Sunday, 29 January 2012

Film: The Grey

Liam Neeson (Taken) leads a group of plane crash survivors on a journey for survival across a frozen wilderness with a pack of hungry wolves in pursuit.

The survivors are all members of an oil drilling crew, men on the fringes of society with their own reasons for spending so much time away from home.

Providing the perfect blend of emotion and excitement this adventure movie features some strong performances. Neeson is as reliable as ever and excellent support comes from Frank Grillo (Warrior) and Dermot Mulroney (Young Guns). The men struggle to get along while traversing the hazardous terrain but must learn to work together if they are to survive.

They don't all make it, there are some jump-out-your-skin deaths and some very moving moments, all of which combine to make this the first must-see movie of 2012.

The Grey is in UK cinemas now.

Ric's Rating: 88%

Friday, 27 January 2012

Film: Straw Dogs

This remake of the notorious 1971 Dustin Hoffman film casts X-Men’s James Marsden in the lead with notable support from Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgard and James Woods. TV favourites Dominic Purcell (Prison Break) and Walton Goggins (The Shield, Justified) also feature.

David Sumner (Marsden) and his wife Amy (Bosworth) decide to return to her hometown, a tranquil setting that should be conducive to David’s writing.
They soon hire a group of locals to repair their barn and tension quickly builds, leading to a sexual assault on Amy.

I haven’t seen the 1971 version but because of it’s reputation I was expecting something more visceral than what’s on show here. The attack on Amy is very unpleasant but it lacks the power required for this type of scene to suitably shock. Subsequent events also seem somewhat anti-climactic.

There are some nice performances, especially from James Woods, but for a controversial rape / revenge drama check out the recent remake of I Spit On Your Grave (see review elsewhere here).

Ric’s Rating: 45%

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Film: Before The Fall

In wartime Germany a promising young boxer leaves his family (and the prospect of a mundane job) behind when he is lured to a school for The Elite.

Freiderich soon makes both friends and foes in the competitive environment but the boys soon learn that the reason they are there is far more serious than spying on girls and boxing matches.

This German film is no action packed war movie as the cover may suggest. It’s a thoughtful coming of age tale that takes place during one of the darkest times in recent history.

It takes a while to get going but once the petty rivalries make way for really disturbing issues this becomes a captivating film that presents a WWII story that (to my knowledge) hasn’t previously made it onto our screens.

Before The Fall is available on DVD in the UK now.

Ric’s Rating: 68%

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Film: The Sitter

Jonah Hill (Superbad, Cyrus) proves that he's a more than capable leading man in this comedy that mixes Adventures In Babysitting (aka A Night On The Town) with American Pie.

Noah Griffith (Hill) agrees to look after the children of his Mother's friend while the "oldies" are out for the evening but, as expected, chaos ensues.

Griffith agrees to pick up his girlfriend from a party and obtain drugs from the local dealer, all with the kids in tow. The group then find themselves chased by gangsters and caught up in many awkward situations.

Corny and predictable but often hilarious this will appeal to fans of Horrible Bosses and The Hangover. Hill is great as the down-trodden Griffith and he manages to make the character likable.

Ric's Rating: 70%

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Book: Finders Keepers by Belinda Bauer

Children are vanishing in the town of Shipcott and local Policeman Jonas Holly vows to save them, even though he’s just returned to his job following a personal tragedy.

Belinda Bauer’s third novel returns to the community featured in the previous books and Steven Lamb, the kid from Blacklands, once again takes centre stage.

Lamb knows some of the missing children but he is reluctant to trust the local policeman and even conveys those fears to the city cops brought in to solve the case. Meanwhile he is experiencing his first love and inside he knows that he is slowly becoming a man so feels that he must stand up for his beliefs.

Will Steven once again triumph in the face of extreme adversity?

This is another excellent yarn from the CWA Gold Dagger award winning author. She has created a sleepy little town that harbours many dark secrets and features some fantastic characters. From the wonderfully complicated Holly and the determined teenager Steven, the insecure DI Reynolds and his colleagues, each character is fully rounded enriching the overall feel of the tale.

To fully enjoy this I’d recommend that you read the previous books, Blacklands and Darkside (see reviews elsewhere here), especially Darkside as it’s essential to understand Jonas Holly. The small town policeman is one of the best characters in recent crime fiction, tortured but no stereotypical alky, he seems to understand the perpetrator of the crime while retaining an air of menace himself.

Captivating, realistic and poignant, I can’t wait for my next visit to Shipcott.

If you haven’t read Bauer then what are you waiting for?

Ric’s Rating: 89%

Friday, 20 January 2012

Film: A Lonely Place to Die

A group of climbers venture into the beautiful Highlands of Scotland (ok, I’m biased) to tackle some treacherous peaks. Their trip soon becomes a race for survival upon the alarming discovery of a captive girl.

Gripping from the vertigo inducing opening scene, this fine British film moves along at a cracking pace as the reluctant rescuers attempt to outrun the warring factions in pursuit of the girl.

Melissa George (Triangle, The Amityville Horror) heads the cast which features lots of familiar faces from UK and Scottish television, all of whom perform well and look very comfortable in what must be a first for many of them.

The finale lives up to the rest of the film when it comes to tension and entertainment but it takes place during a rather bizarre street carnival more akin to the streets of Rio or New Orleans than Inverness.

Anyone who enjoyed the likes of Vertical Limit and the Sidney Poitier mountain movie Deadly Pursuit will love it and it’s another plus for British film.

Ric’s Rating: 73%

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Film: Stay Cool

The old cliché about books and covers comes into play here. Check out the cover. High School chick flick, right? Wrong. What we have here is a whole lot more interesting.

It’s the tale of successful author Henry McCarthy (Mark Polish, who also wrote the film) returning to his High School to deliver a motivational speech to graduates. In order to get into the minds of the teenagers McCarthy decides to spend some time at the school and what follows is a surreal story that takes the 37 year old right back to his own High School days.

All the essential elements of a classic school movie are here, from staying with his parents (where his bedroom still has posters of The Lost Boys), old friends, enemies, teachers and the object of his teenage affections (Winona Ryder).

It all comes together perfectly to create a funny and poignant film that takes one back to their own school days. This is a perfect example of a “little known gem”, it’s the kind of film that doesn’t get a UK cinema release because it has no current major stars and it’s a school film aimed at adults so no mass appeal, such a shame.

The entire cast are fantastic. Mark Polish is perfect as the former geek still looking for love and Winona Ryder (who starred in the classic school movie Heathers) is excellent as his long lost sweetheart. Chevy Chase does a cool comedy turn as the principal and Sean Astin (The Lord Of The Rings trilogy) is hilarious as the flamboyant “Big Girl”.

I managed to find another poster that much more accurately depicts the film so I had to post

that too.

Highly recommended for anyone who appreciates the influence that their school days had on their lives , pretty much everyone then.

Stay Cool is released on DVD in the UK on 30th January 2012 courtesy of Metrodome.

Ric’s Rating: 92%

Friday, 6 January 2012

Film: Cash

Jean Reno is fast becoming France’s answer to Steven Seagal, he seems to be appearing in an endless amount of straight to dvd films of varying quality.

This effort gives Reno second billing and he features prominently on the cover but he doesn’t show up for quite some time, although he does make a significant impact and his charisma shines through.

The main character is a con artist called Cash (Jean Dujardin, a man who strongly resembles UK tv star Robson Green). Following the death of his brother, Cash plans revenge and with the help of Reno and others he goes about hurting the culprits where they’ll feel it most, in their pockets.

The Ocean’s Eleven type antics are mildly interesting but the whole thing lacks excitement and pace. A surprising appearance by Ciaran Hinds from UK tv’s Above Suspicion was the most entertaining thing about it, he even speaks French, complete with the accent.

Cash was made in 2008 but arrives on DVD in the UK on 9th January 2012 courtesy of Metrodome.

Ric’s Rating: 37%

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Book: Text Message by William Malmborg

A Christmas shopping trip becomes a terrifying ordeal for sisters Mallory and Jenna in the new thriller from the author of Jimmy (see review elsewhere here).

While Mallory browses in a lingerie shop she sends her sister elsewhere and soon receives an ominous text message stating simply “I have your sister”.

The perpetrator then begins setting Mallory tasks and in order to spare Jenna from suffering she must complete each one, no matter how dangerous or degrading. A security guard, Dan, offers his help. But can he be trusted?

Enter the villain of the piece, Mr Campbell and we soon learn that he has become a predator due to some horrific incidents in his past.

This fast-paced tale takes place over the course of a single day in which the shopping mall has to close early due to adverse weather leaving the girls alone with the seriously unhinged Campbell.

The book will please fans of films like Saw and anyone who enjoys “horror” without silly monsters or anything supernatural going on.

Text Message is a heart-stopping and often disturbing thriller that remains easy to read but is not for the faint of heart.

For more information on the author and his other projects visit

Ric’s Rating: 74%

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Film: The Legend Of Bruce Lee

While watching this biopic of the legendary martial artist I gradually suspected that I was looking at something made for tv. A glance at the running time (a staggering 183mins) added to my suspicions. Research duly confirmed that this is a condensed version of a Chinese tv show that ran for 50 episodes, each one 45mins long.

It does throw in a couple of nifty fight scenes but even the charismatic Danny Chan (who bears a striking resemblance to Lee) and brief appearances from Marc Dacascos (Brotherhood Of The Wolf) and Michael Jai White (Exit Wounds, Blood & Bone) fail to broaden its appeal beyond the intended audience.

Bruce Lee's story has already been told for Western audiences in the fantastic Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story and this serves as a timely reminder of just how good that film was.

Recommended only to Bruce Lee devotees.

The Legend Of Bruce Lee is released on DVD in the UK on 9th January 2012.

Ric's Rating: 39%

Film: Elite Squad: The Enemy Within

We kick off the 2012 reviews with a cracker from Brazil that should appeal to anyone interested in world cinema.

When Captain Nascimento (Wagner Moura) takes responsibility for a botched prison hostage rescue he expects to be kicked out of the Brazilian police. Instead he is given a position within the political machine and decides to use this to benefit his colleagues on the street.

When the police begin to get the better of the drug dealers Nascimento soon learns that he faces a more dangerous foe, corrupt officers and those who stand to make political gain through their activities.

This sequel to 2007s The Elite Squad contains a curious mix of explosive action, political drama and family problems that works very well indeed.

Evoking memories of the best of South American cinema (City Of God, Amores Perros) this intricately woven tale comes together beautifully and features fantastic performances from all involved.

There’s no need to have seen the original (I didn’t) as this works as a stand-alone film although my compulsion to experience events leading to those depicted here make it a must-see.

Elite Squad: The Enemy Within is available on DVD in the UK now.

Ric’s Rating: 84%

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Top Books Read in 2011

2011 will go down as the year I embraced reading e-books. The format has helped open my eyes to new authors, short stories and has made me willing to take risks with my reading, some of which paid off big time.

Traditional printed books did not go away, on the contrary I actually welcomed the feel of them after reading e-books so overall I had a brilliant reading experience in 2011.

Here are some of the highlights in no particular order. Each book is reviewed in full elsewhere here and I've included a quote from it to give you a brief taster.

Murder In Silence by Gary Kassay
“stunning debut thriller........harrowing.....the best self-published book I’ve read”

Sinema by Rod Glenn
“This is a hardcore serial killer thriller that won’t appeal to those used to cosy whodunits”

Jimmy by William Malmborg
“ captivating journey through the mind of a young man who crosses the line and brings his darkest fantasies to life”

Black Flowers by Steve Mosby
“Neil Dawson investigates the apparent suicide of his Father in the latest disturbing tale from Steve Mosby”

Creep by Jennifer Hillier
“Fatal Attraction meets a sexually charged story”

11.59 by David Williams
“Full of seedy goings-on and laced with dark humour it had me looking forward to resuming the story every time”

Ask The Dice by Ed Lynskey
“very engaging and the explosive finale provides a final round knockout”

Winds Of Change by Jason Brannon
“simultaneously terrifying and intriguing”

The Sacrificial Man by Ruth Dugdall
“Dugdall proves to be a smart new voice in the crime fiction genre”

The Infection by Craig Dilouie
“everything The Walking Dead aspires to be....all the best elements of a zombie story in one place”

Blitz by Ken Bruen
“Highly recommended for fans of violent, fast paced crime stories”

Memory Leak by Trevor Schmidt
“an action thriller told at a blistering pace that reminded me of one of my favourite films, Total Recall”