaining interviews and a comprehensive discography.

                                Price has obviously been close to the band for a number of years and, in a note at the beginning, he tells how Nicky Wire agreed to write a foreword on the condition that he could read the manuscript before publication. Apparently however, he found it too difficult emotionally and backed out after reading the first third. "Although he respected my subjectivity (he signed off with 'It is YOUR truth - and that's cool'), there were also 'a lot of mistakes, come minor, some major'". He didn't reveal what those were and, as none of the Manics have told their tale as yet, this is pretty much the closest we're going to get.

                                "Everything" uses these first-hand observations alongside anecdotes from the band themselves, fans, other muscians and various other insiders to give us this comprehensive insight.

                                The Manics have always been an incredible visual band with a love of glitter, mascara, graffiti and feather-boas. This is reflected in some of the fantastic photos that populate the pages. Again, it's the photo of Richie that stands out; gaunt and pale, with a trace of a smile and haunted eyes staring straight at the camera with his freshly mutilated arm clearly on display. There are plenty more iconic images where that comes from; James in his balaclava, the nervous looking trio collecting an NME award, Ritchie in a wedding dress with a hand grenade in his mouth, a haunting snap from Richie's last photo session, and Nicky Wire revealing exactly what a Welshman does wear underneath his skirt

                                From a personal point of view, this is the book that turned me from an admirer into a fan. I was a latecomer to the Manics party, I didn't hear any of their first three albums (Generation Terrorist, Gold Against the Soul and The Holy Bible) first time around and like many people, the first I heard of them was the more commercial and mellow sounds of Everything Must Go. From there I worked backwards, and this book gave me a real insight into their backgrounds, and also in many ways what their lyrics were about and what their music represented.
                                .
                                The first time I saw them was as what was, and remains, their biggest gig; Manic Millennium at the Millennium Stadium (on Millennium Night funnily enough). They were probably past their creative peak already by then but really turned it on to produce the best gig (and one of the best nights) of my life.

                                This was the book I finished reading on the way up there, and in no small way it contributed to my enjoyment of the night. It simply made the Manics seem more than just a band.

                                - - -"We are young, beautiful scum pissed off with the world...we are the suicide of a non-generation...we are the only young kids in UK Channel boredom to realise that the future is in tight trousers, dyed hair and NOT the baggy loose attitude scum f*** retard zerodom of Madchester"- - - - - - Richie Edwards

                                The Manics are a band with a conscience and an intelligence that surpasses their peers. Full of character, contradiction and passion, their intrinsically dramatic story needs little embellishment. What Price does here is tell it honestly, passionately and with a wonderfully compelling style.

                                Spread out over nearly 300 pages, Everything is not commonly available in shops any more but is easy to find on-line, costing about £6-7 used on Amazon and about £12-£15 new. I would consider this money well spent as I have read it cover to cover several times and have also used it as a reference book.

                                The Manic Street Preachers are a band that inspire a devotion from the fans unmatched by any other in the modern era. To their fans, they really do mean everything. This is the book they demand and maybe deserve. A book every Manics fan should buy and every non-fan should read to see what they are missing.

                                - - - - -"If this book achieves one thing, I hope it will encourage the Manics' ever growing legion of "new-fans" to investigate the old stuff, and encourage their hard-core army of "old fans" not to give up on them now. This is the same band. It's a soul thing. It's not over yet."- - - - -

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