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Blindness is a powerful, but ultimately flawed film that uses a global epidemic of sudden, unexplained and contagious blindness as the jumping-off point for a serious and downbeat examination of human nature at its worst. At the film's centre is a group of unnamed individuals - a doctor (Mark Ruffalo) and his wife (Julianne Moore), a thief, a child, a businessman, an older man who was already blind in one eye, and several others - who are forced into isolation in an internment camp as part of the government response to the outbreak of the illness, and who form their own microcosm of society that quickly degenerates into in-fighting over living conditions and food.
The film begins with a relatively interesting premise: what would we do if everyone suddenly went blind? Unfortunately, however, the answers it provides are too divorced from reality for us to really be able to invest in the subsequent fallout - even though the character relationships and commentary on social ills that the film provides are all very interesting in their own right.
Only one of the main characters retains her sight - the doctor's wife - and while her presence as the blind community's only sighted member is kept secret for most of the story, it hangs heavy over every development. As the doctor becomes increasingly reliant on her, their relationship changes from husband and wife to something more akin to a nurse and her patient; and as they grow apart, the doctor gradually finds himself having more in common with one of the other, blind, female inmates.
Elsewhere in the story, we see a group of violent thugs take over a section of the internment camp, initially forcing other inmates to trade valuables for food - and later, forcing them into sex-slavery in a disturbing and graphic sequence that comes close to rivalling Irreversible for depicting one of the most difficult-to-watch scenes of sexual abuse that you'll ever see on film. It's at this point that you realise that Blindness isn't going to be a film about redemption - it's just about surviving the worst that humanity can throw at you.
While there are more uplifting moments in the movie - especially towards the end - Blindness is for the most part a gruelling journey that throws its characters from one bad place to another, with very little in the way of respite. But that's not why I've given it an average score: in fact, those hard-to-watch scenes are some of the most gripping and compelling parts of the movie.
No, Blindness earns a three-star review because it fails to tether its events to a logical plot, and forces its characters to go through their hellish experiences without adequately convincing the audience that there would be no alternative. A good example is the nature of the internment camp. It's a basic, functional place with only the bare minimum of eating and cleaning facilities - but we're never given an explanation as to why the government of the unidentified country in which the film takes place would see fit to house a large group of suddenly-blinded people in such a place in the early stages of the epidemic, especially with minimial supervision (they appear to only be overseen by soldiers, who seem ready to shoot the inmates at the slightest sign of trouble)
Also, while the doctor's wife chooses to conceal the fact that she hasn't gone blind (which itself is never explained) from many of the inmates, there are plenty of difficult situations in which her ability to see would give her a huge advantage over the other prisoners, and would enable her to overcome problems far more easily than the way in which they eventually play out - especially when matters of life or death are at stake. There's never any convincing reason given why this doesn't happen, so I can only assume it's because director Fernando Meirelles and writer Don McKellar wanted certain things to occur in the movie and tried to fit them into the story as best they could, regardless of the characters' abilities or motivation. It just feels like lazy filmmaking, when just a few extra scenes to explain these discrepancies would have smoothed things over far more convincingly.
After watching this movie, I couldn't help but think how great it could have been: a cautionary, Lord Of The Flies type story for adults, set in the modern world, with some interesting visual representations of blindness (which is shown here as being like a milky whiteness obscuring the field of vision) and an uncompromising approach to its most brutal and depraved moments. As it is, though, it's merely an okay film that explores some interesting ideas but has too many holes in the story to simply overlook. Nevertheless - and if you'll forgive the pun - Blindness is definitely something that is worth seeing, flaws and all.
The Boxtrolls (Blu-ray 3D)
The Boxtrolls marks the third film from the relatively young animation house, Laika. The studio is behind past successful hits Coraline and ParaNorman, and we are very much indebted to their immense efforts in producing this kind of stop-motion animation, so rarely seen today.
In an age where computers have completely changed the face of animation, it's lovely to see artists still working with their hands in such a pain-staking process, knowing the end result will pay off handsomely. Fortunately, it has, with the Academy giving The Boxtrolls well-deserved recognition in the Best Animated Feature race at next month's Oscars.
Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi earn their first feature-length credit as directors, adapting the best-selling novel by Alan Snow, 'Here Be Monsters!' The film revolves around a young human boy called Eggs, who is raised by a delightfully unique race of trolls that collect rubbish, known as the Boxtrolls.
Rumours in the local town are spread that these creatures are known to kidnap young children, and so an evil pest exterminator, Archibald Snatcher, strikes a deal to rid the town of this supposed problem. In reality, of course, the Boxtrolls are nothing but peace-loving creatures, and it's up to Eggs to save them from extermination.
Best known for his role in HBO's Game of Thrones, the young Isaac Hempstead-Wright leads the voice cast as Eggs, and he's surrounded by an amazing array of talent. The children will love the story, and adults have the added bonus of recognising the voices of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Sir Ben Kingsley, Elle Fanning, Jared Harris, Toni Collette, Tracy Morgan, and Richard Ayoade. Whilst the story and the voice cast are undeniably a lot of fun, it's really the animation itself that is worthy of so much praise.
The work that must have gone into developing such a brilliant look is almost unthinkable. The level of detail is beyond impressive, to the point of sheer jaw-dropping disbelief.
Very young children might find a few of the scenes a little on the scary side, which might be a little unfortunate for some parents - I'd recommend either watching it first to decide for yourself, or at least watching it with your children so you can see how they react before letting them watch it again by themselves. But for the vast majority, it's suitable for all ages, and is a thoroughly entertaining family-friendly film.
Here in the UK, distributor Third Window Films has made a name for itself as a champion of Asian cinema. The label has released some of the biggest titles from the continent, including Tetsuya Nakashima's Confessions, Takashi Miike's Lesson of the Evil, Shin Su-won's Pluto, and perhaps most famous of all, Shion Sono's The Land of Hope.
Their latest release sees them partnering with rising Japanese director Eiji Uchida, until now best known for films like The Last Days of the World and Black Angels. In Greatful Dead, Uchida brings together some of the genres he's previously worked in for his most bloody and dark work yet.
Newcomer Kumi Takiuchi earned one of her first credits as the young lead in the film, Nami. Takiuchi gives a fantastic performance, able to switch almost instantaneously between moments of comedy and moments of darkness.
Growing up largely abandoned by her parents and her sister, the young Nami takes up the hobby of watching loners, which she dubs 'Solitarians'. She tracks them from a distance, watching as they slowly descend into madness and eventually death, and then she takes a selfie beside their rotting corpse. Needless to say, this is not for the faint-hearted.
Much of the film takes place once she's turned 20, the age of adulthood in Japan, and is living on her own. Her hobby soon takes an even darker turn when she finds that one of her favourite Solitarians has been given the gift of hope, and she takes it upon herself to rectify this in as bloody a way as possible.
The DVD and Blu-ray releases feature subtitled versions of the film, rather than dubbed, which is very much to Third Windows' credit. The subtitled approach allows viewers to enjoy the experience just as Uchida intended, and I can't begin to imagine how a voiceover actress would have handled the young Takiuchi's skilled delivery.
Greatful Dead begins as a biting critique of some of the problems Japan's current society faces, and is utterly unflinching in its descent into the blood and gore of Nami's later actions. Fans of the darker side of Japanese cinema are definitely recommended to seek this title out, and it's sure to be an instant crowd-pleaser.
Wish I Was Here
In 2004, Zach Braff made his feature directorial debut with Garden State, one of the most celebrated indie productions of the 21st century. Written and directed by Braff, the film is a wonderful exploration of themes like love, young adulthood, and finding yourself amongst a sea of people swimming with the current.
Ten years later, Braff returns with his long-awaited second film, Wish I Was Here, and the result is spectacular. The characters may be separate, but Braff picks up many of the same threads he explored a decade ago and takes them even further. His characters are now more grown up, with children of their own. He and his brother, co-writer Adam Braff, explore what life is like for adults in their 30s who don't necessarily know who they are, and don't always want to conform to what society demands and expects of them.
Zach Braff stars as Aidan Bloom, an actor who struggles to find work in the competitive industry in Los Angeles. When his father, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin), reveals that his cancer has returned and that he will no longer be able to provide for his grandchildren's education, Aidan withdraws his children from their private school and takes on the challenge of teaching them himself.
It's this premise that gives the Braff brothers a perfect chance to explore the same kind of themes Garden State did ten years earlier, but with a current story and taking on current issues. The world that exists today is in many ways a far cry from the one that existed just ten years ago, and Wish I Was Here navigates those changes perfectly. It's pretty rare for an independent film to do so many things with such little time and in such a powerful way. More and more we turn to television to get to know characters and watch how they develop. It's all the more impressive when an independent film can do it in a fraction of the running time, and often with a fraction of the budget.
Braff put up some of his own money to get the film made, and turned to the fanbase he's built up over his length career, most notably anchoring the TV comedy, Scrubs. He asked them to give him their hard-earned money in exchange for making the film he wanted to make, and he didn't disappoint. I was one of the thousands of people who supported him in that endeavour, and I am so glad that I did, because the result is one of the finest feats of filmmaking we've seen in a long, long time.
Kate Hudson gives a superb performance as Braff's on-screen wife, Sarah, who supports him through thick and thin, and who is the rock he turns to when he is facing his hardest times. Patinkin, perhaps best known for his role in recent hit Homeland, is every bit as impressive as Braff's ailing father, with Josh Gad delivering a hilarious performance as Aidan's brother, Noah. And arguably more impressive than anyone are the two young children, Joey King and Pierce Gagnon. Braff asks a lot of them as both a writer and a director, and they never fail to light up the screen in every scene they're in. Joey King, in particular, gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as Aidan and Sarah's slightly troubled adolescent daughter, Grace, who is struggling with the same kinds of identity issues her father is going through.
The message is a powerful one. No matter what age we are, or what upbringing we had, our paths to find ourselves can at times be a struggle, seemingly insurmountable. But these characters are never without hope. They lean on each other in times of need, and their trials and tribulations are all the more affecting and moving for it.
The Braff brothers' script is wonderful, wearing its heart on its sleeve, and much credit goes to Braff's work as a director behind the camera, drawing these terrific performances from the entire leading cast. All we can do now is hope that it won't be another ten years before we see him get back behind the camera and direct his third film.
Cold In July
I want to talk about Cold In July, mainly because not enough people already are and it's a cracking thriller, probably my favourite film released in 2014. That's not to say it was the "best" film of the last year; nor the most action packed, the funniest or scariest, but we spend too long judging films as if it were a competition especially at this time of year. I'm a sucker for the awards season, but when you take a step back many titles are conspicuous by their absence. Despite some initial attention on the festival circuit, Cold In July is one such gem.
The story has a deceptively simple premise, based on one of a series of novels by Joe R. Lansdale and adapted by Nick Damici with director Jim Mickle. Richard Dane (Dexter's Michael C. Hall) is woken in the night by a burglar in his home. His first thought is to protect his wife (Vinessa Shaw) and infant son. Following a brief, tense confrontation with the intruder, Dane shoots him dead. The police arrive and the scene is quickly cleared up as they know this particular villain and assure Dane that he did the right thing. He won't face prosecution, in fact, he's a hero.
He doesn't feel like a hero. Dane is one of life's normal guys, with a reputation to match. So normal that Hall found playing him cathartic after several seasons of Dexter. Well known in the local town, no-one would ever have expected Dane to have killed another man and the praise he receives makes him feel awkward. Plus he now has to deal with the ominous, simmering threat posed by the intruder's father Ben Russell (played with considerable style by Sam Shepherd), recently released from prison and a far more substantial opponent than his petty criminal son.
That alone would make for a decent plot of a dozen other films, if somewhat predictable, but an early twist reveals the man Dane shot and killed was not Ben's son. Why are the police so determined to ensure it was? And why are they relishing any excuse to put Ben down as well? You might think that's a spoiler, but it's worth knowing that much more. The real story is a far more gruesome and complicated affair. It's rather typical of the saturated American crime novel genre, so much so it may explain why so few break out into screenplays.
There's an ace up the sleeve of this one though in the shape of Don Johnson, playing pig farming private detective Jim Bob Luke. Awesome name! And he's a heck of a character; Johnson has great fun with him. His arrival gives the film a kick up the backside, even though it didn't really need it. The seedy screenplay has a good dose of comedy and Jim Bob is just one of the bonuses that help Cold In July stand out.
Some of the dark humour comes from the contrast between Dane's reaction and, it seems, everyone else's. He needs to see this through much further than his friends and family, especially his wife. While she is still somewhat affected, a sofa soaked with blood is still a good reason to get a new one that matches the decor a little better! That odd tone isn't overplayed, it's just that for her and everyone else, the story ended with the first bullet and they assume it's the same for Dane. Except he's sneaking about at night, unable to resist getting stuck into the excitement of the horrific real story that Jim Bob is uncovering.
Cold In July was released at a similar time to Two Faces of January, a glossy thriller that was critically acclaimed and given that over used label, "Hitchcockian". Actually it was weak, vacuous and bore little resemblance even to To Catch a Thief, one of the Master's least remarkable films. While still an unashamed genre piece, Cold In July is more deserving of shelf-space next to Hitchcock's classics, featuring as it does his favourite conceit; the normal guy who finds murder on his doorstep.
What really makes this conceit work as well as it does in this instance is an excellent risk-taking narrative in Mickle and Damici's screenplay (a similar approach they took with Stake Land). Potentially it is a messy plot with too many angles, but the focus is so tight on Dane that it feels even and measured throughout. So far so it's worth using as an example of Todorov's narrative equilibrium theory. Don't yawn! As with many such theories you can bore people to death by making any film fit it to some extent. It's only worth mentioning if the example explores it in particular and I'll stick my neck out; the structure and, in particular the ending of Cold In July is so perfectly done it's actually one of the best examples of the equilibrium stages since The Ladykillers of all things.
The well judged fast and loose style of director Mickle disguises such structure. Essentially it's a modern western cum pulp noir, but an 80s setting and occasional music from the era evoke a mood not unlike the peerless Drive in moments. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. This isn't some minimalist piece, what with the pig farmer called Jim Bob, an irreverent sense of dark humour and sporadic, often brutal violence. One memorable execution sees a thug shot through the head and his blood splatters the only light bulb, bathing the rest of the scene in deep red! The mid-range tones come out well on Blu-Ray, but moments like that look astonishing. Mickle has an old fashioned, but cheeky sensibility that comes throughout the movie, though not always in such spectacular fashion.
Cold In July is a great example of classical filmmaking given a modern twist and a confident identity all of it's own thanks to Mickle and Damici's grasp of genre. It's effortlessly watchable and hopefully we'll see more of Johnson's hilarious Jim Bob in the future.
Let's Be Cops
Mike reed 22-01-2015
At first I didn't want to see this as it reminder so much of 21 jump street however I managed to watch, the writers have done a good job plotting together a believable cop - comedy film.
The gags aren't forced and the characters were cast well.
Lee Evans - Monsters Live
Lee evans brings his comedy tours to an end with his dvd monster, in front of a sell out crowd in Birmingham. The physical comedian proves he still has it at fifty using his body as a tool evans discusses topics such as animals, holidays and his wife.
After seeing the dvd audiences will appreciate how much effort a comedian will work on a show proved in the DVD extras.
Fans of lee won't be disappointed, after being around for 25 years on stage lee announced his retirement on the Jonathan Ross show in November 2014.
This must stand up is well worth £10 therefore if you find it cheaper it's a bargain.
What makes this dvd brilliant, lee gives all his fans 110% his loyal commitment performances has put him in Britain best loved comedians.
Miranda - The Finale
A wonderful ending for a brilliant sitcom. Miranda has entertained viewers with three series now this dvd brings the story to a close.
Miranda hart hasn't rushed the writing unlike many other sitcom creators. she has left audiences waiting and at the end of 2014 fans were able to see Miranda where they wanted the story to go.
The finale brings as always brilliant comic timing- slapstick elements and mishaps. Tom elis - Sarah holland and Gary Barlow are some of the characters in last two ever episodes of the bbc 1 sitcom.
Many fans are disappointed that the sitcom has come to an end however hart knows how far she can take a loveable show. She hasn't over done it and hart has been able to sell out arenas with her stand up show.
It will be interesting to see what the future holds for Miranda hart.
A dvd that all the family can enjoy.
Wwe: Hell In A Cell 2014
This Ppv had 9 matches on the card inculding pre show.
this ppv saw superstar Rusev have the push he needed to work with more experienced superstars, wwe fans saw John Cena vs Randy Orton again, this feud have been on and off for a life time even though this guys are in the top 5 of the company i believed they collisions should have ended years ago, the winner of this fight got to fight Brock Lesnar for the title there was no surprise of who won, however wwe should have created Orton vs Brock by now. However the main event didn't disappoint as it showed off two of wwes best newcomers in recent years, with a suprise return of Bray Wyat at the end of the ppv it started the beginning of Survivor Series. some matches worked well others should have been aired on Raw.
A Walk Among the Tombstones
Liam Neeson (Taken/ Non stop) in recent times Neeson plays the same figure type, a tough old man with a gun.
This film got some hype when it hit theatres in September 2014, however it lacks the action that Taken and Non stop give. when you think the drama has hit its peak nothing happens until the end when things turn gory and violent, viewers have to wait over hour and half to see what Neeson does at best.
the story lacked originality and audiences will work out what will happen after 15 minutes of the plot starting.
The Director Scott Frank before this had development Marley and Me and The Wolverine which seemed to grasp audiences which both films had the nation in talks, i admire his ambition and creation of creating something different.
The Number 23
I think people forget how good Jim Carrey is.
Jim Carrey (The Mask, Dumb and Dumber and most recent Kick Ass 2) Carrey who is known for his comedy films gives a memorable performance in The Number 23. At times confusing the Number 23 doesn't disappoint.
audiences will see how versatile Carrey is, the movie has a dark chillin feel with a ending that no one saw coming.
Veep - Season 2
The second season of Veep is a great lesson in how TV shows have to be allowed to find their feet.
I enjoyed the first season of Armando Iannucci's US-set counterpart to his hit UK political-comedy series The Thick Of It, but it wasn't quite the runaway success that I was hoping for. Some of the gags fell flat, and many of the characters didn't quite feel fully-formed, beyond a few basic character attributes and catchphrases.
But this second series shows a notable improvement, with each and every member of the ensemble cast feeling more comfortable in their character. And at the same time, there's a much more compelling ongoing storyline for Julia Louis-Dreyfus' long-suffering vice-president to get her teeth into.
It's notoriously difficult to pin down in a review exactly why comedies work, but I'll give it a go. Veep is funny not because of the situation (frustrated vice-president surrounded by scheming and/or inept staff) nor because of the storylines (politics can be pretty dull in and of itself, after all), but because of the characters, and the way those characters interact.
Louis-Dreyfus as the "veep", Selina Meyer, provides a central hub for all of these characters to rotate around. She herself is amusingly vain and cynical, silly without being stupid, and eminently likeable despite her flaws. She's surrounded by a staff that includes her fussy but loyal aide, Gary; her astute but uptight chief of staff, Amy; a bumbling director of communications, Mike; an incredibly cynical and machiavellian speechwriter, Dan; and a sharp-tongued and intimidating secretary, Sue.
While it took a while for the first season to establish all these character attributes, the second season is able to hit the ground running. It assumes you're familiar with the characters and situation from the start, and as a result it can have a lot more fun crafting its elaborate and intricately-plotted storylines.
Talking of which, the plots of these second-season episodes seem stronger than the first: they're a lot more like The Thick Of It in that quite a lot of things happen in quite a short space of time, and you have to pay close attention to follow exactly what is happening and to understand exactly why people are reacting in the way that they are to certain situations. There's also a very interesting larger overall plot involving Selina's chances of having a second shot at the presidency - and while I won't say how that plays out, it leaves things in a significantly different place for the start of season three.
But all of that plottiness makes the show sound like hard work, when it's really not. Veep's biggest laughs come from its broadest comedy moments, whether it's Selina's barely-concealed political ambitions threatening to poison her immediate working relationships, or her career teetering in the balance in the wake of her latest big gaffe or scandal.
While Julia Louis-Dreyfus is undoubtedly the show's greatest asset, though, it's the ensemble cast and the sharp writing that really brings it all together. This second season is well worth checking out and is a significant improvement on the first, so even if you've tried Veep before, it might be worth giving it another shot.
Before I Go To Sleep
This tense movie starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong is a deep psychological thriller will confuse and twist your mind with its plot and how it portrays its characters. it has you questioning everyones motives and stories. Nicole Kidman is outstanding in this role as she is believable as an amnesiac, watching Kidman portraying such a struggling character is breathtaking. This is how you do a psychological thriller.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes represents a new frontier in movie-making.
That might sound like a bold claim, but once you see what the filmmakers have managed to achieve in this gripping continuation of the recently-rebooted Planet of the Apes series, you'll understand exactly why I'm so confident in saying it. Because this film, more than any other that I've ever seen, harnesses the power of computer-generated imagery (or CGI for short) to create living, breathing characters that we can not only believe are genuinely interacting with their environment - and, crucially, with the rest of the film's cast - but in whom we can invest just as much emotion as we would with a human actor.
There have been films that have used CGI characters well before. The T-1000 in Terminator 2 was perhaps the first example of CGI being used to create an artificial stand-in for a human that didn't merely look like a pale imitation of the real thing. And Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies was a watershed moment in creating a fantasy character that you truly accepted as being present on-screen, in the same way as you would a human cast member.
Well, this is the next step.
Caesar - the chief of the ape tribe in this movie (who we saw grow into this role in the previous movie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) - is so convincingly-realised, through a combination of motion-capture technology using actor Andy Serkis and CGI artistry, that you don't ever even have that moment when you start to forget that he's a CGI character and accept him as part of the movie: instead, he's 100% real from the very beginning.
It's not just in the extremely high level of detail in his skin, his fur or even his lifelike, soulful eyes (although that's all part of it, and it's especially impressive in high-definition on Blu-Ray): it's in all of the subtle mannerisms, body language and posture that indicate that a person - or in this case, an animal - is the real thing rather than an artificial imitation. While some of the communication that takes place between the apes in this movie is verbal, a lot of it happens through sign language and body language, and this makes it all the more important that the filmmakers are able to pull off a convincing-feeling character who can convey as much through a glance or a shrug as he can through his voice.
Supporting characters realised through CGI are just as convincing: a hulking but gentle orangutan who serves as a moral conscience for the ape community is a brilliant character first and foremost - it's only after a while that you stop and consider what a massive technical achievement it represents too. And the antagonist within the apes - Kopa - is a wonderfully nasty creation who begins the film as a partly sympathetic character, but who descends into outright villainy by the end.
In terms of technical achievement, Avatar is perhaps the only recent movie that comes close to this level of sophistication - and even then, that movie was largely comprised of CGI alien characters in completely CGI alien environments, which is a lot easier to pull off than realistic-looking apes interacting with real-life actors in real-life environments, as we see here.
Despite the focus on the ape characters, the human cast is still important too. Jason Clarke plays a sympathetic sort who attempts to build bridges between the human and ape communities, while Gary Oldman plays an embattled human leader who struggles to deal with the escalating crisis as tensions build between the two factions. Oldman in particular gets one or two scenes that remind you what a great actor he is, so it's a little disappointing that he only really plays a supporting role in this film.
All of these solid performances (both CGI and real) would be worth nothing, however, if the story wasn't up to snuff. Luckily, it is, with director Matt Reeves showing an assured confidence as he gradually ratchets up the tension over the course of the first half of the movie. After a great credits-sequence montage that efficiently sets up an important part of the film's concept - that a virus has wiped out most of the world's human population - we're thrown ahead ten years, into a dystopian future in which power shortages and natural wastage mean that very little works properly, and disharmony between humans and apes poses a lurking threat in the background.
By gradually having the ape and human communities become closer over the first half of the movie - while also sowing seeds of mistrust through rogue players in both camps - Reeves brings things up to an almost unbearably-tense point before letting the action explode onto the screen. And when it comes, it's as intense and violent as you'd expect.
There are countless powerful images here, but perhaps none is more captivating than the sight of a giant army of apes on horseback, toting man-made automatic weapons, threatening to lay siege to the handful of humans that are still holding out in San Francisco. And shortly after that, a bravura battle scene simply demands that you sit up and take notice - including one incredibly ambitious unbroken shot that shows us a point-of-view scene from the turret of a human-operated tank that gets attacked and taken over by the apes.
But as the film rolls around to its grand conclusion, the violence and chaos begins to recede and take a backseat again, and Reeves returns to the heart of his story: the characters, and a climactic face-off between Caesar and Kopa that distills the essence of the film into a single scene. Without spoiling things, it encapsulates everything that Reeves has managed to do with the movie: using a group of CGI apes to make a very human statement about morality and the value of life, but also acknowledging the inevitability of conflict and - sometimes - the necessity of war, death and sacrifice.
It's heady stuff for an effects-driven blockbuster, but that just goes to show how ambitious and mould-breaking Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is.
Spooks Series 9
This series is a fantastic example of Nritish television drama. It is a show filled with plot twists that keep you ready at all times. I love it!
Ace In The Hole (Masters of Cinema) (DUAL FORMAT Edition)
This morally gripping, yet acidic story is about rotten journalism and the public's insatiable appetite for it. I personally have never been keen on the media and found it easy to blame the press for its portraits of self-destructing celebrities, philandering footballers, corrupt politicians or bragging serial killers, but who loves those stories? We the public do.
Charles Tatum, played by the charismatic and diverse Hollywood icon that is Kirk Douglas in his most savage and merciless role, is a highly skilled, flamboyant, super-confident and intelligent, hotshot city reporter with a drinking problem who's been fired by almost a dozen newspapers for his unscrupulous conduct that includes lechery, slander and boozing. We find him broke and virtually unhirable. The fiercely ambitious, self-centred, wisecracking and now down-on-his-luck newspaperman somehow manages to con his way into a job at a local paper of little consequence, in the backwater town of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Resentfully stagnating for a year without any pressing news, the break he's been waiting for finally comes. Dispatched to a remote town to cover a rattlesnake competition, he stops in a desert hamlet and learns that the owner of the trading post has been trapped in an abandoned silver mine by a cave-in. On meeting the miner, Leo Minosa, Tatum smells an opportunity to return to the Big Time. In his bald-faced connivance with the venal local sheriff and Leo's trampish, disillusioned young wife Lorraine - played to perfection by Jan Sterling - Tatum monopolises and capitalises upon disaster. His promotional savvy and ability to understand the human psyche, and all its desires enables him to turn the miner's plight into a national news event, attracting thousands of onlookers, newsreel cameramen, radio commentators and sideshow hucksters who have arrived to exploit the gawkers; hot dog stands, cotton candy vendors and even a merry-go-round. Tatum, pyramids and prolongs what seems like a simple caving disaster ordeal into a nationally sensational tragedy by cooking up a cockamamie scheme and keeping it on the front pages of the papers for as long as he possibly can. He nails down possession of the story, totally and frighteningly committed on spinning it out for as long as he can, and milk it for all the money and fame he can get, therefore controlling his own destiny by getting his old job back in New York.
Instead of blaming Charles Tatum who ultimately masterminds a media circus, you end up getting angry at the sightseers who pay a few cents admission to learn more about the victim trapped at the bottom of a mine shaft. You feel you're at an amusement park except only this time, a man's life is at stake and yet it makes little difference to the hoards of people gathered. All of the callousness and cheapness of people as they swarm like locusts around the entrance of the cavern in which Leo is trapped provides an acute realism and truth that is rare to find in 50s cinema anywhere in the world. We see first-hand, the ice-cold commercialism and revolting circus atmosphere created outside the cavern that was once a desolate outpost in the middle of nowhere, in which crowds have gathered to watch a slow race with death.
Through the director, Billy Wilder's genius, we are shown in no uncertain terms how infectious and corrupting sensationalised news can be. Barely anyone seen in the film is immune from the personal degradation of this carnival and it is because of this surrounding that Tatum appears not to be as bad as he is. Lorraine, the victim's wife initially eager to leave Leo and the struggling business has a dramatic change of heart once Tatum wakes her up to the prospects of experiencing a financial windfall from the thousands of tourists that are about to flock to witness the rescue attempt. A young, impressionable photographer at the local paper slowly loses his idealism as he follows Tatum's lead and starts to dream of striking it big himself. Then there's the shifty sheriff, calculating the publicity value to his forthcoming election campaign.
Ace in the Hole is an unsentimental and uncompromising piece of brilliance now rightly considered a masterpiece that was way ahead of its time. It wasn't a success on its initial release in 1951. Way back when it was made, you could imagine the furore it caused amongst the press who would certainly have accused the film of distorting journalistic practices. In fact you could also understand why the film did so poorly at the box office since it was probably viewed with some disdain amongst the institutions of power and even the audience who are all seen as complicit in determining the fate of Leo.
Some sixty years later, when countless newspapers and magazines compete to come up with the cattiest buzz terms and giddily celebrate the demise of celebrity relationships for buffo bucks, using as we now know, totally immoral and often illegal methods to gain their scoops, Ace in the Hole is even more relevant than ever and has lost none of its grip and power. It would be hard to imagine anyone in the press not recognising their own hunger for sensation. Having said that, the same could be said about the public. This is a bitter, sordid, trenchant and cynical drama that sets a corrupt newspaperman against a grisly panorama of mob morbidity. The legendary Billy Wilder does a spectacular job of creating a totally plausible vision of the monstrous vulgarity of mob behaviour influenced by a seemingly small accident that becomes a bizarre national catastrophe.
Kirk Douglas is at his most uningratiatingly forceful and immoral throughout the entire film and has this ability to curl his face into scorn and bitterness as Tatum. Never has the saying "Like father, like son" made so much sense than in the case of Douglas's performance here in comparison to his his son, Michael's acting as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street. There's a great deal of resemblance in their characters and I don't just mean in their appearance. They're worth watching back to back. Kirk Douglas's Tatum takes charge with such confidence you believe he can get away with it. He's a self-loathing guy who just won't bend and this is put into brilliant contrast when Tatum who controls access to the rescue, regularly goes down the mine to visit Leo. Their amiable conversations and Leo's dependence on Tatum who has ingratiated himself as his true friend makes you hope that everything will be fine and humanity will prevail; that Tatum will take pity on Leo's plight and prolonged suffering. Alas Tatum's character is so focused, energetic and strong it's almost scary. Tatum drives relentlessly toward his goal of money and fame. You get a scary feeling every time Tatum appears on screen and this quality makes Ace in the Hole a colossal powerhouse of a film. It would have been easier to show Tatum share our sympathy for the pathetic Leo. It's not that he is completely nasty, in fact he's on a parabola in that direction but wants it to intersect with the moment of his own greatest fame. He truly believes in his own invincibility. Tatum appears to be a tarnished hero whose flaws outweigh his talents. You feel he is on his way down the ladder and only when he hits real rock bottom, will he find redemption and salvation but at what cost?
The dialogue throughout Ace in the Hole is razor sharp and amongst the best ever committed to film. One such example of this is when Lorraine is ordered to attend a prayer service for her husband Leo by Tatum and she sneers, "I don't go to church. Kneeling bags my nylons." Another perfectly timed punch of a line is delivered early on by Tatum which sums him up brilliantly as he barks "I can handle the big news and little news. And if there's no news, I'll go out and bite a dog." To again emphasise that Tatum's charm, Lorraine, realising his crafty scheme and knowing full well that she will prosper from it says to him half admiringly "I've met a lot of hard-boiled eggs in my life, but you, you're twenty minutes."
This is a single-mindedly economical film with every shot serving its purpose perfectly, without any exposition. Everything becomes crystal clear like a Polaroid photo as it exposes itself almost instantly. Every shot speaks for itself. Charles B Lang shot the film in a stark, tabloid black-and-white. The interior darkness is contrasted with the blinding desert light to perfection. We see Leo in the darkness and we can't help but feel sorry for him. He's probably the only decent human being in this bleak film other than his doctor. It's also in the back of your mind that whilst he's down in the cave, he has no idea what is going on in the world above, as he remains stuck in the helpless hell of his situation and location. We watch as his human spirit becomes squashed for societal-weary gravitas, hoping and praying that his heart-felt conversations with Tatum will leave the latter changing his ways or that Tatum's protracted scam will pay off and Leo will be rescued. Yet you sense from the start that as long as the scheme is played out, Leo isn't going to be saved, especially when the reprehensible Tatum uses Leo's spiritual panic as an entertainment. He may be figuratively digging Leo's grave. Spectators ogle and compete for on-air time - their 60 seconds of fame -campaign promises are made, deals are brokered, the circus comes to town and prices skyrocket.
Ace in the Hole refuses to give its audience an easy point of sympathetic identification and in many ways reminds me of another 50s tabloid masterpiece starring Douglas's dear friend and contemporary, Burt Lancaster, though the settings are far apart. In addition Ace in the Hole somehow offers greater hope because Tatum is at close proximity to his subject unlike Lancaster's J.J. Hunsecker who is completely out of touch with his audience's reality. Wilder brilliantly implicates this small town community in Leo's predicament. Ultimately the film's genius also lies in the metaphoric impact the pressure outside the cave has on the inside; as the immorality escalates, Leo inches closer to death. And as the drill moves in on the man, its incessant sound serves to punish the people who've deliberately prolonged his suffering. "Why shouldn't we get something out of it," says someone at one point. This is the film's mantra of greed. It serves as a diatribe against all that is worst in human nature. Some have found the ending to go astray in comeuppance time but it doesn't really diminish the film in any way. Ace in the Hole questions the very nature of human interest stories and the twisted relationship between the media and its public.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Superhero movies as we know them today owe a lot to Bryan Singer's original X-Men movie, released way back in 2000. By eliminating the camper elements of previous superhero films in favour of sci-fi seriousness, and by toning down the garish colours and silly outfits into something more grounded and functional, Singer inadvertently set a template that would be successfully followed by superhero filmmakers for years to come.
But recent movies in the X-Men series have faltered slightly. When Singer was replaced by Brett Ratner on X-Men 3, several creative decisions were made that would inflict long-term harm on the franchise (including killing off more than one well-loved character, and pushing others into places where they were difficult to use effectively again). And a mediocre pair of Wolverine-focused films didn't help things.
However, things started looking up in 2011 when Matthew Vaughn directed X-Men: First Class, a reboot of sorts with a brand new young cast, with a story that showed how Professor X - the leader of the superhero group - began to put his team together in the 1960s. And that film led to this one: Days of Future Past - or DOFP for short - an epic adventure that combines elements of all three of the previous six X-Men and Wolverine movies and mixes them into a glorious cocktail that both celebrates the past successes of the franchise and sets a new direction for subsequent X-Men movies to follow.
By setting part of its time-travelling story in a dystopian alternate future and part of it in a more realistic past (the 1970s to be exact), DOFP is able to combine the older, original cast - featuring such luminaries as Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry and Hugh Jackman - with the younger crew, which includes hot current stars like Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy and Jennifer Lawrence. The result is one of the most impressive ensembles ever to feature in any film - let alone a superhero film - and Singer ensures that his epic, emotional and high-stakes story does them justice.
Because this is a film that is highly dramatic throughout: from a grim prologue that shows just how dangerous this mutant-hating future can be (with mutants hunted down and executed by merciless, terrifying shape-shifting robots), through a storyline that deals with the emotional fallout of First Class (including a dejected and drug-addicted young professor X) all the way through to the gripping final face-off involving Fassbender's Magneto, Lawrence's Mystique and Peter Dinklage as Bolivar Trask (the guy who was responsible for inventing all those mutant-killing robots in the first place), you'll be on the edge of your seat.
And the special effects are a match for the performances. We're growing increasingly used to these superhero films being able to show us anything we can imagine, so the test of a good one is often in just how imaginative the director can be. And whether it's relatively subtle effects (like the spatially-disorienting portals that can be created by one young mutant to confuse his enemies) or big setpieces (like Magneto's climactic attack in which he picks up an entire stadium and drops it in the middle of Washington), the film dazzles.
Perhaps the most impressive moment, though, is the scene in which a young Magneto rescues a mutant called Quicksilver from imprisonment. Quicksilver's power is super-speed, and the sequence in which we see the world from his perspective - with everything moving in extreme slow motion, free for him to manipulate and navigate at will - is a mini-masterpiece that's at once beautiful, imaginative, clever, funny and original: the film in a nutshell, basically. My only complaint is that Quicksilver is in the movie for far too short a time, as I could watch an entire movie about that guy.
With an amazing cast, some fantastic action and drama, and a compelling storyline, this is the best X-Men movie since at least X-Men 2 (and possibly ever). It gets grim in places - there's death and destruction throughout, even for fairly well-established characters - but it's worth hanging in there until the end to see how Singer pulls things back from the brink, setting the stage for a bolder, brighter future for the franchise (and retroactively fixing a lot of problems from past movies into the bargain).
If you're an X-Men fan, this is a real treat - and if you're someone who has been turned off by the series' recent downturn in quality, then you'll be delighted to see that this is a genuine return to form.
The Glimmer Man
Steven Seagal stars as Jack Cole, an LA cop investigating the work of a serial killer known as The Family Man. If you were thinking though that this sounds far too much like a conventional Hollywood thriller for the likes of Seagal, then you would be right. Whilst Jack Cole is a cop, he has a murky past and yes, you know the rest - he used to be in the military before being recruited into the CIA. And if you were wondering where the title of the film came from, it refers to our hero - "there'd be nothing but jungle, then a glimmer, then you'd be dead!"
There are a number of weaknesses with this film; the story for a start. To say that it is thin would be an understatement. The finale too will leave you feeling a little disappointed. However, despite these things it is definitely worth a watch. There is a scene in a restaurant that shows Seagal at his very best and it is certainly equal to, if not better than, any other scene in any of his films. The Glimmer Man also benefits from a decent supporting cast who do their best with a limited script. Keenan Ivory Wayans (Scary Movie) plays Seagal's partner and adds a little comic relief as well as some action of his own (it will make you wonder why he hasn't appeared in more films?). Brian Cox (The Bourne Identity, Troy) and Bob Gunton (Argo, The Shawshank Redemption) also add weight.
If you are a fan of the big man's early films, and like me grew up watching them, there will have come a time when you realised that he was never going to make a decent film ever again. We wished it wasn't true, but accepting it can be something of a liberating experience. Where I used to get really angry at the fact that he couldn't be bothered to dub his own voice in the majority of his straight to DVD offerings, now I am calm. I simply don't watch them. Instead, I sit back and enjoy the glory days. In fact 8 of his first 9 films are well worth watching: Nico - Above the Law (1988), Hard to Kill (1990), Marked for Death (1990), Out for Justice (1991), Under Siege (1992), Under Siege 2 (1995), Executive Decision (1996) and The Glimmer Man (1996). Do yourself a big favour and stop there (although to be fair, Exit Wounds (2001) is passable). The only film to avoid during his 'early period' is On Deadly Ground (1994).
In summary, The Glimmer Man has all of the things that you would expect: lots of action, a Buddhist quote or two, some more action and Seagal wearing a silly coat. It is definitely worth watching and at only 91 minutes in length things keep ticking along nicely. Seagal is also meaner, and certainly a lot leaner than we have come to expect in recent years. Fundamentally, The Glimmer Man is a fairly routine action film. However, it is the fact that Seagal has seemingly been unable to do routine very well of late that makes this one a little more rewarding than it would perhaps have been otherwise.
Family Guy - Season 14
Family Guy season 14 was 1 of the best DVDs I've seen in years, especially the episode entitled: Life of Brian, not only did it bring a tear to everyone's eyes but it also brought a sense of mystery due to him being killed off for only 3 episodes and introducing Vinny, This is a best buy especially from Amazon because of its low prices, So thanks to Amazon for this wonderful treasure of gold :-)
Of all the films that I have ever seen, 'Spirited Away' is one of the ones that has touched me most deeply. A beautiful, strange and beguiling animated film from Japan's famous Studio Ghibli, its coming-of-age story deftly mixes fantasy and reality to create an adventure that is partly an allegory for a child entering the scary world of being an adult, and partly a celebration of youthful naivety and imagination in the face of grown-up dullness. Filled with memorable and original characters, it's a film that is guaranteed to stay in your mind forever, even after you've only watched it once.
To explain how it has touched me so deeply probably means revealing some of my personal history with the film. I was lucky enough to first see 'Spirited Away' at an advance cinema screening in the UK shortly before its release here in 2003, and as a result I didn't know anything about it beforehand. But as soon as I watched it, I immediately knew it was something special. I had never even seen a Studio Ghibli film before this one, so the wildly imaginative and exotic, resolutely un-western creations of legendary Ghibli writer and director Hayao Miyazaki felt fresh and new to me in the same way as landmark modern animations like 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?', 'Beauty and the Beast' and 'Toy Story' felt in their day.
After seeing the film at the cinema, I immediately sought out the DVD (at that time having to import a copy, well before a UK version was available) and watched the film to death, drinking in the glorious animation and finding new subtleties and layers in the story each time I watched it. But it wasn't until later that I truly fell in love with 'Spirited Away': on a difficult night when, suffering from insomnia and nervousness after a long evening of working, and unable to switch my mind off, I decided to sit down at 3am and try to calm myself by losing myself in the world of 'Spirited Away'.
And I was transported.
The expansive world created by Miyazaki for 'Spirited Away' has its inception in the simple journey taken by a young girl, Sen, to her new home with her parents. However, when the family stop their car and discover a strange old abandoned theme park, Sen begins to be drawn into a magical world that lies just beneath the surface of her own - and as she gets sucked further into it (her parents being mysteriously transformed into pigs at this point), she discovers an entire society of strange creatures that live and work in a magical parallel universe.
But like 'Alice in Wonderland' - which surely must have been an inspiration for this story - the world of 'Spirited Away' is not all pleasant and kind. Sen is forced to work for her living in a local bath-house that is visited by a host of weird gods and monsters, all of which are magical and strange, but some of which have their own sinister agendas and secrets. Unlike many childrens' films, 'Spirited Away' is not afraid to challenge childrens' views about the world: but although the film is sometimes scary and often ambiguous, all of its darker and creepier moments inevitably lead Sen to the eventual discovery of a profound truth or a greater understanding of life, empowering her by encouraging self-education and empathy.
When it comes to filmmaking, there's a lot of talk of 'character arcs' as an important aspect of every story - which usually means a character going from point A to point B in their life, and learning something or changing somehow on the way. But not many movies give you the sense of truly going on a journey with the lead character in the way that 'Spirited Away' does. Sen truly grows into a different character by the end of this film, and unlike many lesser movies, you are truly made to feel that (sometimes difficult) transition every step of the way.
And as I sat there in the middle of the night, going on this journey of self-discovery and edification with Sen (culminating in a beautiful and moving sequence set on a train, that I won't ruin for newcomers here), I genuinely felt as though I had come out the other side of the film as a slightly different person: stronger, more confident, and more secure in my place in the world. How many films can truly move you like that?
Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that you have to have a deeply personal or profound experience like mine with this film to enjoy it. There's so much here to recommend to even a casual viewer, whether it's the visual comedy of Sen's bath-house experiences, the cuteness of many of the character designs, or the sheer sense of imagination that exudes from every pore.
But if you really invest yourself in it, you'll find that this is a powerful movie that goes far beyond the normal reach of a mere animated kids' adventure. And on Blu-Ray - with the unsurpassed picture and sound quality that makes the high-definition format such a boon for fans of hand-drawn animation (as well as the elimination of some of the defects of earlier DVD versions, such as the odd overly-red tinge that marred the visuals of many of the standard-definition releases of 'Spirited Away') - it finally has a release worthy of its greatness.
I wish I could give it six stars.