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As Marvel's third film adaptation this year alone, Captain America was never going to be in any trouble in terms of box office turnout - The First Avenger's fate was already decided thanks to 'The Avengers' film due for release next year. So, the problem of Captain America lay not with pulling in audiences, but in making a character as patriotic as he sounds accessible and likeable to a wide audience, while also building on the Avengers myth. Director Joe Johnston, who may not be all that reliable in terms of film quality (he directed both Jumanji and Jurassic Park III) has proven in the past that he can make enjoyable, action packed family films, and he again pulls out all the stops with his latest. Captain America is a full-blown popcorn action flick which suspends disbelief at almost every turn, yet it retains a certain sense of charm and nostalgia, mostly thanks to its Second World War setting. The story begins with a cadaverous Steve Rogers (Chris Evans); a young man who has just been rejected from joining the army for the fifth time. He might be just skin and bones, but he's got heart - he wants more than anything to serve his country and fight with his friends; not out of bloodlust but out of a hate for bullies. He stands up for himself and others, though he gets beaten up for it later. He is eventually noticed by a scientist named Erskine (Stanley Tucci) who takes him under his wing and gives him a chance at his dream, signing him up. While Rogers fails miserably at physical tests, his bravery and intelligence gets him noticed, and he is eventually chosen to be the guinea pig for a new government funded operation to create a new breed of 'super soldier'. And so, Captain America is born. Chris Evans as the titular character embodies Rogers' gentlemanliness and wholesome good looks, representing America not as a whole but as one individual with a strong sense of humanity and understanding. It is this centre on Rogers as a freethinker that saves the film from becoming bogged down in a mess of single-minded patriotism that would almost certainly turn it against non-American audiences. Though Rogers is far from the most complex character ever written, he is likeable and charming. Hugo Weaving also deserves a special mention for playing the film's antagonist, Red Skull, entirely seriously. However, though Red Skull enters the film with promise and malevolence (a particularly tense scene in which he is having his portrait painted comes to mind) he quickly descends into the same monotonous villain presented in a thousand other films. Hayley Atwell as Peggy is a lively, fun heroine - probably my favourite love interest of all the Marvel film heroines that have seen screen time this year. She's a tough, stoic and elegant young woman who doesn't seem to just be a simple attachment to keep the boys happy - I would have liked to have seen a little more of her. Peggy and Steve's relationship is a little more tense and slow-building than expected, which helps to keep the film (which suspends disbelief in almost every other capacity) grounded. The Second World War setting gives Captain America a much needed boost of realism. The violence of the period is well realised for a 12a certificate - though there generally isn't much blood, there are plenty of action sequences wherein soldiers run into gunfire; and in one particularly memorable sequence an old woman is gunned down. There are plenty of references to World War II films as well - most prominently A Matter of Life and Death. The propaganda element of the film is also emphasized, which makes for some amusing scenes, even if it does drag the film out a little. However in most other aspects, as you would expect, Captain America suspends disbelief. Thanks to his new body, Rogers can leap great distances, keep pace with a speeding car and swim along side a submarine - in the Captain America universe, these abilities are justified. What takes a little more stretch is how apparently easy it is to walk about on the roof of a speeding train...take a deep breath and remember you're watching a comic-book movie and you'll be ok. Of course, since Captain America is the First Avenger, there are plenty of references to other Marvel characters and universes in order to whet our appetite for The Avengers film. Howard Stark, AKA Iron Man's dad (Dominic Cooper), has a prominent role in the film which is fun and interesting; yet the film's modern day prologue and epilogue seem to undermine Captain America, making it appear to be a very long, somewhat off subject prequel. All in all, Captain America is a perfectly acceptable action film that will do much to appease Marvel fans until The Avengers is released next year. Ultimately, however, it is sitting in the shadows of Marvel's previous releases this years - Thor and X-Men: First Class. After a wonderfully pacy first act, it does begin to crumble a little, and the cracks show. 6/10 ***See this at the cinema and after the end credits you'll be treated to The Avengers' first trailer - as far as I can tell this trailer isn't available online yet.
Rewind from Christopher Nolan's recent box office successes such as The Dark Knight and Inception, and one will find a much humbler beginning for one of Hollywood's most prized directors. Following, Nolan's first film, was made with an inarguably modest budget of £5000 and with a cast and crew made up of extremely helpful friends; with no previous film making experience, it is astonishing that the modern Nolan hasn't really veered from his initial concepts in his films. Following is the first example of Nolan's fixations on the non-linear plot, the leading male on a journey and the revelation twist ending(s) that have become so associated with the director. Nolan manages to create a fully immersing film noir despite his limited budget, reaffirming his well-deserved directorial status in the film world. Most similar in style and in substance to Nolan's next film, Memento, Following is a tense, compelling and entertaining watch, providing you can keep up with the indirect storytelling mode. The story follows Bill, an unemployed young man from London who, for inspiration for his writer's block, begins following strangers at random. However, he doesn't count on being caught out by the mysterious Cobb, a charismatic thief who takes Bill under his wing and and teaches him the tricks of his trade. Bill is soon out of his depth, utterly caught up in a twisting tale of betrayal, deceit and femme fatales, in which Bill acts as the unfortunate puppet being played. If you are familiar with and enjoy film noirs, odds are you're going to love this film. Nolan's lack of budget has both helped and hindered his film making - the distinct lack of special effects and complex stunts makes for a more realistic approach to his story, upending the suspension of disbelief that comes hand in hand with his recent blockbusters. A memorable fight scene is portrayed as a far more British affair than in those of his later films - the character's fists flail ineffectually, missing targets and failing miserably to dodge inept punches. The carefully choreographed fight scenes of Nolan's Batman franchise are a far cry from this somewhat more believable starting point. The film's grainy, black and white imagery is also an effective and expressly noir-ish influence on the film - an effect that Nolan has sadly let go of after brief instances in Memento. Nevertheless, Following clearly portrays Nolan's ambition, even with a scarce budget - don't expect a simple film due to it's resources! Nolan manages to gather together a handful of good actors, the stand out being Alex Haw's charmingly well-spoken portrayal of Cobb (unfortunately, this seems to be Haw's only acting job), while Lucy Russell is a slightly disappointing femme fatale. The characters in the film are somewhat more three dimensional than some latter characters in Nolan's repertoire - Bill is blundering, blind and almost completely incapable - a weak man carried along by the various macguffins and plot turns rather than effortlessly dominating them like Dom Cobb is seen to in Inception. If the name is anything to go by, Nolan may even be accused of beginning to recycle the calm, collected character first seen here. What is inspiring about Following is that Nolan was able to construct a film that can even now stand shoulder to shoulder with his most recent works, despite the very limited resources he had. Following is an introduction to now one of the most interesting film makers in Hollywood, hinting at Nolan's fascination with trickery and visual artistry that has now been far broadened in The Prestige and Inception. Following may stick close to the conventional film-noir storyline, but there is much to enjoy in Nolan's feverish editing of scenes into non-linear sequence, and a definite sense of pride for the audience when fitting the jigsaw pieces of story together by simply paying attention to Bill's haircut and clothing. Following is an intelligent and rewarding piece of work that is subtle in its comments on materialism, freedom and loss - as Cobb tells Bill: "you take it away, you show them what they have". And so it is when Nolan strips back the budget, the stars and the superheroes, we see just what he is capable of.
For some, the recent explosion of popularity for vampires is a blessing. For others, the thin-skinned race of vampires that have emerged is vomit-inducing. I'm of the latter disposition. In my opinion, the sensitive vampire doesn't quite cut it. I prefer some biting and goring, and if there's going to be anything sensual, it should be dark and threatening. So, imagine my surprise when I read The Silver Kiss and enjoyed it, despite one of the main characters being a sensitive teenaged vampire. The Silver Kiss is a young adult novel concerning Zoe, a sixteen year old girl whose mother is slowly dying of cancer. Zoe has had to learn to grow up quickly and deal with pain, death and loneliness along with her father, who works hard but is losing touch with his daughter. One night, Zoe meets the enigmatic Simon, a teenager who seems to understand her loneliness and despair, and they strike up a friendship. It's only later that she discovers his vampirism. There's a good sense of character in Zoe - she's brave, and as understanding as a sixteen year old can be in the face of her mother's illness; but she isn't very memorable. I read the book only a few weeks ago, and I'm finding it difficult to call up much about her. Klause has perfectly captured the mindset of a lonely sixteen year old, but has failed to capture just what makes Zoe herself. Similarly, Simon begins promisingly, but falls short of becoming an iconic character. He has an interesting back story, though it lacks the real punch it needs, and I could never quite believe he was supposed to be 300-400 years old. His language was a little more formal than Zoe's, yet he was at times childish and silly - surely he would have accrued some wisdom and tact in his centuries on earth? Despite this however, he was intriguing. Unlike certain other vampires in modern literature, Simon is open about his dark side, and is relatively violent at points in the book. The main problem with this debut is that it is highly inconsistent. Zoe has real moments of understanding, and I was moved almost to tears reading some beautifully written passages about her mother's illness. The next moment, however, her thoughts are shallow and childish, written in a manner offering no originality - Klause seems to bob between wanting to portray a typical teenager and a strong, growing woman. If this was all written in the hypnotic prose that Klause shows she is capable of, it could have shown some real insight into Zoe's mind, but it truly felt at times that I was reading two separate books melded together. The villain of the piece was another thing I couldn't get my head around - not wanting to give anything away, I couldn't decide if he was faintly ridiculous or truly sinister. Despite these somewhat negative comments, there's a lot of good in The Silver Kiss as well. Sometimes the odd mixture of gore and grief really works, making for a strangely adult tale disguised as a young adult novel. The romance between Zoe and Simon is sweet and believable - innocent on Zoe's side, less so on Simon's. It's also a highly addictive read - I finished this book in just one night, thanks to it's quick pace. But what stood out most for me was its ending, which was very mature and poignant for a young adult novel. Honestly, I was expecting some sort of clichéd ending on par with the over-simplistic young adult vampire stories that are seemingly spawning by themselves at the moment, so The Silver Kiss really surprised me with its touching climax. So, overall, this is a very decent vampire story which is at times very moving and subtle, while at others declines into childishness. Despite this, it's a cut above many recent young adult vampire tales, and is not reliant on its romantic sub-plot to carry the story. One looking for a slightly more mature, sorrowful novel after reading books such as the Twilight saga and the House of Night series would do well to take a look at this. Dooyoo - we need half stars - The Silver Kiss is a solid 3.5 out of 5!
Director Tom Hooper has been doing quite well recently. After a long career in directing for television - with credits ranging from Byker Grove to Elizabeth I - he made the leap to cinema with 2004's Red Dust, before solidifying his prominent status with the critically acclaimed The Damned United. Regarded by many as a very British director, The King's Speech shows no signs that Hooper is swaying from the monarchs and courageous stories he has so familiarised himself with, and thank goodness! The King's Speech is a beautifully told story of King George VI and his demoralizing stammer - a tale positively overflowing with snobbery, the great British spirit, and 'Ma'am as in ham'. The story takes place in the 1920s and 30s, beginning with a brief introduction to our Royal protagonist (Colin Firth) as he shamefully stumbles his way through a speech at Wembley Stadium. What follows is his resolve to overcome his speech impediment, with the help of unorthodox diction therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). George's personal endeavors are impeded as his father passes away, leaving his elder brother Edward as an unreliable and undisciplined King. I'll admit I don't have a huge interest in the Royal family, and was unaware of the events surrounding Edward's abdication and George's rise to the throne, so The King's Speech was rather educational for me. I have heard, however, that Edward may have been portrayed in a rather negative light, casting him as an abhorrent character when he may not have deserved such judgement. Regardless, Guy Pearce is excellent as the apparently pretentious Royal. Colin Firth is flawless as King George, choking on words with such agony etched on his features that one's heart wrenches for him. He strikes a perfect balance between the snobbish Royal and the vulnerable outcast of his family, and truly grows throughout the film as he learns to loosen both his larynx and his haughtiness, gaining a true friend. Geoffrey Rush is also marvelous as the eccentric Logue, and the interactions between the two men are some of the most warming, witty scenes I've seen in a long time, beginning with George's spluttering outrage at being immediately nicknamed 'Bertie' by a commoner, and yet concluding with a lasting friendship. I could easily go through the entire cast list of The King's Speech and praise each actor and actress for an impeccable performance. Suffice to say, there's not a weak spot in sight. It's very much a character built story - both George and Logue have inner demons to battle and their own problems to overcome, and use each other as emotional leaning posts throughout the film. George comes to depend on the robust, reliable Logue just as Logue, a failing actor, yearns for the faith in himself that George inspires. It's warming, but not over sensitive or sentimental - despite the closeness between characters and the themes of victory and courage the film expresses, the social boundaries between Logue and George remain, carried with a quiet, understanding kind of dignity by both men - the kind of quiet dignity that has become amalgamated with Britain and the infamous wartime British spirit. The film itself, with its muted tones and foggy London setting is serenely pleasing, and brief flashes of vibrant colours give energy to an otherwise dreary scene, such as when George becomes King - dressed in Royal garb, a bright blue sash draped across him, he brightens a drab room when faced with several black clothed members of parliament, clergy and Royalty. And of course, as one would expect from a film centered on speeches, the film's sound is impeccable. Footsteps ringing on wooden floors; teaspoons clinking against china teacups; swallowing throats working manically to voice words - sound is heightened and luxurious in every aspect. Overall, The King's Speech is a film which delights in subtleties and story telling, character development and friendship. It's a story which exposes character flaws and explores them, with a depth of humanity that is both charming and witty, and tries hard to remain unoffensive and accurate. A warming drama that will surely boast an oscar or two later this year.
Kristin Cashore's first novel is a solid fantasy debut; she fabricates an interesting setting, introduces some believable characters and provides us with a suitably villainous villain. However, there are also some undeniable flaws that cannot be disregarded. Graceling's plot is relatively simple, which makes this a good read for either younger teenaged readers or for those new to the fantasy novel. It's also rather conventional, in that there are a lot of generic fantasy elements here - a strong-willed heroine, a land of seven kingdoms, and a smattering of romance to name but a few. To reiterate, these are all good things for the new reader. The story follows Katsa, niece of King Randa, who rules one of the seven kingdoms. Katsa is blessed (or cursed?) with a special ability - otherwise known as a Grace - for killing, making her a valuable asset to her uncle. However, he uses her simply to punish subjects who have wronged him, something that weighs heavily on Katsa's conscience. Katsa's sense of morality is a huge element of the novel, as she constantly frets over the actions she takes. Katsa also meets the hero of the novel, a Graced fighter named Po, with whom she forms an alliance with early on in the story. The characters in Cashore's tale range from the unique and interesting to the downright generic. Katsa herself is a decent character - she is strong-minded and determined, and can be categorically brutal at times, which adds a great dimension to her character. There aren't many fantasy heroines who break arms and chop off digits on a regular basis! She is also in possession of some flaws, which makes her a believable persona, while also giving Cashore the potential to develop Katsa throughout the tale, which she happily does. Po is also a good character, though on the whole he is developed to a much lesser extent than Katsa, and is far less flawed, which at times can make him a little dull. The characters guilty of conventionalism are some of the minor players, such as Katsa's best friend, prince Raffin. Their closeness and Raffin's lightheartedness and placid attitude seemed a little too familiar to me, especially as Raffin provides most of the comic relief. As the son of the overbearing Randa, who forces Katsa to do his dirty work, he seems to have unbelievably inherited none of his father's coldness. Nevertheless, the novel is extremely well paced, making for some addictive page-turning. There's plenty of action and a good helping of exciting fight scenes. The villain of the story is revealed about halfway through the book, after the first half has left you guessing over his identity. And this, ultimately, brings me to Cashore's biggest pitfall - her offender doesn't cut it. When all is revealed, he is suitably villainous, having committed some very cruel crimes. The problem is that there is absolutely no explanation for his brutishness. Cashore attempts to create a sense of mystery around her malefactor by divulging nothing of his history or origins, but rather than being mystified, I found myself comparatively incensed at the lack of story concerning this main character. Add this to a pretty anti-climatic ending concerning him, and it is doubly tiresome. Another, less major problem, is that Cashore doesn't really give her audience much credit. Every thought of Katsa's is compiled, leaving no room for our own interpretations of any moment in the story. Katsa's feelings and emotions are clearly mapped out for us, whereas a possibly more competent writer could convey to us a character's thoughts without having physically set them to paper - a difficult yet achievable task. As it is, it appeared to me that at times, Cashore hadn't had a strong sense of her own characters in her head as she began writing about them. Characters seemingly take on new traits in the middle of the novel, and if they don't, Cashore obviously points them out to us, leading me back to my point on her lack of faith in her audience. For all it's flaws though, Graceling is a very readable novel, with great pacing and a simple yet engaging plot. The story shifts into different settings, all of which are wonderfully realised, with some of Cashore's best imagery manifesting itself in snowy mountain peaks, where she also manages to create a very real sense of tension and danger. Despite the many conventionalism's found in the novel, Cashore's notion of Graces and Gracelings is interesting and unique, and the exploitation surrounding the Graced is, at times, moving. Overall, this is a simple fantasy tale suitable for young adult readers and adults alike. Despite Katsa's killing Grace, there really isn't a lot of gore, so slightly younger readers would be able to enjoy this story too. Since completing Graceling, Cashore has also written her second novel, Fire, a prequel set some 30 years prior to the occurrences here, in which she develops her villain from Graceling. Plus, she has a third book, a sequel to Graceling, currently in the works. Fingers crossed, Cashore will learn from her stumbles in her debut and keep up the good work so far.
*Film Only Review* Directed in 2009 by Atom Egoyan, Chloe is an erotic thriller (and I use the term loosely) starring Amanda Seyfried and Julianne Moore. A couple of Egoyan's previous films ('Where the Truth Lies' and 'Felicia's Journey') had bagged the prestigious Palme d'Or awards in their respective years at Cannes, so having stumbled upon the trailer for his latest, I had high hopes. But don't be fooled by Egoyan's previous shiny prizes, as Chloe is sadly undeserving. The story follows Catherine and David Stewart (Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson), a well-off couple with a 17 year old son. When David misses his plane home on his birthday, Catherine later suspiciously checks his phone to find a message from a young woman, and deduces that her husband is having an affair. Thus, she meets and hires Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), a young, upper-class call-girl to 'approach' her husband and report back to her with his reactions. It's a pretty silly plot outline from the start, as you'd expect Catherine (who, as a doctor, you'd expect to be reasonably intelligent) to think for a moment: "Hmmm, maybe it's not the *best* idea to hire a prostitute to tempt my beloved husband into adultery"; but no, she thinks it's a great plan and has no qualms with handing Chloe a wad of cash and sending her off to David's favourite little café. And as Chloe reports back to her with a "he was friendly, but no cigar", Catherine continues to make ridiculously self-destructive choices and sends her to him again. You get one guess at what happens next. One of the main disappointments in this film was how it was publicised as an 'erotic thriller'. Although Egoyan and his leads do give the sexual themes of Chloe a good go, there is very little chemistry between the characters, and the sex scenes (and there are less than you'd think) are somewhat wooden and distinctly unsexy. Similarly, the 'thriller' aspect of Chloe is somewhat non-existent as the 'twists' are: a) silly, and get sillier as the film progresses, and b) easily guessable. There is also a brainless subplot revolving around Catherine and David's son, a mentally unstable but musically talented youth who spends most of his time being awkward and stereotypically moody. What saves the film from complete incompetence is Amanda Seyfried, who turns out an excellent performance as the manipulative title character. She is in turns seductive, innocent, and childish, bringing more to her character than you'd expect from the second-rate synopsis and script. A word of warning though: Mamma Mia fans, if you don't want your image of Amanda as the sweet, inquisitive teen soiled - stay well away from this film, as that portrayal will unquestionably be destroyed. Sadly, I can't give Moore and Neeson the same praise. Neeson can vaguely be forgiven for his rather vacant part as the maybe-cheating husband - his role is highly underdeveloped thanks to the dodgy script. Moore however, has no excuses for retaining the same facial expression for the entirety of the film (pained, dejected, usually crying). It would have been nice to have at least caught a glimpse of a strong, intelligent woman beneath her foolish decision making and sorrowful countenance. Another high point of the film is its cinematography and colour palette. It is a beautifully shot film, somewhat artistic and slick in using autumn and winter hues in some lovely locations and buildings, but in regards to the rest of the film it simply feels more like a stylish gloss over the finished product's clumsiness than a goal Egoyan specifically set out to achieve. Still, it's nice to look at. Basically, Chloe is a very well shot but poorly executed story of a woman whose desperation and insecurities cause her to make some rash decisions. It could have been far better than it was, though you'd expect Egoyan, who directed 'Exotica' in 1994, would have been able to squeeze a little more sexual tension from both the script and his leads. Watch it for Paul Sarossy's luscious cinematography or Seyfried's performance, otherwise leave it well alone. 4/10
Following its release in 2009, Harry Brown has received somewhat mixed reviews - some claiming that the film's unrelenting grittiness provides it with a genuine sense of realism, while others argue that there's not a moral chord struck throughout its entire running time, downplaying any sense of reality it had achieved. And to be honest, both are entirely valid points. Harry Brown is a vigilante centered crime thriller that at times is terrifying, moving, and artistic, and will have you on the edge of your seat; but sadly, this is a film with flaws that can't be ignored. The title character of Harry Brown is played by the wonderful Michael Caine. Harry's days run like clockwork - wake up, visit his ailing wife in hospital, play chess in the pub with best friend Len, return home. And, of course, avoid the youths who terrorize the estate on which he lives. Harry Brown seems to have taken much inspiration from the image the tabloids have painted of young people today - these kids are violent, angry, and utterly merciless. From the shocking opening scene portraying the casual shooting of a mother walking her child, we are coerced into recognising the events on screen, be it through the use of handheld cameras to promote realism, or the employment of the stereotypical 'chav' image. We watch as, on his way to the hospital, Harry considers cutting through an underpass to make his journey a little shorter, but upon hearing the jeers of youths, walks the long way round. These little touches that imply danger that may or may not be present are far more effective than the over the top assumptions that every young person on an estate is a drug lord, amateur porn maker and weapon retailer (yes, I AM describing one of Harry Brown's characters!). Anyway, back to the premise. The basic story follows Harry, an elderly ex-marine whose wife dies early on in the film. Soon after, his best (and only) friend Len admits to Harry that the kids on the estate are harassing him, and shows him an old bayonet hidden in his jacket. Harry tries to convince Len to not do anything foolish, and Len leaves in torment, having thought Harry would understand his fears. Needless to say, the next day two police officers, Frampton (Emily Mortimer) and Hicock (Charlie Creed-Miles) visit Harry, informing him of Len's violent demise. Harry, now without friends or family, snaps, and his old marine training kicks in as he stalks the estate to take down Len's killers with some good old fashioned vigilante justice. In his first feature length film, director Daniel Barber starts off very well, using lengthy, washed out shots to convey the dreary lives of those on the estate. Everything is murky, old and infused with a sense of unease - perpetually reminding us of the fear that Harry lives in. The look of the film could even be described as artistic in its opening act, but this sadly doesn't last. As soon as Harry decides to wreak vengeance on the youths, the slow, quiet nature of the film disintegrates, becoming far more conventional and mainstream in its construction. The best thing about the film is Caine's performance. If ever you had doubted the mastery of Michael, those doubts will be put to rest here. Caine is superb in all aspects of his role - from frightened pensioner, to grieving husband and friend, to ruthless killer. The transition he makes, however, is badly handled and poorly written. The lack of morality in the youngsters is represented as cruel, unjustified and detestable, yet when Harry turns their weapons on them, we are expected to accept and commend his efforts. The film completely fails at serving as any kind of social commentary, as the youths are far too extreme to be believable, and Harry's response to their violence, through torture and savage murder, shows a lack of mercy and humanity that is equal to that of the youths themselves. Caine's previous interpretation of a lonely, grieving old man is thrown out the window to be replaced with an utterly different character, which in the end, causes this film to be completely without compassion. What improves the film are the performances of its main characters. As already mentioned, Caine is first-rate, but the young people playing the abhorrent youths are also excellent in their roles. In particular is the character of Noel Winters, the 'boss' of the kids, who is played by Ben Drew, otherwise known as Plan B. He's offensive, terrifying and vicious, and despite his character being represented in the extreme, Drew brings a good sense of realism to the persona. There are only a couple of weak spots in the writing of the characters - specifically DI Frampton, who is significantly underdeveloped. In short, this film could have been a lot better than it was, despite some excellent performances. It seems that it's a little unsure of whether to be an action film or an attempt at social commentary. It aims to please a general audience by pointing somewhere in the middle, leading to a dispassionate, extreme cinematic experience with a lack of humanity that can't be ignored. 6/10
Released in 2007 and starring Kevin Costner, Mr Brooks is a glossy crime thriller that follows the life of Mr Earl Brooks - beloved family man and box factory owner by day, renowned and feared serial killer by night. The story revolves around Brooks' murderous urges, which, at the start of the film, he has avoided for two years thanks to attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. However, his bloodthirsty alter ego, Marshall, (William Hurt) continuously pesters Brooks, coaxing him to submit to his appetite for homicide, and before you know it Brooks has neatly killed a lusty tango dancing couple in their flat. Unfortunately for the two psyches of Mr Brooks, Earl failed to notice the open window in the couple's flat, and naturally was spotted by an amateur photographer (Dane Cook), who approaches Brooks the next day under the alias of Mr Smith with evidence of his crime, and threatens to squeal unless Brooks teaches him the art of killing. Cook's character is watchable, sometimes amusing, and always irritating, with a naive penchant for murder which is never really explained. He comes across as simply a teenage boy in a man's body who still likes to play with toy guns and avoid the concept of reality. Despite this, his role brings a lot of dark humour to the films tone, reminiscent of American Psycho (but slightly less bloody and misogynistic). The films downfall is its mess of plot lines. The contrasting psyches of Mr Brooks would be enough to carry this film, especially with the combined efforts of Costner and Hurt in their roles, so I can't understand why director and writer Bruce A. Evans insisted on stuffing the film to the point of bursting with sub plots, some being utterly inane. My favourite, for example, is Detective Atwood, played by Demi Moore. To begin with, she's a tough as nails investigator, determined to hunt down 'The Thumbprint Killer', aka Brooks. Then we find out she's going through a messy divorce...and an escaped convict wants her dead and is determined to find her...and best of all, she's from an incredibly wealthy family and is worth millions of dollars. I expect these sub plots were added in an attempt to make the character more interesting, but the effort falls flat on its face due to their sheer absurdity and lack of consequence within the film. Similarly, there are a host of daft sub plots in regards to Brooks' daughter, Jane (Danielle Panabaker), but these have slightly more bearing on the film as a whole. Twists, too, pop up more often than to be expected. Being a fan of twists in general, and having heard that Mr Brooks contained a few, I was pretty excited to see these. However, I was disappointed, as the twists are in much the same scope as the films sub plots, and are simply too silly to take seriously. Only one twist really sticks in my mind, and half the reason for that is because it was coupled with a very well chosen song. The film is saved by Costner's and Hurt's performances and their chemistry together. They do very well at depicting the two sides of the same coin, while also portraying completely different mentalities - somehow becoming the same, but different. Although Hurt's physical presence is somewhat theatrical, being ignored by all in a scene but for Brooks, it's a dramatic convention that is highly effective. Hurt cleverly manipulates his role so that his company sometimes appears eerie, and at other times is used to add a dash of black humour to an otherwise solemn scene. It is the relationship between the two sides of Mr Brooks that makes the film really worth watching, and is the only factor which at all sets it apart from similar thrillers. To be honest, there isn't anything truly spectacular about this film. In terms of direction, cinematography and mise-en-scene, Mr Brooks is hardly going to win awards. It's simply a half-decent film that is reasonably entertaining and, every so often, is peppered with some intelligent black humour or reveals a twist that isn't completely foolish. The murders that take place in the film vary from the simple to the more grandiose and bloody, yet there's nothing terribly original. It's a shame, because Mr Brooks and his alter ego make for interesting characters that could have starred in a very good dramatic thriller, but they are constantly overshadowed by unintentionally funny sub plots and needless twists. 5/10
Lars Von Trier, Danish director of Antichrist, is well known for generating controversy and upset within his films. From 1998's fantastic, incestuous Festen, to his disability-focused The Idiots in the same year, Von Trier has forever dabbled in the shocking and unsettling. After viewing Antichrist, I can safely say that Von Trier has in no way lost his disturbing touch. The story begins, of course, with tragedy, effectively setting the tone for the rest of the film. We watch in monochrome as - silently bar an operatic soundtrack - a couple we will come to know as 'He' and 'She' (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) make love, and their young unattended son falls to his death from an open window. What follows is how the couple deal with their son's death, with He desperately attempting to tend to She as she falls into despair and madness, racked with fear. After some lengthy discussions and psychotherapy, He eventually discovers that the root of his partner's fears stem from an isolated area in the woods, a peaceful yet somewhat sinister haven that She visited with her son in the past. The secluded cabin She had been housed in is aptly named 'Eden', preparing us for the meaty religious subtexts encompassing the film. After learning of her fears, they decide to visit Eden again, in an effort to deliver She from her trepidation. Admittedly, the film is slow to start after the rather explicit opening, with much of the action taking place in a hospital, or in the couple's home as He soothes She when she wakes up trembling in the dark. However, this lets Dafoe and Gainsbourg showboat their incredible talent, bringing a very real sense of humanity to their roles. Gainsbourg is relentless in her energy as an incredibly believable woman tormented, while Dafoe very much portrays a man in love, urgently striving to 'cure' She. The cinematography during these scenes is also fantastic, creating a tense atmosphere early on which sets up a strong foundation for the rest of the film. Close ups of racing pulses and trembling fingers combined with Gainsbourg's ragged breathing only adds to the film's eerie undercurrents. The pace of the film escalates as the couple reach Eden, and She takes a turn for the worse, becoming increasingly disturbed by her surroundings and insisting that 'nature is Satan's church'. Probably a wild claim to make, until Von Trier makes even acorns seem threatening as they rain down on the cabin incessantly, and a self-disemboweling fox snarls to He that 'chaos reigns'. It's certainly not the average horror film, despite the later images of gore. Instead, Von Trier primarily focuses on the psychological aspects of fear, and makes use of disturbing visual images that gives the film a real sinister edge. Saying this, there are of course moments that have sparked the controversy that Von Trier thrives on, and they are by no means pretty. Be warned that there are real (and numerous) sex scenes, as well as some gruesome torture scenes, and of course, the infamous moment involving She and some scissors that I shan't go into here. However, if you can endure the more risqué elements of Antichrist you're definitely in for a treat. The film is abundant in metaphors that mostly escape modern horror films, and includes a lot of imagery that relates to Christianity and Original Sin, from a rock being rolled over a fox hole to She's ravings that 'women are evil'. It's certainly an arthouse film, which is nothing less than what we'd expect from Von Trier, and his style could be said to be pretentious, with several 'arty' techniques such as the film being split into chapters, but this rather adds to the film than takes away from it. Von Trier's focus on cinematography greatly heightens the beauty of the film and, at times, is so well executed that it creates fear and tension all on its own. I feel that I haven't gone into the more disturbing aspects of this film as much as I should have, as this is what has catapulted Antichrist into popularity and controversy. However, I implore you to watch this film for different reasons - this is a very original, intense film that stars two incredible actors and is both beautiful and shocking, and worth at least one viewing simply for the breath-taking cinematography and accomplished directing. 8/10
Nine is the latest film from director Rob Marshall, whom most of us would know from his 2005 book-to-film adaptation of Memoirs of a Geisha, and, more notably, his 2002 musical Chicago. Nine takes Marshall back to his Chicago roots, once again requiring him to get on his dancing shoes and act as choreographer as well as director for a star-studded cast. Nine, based on Frederico Fellini's 1963 film 8½, follows a famous Italian film director named Guido Contini. After having basked in the glory of his latest film, Guido is now being badgered about directing something new, and he is suddenly confronted with a mid-life crisis of epic proportions, as well as a complete artistic block. We are catapulted into Guido's world, where we meet the many women that have infatuated Guido in their own ways, and how they have shaped his life. One of this film's main selling points was its cast, and it doesn't disappoint. Daniel Day Lewis takes the role of Guido, and plays him very well, exerting a lot of emotion, while also playing the part rather humorously, which was an unexpected surprise. However, for once, Day Lewis wasn't the highlight of the film for me (shocking, I know). Penelope Cruz as Guido's forlorn mistress was everything the part required of her - sensual, disconsolate, entertaining and erotic; Cruz also proved that she has quite a voice in her sultry number: 'A Call From The Vatican'. Marion Cotillard as Guido's wife, Luisa, was also excellent in her role, and I found myself both sympathising with her and admiring her. I was interested to see how Nicole Kidman performed in her role as Guido's film star and muse, however her part was very brief, sadly. When reading the cast list before the film's release, the only person I doubted was Black Eyed Peas front-woman, Fergie. It seemed a little strange to me that she was headlining in a film also starring Daniel Day Lewis, Judi Dench, and Nicole Kidman, amongst others. However, after watching her performance, I take it all back. Fergie was incredible as Saraghina, the temptress who introduced a young Guido to love and sex. 'Be Italian', Fergie's number, is by far the best in the film. Exciting, savage, provocative; it's the song you'll have in your head long after the credits have rolled. It's also the best performed, in terms of choreography, with a multitude of scantily-clad, gypsy-like women clashing tambourines furiously and throwing handfuls of sand to create beautiful patterns in the air. Sadly, the other numbers in the film were rather less fun. As Marshall had directed the vibrant, energetic Chicago, I was expecting something similar within Nine. However, each number takes place on a stage, reminiscent of Nine's theatrical origins, and you get the feeling that you're simply watching filmed theatre. The choreography within Nine gets somewhat repetitive, too - after watching a couple of women in corset and stockings shimmy and shake, I wouldn't have minded some other form of dance, but sadly the only choreography that stuck in my head was during the aforementioned 'Be Italian'. Another problem the film encountered was the way in which it was structured. As we are introduced to Guido's loves, we see his past, shot in black and white. This is not a problem in itself - some of these black and white scenes are very good, such as when we are first introduced to Saraghina - however, the constant cutting from past to present seems to take place at inopportune moments, and goes unexplained, rendering it somewhat confusing. Rather than these scenes blending with the present action seamlessly, as they should, they seem somewhat awkward and cumbersome. It's a shame that Nine doesn't have a whole host of memorable numbers, as Chicago did, or else it may have been a better film. Nine lacks the energy that a musical needs in order to entertain, though it tries to make up for it with a great cast. However, the fact is that this isn't a musical that will have you humming for any length of time.
Following the recent trend of vampire romance taking over, well, pretty much everything, True Blood seemed at first to be the latest in a long series of predictable, irritating vampire-falls-in-love-with-petty-mortal stories that I'm sadly growing to hate. However, after watching a couple of episodes, I realised I couldn't have been more wrong. True Blood is adapted from a series of books also known as 'The Sookie Stackhouse Novels' or 'The Southern Vampire Series' by Charlaine Harris, the first of which, 'Dead Until Dark', was published in 2001. Set in the fictional town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, True Blood follows the adventures of a telepathic waitress named Sookie. When a handsome vampire named Bill moves into the town, Sookie is fascinated by him, despite the warnings of her somewhat anti-vampire friends and the trouble Bill brings with him. You see, in the True Blood society, vampires are an accepted part of life, having 'come out of the coffin', surviving on synthetic 'True Blood' and fighting for their rights. That's not to say the vampires in True Blood are by any means tame - quite the opposite. This isn't a series for youngsters. With its intimidating 18 certificate, we're treated to very explicit sex and no small amount of gore, not to mention drug use, brutal murders, kidnap and exorcisms, amongst other things. The main plot in this first season, aside from the relationship between Bill and Sookie, concerns the murders of several women in Bon Temps. It's undoubtedly a very graphic series, but it also has a wonderful sense of humour, even if it is a little dark at times. After all, True Blood was adapted for the small screen by Alan Ball, writer of award winners 'American Beauty' and 'Six Feet Under'. True Blood doesn't take itself too seriously - it has some rather laughably strange moments, such as Sookie's brother, Jason, taking 'V Juice' - vampire blood that when tasted is an incredibly strong hallucinatory drug that also enhances the libido - with some rather disagreeable outcomes. The characters are varied, mostly likeable, and well played all round. Sookie, played by Anna Paquin (most would know her as Rogue in the X-Men films), is an innocent and somewhat naive waitress who can hear people's thoughts - a gift that takes its toll on her relationships, as she finds it difficult not to 'overhear' what she probably shouldn't. She's astounded when she first meets Bill the vampire (Stephen Moyer) and realises that she can't hear a word he's thinking, and this forms the basis of their relationship, which develops throughout season one. Bill is mostly gentlemanly and polite, but has a darker side that we see glimpses of in moments of violence later on. His story - which is revealed later in the series - is tragic, and gives his character a whole new facet. Other main characters include Sam Merlotte, Sookie's employer; Sookie's brother Jason, and Sookie's best friend, Tara. The series is excellent in that it doesn't just focus on Sookie and Bill - every character has a plot line, and each is in itself interesting and holds your attention just as much as Sookie's. The twelve episodes that make up season one of True Blood are each around an hour long and move at a good pace. Each episode ends with a bang to keep you hooked, and new characters and plot lines are introduced regularly to bring some variation. Sometimes these characters and plot lines will fizzle out naturally, and others will reappear later to throw something new at you. Rest assured that the True Blood world will keep you on your toes, never becoming repetitive, although it does suffer from a slight dip in energy just over half way through. True Blood's soundtrack is just as edgy and Southern-style as the series itself, with a focus on country and blues music that really compliments the overall feel of the show. The theme tune of the series - 'Bad Things' by Jace Everett - is the perfect song to get across True Blood's themes and flavour, and fits wonderfully with the stunning opening credits which deserve a special mention - combining images of Louisiana, violence, religion and sex in a chaotic editing style, they start each episode on a high all by themselves. So, if you want a TV series that's exciting, sexy, stylish and fun (with a healthy dose of violence), look no further than the latest in the exceedingly popular vampire franchise. The only difference is that True Blood has bite.
In 2006, director Guillermo del Toro blew audiences and critics away with Pan's Labyrinth, his gritty 'fairy tale for adults'. A year later, and he produced this intriguing, extremely tense horror, in which a couples' adopted son mysteriously disappears. The protagonist is Laura, a 37 year old woman who lived in the orphanage as a child before she was adopted. However, as the years passed the orphanage was closed down, and the story opens as she returns with her husband and adopted son, Simón, in order to reopen the building. Del Toro is a master of combining fairy tale elements and heart wrenching realism, and The Orphanage is no disappointment. Despite the very apparent themes of horror, grief and psychological distress, the strongest theme is that of a mother's love for her child. Director Juan Antonio Bayona sets the tone of the film expertly, giving us glimpses of the supernatural and macabre, using the (now sadly clichéd) vision of a young child communicating with 'imaginary friends' and drawing strange pictures of a little boy wearing a sack mask. Not long after this, when hosting a party in their garden, Simón disappears without a trace, leaving no clues as to his whereabouts. What follows is Laura's desperate search for her son, firstly working with the authorities and her husband, then later turning to more unconventional methods of searching, including conducting a medium after several supernatural encounters. Along the way she uncovers the background of her old home, and the distressing events that occurred there. Belen Rueda is fantastic as Laura, conveying perfectly a mother's unconditional love, as well as desperation, hope and paranoia. As a protagonist, Laura is likeable and distinctly human - regret and guilt are major elements of her character as well as the usual strength and determination. The horror elements of the film are more reliant on psychological fears and subtle paranoia than out and out scares. Remember though, that this is a ghost film, so of course there are a few jumpy moments. Said moments are conducted with an obscene amount of flair, thanks to stunning cinematography and a truly haunting soundtrack. It should also be noted that there are a couple of gory scenes, but the gore doesn't play a major role, thankfully, keeping in with the more solemn tone. Bayona is an expert at creating a superb amount of tension before revealing a scare. Sometimes even, he creates a superb amount of tension before revealing nothing. Nevertheless, we're kept on our toes, never knowing what to expect when the telltale signs occur. The colour palette of the film also helps with potential menace - a sombre combination of rusty browns and dark shadow at night, contrasting with white and golds during daytime scenes. But the best factor during these scenes is the location itself - the old, imposing building of the title. During the day, you'll wonder at the majesty of such a beautiful building. But at night, it becomes terrifying, and you wonder how on earth the protagonist can stand living in such an eerie house. It creaks, as old houses do, but this is The Orphanage, and the creaking echoes and becomes a moan of despair and warning as Laura explores the house for her son. What really makes The Orphanage rise above many other horror films is the ending. Although I'm reluctant to call it a twist, it is certainly a revelation, and no doubt original and unexpected. As per usual, Bayona handles the conclusion stylishly and artistically, scenes washed in sepia and heightened sounds creating amazing suspense and intrigue. In my opinion, the last few scenes are the best in the film. As I touched on earlier, Del Toro's influence is obvious within the story, as two different worlds mix together. In Pan's Labyrinth, a young girl was the bridge between wartime Spain and a fantasy land of fauns and fairies. In The Orphanage, a young boy is the bridge between a pleasant family life and the spirit world. The film also references other fairy tale stories such as Peter Pan, giving the plot some extra juice. Such methods and thoughts are fairly unconventional within the average horror, so really, The Orphanage is a breath of fresh air. This is certainly an accomplished piece of cinema from a new director, and definitely worth a watch if you don't depend on brutal gore and screaming adolescents for a prime horror experience.
Directed by Brad Anderson, 'The Machinist' is probably best known for Christian Bale's immense weight loss. Proving the actor's dedication, Bale lost a staggering 63 pounds for his role as Trevor Reznik, a tortured human being who begins to doubt his sanity when he suffers from a terrible case of insomnia that hasn't allowed him to sleep for a year. This is a dark, haunted story, with a definite creep factor. The story and the direction is reminiscent of some of Hitchcock's work, sometimes directly referencing it, such as some short driving scenes which are rather similar to those in Psycho. Reznik, as the title suggests, is a machinist. While helping a colleague, Miller, with one of the machines, he becomes distracted by another worker - a disturbing and mysterious man called Ivan, and as a result, Miller looses his arm. Upon telling his boss that Ivan distracted him, he is told that no such person exists. What follows is strange, creepy, and confusing, as Reznik tries to keep a grip on his sanity while battling his insomnia and paranoia to try and discover the truth, and we are left small, recurring clues about Reznik's past and the identities of those he associates with. Anderson skillfully uses recurring images to give hints to both Reznik and the audience, while also maintaining an eerie atmosphere that will definitely keep you pinned to your seats. A gloomy colour palette focusing on greys and greens is also a great help in creating some startling and disconcerting images - Xavi Gimenez, the film's Cinematographer and Director of Photography shines, and won two awards for his work. The score is also one of the creepiest and disconcerting to accompany a film that I've heard in a long time, creating such an atmosphere that I found myself hiding behind a pillow once or twice. In fact, the score is a direct homage to the work of Bernard Herrmann, Hitchcock's favourite composer. Bale does a great job as the haunted protagonist, though he's difficult to watch, such is the extremity of his weight loss - definitely a far cry from his beefed up Batman. However, I did find the film rather anti-climatic. The build up is wonderful - Anderson creates an amazing amount of tension and suspense using such strange and stylistic images and sounds - yet when the finale comes, it's rather sudden and flat in comparison. There's no real flaw in either the directing or the acting, but due to the great handling of the plot so far, I was expecting a huge, climatic ending, so I was a little disappointed. But despite this, it's definitely worth more than one watch. It's different, psychological and disturbing rather than a mainstream thriller, so movie buffs will appreciate it's subtle recurring themes while trying to unravel the mystery. It's also a great showcase for Anderson and Bale's talent. The build up is supremely handled and the story is told brilliantly, and for the most part, it's completely gripping with it's ambiguity and creativity. The ending can't be ignored, however, and that's what pulls my rating down a little. Loaded magazine described The Machinist as "Fight Club meets Memento", but that's a lot to live up to, and sadly, The Machinist isn't quite clever or shocking enough to cut it.
This 2001 film starring the late Heath Ledger is a curious mixture of a medieval tale of bravery and ambition and a modern romantic comedy. Ledger plays William Thatcher, a peasant squire whose master dies suddenly at the beginning of the film. William takes his master's place in a jousting tournament, and after a small victory, decides to disguise himself as a knight and take part in bigger tournaments to claim fame and fortune. What follows is sometimes funny, sometimes cringe-worthy, but ultimately an entertaining story, based loosely on 'The Canterbury Tales' by Geoffrey Chaucer. Chaucer is also a character in the film, played by Paul Bettany, represented as a gambling addict who joins Will and his two friends, Roland and Wat, on the adventure. These three are funny and entertaining, especially Mark Addy as Roland, who pulls off a great comic performance without ever coming across as irritating. Ledger is also good as William, who changes his name to 'Ulrich Von Lichtenstein'. He looks the part of a young messy knight, easily pulling in a young and teenaged target audience with crooked smiles, likability, and the reciting of some sometimes-too-mushy romantic poetry. My main gripe centers around Lady Jocelyn, played by Shannyn Sossamon, who is Will's love interest. I found her character irritating, and I didn't feel the chemistry between Jocelyn and William was intense or interesting enough for the story. It came across as simply a way to continue the story and put across one of the film's main themes - that love is stronger than anything and that status is of no importance. Jocelyn often talks of only being taken notice of because of her looks, not her personality, but this does not set her apart from any normal film heroines, seeing as she has little personality to speak of. Her lack of character is also probably due to another prominent female role - Kate the Farrier, who makes William's armour. Her role is far stronger and her character more appealing, which somewhat overshadows Sossamon's role. William meets antagonism with Count Adhemar, played well by Rufus Sewell. Although his role is somewhat two dimensional, Sewell is very good in this villainous role, and there are some short scenes in which I felt his pain, such as when William is dancing with Jocelyn, and Adhemar glares across the room at them, realising his loss. The jousting, which takes up a good portion of the film but manages to continue to be exciting, is well handled. The splintering of lances and the slow-motion galloping of horses is a great image, sometimes performed comically, at other times seriously. The sound of the lances breaking is also brilliant, created using the slowed down sound of a howitzer being fired. The costumes are also good, notably William's armour, made by Kate, looking ridiculously fashionable for a medieval film. There were a couple of costumes that I thought were too modern worn by Jocelyn, however. The film is also powered by a brilliant soundtrack including David Bowie, Queen and Thin Lizzy, which really gives it some extra energy and spark. Brian Hedgeland, the director, did a great job of mixing genres and compiling a soundtrack to match the modernised vision of the film. All in all, it may not be the best of films, and although the substance is the same cliched romantic comedy, peppered with morals, the medieval twist sets it apart from similar stories.
Based on the Japanese manga by Kouta Hirano, Hellsing Ultimate (also known as Hellsing OVA) is the second TV adaption of Hellsing. The first adaption, that ran in 2001 and 2002, was a 13 episode anime series that earned a cult following, but the animation was sub-par, and sadly, it broke off on a tangent at around the halfway mark in the series, unable to follow the manga's storyline. However, years later, Hellsing fans have rejoiced at this new incarnation of the franchise. Hellsing Ultimate follows the manga very closely, the animation is excellent, and instead of 20-25 minute episodes, each of these episodes are 50 minutes to an hour long. Each episode of Ultimate is roughly an animation of one volume of the manga, so it's estimated there will be around 10 episodes. Hellsing follows the story of Alucard, a very powerful vampire who works for the Hellsing Organisation in England. This organisation is led by Sir Integra, a tough, intelligent woman who is a direct descendent of Abraham Van Helsing. Their job is to exterminate the living dead that pose a threat to Queen and country. In this first episode, we are also introduced to Seras Victoria, a young police officer who is turned into a vampire by Alucard, and to Father Alexander Anderson, a priest working for the Iscariot Organisation, who battles Alucard. Iscariot and Hellsing are rivals, and fight each other on every opportunity. The characters of Hellsing are all very cool, there's no other word for it. In comparison to the original series, they are also given far more time to develop as characters. Alucard especially is a lot deeper this time around, and he often hints at future problems and his own history, which is fun. The Hellsing Ultimate episodes have been given a far higher budget to work with, so the animation is fantastic, referencing and imitating Hirano's art style closely with the use of block shadow and the close attention to detail. It's also very bloody, but the violence is of a typical comic book style - fountains of blood gushing everywhere, much blood splatter, etc. The characters look slightly different, some more than others. I felt that Integra, Seras and Anderson were the most changed, but it's all for the better. Mostly the changes are focused on clothes and general appearance, and Anderson's and Seras' hair colour is slightly different than in the original anime. I only have a couple of little gripes - the scene changes can be a little forced, not quite flowing very well. The dialogue is often rather cheesy in places too, but the anime itself realises this, and plays it up. It also includes short, humorous clips, directly taken from the manga. Although fans will probably enjoy this, it isn't for everyone. As for plot, this is an action anime that comes thick and fast with enemies. It's very simple, altogether. A lot happens in the 50 minute running time. The plot would not appear to differ from the TV series until episode 3, where Ultimate follows the manga's story line. In this episode, we meet Hellsing, Seras is turned into a vampire, and Alucard battles Anderson. Another enemy is also hinted at at the end of the episode, although this plot arc will not be fully developed until episode 4 or 5. But for now, don't expect anything complex or overly intelligent. However, there are a few intertextual references that are interesting should one wish to investigate them, such as the Hellsing Ultimate tag line - "The Bird of Hermes is my name, eating my wings to make me tame", from the Ripley Scroll, which reappears late in the manga. The music is good as well, especially during the closing credits of each episode, as it features a track performed by Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, which works very well. However, the music from the TV series was better, using jazz and blues to contrast brilliantly with the action. For fans of the original series, the original English dub voice actors reprise their roles, which is a relief, as they had done a fine job beforehand. The japanese voices have changed, but they fit the characters perfectly. Overall, Hellsing Ultimate is a great, violent anime, perfect for those times when you want a focus on action rather than plot. The characters are fantastic, as is the animation, which also utilizes CGI at points. The music is good, and it's one of those animes where you can tell that the animators care about what they produce. Plus, it's loyal to its source, which is always a bonus in my book. I'd rate this over the TV series any day. ***THE DVD*** It should be noted that there is only one episode of this series per DVD, but it comes with a great commentary and interview with the English Voice Director, Taliesin Jaff, and the English voice actor of Alucard, which is entertaining and informative. It also has numerous trailers and galleries, which are interesting. The DVD also includes the choice of watching the episode in Japanese with subtitles or with the English dub. It's available on play.com for a reasonable £8.99. The first four episodes are available now, while the fifth episode has not yet been dubbed in English. The sixth is currently being advertised.