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Code Unknown (2000)
7/10
Code Unknown
12 December 2019
This film, from director Michael Haneke, follows various characters involved in a relatively minor incident in Paris. Teenager Jean has left his home in rural France and headed to Paris to live with his older brother Georges. Georges is a war photographer and is out of the country but he meets Georges' actress girlfriend, Anne, and she buys him a pastry before heading to work. Shortly afterwards Jean, in frustration, throws his paper bag into the lap of a Romanian beggar woman. He is then confronted by Amadou, the son of Malian immigrants who wants him to apologise to the woman. Shortly afterwards the police turn up; Amadou is briefly arrested and the woman is deported.

We are then shown insights into the lives of these characters and the people close to them following this event. Few of these events seem to be linked with the event and many show trivial events like Anne doing the ironing and Jean's father ploughing a field. Others are more dramatic, such as when Anne is tormented by a youth while riding on the Paris Metro. There are also scenes from productions Anne in involved in... it isn't always immediately obvious that we are watching a film within a film.

This is a rather odd film as there is no plot to speak of; just a series of events. This may appeal to some people but is likely to put off just as many. To be honest I'm not sure where I stand; at times I was gripped with the lives of these people and at others I thought it was getting too pretentious as scenes where nothing really happened dragged on. Everything is film in a very natural way, there is no music unless that music is actually present for the characters as well as viewers. The natural feel is helped by an impressive cast that makes it easy to believe that we are watching real people. Overall I'd say this was ones for fans of 'art house' films; those demanding a plot and an obvious denouement may wish to avoid it.
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Shrooms (2007)
7/10
Decent enough Irish horror
11 December 2019
Five American students travel to Ireland where they meet up with friend Jake. They have one intention; to go into the woods, find liberty cap (aka magic) mushrooms and then get high. As they get to the site they encounter a pair of strange locals but don't pay them much attention. They split up and starting picking the mushrooms then Jake finds a similar looking but potentially deadly mushroom; he explains to the person he is with that if one survives they have almost magical properties... at least that is what myth suggests. Somewhat inevitably one of the group, Tara, picks and eats one of these mushrooms. She survives but soon starts having strange visions. These aren't helped by Jake telling a disturbing story about an abandoned young offenders institution in the area. That night Tara has a premonition about one of the boys being murdered; they search for him, consume mushrooms and soon things are getting bad for them... it looks like Tara's deadly premonitions are going to come true.

This isn't a great film but nor is it close to being terrible. The early scenes introduce the characters and explain why they are heading to a remote part of Ireland. Once there things proceed nicely with Tara eating the dangerous mushroom and Jake telling the story that puts everybody on edge. When things start getting nasty there are plenty of scares and it often isn't obvious whether we are watching real events or the effects of the mushrooms. The woodland setting is suitably atmospheric; one can easily imaging it would be easy to get lost there even under normal circumstances. As the group gets picked off there is a good mystery about who is really going it. When the truth is revealed it isn't too obvious but I suspect most viewers will have considered that possibility. The cast do a solid enough job making us believe in their characters... even though some of the characters a really just there for bad things to happen to them. Only Tara and Jake are particularly memorably. Overall not a must see but worth a watch if you enjoy the genre... of course my enjoyment may have been helped by the fact that I found the DVD in the '20p bin'!
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7/10
Effective low budget horror
9 December 2019
The town of Gatlin, in Nebraska, has been suffering from a drought when child-preacher Isaac arrives and tells the children of the town that to appease god they must make a blood sacrifice of all the adults. This order is carried out under the guidance of Malachai, his violent enforcer. Three years pass and a young couple, Burt and Vicky, are driving through Nebraska. Suddenly a child walks out of the corn in front of their car and they hit him; it is clear that he had had his throat cut. They drive on and find themselves in Gatlin; the town appears abandoned but they soon discover the frightening truth... any adult will be sacrificed.

This film, based on a Stephen King short story, is a solid low budget horror... at least up until the disappointing ending. It opens well with the murder of the town's adults, this is more creepy than gory. The main characters are then effectively introduced; Linda Hamilton and Peter Horton are good in the roles of Vicky and Burt; two ordinary people who are easy to sympathise with. Once they get near Gatlin the tension rises nicely and soon gets genuinely scary. The story does require some suspension of disbelief... we have to accept that the children could kill every adult in town and that nobody from outside would realise anything was wrong for three years. The idea of children as the source of danger might not be new but it is effective; John Franklin and Courtney Gains are suitably disturbing as Isaac and Malachai. Things work very well when it looks as if the threat is just children under the leadership of a young religious zealot which is why the supernatural finale, with its poor special effects, was so disappointing. Overall I'd still recommend this to fans of low budget horror.
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Footloose (1984)
8/10
A fun '80s classic
9 December 2019
This eighties classic is centred on Ren McCormick, a teenager from Chicago, who has moved to a small mid-west town with his mother after his parents divorced. He is shocked when he learns that the town council has banned dancing, largely at the behest of the town's minister. Many of the town's adults think dancing, along with popular music and certain books are a menace that lead youngsters to sin... it quickly becomes apparent that the teenagers, including Ariel, the minister's daughter can be fairly wild without dancing. Somewhat inevitably Ren and Ariel grow close, leading to bad feeling with the boy she was dating, and ultimately Ren leads a campaign to allow the kids to have an official school dance.

One might think of this as a music/dance film but it is so much more than that. Yes there is lots of enjoyable eighties music and some fun dance scenes but really it is about the characters. Some may be a little cliché, most notably local bad boy who we just know will ultimately be put in his place by our protagonist. Other characters are deeper than expected, the minister is shown to be a good man despite his draconian views on music; we are given a reason that makes it understandable why he would feel the way he does even if we disagree with him. The actors playing the youngsters may be rather old for the characters they play but they do a good job; most obviously Kevin Bacon and Lori Singer as Ren and Ariel, but also from Chris Penn as Ren's friend Willard. Of the 'adults' John Lithgow stands out for his performance as the conflicted minister. The story is fun; as well as providing reasons for the enjoyable dance scenes, the youngsters dance amazingly well considering it is meant to be banned. Surprisingly the most memorable scene doesn't involve dancing... it involves playing chicken in tractors! Overall it may be a little cheesy but it is definitely an '80s teen classic; a must see for fans of the genre.
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9/10
A taut Australian western
8 December 2019
Following the murder of a family in the Australian outback of the 1880s by the three Burns brothers and their gang two of the brothers are captured by local lawman, Captain Morris Stanley. These two are youngest brother Mikey and middle brother Charlie... however it is the oldest brother, Arthur, who Stanley really wants. To this end he sets out a proposition to Charlie; if he kills Arthur before Christmas day he will let him and Mikey goes free... if he fails Mikey will hang. Christmas is nine days away. While Charlie heads off into the outback to find his brother Stanley returns to town with Mikey; many of the locals are keen to see summary justice. Here we are also introduced to his wife Martha, whom he hopes to shelter from the less pleasant aspects of life in Australia.

This film may be set in the Australian outback but every detail makes it feel like a proper western. We have outlaws, a 'good' lawman and his wife, moral dilemmas and perhaps most importantly an inhospitable setting that creates a feeling that no help will be coming from elsewhere. The story is fairly simple, one might even say sparse, but it is all the more effective for that. It is quite brutal at times, occasionally shockingly so but it never feels as though the violence is gratuitous. While the story is primarily about the efforts to bring Burns and his gang to justice the film doesn't shy away from showing the mistreatment and unpleasant attitudes shown to the indigenous Australians. This is done without feeling preachy or the indigenous characters being architypes rather than varied characters. The cast impresses; Ray Winstone stands out as Stanley; Emily Watson impresses as Martha, the only female character of note; Guy Pearce is on great form as Charlie and Danny Huston is suitably menacing as Arthur. The film looks great with its slightly burnt out look helping the viewer almost feel the heat of the outback. Overall I'd say this won't be for everybody but if you enjoy westerns and are looking for a different setting it is definitely one to watch.
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Cold Pursuit (2019)
8/10
A solid revenge thriller with a just the right about of humour
8 December 2019
Set in the fictional Rocky Mountain resort of Kehoe, this film is centred on Nels Coxman; the town's snowplough driver whose life is changed when his son is found dead. He had suffered a heroin overdose but Nels was adamant that his son wasn't a junkie. When he learns that he was in fact murdered he sets about finding those responsible and taking his revenge. As he picks off junior drug dealers their boss, Trevor 'Viking' Calcote, assumes a rival drug dealer, White Bull, is moving against him so fights back against the wrong people, starting a turf war. The body count quickly mounts.

If you enjoy revenge thrillers with a touch of humour then this is well worth watching. The story may not provide too many surprises but that doesn't matter. The trail of revenge leaves many dead bodies but for the most part it isn't too gory and one never feels that our protagonist is in real danger, even if some of those close to him may be. The story moves at a decent pace with the deaths being balanced out by some funny moments; some chuckle inducing, others laugh out loud funny. Not surprisingly Liam Neeson impresses as Nils Coxman, it is a role similar to others he has produced; the quiet man who is dangerous when pushed too far. The supporting cast is solid; Tom Bateman may not be physically imposing but his performance as 'Viking' was fun... I loved his complete misunderstanding of the message in 'The Lord of the Flies'! The setting is great with the Canadian Rockies filling in for Colorado. Overall this may not be for everybody but if you enjoy the revenge genre I'd heartily recommend it.
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7/10
Solid if slow moving chiller
6 December 2019
During what should have been a routine shuttle mission something goes wrong and all contact is lost with astronauts Spencer Armacost and Alex Streck for two minutes. They are immediately returned to Earth. Shortly afterwards Streck dies, then his wife commits suicide. Spencer returns to his wife, Jillian, but soon she starts to think he is behaving out of character. He resigns from NASA and gets a job as an executive at an aircraft design company in New York. When she finds that she is pregnant with twins she starts having doubts about the babies and Spencer.

It must be stated that this film moves at a slow pace; if a viewer started watching knowing absolutely nothing about it they probably wouldn't be able to see that something was wrong with Spencer for some time. His behaviour doesn't seem that abnormal at first; the husband who is perhaps just a little too controlling. Johnny Depp gets top billing as Spencer but it is Charlize Theron who really carries the film. She plays Jillian and is rarely off screen. She manages to make it easy for the viewer to share Jillian's fears even while one might think they are just a product of her paranoia. Depp is solid as Spencer; subtly changing from loving husband to somebody more controlling in a believable way; this leads to some good menacing moments towards the end. The ultimate explanation as to what happened in those two minutes isn't that much of a surprise... largely because the blurb on the DVD box tells a bit too much! Comparisons to 'Rosemary's Baby' seem inevitable given how the story plays out; surely deliberate as Jillian's short blonde hair is clearly a nod to the earlier film... unfortunately this is less disturbing. Overall I'd say this is a decent film if you don't mind the slow pace.
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Left Behind (I) (2014)
4/10
A disaster movie with a biblical twist
5 December 2019
This disaster movie sees pilot Rayford Steele flying from New York to London on his birthday. He claims that he was called in at the last minute but it is soon clear that he wanted to be away from home. His marriage has been failing since his wife started to believe that every natural disaster was a sign that the end of the world was nigh. At the airport, before the flight, he meets his daughter. Here she also meets and befriends reporter Buck Williams who is on the London flight. As the plane loads we are introduced to various characters, mostly those in first class. As the plane flies over the Atlantic something strange happens... a number of passengers just vanish leaving a pile of clothes where there were seated. Nobody on board realises at the time but millions of people around the world have also vanished. As Rayford turns his plane around and starts to head back to New York he starts to wonder if perhaps his wife wasn't as mad as he thought.

When I picked up this film on DVD all I knew was that it starred Nicolas Cage; judging by the box art it featured a plane crashing onto a river (it doesn't); and most importantly it cost twenty five pence. Having watched it I'd say it was just about worth the 25p! The story is typical disaster movie in the way it opens; we are introduced to key characters and then something happens that puts them in danger. The way several people just disappear was intriguing although the ultimate explanation was heavily sign posted. The conclusion is quite exciting but also quite ridiculous. I don't mind stories inspired by biblical prophecy... after all 'The Omen' is great. This isn't though. The characters aren't that interesting; apart from Nicolas Cage's pilot and an angry dwarf I didn't find them interesting enough to care about... they were just a collection of clichés and stereotypes. The film also has a highly dubious religious message... if you believe you'll go to heaven even if you are intolerant of others but if you don't or are of the wrong faith you are doomed. The production values are pretty good at least. Overall I don't think this film is as bad as some of the reviews suggest but it is hardly a must see unless you are a Nicolas Cage fan and want to see all of his films or connoisseurs of laughable movies.
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9/10
The Name of the Rose
5 December 2019
This murder mystery is set in a monastery in the early fourteenth century. A monk has been found dead in mysterious circumstances... his body was found on rocks below a window which could not be opened. Some of those present suspect the work of the devil; William of Baskerville, a visiting Franciscan with investigative experience, suspects the answer is more earthly. With the help of Adso, his novice, he starts working to determine what happened. As further deaths occur he finds possible links to the monastery's secret library, and the presence of former members of heretical sect. Tensions rise when a leader of the Inquisition arrives with his own methods of discovering 'the truth'.

If you enjoy a good mystery and are looking for a different setting then this is definitely one to check out. The fourteenth century setting feels real; we see that the church has near absolute power; the poor scramble for scraps and there is a sense of supernatural-paranoia. The mystery itself, while set in the era, goes the way one would expect an investigation to go... clues are followed, suspects and motives are identified and ultimately the truth exposed. Sean Connery is on fine form as William of Baskerville and a young Christian Slater impresses as Adso. There are also notable performances from Ron Perlman, as a hunchbacked heretic; Michael Lonsdale, as the Abbot; Valentina Vargas, as a village girl who seduces Adso; and F. Murray Abraham as the leader of the Holy Inquisition. The setting is very impressive; I particularly liked the labyrinth within the library with its maze of rooms and stairs. There are some scenes that may disturb some viewers, put nothing too severe for most. Overall I'd certainly recommend this to mystery fans looking for something rather different.
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9/10
A charming Disney classic
4 December 2019
This Disney classic tells the story of Princess Aurora. When she was a baby the great and the good gathered to celebrate... the wicked fairy Maleficent definitely wasn't invited but she turned up anyway and cursed the baby. On the day of her sixteenth birthday she is doomed to prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die. A good fairy manages to modify the curse so she will only fall asleep till kissed by her true love. In an attempt to avoid the curse the king has every spinning wheel destroyed and Aurora is raised in secret by the three good fairies deep in the forest. As she grows up she has no idea of her true identity. Her sixteenth birthday approaches and Maleficent searches for her while preparations are made for her to return home to her royal family to marry a prince... something complicated by the fact that she has met a handsome stranger in the forest.

At sixty years of age this film has obviously dated in some departments; however it is still a delight and the animation is very impressive... especially when you consider the fact that it was all drawn by hand. The story is a lot of fun with elements of threat and romance. Maleficent is a great villainess, scary in a way that isn't too frightening for children. The excitement rises impressively towards the end as the hero rushes to save our heroine. The three good fairies, Flora, Fauna and Merryweather are a lot of fun. Aurora isn't the strongest of heroines but that doesn't matter too much as the story demands that she is a vulnerable characters. The songs do show their age but are solid enough. Overall a high quality offering from Disney which fans of the studio's works are sure to enjoy.
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Tarzan (1999)
9/10
Action, excitement and romance in Disney's version of Tarzan
4 December 2019
As this Disney classic opens a couple and their young baby are shipwrecked on the African coast. Nearby in the jungle a mother gorilla loses her baby to a leopard. Shortly afterwards she hears the human baby crying; when she gets to him it appears that his parents have been killed by the leopard. She decides to adopt him, and names him Tarzan. Against the will of Kerchak, the leader of the gorilla family, he is raised to adulthood. During this time he befriends young gorilla Terk and a baby elephant named Tantor. He grows up believing that he is a gorilla but one day gunfire is heard; he investigates and meets the first people he has seen since he was a baby; an explorer, his daughter Jane, and a hunter. After an incident with a troop of baboons he rescues Jane and is more than a little fascinated by her! Soon he will have to decide whether his future lies in the jungle with the gorillas or back with mankind. He will also have to confront the threat posed by greedy men who seek to profit by capturing his gorilla family.

This film is a lot of fun; if you want action, a sense of danger and a touch of romance then you should be most satisfied. The scenes where Tarzan and Jane are chased through the jungle are genuinely thrilling thanks to high quality, very kinetic animation that leaves the viewer feeling as though they are swinging through the jungle with our protagonists. Similarly there is a surprising level of threat for a UK-U rated film... there is a gripping opening scene where baby Tarzan is rescued from the leopard, the aforementioned baboon chase and a gripping finale. Given the rating it is all bloodless of course. The romance between Tarzan and Jane is tender and rather fun. The animation is of a high quality throughout with 2D characters fitting into a more 3D world. The voice cast which includes plenty of familiar names did a fine job bringing their characters to life. The songs, from Phil Collins are pretty good and fit in with the action rather than feeling like musical interludes between exciting scenes. Overall I'd certainly recommend this for fans of Disney or of animated family friendly action.
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3/10
A disappointing new version of HG Wells classic
3 December 2019
This three part series is set in Edwardian England when a strange object crashes to earth near Woking; among those who go to the site are unmarried couple George and Amy. The object turns out to be the first of many to hit the Earth; missiles from Mars that contain weapon systems which humanity has no defence against. After the initial attack the two are separated and struggle to survive and head towards a location they expect the other to go towards. The authorities struggle to come to terms with the fact that the best equipment the army has barely scratches the invaders. We also get flash-forwards to a time after the invasion when it appears that the Martians have been thwarted but the country is a wasteland.

When I saw this advertised I was very pleased as it is set at the time and in the same place as the book... when I started watching the disappointment soon started. It soon became clear that the makers were determined to try to make statements about various things rather than just getting on with telling an exciting story. We have the disapproval of George and Amy's relationship and heavy handed comments about imperialism which detract from the invasion. The effects aren't too bad but nor are they up to the level one would expect in 2019. I watched all three episodes hoping it would lead to a good ending but as the final credits rolled I was left thinking 'so that was it??'. Overall quite a disappointment... those waiting for a definitive dramatization of the book are still waiting.
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Be Cool (2005)
6/10
Chili Palmer is back; this time trying to get into the music business
2 December 2019
'Get Shorty' saw loan shark Chili Palmer getting out of that illegal business and getting into the film business. Now he has had enough of that. When a friend who runs a music studio is murdered Chili decides to get into that business. This means working with Edie Athens, his friend's widow. He has already found a young woman he thinks they should promote but unfortunately she is under contract to somebody else. That isn't the only problem; the business is broke and owes money to some Russian gangsters and a hip-hop producer and his group of gangsta-rappers. If he doesn't find a way to raise the money he and Edie will be in real trouble.

This is one of those films that has plenty of funny moments but is ultimately a bit disappointing. The story is a bit convoluted and is often far to knowing; Chili states that you can only use the 'F-word' once if you want to avoid an R rating... then he uses it for the only time in the film; later Steve Tyler, of Aerosmith talks about having film offers but never accepting any. The rating is also part of the problem; toning things down to get the PG-13 rating makes the film feel tame with scenes that should have a sense of danger being played for laughs. The cast contains many well-known actors; perhaps a little surprisingly the most entertaining performance comes from Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson in a fairly early role as a gay Samoan bodyguard. Overall I'd say this wasn't a bad film; it just falls short of what it should have been.
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Killer Elite (2011)
7/10
Almost certainly not as true as it claims but solid enough action
1 December 2019
Danny Bryce is a retired mercenary but he is forced to return to work when his mentor, Hunter, is taken captive by an employer after failing to complete a mission. Bryce is told he must finish the job if Hunter is to live. The employer is an Omani Sheikh whose three eldest sons were killed during a war; he wants the Danny to kill the three men responsible... it won't be easy though; they were all members of the Special Air Service. Each man must confess then the death must look like an accident. He, and a small team of associates go after the targets but it quickly becomes apparent that somebody, former SAS officer Spike Logan, knows what they are up to.

This is a decent enough story but it would have been better if it didn't claim to be true. It starts well with a prologue that serves to introduce Danny and Hunter and explain why Danny has retired. The way that he is pulled back into that world is effective enough. Once the action starts it is solid and nicely captures the feel of the early eighties. Jason Statham is solid as Bryce and Clive Owen is equally solid as Logan; although both have been better elsewhere. Robert De Niro is decent enough as Hunter although he is rather old to be playing a mercenary. The story provides plenty of twists and turns, some rather far-fetched. Overall I thought it passed the time nicely; not a must see but still entertaining.
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9/10
A former preacher's life unravels south of the border
1 December 2019
Reverend Dr T. Lawrence Shannon is an Episcopal priest who following a scandal, which led to an emotional breakdown, has found work as a tour guide in Mexico. The latest group he is showing around are a group of Baptist women school teachers. As well as the women there is sixteen year old Charlotte, who is in the care of one of the ladies. Charlotte soon starts flirting with Shannon, causing her chaperone much distress. One night she slips into his room and when the other women find out Shannon is accused of seducing her and his career is threatened. The next day he drives them to a remote hotel owned by Maxine, the widow of an old friend. Soon after this group arrives another couple turn up; Hannah Jelkes, an artist, and her elderly grandfather. These women; Maxine, Hannah and Charlotte, will affect Shannon's life, for good or ill, as he is forced to confront his life's problems.

I really enjoyed this film. It starts well with Shannon's very public breakdown in the pulpit before the action moves to Mexico. Here things continue well with tensions rising as Shannon is accused of inappropriate behaviour. Once at the hotel things get more interesting as Shannon interacts with the women and confronts his demons. The cast is great, most obviously Richard Burton who brings a real intensity to the role of Shannon. There is impressive support from Ava Gardner, as Maxine; Deborah Kerr, as Hannah; Sue Lyon, as Charlotte and Grayson Hall, as Charlotte's chaperone Judith Fellowes. As well as delivering a good drama there are also a good number of amusing moments. Given the age of the film it is surprisingly sultry at times and the conversation frequently moves to sexual matters... although not in too much detail. The setting adds to the atmosphere with its isolation and beauty. Overall I'd definitely recommend this to fans of older, character led films.
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Toradora! (2008–2011)
10/10
A delightful anime
30 November 2019
This series is centred on Ryuji Takasu, a high school student whose looks make people think he is a thug, and his classmate Taiga Aisaka, a diminutive girl with an aggressive temperament... known as 'Palmtop Tiger' to her classmates. The two are also next door neighbours and inevitably they gradually become friends. Soon after becoming friends they discover that each of them secretly fancies the other's best friend.

This series is a real delight. It has elements of comedy and drama but ultimately it is all about the characters. The two leads are fun to watch and so are the secondary characters; particularly their aforementioned best friends; a young model who joins their class and Ryuji's mother. The humour never feels overly forced and the characters are believable. Over the course of the series we see various highs and lows for the characters as they interact and do the sort of things high schoolers do in anime. The animation is decent and the character designs are good. Overall I'd recommend this to all anime fans looking for an enjoyable little story, great characters you care about and emotional moments.

These comments are based on watching the series in Japanese with English subtitles.
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Rocky (1976)
9/10
A classic underdog story
29 November 2019
Rocky Balboa is a Philadelphia boxer whose career in the ring appears to be going nowhere. Apollo Creed is the heavyweight champion of world who is due to face his next challenger in a fight in Philadelphia but with a matter of weeks to go the challenger is forced to pull out. Not wanting to abandon the bout Creed decides to give a local boy a shot at the title... that local boy is Rocky. At this point Rocky is working as muscle for a local loan shark and trying to get his friend Paulie's sister, Adrian, to go out with him. He doesn't think he has any real chance in the fight but trains hard in the hope that when the day of the fight comes he can at least last the fifteen rounds.

'Rocky' is always going to be considered one of the great boxing movies but it is so much more than that. It is a character study of a man whose life was never going to go anywhere till he gets that once in a lifetime chance. He grabs that chance and despite his doubts he sees it through to the end. Just as important as his boxing is the way his relationship with Adrian develops; it feels natural and avoids many of the expected clichés. His other relationships are also believable as the characters feel real rather than the usual Hollywood types. Sylvester Stallone does an impressive job in the title role but impresses even more for writing the story and getting the film we see made. The rest of the cast is solid; most notably Talia Shire, who is a delight as Adrian; Carl Weathers, who plays Apollo; Burt Young, as Paulie; and Burgess Meredith as trainer/manager Mickey. While the fight scenes are only a small part of the film they are pretty well choreographed even if it is occasionally obvious that punches aren't really connecting... they are close enough. Overall I'd recommend this to all film fans even if you don't like boxing; it is about characters not the sport.
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7/10
Snake Plissken is back in a cheesy sequel
28 November 2019
Following a cataclysmic earthquake the city of Los Angeles has become an island. The new president has decided that this was divine judgement against the sinfulness of its citizens. The new island city is declared to be no longer part of the US. Strick laws are enforced on the mainland and undesirables are stripped of their citizenship and deported to LA. When the president's daughter Utopia, who opposes his draconian actions, steals the control system for a doomsday weapon that will destroy technology in the target area and takes to LA where she gives it to a terrorist. There is only one man to get it back... Snake Plissken. He isn't keen but since the authorities have poisoned him with a targeted virus that will kill him in ten hours and he will only get the cure when he returns with the device. Once in LA he crosses paths with various characters, some of them dangerous, before facing the person who has the weapon.

It must be said that this is nowhere near as good as 'Escape from New York'; it is however rather fun. The story is basically the same but that doesn't matter as it provides action and laughs in equal measure. The epilogue tells how LA became an island and tells of how the religiously extreme president has become 'president for life' without wasting time trying to explain how all the checks and balances in the US system didn't prevent it... and rightly so; why waste time when most viewers just want things set up quickly so Snake can do his stuff! Once in LA Snake meets a variety of quirky characters; most notably a tour guide, played by Steve Buscemi, and a surfer determined to ride a tsunami, played by Peter Fonda! We get treated to two bad guys; the US president and Cuervo Jones, the Shining Path revolutionary who now has the controls to the doomsday weapon; each is entertainingly over the top in their own way. There is plenty of action although it must be admitted that some the special effects haven't aged too well... and probably weren't great at the time. The cast is solid; they never take things too seriously hamming things up delightfully. Overall this may not be a great film but it is rather fun so I'd recommend checking it out.
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7/10
A horror prequel that works as a standalone film
27 November 2019
Teenager Quinn Brenner has tried to contact her late mother on her own and then she goes to see medium Elise Rainier. Elise tells her she is retired but is persuaded to help; instead of contacting Quinn's mother she senses a malevolent presence. She advises Quinn to not attempt to contact her mother again. Shortly afterwards Quinn is involved in a serious accident which requires her to have both legs set in plaster while she recovers. When she return homes see starts seeing a shadowy man wearing an oxygen mask. After a number of increasingly frightening events her father goes to Elise to get help. Things don't go too well so Quinn's brother suggests contacting Specs and Tucker, a pair of internet ghostbusters.

This film is set some time before the events of the previous films and doesn't really require any knowledge of those films. That said there are a few elements that are more fun if you have some knowledge of the characters. It adds good backstory and shows how Elise came to work with unlikely associates Specs and Tucker. The story provides plenty of scares; some are just the usual jump scares but there is also an impressively pervasive creepiness much of the time. As with the previous films it manages to eschew gore and any real nastiness. The cast is solid enough; most notably Lin Shaye who makes a welcome return as Elise. Overall I wouldn't say this was a must see but if you are a fan of the genre it is more than good enough.
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Good Omens (2019)
9/10
The end of the world is nigh... that should provide a few laughs!
24 November 2019
Crowley, a demon, and Aziraphale, an angel, have been on Earth since the time of the Garden of Eden. Each has their role to play, collecting souls for their side and generally guiding humanity. Somewhat surprisingly, and without the knowledge of their superiors, they have grown to consider each other friends. Things have continued well for them until Crowley is instructed to deliver the baby antichrist to a hospital where it is to be switched with that of the US Ambassador... unfortunately a mix up leads to it being given to a couple living in a quiet Oxfordshire village. Crowley and Aziraphale watch over the wrong baby for eleven years, then, days before Armageddon is due, realise their mistake. Now they must find the child and save the world... something neither those in Heaven nor in Hell want.

I really enjoyed this series; it delightfully spoofs films like 'The Omen' without feeling like you need to have seen that to enjoy this. The concept works really well and the lead characters are a lot of fun; David Tennent and Michael Sheen are great as Crowley and Aziraphale respectively. The rest of the cast are impressive too. The production values are high; Amazon clearly didn't scrimp when making this. There are laughs to be had in every episode; often from things one wouldn't expect to be that funny. While I haven't read the book upon which this is based I have read many of Terry Pratchett's other works and thought this captured the way he combines wit with proper stories; things are funny because they are inherently funny not because it is time for a forced gag. While special effects aren't over used those that do appear are most impressive. Overall I'd definitely recommend this to anybody looking for something different.
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5/10
A 'comic' retelling of a classic story
24 November 2019
This story sees Holmes being approached by Dr Mortimer to investigate the death of the owner of Baskerville Hall. While the death is officially natural causes it is suspected that the real cause may be a beast known as the Hound of the Baskervilles. Holmes declines the case but passes it on to Dr Watson; it is to be his first solo case. Watson, Mortimer and Sir Henry Baskerville, the dead man's heir, head to the hall on a bleak moor. Once there Watson and Sir Henry meet the locals, all of whom are more than a little strange and rather suspicious. Inevitably Watson eventually has to call Holmes for help.

Given the array of comic talent on display one might expect this to be a comedy classic... unfortunately it isn't. There are a few funny moments but elsewhere gags aren't particularly funny or go on far too long. The script feels like something rejected by the Carry On team, even they never sank to having gags about urinating Chihuahuas. The cast was solid enough given the material, although I'm not sure why Dudley Moore played Watson with a Welsh accent. All of them have been in better films. Overall I wouldn't recommend going out of your way to see this; it is just about worth watching on TV if there is nothing else of interest on or if the DVD is in the bargain bin at a charity shop.
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6/10
Entertaining if flawed
24 November 2019
As this film opens the Three Musketeers, Athos, Porthos and Aramis, along with Milady de Winter stealing plans for an airship from the vaults of Leonardo de Vinci in Venice. Milady then betrays them and sells the plans to the Duke of Buckingham. This failure leads the dastardly Cardinal Richelieu to have the musketeers disbanded. A year later d'Artagnan, a young man, heads to Paris determined to become a musketeer. Here he separately manages to encounter, and offend, each of the three musketeers and ends up challenging each of them to a duel! As they prepare to fight they are confronted by the cardinal's forces. After a fight they are arrested and taken before the king. Following words from the queen he spares them. Soon after Richelieu plots with Milady to frame the queen by making it look as if she has betrayed the king by getting involved with Buckingham. This involves forging certain papers and planting jewels in the Tower of London. When the musketeers learn of the plot they move to thwart it.

There have been many versions of 'The Three Musketeers' over the years and I'm sure this won't be the last. As one would hope it provides plenty of action; this is well handled in an almost bloodless way. There are sword fights, including one on the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral, and battles between airships. There is a good degree of humour including some fun references to other films that still work if you don't get the reference. Unfortunately the plot isn't that great and neither is the acting... even those who do fairly well have been better elsewhere; of course this may be down to the material they are working with... James Cordon's 'yahooing' any time his annoying comedy character was involved in any action was particularly grating. The airships are a bit sci-fi, wind-punk?, but I rather enjoyed them. Overall I'd not call this a must see but it has enough fun elements to make it worth watching if it is on TV or if the DVD is in the bargain bin.
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The Fog (1980)
8/10
An atmospheric horror
22 November 2019
As this John Carpenter horror movie opens a group of children are seated around a campfire on a beach near the Californian town of Antonio Bay as an elderly man tells them a ghost story. It tells of how, one hundred years ago, a ship travelling up the coast ran into a dense fog back then mistook a campfire for a beacon and crashed onto the rocks... legend has it when the fog returns the dead sailors will have their revenge.

That night strange things start to happen; a mysterious glowing fog envelops a trawler and ghostly figures kill is crew and in town glass breaks and a stone comes loose in the church revealing a hidden journal... this reveals the dark truth about what happened to the ship and how it is connected to the town's foundation. The next night the fog will return!

If you want lots of gore and a high body count this might not be the film for you; however if you like your horror atmospheric with more scares than deaths then this is one to watch. The story is set up well with the old man, played by John Houseman, telling his story. It then shows us the ghostly sailors attacking the trawler men. The key characters are all nicely introduced; a woman who lives at the light house and operates the local radio station; a young woman hitch-hiking up the coast; the man who picks her up and the priest with a fondness for drink. The cast does a solid job; most notably Jamie Lee Curtis, as the hitcher; Adrienne Barbeau as the radio woman; Tom Atkins as the man who pick up the hitcher and Janet Leigh as the lady overseeing the town's centenary celebrations. The film has a fine atmosphere with the spooky night time fog contrasting nicely with the bright sunshine and pleasant scenery we see in the day time scenes. The ghosts are well realised; for the most part they are hidden in the fog or we only see an arm; less detail lets the viewer's imagination fill in the gaps. Overall I'd say this is one of John Carpenter's better films; definitely one for fans of his films or of the horror genre in general.
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Vanity Fair (1998)
9/10
The rise and fall of Becky Sharp
22 November 2019
This BBC adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray's novel of the same name tells the story of Becky Sharp. She is a young woman in the early nineteenth century who is determined to leave her humble origins behind and take her place in high society. Naturally there are those who don't like her 'getting above her station' but others are drawn to her as she is beautiful, intelligent and knows how to flatter those who may help her advancement. The story takes place over several years and sees Becky and her friend Amelia Sedley marrying army officers, each having a son before their lives go in different directions but ultimately reconnect.

I must admit that I haven't read the original book so can't say how faithful an adaption this is. I can however say I really enjoyed this. Usually in costume dramas we have a likeable protagonist but Becky Sharp is not a particularly nice person; everybody she encounters is used or dropped depending on whether she thinks they will help her advancement... yet it is not hard to see why so many men seem to fall in love with her. Natasha Little does a really fine job in the role. The rest of the cast are impressive too; most notably Frances Grey, who is a delight as Amelia; Philip Glenister, as the shy but dependable William Dobbin; Nathaniel Parker, as Rawdon Crawley; Tom Ward as George Osborne and Jeremy Swift as Amelia's brother Jos. As one would expect from a BBC costume drama everything looks great. Overall I'd certainly recommend this to anybody looking for a great character led costume drama which provides wit and drama.
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Croupier (1998)
9/10
Impressive British neo-noir
21 November 2019
Jack Manfred is an aspiring writer who can't think what to write about. His father, a gambler, tells him he has managed to get him an interview at a London casino. He takes the job and it is immediately clear that he is familiar with the way casinos work. The casino discourages friendships between staff, bans relationships and has a rule about not interacting with customers outside work. These are rules that are inevitably broken without initially effecting his work. Then one day a female client he has befriended asks him to do something to help facilitate a robbery at the casino. All the while Jack is providing a third-person narration that could come from a book inspired by his experience in the casino.

I found this film surprisingly gripping despite the fact that for the most part we are just seeing Jack going about his life and working at the casino. This was largely down to Clive Owen's commanding performance as Jack; he makes the character utterly believable. Rather than feeling cliché his narration provides a vital insight into what he is thinking and explain certain details of a croupier's job that might not be obvious to non-gamblers. The rest of the cast impress too, even the very minor characters who populate the casino add to the realistic feel. There is a small amount of violence and action but this is short and fairly matter of fact. There is a bit of a twist at the end that some viewers might find a little irritating but I enjoyed it. Overall I'd certainly recommend this to somebody looking for something rather different.
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