Monday 27 January 2014

Film: 12 Years A Slave

New York in 1841 and talented violinist Solomon Northup is approached by a duo offering well paid work with a travelling show. Northup decides to take the job, leaving his family behind.

Unfortunately the potential employers are really particularly devious slave traders who specialise in kidnapping free black people (men, women and children) and selling them into slavery.

So begins Solomon’s ordeal as he is quickly stripped of his identity and told by other captives that he will undoubtedly be killed if he reveals himself as an educated man.

The examples of human cruelty endured and witnessed are soul-destroying to watch. From the young boy made to run on the spot for a future master to a hard working girl’s life being made unbearable when she becomes the apple of her master’s eye. This and many more of the same are perpetrated in full view of all around who meekly get on with their business as they are fearful for their own lives.

Performances all round are fantastic with Chiwetel Ejiofor delivering a powerhouse display as the always dignified Solomon. Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender and newcomer Lupita Nyong'o are also fantastic.

12 Years A Slave is a bit of an endurance test for the audience, there is no let up in the despair, leaving the viewer emotionally drained when it ends. However, this true story is a moving account of one man’s journey through a very dark period in American history.

Ric’s Rating: Highly Recommended.

Book: The Pack by Jason Starr

Simon Burns’ life changes dramatically when he unexpectedly loses his job. Gone are the office politics and deal making meetings. These are replaced with the responsibility of caring for his 3 year old son. With a marriage already on the rocks how will Burns adapt to his new role?

Relief from the stress comes when Simon meets a trio of full-time Dads at a local playground and the guys immediately welcome him into their company. Following a night out with the guys Simon wakes up in a very strange place and that’s just the beginning of his new experiences….

Ok, the guys are Werewolves, headed by the mysterious Michael but this isn't a typical stalk, slash and devour horror story. The guys all have their own problems to deal with, especially Michael, making this much more a human drama than a cheap gore-fest. There are also wonderful moments of toddler – related humour that any parent can relate to.

The Pack is an excellent horror / thriller / comedy and with a sequel already available I can’t wait to take another bite! Hoowwwlll !!

Ric’s Rating: Highly Recommended   

Thursday 16 January 2014

Book: The Death Box by J.A Kerley

In the 10th book of JA (Jack) Kerley’s Carson Ryder series the author decides to take a chance and relocate the main character to Miami, leaving behind his previous life and friends in Alabama.

After an unenthusiastic welcome from his new colleagues Ryder is called to an alarming discovery. Numerous bodies have been buried in a cistern type box which has then been filled with concrete.

The investigation leads the dogged Detective to a despicable people trafficking organisation headed up by some truly awful individuals.

Kerley has a knack for bringing characters in for one book but never returning to them. Some are perhaps worthy of spin- off novels. However, this new setting for Ryder feels like a whole new beginning and I have the feeling that several of the new supporting cast will turn up again. Old favourite Harry Nautilus is gone (forever?) but the brilliant Jeremy (Ryder’s fugitive Brother) does appear with a vague promise of more future interaction.

Kerley’s story-telling and ability to present well-rounded characters ensure that this series easily survives the bold move and fans should embrace this change rather that be sceptical of it. The Death Box also works very well for anyone new to the books.

Easily one of the best ongoing detective novel series around.

Ric’s Rating: Essential

Sunday 5 January 2014

Film: 47 Ronin

The New Year begins with a cracker as we join Keanu Reeves as Kai, a half-breed outcast in the ancient Japanese world of the Samurai.

Found abandoned in the forest, Kai is taken in and raised by Lord Asano, much to the annoyance of his feared and devoted Samurai but his daughter Mika seems taken with the unusual boy.

Years later Lord Asano falls victim to witchcraft and treachery which leads to the imprisonment of his chief Samurai Oishi and the disbandment of the troop. On his release he vows vengeance and first seeks the help of the mysterious Kai before re-assembling his men and embarking on a quest that will most likely cost them their lives.

Spectacular martial-arts mixed with cool special effects make this a visual treat and the fantasy aspects of the tale weave into the more traditional elements effortlessly. You will believe in The Demons of The Forest and in a shape-shifting Witch.

The film is perhaps more suited to a proper Asian cinema release with subtitles for us English speaking folk but the Hollywood studio has to be admired for giving a totally Japanese story the full Stateside treatment while retaining the appropriate levels of integrity.

47 Ronin is an absolute must-see for fans of Asian cinema and martial-arts movies in general. Catch it in cinemas now.

Ric’s Rating: Essential.