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I like a challenge... so will the end of this year and next (2016) see me return with a 'Around the world in 80 Films' attempt? (Actually can I even find 80 countries I can watch and review films from!)

Reviews written

since 07/09/2004


Leviathan (DVD) 17/03/2016

Small time corruption Russian style

Leviathan (DVD) Leviathan is a much acclaimed Russian movie that was released in 2014. Directed and written by Andrey Zvyagintsev (who had previously made the intriguing The Return and the wonderful Elena) it is based on a news report he heard while in America. The story of Marvin Heemeyer, from Colorado, interested him so much he wanted to make a film of the story and realised that the circumstances were not particular to the USA and rethought it to make it more Russian. The basic story is a pretty simple one. Nikolay is a hard working family man, he lives by the coast in a small Russian town. He has a hard but good life, until the Mayor tells him that they are going to demolish his house for a new building and that he will have to find somewhere else to live. He is offered money but it is a pittance and Kolya decides that he is going to fight against this seemingly arbitrary decision. He contacts an old army friend who has become a lawyer in Moscow and he soon arrives to come and help his former comrade... but will he be able to help or does the mayor have the upper hand? The story is one common the world over, the simple, common man fighting against the government (local or national) against all odds, discovering corruption is just one of the many injustices he will have to rail against. Because it is something we can easily understand Leviathan is a foreign film that can easily be watched by anyone who doesn’t mind the subtitles. You certainly get on Kolya’s side pretty quickly ...

Shooting For Socrates (DVD) 12/02/2016

Like an England penalty... it misses the target

Shooting For Socrates (DVD) Shooting For Socrates Shooting For Socrates is a film based around the adventures of the Northern Ireland football team in the last couple of qualifying games for the 1986 World Cup and what happened to them over in Mexico when they made it. More importantly it is about the fact that they are going to have to play Brazil, the best team in the world, and play against Socrates, Brazil’s number one playmaker. Most of the story focuses around the team, the TV pundit/star following them and a boy back home in Belfast who loves football and idolises Socrates. This is a very strange film, not in the sense of how it is made or what it does but in the sense of what is it trying to achieve. Having watched it I don’t get what it was doing, trying to do or what the point of it was. A story about the Northern Ireland football team qualifying and playing in the World Cup is, you would think going to have a limited appeal unless you actually try and add something to it. After all the team is actually a popular one worldwide like maybe Republic of Ireland were in the 1990’s. The plucky little underdogs who achieved a lot doesn’t really apply to them as they didn’t! Now maybe if the makers had done something more than just make a pretty dry, almost documentary like version of the story it would be different but to be honest this feels more like a documentary than a film but without the authenticity and the interviews. It is like the makers said he look Northern Ireland played ...

PTU (DVD) 08/02/2016

Everyone in a uniform is a brother

PTU (DVD) PTU PTU is a crime drama from the mind of the brilliant Johnnie To. Johnnie To is probably my favourite modern day director, vying with Richard Linklater and Wes Anderson, and definitely the best action movie maker around at this moment in time. Though I say action his films are quite often action based but are much deeper than the average out and out action film, which is one of the main reasons I love his films. He has been directing since 1980 but finally came to notice in the Western world with Fulltime Killer in 2001 (at least that was the first one of his films I had ever come across) and has since then has had a long stream of movies hit our shores. The likes of Election (one of my favourite films), Breaking News, the terrific Sparrow and the completely mental but extraordinary Mad Detective. After having seen a few excellent Hong Kong made films I started realising that a lot of them were directed by To and started checking out whatever of his I could find. This lead me to finding PTU (Police Tactical Unit) a 2003 made film that led to a series of five spin of films produced by To between 2008-2009. PTU is set over one night shift on the near empty streets of Hong Kong. Sergeant Mike Ho and his PTU are patrolling the streets. The four of them patrol together and try to keep the criminals from committing their crimes. Detective Lo is part of the Organised Crime and Triad department and comes across a man called ‘Ponytail’ and his gang early in the evening. ...

Kontroll (DVD) 02/02/2016

What lies beneath?

Kontroll (DVD) Deep beneath the city streets of Budapest there are miles nad miles of underground tunnels. Along them run the trains that service the city and on those trains you will find the city’s ticket collectors patrolling. They are a desperate bunch of strange men and women who spend their working days away from sunlight and facing the vitriol of the populace who hate them, just for checking they actually have tickets for the train they are on. It seems as if a fair number of the inhabitants of Budapest think that buying a ticket for the underground is something they have no need to do, and cause enough trouble when approached that the inspectors have to travel in groups of 5… yes five! Kontroll follows one of these groups. A motley bunch as you are ever likely to see, as they work on the trains and the stations. Kontroll is a Hungarian film directed, and co-written, by Nimrod Antal, who has since moved to America and made Vacancy (OK horror), Armoured (pretty good crime/heist movie) and the more famous sequel Predators. It was made in 2004 and was a massive critical success on the European continent and the recipient of a large number of rave, 5 star review when it first came out, something that is very easy to understand once you have seen the movie. Because of all the hype behind it at the time Kontroll has long been on my list of films that I MUST get around to seeing (this is a very, very long list!) Kontroll is a very character led film and it is fiction although the ...

Pioneer (DVD) 28/01/2016

Political conspiracy..... or accident?

Pioneer (DVD) Norway, the 1980’s, and enormous oil and gas deposits have been discovered off the coast off Norway. Building the rigs is to drill for it is possible but the pipelines to get it from those rigs to the Norwegian cost is much more of a problem. Divers cannot go down that deep and the pipes need to be put together on location, at the bottom of the sea. With American help, money and research a number of divers are being tested under enormous pressure (both mental and physical) to see if different blends of gas could enable them to survive long enough to work on the much needed pipeline. The Norwegians insist on Norwegian divers (Petter and Leif, two brothers) but the Americans have one of their men involved as well (Mike played by Wes Bentley), a man who seems annoyed that he will likely not be the one to actually dive due to politics. Petter is determined to be the man who reaches the bottom of the Norwegian Sea but a tragic accident leads him to wonder about the real aims of the American company and conspiracy theories start running through his mind. Pioneer is a good thriller, it keeps you on the edge of your seat all the way through. You don’t really have any idea of where it is going to go, though you will no doubt have many a theory as you watch it. It is very reminiscent of the ‘Nordic Noir’ TV shows like The Bridge in its tone and look. It has that Norwegian murkiness that seems to be permanently in their skies (which is partly true, when the sun is out there it ...

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (DVD) 25/01/2016

A moody journey into Iranian night life

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (DVD) Jumping out at you from 2014 is a strange, arthouse film with the name ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night’. It is set in Iran, though filmed in California, is in black and white, had minimal dialogue and what it does have is all in Persian. Now if that doesn’t put you off then it is also one of the moodiest, atmospheric and downright creepy (in a non-scary sense) films you are ever likely to se. It isn’t a horror but it certainly built up tension and anticipation a million times more than any modern day horror film I have seen. The film is set in ‘Bad City’, a place that seems to exist on evil and crime. Prostitution and drugs are rife and no one seems to be happy. Into this city comes a girl who is always walking around at night, following people and just acting very strangely. What is it about her that seems slightly unsettling… it doesn’t take long to find out she is a vampire, what effect will she have in Bad City? This is a superb film for mood, suspense, anticipation, expectation and for keeping you on the edge of your seat because you never really have any idea of where this is going to head next. To be fair the story is very lightweight but the enjoyment of A Girl is not really the story but the style it is made with. Normally I am not a guy for style over substance, in fact I find it really annoying when there is a lot of promise in a film but it is wasted because the director/writer/whoever are more interested in looking good or different from everything. ...

The Giver (DVD) 22/01/2016

The Hunger of the Maze Diverges this Giver of nothing much

The Giver (DVD) 2014 gave us yet another dystopian future set young adult novel converted film. I guess the mega success of Hunger Games has made every studio want to find their own version, and to make the same amounts of money. Maze Runner and Divergent have been reasonably successful though the Twilight author Stephenie Meyer’s The Host faired a lot worse. Surprisingly The Giver is not part of the surge in YA novels that have been appearing over the last decade as it was originally written in 1993. The question is though does the movie reach up and grab the coattails of The Hunger Games or is it scrabbling to climb above The Host? The Giver is set in the future, The Ruin occurred a number of years ago and now society is based around a number of communities all near each other. They cannot leave the overall area the communities cover and their lives are pretty good. It looks like a perfect Utopian society. When the age of 16 is reached they graduate and all the teenagers are assigned jobs based on their nature, personality etc in a, well best described as a ‘Sorting Hat’ ceremony. Jonas is missed though and discovers that he has been assigned the prestige job of The Receiver. He has to work with The Giver, the only person who has any memories of before The Ruin, and have these memories passed on to him. What will receiving these memories do to him though? And what happened to the previous teenager assigned to be The Receiver? The Giver is a strange, and very bland, movie. It ...

Wild Tales (DVD) 19/01/2016

Revenge is best served in short stories

Wild Tales (DVD) Wild Tales (or Relatos Salvajes) is an Argentinian film that is a bit like those old British horror films of the 70’s (Asylum for example) where there is a theme which runs through a number of different stories. With the British films it was generally a group of people in one place telling their stories, the inmates in Asylum, a group of people on a train etc. With this film the common thread is that all 6 stories, of varying lengths, involve people getting revenge. Wild Tales was released in Argentina in 2014 and was one of five films that were nominated for Best Foreign Film in the 2015 Oscars. It also became, by the time it left the cinema screens, the most watched film in Argentinian film history. Of the six tales in Wild Tales there is not a dud among them. Some are much better than others but every one of them has something about it that makes it worth seeing. All are very clever and involve scenarios that are extremely unlikely through to something you could almost (well I hope it is almost!) find yourself doing. *chapter titles taken from the Wikipedia page* I’ll be brief in these as some are almost Tales of the Unexpected style and I do not want to give away anything. ‘Pasternak’ A model is on a plane about to go on an assignment. She starts chatting to a Professor next to her and they discover they know the same person. A very short little tale that starts of the film, before the credits, and it is a perfect example of how sometimes short and sweet is ...

Mushrooming (DVD) 17/01/2016

Deep into the forest we go

Mushrooming (DVD) Mushrooming is a political satire… hmmm of Mushrooming is a thriller… no, no Mushrooming is a comedy drama… or maybe Mushrooming is a backwoods horror. Mushrooming is an Estonian film, made in 2012, that was the official entry of Estonia to the 2013 Oscars for best foreign film. It didn’t win as you probably know otherwise you would have heard of it. To be fair it was never going to win or even get into the final five considering what it was up against (the eventual winner was Love by Michael Haneke) but that doesn’t stop it from being an entertaining movie to watch. The basic story revolves around a politician called Villu Koobalt (played by Hendrik Toompere Jr. who is known as a top soap star in Estonia) who is about to come under investigation for corruption. Fed up with all the spin doctors hassling him and trying to find a way of helping him he goes home and heads off into the forests with his wife to go mushrooming. This is seemingly a very popular pastime in Estonia as their favourite places are packed with cars. Instead of heading home Villu drives on angrily until he finds a forest they haven’t been to before. Big mistake as it isn’t long before his stomping around in a bad temper means that they get lost and cannot find their way back out. Now we have a lost politician and his wife in a gradually darkening, creepy forest. Can they find their way out? Meanwhile with no idea where Villu is the spin doctors start panicking. The press are really digging into ...

R: Hit First, Hit Hardest   (DVD) 12/01/2016

Hard hitting prison drama

R: Hit First, Hit Hardest   (DVD) R – Hit first hit hardest In 2009 the French film A Prophet wowed audiences all over the world and was a top contender for best foreign film Oscar, an award it would have won pretty much any year except the year it was entered. I thought it was a nailed on certainty it was that good a film, unluckily though the Argentinian film Secrets In Their Eyes was also nominated and was, much to my surprise a worthy winner. What does this have to do with R Hit First Hit Hardest? Well A Prophet was such a massive hit we soon found hard hitting prison dramas from other countries being picked up by distributors in the hope of attracting the same audience. Cell 211 and R Hit First were two released around the same time as A Prophet and so were caught up in the wave. Cell 211 by the way is also excellent! R is the story of Rune, a young Dane who finds himself transferred to the hardcore criminal section of a prison after stabbing another inmate. Much like A Prophet this is the tale of someone who is trying to survive in the very clique and hierarchical society that exists amongst the other prisoners. Rune is not a fighter and if he doesn’t find a way to get himself in with one of the factions he is going to find life very tough indeed. What will he do to survive his term? Rune is played by Pilou Asbaek, who fans of the foreign TV series shown on BBC4 on Saturday nights may recognise from Borgen or from the films A Hijacking and Lucy, who is an excellent actor. For the role he plays ...

Everything that starts with Z ... 01/12/2015

Zero Protocol, how the FBI took over the USA! (kind of)

Everything that starts with Z ... Mirror State: Zero Protocol is a Megagame based in Cambridge. Zero Protocol is the third one the creators, Jon and Sam, have run and the second one I have been to. A Megagame is effectively a crisis management game where the participants all play various roles, President of the USA, various other politicians, media, Corporations heads or a member of one of the man agencies (FBI, CIA, NSA, NASA, CDC or DOD), and have to save the world, or just the US, from an upcoming apocalypse. There is also, along with the people running the game, some Antagonists. These are the ones who control the 'big bad', whatever it may be, so that it has its own 'moves' and reactions to what is going on.... you just do not know who these are! As a player you have no idea what form the apocalypse is going to be just that it will be world destroying (the first one I participated in the threat was a giant Kraken which attacked the East coast) and the first half of the game involves interacting with fellow players and trying to pool intelligence to find out what is going on so you can start researching ways to hopefully save your country. There are more and more Megagames appearing now and some of them have a lot of players, one in London early in 2015 had over 200 players! More will be explained in the following paragraphs about actual gameplay in Zero Protocol but that is the very basic idea behind the game. In the first game I played I was the Senator for Florida, this time around I got to be ...

Sunshine On Leith (DVD) 01/10/2013

Sunshine warms your heart

Sunshine On Leith (DVD) Sunshine On Leith was the title of the second album by the Scottish band The Proclaimers, best known for the song ‘500 Miles’. It is also the title of a stage musical along the lines of Mama Mia and We Will Rock You that weaves a story around the songs of a single band. Now it is also a movie, set to be released this Friday, October 4th 2013, directed by Dexter Fletcher, one time child star on Press Gang, actor in Lock Stock and Doom and director of the brilliant Wild Bill. The story revolves around two soldiers returning from Afghanistan to their beloved Edinburgh and follows their trials and tribulations in trying to settle back into civilian life and find love and happiness. I had seen the trailer for this a few times before seeing the film and, to be honest, it didn’t really attract me. I thought Mama Mia was a terrible film and the music of The Proclaimers is really not my cup of tea so what could there be in this that would make me want to see it? Nothing at all would be my answer to that. As it was I saw it as the Surprise Movie at a film festival (ie you have no idea what you are getting a ticket for until the film actually starts!). I wasn’t annoyed at it being Sunshine On Leith but I cant say I was overjoyed at now seeing it either. It certainly was not going to be bad enough to make me want to walk out when I discovered what it was, so I sat still and got ready to see what it was like. And you know what Sunshine On Leith turned out to be hugely enjoyable and a ...

Foolproof (DVD) 14/09/2013

A terrific heist movie

Foolproof (DVD) Foolproof is a Canadian made heist movie starring Ryan Reynolds and David Suchet that was released in 2003. It was produced by Canadian indy supremo Atom Egoyan and directed by the unknown, at least by me, William Phillips. Ryan Reynolds is Kevin, an insurance investigator who likes a good intellectual challenge. Along with his friends Sam (Kristin Booth) and Rob (Jaris Jarsky) he plays a little game they call Foolproof. The aim of this game is to plan a robbery down to the smallest detail and train as if they intend to commit the crime. They do absolutely everything in the most intricate detail, plan, research, train… apart from actually going through with their plan! When Lee Gillette, a well known criminal mastermind, gets hold of a set of their latest masterplan and enacts it successfully he then blackmails the trio into doing ‘just one job’ for him. How will the friendship stand up to the outside influence and the potential share of $10 million dollars? Foolproof is slick, well acted, has a great storyline which twists and turns all over the place and was completely unknown to me. I cannot believe a movie as well made and scripted as this just didn’t hit any radar at all. Only a friend telling me I had to see it brought it to my attention. Luckily not long after he mentioned it I saw it on sale for only a couple of pounds and as I like a good heist movie I jumped on it straight away. I am glad I did as my friend was right because Foolproof is one of the most enjoyable ...

Spork (DVD) 11/09/2013

Dancing teenage cutlery?

Spork (DVD) Spork first came to my attention via the 2011 (or maybe 2010) London Film Festival. It was a film I really wanted to see at that time but, if my memory hasn’t failed me completely, it just didn’t fit with anything else I wanted to see, or maybe it was the only thing on that day worth seeing. My thinking generally for LFF is that the cost of going to London means that I only go on a day when there is at least three films on I want to see. As it was Spork got added to my list of films I want to see and I kept my fingers crossed that it would actually get a release at some time, something that doesn’t always happen with films I have seen at Festivals, even one as big and choosy as LFF. Spork is the story of a ‘girl’, I’ll call her a girl for the purpose of this review as, and this isn’t a spoiler, she is actually a hermaphrodite, which makes her different from everyone else at her school and makes her a target for … well pretty much everyone! We only know her as Spork, a name given to her because she is neither one nor the other, and that she is eleven or twelve years old. She lives with her brother in a trailer and he is a stereotypical trailer trash hick, his life is one of women and beer but he does seem to care about his sister. Spork is a very indie looking, and feeling, movie but its story is very much one we have seen many times before. Spork is an outcast in school and is shunned and tormented by the ‘popular’ kids. She has only one friend, a young black girl by ...

Hysteria (DVD) 05/09/2013

An orgasmic comedy

Hysteria (DVD) Hysteria was a strange ‘disease’, common during the 19th and early 20th century is was a name attributed to women who were not acting ‘normal’. In a time when women were effectively non entities in society it is no wonder that men decided that if a women was not doing what they should do then there must be something wrong with them. The word Hysteria comes from the Greek Hystera which means uterus and while the word is no longer used now it is something that exists now categorised as sexual disfunction. At the time though Hysteria was often dealt with by visiting a doctor and having him massage the females genitalia. Now at this stage you might be wondering what on earth does this have to do with a film, especially a romantic comedy, other than the name of the film? Well Hysteria is a romantic comedy all about the treatment of hysteria and the way it led into the invention of the world’s first vibrator. This makes it a very unusual subject for what is in essence a very traditional rom-com. The story progression is very much what you expect it to be and they do nothing new at all with the tropes of the genre but the subject matter makes for a very unusual backdrop for this story. The hero of our story is one Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), a young doctor who is ahead of the older members in his profession. He reads the journals and believes in germs being the cause of many illnesses, much to the disagreement of his elders and to the detriment of his career. He finds ...
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