Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Book: The Failed by Jim Bronyaur

Dr Romen believes he has found the cure to all diseases with his new wonder drug. The D8-C10 virus works by regenerating dead cells consequently curing the patient. Unfortunately everyone who tries the drug dies from the effects……then it begins to work.

The dead come back to life and they are mere shadows of the people they once were. Consumed by the D8-C10 they become the shuffling husks we all know as zombies.

Following the explanation of the outbreak this book quickly becomes a tale of human endeavour amidst the surrounding carnage.

A frightened young girl attempts to convince her parents of the “monsters” outside.
A long haul trucker and his dog hear strange noises coming from their load and two quarrelling pilots begin to suspect their cargo isn’t what it seems.

This is an exciting fight for survival as we follow the characters through various hazardous situations until the remaining few meet up and decide to face the horde in a heroic last-stand battle.

The Failed is a quick easy read that will please fans of the genre but also contains enough emotion and excitement to reach beyond horror. If you like your fiction to be simultaneously fast paced, touching and terrifying then give it a try.

Ric’s Rating: Highly Recommended

Monday, 27 February 2012

Film: One For The Money

Stephanie Plum (Katherine Heigl) is down on her luck. Broke and unemployed she visits her cousin’s bail bonds office and soon finds herself chasing a fugitive with a $50,000 price tag.

The fugitive just happens to be her ex-boyfriend and she must navigate a world populated by crooks, hookers and hitmen to bring him back to custody.

But is he guilty of his crime?

This comedy drama is light on laughs and feels more like a tv pilot episode than a movie but Heigl is easy to watch and her oddball family do provide the odd chuckle.

Jason O’Mara does his best George Clooney impersonation as the fugitive cop but there’s nothing on show here to drag this out of mediocrity.

If it turns up on tv and you’ve nothing else to do then give it a try but don’t go out your way to catch this one.

Ric’s Rating: Dodgy

Film: John Carpenter's The Ward

The once mighty Master Of Horror John Carpenter returns from a lengthy absence with this haunted hospital effort.

Amber Heard plays Kristen, a young woman tortured by her past who ends up detained in the hospital after she burns down the house where she was held captive.

She soon meets the other residents and often encounters a shadowy figure lurking in the background. When girls begin to disappear Kristen decides to find out exactly who the ghoulish figure is.

Some nifty frights help hide the fact that this is a very lacklustre movie from the man behind classic horrors Halloween and The Fog as well as the much under-rated In The Mouth Of madness and the glorious Big Trouble In Little China.

The eerie atmosphere and the fact that it is a Carpenter film make this just about bearable although the hackneyed “twist” at the end almost completely ruins any remaining credibility.

Ric’s Rating: Dodgy

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Film: Miss Bala

An aspiring Beauty Queen gets caught up in drug wars in this violent Mexican thriller.

After entering the beauty contest, Laura (Stephanie Sigman) visits a club with her friend. She then witnesses mayhem as a ruthless gang descends on the crowd. The head man soon has her do his bidding but the local cops also show an interest in what she is up to.

Can she play the two factions against each other while keeping her family safe?

This isn’t half as good as it should be, the whole thing lacks tension and Sigman fails to bring the required emotion to her role as she plods like from scene to scene in a trance-like state.

There are also too many long periods of silence, during car rides etc., which quickly make the viewer lose interest.

A good idea poorly executed.

Miss Bala is available on DVD in the UK now.

Ric’s Rating: Poor

Monday, 20 February 2012

Book: Abide With Me by Ian Ayris

Ian Ayris’ debut novel is a poignant tale of growing up in seventies London.

Ten year old John Sissons leads a care-free life, his time is spent mucking about with friends both in and out of school and on Saturdays he watches his beloved West Ham United football team with his Dad.

The arrival of the aloof Kenny has a huge effect on John’s life and as the lads grow up events take them their separate ways. Years later they meet up again and must stand together to face a fearsome local gangster.

The story is told entirely from John’s perspective and the use of local dialect (something I don’t normally enjoy) works well, taking the reader into the world of a boy who faces many troubles and while he doesn’t always make the right choices, he remains a likable character throughout.

The highlight of the book is the schooldays. Overweight Kenny is easy prey for bullies and aggressive teachers making every day a struggle while at home he has an abusive Father to deal with.

This was a refreshing change from the usual type of crime fiction that I enjoy, it’s a thoughtful coming-of-age tale that often tugs at the heartstrings but also contains a constant element of danger. Fans of films like The Shawshank Redemption will love it.

For more information on the book and it’s author please visit www.ianayris.com

Ric’s Rating: Highly Recommended

TV: Homeland

Damian Lewis, star of the very under-rated tv cop show Life, returns to our screens in this Showtime drama series which premiered in the UK last night.

Lewis is Nicholas Brody, an American soldier rescued after almost ten years as a POW. Brody returns to a Hero’s welcome but CIA analyst Carrie Matheson (Claire Danes) suspects that he has been turned and his loyalties now lie with the terrorists who held him captive.

This is gripping stuff which is very relevant in today’s society. Lewis is excellent as the troubled war veteran and Danes is even better as the maverick analyst who has her own secrets.

Mandy Patinkin (The Princess Bride) appears as Matheson’s mentor and tv favourite Morena Baccarin (V remake, The Mentalist) is Brody’s wife, a woman who has lived her life believing her husband to be dead.

A great story and first class performances make this must-see tv.

Ric’s Rating: Essential

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Film: Tyrannosaur

Renowned Scottish actor and director Peter Mullan takes the leading role in this downbeat drama which is the directorial debut of Paddy Considine, star of the brilliant Dead Man’s Shoes.

Mullan is Joseph, an abusive brutish drunk of a man who, through shared misery, befriends local charity shop worker Hannah (Olivia Colman).

Mullan and Colman are fantastic in their portrayals of a lonely man with nothing left to live for and an outwardly respectable woman who hides an alcohol problem and an abusive husband.

At times this is a difficult watch. I almost switched off after the sickening (and needless) opening scene but Mullan makes for compulsive viewing so I persevered and was rewarded with a film that demonstrates the remarkable acting skill of the two leads and heralds the arrival of Considine as a fine director.

Unfortunately the film drags the viewer into the constant depressing atmosphere shown and the lack of uplifting moments mean that as a whole, it fails to entertain.

Powerful and compelling but ultimately just too miserable.

Tyrannosaur is available on DVD now.

Ric’s Rating: Dodgy

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Reviews News: New Rating System

I've decided to give the rating system a revamp.

Instead of the % ratings there will be six categories, these are:

ESSENTIAL - A book or movie that must be experienced.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED - Very good but lacking that special something to make it essential.

GOOD - Something that's pretty decent but has faults.

DODGY - A story that isn't up to scratch but may appeal to some people.

POOR - Nothing much to recommend for anything that falls into this category.

ABANDONED - This is for anything so bad that I can't endure the entire thing.

I don't intend to change any previous ratings but might if I have the time or the inclination so in general this system will start with the next review.

Hopefully this makes the ratings a bit clearer, let me know what you think.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Film: The Muppets

Brothers Gary (Jason Segel) and Walter (a muppet) are inseperable so when Gary decides to take his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) on a trip to Hollywood Walter tags along, determined to visit the legendary Muppet Theatre.

They find a ruined theatre about to be demolished by oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) and decide to track down Kermit The Frog who sets about assembling the old gang to stage a show that will raise the ten million dollars required to save the theatre.

This is the first Muppet movie I've seen since Christmas Carol and the characters have lost none of their appeal. Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie and the rest of the muppets are in fine form, especially the crazy drummer Animal who steals every scene that he's in.

Segel, Adams and Cooper all look like they are having great fun too and there are appearances by Jack Black, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, Alan Arkin, Whoopi Goldberg and Mickey Rooney.

It's more of a nostalgia trip than a riotous comedy and I did have to look past the song & dance numbers but this is still a nice film that shows the incredible staying power of these characters.

If you fondly remember The Muppet Show you'll enjoy it and a new generation of youngsters will be singing "It's time to play the music....it's time to light the lights".

The Muppets is in cinemas now.

Ric's Rating: 72%

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Film: The Horseman

A grieving Father decides to hunt down those involved in his daughter’s drug related death in this brutal 2008 drama from Australia, which caused quite a stir on it’s release due to the graphic nature of the violence on-screen.

After viewing a sex tape featuring his daughter Christian (Peter Marshall) systematically tracks, traps and tortures all those implicated in it’s production and distribution. Along the way he picks up a teenage hitchhiker struggling with her own issues.

The carnage is interspersed with memories of Christian’s introduction to Fatherhood, moving moments show the Father and toddler daughter playing in their garden but unfortunately these tender scenes are too few and far between.

The film suffers by concentrating on the terrible vengeance wreaked on the bad guys, It could have been an altogether different story had it made more of the powerful emotions involved.

Overall this is still a decent tale of revenge but the final third gets a bit silly when we see a battered and broken Christian still managing to fight off the villains and escape all manner of dangerous situations.

The Horseman is widely available on DVD and various movie channels etc.

Ric’s Rating: 68%

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Book: Blood Tears by Michael J Malone

Glasgow Detective Ray McBain discovers a link to his own past while investigating the murder of a retired caretaker. Determined to catch the killer he keeps his own connection to the victim a secret. Unfortunately superior officers are soon made aware of this and the man doing the investigating finds himself locked up for the murder. Desperate to prove his innocence, McBain escapes and turns to an old friend on the opposite side of the law for help.

McBain is a fascinating character, haunted by a harsh upbringing and latent memories, he has risen to the top of his chosen profession, only to see the accolades of many successes slip away. But is he entirely innocent?
There is an eclectic supporting cast which includes career criminals, conflicted cops, and an old shrew of a Nun, all of whom help or hinder McBain in his quest.

Michael J Malone’s debut crime thriller features the controversial issue of child abuse within the Catholic Church but skilfully manages to avoid over-burdening the reader with a sense of gloom. The energetic pace helps the tale remain entertaining throughout and my home city is thankfully represented positively. The thoughtful descriptions of it’s sprawling Necropolis being a highlight.

A cool new voice in the increasingly popular Scottish crime fiction genre, Malone deserves a place alongside the likes of Stuart MacBride, Alex Grey and Ian Rankin.

Blood Tears is due for release in June 2012 from Five Leaves Publishing and you can visit Michael’s blog, May Contain Nuts, via the link in the “Visit These Places” section on this page.

Ric’s Rating: 82%

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Film: Hostel Part III

The latest instalment of the kidnap & torture franchise cleverly switches the action to Las Vegas as we join a bunch of guys on a Stag weekend.

Lured by beautiful women they head off to the seedier parts of town and soon find themselves bundled into the back of a van before waking up in huge cages.
They are then selected one by one to be the star attraction in a gruesome show staged by the Elite Hunting Club.

Although this clearly doesn’t have the budget of the first two films it’s slightly better than the lacklustre part 2. The Las Vegas setting adds impetus to events and a cool twist towards the end helps maintain interest.

While it isn’t anywhere close to the fantastic original this does manage to entertain fans of the series.

Hostel Part III is available on DVD now.

Ric’s Rating: 62%