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Dick Tracy vs. Cueball (1946)
Dick Tracy is on the trail of a diamond stealing strangler
Lester Abbott is meant to be delivering diamonds to his boss Jules Sparkle but he and Mr Sparkle's other employees have other ideas. Before Abbott can get away he is confronted by bald-headed ex-con Cueball; he refuses to hand over the diamonds and is strangled with Cueball's braided hatband. It isn't long before Dick Tracy is on the case. He and his partner visit Mr Sparkle and are suspicious of two of his employees; Mona Clyde and Simon Little. It soon becomes obvious that they are both involved with the plan to steal the diamonds and they are soon plotting to buy them off Cueball for substantially less than they are worth something rather dangerous given that he has killed already. As Tracy gets closer to Cueball things get more dangerous; both for Dick and his girlfriend Tess Trueheart who helps him as part of an undercover sting.
Having neither read the original comics nor seen other films in the series I can't say how this compares but as a stand-alone piece of entertainment it passes the time nicely. There are some laughs to be had; mostly at the expense of Tracy's partner Pat Patton. The character names are pretty funny too and betray the films comic book origins; where else would you get such great names as Jules Sparkle, Percival Priceless and Vitamin Flintheart, not to mention Tracy's alliterative girlfriend Tess Trueheart! While one is unlikely to doubt that Tracy will get the villains there are some tense moments. While there are amusing moments the tone of the film is dark at times and doesn't shy away from showing the murders in a way that is fairly dramatic. Overall an enjoyable way to pass an hour.
The Last King of Scotland (2006)
A great performance from Forest Whitaker as one of Africa's most infamous dictators
Having recently qualified as a doctor Nicholas Garrigan wants a bit of adventure in his life so heads out to work at a hospital in a remote part of Uganda. He arrives there as everybody is celebrating the overthrow of the dictator Milton Obote by the country's new saviour Idi Amin. When Amin visits the village Garrigan is working in the young doctor goes to see him and is impressed by his charismatic rhetoric; soon afterwards he gets to impress the president when he helps after a minor car accident. He is soon invited to Kampala and is offered the post of the president's personal physician; it is the sort of offer he can't refuse. At first he enjoys life in the capital but soon he realises that Amin's regime is a threat to the country and himself but now it might be too late to get out.
This film impressively shows the brutality and madness of the all too real Idi Amin through the eyes of the fictional young doctor; James McAvoy puts in a fine performance as the latter but it is Forest Whitaker who dominates the film with his tour de force performance as one of Africa's most infamous dictators; charismatic, dangerous and quite mad in the way that comes from having total power and fearing that others want to take it from you. If you knew nothing of Uganda's history the opening scenes might make this feel like a feel good film; with our idealistic young doctor going to Africa and meeting the friendly president for saved his nation
things soon turn dark though as Amin's paranoia leads his regime to violence and those who oppose him start to disappear. The film doesn't shy away from showing some of that violence and some of it is shocking and wince inducing. This means it isn't really suitable for younger viewers but older viewers looking for a serious drama should find it well worth watching.
An utter delight
'Hugo' tells the story of young Hugo Cabret; a young orphan who lives in Gare Montparnasse station in 1930s Paris. His father was a watchmaker and together they were repairing an old automaton but when his father was killed in an accident he was taken to the station by his uncle where he keeps the clocks running. In his free time he continues to repair the automaton with parts he steals from the station toy shop. When he is caught the shop owner confiscates his notebook and so begins an adventure as he struggles to get it back. He befriends the shopkeeper's goddaughter, Isabelle, and together they manage to get the automaton working; Hugo had expected it to deliver a message from his father but instead it draws a familiar picture and signs it with the name of the shopkeeper; Georges Méliès a pioneer of early cinema. Georges believes that his work has been lost and forgotten; Hugo and Isabelle must prove otherwise.
Director Martin Scorsese may be better known for fairly violent films but this shows that he has the lightness of touch to make a charming tale with young protagonists that can be enjoyed by viewers of all ages. I found it an utter delight and the two hours just flew by. Asa Butterfield and Chloë Grace Moretz put in fine performances as Hugo and Isabelle. The rest of the cast, which includes many well-known actors also perform well. Watching on television I can't say how good the original 3D effects were but even on the small screen everything looked beautiful; with many scenes referencing famous moments in early cinema. The main story is a delight with moments of sadness and moments of pure joy. Some viewers might be less impressed with the side-story involving Sacha Baron Cohen's Station Inspector who is constantly trying to catch Hugo and have him sent to the orphanage
something strange for what is essentially a comic relief character! Initially I thought the character would prove interesting but gradually warmed to him as the story progressed. Overall I'd certainly recommend watching this as I found it utterly delightful.
The third episode of this series opens rather mysteriously; a woman climbs out of a car boot on a remote road and finds a large bag; it contains a lot of money and a one-word note "Silence", the car then drives off. We don't learn who she is until later in the episode. Back with familiar characters Nessa's bodyguard wakes up and makes a surprisingly fast recovery he is soon investigating the kidnapping. The trail takes him first to the nurse who gave the phone to the now dead kidnapper and then leads to the kidnapper's sister the woman we saw in the opening scene. Meanwhile the police are questioning the paternity of the kidnapped boy and briefly it looks as if his father could be Nessa's brother. Hugh Hayden-Hoyle is also continuing his investigation and finds out about Nessa's kidnapping; exposing a lie in the process.
After more and more questions were raised in the opening episodes it was nice to see the investigations progress slightly even if at this point we don't know what it all means; just why is what happened in Gaza seven years ago so important? The recovery of Nessa's bodyguard, Nathanial, did seem surprisingly fast but his investigations proved gripping and led to quite a shocking end to the episode. Tobias Menzies performs well in the role; putting in an understated performance that makes a change from the usual tough-guy type of bodyguard. Stephen Rea continues to impress as Hayden-Hoyle; bringing some welcome humour to the proceedings as he 'appears' before those he wishes to talk to. Overall another fine episode; the series continues to keep me gripped.
Kong Zi (2010)
It is five hundred years BC and China is made up of many warring kingdoms; in one, the Kingdom of Lu, a mayor has been recognised by his ruler because of his compassionate ways and the peace in his town. For this he is promoted to the position of Minister of Law and he is soon showing the same compassion and wisdom on the national stage; the man is Kong Zi better known in the west as Confucius. His rapid rise doesn't please everybody though; the noble families don't like the fact that this common-born man is being treated as an equal and see him as a threat and the enemies of Lu see him as somebody who must be removed before they can conquer Lu. In a confrontation with the Kingdom of Qi he manages to secure victory without bloodshed despite being drastically outnumbered. This leads to further promotion and his enemies within Lu decide he must go. Forced into exile Kong Zi and his followers wander through neighbouring lands as conflict increases; ultimately they are almost starving but they won't abandon their leader and his teachings.
I'm surprised that this film isn't better known; it may not have the gravity defying martial arts of better known wuxia films but it does have some solid action scenes and the title role is played by Chow Yun Fat. He does a fine job in the role; the rest of the cast were unknown to me but also perform well. As with other Chinese historical films everything looks stunning and is stylishly filmed. Not knowing the history of the time I can't say how accurate the film is but it is an entertaining story with highs and lows; joy and tragedy. Overall if you are a fan of Chinese cinema I'd say this one is definitely worth watching.
Utopia: Episode #2.2 (2014)
Back to the present
After the series opener where we saw how Janus came to be in the late seventies we move back to the present and catch up with the characters we were introduced to in series one. Jessica is being held captive and has been tortured for information; Ian is back working in IT but is bored out of his mind, he is also looking after youngster Grant, Wilson is now working with Milner and Becky is contemplating suicide as she still has 'Deal's Syndrome' and psychotic killer Arby has settled down to a family life although his former partner informs him that he must give up his new life and return to work for The Network.
When I watched the opening episode of the second series I thought it might not be necessary to watch the first series to understand what is happening; but now I'm not so sure. Back in the present no time is wasted explaining who is who.
The series continues to be stylish and slightly surreal; the distinctive palette of bright colours making things just a little stranger without feeling too weird to accept. While not all of the main characters got significant screen time enough was spent with them to reacquaint the viewers with each of them. As one will expect there is some fairly graphic violence but viewers who have made it this far are unlikely to be shocked
it would be more shocking if there was none! While this episode was largely to get key characters back together the plot was also advanced
there is now a timescale for Janus as The Network plan a global vaccination project to deal with 'Russian Flu'. Overall a fine episode that left me looking forward to the next.
Utopia: Episode #2.1 (2014)
After almost a year and a half it is time to return to the strange world of 'Utopia' Don't worry if you haven't seen the first series as this episode is set decades earlier; it is 1979 and project Janus is about to start. Scientist Philip Carvel is unimpressed with those worrying about malaria he sees it as a good thing; the real threat to humanity is the exploding population and something must be done to reduce the population drastically. His opinion is shared by Milner; a woman who works for the Security Services and is also part of The Network; a shadowy international organisation. Carvel is soon working on Janus; the project that will selectively render most of the world's population sterile. Obviously such a project must be run in absolute secrecy so anybody outside who learns of it or those inside who are no longer essential must be eliminated.
This episode nicely explained the early days of Project Janus; bringing new details for old viewers and also bringing new viewers up to speed so they can hopefully enjoy the rest of the series. As before the episode doesn't shy away from violence; some of it sudden and shocking; some may be just off screen but we can still hear what is going on and that can be disturbing. The feel of the late seventies is nicely evoked by having the picture framed like an old television rather than being full screen; other reminders of the time include much news footage of real events where the details have been changed to fit the story line
while the latter works well in context of the story some viewers might find it in somewhat poor taste to use real tragedies as part of a work of fiction in this way; personally I'm unsure. Overall though I thought this was a gripping episode and I'm now looking forward to watching the rest of the series.
Serbuan maut (2011)
The plot for this film is fairly simple; an elite group of police officer must enter a tower block in Jakarta and kill the crime lord who has made it his base. The operation will be anything but simple though; just about everybody in the building is loyal to the criminals or too afraid to defy them. To make matters worse it soon becomes apparent that the lieutenant who ordered the raid didn't get authorisation so there will be no chance of back up if things go wrong and they soon go very wrong! Most of the police are soon dead and those who aren't are out of ammunition; if they are to make it out alive they will have to rely on their wits and their martial arts skills.
Most action films spend time introducing characters then have prolonged stops for exposition along the way; not 'The Raid' though. After a brief introduction to protagonist Officer Rama and a very quick explanation of who the bad guys were the raid began and once it had started the action hardly ever stopped! This wasn't CGI special effects and exploding helicopters; it was physical action that will leave you wondering just how many stunt men got injured making the film! Writer/director Gareth Evans did a great job bringing the story to the screen; the action is perfectly choreographed and the actors do a fine job. The amount of bloody, bone crunching action means this isn't for the squeamish but if you want your action films to be full on action you are sure to enjoy this.
These comments are based on watching the film in Indonesian with English subtitles.
Ikki tôsen: Dragon destiny (2007)
Ikki Tousen: Dragon Destiny
This series sees the return to the world of Ikki Tousen with the survivors from 'Battle Vixens' being joined by several new characters. One might be forgiven for thinking this is a spin off at first as protagonist Sonsaku Hakufu barely features in the early episode; instead we are introduced to the fighters of Seito Academy and their unlikely leader Ryuubi; a ditzy bookworm who is apparently destined for greatness if she can control the dragon within her. As the series progresses it looks as if her school will end up fighting Hakafu's but they end up uniting to fight the evil Sousou Motoku who wants to take the Dragon Gem; an artifact that is believed to help control the dragons found in some of the fighters.
If you've watched 'Battle Vixens', and that is advisable before watching 'Dragon Destiny', you will know what to expect lots of fighting, lots of girls flashing their panties and clothing disintegrating during the fights! The new characters prove to be entertaining and in the case of Ryuubi and her followers they are likable too. Most fans of the original are likely to enjoy this although some might not like the fact that the fights are more magical now there is still plenty of bone crunching physical fights though. The animation has improved slightly over the years but there are still some 'wobbly stills' during action scenes. The level of nudity has increased; especially in the case of the six short OVA episodes which are basically an excuse to show most of the female cast without their clothes on they are fairly funny but very gratuitous so much so that that the first one got banned by the BBFC! Overall this was fairly fun and worth watching if you like this sort of show.
These comments are based on watching the series in Japanese with English subtitles.
The plot thickens
After last week's opening episode more questions are raised; we don't know who the kidnappers are or what they want and the only obvious lead is quickly eliminated; there is even the possibility that the wrong child was taken. The mystery over the 'suicide' of Samir Meshal; his suicide note suggests he was having an affair but his wife is certain that he wasn't; Hugh Hayden-Hoyle of MI6 is inclined to agree with her. The other woman, an American, is in the UK and he confronts her with his beliefs and when they are confirmed he believes she is in danger; another loose end to be cleaned up. Meanwhile there are more hints at protagonist Nessa Stein's secret and how it was connected to events in the Gaza Strip eight years previously.
This was a good second episode; the mystery deepened nicely and more questions were raised. It was nice to see more of Stephen Rea's character, Hayden-Hoyle, as he does such a fine job in the role the scene where he spoke to Meshal's apparent mistress was a delight. It was nice to see more questions being raised concerning Neesa without telling us just what the secret she is determined to keep is; we just know it involves her kidnapping in Gaza. The story continues to be plot rather than action led but that didn't mean there weren't moments of violence. Overall another gripping episode that left me wanting to see more.