Monday 31 January 2011

Film: NEDS

Scottish actor and director Peter Mullan casts a host of unknowns in this all too familiar story of a promising youngster being led astray.
The story is set in the Glasgow of 1972 where flared trousers and oversized shirt collars go hand in hand with the culture of drinking and gang violence.
I'd much prefer to see my home city portrayed on screen in a positive light. I can only think of one film, Late Night Shopping, which has done so.
In this film we have bored teenagers resorting to stabbing each other with little or no reason for their behaviour and absolutely no remorse, even from the main character.
This may present itself as a coming-of-age / redemption story but it's a pretty depressing and ugly film that depicts violence in a way not dissimilar to the recent I Spit on Your Grave remake (see review elsewhere here).
Some of the young cast give good performances but I have to wonder how much of a stretch it is for them as Mullan claims to have picked them from the type of streets shown in the film.
This will gain cult following from the very people it condemns and has already received rave reviews from some critics eager to show an understanding of disaffected youth.
Watchable and sometimes compelling but too often disheartening, this is more suited to tv than cinema and could potentially encourage impressionable viewers into the lifestyle shown.
Ric's Rating: 45%

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Book: Memory Leak by Trevor Schmidt

Trevor Schmidt’s debut novel takes us to a not too distant future where society is governed on the principle of symmetry. Anything that isn’t symmetrical is considered unworthy, especially people.

Trevor himself sent me a copy for review and not being much of a sci-fi book fan I approached it with some trepidation. My concerns were blown away within the first few pages because what we have here is an action thriller told at a blistering pace that reminded me of one of my favourite films, Total Recall.

Jonathan Hart leads a perfect life in this society. He has symmetry (enhanced by the government Reshape clinic), a lovely (government matched) fiancĂ©e and a decent job at the government tv station where he gets to witness the supreme leader, Liam Mail, address the nation every day. He (mostly) chooses to ignore the little voice in his head that suspects things aren’t what they seem.

When Jonathan saves the victim of a mugging he has no idea that it will lead him into the world of asymmetrical (ordinary) people, force him to listen to that little voice and question everything around him, including who he is.

This has a fine cast of characters. Jonathan must battle people who were very close to him to help Alice and her rag-tag band of rebels uncover the truth.

With this relatively short action packed book Trevor Schmidt has potentially opened my eyes to a whole new genre because through all the scientific details what prevails is the feeling is that you are totally behind Jonathan and Alice as they attempt to topple the oppressive regime.

Recommended for sci-fi and thriller fans.
Ric's Rating: 79%

Monday 24 January 2011

Film: I Spit On Your Grave

Spolier Alert: Impossible to review this one without some slight spoilers but if you’ve heard of the original you already know the story.

Re-make of the 1978 video nasty in which the victim of a brutal rape exacts horrific revenge on her attackers.

Writer Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler) visits a remote cabin for inspiration for her next novel and encounters a group of sexually frustrated local yokels.

The attack that takes place is drawn out in a horrendously long scene that’s a struggle to sit through. Each time you think it’s over there is another level of depravity to go.

The same could be said for what happens to the attackers when Hills catches up with them. The methods used to hasten their demise are graphic and disgusting although there are some darkly humorous elements of poetic justice.

This is the type of film that sparks debate. While it can’t be called entertainment (there are plenty of other ways this story could be told) it takes courage of conviction to make a film that depicts violence in it’s ugliest form. The recent re-make of The Last House On The Left (see review elsewhere here) covers similar ground but doesn’t leave you feeling as dirty as this does. Another comparable film is the French movie Irreversible in which Monica Bellucci’s character suffers an attack of such ferocity that scores of audience members got up and walked out.

I’m glad I saw it so that I can have an opinion but it’s not an experience I’d be keen to repeat.

Ric’s Rating: 50% (I’m firmly on the fence).

Thursday 20 January 2011

Book: Mr Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett

Robert Jackson Bennett’s debut novel follows the cross country journey of Marcus Connelly as he attempts to track down the man who murdered his daughter, the hideous Mr Shivers.

Set during America’s great depression this is a sprawling, dusty, atmospheric tale of an epic quest littered with odd characters. It’s a thriller, ghost story, serial killer, horror story of revenge that evokes memories of the fantastic tv shows Carnivale and American Gothic.

In parts it’s fantastic, the strange characters involved include a fortune teller with a diseased eye, a 100 year old sheriff and an entire town that’s in league with Mr Shivers.

The momentum is spoiled by dull periods between encounters and the end is somewhat of an anti-climax although all things considered this is a unique book that’s well worth a look for both crime and horror fans.
Ric's Rating: 74%

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Film: 127 Hours

Director Danny Boyle (28 Days Later) brings us the true story of Aron Ralston, a man who was trapped in a mountain crevice for……you guessed it, 127 hours.

James Franco (Spider Man) takes the lead and the film hinges on his performance as the majority of it is spent in his company alone while he attempts to escape his predicament.

Franco does well enough but this is a subject better covered by a tv documentary, a 30 minute one would suffice. There isn’t enough material to flesh out an entire movie. The myriad of clever camera angles and various dream sequences used by Boyle don’t hide the fact that this is 94 minutes spent with a man trapped by a boulder.

It is a remarkable story but this type of thing has been done better before. Touching The Void springs to mind.

Ignore the hype, this 127 Hours felt more like a decade.
Ric's Rating: 41%

Sunday 16 January 2011

Film: The Next Three days

When Lara Brennan (Elizabeth Banks) is convicted of murder her husband John (Russell Crowe) struggles to keep up the legal fight while adapting to his new status as a single Father, raising their young son.
As pressure mounts from all angles John hatches a plan to break Lara out of jail. Will he go through with it?
Writer/Director Paul Haggis (Crash) delivers a tension filled roller coaster ride that also marks a return to form for Crowe. His portrayal of an ordinary man forced to either take action or face the fact that his beloved wife will be in prison for the next 20 years is compelling stuff. It has echoes of my all time favourite tv show Prison Break but you are kept guessing which way Crowe's character will go until you actually see him make his move.
There is excellent support from Banks along with almost cameo (but terrific) turns from Brian Dennehy and Liam Neeson but the film rests firmly on Crowe's shoulders which prove to be broad enough to easily handle the weight.
This is riveting stuff, you will be fully supportive of the plan while wondering if John should just move on with his life, for his own sake and that of his son.
It's 2011's first must-see movie. Don't miss it.
Ric's Rating: 96%

Thursday 13 January 2011

Book: American Devil by Oliver Stark

Oliver Stark introduces us to volatile cop Tom Harper and psychologist Denise Levene in the first of a new ongoing series.

Harper is recognised as a brilliant detective but following his marriage break-up and a fight with a fellow officer he finds himself off the force until a series of gruesome murders leave the Brass with no choice but to bring him back. One condition of his re-instatement is that he must attend regular sessions with Police Psychologist Denise Levene.

The story flows nicely as we follow Harper’s investigation but it really kicks up a gear when the characters of Mo and Nick are introduced and their part in proceedings is gradually revealed.

Unusually for this type of book it’s the female psychologist who steals the show from the tough cop. Her profile of the killer and subsequent interactions with him help this overcome the stereotypical route that it frequently veers into.

All the tried and tested elements of the genre are here:
Tough-but-kind cop, attractive & intelligent Doctor, killer with a deeply scarred childhood, horrible murders and some well developed supporting characters.

This debut novel is nothing original but has been written with enough style to warrant continued attention and with a sequel, 88 Killer, already on the way, it looks like Oliver Stark and his duo will be here for some time to come.
Ric's Rating: 69%

Friday 7 January 2011

Preview: Dark Side by Belinda Bauer

Ben Willis at Transworld Publishers has kindly sent me a copy of
Belinda Bauer's new book Dark Side for review.

If it's even half as good as Blacklands, her fantastic debut, we are in for a treat.


Shipcott in bleak mid-winter: a close knit community where no stranger goes unnoticed. So when an elderly woman is murdered in her bed, village policeman Jonas Holly is doubly shocked. How could someone have killed and left no trace?Jonas finds himself sidelined as the investigation is snatched away from him by an abrasive senior detective. Is his first murder investigation over before it’s begun? But this isn’t the end of it for Jonas, because someone in the village is taunting him, blaming him for the tragedy, and watching every move he makes...

Check back soon for a full review.

DVD: State Of Play

Hollywood heavyweights Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck star in this 2009
movie based on a BBC tv show.

Affleck plays Congressman Stephen Collins who is the head of a committee investigating the billions of dollars being paid to private security firms for U.S defence contracts.

When his researcher (who happens to be his mistress) dies in suspicious circumstances he turns to old friend Cal McAffery (Crowe), an investigative journalist, for help.

All the ingredients are here for a fantastic film but the pace is so slow that it's hard to maintain interest.

Crowe is an immense presence as usual and Affleck, Helen Mirren and Rachel McAdams all do their best but they can't rescue what is ultimately just a dull film that fails to live up to it's billing.

Ric's Rating: 46%