Archive for September, 2009

SurrogatesSurrogates is a flawed but ultimately enjoyable Sci-Fi movie.  Set in the near future where people stay at home letting robotic “surrogates” live their lives for them, they control the surrogates via a chair in their home.  Bruce Willis stars as Tom Greer an FBI agent investigating the first murder in many years.  The first time we see the real Tom Greer rather than his robotic self we know he isn’t comfortable with the technology, next to his high tech “stim-chair” we can see an extensive vinyl record collection.  Are we dealing with another Del Spooner (Will Smiths character in I, Robot)?  Unfortunately the character like all the others in the film is a little one dimensional. Greer like all other cops in this type of film is defined by three things.  A past tragedy, marital problems and his relationship with his partner and superior.  That’s the first problem; we have seen it all before, the film totally lacks originality.  The second is that the plot although grand in intensions is absolutely wafer thin and unfolds quickly with no real surprises rather than developing.  The original investigation is quickly forgotten as a bigger one begins, all this is handled in a very matter of fact way that fails to draw the viewer in (note to director Jonathan Mostow and writers John D. Brancato & Michael Ferris.  Before you embark on another film like this go back to basics and watch some of the classic adaptations of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane books.  It might give you a better idea on how to construct a detective story). 

The final problem is plausibility.  I don’t see the attraction to the whole concept of surrogates.  If people can live lives in the stim-chairs and interact with others via the surrogates the important part of the technology is the chair and not the robot avatar.  These people could live their lives in cyberspace and interact with others in their chairs not bothering with the expensive and complicated robots.  But the big question why would people want to do this?  I’m sure controlling a surrogate would be fun like playing a computer game but to live your life that way, it certainly doesn’t appeal to me.  I also find the world these people live in a little strange.  They have created these hugely complicated machines but still drive the same cars and use the same computers we use today. 

There are some good points.  The 88 minute running time prevents the film from dragging and the performances are actually quite good.  Bruce Willis almost plays a duel role as both himself and his surrogate.  Most other actors are seen mainly as one or the other.  Rosamund Pike is very good as Willis’ wife who is as addicted the use of her surrogate as she is to the prescription medication she takes.  The action scenes although brief are also well handled as is the very effective ending.

Ultimately the film is trying to tell us that the characters living their lives by proxy and depending on the technology are missing out on something.  That is exactly how I feel about the film, there is just something missing.

The film is based on a graphic novel by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele; I will not be amending my Top Twenty Comic Book Movies of the Decade to include this one!


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Bloggers Movie Awards 2009


Christmas day is the last Friday of the year. New releases are scheduled for boxing day in the UK. Sometime between boxing day and new year I will post my first ever annual movie awards. Chosen entirely by me! Anyone reading this thinking this isn’t fair and who wants to express their own opinion should do something about it. What I am suggesting is that anyone interested should post their own choices on or around the same day as me. Many bloggers may already be planning to post their own roundup of the year.

I am thinking about five simple Categories:

  • Best Filmself explanatory
  • Best Directorself explanatory
  • Best ActorLeading, supporting or cameo; who impressed you?
  • Best ActressLeading, supporting or cameo; who impressed you?
  • Best looking filmCinematography, production design, costumes, special effects; all combined in one award.

I will list my five nominations, one of which will be the winner.

Anyone who wants to join in reply to this blog, we will sort out some way of linking them together. If enough people reply I will collate the results listing all nominations and winners.

All films will have started their general relese in the UK between 1st January 2009 and the day I post. Anyone posting from other countries should check out UK dates or make a note on their post stating their country of origin.

rachWatchmenelifrom the hurt locker

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Playing with Dolls

Dollhouse was created by Joss Whedon and stars Eliza Dushku who he worked with on Buffy and its spinoff Angel.  It is also good to see them working together again after Dushku reportedly turned down a Buffy spin-off based on her character, Faith in order to take the lead role in Tru Calling (shame really Faith was always a more interesting character than Buffy).  Dushku plays Echo a Doll or “Active” part of illegal, underground organization known as the Dollhouse.  The Actives are hired to wealthy and powerful people to fulfil their every need from prostitution to assignation and anything else they can come up with.  The science-fiction twist is that the Actives have their minds wiped clean and before each mission have a new persona imprinted.  The new personas are constructed to make the dolls perfectly suited to their mission or “engagement” as Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams) the leader of the Dollhouse insists on calling them.  At the end of each engagement involves the Active being wiped again before reentering the dollhouse.  Most of the episodes concentrate on an “engagement” and seem to be stand alone, however there is an ongoing narrative that develops from episode to episode.  This narrative has two main threads; firstly the Actives begin to show signs of residual memories or instincts of their past life and their persona from “engagements”.  The other element is FBI Agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett – best known from Battlestar Galactica) who is on a solo mission to find and closedown the dollhouse that no one else believes exists. 

Eliza Dushku Dollhouse

The first thing fans of  Joss Whedon’s other creations will notice is the real world setting, it replaces the supernatural fantasy of Buffy and the outer space of Firefly with present day LA where the wiping and imprinting of minds is the only science-fiction element present.  You soon realise this isn’t relevant as like all his previous shows it is the engaging characters and the well written stories that matter and not the setting.  It doesn’t have the same comedy as Buffy or Firefly but that is clearly intentional.  Like in previous shows Whedon is not afraid to ask moral questions in his creations.  It also explores the idea a persons memory is their identity, taking a different but equally valid path to Blade Runner or Total Recall.

I know it has received mixed reviews but I struggle to see why, the show really has a lot going for it.  True it isn’t as good as Firefly but not many shows are!  My only advice is not to drag it out for too long.  Both Buffy and Angel really lost their way in later seasons whilst Firefly left the fans wanting more.   Dollhouse should things up after two or three seasons to avoid it getting cancelled mid plot.  Having said that I have seen the first eight episodes so don’t know how the rest of season one or season two will pan out. There have already been a few nice twists involving the characters making it is clear anyone is fair game for a shock revelation.  I know there will be more to come.


I have now seen the rest of season one and it doesn’t disappoint. The plot unfolds a little bit each episode and the last two are amongst the best in the series. I have also seen episode 13 “Epitaph One” (Look out for Felicia Day, Penny from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog) set ten years in the future. It is an interesting one; it gives a different prospective by showing the consequences of what the Dollhouse is doing. However it does this without doing much to advance the plot of the present day series. I suspect it was made thinking the show would be axed. I understand this episode wasn’t screened in America but was here in the UK. The unaired pilot that appears as a special feature on the DVD should not be watched until after the series as it spoils a few of the plot twists and its continuity doesn’t fit the series. It is however worth seeing as it has some great scenes. Many of the questions raised are not explained and there are lots of plot threads left without closure so I am really looking forward to season two.

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Back in June I posted a review of Awaydays, a film about football hooligans in the 1980’s. In it I explained that as a football fan I just don’t understand football hooligans. With yet another film on the subject I still don’t get football hooligans.

The Firm

The Firm is a remake of the 1988 TV movie of the same name staring Gary Oldman. The film starts like any other in the sub-genre. A young man , Dom (Calum McNab) with no direction in his life and nothing better to do with himself becomes infatuated with the glamour of football violence. Yes I did say glamour, Nick Love and other directors of these films do seem to have a romanticised view of hooligans. In this case the leader of the “Firm” is Bex (Paul Anderson) he is happily married, has a good job and wears the latest fashions, ugly garish coloured 80’s tracksuits. Dom gets more and more sucked into the lifestyle as things hot up between the firm and their local rivals. You know things aren’t going to end well. And true to form the plot unfolds in a predictable way. This isn’t Nick Love’s first foray into football violence, 2004’s The Football Factory covered the same subject. The problem with all these films, Awaydays and Green Street (2005) (known as Hooligans in America) is none of them give a satisfactory explanation to the phenomenon. They all give a vague idea of why young men who get involved suggesting they are looking for identity and a sense of belonging. But more often than not the main character often walks away. Not explaining those that stay remain with the firm. There is also a recurring theme of ridiculing older people who are still involved. It is almost as if it is acceptable as a younger person to get involved as long as you grow out of it.

So why do I keep watching these films. I could use an array of excuses suggesting I am desperately trying to understand the subject matter. The truth is far simpler than that, it is morbid curiosity, the cinematic equivalent to rubberneckers gawping at car accidents. The other almost bizarre thing is the film is very watchable and actually quite good. Despite a or possible because of a certain repulsion to the subject matter I was actually drawn into the narrative. The dialogue is snappy and often funny. McNab and Anderson are both good in the leading roles. It is not original and has nothing new or interesting to say for itself but it does have a certain style that suggests we haven’t seen the best of Nick Love yet.

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Roundup the usual suspects.

M. Carter @ The Movies started all this by writing a review of The Usual Suspects, No. 3 on her list of favourite movies. I then acted as a catalyst by suggesting the film would have been better if there end had “a little more ambiguity leaving the viewer able to question what they have just seen”. Then Darren from “the movie blog” added to the debate.

The Usual Suspects

So who is Keyzer Soze? How you read the film is very much dependent on what you believe or more accurately chose to be true. Clearly what we see can not all be true, a straight reading of what we see provides contradictions for example when Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) describes what he believes to have happened we see it as a flashback in the same way as when Verbal (Kevin Spacey) is telling his story. In this description we see clearly Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) is Keyzer Soze. This can not be as we saw at the start that Soze shot Keaton. It would be easy to say that it was only Kujan’s speculation and not true, but if that is the case can we trust what Verbal tells us? Clearly not as his description is implied if not proved to be a fabrication therefore everything in the film is fair game to be accepted or dismissed as the viewer chooses to.

So where do we go from here? We could look at cinematic conventions that say what we see within direct narrative is true but flashbacks like Verbal’s explanation of events are only a representation of the story someone is telling us therefore are open to be manipulated by the person telling the story or could even be completely untrue. This is a convention that is easy to accept, the TV show CSI often shows flashbacks of various scenarios that untimely turn out not to be true. Back in 19995 when The Usual Suspects came out this was less common. So if we take this point where does that leave us and what is true?

The opening scene described as “last night in San Pedro” depicts Keaton being shot by a person he calls Keyzer but we don’t actually see who that person is. We can also take from his tone that he is assuming that it is Keyzer Soze but does not actually know it is him or even that he exists. By the same logic we can also say all the other scenes in and around San Pedro are true. This includes FBI agent Jack Baer’s (Giancarlo Esposito) visit to the hospital to see the burnt survivor and his subsequent visit to the police station where he tells Kujan about Keyzer Soze. We can also take it that Kujan’s interview/conversation with Verbal happened as seen but that what verbal told him was not necessarily true. We can also say that verbal’s disability was faked and that he got into a car with the person we know as Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite). What we don’t know is who that person was and what connection he has to Verbal. The person we know as Kobayashi could himself be Soze! What we also know is that the flashbacks can not be entirely true as they do contradict each other as described above.

If we take everything we see to be true the group are told they must destroy the drugs on the boat. We know by the end of the film that there aren’t any drugs but they don’t know that (remember we are assuming everything we saw was true therefore the first time we find out there are no drugs is when Keaton tells McManus). The money is in a van with one man guarding it therefore the plan is flawed. once they have taken out the guards why didn’t the do this: One man drives away with the van full of cash. The rest of them stay to destroy the drugs (they still think are there). They use their contacts and money earned on previous jobs to purchase military grade munitions such as Limpet Mines enabling them to sink the ship without the danger of entering the ship. The most logical explanation is that one of the group wants to get onto the ship to kill someone possibly Arturro Marquez (Castulo Guerra) suggesting one of them is Soze.

The best piece of evidence for those who think Keaton is Keyzer Soze is when we see what happened via Verbal’s description to Dave Kujan we see what we saw at the start when Keaton was shot, but this time the shot lingers on some ropes and Keaton clearly isn’t there to get shot. We also know from what Dave Kujan told us that Keaton has faked his own death before. Even allowing for this Keaton, the person put forward as Keyzer Soze at times is the hardest to accept as him as we have to discount the opening scene when he is sat shot and talks to someone he calls Keyzer who then appears to shoot him. If you discount this scene he has as much chance as anyone of being Keyzer Soze as anyone else. So is someone else Keyzer Soze? Here are the possibilities:

  • McManus (Stephen Baldwin): We only see him die in Verbal’s version of events, furthermore his death happened on the boat out of sight of Verbal.
  • Hockney(Kevin Pollak): As above we only have Verbal’s word that he was shot and he was at the van with the money out of sight of Verbal.
  • Fenster (Benicio Del Toro): Once again we only have Verbal’s word that he was killed and that they buried him.
  • Verbal: Clearly lies about his disability, the belongings he collects when released include the gold watch and lighter the man who shot Keaton (and called Keyzer by Keaton) had at the start of the film. He also got into a car driven by the person we know as Kobayashi who (in Verbal’s flashbacks) admitted to working for Keyzer Soze. He is also the only one we don’t see getting arrested for the line-up, is this because he engineered the line-up?
  • Kobayashi: He along with Verbal and Keaton is one of a select group who is seen both in flashback and present day. During the flashback he is the only person we see who works for Keyzer Soze then at the end he is driving the car that picks Verbal up. He could work for Keyzer Soze or he could be Keyzer Soze using the cover of a solicitor to hide his identity.

Does the film have a life of its own beyond what the writer and director intended? If not there is a big clue in the directors commentary when Bryan Singer tells us that “Keyser Soze” can be roughly translated to mean “King Blabbermouth” (using Turkish and German, the supposed nationalities of Soze’s parents) this could be a reference to the nickname “Verbal”. It appears the actors didn’t know who Keyzer Soze was while making the film; on the trivia section of the films IMDB page it says: “Actor Gabriel Byrne, when asked at a film festival. “Who is Keyser Soze?” replied, “During shooting and until watching the film tonight, I thought I was!”

From all of this I chose to accept the cinematic convention that the present day scenes are all true and happening as if we were there to see them ourselves. The flashback scenes are untrue and told only for the benefit of the person telling the story, Verbal. From this we can determine any character in the film other than Keaton could be Keyzer Soze as we saw him being shot by someone he believed to be Keyzer Soze (even if this person wasn’t Soze the fact that Keaton thought he could be reinforces the idea that Keaton could not be Soze). With this information I believe one of two conclusions to be true; either Verbal is Keyzer Soze or Keyzer Soze does not exist and Verbal and his associates including the man we know as Kobayashi are using the legend/myth of Keyzer Soze to their own advantage. You may have your own ideas!

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I recently started a list of the best comic book based movies and suddenly realized how many of them are from the last ten years.  So my list changed and it is now “The Top 20 Comic Book Movies of The Decade” (or at least my interpretation of it).  Anyone wishing to nominate a film that I have missed or put forward their favourites please do so.  Some of you may even want to ridicule my choices or omissions.  So here they are, some obvious, some less obvious, some you will love, some you will hate and maybe even the odd one you haven’t heard of!

  • Ghost World (2001)
  • Directed by: Terry Zwigoff
  • Based on: a comic book by Daniel Clowes.
  • Not the usual comic book to be adapted into a film, Ghost World is a character driven film about people who just don’t quite fit in.  The two main characters Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) have just graduated from high school, where they looked on their peers with great scorn.  As Enid develops a fascination with local oddball Seymour (Steve Buscemi) Rebecca begins to conform to the phoniness of modern consumer life.  She even gets a job in a Starbucks style coffee shop.  The comedy is sometimes melancholy and full of despair but it is always razor sharp and edgy.  The interaction between Birch and the always brilliant Buscemi really make the film.

 Ghost World

  • Blade II (2002)
  • Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
  • Based on: Marvel’s Blade, created by Marv Wolfman
  • I recently described Blade as the most important Marvel film ever made, after some really bad comic book movies in the 90’s Blade proved a comic book movie could be good, entertaining and most importantly for the studios profitable.  Blade II improved on the original with visionary director Guillermo del Toro bringing his own unique style to the film. This is explored both in the great use of sets and locations as well as the new type of vampire, the Reapers.  The action scenes are well constructed and choreographed.  The film also explores some moral issues that the director re-visits in Hellboy II.

 Blade II

  •  Spider Man (2002)
  • Director: Sam Raimi
  • Based on: Marvel’s Spider-Man, created by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko
  • Although the Spider man films are extremely well made I have to be honest, I am not really a fan, I would much rather see Sam Raimi making horror films, something he does better than most directors.  The action scenes are well constructed, the special effects are seamlessly integrated with the live action and the acting is pretty good throughout.  The reason I can’t get excited is basically prejudice, I am just not a fan of the character.  The reason the film makes the list is that although I’m not a particular fan I can see why others like it.

 Spider Man

  •  올드보이  (Oldboy) (2003)
  • Director: Park Chan-wook
  • Based on: Oldboy, by Minegishi Nobuaaki and Tsuchiya Garon
  • Yes its true, the Korean film that formed the middle part of Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy is the based on a Japanese Manga comic series.  For those who don’t know it Oldboy is violent and disturbing but is also one of the best films of the last ten years.  It tells the story of Oh Dae-Su, a man who is imprisoned in a hotel room for 15 years.  He has no knowledge of who his captors are or what their motives are.  He is then released without warning or explanation.  I won’t say any more so as not to give any of the plot away but if you haven’t seen this film, providing you are not squeamish or sensitive to violence go and see it now.  An American remake possibly staring Will Smith has been muted, it is been reported that it could be a direct remake or possibly a re-imagining of the source material.  Hopefully it doesn’t get off the ground as it would never live up to the original.


  • あずみ (Azumi) (2003)
  • Directed by: Ryûhei Kitamura
  • Based on: the manga series of the same name created by Yū Koyama
  • One of the less well known comic book adaptations of recent years.  In America it screened at various festivals including Sundance and South by Southwest but only had a limited release nearly three years after it was made.  In the UK it went direct to DVD but is picking up a cult following having been screened on film 4.  It is the story of Azumi, after the death of her parents she was raised by a samurai to be an assassin in Feudal Japan.  As part of a small group of orphans that she has trained and grown up with she is sent on her first mission, to assassinate a warlord and prevent a war.  The photography is stunning and combined with well choreographed fight scenes the film has a style that feels like a cross between classic Korosawa and modern pop culture such as video games.  The main theme explored in the movie is morality of killing, this is put into context by Azumi whose assassinations prevent wars and therfore save other lives.  It doesn’t answer these moral questions, just leaves them lingering.


  • The Princess Blade (2003)
  • Directed by: Shinsuke Sato
  • Based on: manga Lady Snowblood by Kazuo Koike
  • Set in Japan in the near future; imagine the Village crossed with and Samaria movie.  Yuki, The Princess Blade of the title is the last surviving royal of the House of Takemikazuchi.  Living in isolation from the world they use there skills developed as  Mikado guards to become the most deadly assassins for hire.  She discovers that the new leader of the house killed her mother.  On leaving she encounters Takashi part of a rebel movement that gives her an opportunity for revenge.  The film loses its way towards the end but on the whole it is well worth seeing.  The action is great and the near future setting is handled well and is an inspired idea. 

 The Princess Blade

  •  X-Men 2 (2003)
  • Director: Bryan Singer
  • Based on: Marvel’s X-Men, created by Jack Kirby & Stan Lee
  • The beauty of the original X-Men movie was that it left the audience wanting more.  With X2, Bryan Singer really delivers the goods, we have more characters using more of their powers and best of all we get more of the none to subtle subtext of alienation.  This really was an accomplished film that set the bar for comic book movies to come.  The most impressive thing is the director’s ability to handle such a large cast of characters and not losing the thread of the plot.  And all this was done whilst facing budget cuts and script rewrites even after the film went into production.  The casting old and new works really well, as well as many returning actors the always brilliant Brian Cox took the role of William Stryker, Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler and Kelly Hu Lady Deathstrike. 

X-Men 2 

  •  Hellboy (2004)
  • Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
  • Based on: Hellboy comic published by Dark Horse Comics created by Mike Mignola.
  • Guillermo del Toro is the perfect choice as a director for this film using all the visionary flair he demonstrated in Blade II and taking it to the next level with lavish sets and imaginative supernatural characters.  Ron Perlman is excellent in the title role playing something between a supper hero and a petulant teenager.  So many comic books are about a battle between good and evil, with Hellboy all this is going on within the one character.  A great film that sits between his masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth and his Hollywood films.  Last years sequel only narrowly missed out on a place on the list.


  •  Batman Begins (2005)
  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Based on: DC’s Batman, created by Bob Kane.  Inspired by storylines from: Batman: The Man Who Falls, Batman: Year One, and Batman: Dark Victory
  • Often overlooked and now overshadowed by The Dark Knight, Batman Begins reinvented Batman and paved the way for the more successful sequel.  Starting at the beginning again discounting all previous movie incarnations of the character.  The gritty reality of Gotham City in economic turmoil (in a film that predates the current so called credit crunch) moves Batman as far from Tim Burton’s Batman as that incarnation was from the 1960’s TV show.  The interesting thing in this film is how long it takes before we see Batman.  I have never timed it but I am guessing about an hour, nearly half way through the film.  Up until this point we get to see how Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) became Batman following the death of his parents (inspired by Batman: The Man Who Falls).  As well as giving us a coherent back story it also negates the need for flashbacks or an origin film in future, it is also directly relevant to the latter part of the film.  There is also a great supporting cast including Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy, Katie Holmes, Liam Neeson, Ken Watanabe, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman many of whom reprise their roles in the sequel.  Anyone who enjoyed The Dark Knight really should revisit this great film.

 Batman Begins

  • A History of Violence (2005)
  • Director: David Cronenberg
  • Based on: graphic novel by John Wagner
  • Moving away from his biological horror roots David Cronenberg marked a real return to form with this adaptation of a graphic novel.  Tom (Viggo Mortensen) becomes a local hero when he shoots and kills two killers who are attempting to rob his diner.  Cronenberg expertly juxtaposes extreme violence with idyllic family life to create a  film that in many ways is far more shocking than his controversial (but brilliant) Crash(1996 not to be confused with the 2004 film of the same name).  Viggo Mortensen is perfectly cast and relishes what is almost a duel role, the two sides of his character being so different.  Maria Bello provides good support as Mortensen’s wife but Ed Harris and William Hurt really excel in their small roles.

A History of Violence 

  • V for Vendetta (2005)
  • Directed by: James McTeigue
  • Based on: Graphic novel of the same name by Alan Moore
  • Released in 2005 at a time when it looked like Watchmen would never be made Alan Moore had already turned his back on the movies after the appalling The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (sorry Katie, I have to say it is a terrible film) and the decidedly average From Hell.  Set in an alternative Britain that has become a fascist, totalitarian state (a bit like the way I imagine the Daily Mail’s ideal vision of the world to be)  the indifferent and apathetic populace get a wake up call from V, a masked vigilantly/terrorist.  Who blows up the Old Bailey before announcing his Guy Fawkes inspired plans for the 5th of November.  A note of trivia Euan (son of then prime mister Toney) Blair worked as a runner on this film about a plot to blow up parliament, a fact that always makes me chuckle!

 V for Vendetta

  • 頭文字D – Tau man ji D (Initial D – Drift Racer) (2005)
  • Directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak
  • Based on: The manga comic of the same name by Shuichi Shigeno
  • A Hong Kong film based on the Japanese manga comic (and anime series) of the same name, it is the story of Takumi Fujiwara a young tofu-delivery driver.  From an early age (before he could legally drive)  he delivered tofu for his farther to the peak of Mt Akina.  In doing so he unwittingly learnt the skills of drift racing.  His abilities become clear when he encounters some local street racers looking for a worthy challenger.  It came out in the UK around the same time as The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift so comparisons are inevitable, they are however irrelevant as Initial D is a great film, Tokyo Drift is utter crap and cost three and a half times more to make than this film!

 Initial D - Drift Racer

  • Sin City (2005)
  • Director: Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez
  • Based on: Frank Miller’s Sin City series
  • Directed by Robert Rodriguez Frank Miller and based on part of Frank Millers graphic novel series of the same name.  Taking the source material and filming it with very little alteration or omission and in a style taken directly from the page.  The dialogue works better on the page and can be a bit clunky and cheesy at times, this only adds to the charm of this modern Noir.  They even use the stark black and white images of the original comic; there are no shades of grey here! What there is though is the occasional splash of colour, a girls eyes or hair, a pair of Chuck Taylor shoes or bright red lips, the effect is striking.  The cast that they amassed is stunning and includes Clive Owen, Rosario Dawson, Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis, Elijah Wood, Brittany Murphy, Kate Bosworth, Josh Hartnett and the real star of the film Mickey Rourke.  Anyone who thinks The Wrestler was Mickey Rourke’s comeback film should take a look at this.  This is a film that really polarizes opinion, I don’t know anyone who likes or dislikes it, you either love it or hate it. 

 Sin City

  • 300 (2007)
  • Directed by Zack Snyder
  • Based on: Graphic Novel by Frank Miller
  • A fictionalized account of the Battle of Thermopylae where Spartan King Leonidas and 300 Spartans fight to repel the invasion of the Persian army of over a million soldiers lead by self proclaimed “God-King” Xerxes.  The film is shot using the Chroma Key (blue screen) technique as used in Sin City (also adapted from a Frank Miller Graphic Novel) to help create a look similar to the one seen on the pages of the comic book.  The film walks a line between historical accuracy and total fantasy telling the basic story but existing more as entertainment than a document of history. 


  • 30 Days of Night (2007)
  • Directed by David Slade
  • Based on the comic mini-series by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, published by IDW Publishing.
  • The concept is truly brilliant.  As the sun sets over and isolated Alaskan town the residents prepare for 30 days of night.  T the same time a group of rather gruesome looking vampires arrive safe in the knowledge that the suns harmful rays will not bother them for an entire month.  Thanks to authors like Anne Rice and Stephenie Meyer vampires have become something more attractive and romantic and less menacing.  These vampires are a world apart from anything you may see in the Twilight saga, they are the most brutal and original vampires since Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (1987).  There are a few problems with the plot and there is a very poor sense of time and space but the action scenes are really well handled and there are some real make you jump moments.  Josh Hartnett and Melissa George make a good leading pair and Danny Huston is great as the leader of the vampires.

 30 Days of Night

  • The Dark Knight (2008)
  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Based on: DC’s Batman, created by Bob Kane.  Inspired by The Long Halloween.
  • Sometimes a film comes along that transcends all expectations. The Dark Knight is one such film, it isn’t a great comic book film it is a great film.  When the film comes up in conversation the first thing people tend to mention is the brilliant performance by Heath Ledger; taking nothing away from him, he fully deserved his Oscar for his part as The Joker but there is so much more to the film than that.  Forget the action, the scene that cuts to the heart of the film is when Bruce Wayne is at diner with Harvey and Rachel.  After Bruce’s date, Natasha makes a comment about democracy they discuss how when threatened the Romans would suspend democracy and appoint one man to protect the city until Rachel reminds last man who they appointed was Caesar and he never gave up his power.  This theme follows through the rest of the film as Bruce holds Harvey up as The White Knight the city needs and that will allow him to give being Batman.  But then we have the moral dilemma that does Bruce want to give being Batman because it is the right thing to do or because he knows it’s the only way to win back Rachel who is now in a relationship with Harvey?  The story is multilayered and brilliantly played out without losing any of the great action you expect of the genre.

 The Dark Knight

  • Iron Man (2008)
  • Directed by: Jon Favreau
  • Based on: The Marvel character originally created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby
  • No movie last year could reach the benchmark set by The Dark Knight but one film tried really hard.  I had low expectations for Iron Man expecting something along the lines of The (not so) Fantastic Four however I was really pleasantly surprised.  While The Dark Knight was dark brooding and had a lot to say for itself Iron Man was bright colourful and unashamedly good fun.  At the centre of the film and the reason for its success is Robert Downey Jr who is clearly having the time of his life playing the Playboy billionaire turned supper hero. 

 Iron Man

  • The Incredible Hulk (2008)
  • Directed by Louis Leterrier
  • Based on: The Marvel comic book created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
  • The problem with The Hulk (2003) was that there was too much talking and not enough smashing (I stole that line from someone else, I am not crediting them as I can’t remember who it was and they probably stole it themselves!).  This is surprising considering the size and invulnerability of this incarnation of The Hulk.  The 2008 film (more reboot than sequel telling a different back story) was a huge improvement.  Edward Norton puts in a great and often funny performance as Bruce Banner, The subtitled scene when he gets his Portuguese wrong is genius.  The other thing that makes it work is the presence of a credible adversary resulting in a decent climatic fight. 

 The Incredible Hulk

  • Wanted (2008)
  • Directed by Timur Bekmambetov
  • Based on: Comic book series by Mark Millar
  • Only loosely based on the comic book Wanted is the story of Wesley, a frustrated office worker who hates his life that he is drifting through aimlessly when not been pushed around or crippled by panic attacks.  Then he discovers that his farther was professional assassin with abilities beyond normal people.  Having inherited the same abilities without realizing it he is asked to a secret guild called The Fraternity.  Russian director Timur Bekmambetov bring al the visual flare and unusual style that he demonstrated in Night Watch and Day Watch.  James McAvoy is an unusual choice for an action star but is surprising effective.  Angelina Jolie finally gets the part she deserves combing the action of Lara Croft with a decent and watchable film. 


  • Watchmen (2009)
  • Directed by: Zack Snyder
  • Based on: The Graphic novel of the same name by Alan Moore
  • Based on the much revered graphic novel that appears on Time Magazine’s 100 Best Novels list. Set in an alternate 1980’s: America have won the Vietnam War and is moving towards a seemingly inevitable nuclear war with Russia. A symbolic doomsday clock is set just before 12 and the end of the world as we know it, Glasnost is not a word used in this films reality.  So more than twenty years on is the story relevant? Fossil fuels and world finance are mentioned keeping the film up to date but it is relevant for a far simpler reason.  The film is not about world politics, it is about people.  More specifically it is about heroes and villains. That is the geniuses of the film or more to the point the graphic novel it is based on.  Who is a hero and who is a villain? That is easy, Batman and Superman are heroes and The Joker and Lex Luthor are villains. In Watchmen it isn’t that simple the heros are villains and the villains are heros. Read my full review of the film.


An honourable mention for a couple of films that didn’t make the shortlist:  American Splendour (2003) and Persepolis (2007).  I have heard great things about both films but they are not eligible as I haven’t seen them.  This isn’t the Oscars where people vote for things they have never seen!

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Is greed still good?

roaring trade clara jackson allanThis blog is normally about movies but I often stray into the world of television so why not theatre too? The simple answer, I haven’t been to the theatre since I started the blog. So what got me to the theatre tonight? Simply a friend of a friend was in the play so a group of us went along to a show support (and to see if he was any good, fortunately he was!). The play in question was Roaring Trade by Steve Thompson, a relatively new play that début in Soho, London at the start of the year. The production I went to see was at the Crescent Theatre in Birmingham. Set in the ruthless and cutthroat world of the bond floor of a fictional London investment bank; it is the story of four very different traders. Even eight months after it made its debut in London is there anything more topical than bankers and their bonuses?


Donny (Matt Dudley) is the old hand trader, with the company for ten years, always pushing the boundaries and bending the rules. Coming from a working class background he has a chip on his shoulder and feels he has a point to prove.

Roaring Trade Matt Dudley

PJ (James Allen) is in his forties and approaching burnout and he probably has a drinking problem. He is thinking that it is time to throw the towel in but his pushy wife won’t let him. The heart, sole and possibly the conscience of the group.

Roaring Trade  James Allen

Ollie (newcomer Eden Voss) quickly nicknamed Spoon (as in silver) is the new boy. With a first from Cambridge, a farther in the trade and pitch perfect Received Pronunciation he is the opposite of wide boy Donny. It is probably the hardest character to play as he develops the most throughout the play. Although he doesn’t have to express the same range of emotions as Donny and PJ he is a very different person at the end of the play from the one we first see when he joins the play in the third scene.

Roaring Trade  Eden Voss

Jess (Chara Jackson-Allen) is far less emotionally fragile than her male counterparts. Jess knows that sex sells and flirts her way through trades. She is probably the most grounded of all the characters. For me Chara Jackson-Allen is the star of the show, although appearing in most of the key scenes her character actually has the smallest story arc of the four main characters. This doesn’t stop her from strutting around the stage as if she owns it.Roaring Trade crescent birmingham

Although the play is essentially one act lasting around eighty minutes it is broken up into relatively short scenes keeping the breakneck pace going. The dialogue sharp and witty but ultimately bitter. You know from the subject matter it isn’t going to end well but what unfolds towards the end isn’t exactly what I expected. The final scene is both poignant and telling. Obviously intended as a cautionary tale of greed and ruthlessness it in some ways is a moral tale. With even the most cutthroat trader playing by the rules and breaking the rules being the ultimate demise of at least one character.

Anyone who can get to Birmingham who want’s to see it will have to act fast, there are only three performances left, Friday and two on Saturday.

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Of the five films nominated for the best Foreign Language film at this years Oscars this year two received theatrical releases in the UK, Waltz with Bashir and The Baader Meinhof Complex (in my opinion the second best German film of the year, I would have gone for The Wave). Of the other three Okuribito (from Japan and the winner of the Oscar) and Revanche (Austria) have not appeared in any form, the final film The Class allegedly went on general release in February. Failing to find a cinema that showed the film on its theatrical release I have just caught up with it on DVD.

The Class

The film is sat mainly within the walls of a French classroom in a racially diverse Parisian school. We only ever see the teachers and pupils at school and never at home or in their lives away from school, this and the way the film is shot almost give it a documentary feel as we get to know the teacher and his class. The really interesting thing about the film is the teacher Fancois Marlin; he is played by Francois Begaudeau who also wrote the screenplay for the film, based on his own book that in tern was based on his own experiences as a teacher. No wonder we get such a sense of realism! This is helped by the production with many improvised scenes using multiple cameras that are turned into long scenes depicting the teaching process.

The class is full of tension as the class fall out over many subjects including race, identity and football. The really film leaves many things unanswered (to its credit), the one question I kept asking myself was how do the kids get on in other classes? Marlin seems genuinely interested in the kids and their education, how are they getting on with the other teachers? We only see them in the staff room and not in class but some of them seem to have given up or lost interest. The later stages of the film concentrate on the discipline and disciplining of one particular student that is certain to create debate amongst viewers. At the end of the film a real sense of optimism is created then destroyed by a conversation the Marlin has with one of the students. If you haven’t realised it before now you will instantly realise we are dealing with something far more gritty and up to date than Dead Poets Society. Often challenging, sometimes infuriating but always compelling; not unlike a good lesson at school, you may not exactly enjoy it but you will definitely get something out of it. As well as the aforementioned Oscar nomination the film also won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, the first French film to win since Sous le soleil de Satan in 1987.

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Some weeks ago I published a top ten pre Star Wars Sci-Fi films now for the top ten post Star Wars films, it was really hard to pick just ten.

AlienAlien (1979):  The original and still the best of the franchise.  It is so much more than a space film.  It’s a haunted house horror, a conspiracy thriller, a slasher movie, an action adventure.  The film is set on a cargo freighter showing space travel and the future isn’t shiny and pretty like Star Trek, this is a dystopian vision of a future earth without showing earth.  Without the use of modern effects the film relies on dark shadow making what you can’t see more scary than what you can.  If Hitchcock had made Sci-fi it would have looked like this. The word masterpiece is overused but Ridley Scott’s film really deserves the tag.  The other thing that makes the film so perfect is the cast.  Ripley is an icon of the genre and Sigourney Weaver is perfect in the part but every other actor in the film is perfectly for the character they play.  Casting is always important but when the film is a small group of people in a confined space it matters even more.  Just because its Sci-Fi doesn’t make the casting any less important than 12 Angry Men. 

Mad Max 2Mad Max 2 (1981): To add fuel to the “is Mad Max 2 better than the original” debate I have included the sequel and not the original in this list.  Not because it is a better film but because it fits the Sci-Fi genre better.  It isn’t filled with the imaginary technology we associated with Sci-Fi but that wouldn’t be appropriate, this dystopian future was created in the late 70’s as if the world has we know it had ceased to exist at this time.  All technology stopped advancing as the survivors scavenged an existence from the carcass of the old world.  The reasons for the dystopian future are never really explained, there is a short montage at the start with a voiceover (not used in the original Australian cut of the film) but mostly we are concerned with the survivors, Max in particular.  Both a great film and hugely influential.

Blade RunnerBlade Runner (1982):  Based of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? This film goes beyond its source material.  The look of the film combines near future neon lit cities with the dark and gloom of Film Noir, the story does the same exploring the wonders of science in contrast with an existential philosophy.  The ending provides the perfect amount of closure and ambiguity.  I would recommend the “Directors Cut” or even better the “Final Cut” and not the original theatrical version with the monotone voiceover.

duneDune (1984): A surprise entry on the list as it was universally slated when it came out but I actually think it is one of the most underrated films of the 80’s.  David Lynch turned down Return of the Jedi to make Dune.  There are two basic complaints about the film; fans of the book think it deviates too far from the source material.  People who haven’t read the book say they can’t understand what is going on.  I don’t buy either of these.  Point one I have read the book and think it is as close to the book as it needs to be, they are different medium will never be identical, the ideas, themes, characters and most importantly the story arc do follow a lot of the book.  Point two, I first saw the film when I was about ten years old (about six years before I read the book) and had no problems understanding it.  The production design that started way back in the 70’s is visionary.  The universe, politics and religions are intricate believable.  The film is dark and brooding and lack the fun of Star Wars but that’s a not a bad thing. 

The TerminatorTerminator (1984):  This film should have been a forgettable low budget B movie but it turned out to be so much more.  The simplicity of the story is brilliant.  The ultimate killing machine who will never stop until it achieves its goal; in this case to kill a young woman.  Yes there are the complexities of time travel and the paradox it creates but the heart of the story is the fight for survival and the plight underdog of the underdog. After Ripley Sarah Connor is the second great female icon of modern Sci-Fi.  Looking back now it would be easy for some people to draw the conclusion the film succeeded because of the star presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger, in fact it works the other way, this is the film that made Schwarzenegger a star.  The ending is perfect. We have elements of a happy ending combined with the most bleak outlook imaginable.

AliensAliens (1986):  James Cameron’s sequel is completely different to Ridley Scott’s original and yet strangely similar.  It would be easy to dismiss the film as a dumb action film but there is so much more going on.  The conspiracy from the first film is expended, the themes of big business being more powerful than government have been explored many times since, we also have a look a study of greed and human nature.  Lots of people prefer this to the original.  I prefer to look at them on their own merits and love them both.  And lets not forget as an action film it really kicks ass!

T2Terminator 2 (1991): If you asked me who my favourite directors are James Cameron wouldn’t immediately spring to mind but this is the third film directed by him to make it to the list beating Ridley Scott and Terry Gilliam.  This film is generally regarded as the best Terminator film.  I have never being completely convinced by it.  I find Schwarzenegger’s conversion from killer to protector contrived and done more for profit and the stars ego than for artistic merit.  This also creates the problem of having to create a more deadly terminator in order for Schwarzenegger and co to remain the underdogs, that is even more contrived and problematic.  However if you look beyond this it is a brilliant film that in true sequel style does everything bigger than the first film.  There is a satisfying ending although without the bleakness of the first film.

Twelve MonkeysTwelve Monkeys (1995): Inspired by the French film La jetée (a half hour film told in black & white stills with a haunting voiceover) and like La jetée it also references Hitchcock’s Vertigo.  The twists in the plot are brilliant but what really stands out about the film is the representation of memory and reality, for example Cole (Bruce Willis) is haunted by visions of his own death but the visions change each time we see them.  The design is visionary as always with Terry Gilliam movies, he creates something not too dissimilar to Brazil.  All this was archived for less than $30million (or about one sixth of what Waterworld cost)

The MatrixThe Matrix (1999): Let’s get one thing strait to begin with I am talking about the Matrix from 1999 and no it’s two rubbish sequels.  We will pretend they don’t exist and look at this film in isolation.  After Star Wars it has probably had the largest effect on Sci-Fi movies in recent years, unfortunately not for the better, its many imitators are as bad as its sequels but we can’t condemn a film for that reason.  Think back to the summer of 1999, it was like nothing we had ever seen before; it could have survived as a good film on the look and style alone but it is a really good film exploring classic Sci-Fi themes like the use of technology and the perception of freedom.  The contrast between the bright vibrant would of “the matrix” emphasised by Carrie-Anne Moss’ shiny PVC catsuit and the grim, faded and threadbare real world the characters live in is a perfect metaphor for the escapism of cinema itself. 

SerenitySerenity (2005): A phoenix from the ashes of the TV show Firefly  and probably the best Sci-Fi movie of the decade.  Set in space in the future, the film isn’t filled with imaginatively designed aliens like Star Wars and Star Trek, it is just humans who have settled on other planets.  That is why the film (and the show that went before it) works so well it is a believable universe and the narrative is a is basically a western in space  It is all about the frontier and settling in the west.  One of the great things about the film is the way it steps away from the good and evil ideas of Star Wars.  “The Alliance” could easily be compared to the “The Empire” but while the empire is intrinsically evil the alliance is more misguided.  It makes the themes of the movie far more relevant to the viewers and like all of Joss Whedon’s work it is both tremendous fun and very funny.

A note on the list.  Any Star Wars sequels, prequels or spinoffs are ineligible.  Had it been eligible The Empire Strikes Back (1980) would certainly have been on the list. I have not included anything that I consider more Horror or Fantasy although many people combine the genres I chose not to in this instance.

As I said at the start it was really hard to pick just ten that is why some time in the future I will revisit the subject including a blog on the overlooked classics of the genre.

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Ferris Bueller’s Year off

Back in 2003, when deciding what film to go and see at the cinema a film staring Macaulay Culkin’s little brother would not have been high on my list however I read the review of Igby Goes Down in Empire Magazine. It described the film as Ferris Bueller’s Year off and compared Kieran Culkin’s eponymous character of Igby to J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caufield. As a fan of Catcher in the Rye I was intrigued by this comparison and went to see the film. Sadly I was in the minority and the film failed to make back its $9million budget on it theatrical release. It was a feature début (and so far only feature) for writer/director Burr Steers who was best know as Roger or “flock of seagulls” in Pulp Fiction.

igby goes down

In fact Igby is a million miles away from Ferris Bueller, while Ferris is a narcissistic hedonist Igby is bordering on misanthropic although they do share a sardonic approach to life. Having been kicked out of every prep school on the east coast Igby spends the summer working for his godfather D.H. Banes (Jeff Goldblum). This is where he first encounters Rachel and Sookie. Rachel (Amanda Peet) is a dancer who doesn’t dance and D.H.’s heroin addicted mistress. Sookie (Claire Danes) is a student who is working as a waitress at a party at D.H.’s house. Not wanting to start yet another school Igby turns to Rachel for help, this and a chance meeting with Sookie shapes his future as he begins living a sort of Bohemian life. Igby is driven or potentially paralysed by an underlying fear that he will one day suffer the same fate as his Farther (Bill Pullman), the only family member he seems to identify with and who is institutionalised following a mental breakdown. The sarcastic and satirical nature of the film (and its leading character) is best expressed by the many interactions with snappy dialogue between the young cast. One of the best examples is the party scene between Igby, Ollie(Igby’s yuppie older brother played by Ryan Pillippe) and Sookie where Igby calls his brother a fascist, (young Republican) and explains that he is studying Neo-Fascism, Ollie corrects him “Economics” Igby’s immediate response “Semantics”.

Kieran Culkin proved himself a great young actor, then took a six year break from the movies, it will be interesting to see how he performs in his two upcoming films. Claire Danes is a great as always. Amanda Peet and Jeff Goldblum are perfect in their parts. Ryan Pillippe excels when bouncing of other actors the way he did with Angelina Jolie in Playing by Heart. The cast is rounded off by Susan Sarandon who is clearly having fun playing Mimi, Igby’s self-absorbed mother . Ultimately it is testament to writer/director an his cast of actors who are all on top form that a film that is cutting, sardonic and satirical manages to be warm, engaging and amusing. We as the viewer forgive or forget that Igby is an ungrateful rich brat and engage with him as a vulnerable and witty young man. The film ends with a sense of hope and also my one real point of criticism. Why do they use a horrible cover version of “The Weight” by Travis and not the excellent original by The Band? If the use of one song is the only thing I can find to criticise about the film it must be good!

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