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The Fog (1980)
An atmospheric horror
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.
Vanity Fair (1998)
The rise and fall of Becky Sharp
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.
Impressive British neo-noir
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.
Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)
Decent enough supernatural sequel
This review assumes people have already seen the original film; if you haven't seen it yet I'd definitely recommend watching it before watching this or it won't make much sense.
This film follows on shortly after the events of the first film. Josh and Renai Lambert have moved into Josh's mother's home, along with their children, and the police suspect Josh may be involved in the killing of psychic Elise Rainier. They had hoped that the strange events would have stopped but it soon becomes clear that whatever was haunting them has followed the family. Renai contacts Elise's associates, Tucker and Specs, and they start to investigate with the help of Carl, an old colleague of Elise. This leads to a series of creepy locations and the eventual identification of the being haunting the Lambert family.
Horror is a fairly personal genre; a film that will terrify one person may leave another wondering what all the fuss was about. I didn't find it all that scary but it did have its moments. It is refreshing to have modern horror that isn't particularly gory, has no particularly offensive language and no gratuitous sex/nudity... instead it achieves its goals through decent jump scares and a nice creepy atmosphere. The soundtrack impressively adds to this atmosphere. I didn't find it as good as the first film but found it enjoyable enough. The story has some interesting ideas and others that seemed to be inspired by better films... most obviously 'Psycho'. The cast does a solid enough job with the material. Overall a decent enough film if you enjoyed the first.
Ichi the Killer: The Anime
This anime acts as a prequel to Takashi Miike's infamous live action film. It shows how bullied school boy Hajime Shiroishi comes to discover his violent side; something that will lead to brutal murder and him being institutionalised. When he is released he has no memories of what he has done, and has the mind of a six year old, but others plan to find a way of using his violence for their own needs and making him 'Killer Number One'.
If you haven't watched the original film, or read the manga, this anime is unlikely to appeal too much; however if you liked the film this is well worth watching. Be warned though it is disturbing at times. The animated violence might not be as extreme as the live action film but it is made more disturbing by the fact that it is made very clear that Hajime is aroused by extreme violence. There is also violent sex in a couple of scenes. The story is interesting enough but at forty six minutes in length it feels a bit rushed; apart from Hajime the characters aren't particularly well developed. The animation might not be of the highest quality but that roughness seems to suit the material. Overall I'd only recommend this to Ichi fans.
These comments are based on watching the animation in Japanese with English subtitles.
The End of the F***ing World (2017)
A gripping black comedy drama
This series is centred on seventeen year olds James and Alyssa. James is convinced he is a psychopath and plans to kill somebody; when the rebellious Alyssa suggests they run away together it looks as if he has a victim. They set off and things don't go well. After one particular incident they find themselves wanted by the police and head to Alyssa's estranged father on the Isle of Sheppey. Here things come to a dramatic conclusion as series one comes to an end. The second series takes place two years later and introduces new character Bonnie who is just as troubled... I won't say more as that would require spoiling details of series one.
I really enjoyed this series although it certainly won't be for everybody. The comedy is pitch black and at times violent. Also the protagonists aren't particularly likeable, at least initially; the more we get to know them the more sympathetic they become. The cast does a fine job; Jessica Barden is great as Alyssa and Alex Lawther is on similar form as James; they make it fun to watch two very unlikely protagonists... I was surprised to learn that both are several years older than their characters as they come across as real, if disturbed, teens rather than the typical TV/movie-teens. The rest of the cast impress too. The locations match the feel of the show; the openness of the Isle of Sheppey feels suitably bleak and contrasts nicely with the claustrophobic atmosphere created by season two's woodland settings. There are a few flaws, mostly very minor... such as how they seem to drive for hours in a similar landscape or, in series two, are warned to be careful following a murder an hour up the road; England isn't so large that an hour's drive away is considered nearby! The end of series two could prove a natural end, but the same could have been said of the first series... this leaves me both hoping for more and satisfied if there isn't. Overall I'd certainly recommend this to anybody looking for something different who isn't easily offended.
A sympathetic portrayal of a serial killer
This film, based on real events, tells the story of Aileen Wuornos; a prostitute in Daytona Beach, Florida who went on to become America's first female serial killer. She is down to her last five dollars and contemplating suicide when she decides she might as well spend it on cheap beer in a local bar. Here she is approached by Selby Wall, a naïve young lesbian; the two get drinking and form an unlikely friendship. Unable to get regular work and needing money she returns to prostitution; a client attacks her and would probably have killed her if she didn't have a gun... instead he ended up dead. She takes his car and his money and hits the road with Selby. It isn't long before she kills again.
Usually serial killers are rightfully portrayed as monsters, if based on real people, or somewhat charismatic if fictional; the portrayal of Aileen avoids both stereotypes. We see that her life is pretty terrible and her first victim is shown as fairly clear self-defence. As she progresses she behaves in a way that is clearly not justified but by then that degree of sympathy has already been evoked. The violence is shown in a fairly matter of fact way and in no way glamorised or made exciting. The relationship between Aileen and Selby feels real as does the way Selby naively accepts Aileen's version of how she got her money and 'borrowed' cars. Interestingly the story is centred on Aileen and Selby; we never learn about the police investigation apart from what our protagonists see on the news. Charlize Theron is on brilliant form as Aileen, it is little wonder she picked up an Oscar for her performance. Cristina Ricci also impresses as Selby making it easy to believe in her characters naivety. Writer/director Patty Jenkins did a fine job creating a feeling of desperation without making the film too depressing to enjoy. Overall I'd say that this film is definitely worth watching.
Sky High (2003)
Serial killer action with a supernatural twist
Detective Kohei Kanzaki is investigating a series of murders; in each case the victim is a young woman and her heart has been removed. The next victim is his fiancée Mina, killed moments before their wedding. He determines that he will find and then kill the person responsible. Meanwhile Mina finds herself at the 'Gate of Retribution' in the afterlife. She is told that because of how she died she has three choices... ascend to paradise before being reincarnated; return to earth as a ghost or torment and kill the person responsible, at the cost of going to hell afterwards. She has twelve days to decide during which her ghost can return to Earth. While her husband uses more conventional methods to identify the killer she quickly learns the identity and motive of the killer but has no obvious way of telling anybody living. Ultimately both Kohei and Mina will have to face her killer to prevent his supernatural plans coming into effect.
From the artwork and description on the DVD cover I expected lots of blood-splattered action but it isn't that sort of film at all. In fact its genre is rather hard to define. There are action elements, including some fine, highly choreographed sword fights; there are also elements of the police procedural as Kohei investigates the killings. There is also the supernatural element; this is well set up with an interesting mythology concerning the choices offered to the dead and the Gate Keeper. We also get a surprising degree of emotional content; not just that involving Mina and Kohei; the killer also has an understandable motivate for his unjustifiable acts. The cast does a solid job and director Ryuhei Kitamura gives the film a fine look. Overall I'd recommend this even though it wasn't quite the film I was expecting.
These comments are based on watching the film in Japanese with English subtitles.
A solid high school sci-fi
Liz Parker is an ordinary high school girl living in Roswell, New Mexico. Her life is changed when one day a customer at the restaurant where she works fires a gun and she is hit by the stray bullet. It should have killed her but classmate Max Evans comes over to her, places his hand over the wound and miraculously heals her. It turns out that Max, his sister Isabel and their friend Michael Guerin are aliens! They look human and have managed to keep their true identity secret all their lives, even from their adoptive parents. Soon after Liz learns the truth her friend Maria finds out to, later a small number of other humans learn the truth. They determine to help their alien friends keep their secret. This won't be easy as Max's actions haven't gone unnoticed. Things get more complicated when they learn ow they came to be on Earth and that there are other aliens who would like to kill them. If that weren't enough Max and Liz and Michael and Maria develop relationships.
This series was a lot of fun; it is just a pity it was cancelled after three seasons... put at least we still have those and it was given a decent ending. It nicely combines science fiction with high school romance thanks to solid story lines and good characters. The sci-fi elements are obviously important but it is the way the characters interact and develop which makes it so gripping. The cast may be a little old for the characters they play but it is rare that actors playing high school children are the right age. They do at least do an impressive job making us believe in their characters and the situation. Jason Behr, Katherine Heigl and Brendon Fehr starring as aliens Max, Isabel and Michael and Sheri Appleby and Majandra Delfino as Liz and Maria. Overall I'd certainly recommend this series to fans of the genre.
Ying hung boon sik (1986)
A Better Tomorrow
This Hong Kong crime drama is centred of friends Sung Tse-Ho and his friend Mark Lee; they work for a triad group which produces fake US dollars. When Ho's younger brother, who is unaware of his criminal connections, joins the police their father urges Ho to end his life of crime. He decides that his next job will be his last... of course it goes wrong and he ends up spending the next three years in a Taiwanese jail. Gang members try to kidnap Ho's father, to prevent him from talking, but things go wrong and he his killed. Soon afterwards Mark is seriously injured in a shootout which leaves him reduced to cleaning the boss's car. When Ho returns life is very different; Kit wants nothing to do with him and the new leader of the gang, Shing, is determined that Ho doesn't leave and starts to put pressure on him. He will have to choose between returning to that life or fighting against it.
If you like Hong Kong action this film is a must see; it provides plenty of entertaining action as well as some comic moments and characters one cares about. The story moves at a good pace, early scenes introduce us to the main characters and their lives. We then see things going wrong for Ho and Mark before moving forward three years and showing how their lives have changed. There is a distinct tonal shift at this point; early on there were some fun slapstick moments but afterwards things are more melancholic. The action is quite violent with plenty of blood... made more obvious by characters' white clothes. The cast is solid; Chow Yun Fat is, as usual, the epitome of cool as Mark; Ti Lung impresses as Ho and Leslie Cheung was good as Kit. There are also notable performances from Waise Lee as Shing and Emily Chu as Kit's girlfriend Jackie. John Woo's direction is great; he may not have the sort of Hollywood budget of his later films but manages to keep things taut. Overall a fine film that fans of the genre really have to see; without this many well-known films would have been very different or not existed at all as it was so original for its time.
These comments are based on watching the film in Cantonese with English subtitles.
Boca do Lixo (2010)
A decent 'real crime' story from Brazil
This film tells the story of the rise and fall of Hiroito de Morales Joanides as, during the late fifties and early sixties, he gets involved in Sao Paulo's criminal underworld. His activities are centred on the once notorious Boca do Lixo area where he is involved in prostitution and drugs. He is quick to shoot those who cross him. Inevitably it is only a matter of time before the police, a rival criminal or his growing drug habit end his reign as the 'King of Boca'.
It is rare that I feel a film needs to be longer but in this case I think it could have done with more time. The story is interesting but often feels rushed; we move from one key incident to the next without learning enough about the general background... of course it is possible that many of things I would like to have been told would be known by the average Brazilian viewer who is presumably the main target audience. The film has a good look, the tint gives it a feel of the era and the cast does a fine job making it easy to believe in the characters; most notable of these is Daniel de Oliveira as Hiroito. As I had no idea how the story concluded the tension rose nicely towards the end. Overall I'd say this was a decent film that fans of the genre looking for a different setting might want to check out.
Enjoyable, bit not particularly scary werewolf drama
These comments are based on watching the Unrated US DVD of the film.
Early on in this film twenty four year old Ellie Myers is driving home along Mulholland Drive with her sixteen year old brother Jimmy. They hit an animal before striking an oncoming car. This car plunges of the road and they try to rescue the driver, but she is suddenly attacked and killed by a large creature that leaves Ellie and Jimmy with apparently minor scratches. Soon they start noticing changes; Ellie is attracted to the smell of blood and Jimmy is no longer as timid as he once was... it isn't long before he realises they have been cursed to become werewolves. If they are to free themselves from the curse they will have to find and kill the original werewolf.
I did enjoy this film but not as much as I'd hoped as I didn't find it particularly scary. There are a few gory moments but nothing too extreme and less people got killed than expected. The film opens well enough with the car crash and introduction of a werewolf early on. Then things go quiet as our protagonists gradually realise what they are becoming. Some of the character drama seemed a little cliché; Jimmy is bullied by more sport students and there are suggestions that Ellie's boyfriend is the 'love 'em and leave 'em' type. Once the action picks up again it is solid enough although it could have done with being scarier. The cast was decent enough with Christina Ricci and Jesse Eisenberg standing out as Ellie and Jimmy... even if both have been better elsewhere. The effects are decent enough although the werewolves aren't up to those in 'An American Werewolf in London' or 'The Company of Wolves'. I wasn't surprised that this film was the victim of studio interference; it certainly doesn't feel like a film from the man who made 'Last House on the Left', 'The Hills Have Eyes' and 'Scream'! Overall one for those enjoy the genre but don't want anything too scary; if you want a better twenty first century werewolf film I'd suggest 'Ginger Snaps'.
Scream 4 (2011)
A real return to form
Fifteen years have passed since the original Woodsboro massacre and a new generation of teens are about to get slaughtered. Coinciding with the anniversary of the events Sidney Prescott has returned to town to publicise a book she has written. After the two initial murders Sidney must remain in town so stays with her cousin Jill and her aunt. It soon becomes apparent that the new Ghostface plans to target people close to her family. Dewey Riley, who is now the sheriff leads the investigation while his wife, reporter Gale Riley, leads her own parallel investigation. Talking to members of the school film club the theory emerges that like the original Ghostface this killer is following a set of rules... but this time updated for a new decade as things have to be more extreme.
I'll admit that I didn't expect too much of this... after all surely the fourth film in a franchise released ten years after the third instalment is sure to be a poor shadow of the original. Not in this case though. I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed this. It provides plenty of scares, some nice misdirects, laughs and perhaps most importantly modifies the formula for a new decade without insulting the original. There is also a sense of danger as the viewer can't be sure that the original central characters will survive as the creators might want to clear the way for a new cast. The identity of the new Ghostface isn't too obvious nor is it too much of a surprise during the final reveal. Horror fans should enjoy the number of genre classics name-dropped during the film, mentally ticking off the ones they've seen and noting ones they need to watch. The cast does a solid job, nobody is going to win any Oscars but the performances fit the genre expectations. Overall I'd say that this is a must see for fans of the franchise and while it probably isn't necessary to have seen all the Scream films first it is necessary to have seen the original to get full enjoyment from this.
Dublin Murders (2019)
Two murder mysteries intertwined in an eight part mini-series
Set in 2006, when the Irish economy is booming this series follows two murder investigations; each of which the two leading detectives may be linked to in some way. The first features the finding of a body in a woods where several years earlier two children vanished while a third has no memories of what happened that day... that boy moved to England, grew up, then moved back to Dublin with a new name... now he is Rob Reilly; the Garda detective investigating the case. The second case involves the murder of a young woman who could be Cassie Maddox, Reilly's partner's twin... her true identity is unknown as she had been using the name Maddox had used when she worked undercover.
This was a really intriguing series; there is a fine sense of mystery both concerning the murder cases and our protagonists' pasts. Each of the cases provides multiple suspects with various motives which should keep the viewer guessing. There is a good degree of tension; especially when Cassie goes undercover. While many questions are answered others are deliberately left unanswered; I rather liked that although I could understand if other viewers found it a little frustrating. The cast is solid; most notable Sarah Greene and Killian Scott as our protagonists Cassie Maddox and Rob Reilly. The Irish setting makes a nice change and provides plenty of scenic and atmospheric locations. Overall well worth a watch if you enjoy a mystery and are looking for something a little different.
Bad Lieutenant (1992)
A difficult watch but worth it
This film sees Harvey Keitel playing the titular 'Bad Lieutenant'; a New York police officer who uses drugs, steals and has a gambling problem... he appears to have absolutely no redeeming features. Then a nun is brutally raped in a church and he must find her assailants. In the background to this the playoff games to decide whether the New York Mets or the LA Dodgers will go to the World Series are going on... the lieutenant is gambling on the results and each game sees him getting deeper into debt to some dangerous people.
This film is not an easy watch; there are numerous disturbing scenes and the protagonist, who is rarely off screen is very unsympathetic. The scene where he deals with two young women driving without a licence shows how perverse he is. The easy with which the nun can forgive her attackers contrasts with his behaviour. This could easily have been exploitative trash but is elevated by Keitel's performance; he makes us see that even though his character is odious, deep down he wants redemption and is in emotional pain. This certainly won't be for everybody; there are disturbing scenes of a sexual nature, lots of drug use, strong language and material, which although necessary for the story, some might find bordering on blasphemous. Overall I'd say this is worth watching but it isn't really a film to enjoy.
Ride Along 2 (2016)
More of the same... this time in Miami
This film is set about a year after the previous instalment; it is about a week before Ben's wedding, having graduated from the academy he is now a probationary police officer, and soon-to-be brother in law James still doesn't think he has what it takes to be a detective. A lead in James's latest case sees the duo heading down to Miami to pick up 'AJ', a hacker who encrypted data they need to access. It soon becomes apparent that AJ is being targeted by a local crime lord who the authorities believe is a pillar of the community. This puts James and Ben in danger and sees them caught up in shootouts, car chases and other dangerous situations. This time they aren't always working alone as they work with tough Miami cop Maya Cruz.
Whether you enjoy this film will be largely down to how much you enjoyed the first as it is basically the same but in a new city and with a new villain. Some freshness in injected by the addition of AJ, another fairly comical character and Maya, who is almost the female version of James. The story provides a decent amount of action which is exciting even if one never really fears for our protagonists' safety. Ice Cube and Kevin Hart are fun as James and Ben; I'm glad that the writers didn't change the dynamic between them. Ken Jeong and Olivia Munn were fun additions as AJ and Maya Cruz respectively and Benjamin Bratt was solid as bad guy Antonio Pope, even if the character was more than a little cliché. Overall I'd certainly recommend this to anybody who enjoyed the first film.
A linked anthology of dreams
Following the defeat of Adam; Buffy, Willow, Xander and Giles decide to chill out in front of a movie. They all fall asleep quickly and each start having strange, somewhat uncomfortable dreams. In turn we Willow, Xander, Giles and finally Buffy's dream; while they are each different and feature a worry felt by the dreamer there are similarities; each character feels that there is something after them, which ultimately catches them... it isn't until Buffy's dream that it becomes apparent what this is. They also feature a man with slices of cheese for no obvious reason.
I thought this was a really good episode; the way the dreams are constantly changing felt real and their contents were scary at times but also quite humorous. Having an episode centred on dreams meant certain characters who had previously died could return; most notably Principal Snyder... a delight seeing Armin Shimerman perform in the style of Brando in 'Apocalypse Now'. The identity of the character after our protagonists proved to be interesting and nicely linked to the spell cast to help Buffy defeat Adam. There isn't too much in the way of action but that is made up for with the general feeling of dread. Overall a solid conclusion to season four.
Non uccidere (2015)
Thou Shalt Not Kill
These comments are based on watching the first season.
This Italian crime drama is set in the northern city of Turin and centred on Valeria Ferro. She is a detective investigating various 'murders of the week'. These tend to feature more personal motives rather than murders that take place as part of another crime.
As well as these murders there is an ongoing storyline regarding Valeria's mother. Early in the series she is released from prison having served seventeen years for the murder of Valeria's father. She has never denied the crime but her former cell mate claims she is really innocent. Valeria initially wants nothing to do with her mother but inevitably gets drawn into looking into the case. Things are somewhat complicated by the fact that her boss, who she is involved with, arrested her mother.
I really enjoyed this series; the cases of the week very much dominate the episodes but the ongoing story regarding her mother nicely serves to link the episodes and make key characters more interesting. The weekly cases are interesting and the identity of the killer isn't obvious. There are always plenty of suspects and motives to keep the viewer guessing.
Miriam Leone is solid in the role of Valeria and the supporting cast also impresses. I liked the setting; the only other Italian shows I've seen have been set further south, mostly way down in Sicily... this feels like different country. Overall I'd definitely recommend this to fans of subtitled crime drama... assuming you don't speak Italian! I hope we don't have to wait too long before season two becomes available here in the UK.
24: 11:00 p.m.-12:00 a.m. (2002)
Views on Season one of '24'
These comments refer to the whole first season, not just the final episode
It is the day of the Californian Primary to decide who will be the Democratic Party's candidate at the upcoming election and somebody wants front runner David Palmer to be assassinated. Their plan involves kidnapping the teenage daughter of Jack Bauer, a senior officer in the LA Counter Intelligence Unit (CTU) in order to force him to do their dirty work. He is unsure who he can trust; there may be traitors within CTU and others are too 'by the book' to ask for help... it will be the worst day of his life. Tracking down those responsible and keeping Palmer alive will not be easy and each time it seems something is going right there will be a setback that makes things worse. Away from the action there are political machinations within Palmer's campaign when an incident involving his children threatens to be made public.
When '24' first aired I was unsure about the concept of a show taking place in real time over the course of twenty four hours... it may rely on plot driven contrivances, such as key events happening every hour on the hour, to keep the tension high but it works. Every episode contains solid action and somehow keeps raising the tension. There are plenty of twists and turns throughout; even in the final minutes. Kiefer Sutherland is in great form as Jack; a career defining role. He gets solid support from the rest of the cast; notably Sarah Clarke, as colleague Nina Myers; Dennis Haysbert, as Senator Palmer; Leslie Hope, as his wife Teri and Elisha Cuthbert as his daughter Kim. Overall this is a fine first season that is a must see for action/thriller fans who want more than can be delivered in a movie without skimping on quality.
The Woman in Red (1984)
A fun '80s comedy
As this film opens Theodore 'Teddy' Pierce is sitting on a ledge high above the ground; he tells us how up until four weeks ago we wouldn't have looked at a woman other than his wife. The film goes onto how he came to be where he is now. One day he sees a beautiful woman in a red dress walk over a grate; the draught blows up her skirt and she has a little dance... he is immediately smitten. Later Teddy tries to get together with her but events seem to conspire to keep him from her; whether it is accidentally phoning the wrong woman to arrange a dinner date or trying to impress her with his non-existent horse-riding skills.
This comedy is a lot of fun, not too surprising given that Gene Wilder is not only playing Teddy but also wrote the screen play and directed. It may be about a man's desire to commit adultery but it feels surprisingly innocent; it is more that he wants a bit of excitement in his life than wanting to betray his wife. Similarly there isn't much to offend; a little swearing and some 'blink and you miss it' nudity but that is about it. There are lots of laughs to be had; many provided by Teddy's group of friends... the scene where one of them. Pretending to be blind wreaks havoc in a restaurant is priceless. Gene Wilder is on fine form as Teddy, he makes the character likeable despite what he is doing; Kelly Le Brock looks stunning as Charlotte, the eponymous woman in red, one can see why Teddy fell for her! The rest of the cast are solid too. Also notably is the soundtrack which features several songs by Stevie Wonder. Overall I'd say this is a fun '80s comedy; definitely worth watching if you are a fan of the genre.
Completely bonkers in a way one is likely to love or hate but unlikely to feel indifferent to
This strange horror film is centred on a young woman; she is married to an older man. He is a poet and she works to repair their home, which was previously damaged by a fire. The house is remote but one day a man turns up claiming to have mistaken it for a guest house. The poet invites him to stay the night against his wife's wishes. The next day the man's wife arrives, she almost immediately starts asking our protagonist awkward questions and makes her feel uncomfortable; still the poet won't make them leave. Things only get worse when the guests' two sons arrive; they fight and one is accidentally fatally injured... the nightmare is just beginning.
I suspect this is one of those films that viewers are likely to really love or really hate but are very unlikely to consider 'merely okay'. The sense of unease is gradually introduced but quickly escalates to an early act of violence. Then things relax and appears to bet better before turning to a nightmare. There are plenty of scenes that are likely to disturb the viewer; especially towards the end. The young wife, played brilliantly by Jennifer Lawrence, is rarely off screen is clearly uncomfortably and that feeling is likely to be shared by the viewer. The story may be a biblical allegory; something that isn't immediately obvious but grows increasingly apparent but you don't need to be religious to get it. As mentioned before Lawrence is great; she is supported by Javier Bardem who is equally fine in the more ambiguous role of her husband; a character who enjoys the adulation of his fans to the point that he neglects his wife. The rest of the cast are sold too. Overall I'd certainly recommend this to anybody who likes their horror more than a little bit weird.
Now You See Me 2 (2016)
Plenty of magic... just not magical
These comments assume you've seen the first film so don't need further details about returning characters.
Eighteen months have passed since the group of magicians known as 'The Four Horseman' outwitted the FBI and robbed their previous sponsor, Arthur Tressler; now they are about to stage their return. Well three of them are, Henley Reeves has been replaced by new girl Lula May. They plan to use their skills to expose a plot to steal personal data from anybody buying a new piece of software... things don't go to plan and the four must flee. Things take a surprising turn as they slide down a chute from a New York rooftop and land in a restaurant in Macau! Here Merritt McKinney is bet by his brother, and enemy, Chase, who takes them to Walter Mabry, a former employee of Chase who wants them to steal a chip that will give him access to any computer. Meanwhile their associate, FBI Special Agent Dylan Rhodes is on their tail along with Thaddeus Bradley, the man they left to rot in jail. What follows is a succession of magic tricks that culminate in a final reveal in London on New Year's Eve as they face an old adversary.
If the plot sounds a bit convoluted that is because it is at times. In a way that doesn't matter as it is there to provide and excuse for magic tricks and misdirection. Unfortunately this is often a problem as many of the tricks require the viewer to accept that a person can unwittingly be hypnotised in an instant or believe in tricks that clearly rely on CGI or other special effects. Also some of the tricks go on too long; notably how they pass the stolen chip between each other as they are searched. On the plus side, if you can suspend your disbelief, there are plenty of fun moments... I particularly liked Lula's simple bit rather disturbing tricks. The cast is solid and clearly having fun; that fun is infectious at least while watching the film. Once it was over I felt it had passed the two hours well enough but imagine most of it will soon be forgotten. Overall hardly a must see but fun enough.
First Kill (2017)
A taut little thriller
Will Beeman is a Wall Street broker who has difficulty finding time for his family but when his son Danny is bullied at school he decides to take him on his first hunting trip. They, along with his wife Laura head to Granville, Ohio, the town where he grew up. Things don't go to plan, on their first time out Will and Danny witness two men arguing. One shoots the other men, later identified as Levi Barrett. When he realises he had been seen he shoots at Will and Danny; Will shoots and kills the man... it emerges that he was a police officer, although clearly a corrupt one. Will takes the Levi, who was merely wounded, back to the house to be treated. He wakes and takes Danny hostage demanding that Will goes back to the site of the shooting and finds the key he threw then retrieve the proceeds of a bank robbery in exchange for Danny. While Will tries to follow his instructions he also must keep one step ahead of the local police who may be corrupt or just wanting to solve the robbery case.
This might not be a great film but it is certainly good enough. It delivers plenty of tension and has a solid central story. From the moment it emerges that the man Will killed was a cop it is clear that not everything will be as it seems. The Ohio location looked stunning and made a refreshing change from most movie settings without just looking like an advert for the local tourist board. There are of course a fair number of plot hole the viewer must overlook; most notably how quickly Levi recovers from what was apparently a near-fatal bullet wound... of course if he hadn't there wouldn't have been much of a story! The cast is decent enough; Hayden Christensen is solid as Will, Gethin Anthony is surprisingly likeable as kidnapper Levi and Bruce Willis is Bruce Willis as the chief of police. Overall this is a taut little thriller; not a must see but worth watching if it is on TV or the DVD is going cheap.
The Fox and the Hound (1981)
Can natural enemies be friends? ... Possibly if it is a Disney animation
This Disney animation opens with a vixen being chased out of a wood but a howling but unseen hound. She has a cub in her jaws which she drops behind a fence post. She runs off but ominous gunshots ring out. The cub is fortunate to be adopted by a gentle farmer, Widow Tweed, who names him Tod. As Tod explores he meets a puppy named Copper. Copper is destined to be a hunting dog but now neither of them realise this and they become the best of friends. When Copper's owner, a mean-spirited hunter by the name of Amos Slade finds he has a fox on his land he determines to kill it. When winter comes Amos takes Copper, and his other dog, Chief, on a hunting expedition; Tod looks forward to Copper returning in spring but will his friend be the same when he gets back?
While this isn't one of Disney's best loved works it is quite charming and has quite a few dark moments... including the opening scene; we may not see what happened to Tod's mother but it is pretty obvious. The friendship between young Tod and Copper is a joy to watch, making the events that follow a little disturbing as their friendship doesn't look to survive when their nature kicks in. There is a good amount of humour; much of it provided by Boomer and Dinky, a woodpecker and a finch who are constantly trying to catch a caterpillar. As one would expect the animation is impressive; capturing both the joy and danger with its shifting tone. The voice cast does a fine job bringing their characters to life. There are a few songs but to be honest they are fairly forgettable; thankfully they don't get in the way of the story. Overall a charming tale that I'd recommend to fans of Disney or animation in general.
Tau man ji D (2005)
Initial D: Drift Racer
This film, based on a Manga, is centred on Takumi Fujiwara and eighteen year old who delivers tofu for his father, a drunken ex-racer. This involves driving along the roads on Mount Akina that are popular with street racers. He has been driving the route since he was thirteen and can drive as fast as the racers. He also works at a local garage, which is owned by the father of his friend Itsuki. Itsuki aspires to be a racer but doesn't have Takumi's natural abilities. As the racers see Takumi's skills they naturally want to race him. Away from the cars Takumi is smitten with Natsuki, a girl in his class.
I must admit that I haven't read the manga or watched the anime version so viewed this film as a stand-alone work. The story is relatively simple but none the worse for that; it delivers where it counts and that is the thrilling races down a winding mountain road. These are filmed in a way that makes them feel real and thus exciting. As well as excitement there are plenty of laughs; mostly provided by Itsuki. Not too much of a problem but in many ways this feels like an origins story as we learn how Takumi is drawn into the world of racing; when it was over it felt like there was more to come. The subplot involving Natsuki was a bit of a distraction but not too much of one. I rather liked the fact that there was no obvious antagonist beyond a racer who is a bit rude to Takumi and Itsuki. The cast does a solid job making their characters believable and fun to watch; it was easy to forget that they were mostly Chinese actors playing Japanese... of course not speaking either language may have helped there! Overall well worth a watch if you enjoy exciting car based action set in an impressive location.
These comments are based on watching the film in Cantonese with English subtitles and the original music soundtrack.