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Reviews

Barb Wire
(1996)

A trashy, dystopian take on 'Casablanca'
Set in 2017, at the time of making still twenty one years into the future, takes place after the United States has been ravaged by a second civil war. A fascist regime has taken over with only one city remaining free. Here there is little in the way of law and order. Bounty hunter Barb Wire, takes on various jobs when she isn't busy running her club, The Hammerhead. One day her former lover and his new wife turn up; she has evidence, and a cure, to the regime's war crimes but can't get it to Canada. To get there she must acquire a special pair of contact lenses that will enable her to pass the retinal scanners... will they be able to persuade Barb to take a side for once and get her out?

From the opening scene it becomes clear that this is going to be trashy and cliché riddled. The dystopian aesthetic is typical of the era... I'm sure when society collapses people will were clothes that border of fetish gear. Similarly the landscape is typical with lots of dilapidated industrial sites being used. If the plot seems familiar it is because it has been taken straight from 'Casablanca'... strangely the moment I realised this I suddenly found myself enjoying it far more. The acting isn't great but I don't think anybody was in this film for the awards, unless they were hoping for a Razzie. Honourable exceptions for Xander Berkeley as the city's chief of police and Udo Kier as "Curly", the head waiter at The Hammerhead. There is plenty of action; lots of shooting and explosions but nothing gory to speak of. Mrs Anderson Lee's costume may be very revealing but there was surprisingly little nudity and I didn't notice any strong language so there isn't too much to offend; I was a little surprised it was enough to earn a UK-18 certificate. Overall I'd say this was good trashy fun; just don't expect greatness and you should have a good time.

These comments are based on watching the film in Norwegian with English subtitles.

Vikingulven
(2022)

Viking Wolf
As this Norwegian film opens we are told how, almost a thousand years ago, Viking raiders heading south to Normandy. In a monastery they find a fearsome wolf like 'hell hound'. They take it with them as they return... none of the Vikings survive and the creature swims ashore. In the present day teenage girl Thale, and her family, have just moved to the remote Norwegian town where her mother, Liv, has joined the local police. One evening Thale sneaks out of her house to attend a beach party. Another girl is attacked and dragged off by a creature, Thale is scratched. Liv leads the investigation and soon finds what appears to be a wolf's claw. When the body is found it appears to have been attacked by a large, savage animal. An eccentric hunter turns up claiming the creature is in fact a werewolf!

I thought this was a decent enough addition to the werewolf genre. The prologue made it clear that this was going to be a werewolf film from the opening scene. Part of me would have preferred that information to come out a bit later but it didn't matter too much as it wasn't long before we knew what had attacked the girl. Apart from explaining how werewolves originally came to be in Scandinavia it didn't try to add anything to the established lore. The plot borrows from other films; most obviously 'An American Werewolf in London' but also from less obvious sources... I'm sure the hunter was inspired by Quint from 'Jaws'. The effects are decent enough and the acting was solid. The big question about any horror film is 'Is it scary?' unfortunately for the most part it isn't. While we see a bit of the aftermath of attacks the makers seemed a bit squeamish about showing the gory attacks. Overall a decent enough addition to the genre that fans of werewolf movies are likely to enjoy. Even if they don't rate it amongst the best they are unlikely to consider it one of the worst.

These comments are based on watching the film in Norwegian with English subtitles.

Pipa
(2022)

Recurrence
In this, the third film to be centred on Manuela 'Pipa' Pelari we find her retired from the police and living with her aunt and son in a remote corner of Argentina. She thought that she had left the troubles and dangers of her previous life behind but when a young woman is found dead she finds herself dragged in. The police are more than willing to say it was just a tragic accident and the certainly don't want to bother the wealthy family who had hired the girl as a waitress for a party the night before. Pipa's questioning of the official line will expose certain secrets and put her and her family in danger.

I thought this film was solid enough. It may be the third film in a series but the story is self-contained so it doesn't matter if you haven't seen the previous ones. The story doesn't provide too many surprises but there are plenty of tense scenes. It may be set in the modern day but many of the characters and their motives could have been transplanted from a western. The acting is fine; Luisana Lopilato is particularly good as Pipa. The setting is great with some really spectacular scenery that adds to the film's western feel. A sub-plot involving the mistreatment of the native population does seem a little forced and the choice of music doesn't quite match the genre. Overall I'd say this was a decent enough film; not a must see but still fairly enjoyable.

These comments are based on watching the film in Spanish with English subtitles.

The Invocation of Enver Simaku
(2018)

An intriguing chiller set in Albania
In 1997 two Spanish documentary makers, couple Julien and Angela, are working in Albania. She is killed during a night of rioting. Eighteen years later he returns determined to find the truth behind his wife's death. As he, with the help of local translators, starts to investigate links to Albanian folklore emerge; people believe the killers acted after Enver, their brother who'd been in a coma for over twenty years, died. They believe Enver had been battling a possessing spirit and upon his death it took over his brothers. Julien's investigation uncovers an older investigation by a unit of the communist era's secret police that specialised in supernatural cases.

I had no idea what to expect from this film; I only watched it because I was intrigued by its Albanian setting. I'm glad I did though. It is more of a chiller than a conventional horror film. Little happens that provides sudden scares; there is just a constant sense that something isn't quite right. The fact that it takes the form of a documentary with a series of interviews gives it a sense of reality. I thought the cast did a solid job as for the most part they came across as ordinary people being interviewed rather than actors fully at ease in front of the camera. The setting is great; the impressive scenery could be from a tourist board film but the choice of music gives it an ominous feel. I liked how it incorporated Albanian folklore, a subject I admit to knowing nothing about, into the core of the story. Overall this might not be for everybody but I'd recommend it to chiller fans looking for something a little different.

Even though the film is listed as being in English I'd recommend turning on the subtitles as there are some scenes that aren't; notable one interview that takes place in Italian.

The Pale Blue Eye
(2022)

A murder mystery set in 1830 West Point
This film is set in October of 1830. When a student is found hanged at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York it is assumed to be a suicide. However somebody has cut the heart out while the body lay in the morgue. To solve the case retired detective Augustus Landor is called in. He quickly determines that they are in fact dealing with a murder. Unfortunately the cadets don't want to talk about their classmate so Landor secretly enlists one of them to assist him... a young man by the name of Edgar Allan Poe. As the investigation progresses dark motives are exposed.

I thought this was a solid murder mystery. It kept me guessing throughout and provided twists that I didn't see coming. The location, which is covered in snow, adds to the atmosphere and the nature of the crimes gives a sense of the macabre. The use of real characters, most obviously Edgar Allan Poe, in a fictional story works to make the story feel believable without ever creating the impression that we are watching a representation of real events. The cast, a mix of British and American actors, does a solid job. The pace may be a little slow but in a necessary way; I never felt bored nor did I feel that it went on too long. Overall a pretty good film that I'd recommend to mystery fans who enjoy a historical setting.

Mystery Road: Origin
(2022)

A solid Australian prequel
The film 'Mystery Road' introduced us to Detective Jay Swan. This series takes us back to the early days of his career. It is 1999 and he is returning to work at the outback town where he grew up. He doesn't get off to a good start; he stops at a petrol station and gets caught up in an armed hold up. As the thieves speed away he finds himself being arrested by one of his new colleagues. That mistake being sorted he sets about getting settled in. Life is made slightly more difficult by his father, a former rodeo star. He also starts to take an interest in local woman Mary Allen. Meanwhile young lawyer, Anousha, is looking into the death of Mary's brother which was officially closed some time ago but she thinks he may have been the victim of foul play.

I really enjoyed the stories about the older Jay Swan but was unsure how this prequel would compare. It turned up rather well. The opening scenes really pulled me in as Jay stops to pick up his father on an outback road followed by the events at the petrol station. After this the pace is fairly languid with plenty of time spent between the moments of action. Some may think it is too slow but I felt it added to the story which has a timeless feel. It could almost have been set at any time; although historically there wouldn't have be an Aborigine in the police. The issue of race is important but this doesn't feel like a polemic; instead it is just a natural part of the story. The cast is really solid throughout; especially Mark Coles Smith, who plays our protagonist Jay Swan. The location itself can be considered a character; one can almost feel the heat and sense of isolation. Overall I'd definitely recommend this to fans of earlier 'Mystery Road' stories although it isn't necessary to have seen those to enjoy this.

All Na Vibes
(2021)

A solid Nigerian drama
This Nigerian film is centred on three teens in the city of Ibadan; Lamadi, AKA 'Lambo'; his friend Abiola; and Sade, a politician's daughter. Against the backdrop of a teachers' strike and political strife Lambo decides to organise a party and pressures Sade to let him hold it at her house while her father is away. She agrees and he sets about organising things. Unfortunately her father cancels his trip and it looks like the party might be off. They find a new location and hold the party but the next day Sade is missing and Lambo and Abiola find themselves suspected of kidnapping her.

I thought this was a decent film. The first half gave us a chance to get to know the main characters before introducing mystery and a real sense of danger when Sade disappears. Inevitably some aspects will be better appreciated by those with a solid understanding of Nigerian culture and politics it is still enjoyable to those, like me, who don't. The main three characters feel universal and, with a few minor changes, the story could have been set almost anywhere. That said I liked the location as it was something new for me; we get too few films from this part of the world. The cast do a solid job, especially Molawa Davis, Tega Ethan and Tolu Osaile who play Lambo, Abiola and Sade respectively. There isn't too much that will disturb viewers although some may be bothered by the sight of a chicken being slaughtered. Overall I'd recommend this to drama fans looking for something set somewhere different to the usual fare.

I watched on Netflix where it is listed as an English language film; for the most part it is but as some is in the local language it was necessary to turn on the subtitles.

Air Force: The Movie - Selagi Bernyawa
(2022)

Air Force the Movie: Danger Close
The Malaysian film opens in a war-torn fictional Pacific island nation. Members of PASKAU, the Special Forces branch of the Royal Malaysian Air Force, are attempting to evacuate humanitarian workers. They manage to take off but their A-400M transport aircraft is hit by enemy fire and crashes. The nine survivors, led by Major Adnan Zaid 'Lejen' Rahmat, must make their way through enemy territory till a rescue mission can be arranged. Key to the rescue mission will be Major Zafran 'Mantis' Abd Rahman, a SU-30 'Flanker' pilot who is currently suspended due to his low flying antics.

The plot of this film is fairly simple but that isn't too much of a problem as there is plenty of action from start to finish. Given the title I expected much of that action to take place in the air; some of it does but most is firmly on the ground as the survivors try to evade but frequently end up fighting overwhelming enemy forces. This action is exciting and there is a real sense of danger for the characters, it becomes clear early on that they won't all survive. The aerial action is somewhat mixed; the long shots look great but some of the close-ups are obvious special effects, as are the explosions. The cast do a solid enough job and the near relentless action help one overlook most of the flaws. Overall a solid enough war film that should entertain both fans of ground based and aerial action.

These comments are based on watching the film in Malay with English subtitles.

Mobeomhyungsa
(2020)

The Good Detective
This South Korean series is set primarily in the city of Incheon. Our protagonists are veteran detective Kang Do-chang, who tends to rely on his long experience and the connections he has made, and Oh Ji-hyuk, an up-and-coming high flier who relies on firm evidence and psychological insight into the suspects. They are part of Violent Crime Division Two; while other team members are secondary they are still important to the series.

In the first season questions are raised concerning the guilt of a man sentenced to hang. Do-chang is initially convinced that he is the killer but as the investigation progresses he starts to have his doubts. As the season progresses more suspects emerge and questions are raised about the initial investigation.

The second series sees the team caught up in a serial killer case after they arrest a suspect in a minor case yards away from where a body is found the next day. The serial killer is being hunted by a team from Seoul and their leader is keen to blame the arrested man, who has unfortunately now been released. Events lead to the case being swiftly closed; but then another body is found... is it a copycat or did the police get the wrong man? Even after a killer is arrested questions remain about one of the victims and suspicion falls on those at the top of one of Korea's most powerful conglomerates.

I thought this was a really enjoyable series. Each season provides a good mystery with plenty of interesting characters. The stories are told in a way that keeps the viewer ahead of the detectives but not too far. This means the twist, of which there are quite a few, are still fun without feeling as if they come out of nowhere. As anybody who has watched any Korean dramas would expect there is a good degree of comedy; this comes from the characters rather than forced gags. The cast does a really fine job creating characters the viewer it likely to care about so moments of tension can have one worrying about their safety. Overall I'd definitely recommend this to fans of Korean crime drama.

These comments are based on watching the series in Korean with English subtitles.

Jung_E
(2023)

Solid South Korean Sci-fi
This South Korean sci-fi film is set in a future where, due to climate change, the Earth has become far less habitable. Humanity has largely fled to eighty odd orbiting shelters. Three of these have declared independence and attacked the others and Earth. During this war Captain Yun Jung-yi became a legend. She signed up to fund her daughter, Seo-hyun's, cancer treatment but, on the day of the operation, she is injured in battle and left comatose. Years later her daughter is a leading researcher in a team using Captain Yun's downloaded conscience in an attempt to create combat AIs. These are code named Jung_E. This is done under the auspices of Director Kim Sang-Hoon.

I really had no idea what to expect of this film. As I watched the opening scenes I quickly got the impression that it was going to be a futuristic war film but it turned out to be something more interesting. There is little moral ambiguity, I'm sure most people will be more sympathetic to Jung_E and Seo-hyun than the other characters. These two characters are certainly the most interesting although Director Kim Sang-Hoon makes a good antagonist even if the big twist regarding his character won't surprise many people. The acting is solid, especially from Kang Soo-yeon, who tragically died shortly after the film was made, and Kim Hyun-joo who played Seo-hyun and Jung-yi/Jung_E respectively. The action scenes are exciting and the effects impressive even if they are clearly CGI. Overall I'd definitely recommend this to sci-fi fans as it is a good addition to the genre.

These comments are based on watching the film in Korean with English subtitles.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars
(2008)

A decent animated addition to the 'Star Wars' franchise
The action in this animated film takes place sometime after that depicted in 'Attack of the Clones'. The war between The Republic and Count Dooku's droid army is still raging and both sides want access to the space controlled by Jabba the Hutt. When Jabba's young son is kidnapped the Jedi decide their cause will be helped if they are the ones to rescue him. Obi-Wan and Anakin are to lead the mission; they will be accompanied by Ahsoka Tano, a Padawan apprentice who Yoda has entrusted to Anakin.

This may not be the greatest addition to the 'Star Wars' franchise but I thought it was rather fun. The action is solid from start to finish meaning one can easily overlook some of the film's flaws. With the exception of Ahsoka Tano there aren't many new characters. No time is wasted reintroducing old characters; it is clear that the makers expect the viewers to have seen the preceding films. Ahsoka is a fun addition to the cast; I liked how her relationship with Anakin developed throughout the film. There are some weak points; the character designs took a little getting used to and I could have done without the 'amusingly' incompetent droid army... of course it is easy to forget that a key part of the 'Star Wars' audience has always been the fairly young. The voice acting is impressive; some characters kept their voice actors from the live action prequels but most didn't and the new cast sound like the originals. Overall I thought this was a decent addition to the franchise although I suspect it will appeal most to younger fans.

Rainbow
(2022)

A delightful modern reworking of 'The Wizard of Oz'
In this modern day Spanish retelling of 'The Wizard of Oz' Dora is a teenage girl who lives with her father. One day she decides to find her mother. She sets off with her dog, Toto, and soon finds her grandmother and great aunt. The meeting doesn't go well and she ends up on the run, accused of murder! She is still determined to find her mother; along the way she meets a man chained up in a junkyard, a suicidal older gentleman and a gay man; clearly standing in for the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion respectively. As they travel they face various dangers and Dora learns more about her family.

I thought this film was a lot of fun. While it plays with the themes and characters of 'The Wizard of Oz' it never really feels as though it is trying to be a remake and most of the more fantastical elements are removed. Dora Postigo is a delight as Dora; our fire-engine red haired Dorothy. The rest of the cast are sold too; I especially liked Carmen Maura as Coco Cabrera; Dora's wealthy great aunt who is clearly modelled on the Wicked Witch of the West. The film looks great with vibrant colours and a somewhat trippy feel. It also uses music really well without being a musical. At times it may have got a little messy and could probably have done with being a little shorter but I'm still really glad I chose to watch it. I'd certainly recommend giving it a go.

These comments are based on watching the film in Spanish with English subtitles.

Verónica
(2017)

A solid Spanish chiller
As this film opens the emergency services are heading to an apartment; when they get there they find a teenaged girl who is screaming. We then move back three days. The girl is waking up. We soon learn that she is the eponymous Verónica, a school girl who is often left looking after her three younger siblings while their mother works. She misses her late father and, in an attempt to talk to him, uses a Ouija board with her friends during a solar eclipse. She soon starts to believe there is a malevolent presence in their apartment.

I thought this was a pretty decent chiller. It opens well with a quick scare before taking time to introduce the key characters. Following the séance the scares start and gradually increase as Verónica's younger siblings seem to be targeted. I was glad that I watched this without any prior knowledge; if I'd known some people thought it was the scariest film they'd seen I'd have been disappointed... I thought it had good scary moments but was by no means that scary. Of course what is scary is one of the most subjective things in cinema. The cast did a solid job, in particular Sandra Escacena as Verónica. The children playing her siblings were also impressive, none of them were annoyingly precocious as they can be in Hollywood films. The effects were nicely done and not over used. Overall I'd certainly recommend this to fans of the genre, just don't expect too much.

These comments are based on watching the film in Spanish with English subtitles.

Last Exile: Gin'yoku no Fam
(2011)

Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing
This series is more a spin-off than a sequel to the original 'Last Exile'; it has a mostly new cast of characters and those that do return are in fairly minor roles. It is centred on two young vanship pilots; Fam Fan Fan and Giselle Collette. They work with a group of Sky Pilots and make a living stealing warships! The story takes place against the backdrop of a war. The Ades Federation is fighting against nations made up of people who returned to the planet on the exile ships. Fam and Giselle help save Princess Millia but the Federation capture her older sister and use her power to control one of the exiles to give them a massive advantage in the war. To keep their independence the various nations will have to set aside differences to fight the Federation.

I enjoyed this series but not as much as I enjoyed the original. It has the same look and plenty of action. Unfortunately there is less time given to character development. Apart from Fam, Giselle and Millia everybody else feels somewhat secondary. It was nice to see Dio again although there was no explanation of how he survived the events in 'Last Exile'; perhaps that is covered in 'Last Exile: Travelers from the Hourglass', the manga that links to two seasons. The action is pretty good and there is plenty of it. Overall I'd say it was nice to see another story set in the 'Last Exile' universe but it was a little disappointing that this didn't have the depth of the original. I'd still recommend it though; I'd certainly advise watching the original first as it is great but I don't think it is essential.

These comments are based on watching the series in Japanese with English subtitles.

Homunculus
(2021)

An enjoyably disturbing film from Japan
This Japanese film, based on a manga of the same name, is centred on Susumu Nakoshi. He is a thirty four year old amnesiac for appears to have plenty of money despite living in his small car near a homeless community. One day he is approached by a strange man with an even stranger proposal. He says that he will give Nakoshi ¥700,000 to take part in a medical experiment. He believes that by drilling a small home in his skull he will be able to unleash the brain's true power. He is initially rejected but eventually Nakoshi accepts. Soon afterwards he starts having disturbing visions. He sees homunculi, alternate versions of the person he is looking at that give him an insight into the events in their life that have been traumatic and repressed. Some of these insights prove disturbing for all involved.

It isn't surprising that this film is quite disturbing and more than a little twisted at times; the original manga was created by the man who created 'Ichi the Killer'. That said this is nowhere near as disturbing or violent as that film. The story is interesting and provides a few good twists. It is shot in a fairly matter of fact way that gives it a suitably drab feel that matches Nakoshi's lack of emotion. The acting is solid and the special effects, which aren't over-used, are really good. Some of the material means it won't be for everybody but if you enjoy subtitled horror, or understand Japanese, I'd recommend giving it a go.

These comments are based on watching the film in Japanese with English subtitles.

As You Like It
(2006)

A fun adaptation of Shakespeare's romantic comedy
The action in this version of Shakespeare's play has been transferred from Europe to nineteenth century Japan where there are tensions among a group of British expatriates. Fredrick has seized power and exiled his brother, the rightful duke, to the nearby Forest of Arden. The Duke's daughter, Rosalind, remains at court with her friend, the usurper's daughter Celia. When Orlando, a young man who has fallen out with his own brother, visits the court he falls in love with Rosalind. Events lead to him being expelled. Soon afterwards Fredrick tells Rosalind that she too must leave the court. She disguises herself as a boy and heads to the Forest of Arden with Celia and Touchstone, the fool. Once there various romances play out.

I thought this film was a delight that provided some genuine laughs. At first I was unsure about moving the action to Japan but it didn't detract from the story; instead in justified the addition of a sumo wrestling scene and some impressive costume choices. The plot is simple enough and is mostly there to justify everybody being in the forest; and in particular for Rosalind to be dressed as a boy. As is nearly always the case no viewer will think Rosalind looks more than slightly boyish... ironic given that in Shakespeare's day all the women would be played by boys! The cast does a really fine job bringing a lightness to the characters that makes them believable even in the more unlikely situations. Overall I'd definitely recommend this to anybody who enjoys films based on Shakespeare's plays; it would also serve as a decent introduction to his work for those yet to see any.

Chainsaw Man
(2022)

Solid devil hunting action
This series is centred on Denji, a poverty stricken young man who, along with his chainsaw devil-dog Pochita, hunts devils for the Yakuza. Following a betrayal he is killed. That isn't the end for him though Pochita merges with him and he becomes a devil, in certain conditions his arms become chainsaws and another chainsaw emerges from his head! He is recruited to the government Devil Hunters. All this happens in the opening episode. His life is about to get a lot more interesting as he and his new partner face various devils.

I thought this was really solid. It doesn't waste much time setting up the basic premise and delivers lots of gory action in every episode. The characters are a lot of fun; I especially liked Denji's partner, Power. The story manages to include some amusing moments that contrast nicely with the violence. The character designs and backgrounds look pretty good. Overall I'd say this is definitely worth watching if you want gory devil-fighting action.

These comments are based on watching the series in Japanese with English subtitles.

Koukyuu no Karasu
(2022)

Raven of the Inner Palace
This anime series is set in ancient China. Within the innermost area of the Imperial Palace the Emperor and those closest to him reside. Among there is the 'Raven Consort'; unlike the other consorts she has no contact with the emperor. Instead her duty is summoning the spirits of the dead and helping them find peace in the afterlife. Inevitably she gets caught up in palace machinations and as the series progresses we learn more about her and her family's past.

From first glance it is clear that this series looks great; with impressive character designs, beautiful costumes and backgrounds. Of course this doesn't guarantee a good story but thankfully that is also a lot of fun to watch. The characters are interesting and the story provides both drama and human interest. Overall I'd certainly recommend this to anime fans looking for something a little different.

These comments are based on watching the series in Japanese with English subtitles.

Le manoir
(2017)

The Mansion
This Belgian film is centred on a group of student friends who are celebrating the New Year at a remote manor house. As is so often the way it is quickly established that there is no phone signal and no Wi-Fi so when things inevitably go wrong there will be no calling for help. The group contains the expected mix of character types and before long things start going wrong. First innocent Charlotte eats some 'special' cupcakes and walks into the woods; then mother's boy Bruno steps in something unpleasant and finds something even more disturbing. Tensions rise and somebody, or something, starts picking of the friends.

Horror comedy needs to succeed in two ways; it needs to be scary and it needs to be funny; that sounds obvious but often films fail on one or both counts. What is scary and what is funny are highly subjective; I found this film provided mild scares and some good laugh out loud moments. The deaths are suitably varied and in amusingly poor taste; the way the first body is found will have people wincing and laughing at the same time... if they have a slightly twisted sense of humour. The cast is solid enough; they are fully aware that they aren't starring in the next 'Citizen Kane' and play their parts accordingly; never too seriously. The setting is impressive; one just has to look at the house and forest to know bad things will happen. Overall a decent enough horror comedy which plays with genre stereotypes in an enjoyable way. I'd certainly recommend it to horror, especially slasher, fans looking for some amusing, mildly gory fun.

These comments are based on watching the film in French with English subtitles.

Midnight in the Switchgrass
(2021)

Hunting a serial killer operating along a Florida interstate
FBI Agents Rebecca Lombardo and Karl Helter are hunting sex traffickers in Florida when their investigation crosses paths with an investigation being carried out by Agent Byron Crawford of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He believes that there is a serial killer targeting prostitutes along the I-10. The case is given further urgency when another woman disappears; will the agents be able to save her before the killer murders her?

I thought this was a solid enough film; certainly not as bad as many others clearly think it is. Anybody wanting a murder mystery is likely to be disappointed as the killer's identity is revealed fairly early on. This has a somewhat mixed effect on the film; on the one hand it removes any sense of mystery on the other it lets us know that rather than being an obvious monster the killer comes across as an ordinary family man. There is some tension but for the most part it all feels rather matter of fact; something I rather liked. The cast is decent enough; I enjoyed Emile Hirsch's portrayal of Byron and Megan Fox in the role of Rebecca. Bruce Willis felt underused as Agent Helter but we know by now that many of his later roles were negatively affected by his health issues. Overall I'd not say this is a must see by any means but if you are scrolling through Netflix looking to find something to pass an hour and forty minutes you could do worse.

Berserk: The Golden Age Arc - Memorial Edition
(2022)

An impressive remake of an anime classic
This series follows Guts; a mercenary who wields a huge sword. Normally he doesn't work with others but after meeting the enigmatic Griffith he joins his mercenary group; the Band of the Hawk. They fight alongside each other and the Hawks have more and more success in battle. This makes Griffith one of the king's favourites which upsets the aristocracy who believe he is getting above himself. Over the course of the series the group fight numerous battles and much blood is spilt. We also learn more about Guts and Griffith's pasts. Obviously it isn't all fighting; there is an element of romance involving Casca; the second in command of the Hawks.

This series is a remastered version of the three films released 2012/13, which were in turn based on the same material as the 1997 anime series. One might think that this makes the series superfluous; perhaps it is but it is still a great series. For those who have never seen any Berserk this series is a good introduction. The characters are great, especially Guts, Casca and Griffith. The amination is really good; certainly much better than that used in the 2016 series, which details events after this series. There is plenty of violent action, as well as some sex and nudity which means this won't be suitable for younger or more sensitive viewers. Overall I'd certainly recommend this to fans of Berserk in particular and fans of action anime in general.

These comments are based on watching the series in Japanese with English subtitles.

My Spy
(2020)

Plenty of laughs, some fun action and a touch of romance
After a CIA operative, ex-soldier JJ, blows a mission in explosive style he is given what should be a simpler job. Terrorist Victor had plans for a miniature nuclear weapon but his brother David took them; it is though that before Victor killed him he hid them somewhere in his home. JJ is to go to Chicago with Bobbi, an analyst who idolises him, and watch David's wife Kate and her nine year old daughter Sophie. They set up cameras in Kate's apartment but Sophie soon finds one... she approaches JJ and Bobbi and blackmails JJ into teaching her a few of his skills and pushes him towards her mother. This leads to plenty of amusing moments but inevitably Victor eventually turns up for an exciting finale.

This turned out to be much better than I expected. It opens and closes with some good, solid action and in between there are plenty of laughs. The premise of a bulky action hero finding himself out of his depth when having to work alongside a child isn't the most original and more than once other films are referenced. That isn't a problem though as it delivers where it matters and the characters are fun. I suspected that Dave Bautista would just be a cut price Dwayne Johnson but he handles both the action and the comedy well as JJ. He has a good chemistry with young Chloe Coleman who is a delight as Sophie. I also enjoyed Kristen Schaal's performance as Bobbi and thought Parisa Fitz-Henley was impressive as Kate. Greg Bryk was solid as bad guy Victor even if the character has less screen time than one might expect. There is a sense of danger towards the end but most of the time one could almost forget JJ is on a mission as he is somewhat unwillingly, but amusingly, pulled into Sophie and Kate's lives. There is some violence but none of it is disturbing, there is no sex or nudity and the language isn't particularly offensive making this refreshingly suitable for almost anybody. Overall I'd certainly recommend this to anybody wanting a bit of a laugh who enjoys spy movies.

Spontaneous
(2020)

A darkly comic romance
As this film opens protagonist/narrator Mara Carlyle, a high school senior, is sitting in class when fellow student Katelyn Ogden suddenly explodes! There was no bomb and damage is limited to everything and everybody getting drenched in blood and guts. Soon afterwards Mara starts a relationship with Dylan, a boy who unbeknownst to her had a crush on her for some time. While further classmates explode they grow closer; hoping they won't be next to die.

When I sat down to watch this I expected a somewhat cheesy horror movie; I got something much better. There are obvious horror elements, it would be hard not to contain them in a film about teenagers who randomly explode. It does though manage to eschew many of the genre's clichés. Our protagonist isn't squeaky clean; she takes drugs and drinks to excess at times and swears like a trooper. There is also no obvious evil; the kids may be dying but it isn't due to some malevolent character. Typically when things get really bad in a horror movie the protagonist gets tough and seeks a solution, Mara gets depressed and hits the bottle... which felt more believable under the circumstances; it also gave the film a real emotional kick. The cast is solid; I particularly liked Katherine Langford in the lead role. Overall I'd certainly recommend this; it may be more emotional than scary but it provided plenty of laughs, a degree of tragedy and a better story than I expected.

Santo
(2022)

A gritty but somewhat confusing crime drama
This Spanish/Brazilian crime drama opens with a car driver being shot and killed and the child in the vehicle being kidnapped on a narrow Madrid backstreet. Detectives Miguel Millán and "Susi" Jackson are soon on the case. Meanwhile across the Atlantic in Brazil police officer Ernesto Cardona is going undercover to hunt a criminal known only as 'Santo'. Nobody has knowingly seen Santo's face and his followers have a religious fervour that includes disturbing rituals. Ernesto's mission ultimately takes him to Madrid where Santo is thought to be involved in the kidnapping and other crimes.

This six part series features some good gritty action and an interesting premise. Unfortunately it is also quite confusing at times as the action criss-crosses the Atlantic and includes frequent flashbacks to prior events... without always making it clear how far back we are seeing. On the plus side the acting is solid, the action is shot in an exciting way. The end of the sixth episode is clearly not the end of the story; I guess we'll have to wait another year to find out what happens next, assuming the series gets renewed.

These comments are based on watching the series in Spanish/Portuguese with English subtitles.

Hoshi no samidare
(2022)

Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer
This anime series opens with college student Yuuhi Amamiya discovering a lizard on his bed. If that weren't surprise enough the lizard speaks to him! It tells him that he is one of a select group that have been chosen to be 'Beast Knights'. They are to unite with a magical princess to defeat a mage who intends to destroy the Earth with a colossal mallet, the eponymous biscuit hammer, which only they can see. When he meets the princess she tells him that her reason for wanting to defeat the mage is that she wishes to destroy the world herself!

This may not be one of the great anime series but I still thought it was fairly fun. There is a decent amount of action, some amusing moments and fun characters. At twenty four episodes it is perhaps a little longer than it needs to be but I never got bored with it. The final episode delivered a proper ending so viewers won't be left wondering if another series will be made to wrap things up. Overall a fun series if you enjoy magical battles, some laughs and nothing really unpleasant.

These comments are based on watching the series in Japanese with English subtitles.

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