Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Film: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

In Marvel’s latest adventure we catch up with Steve Rogers aka Captain America as he attempts to capture a band of modern day pirates. Aided by Black Widow the Captain leads a group of soldiers against the bad guys who include George St.Pierre of UFC fame.

Rogers (Chris Evans) then learns of the development of huge flying gunships being developed by SHIELD that have the capability of targeting any person on Earth. Bear in mind that the Captain is a very patriotic American (hence the name) so he doesn’t approve of anything that infringes on personal freedom.

To say more about the story would give away too much so I’ll concentrate on the film itself. Playing to the man out of time storyline (Captain America was a WWII soldier who was frozen then reanimated) this manages to bring emotion to what is otherwise an epic action movie. Think Terminator 2 and you’re in the vicinity. The shoot-outs and fight scenes are wonderfully extravagant (look out for ole Cap vs a fighter jet) and although there are super-hero elements on show here this manages to transcend the genre pigeon-hole.

Evans is fine as the straight-laced Rogers and there is excellent support from Samuel L Jackson, Scarlett Johansson and Frank Grillo to name but a few.

If you think they couldn’t top Avengers or that super-hero films aren’t for you I urge you to think again and catch Captain America: The Winter Soldier while it’s on the big screen.

Ric’s Rating: Essential

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Book: Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer

Patrick Fort has Asperger’s Syndrome so he sees the world around him a bit differently than most people do. When his father is the victim of a hit & run Patrick decides to try to understand death. This leads him to an anatomy class where the dissection of a human body focuses Patrick’s mind on the cause of death and he doesn’t believe the cause listed here.

Meanwhile a recovering coma patient makes a startling discovery but struggles to communicate with anyone in a position to act on the information he has.

Belinda Bauer again manages to absorb the reader into a fascinating murder story woven around a coming-of-age tale featuring a brilliant main character who overcomes many obstacles in both the investigation he begins and the awkwardness of teenage life.

Ric’s Rating: Highly Recommended.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Film: Big Bad Wolves

A meek schoolteacher emerges as the main suspect in a series of grisly child murders in this black comedy from Israel.

Following a run-in with local police the schoolteacher is freed and the cop on the case finds himself suspended. Convinced he has the right man the cop decides to kidnap the suspect but soon has to co-operate with the Father of a murdered girl who is out for revenge.

The duo take the suspect to a remote house for interrogation but things don’t go as planned when the grieving Father becomes the subject of his own elderly parents’ attention.

This film features the harrowing subject of child abduction and murder but amazingly manages to be hilarious at the same time, without detracting from the serious nature of the issue. The introduction of the Grandad adds much to the comedy element, bringing real-life family dynamics into a potentially lethal situation.

Funny and disturbing in equal measures, it’s easy to see why Big Bad Wolves was called the film of 2013 by none other than Quinten Tarantino and a US remake is no doubt inevitable.

Do yourself a favour and see the original before that happens.

Big Bad Wolves is available on DVD in the UK from 28th April 2014.

Ric’s Rating: Essential.    

Film: Riddick

Vin Diesel returns as Richard B Riddick, the anti-hero from Pitch Black, in the third instalment of this sci-fi action series.

This time around we join Riddick on an unknown planet populated by various types of lethal creatures that see him as their prey. As the daily struggle for survival continues two rival sets of mercenaries turn up looking to claim the bounty for the notorious criminal, and it’s doubled if he’d dead.

Pitch Black was a fantastic film, a low budget but effects laden sci-fi adventure that gave Diesel the opportunity to be at his snarling best. The sequel, The Chronicles Of Riddick, was largely forgettable.

Unfortunately that is also the case here as Riddick sets about dispatching the mercenaries one by one without any great action scenes or real moments of tension. I also have little doubt that the budget for this film was substantially larger than that of the original but it manages to look much worse. The scenes involving the motorcycle/hovercrafts are reminiscent of old time films with actors sitting in cars while the same background is repeated again and again.

Riddick is available on DVD now but only die hard fans of the character will enjoy.

Ric’s Rating: Dodgy. 

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Book: Poppet by Mo Hayder

DI Jack Caffrey investigates the bizarre goings on at a local Mental Hospital while also attempting to find closure for the troubled Mother of a missing young woman in the latest thriller from Mo Hayder.

Some years ago I read Hayder’s fantastic debut book, Birdman, which was closely followed by The Treatment. Those books lived long in the memory as they effortlessly combined a surreal feeling of horror with repulsion at the criminal acts described within their pages. The books also introduced the character of Jack Caffrey, a police officer haunted by the disappearance of his Brother when they were both children.

Much to my surprise Hayder’s next novel did not feature Caffrey, and neither did the next. Cafferey eventually reappeared in 2008’s Ritual but I hadn’t got round to catching up with him….until now.

Having long left events of the first two books behind we join Caffrey in Bristol, where reports of strange sightings of a figure known as The Maude followed by some particularly nasty incidents bring a concerned Mental Health Nurse to his office.

Can Caffrey get to the bottom of the mysterious sightings and will colleague Flea Marley tell him what happened to that missing girl?

Having read this sixth instalment of the Jack Caffrey series I now can’t wait to get my hands on the ones I missed. The author yet again manages to create a truly eerie atmosphere, the type of which is usually only found in quality horror novels, and combine it with fascinatingly macabre crime scenes. Throw in an interesting and complex cast of characters and you have a novel that will appeal to both crime and horror fans despite having a rather predictable twist.

Poppet is available everywhere now.

Ric’s Rating: Highly Recommended.  

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Film: The Seasoning House

During the Balkans war of the early-mid nineties a young deaf / mute girl is taken from her home and after witnessing the murder of her Mother she is moved on to a house used for prostitution.

Evil pimp Victor is attracted to her silence and decided to appoint her special duties which include administering drugs to the other girls, general housekeeping and of course being available for Victor whenever he wishes.

Things change when another of the girls begins to communicate through sign language and the soldiers who killed her Mother turn up.

A violent quest for revenge follows which features some particularly vicious scenes.

The Seasoning House adequately presents the feeling of hopelessness and defeat that the captured girls feel as well as the brutality of both their customers and their benefactor but despite the almost overwhelming gloom this remains compulsive viewing.

Fans of Hostel and Saw will enjoy.

Ric’s Rating: Good

Book: The Survivor by Sean Slater

It’s Detective Jacob Striker’s first day back on the job following stress leave and what a day it turns out to be. He gets called into the office of his Daughter’s school to discuss her absenteeism and while he’s there a massacre takes place. For the first time ever Striker is glad his daughter has skipped school! After the shoot-out Striker and his partner peruse a fleeing gunman but do not manage to capture him.

After starting with a literal bang this cop v killer tale descends into an onslaught of clichés. The author seems to have taken elements from all the police procedurals he’s read and tried to include them here.

We have the depressed rebellious cop who only takes shit from his equally rebellious daughter and one of the things she rebels against is his affair with his partner!

The Survivor had plenty of promise and I usually don’t mind stereotypical characters but I just didn’t like this main character enough to see past it all. 100 odd pages were enough.

Ric’s Rating: Abandoned.

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.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Film: Sightseers

A socially awkward couple head off on a caravan tour of England in this offbeat British black comedy from 2012.

Still grieving the loss of her pet dog, Tina (Alice Lowe) agrees to let new boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram) take her on a meticulously planned caravan holiday. The plans soon change when the duo encounter a number of other travellers with murderous consequences.

There are some moments of humour in this otherwise dreary tale which only springs to life with the odd explosion of violence or totally inappropriate comment. Unfortunately it falls into the trap of not being funny enough to be a good comedy or serious enough to make a decent crime ridden road trip romp.

Lowe and Oram are good enough to hold the viewers attention but even their best efforts can’t elevate this above mediocrity.

Ric’s Rating: Dodgy.