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Wong Fei Hung (1991)
9/10
Once Upon a Time in China
20 October 2018
This film, the first in a series, is set in the southern Chinese city of Foshan near the end of the nineteenth century. Martial artist Wong Fei-hung is one of a number of people who feel betrayed by a weak government that has made unequal treaties with Western powers. He and his followers are also in conflict with gangsters from another city who are trafficking people to America with promises of a land of gold.

This is a really fine martial arts/historical drama. It contains plenty of humour, a touch of romance and most importantly lots of brilliantly choreographed martial arts action... the fight on ladders in the American fort is one of the best I've seen in such a film. The cast do a fine job; Jet Li really impresses as Wong Fei Hung; Jacky Cheung and Kent Cheng are a lot of fun as his students 'Buck Teeth' So and 'Porky' Lang and Rosamund Kwan is a delight as romantic interest 'Thirteenth Aunt' Yee. The rest of the cast impress too; especially during the action sequence. The film captures the end of an era as those living traditional lives come to see that ultimately China will need to modernise if it is to avoid being taken over by foreign powers. The depiction of human trafficking seems as relevant to our times as to the period of the film with individuals promised great wealth if the pay traffickers to get them to a land of wealth that doesn't really exist. Overall I'd certainly recommend this to fans of the genre.

These comments are based on watching the film in Cantonese with English subtitles.
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Tatort: Verbrannt (2015)
Season 1, Episode 957
8/10
Inspector Falke - Burnt Alive
19 October 2018
As this episode opens Falke and Lorenz are part of an operation targeting people dealing forged passports. One man resists arrests and hits Lorenz; Falke then severely beats him before making the arrest. The man is taken to the local police station and examined by a doctor before being taken to a cell where he is cuffed to the bed. The next day it emerges the wrong man was arrested; Falke and Lorenz return to the station and discover the man is dead in rather unlikely circumstances... he burnt to death despite being restrained and the officer who searched him being adamant that he didn't have a lighter on him. Falke and Lorenz ask to investigate and soon find a somewhat unpleasant culture and officers who are evasive about what happened... somebody knows what happened but nobody is talking.

This is a solid episode that draws attention to social problems in a town that feels like it is going backwards... locals feel like foreigners in their own country and many immigrants live in very difficult situations, not allowed to legally work. There is an oppressive feeling at the local police station as most officers appear evasive; either because they may have done something or because they don't want to rock the boat. We get several suspects amongst the police with various motives all leading to a fairly downbeat exposure of the killer and a satisfying exposure of another highly unsympathetic character. The guest cast does a solid job making us believe in some fairly unsympathetic characters. Overall I'd say this was a good episode that looked at social issues without being too preachy.

These comments are based on watching the episode in German with English subtitles.
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Warehouse 13: Around the Bend (2010)
Season 2, Episode 6
8/10
Pete keeps secrets in this twisty-turny episode
18 October 2018
As this episode opens Pete and Myka are in a museum investigating the theft of a walking stick that can cause earthquakes. While there Pete annoys Myka by fiddling with the various exhibits. He then gives chase to the thief but is surprised to bump into Mrs Fredric outside the museum; she orders him to let the thief get away and not tell the others she was there. Back at the warehouse they are surprised to find Benedict Valda, one of the Regents, he explains that there is suspicion concerning the running of the Warehouse. Pete and Myka return to the museum and shortly afterwards Pete sees the thief with Varda. He contacts an old friend in the local Secret Service to investigate him but things soon get dangerous; he threatens to kill Pete and his colleagues... but is anything quite how it seems?

I thought this was a really fun episode; the opening is amusing with Pete being his usual silly self, quickly turns mysterious with Mrs Fredric's telling him to drop the chase then menacing when Varda turns up at the Warehouse. The tension builds nicely till the episode's midpoint then we get a sudden twist that changes just about everything... saying any more about that would spoil it though. Eddie McClintock does a fine job as Pete takes centre stage; he manages the comedy and darker moments with equal aplomb. We also get fun turns from Mark Sheppard occasional character Varda and Tia Carrere as Pete's old friend Agent Kate Logan. Overall I really enjoyed this episode although I can understand if some viewers don't like the big twist.
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City Heat (1984)
7/10
Eastward and Reynolds work well together in this near-forgotten prohibition era crime drama
18 October 2018
Set in Kansas City in 1933 when rival gangsters are battling to run the illicit liquor trade; this film is centred on two detectives. These are Lieutenant Speer and private eye Mike Murphy; they were once friends but now their relationship is more prickly. Murphy's partner Diehl Swift has a plan to get rich; he has acquired the account books of mob boss Leon Coll which rival Primo Pitt could use to become number one in the city. Swift decides to offer the books back to Coll at a higher price... he is playing a dangerous game and gets killed. Both groups of gangsters expect Murphy to give them the ledgers but he doesn't have them. Pitt's men kidnap Murphy's girlfriend and Murphy teams up with Speer and the two work to find the books, rescue Murphy's girlfriend and bring down the gangsters.

Given that this film stars both Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds, both major stars when it was made, it is rather surprising that these days it seems totally forgotten. That is rather a shame as it is actually quite fun. There is a good amount of action as well as plenty of laughs... frequently at the same time. The two stars have both been in better films but they are still pretty good in this. The supporting cast is solid; Richard Roundtree is impressive as Swift, Jane Alexander is likeable as Murphy's secretary, Addy and Madeline Kahn it a lot of fun as Caroline Howley, his girlfriend. The '30s setting is enjoyably as it provides a good excuse for a solid jazz soundtrack and a classy look which wouldn't work as well in a modern setting. Overall I'd recommend this to anybody looking for a nice light-hearted crime drama with a touch of noir.
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Alex (2017– )
8/10
A solid drama about a corrupt Swedish cop
17 October 2018
This six part Swedish drama is centred on Alex Leko. He and his partner, Martin, have been in the pocket of crime boss BG for some time but after Alex accidentally shoots and kills Martin he wants out. BG refuses though; Martin was meant to be identifying the police mole in his organisation now he expects Alex to do it. Refusal could be very dangerous for him and his family. Alex is already suspected by his boss who gives him a new partner, Frida Kanto, who is tasked with digging up dirt on Alex.

This was a solid series with lots of tense moments, as well as quite a few shocks. It is pretty short so doesn't outstay its welcome thankfully it doesn't feel rushed either. Dragomir Mrsic impresses as Alex; he has a good brooding presence. Rakel Wärmländer also does as solid job as Frida. I was a little concerned that their characters' past relationship would lead to clichés but for the most part this is avoided. Anna Bjelkerud impresses as Alex's boss Ragnhild Björkfors; the supporting cast are pretty good too. As the end approaches there are some good twists; some may feel them a little melodramatic but at the time things are pretty exciting so it didn't bother me. Overall I'd recommend this to fans of Scandinavian drama looking for something a little grittier.

These comments are based on watching the series in Swedish with English subtitles.
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The Ghoul (1933)
7/10
Fun early British horror
17 October 2018
Professor Henry Morlant is a dying Egyptologist who believes he will be able to return from the dead thanks to a jewel he has acquired and plans to give to the god Anubis upon his death. He makes it clear that if his wishes are blocked he will return and take his revenge from beyond the grave. After his death he in interred in an Egyptian styled mausoleum but somebody steals the jewel and hides it in the house. Morlant's niece and nephew, Betty and Ralph, learn of his death after his burial and head to his house, along with Betty's friend Kaney who is obsessed with all things Egyptian. Once there they meet the local pastor who shows them to the house where they meet Morlant's solicitor. Soon they are also joined by Egyptian Aga Ben Dragore, who wants to retrieve the jewel for his country. It is only a matter of time before the professor returns from the dead to find the jewel!

Not too surprisingly this film is unlikely frighten a modern audience; it is still worth watching though. The story is effective and has a few good twists. The characters are entertaining; Kathleen Harrison provided plenty of laughs as Kaney in a scene with Harold Huth's Dragore... she seems to think being his slave might be romantic! Dorothy Hyson and Anthony Bushell are solid as Betty and Ralph; characters who are originally not on speaking terms. Boris Karloff may not say too much in the role of Morlant but he has a good presence and is menacing later on. The setting is suitably atmospheric with great use of shadows. The story leads to a good conclusion that isn't too obvious. Overall I'd certainly recommend this to fans of early cinema even if you aren't usually keen on the horror genre.
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Young Guns II (1990)
9/10
Going Out in a Blaze of Glory
16 October 2018
This sequel, set a little while after the events of the first film, opens much later, in the 1950s, with a young lawyer meeting an old man in the New Mexico desert. He claims that he is Billy the Kid and he has a tale to tell. As his story opens Billy is now riding with Pat Garrett and "Arkansas" Dave Rudabaugh. The governor offers Billy a pardon in exchange for testimony but this deal is reneged on and other surviving members of his old gang, Jose Chavez y Chavez and Josiah Gordon "Doc" Scurlock, are arrested... Billy soon escapes then breaks his friends out of captivity. Soon Billy has his old friend Pat Garrett hunting him down. Times are changing in New Mexico and Billy has less places to hide so he suggests heading south to 'Old' Mexico.

I really enjoyed this sequel, possibly more than I enjoyed the original. The story is a lot of fun as it delivers action and a degree of humour. The action includes shootouts, a knife fights and some impressive horse riding. The characters are a good mix; as well as Billy, Chavez and Doc there are new gang members; "Arkansas" Dave, played by Christian Slater; Hendry William French, played by Alan Ruck and young Tom O'Folliard, played by Balthazar Getty. These characters are an interesting mix and nicely compliment to old characters. Outside the gang William Petersen does a solid job as Pat Garrett. While it is very much a 'male film' there is a very enjoyable turn from Jenny Wright as brothel keeper Jane Greathouse, a friend of Billy's. Much of the film is fairly amusing but it does have its moments of tragedy; some real tear-jerkers. The film is shot in a way that brilliantly captures the rugged beauty of the New Mexico desert which is accompanied by a great score from Alan Silvestri. Overall I'd say this was a really enjoyable western that is well worth watching.
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9/10
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
15 October 2018
This Spanish comedy follows actress Pepa whose boyfriend, Iván, has just left her. What follows is a comedy of coincidences and mishaps. Pepa accidentally sets fire to her bed shortly before her friend Candela calls, she is worried because she has just learnt that her boyfriend is a terrorist and fears she will be arrested for harbouring him. Then Carlos, Iván's son, and his fiancée turn up to look at the flat, which Pepa is planning to rent out; Carlos had no idea of Pepa's connection to his father till he sees a picture in the flat. Things only escalate as Carlos tries to help Candela with her problem in a way that only serves to get the police to the flat; but not before Carlos's mother, who was recently released from a psychiatric hospital turns up.

If you want a realistic story this won't be for you; just about everything that happens relies on unlikely coincidences. For me this unlikeliness only served to make it funnier. The characters themselves are only slightly exaggerated; one feels that in more normal situations they would be ordinary people. There are plenty of laughs from start to finish; highlights include gazpacho soup that has been laced with sleeping pills, a visit to a lawyer who may be able to help Candela, and a rather different taxi driver. Writer/director Pedro Almodóvar does a fine job successfully takes the comedy to a high level without tipping into silliness. He is aided by a fine cast that includes Carmen Maura, as Pepa; María Barranco as Candela and a young, pre-Hollywood, Antonio Banderas as Carlos. Overall I'd certainly recommend this to fans of farcical comedy; it is very funny.

These comments are based on watching the film in Spanish with English subtitles.
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Doctor Who: The Ghost Monument (2018)
Season 11, Episode 2
8/10
A race across a desolate planet
15 October 2018
Last week's episode ended with a cliff-hanger ending where The Doctor and her three new companions were left floating in space. We quickly learn that Graham and Ryan have been picked up by a woman named Angstrom and The Doctor and Yasmin were saved by a man named Epzo. They don't have too long to get used to their situation as Angstrom lands her ship on a desert planet and Epzo's ship almost crashes on top of them. The group are reunited and learn that the two pilots are the final two competitors in a rally. Ilin, a hologram of the person running the race tells the competitors have one day to get to the finish line; the so called 'Ghost Monument'... only the winner gets to leave the planet. The Doctor asks about the monument and learns it is something rather familiar. The journey to the monument won't be easy; the planet is designed to be dangerous.

I thought this was a solid second episode. It served to further develop the characters of the new Doctor and her trio of new companions. The opening is of course rather far-fetched but nicely set up the episode. Once on the planet the South African desert landscape provides a suitably bleak location for the planet Desolation... one feels that if one got lost there one really wouldn't last long... and that is before we learn about the deadly microbes and sniper robots appear. Jodie Whittaker continues to impress as The Doctor; she has a great enthusiasm in the role. The rest of the cast were solid; this includes guest cast members Susan Lynch, Art Malik and Shaun Dooley as Angstrom, Ilin and Epzo respectively. Of course there were a few weaknesses; snipers-robots who can't shoot accurately and occasional moralising; personally I found this easy to forgive though. Overall I'd say this series in continuing well.
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7/10
Good silly action as Vin Diesel returns to the xXx franchise
15 October 2018
When Augustus Gibbons, the head of the xXx programme, is killed by a group that has stolen a device known as Pandora's Box, which enables them to de-orbit a satellite to his precise location, top former agent Xander Cage is brought back into action. He is given a team of soldiers for supports but demands that he be allowed to choose his own people. Leads take them to the Philippines where they first meet the man who stole the device and his people... it soon becomes apparent that not everything is as it seems.

It is hard to deny that this is very silly but if you are in the right mood it is also a lot of fun. There is plenty of action from start to finish. This is nicely varied with fights, shoot-outs, car chases, a bike chase (on water!) and explosions. For the most part this action is really exciting although at times it is too obvious that events are CGI 'enhanced'. It was good to have Vin Diesel back even though we were told in the previous film that he'd died... not really a problem as we didn't see him die. The rest of the cast are pretty solid; most notably Donnie Yen who provides the films best fight scenes. There are a good number of laughs to be had although many of these come from fairly cheesy moments. Overall I wouldn't say this is a must see but if you want decent brain-in-neutral action it is rather fun.
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8/10
Stop-go pirates from Aardman Animation
14 October 2018
Pirate Captain dreams of being named Pirate of the Year but he has little chance against the likes of Black Bellamy, Cutlass Liz and Peg-Leg Hastings. He boards numerous ships but none of them are carrying the gold he wants. Then he boards The Beagle and finds not gold but scientist Charles Darwin; Darwin realises that Pirate Captain's parrot is in fact a dodo and things its rediscovery could lead to him being named Scientist of the Year by the Royal Society. Thinking there will also be a financial prize Pirate Captain agrees to take Darwin to London despite knowing that Queen Victoria hates all pirates... so begins the pirates' greatest adventure yet.

As one might expect from an Aardman production the stop-go animation looks really good and there are plenty of laughs to be had. The story has a mix of humour that should appeal to both young and older viewers. The jokes come thick and fast so if one doesn't amuse you there is a good chance something else will have you laughing fairly soon. The plot is inventive and includes some good twists; just don't expect anything realistic; it is all delightfully silly. The voice cast, which includes plenty of familiar names; Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman and David Tennant playing main characters Pirate Captain, Number Two and Darwin. There are also well known people in fairly minor roles such as Selma Hayek and Brian Blessed. Overall I'd say this was fine animated fun that can be enjoyed by all ages.
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Goldstone (2016)
9/10
A gripping drama set deep in the Outback
14 October 2018
As this Australian film opens two cars drive through the outback; the policeman in one arrests the driver of the other, an indigenous Australian man, for drunk driving... it soon emerges that the latter man is Detective Jay Swan and he is in the town of Goldstone to look for a missing woman. Nobody admits that somebody could be missing there and the detective clearly isn't welcome... a new mining deal is on the cards to the area and nobody wants him rocking the boat. He continues his investigation though and is soon in real danger, unsure who he can trust.

This film, a follow-up to the film 'Mystery Road', which I've yet to see, is very atmospheric. Calling Goldstone a one horse town would overstate its size and the expanse of desert surrounding it makes it feel very remote... it is clear our protagonist can't call for rapid help if anything goes wrong. As Detective Swan's investigations proceed we gradually learn more about what is going on in Goldstone and the motives. It is soon apparent that certain characters aren't good but others are more ambiguous; most notable local policeman Josh Waters; at times it looks as if he could be one of the problems; at others he looks like a potential ally. Many issues feature; trafficked women, relations between white and indigenous Australians and the power of mining concerns whose security personnel clearly outgun the police. The cast does a fine job; Aaron Pedersen is great as Jay Swan and Alex Russell really impresses as the conflicted Josh Waters. Other notable performances come from Jacki Weaver as The Mayor and David Gulpilil as an elderly Indigenous man who talks to Jay about his past. As well as a good story we get fantastic atmosphere and some amazing shots of the characters in the vastness of the outback. Overall I'd definitely recommend this.
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Warehouse 13: 13.1 (2010)
Season 2, Episode 5
8/10
The warehouse computer upgrade doesn't go according to plan
13 October 2018
This episode sees Douglas Fargo of Global Dynamics visiting the warehouse to install a new computer system. When he tries to start the new system something goes wrong; it triggers an ancient security program created by former warehouse employee Hugo Miller. It includes an AI that appears to be based on Hugo's personality. Pete and Myka go to visit Hugo but his mind clearly isn't what it used to be. They attempt to bring him back to the warehouse but it appears the AI doesn't want that. If that weren't enough it has decided that Artie, Claudia and Douglas are potential threats to the warehouse.

This episode was rather fun; it opened well with Claudia and new boyfriend Todd kissing on a sofa before it becomes clear that she is more excited by the warehouse's computer upgrade than anything else. We then get to the story proper; this provides some nice little twists and plenty of exciting moments. The highlight of the episode was Rene Auberjonois's guest appearance as Hugo and the AI; he stole every scene he was in; especially as the older Hugo. When I watched the episode I was unaware that Douglas Fargo, played by Neil Grayston, was a character in 'Eureka' but that didn't present any problems... I do however image his appearance would be even more fun if you are a fan of that show. Overall another fun episode.
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Killing Eve (2018– )
9/10
A darkly hilarious thriller
13 October 2018
This series is primarily centred on two women; an assassin dubbed 'Villanelle' and MI-5 officer Eve Polastri; the woman hunting her. At first nobody has any time for Eve's theory that a string of apparently unrelated killings were carried out by one person; much less one woman. After insulting her boss she is fired but then approached by a senior officer to set up a small team to hunt for 'Villanelle'. It isn't long before 'Villanelle' learns Eve is hunting her and starts taunting her by using the name 'Eve Polastri' while on a job. Soon after that it becomes apparent that Villanelle is a danger to those close to Eve. Villanelle's employers are not pleased with her lack of subtlety but is there anything they can do about it.

If you like thrillers and pitch black comedy then I suspect you will love this series. There is plenty of great action and some fairly disturbing murders... it is also very funny at times. Many of these laughs come from Villanelle herself... a bit of a surprise given that the character is clearly a psychopath who definitely enjoys her job a little too much; Jodie Comer is brilliant in the role as she manages to make the character not just sympathetic (at times) but also likeable. Sandra Oh is equally impressive as Eve; a very different character. The supporting cast are solid too. The story has plenty of interesting twists and turns and some genuinely surprising moments. The ending left me keen to see Series Two... just a pity it won't be available till next year. Over all I'd definitely recommend this to fans of the thriller genre who also like a good laugh.
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Tatort: Frohe Ostern, Falke (2015)
Season 1, Episode 942
8/10
Inspector Falke - Happy Easter, Falke
12 October 2018
This episode sees Falke's partner, Katharina Lorenz, attending a charity event in Hamburg. It turns out the event has been targeted by a radical group known as the 'Bad Easter Bunnies'. Until now their protests have been relatively tame but their new leader wants them to step up and threaten people with real weapons. They quickly take control of the building but Katharina manages to contact Falke, just as a hostage is murdered. He then has to discover exactly where the event is taking place then the specialist unit can prepare to storm the building. Inside Katharina tries to befriend one of the hostage takers.

This gripping episode wasted little time introducing the criminals; just enough to make it clear that it is one of them that is urging the others to take more aggressive action. Their bunny costumes are nicely creepy; very similar to Frank in the film 'Donnie Darko'. Once they seize the building tensions quickly rise when one business man is killed. We then get the briefest of comedy moments before it is turned into tragedy. The tension stays high right to the end and is raised at times as we learn more about the group's leader's real motives. There are a few twists along the way, although they aren't too surprising... anybody who has seen 'Die Hard' will know the obvious motive for taking a building full of people won't be the real motive! The cast does a solid job; Petra Schmidt-Schaller has a notably larger role than usual as Katharina takes centre stage. Overall a good tense episode.

These comments are based on watching the episode in German with English subtitles.
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The Snowman (2017)
7/10
A decent, if somewhat messy, murder mystery
11 October 2018
This murder mystery starts well as we see a woman kill herself in front of her son after her abusive lover leaves. Years later the son is killing people, leaving a snowman outside their houses. After receiving a cryptic letter signed with a picture of a snowman Inspector Harry Hole is given the case with new partner Katrine Bratt. It is quickly apparent that the killer is taunting the police; they are called out to find a missing woman only to find she is alive and well; minutes after they depart the killer strikes and they are called back. Intertwined with Harry's investigation we see a second, suspended detective looking for a missing woman at the behest of her husband.

The first thing to say about this film is that it looks fantastic with its numerous sweeping shots of wintery Norwegian landscapes. We also get a really fine cast. Unfortunately the plot is a bit messy at times making things rather confusing. It is far from obvious that certain events we see took place years before the main events and certain plot strands don't really go anywhere... of course it could be argued that a real investigation would feature plenty of leads that lead nowhere and are then just dropped. The story provides many good tense moments, some of which don't lead to the outcome one might expect. As mentioned before the film has a fine cast; most notably Michael Fassbender and Rebecca Ferguson who play Harry and Katrine. There are also some fine actors who are really underused; it almost felt as though their characters were meant to be more important but was then reduced. Overall I'd say that this was a decent enough film but it felt as though it could be so much better; perhaps one to pick up in the bargain bucket or watch on TV.
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Zootopia (2016)
9/10
Zootropolis
10 October 2018
This Disney animation, retitled 'Zootropolis' in Europe, is set in a world without people; instead it appears that all other mammals have evolved to live like people... and not eat each other. Our protagonist is Judy Hopp, a rabbit who has always dreamt of becoming a police officer despite the fact that a rabbit has never been in the police. She exceeds expectations and becomes the first rabbit to serve in the Zootropolis Police Department. She is disappointed to be given traffic duties rather than 'proper' police-work but then an otter comes to the station saying her husband is missing. Her boss isn't interested but she insists on taking the case... he says she can do it but if she doesn't solve it in forty eight hours she will have to quit. With no access to police resources she has only one lead. This takes her to Nick Wilde; a fox who is quick to work a scam... after a little blackmail he ends up her unlikely partner and the two learn that there is a darker truth behind the disappearance; a truth that could end the peaceful coexistence of predator and prey species in Zootropolis.

This film was a lot of fun... far more so than I expected. It starts well with a play featuring a young Judy which explains how predators and prey used to interact in this world but now live in peace. We then see that not all live up to the ideal. After this prologue the story proper gets started; this nicely spoofs cop-shows before the mystery gets started. This proves to be a surprisingly good mystery which is likely to keep viewers, young and old alike, guessing. There are moments that could scare younger viewers but these rarely last too long and ultimately things are resolved in a way that shouldn't leave youngsters worried. Most of the funny moments are aimed at all ages but there are some references to things children probably won't have seen such as 'The Godfather' and Breaking Bad'. As one might expect from Disney the animation is of a very high standard and the voice cast does a really good job bringing their characters to life. Overall I'd say this was a really fun film that can be enjoyed by all ages with the possible exception of very young children... if the opening scene doesn't bother them they should be okay.
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Vanity Fair (2018)
9/10
A fun new adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray's novel
10 October 2018
'Vanity Fair' is the story of Becky Sharp; a young woman determined to rise to the top of London society. To this end she flirts with the rich and powerful and is quick to move on to the next potential suiter if she thinks he will further her ambitions. Of course things don't always go according to plan but Becky is one of nature's survivors and is soon on her way up again. Her life is juxtaposed with that of her friend Amelia 'Emmy' Sedley; the daughter of a wealthy businessman whose life seems to be going in the opposite direction.

This satire on the social mores of the time it was written still feels delightfully fresh. The modern music during the opening and closings, and the electric lights on the merry-go-round the characters ride on during the introduction remind us that the World will always have its Becky Sharps wanting to get to the top. Becky could easily be an unsympathetic character but a combination of fine writing and great acting from Olivia Cooke make it hard for the viewer not to root for her. The rest of the cast is top-notch too; even the more comic characters feel real. As one would expect from a period drama everything looks great. Overall I'd certainly recommend this; even to people who don't consider themselves fans of adaptations of literary classics.
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Doctor Who: The Woman Who Fell to Earth (2018)
Season 11, Episode 1
8/10
Introducing the new Doctor and her team
9 October 2018
In the opening scenes we see nineteen year old Ryan trying to learn how to ride a bike with his grandmother and step grandfather... it does not go well and he throws his bike over a cliff. He goes to retrieve it and sees a strange light, shortly afterwards a strange object appears. He calls the police and PC Yasmin Khan responds. Meanwhile his grandparents have caught the train and strange things start to happen; the lights go out an object, with what appears to be numerous tentacles appears. Then a woman crashes through the roof of the train... it is of course The Doctor. She tries to introduce herself but, as she hasn't fully regenerated, her memory still has many gaps; including her name. Not long afterwards Yasmin turns up with Ryan. Their problems are far from over; the object has planted 'DNA bombs' in each of them so they could be killed at any time. They will have to work with The Doctor to find just what is behind the recent events.

The introduction of a new Doctor and assistants is always a little divisive amongst fans and in this case that is likely to be more so than usual thanks to the much heralded introduction of the first ever female Doctor. Personally I thought the new Doctor very quickly established herself as 'The Doctor'. It of course helps that Jodie Whittaker does such a fine job in the role; she makes the character enthusiastic without being silly. It took a little longer to get used to the potential new companions; there were so many of them! One might expect there to be complaints of 'political correctness' given how diverse a group they are; while this does seem a little forced it is understandable that the BBC wants such a major show to appeal to as wide a viewership as possible.

As well as introducing new characters the episode also needs to provide a good story; here I think it excelled. The plot seems to be inspired by 'Predator' and provides a good number of scares and real tension. There is the implication of unpleasant death but nothing gruesome is shown. The special effects were impressive. There was a darker, more serious tone to the episode; it will be interesting to see if the series will continue in this vein or whether lighter episode will still feature... only time will tell. Overall I thought this was a good start to the latest era of 'Doctor Who'.
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Hanebado! (2018– )
7/10
Badminton: The Anime
7 October 2018
This anime series is set in the world of high school badminton. Ayano Hanesaki is the daughter of a champion player and played herself till an incident caused her stop playing and be abandoned by her mother. As the series starts she is asked to join her high school badminton team. Initially she isn't keen but soon agrees and gets back into the sport. It isn't long before she is one of the best players. A real rivalry develops between her and third year, team captain, Nagisa Aragaki.

This is a solid enough series. The matches are dynamic in a way that makes one think one is watching a real match where the result isn't pre-decided by writers. These scenes are very exciting, especially in the final, as players are treated as protagonists making it a guess who will win. Unfortunately when not playing there is a bit too much personal drama; everything is serious. Initially Ayano is a sympathetic protagonist but the more into badminton she becomes the less sympathetic she is... it may be believable that somebody wanting to get to the top of a sport would take it so seriously but it doesn't make them likeable. Overall I'd say this was a solid enough series but not really a must see unless you really like sports anime.

These comments are based on watching the series in Japanese with English subtitles.
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Tenebre (1982)
9/10
A gory murder mystery from horror maestro Dario Argento
7 October 2018
As American mystery writer, Peter Neal, flies from New York to Rome to promote 'Tenebrae', his latest book, a murder takes place in that city; it appears to be linked to his work as it mirrors a killing in the book and pages of it were stuffed in the victim's mouth. When Peter gets to Rome he finds that somebody has tampered with his luggage and the police are waiting to talk to him. It isn't long before the killer strikes again and soon the police suspect the killer will ultimately murder him. Using his knowledge of fictional murder Peter decides to test a theory but this only seems to increase the danger to himself and those close to him.

I must admit not being a connoisseur of the 'giallo' genre but if others are as good as this I can see myself watching more. The central mystery is intriguing and includes some solid twists. The murders are fairly shocking and some are quite gory... very gory in one case as a victim's arm is severed by an axe and blood sprays liberally. The cast are solid; particularly Anthony Franciosa who plays Peter Neal. The identity of the killer is far from obvious and the final reveal is likely to come as a surprise. If the film has a weakness it is that following the reveal things quickly get very melodramatic. Overall though I really enjoyed this as a murder mystery and would definitely recommend it for those not disturbed by gory moments.

These comments are based on watching the 'uncut' 101 minute Anchor Bay DVD.
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Mystery Road (2018– )
9/10
A gripping crime drama set in a remote Western Australian community
7 October 2018
This six part Australian drama is set in a remote corner of Western Australia. Two young men have gone missing from a cattle station, one an indigenous man who was expected to become a football star, the other a back-backer. There is some evidence that they were victims of a crime. Local police officer Emma James calls in Detective Jay Swan, himself a Native Australian to assist with the investigation. As the case progresses things are learnt about the missing boys as well as various local secrets coming to light. Swan's task isn't made any easier when his wayward daughter and his ex-wife turn up in town.

This was a really gripping series set in a part of the world I don't think I've seen used in such a series before. It may be set in the vastness of West Australia but the community still feels claustrophobic. The central mystery is intriguing and the characters are interesting. Aaron Pedersen is great in the lead role and Judy Davis is impressive as Officer James. The fate of the boys is revealed sooner than I expected but that didn't matter. We still need to discover who did what and why. There are numerous possible motives and the identity of the guilty is far from obvious. Overall I'd certainly this to fans of crime dramas who are looking for something a little different.
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7/10
Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs
6 October 2018
Protagonist Kogarashi Fuyuzora is able see ghosts and has had problems with the supernatural since he was young. Now he has learnt to fight back against unfriendly spirits. He is also rather poor. Looking for cheap accommodation he moves into a room at Yuragi Manor; a former hot spring resort. There is of course a reason the room is so cheap... it has a resident ghost. Yuuna is the ghost of a sixteen year old school girl; Kogarashi isn't about to hit a girl-ghost so he agrees to help her discover what is stopping her moving on. He soon discovers that the other female tenants have their supernatural secrets.

This series is a rather fun harem series with a supernatural twist. The story provides plenty of laughs from start to finish. There is a fair amount of nudity, although this was obscured in the broadcast version that I saw... that didn't bother me but I suspect the 'censor steam' will be gone on the DVD/Blu-ray release. As one might expect from such a series much of the humour comes from Kogarashi accidentally grabbing hold of Yuuna and finding himself in the presence of the other girls when they are undressed. The characters are likeable and it doesn't feel too sleazy... at least in the TV version. Overall I'd say that fans of harem shows are likely to enjoy this.

These comments are based on watching the film in Japanese with English subtitles.
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8/10
Who will survive a night at the 'world's most haunted house'?
6 October 2018
As this film opens Watson Pritchard tells the viewer that he owns the world's most haunted house; the site of seven gruesome murders, including his wife. Then millionaire Frederick Loren tells us that he has invited five people, including Prichard, to spend the night in the house; anybody who does so will get $10,000. As the guests arrive we are introduced to each of them. Almost as soon as they get there strange things happen; a heavy door swings shut and a chandelier falls from the roof. Once Loren has introduced himself the group take a tour of the house; Prichard points out some of the sites of unpleasant murders. Also present is Loren's wife, whose idea the party was. Things escalate with Nora Manning, a young typist, appearing to be particularly targeted. At midnight the doors are locked; nobody can leave till morning. The real scares are about to begin.

This is an enjoyably haunted house chiller. The opening sets the scene nicely so the viewer is ready to be scared when creepy things start to happen. The introduction to the various characters is equally effective, giving the viewer a chance to try to figure out who is likely to die first and who may survive. The scares are fairly mild by modern standards but still fun. There are plenty of possible explanations for the events; the house is really haunted, one or more of the group is behind them or there is somebody unidentified in the house. As soon as one theory seems most likely something happens suggesting something else. The actual reason isn't too obvious although one is at least likely to consider it as a possibility. The setting is suitably creepy and the cast is solid. Vincent Price stands out but there are also notable performances from Elisha Cook, as Prichard; Carol Ohmart as Annabelle Loren and Carolyn Craig as Nora Manning. The special effects obviously show their age a bit but are still quite fun. Overall I'd certainly recommend this fun little chiller even if it is unlikely to really scare anybody these days.
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Appleseed (2004)
8/10
Appleseed
5 October 2018
Set in the year 2131 AD after the world has emerged from a global war but not all fighting has stopped. Deunan Knute is still caught up in the fighting until she is plucked from the wasteland and taken to the city of Olympus. This is an apparent Utopia where humanity survives and lives alongside 'Bioroids', sterile clones who need to have their lives regularly extended; they are also far less emotional than humanity. In this city Deunan befriends Hitomi, a bioroid, and is reunited with her former lover, Briareos, who following serious injury is now a cyborg. Olympus isn't quite as peaceful as it appears; there are humans determined to exterminate the bioroids and certain individuals who believe humanity needs to make way for the new race. Deunan will have to choose sides and learn who she can trust if she is to preserve peace in Olympus.

When I picked up this film on DVD I was a little unsure of whether I'd enjoy it; I like traditional 2D anime but was unsure about 3D anime, especially as it is almost fourteen years old now... I needn't have worried about how the film looked; it looks fantastic and the action is very dynamic. The story might not be the most original but it was solid enough and there were some unexpected twists. The character designs are impressive; it is definitely 3D anime not a Japanese attempt to replicate the styles of western 3D animation. The backgrounds are impressive too; it feels like we are in a real city. If you like action packed sci-fi I'd definitely recommend this.

These comments are based on watching the film in Japanese with English subtitles.
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