Thursday 30 June 2011

Preview: Beautiful, Naked & Dead by Josh Stallings

The author himself has kindly sent me a review copy of this book.

Check out the brief synopsis:

BEAUTIFUL, NAKED AND DEAD is hard-boiled crime novel. Moses McGuire a suicidal strip club bouncer is out to avenge the death of one of his girls. From his East L.A. home, through the legal brothels of Nevada and finally to a battle with the mob in the mountains above Palo Alto, it is a sex soaked, rage driven, road trip from hell.

Sounds pretty cool.

Check back soon for a full review.

In the meantime you can visit for more information.

Monday 27 June 2011

Film: X Men: First Class

First up, why wasn’t this called X Men: Origins? We’ve already had X Men Origins: Wolverine and this covers Professor X, Magneto, Beast, Mystique and some other characters so Origins would have worked.

Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) can read minds so when the CIA come asking for help from him and his companion Raven (Mystique) it’s an offer he can’t refuse. While tracking an international terrorist (Kevin Bacon) he encounters Erik, who can control all metals. Erik has a murky past and is on a personal mission of revenge. Will he put his quest aside to join Xavier’s fledgling team?

Set during the cold war Cuban missile crisis this serves as a fine introduction to the characters mentioned. Michael Fassbender is fantastic as Erik (Magneto) and James McAvoy is competent as the young Professor X. Kevin Bacon also puts in a great OTT performance as the despicable villain and there is even a small role for original V and Total Recall star Michael Ironside.

The problems here are the slow pace and the use of some uninteresting characters. Marvel have plenty of great characters to choose from who have been underused in the previous films. Where were Iceman, Gambit and Colossus? Instead we get Banshee, Havoc and Angel, all of whom are ok at best and then there’s Jason Flemyng as Azazel who looks, for all intent purposes, nothing more than a red version of Nightcrawler.

It’s reasonably enjoyable but boils down to a mediocre reboot of the franchise that really just put me in the mood for watching the original trilogy, questioning the need for it at all.

Ric’s Rating: 65%

Sunday 26 June 2011

DVD: West Is West

This long awaited sequel to the 1999 comedy East Is East sees controlling Father George Khan (Om Ouri) take his wayward son Sajid (Aquib Khan) on a trip to Pakistan to show the boy his roots and help him discover who he is.

Upon arrival George (or Jahangir in his native land) is reunited with the wife and daughters he left behind 30 years previously before heading to England where he re-married and had another family while Sajid is a typical fish out of water.

There are laughs here but the film is mostly about life choices for George and growing up for Sajid. Entertaining and touching this is a different type of film from the hilarious East Is East but it works well as we get to know the characters much better.

I'm sure that fans of the original will enjoy this but I also expect that some will be disappointed by the change of tact. I wasn't.

Ric's Rating: 76%

Saturday 25 June 2011

Ric Recommends: Spiral

It's been ages since I posted a trailer so here is a real treat.

I reviewed this a while back, just click the "little known gems" label and you'll find it on the second page.

Joel David Moore (Avatar) is fantastic as a troubled man in this tense drama.

It's available everywhere on dvd. Check it out !

Thursday 23 June 2011

TV DVD: The Kingdom I & II

This cult 90’s haunted hospital tv series from Denmark is the brainchild of controversial producer / director Lars Von Trier, the man behind movies such as Dogville and Antichrist.

Strange things are afoot as the staff and patients go about their business. The sound of a miniature bell ringing signals the arrival of the ghost of a little girl who wanders the passages, unable to rest in peace.

Mrs.Drusse, a patient, can communicate with the dead and she continuously has her son, a hospital porter, ferry her all around in search of the spirit so that she can help it pass over.

This fascinating show has a lot more to it than the ghost story. We also have brain surgeon Helmer who is spiteful of the fact that he has left his beloved Sweden (under a cloud) and has to take a position in a Danish hospital. Dr. Hook, who does not like the arrogant and abrupt surgeon, begins a relationship with a fellow doctor who is carrying another man’s child. A medical student who thinks removing a head from a corpse is a great prank and the hapless boss who creates fantastic comedy scenes worthy of shows such as The Office.

Von Trier himself appears at the end credits of each episode with a brief explanation of events and some accompanying philosophical observations. This (surprisingly) works very well, the man obviously has great pride and enthusiasm for his work and it’s infectious.

Visually this isn’t appealing, it is grainy and almost colourless and the acting can be cheesy in a Europop kind of way but if you can see past these shortcomings this is captivating stuff. The many plotlines combine to create great drama in which the ghost story often takes a peripheral role.

The dvd box set contains both series in full and is loaded with interesting extra features. A planned third series was scrapped following the deaths of two of the leading actors but the show did get a Hollywood revamp in 2004 with Stephen King involved in proceedings, it was re-titled Kingdom Hospital.

Step out of your comfort zone and give it a try.

The Kingdom I & II dvd box set is available in the UK from July 4th 2011.

Ric’s Rating: 74%

Monday 20 June 2011

Book: Before I Go To Sleep by S.J Watson

Memento meets Groundhog Day in this debut thriller from S J Watson.

Christine awakens every morning with no recollection of the last 20 or so years. She still thinks of herself as a young woman and is shocked to see the reflection of a woman nearly 50 years old in the mirror. Add to that the fact that she has no idea who the man sleeping next to her is and you get the idea of the daily events of her life.

On the advice of her Doctor she begins to keep a journal that she must find and read every day to keep herself aware of who she is and her current situation so that she may begin to lead a somewhat normal life.

Through long periods of this book I found myself wishing that I was suffering from memory loss myself so that I wouldn’t be able to recall the many pages spent going over the same morning routine until Christine manages to bring herself up to speed.

Eventually the daily added snippets of information lead her to discover that not all is as it seems and she might finally recall the events that left her with this debilitating condition.

Although at times it was tough to get through, as the book builds to the finale the pace quickens and the tension missing from the first three quarters finally arrives leading to a satisfying if clichéd climax.

This has already been optioned for film by Ridley Scott’s production company but he’ll need to avoid the repetition to make it work on screen.

Ric’s Rating: 59%

Saturday 18 June 2011

Film: Bad Teacher

The last thing Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) wants to do is work for a living but when she is dumped by her rich boyfriend she has to return to the career she thought she'd left behind, teaching.

She gets by doing the bare minimum and showing little interest in her students but when she hears that there is a cash bonus for the teacher of the class with the highest marks in the state test she sees it as an opportunity to fund the breast enlargement that she thinks will help her snag another rich guy.

Diaz is charming and sexy as the scheming Halsey and good support comes from Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel and Lucy Punch as fellow teachers.

There are enough laughs to make this decent easy viewing that's perhaps more suited to home than cinema but it remains a reasonably enjoyable experience.

Ric's Rating: 68%

Thursday 16 June 2011

DVD: Hereafter

Three stories of life after death connect in this drama from director Clint Eastwood.

George (Matt Damon) used to make a living as a medium but after his "gift" ruined a few relationships he decided to leave it all behind and work in a regular job.

Marie (Cecile De France from Switchblade Romance) almost drowns in a tsunami and while unconscious she experiences strange visions.

Lastly, we have young Marcus who cannot move on with his life following a death in the family.

This is all pretty interesting and the acting is good, even a brief appearance by Bryce Dallas Howard (The Village) adds power to the story. Sadly it all shuffles along at a snail's pace leading to the inevitable meeting of the three main characters.

This is a very interesting film but it fails to entertain and the sickly sweet ending significantly ups the cringe factor.

Ric's Rating: 43%

DVD: Paranormal Activity 2

A family set up a cctv system to record strange happenings in their house at night.

The first Paranormal Activity was pretty dull but I thought that with the added elements of the baby and the dog this would be a bit more creepy, boy was I wrong.

These films are great at creating an atmosphere of dread but then they do nothing with it.

This time around we are subjected to constant monotonous cctv footage of empty rooms and a pool being cleaned by an automatic device.

When something does eventually happen it's so silly that I actually laughed out loud.

This is the worst so called horror film that I have endured for quite a while, I almost switched it off a few times but the promise of something about to happen kept me watching, unfortunately it just didn't deliver.

I'd say that this would maybe scare an 8 year old but no 8 year old would sit through it to witness the one or two attempts at horror towards the end.

Very poor indeed.

Ric's Rating: 22%

Monday 13 June 2011

DVD: Doing Time For Patsy Cline

Ralph (Matt Day) leaves his parent’s farm in the Australian outback to pursue a career in country music. Packing only his trusty guitar he heads for the bright lights of Nashville.

He is soon waylaid by Boyd (Richard Roxburgh) and Patsy (Miranda Otto), a strange couple who offer him a lift. After an uncomfortable night in a motel the trio head off again only to be stopped by the cops soon after.
Ralph and Boyd then find themselves in an odd outback prison and it is here that the film suddenly becomes very strange indeed.

Interspersed with the prison scenario is one of Ralph & Patsy in Nashville with Boyd as their agent. As the film progresses it is never quite clear if this is Ralph’s fantasy or a future timeline with the prison as the flashback.

This is a very curious film with fine performances, especially from Otto as the flaky Patsy. Unfortunately it suffers from never quite deciding if it’s a comedy, drama or musical and ends up as a weird mash-up of all three. Also, the country music soundtrack is so loud and overpowering that it often drowns out the dialogue.

It’s nice to see something a bit unusual but this could have been so much better.

Doing time For Patsy Cline is released on DVD in the UK on 20th June 2011.
Ric’s Rating: 48%

Sunday 12 June 2011

Film: Rio

No you haven't stumbled upon the wrong blog, this really is a review for the kids film about the talking blue bird.

Not the type of film that you usually see here but it marks a very special occassion, my 3 year old daughter's first trip to the cinema.

Blu is a domesticated Macaw who is tracked down by a conservationist who asks his owner, Linda, if he can take the bird to Rio to mate with the last remaining female of the species.

Soon after they arrive Blu finds himself on a wild adventure with Jewel (the female bird) that will see him encounter all manner of events that he has never before had to deal with.

Can a domesticated pet bird that can't fly rise to the challenge? You bet he can.

This is great fun and the animation is stunning, I didn't see it in 3d and it was still pretty spectacular.

The fact that my daughter sat through the entire film speaks volumes.

Great family entertainment.

Ric's Rating: 73%

Thursday 9 June 2011

DVD: Shifty

Following the death of a friend Chris (Danny Mays) got out of the London drug scene. Four years later he is back to visit his former best buddy Shifty (Riz Ahmed) and is swiftly caught up in the chaos that he left behind.

Trevor (Jay Simpson) is out of a job because of his drug use and while his wife struggles at home with the kids he is in hot pursuit of Shifty who he feels owes him something after years of loyal custom. With Trevor on their tail the duo embark on what begins as a typical day in the life of a drug dealer. Chris is disheartened to see what has become of former school friends and even some parents as addiction has taken hold.
Unlike some other films in this genre it isn’t overly violent, the tension builds gradually and as events spiral out of control Shifty must decide whether to continue as a dealer, leave with Chris or embrace his family who give him the opportunity of a regular job.

This British film from 2008 features strong performances from Ahmed and Mays who are perfectly cast as the former friends attempting to rekindle their bond while coping with the hazards that are common in the company they keep.

Excellent support comes from Jason Flemyng (Hanna, X Men: First Class) and Nitin Ganatra (UK tv show Eastenders). This is another fine example of how good British film can be.

Recommended for fans of gritty drama.

Ric’s Rating: 86%

Monday 6 June 2011

Blogfest: It's All Fun & Games

Here is my brief entry for this blogfest hosted by Alex J Cavanaugh, be sure to visit his cool blog.

My top 3 games, I went for video games to keep it simple:

1. Fahrenheit

This game starts off with a murder and you are the culprit. You must then set about discovering why you commited the crime. Full of action and mystery this had me hooked all the way to the end and it would make a great movie. It was known as The Indigo Prophecy in the USA. Played on PS2.

2. Galaga

This spin on Space Invaders is a classic shoot-em-up from the early 80's. I spent many hours on it in the arcades of UK seaside resort Blackpool. You can play it free on-line, just search for it and blast those aliens. Great fun.

3. Punch-Out

Another 80's arcade game. This has been updated many times but the original was like a personal challenge to me as a boy. I was on a mission to beat characters such as Glass Joe, Pizza Pasta, Kid Quick and Bald Bull on my way to becoming the champ. Again, there are versions available on-line.

I find retro games much more enjoyable than the majority of todays over complicated and time consuming sagas.

Retro is cool !!

Sunday 5 June 2011

Film: The Hangover Part 2

Following widespread negative reviews I didn't intend to catch this at the cinema but after a timing mix-up it was the best available option.

Anyone who has seen the original knows the story. Three friends wake up in the morning having no idea what happened the night before and have to piece events together to find a missing member of their party.

Yes it's practically a remake, albeit with a different setting, but this isn't the awful film that others would have you believe. There are plenty of laughs as the gang encounter old friends and new enemies while locating their absent friend and getting back in time for the wedding. Even the bad taste moments are repeated, just swap a baby for a monkey, this segment is just as needless as it was first time around.

If you enjoyed the first film you'll like this one too, just not as much.

Ric's Rating: 70%

Saturday 4 June 2011

Book: Black Flowers by Steve Mosby

Neil Dawson investigates the apparent suicide of his Father in the latest disturbing tale from Steve Mosby.

Dawson’s Father was a novelist and during his research came across a book entitled The Black Flower which was based on (fictional) real-life crimes from the 1970’s. As Neil investigates further he uncovers a string of mysterious deaths surrounding the book and when the despicable character from within its pages materializes he is offered a horrendous deal, the life of his partner and unborn child in exchange for finding the killer’s long-lost daughter.

The story moves along nicely and the book within a book style that it’s told in works surprisingly well with fiction and reality gradually merging, although at times it can be difficult to keep up with the “fictional” and “real-life” versions of the same characters.

Mosby has once again managed to take a deliciously dark surreal story and make it terrifyingly relevant and real, and despite the end being a tad predictable this is still a beautifully woven tapestry of sinister crime fiction.

Ric’s Rating: 82%

DVD: The Mechanic

This remake of the Charles Bronson movie has Jason Statham (The Expendables) in the lead role of the Hitman, Arthur Bishop.

Bishop, aided by his sidekick Steve (Ben Foster from Alpha Dog), must turn the tables on their employer (Tony Goldwyn from Ghost) who has framed Bishop's mentor and Steve's Father Harry (Donald Sutherland from....erm...take your pick......Lock Up).

Standard action movie stuff here but Statham and Foster are fantastic and have good chemistry. Foster gets the nod for acting (very intense) while Statham shades it (just) on the action scenes.

Perfect lads night in entertainment.

Ric's Rating: 74%

Thursday 2 June 2011

Film: Rio Breaks

Two Young boys attempt to escape the horrors of life in the favelas (slums) of Rio De Janeiro through competing as surfers in this documentary feature from director Justin Mitchell.
Fabio has already lost his Father to the drug wars and has been abandoned by his Mother. Raised by a motley crew of family members he is a troubled boy, prone to flashes of aggression.
Naama lives nearby with his family and while struggling with the poverty and violence all around he continues to attend school when he’s not at the beach surfing.

The boys, along with others, some of whom have made it as professional surfers, dedicate themselves to riding the waves on many of Rio’s beaches, which provide a stunning backdrop to their shanty town existence.

Although I have little interest in surfing this captivated from beginning to end. Hearing the youngsters describe horrific acts of violence and frequent gun battles with an air of causality is very unsettling. It delves into a world that many of us, thankfully, will never encounter and provides a fascinating real-life glimpse into the settings depicted in the film City Of God.
Can Fabio and Naama overcome their circumstances to obtain lucrative sponsorship and become professional surfers?
Catch this heartfelt and moving film to find out.
Rio Breaks opens in UK cinemas on Friday 3rd June 2011.

Ric’s Rating: 79%