Thursday 31 December 2009

Graphic Novel: Green Arrow - Year One

The origins of The Emerald Archer are retold in this very good graphic novel.

Oliver Queen is a Playboy Millionaire chasing thrills and over indulging in wine & women when he hears an interesting business proposition from long time associate Hackett.

Our Hero ends up marooned on a remote island and is forced to survive using his skills as an Archer.

A potential rescue uncovers whats really happening on the island and Queen must overcome his own Demons to save himself and others.

Excellent atmospheric artwork and an action packed story make this an excellent starting point for anyone with an interest in the character.

A while back there were rumours of a Green Arrow movie, lets hope that happens.

Rick's Rating: 70%

Saturday 19 December 2009

Film: Law Abiding Citizen

Gerard Butler takes on "The System" after the murder of his wife and daughter.

Other reviews have heaped praise on this one but unfortunately I can't do that.

What starts out as a very entertaining and serious drama with shocks and speeches (see the courtroom scene) that make you really get behind this guy descends into an almost Pink Panther (see ridiculous disguises) type unbelievable adventure.

Don't get me wrong, this is very enjoyable in parts and, if you can ignore Butler's dodgy accent, the performances are pretty good.

Excellent first half let down by a script that doesn't quite know where to go and a rather silly anti-climactic ending.

Rick's Rating: 51%

Friday 18 December 2009

Book: The Shell Game by Steve Alten

This is the second Steve Alten book I have read (see review of The Loch elsewhere here) and he is fast becoming one of my favourite authors.
In a change from his usual subjects he tackles the very real problems of diminishing oil reserves and the truth behind 9/11 in this fictional tale peppered with very relevant real life quotes from some very notable people.
The story of Ace Futrell, a former American Football player, carrying out his wife's final wishes to expose the truth behind Iraq war, 9/11 and the oil crisis is secondary to the facts that Mr Alten uses within it.
For that reason the book suffers, there isn't really a lot here that hasn't been (or could better be) covered by a documentary and for anyone interested in the subjects I'd recommend A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash, The Corporation and Loose Change, all well worth seeking out.
The story it'self is still enjoyable as we join Ace on his mission to Saudi Arabia where he meets some very unsavoury characters but back in the U.S.A it's all a bit confusing with too many characters all of which seem to have an ulterior motive.
To sum up, this is excellent if you have an interest in any of the subjects covered but as a stand alone fictional novel it doesn't quite seem able to decide which type of story it is.
Rick's Rating: 61%

Wednesday 9 December 2009

DVD: Star Trek

This all new version of the adventures of the USS Enterprise ticks all the right boxes.

Starting with a spectacular space shoot out the action doesn't let up as we then move on to join Kirk and Spock as young guys trying to find their way.

The story, a slightly confusing time travel tale, eventually brings them together as they and the crew, including new portrayals of all the old favourites, set off to do battle with a foe from Spock's future, an unrecognisable Eric Bana.

Future Spock is of course played by the indomitable Leonard Nimoy and he adds a fantastic nostalgic feeling to the film while being completely relevant to the story.

Zachary Quinto (Heroes) is also great as young Spock and the chemistry between him and Kirk (Chris Pine) is every bit as good as the original pairing of Nimoy & Shatner.

Amazing action scenes, good script, and great performances make this a serious contender for Film Of The Year although a few points are lost for the time travel confusion.

Rick's Rating: 90%

Sunday 22 November 2009

Film: Harry Brown

Michael Caine stars in this UK equivalent of Gran Torino.
Harry lives on an estate ruled by the local NEDS (Non Educated Delinquents) and decides to take a stand after the death of his friend.
This film is perhaps a bit too realistic for my liking and the story mirrors todays news headlines and real life tv cop shows so accurately that the experience of watching it kinda drags you down and doesn't lift you up again.
Caine's performance is fantastic but the whole film is just too depressing for me to recommend.
Rick's Rating: 42%

Monday 16 November 2009

DVD: Blood And Bone

Michael Jai White (Spawn, Exit Wounds) takes the leading role in this
fighting extravaganza.

Isiah Bone (White) finds that illegal street fighting earns him a quick buck on his release from prison and it also lets him get close to someone who needs taught a lesson.

The story, keeping a jailhouse promise, is secondary to the action as White demonstrates his considerable martial arts skills and physical prowess.

Featuring cameos by real life fighters Kimbo Slice and Bob Sapp this is an
undemanding Saturday night beer and take away movie that fans of any
type of action flick will enjoy.

Rick's rating: 65%

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Book: Dead Men's Dust by Matt Hilton

Matt Hilton introduces his hero vigilante Joe Hunter in this thriller.

Hunter's brother is missing and our man with the plan has to track him down.
Unbeknown to Hunter, his brother John has crossed paths with serial killer The Harvestman and this leads to the inevitable confrontation.

Joe Hunter reminds me of Lee Child's Jack Reacher, another super-tough ex soldier and this is a fine introduction.

The Harvestman is an interesting character too and the final third of the book cranks up the excitement.

If you enjoy this format and fancy starting a fresh series with a new character check it out.

Rick's Rating: 70%

Sunday 1 November 2009

Film: Saw VI

Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) carries out Jigsaw's dying wishes
in the latest installment of this franchise.

Fast paced right from the opening sequence this one doesn't let up and it is better than no.5 as more flashbacks reveal aspects of John Kramer's life leading up to him becoming Jigsaw.

The game this time involves an unscrupulous health insurance salesman who must survive each trap in order to reach his family.

Tobin Bell turns in another good performance as the cancer stricken Kramer but the amount of flashbacks and the timeline does get a bit confusing.

Box Office returns and Tobin Bell himself suggest that there is more to come from this story so look out for Saw VII next year.

Recommended if you liked any of the other movies but I'd advise starting at the beginning and watching them all for the story to make sense.

Rick's Rating: 71%

Friday 23 October 2009

Film: Orphan

As a rule I just can’t take “scary kid” films seriously but there are exceptions to every rule and Orphan proves to be just that.

Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard) decide to adopt after they lose their third child to miscarriage.

Enter Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), a nine year old from Russia who seems like a very intelligent and caring little girl. Esther’s own agenda is slowly revealed through a fantastic and disturbing performance by Fuhrman who along with Farmiga rise well above the usual standard of acting in this type of film.

This is more of a thriller than a horror and is recommended if you enjoy your “scary” films with some thought behind them.

Rick’s Rating: 74%

Thursday 22 October 2009

Film: Couples Retreat

Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau team up again to write and star in this comedy of four couples on a dream holiday that, unfortunately for three of them, includes mandatory Couples Skill Building therapy sessions.

Anyone expecting a movie similar to Dodgeball or The Wedding Crashers will be disappointed as the comedy here is not slapstick, it is more akin to Made and Swingers, Vaughn and Favreau’s previous writing collaborations.

In my opinion both excel when working with their own material as the on screen chemistry of the two has not diminished over the years and their argumentative rants at each other are the high point of the film.

There are some crude gags thrown in so if that’s not your scene then give it a miss but it’s recommended to anyone who enjoyed the aforementioned Made, Swingers and maybe even The Break Up.

Rick’s Rating: 68%

Saturday 17 October 2009

Music: James McMurtry, Live in Edinburgh

Back in 1996 when Country Music Television was on air in the UK I often tuned in to catch “Rebel Country” a nightly hour of the edgier side of Nashville.
One such night I happened across a video featuring a shaggy haired, bearded, bespectacled character I hadn’t saw before. His name was James McMurtry and the song was Levelland.
My taste in music was forever changed.
Imagine a combination of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty and you’d be somewhere in the vicinity of McMurtry’s sound.
Thirteen years later I got to meet the man himself (see picture) and see him perform live at The Bongo Club in Edinburgh. It was worth the wait.
Featuring mostly songs from his last studio album Just Us Kids the gig was tremendous and McMurtry was equally at ease performing solo as he was with the backing band, The Heartless Bastards.
Highlights were the title track Just Us Kids and performances of older songs like No More Buffalo and Too Long In The Wasteland.
Had he performed my old favourite Levelland (as some fans beckoned) he would have scored a perfect 100%. A small nitpick at an otherwise excellent performance.
Hurry back James.

Rick’s Rating: 95%

Thursday 8 October 2009

DVD: The Haunting In Connecticut

Disappointing cross between The Amityville Horror and Poltergeist.
Struggling to cope with their teenage Son’s cancer Virginia Madsen (Candyman) and Martin Donovan (Insomnia) rent a house “with a history” that is near the hospital and going cheap.
A haunted house story ensues but it’s all been done better before.
Spirits in limbo, nightmares and reflections that aren’t really there all add up to not very much and it’s only because of some half decent performances that this one is watchable at all.
Kyle Gallner excels as the cancer stricken Matt and both Madsen and Donovan are competent in their parents at the end of their tether roles. Elias Koteas turns up as a sickly Reverend and steals a few scenes in the process.
This is easy viewing and probably suits the teenage market that it’s aimed at.

Rick's Rating: 34%

Monday 5 October 2009

Film: Surrogates

In a world where people live their lives via robots that look like an enhanced version of themselves (Surrogates), Bruce Willis (Hudson Hawk, Moonlighting) plays a cop attempting to track down a weapon powerful enough to kill the Surrogates and their human “operators”.
All the humans are older and uglier than the Surrogates that take their place in society and they exist in their houses strapped into a kind of virtual reality world.
All a metaphor for people spending too much time on-line of course.
James Cromwell (Babe, LA Confidential) plays the inventor of the Surrogates and his son is the first victim of the killer who puts the super weapon to use.
The robot version of Bruce Willis is a bit creepy to look at but Rhada Mitchell (Pitch Black) as his partner is easier on the eye and competent in her robotic role.
Human Bruce Willis soon steps in to sort it all out and it takes him a bit of time to get used to being out in the world again as he recovers from a personal tragedy while leading the investigation and also attempting to re-connect with his wife.
Reasonably enjoyable without being fantastic, this is recommended for fans of I,Robot.

Rick’s Rating: 50%

Sunday 4 October 2009

Film: The Taking Of Pelham 123

Hollywood big hitters Denzel Washington (Ricochet, Virtuosity) and John Travolta (Look Who’s Talking, Wild Hogs) star in this remake.
Travolta and his gang take control of a train and hold the passengers hostage while negotiating the terms with train dispatcher Washington.
That’s it.
Hard to see who this film is aimed at as the two stars are knocking on a bit to appeal to youngsters. It’s not intelligent enough to appeal to adults and there isn’t enough action in it to appeal to action fans.
The result is a film that will appeal to pretty much nobody apart from obsessive Travolta and Washington devotees.
Both look like they’d rather be elsewhere and their characters do not have the on screen chemistry that you would hope for. Aside from the stars, the story itself lacks decent character development so you don’t care about anything that takes place.
Director Tony Scott (True Romance) seems to have concentrated on NYPD Blue type jerky camera shots rather than the story or performances.
Don’t waste your time on this one, I wish I hadn’t.
Rick’s Rating: 21%

Friday 2 October 2009

Films: Top Films of 2005

As this is a new blog I'll include some retrospective lists so here is the first.
2005 was a pretty good year for films and here are my top picks.
They are in order of merit and should all be available cheap on DVD.
Each one is a worthy addition to any collection.

Adrian Brody in this highly original psychological thriller.

Stephen Chow’s excellent martial arts mayhem movie.

A rare thing nowadays. A horror film that’s actually scary.

Ensemble piece dealing with racial tension.

Russell Crowe gives another powerhouse performance as boxer Jim Braddock.

Thomas Jane plays the real life cop turned criminal.

Excellent showcase for the amazing skills of Tony Jaa as he sets out to retrieve a stolen ancient statue.

5 X 2
French film about the breakdown of a marriage. Told in reverse.

Dark comic adaptation starring Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke and Clive Owen.

Very funny comedy about a late developer.

Sunday 27 September 2009

DVD: Frontier(s)

Copious blood and gore in this French horror film that just feels like writer / director Xavier Gens has simply sat through Hostel, Deliverance, The Hills Have Eyes, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, House Of 1000 Corpses, The Descent, Switchblade Romance and strangely Class Of 1984 then decided to take all his favourite scenes from those films and put them in one of his own.
Nothing new here if you’ve seen any of the above but that’s not saying it doesn’t have some enjoyable moments. It starts well as we join a group of unlikely fugitives on the run. They agree to meet up at a remote hotel and then it all goes pear shaped when they meet the family who own it. The violence and torture duly begin but it all gets very silly very quickly.
Even an appearance by Samuel Le Bihan, fantastic in Brotherhood Of The Wolf doesn’t rescue this one.
For a quick fix of this type of film check out the low budget straight to DVD movie Carver instead.
Rick’s Rating: 34%

Saturday 26 September 2009

TV: Six Degrees

This American drama of inter-twining lives in New York failed to find an audience in the USA and was pulled from the schedules after only 8 of the 13 episodes had been aired.
In the UK, ITV screened all 13 episodes but the show was given a ghastly time slot. This was a real shame because it is a highly entertaining drama that unusually doesn’t feature cops or any great degree of violence, I suppose that explains why it failed in the U.S, wait a minute, there were no hospitals either so I suppose it was fighting a losing battle all along.
Hostel’s Jay Hernandez plays Carlos, a young Public Defender who meets the enigmatic Mae (Erika Christensen) after she is arrested. The relationship between the two serves to connect some of the others in the series.
Meanwhile photographer Stephen Caseman (Campbell Scott) just wants a second chance in both his personal and professional life after battling to overcome his addictions. This role was intended for William Hurt but Campbell Scott delivers an excellent performance as the talented Caseman attempting to get his life back on track.
Other characters, who all connect somehow, include Laura (Hope Davis) who is dealing with the death of her husband, Whitney(Bridget Moynahan) a successful businesswoman who has a troubled personal life and Damien(Dorian Missick) the ex – con trying to redeem himself.
Terrific performances all round and a quality script help to deliver a great grown-up drama that could easily have continued into a second series if more people had tuned in. Worth seeking out if it ever gets repeated or crops up on DVD.

Rick’s Rating: 83%

Friday 25 September 2009

Film : Gamer

Gerard Butler and Michael C Hall star in this futuristic tale of a Death Row inmate attempting to win his freedom by surviving a deadly video game.

This has all been done better before in the likes of The Running Man and even former wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s The Condemned is a much more satisfying experience.

There are a few half decent action scenes but the characters are so poorly developed that you don’t really care enough to bother who survives and who doesn’t. I think I was supposed to be shocked by one scene in particular where someone’s head gets blown off but I’m afraid I was just disappointed that they had went for shocks over story.

Michael C Hall, excellent in the TV show Dexter, turns in a dire performance as the main bad guy which even includes a ridiculous song and dance routine.

Redeeming feature – Nice to see Gerard Butler in an action role again following his spate of romantic comedies after 300. He looks like he could have made a decent Snake Plissken after all, pity that didn’t work out.

Rick’s Rating : 29%

Thursday 24 September 2009

Book: The Loch by Steve Alten

Renowned Marine Biologist Zachary Wallace falls on hard times after a high profile accident at Sea. At this low point he receives a request from his estranged Father to come home to Scotland and stand by his side as he faces an accusation of murder.
The Legend of Loch Ness soon crops up and Zack finds himself investigating a spate of recent deaths in his own unique way. Jeered and resented by most locals he finds help from his childhood friend True and sets about solving the mystery of The Loch while attempting to mend bridges with his Father.
Excellent characters, especially lovable rogue Angus and fiesty Highland female Brandy bring humour and emotion to this story that takes place in a wonderful setting. Even the Scottish Highland accent is pretty accurate.
This book has legend, death, love, mystery, revenge and redemption and is recommended to anyone with an interest in any of those things. That means you.
Rick's Rating: 92%

DVD: The Last House On The Left

Ultra -violent remake of the 1972 Wes Craven shocker.
Having never seen the original I can judge this one on its own merits.
We join teenager Mari (Sara Paxton) and her parents Emma (Monica Potter) and John (Tony Goldwyn) as they take a trip to their country home for a break from their hectic city lives.
Mari prefers to go see her friend instead of staying home with Mom & Dad and that’s when the trouble starts.
They run into Krug (Garret Dillahunt) who has just escaped from prison and his two equally dangerous cohorts.
The film is very distinctly in two halves and the first half, which concentrates on the girls plight, is very violent and often uncomfortable to watch but this gives the story a real kick and makes for riveting stuff.
The parents dominate the second half as they too encounter Krug and his gang while having no idea what has happened to their daughter.
Real rooting for the good guy moments and tension that most horror/thrillers just don’t deliver these days make this a must for fans of the genre.
Highly recommended if you enjoyed The Hills Have Eyes remake, The Devil’s Rejects or had the stomach to sit through Irreversible.

Rick's Rating: 76%