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Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Initiative
(1999)
Episode 7, Season 4

Explaining the paramilitary men in black
For much of this season we've seen mysterious black-clad paramilitary types; most notably when they captured Spike in the previous episode; here we learn more about them. Spike is taken to what appears to be a hi-tech prison for supernatural beings; it is run by a group known as The Initiative. Meanwhile Riley, the Teaching Assistant, is starting to show an interest in Buffy; unable to make his feelings known directly he approaches Willow for advice. Later Spike escapes from the facility and is reunited with Harmony; he tells her they will do what she wants... just as soon as he kills The Slayer. He heads to Buffy's room but only Willow is there; for some reason he can't bite her... so they end up having a somewhat awkward conversation... until The Initiative, closely followed by Buffy turn up.

This episode was rather fun; there was action, character development as well as a fair amount of humour. The highlight though is the return of Spike as a main character; he may be evil but he is also strangely likeable. James Marsters is great in the role; the scenes between him and the always excellent Alyson Hannigan, as Willow, was priceless; first scary, then funny. The way The Initiative was introduced was handled well; not too much was said about them so it is unclear whether their motives are good or evil at this point. Another hilarious highlight was a delightfully feeble fight between Nicholas Brendon's Xander and Mercedes McNab's Harmony. The plot thread involving Riley was fun enough; whether he and Buffy will become an item remains to be seen but his awkwardness around her felt real as he struggled to think what to say. Overall I really enjoyed this episode which was more about setting up future plotlines than providing resolutions.

Robin Hood
(1973)

Disney's anthropomorphic adaption of the classic story
This Disney adaption of the Robin Hood story sees each of the characters portrayed by animals but keeps the basics of the story. Robin, along with his friend Little John, 'borrow' from the wealthy to help the poor and there is nobody more deserving of being robbed than Prince John; a character who is constantly raising the taxes for the ordinary people. After being robbed the Prince plans to trap Robin Hood with an archery competition. When that fails and the people start mocking him even more he raises taxes yet again and has Robin's friend Friar Tuck gaoled... of course it is only a matter of time before Robin is planning a rescue.

I know that many people consider this to be a weaker Disney production but I rather enjoyed it. I recalled watching it as a child but didn't remember too much about it other than the fact that Robin Hood was a fox and that I'd enjoyed it. Watching it again forty five years later it still entertained me. The story may be pared to the basics but that is ideal for a younger audience. The characters are introduced in a good way; the heroes are suitably heroic without losing the common touch and the villains are bad but with traits that ensure that they won't scare younger viewers... who can be scared of a lion who sucks his thumb! The story provides plenty of solid child-friendly action and some good laughs; it also provides some more downbeat moments as we see the people suffering under John's tax regime. There are the expected songs; they may not be classics but they are fun enough. Having the characters portrayed as animals was rather fun; this was helped by a solid voice cast that included Peter Ustinov, as King John, and Terry Thomas as is sidekick Sir Hiss, a snake. The rest of the cast are solid too; some viewers might not be keen on the mix of English and American voices but it didn't really bother me... who knows what people of that time actually sounded like?! Overall I'd certainly recommend this to fans of animated films that are suitable for all ages.

Suicide Squad
(2016)

The 'Dirty Dozen' with super-villains
After the death of Superman those in power worry how the Earth would cope if the next super-powered being to turn up used their power to defeat rather than help humanity. To that end Task Force X, AKA the Suicide Squad, is established; a group made up of the most dangerous super-villains who have been captured! Of course they cannot be trusted but with an explosive charge placed in their necks they might just behave. When a threat emerges they are led by Col Rick Flag to confront that threat... which just happens to involve the woman Flag loves.

Even before I watched this I'd heard it was pretty terrible... I wouldn't say it was that bad but it could have been so much better. Too much of the film's opening was dedicated to showing us how the various villains got caught; something that wasn't really necessary. Then when the action started much of it was too dark... as in it was hard to see what was happening. Tonally it wasn't dark enough; these are meant to be super-villains but the film didn't seem that violent... it would have been better had it been as violent as 'Kick-Ass' or even 'Dredd' but I guess the makers wanted a teen-friendly rating. The cast are solid enough; Margot Robbie stole just about every scene she was in with her performance as the crazy and dangerous, but still likeable Harley Quinn; Jared Leto impressed as The Joker, although his character wasn't in the Squad and was sorely underused. Overall I'd say this was entertaining enough but if you expect something great you are likely to be disappointed.

Cube 2: Hypercube
(2002)

The laws of science are suspended in this slightly inferior sequel
Like the original 'Cube' a group of strangers wake up in what appears to be a maze made up of interconnected cubic rooms; each connected to the six surrounding rooms. There is something odd though; they appear to shuffle almost instantly. The characters are a mixed bunch with now immediate connection but as they talk it gradually emerges that they are all connected in some way to a sinister Izon defence corporation... even if some of them don't realise it. As they explore strange things start to occur; they keep seeing the number 60659 written in the rooms and learn that the normal laws of physics don't apply; neighbouring rooms may have gravity acting in different directions or time may pass at different rates. Inevitably tensions are raised as members of the group start to suspect others and start to realise their 'prison' is connected to Izon.

This isn't a bad film but I must admit I preferred the first as it had certain rules that were quickly established and was genuinely frightening at times thanks to the gory nature of the deaths... spinning CGI geometric shapes just aren't as scary as somebody's face being dissolved by acid! Similarly the characters don't feel that different to those in the original. On the plus side I thought it looked great with its bright rooms and the more science fiction elements really worked for me; I wondered just how the laws of physics would be changed in the next room. The characters were nicely ambiguous and the cast did a decent job. We do learn about the origins of the Cube; I found these details interesting although I can understand why some viewers would prefer it remained a total mystery. Overall I'd recommend it to fans of the original but don't expect anywhere near the level of gore or scares.

Machete
(2010)

Fun Mexploitation action!
In the opening scenes a Mexican cop known only as Machete is on a mission to rescue a kidnapped; things do not go according to plan. He is captured by drug lord Rogelio Torrez, who kills his wife before leaving him for dead. Of course he does not die and three years later he is over the border in Texas. Here he gets caught up in a plot to kill a state senator who is proposing to build an electrified border fence; once again things don't go as he expected; he was played and now everybody is looking for him. His allies are Sartana Rivera, an honest immigration officer and Luz, a woman helping Mexicans get into America. They will have to go up against corrupt politicians, vigilantes and drug lords.

I confess that I didn't expect too much of this film but ended up enjoying it from start to finish. The plot may not be the most original but it serves to deliver lots of great action and a surprising number of laughs. It must be stated that the action is very violent at times; people are decapitated with machetes and shotgun blasts to the face, a man is crucified and there are many other gory details. There is also a fair amount of nudity. These details may offend some viewers but they are all part of the exploitation genre which fans should enjoy. The cast includes some surprisingly big names; most obviously Robert De Niro who is a lot of fun as the racist state senator. We also get Steven Seagal as the evil Torrez; Jessica Alba as the Immigration Officer; Michelle Rodriguez as Luz; Lindsay Lohan, as the daughter of the senator's corrupt aide; and Don Johnson as a vigilante. These people are all solid however it is Danny Trejo who dominates the film as the eponymous Machete; a character as tough as old boots who we just know will prevail. Overall I'd say this is a fun example of the genre that never takes itself too seriously without getting silly... well worth watching.

Blake of Scotland Yard
(1937)

You can't make a good seventy minute film from a five hour serial
Sir James Blake is a retired Scotland Yard police officer who has helped invented a 'Death Ray', along with his niece, Hope; and her friend Jerry Sheehan. He doesn't intend this to be used for conquest though; he intends to give it to the League of Nations so it can be used to prevent all aggressive military action. As well as guaranteeing peace it will put the munitions industry out of business. After a successful demonstration the device is stolen buy people working for a character known as Scorpion. Now they must recover the device and identify the dastardly Scorpion.

This seventy minute film is a heavily cut down version of a serial that totalled over five hours in length and it shows. It opens well enough with the demonstration of the device but after it is stolen it is almost non-stop action; sometimes that is a good thing but here it was just one scrap after another with little real sense of danger; it was repetitive rather than exciting. The villain is distinctly weak; a man who moves like an ape and hides his face behind a large lobster like claw. I'd normally comment on the quality of the acting but that seems more than a little unfair as most of their work on this story doesn't feature in this film. Overall not really something worth seeking out; if like me you got it on a DVD with a couple of other films it is worth watching once.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Wild at Heart
(1999)
Episode 6, Season 4

Animal attraction
In the previous episode Oz appeared to be showing more interest in Veruca, a singer, at the Bronze than Willow cared for; here it becomes apparent why. They have more than music in common; they are both werewolves! He discovers this the morning after escaping from his cage on the night before the full moon when the two of them wake up together. They talk and she is unimpressed that he cages the wolf side of himself. Later Willow's worries about their relationship grow. Veruca's desire to 'free' Oz puts Willow in real danger.

This was a really good episode. It got off the a great start with a teaser prologue which suggested an old enemy would be the episode's main bad guy only for him to be captured by the mysterious black clad figures moments later. It was nice to see Willow and Oz take centre stage in a story that proved to be surprisingly emotional; Alyson Hannigan did a brilliant job depicting the emotional effect of the events on Willow; Seth Green also impressed as the stoic Oz. Paige Moss was also solid as Veruca; a character who it was obviously hard to like as she was getting between two major characters. After many sightings of the men in black it was good that events brought them to Buffy's attention; no doubt we will soon get an explanation as to who they are; I look forward to finding out. Overall a top quality episode.

Choi-jong-byeong-gi hwal
(2011)

War of the Arrows
This Korean action film is set in the seventeenth century; in the opening scenes brother and sister Nam-yi and Ja-in are forced to flee as their father is killed by forces loyal to the new king after the old one is overthrown. They are then raised by a family friend. Thirteen years pass and Nam-yi becomes a skilled hunter and Ja-in catches the eye of Seo-goon, the son of their protector. Nam-yi is not happy about this so goes hunting with friends on the day of Ja-in's wedding. That day Manchurian invaders sweep into Korea; many people are killed and many others, including Ja-in and Seo-goon are captured and taken back to Manchuria; destined for a life of slavery. Ja-in and his friends then head north hoping to rescue them and bring them home.

If you like action and are looking for something different then this film is definitely worth checking out; many action films are centred on martial arts, swordplay or firearms but this is all about archers. The story is relatively simple with its universal theme of a hero determined to protect his family. Nan-yi is a great protagonist, determined and highly skilled without feeling invulnerable. Ja-in is also a solid character; she may be a captive but she is spirited and fights back. A good action film needs a good villain and Manchurian commander Jyuushinta fills the role perfectly; a man as skilled as Nam-yi. The cast are impressing; most notably Park Hae-il, as Nan-yi; Moon Chae-won as Ja-in; and Ryu Seung-ryong as Jyuushinta. The action is very impressive; very kinetic and realistic rather than the more stylised wuxia action of Chinese films despite the DVD box referring to it as 'Korea's House of Flying Daggers'. The way the archery is portrayed is very impressive; both the way we see the arrows fly and the way Nam-yi and Jyuushinta appear almost like rival snipers. Overall I'd definitely recommend this to fans of gripping action in an historical setting.

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

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Beer Bad
(1999)
Episode 5, Season 4

This beer will give you more than a hangover
Buffy is still finding it impossible to get over the way Parker treated her; she imagines they might get back together even as she watches him flirt with other girls. Then one day she goes to the pub where Xander is now working as a barman and ends up drinking beer with four obnoxious frat boys. As the night goes on their IQ rapidly diminishes. While this is going on Willow is at the Bronze with Oz but he seems more interesting in the female singer on stage. The next day Buffy seems a bit out of it but nothing worse than a bad hangover... another evening drinking with the boys and things get worse; they seem to revert to an atavistic, caveman like state. Inevitably things get worse before they get better.

This might not be the best episode but I still found it rather fun. The way the beer effected Buffy and the boys was funny and not too rushed; I also liked the explanation as to why it affected them that way... nothing complicated or overly evil; just a one line explanation. This also meant the episode had no real villain which made a change. The episode also had some character development; I think it is safe to safe the 'Parker Situation' is over but a new situation may be developing between Willow and Oz. The cast did a fine job; Sarah Michelle Gellar was great as she played 'Cave girl Buffy'; Alyson Hannigan was a delight as Willow, especially in the scene between her and Parker; and Nicholas Brendon did a fine job as Xander gets flustered taking an order at the bar. The episode's ending was suitably light hearted. Overall I'd say that even though this might be considered a filler episode it is definitely worth watching.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
(1999)

A hitman with a code
Ghost Dog is a hitman unlike others; he lives in a shack on a rooftop next to a pigeon loft... he also follows the strict samurai code. He sees himself as the retainer of Louie, a local mobster, who once saved his life. One day he is given the job of killing senior mobster who was sleeping with the boss's daughter; he does the job but is seen by the daughter who he leaves alive. Afterwards the mobsters decide that Ghost Dog must be killed before they are implicated in the murder of a 'made man'. Now Ghost Dog knows he must kill the mobsters if he is to save himself and, more importantly for him, Louie.

This didn't feel like most films in the genre; this is largely down to its enigmatic central character and Forrest Whitaker's excellent performance in the role. This is a man at peace with himself and the world even as violence surrounds him. The rest of the characters are interesting as well; mobsters who sit around watching old cartoons, a French speaking ice-cream seller who is Ghost Dog's best friend and a girl he talks to about books. There isn't a huge amount of action but what there is, is effective handled and not disturbingly violent. While at its simplest this can be looked at as a story of a killer with a certain code it is more than that; though it is less obviously stated the mobsters also have their own code and the story is about the clash of those codes. There are also comments about the new replacing the old with the aging gangsters watching classic cartoons while the bosses daughter watches 'Itchy and Scratchy' from 'The Simpsons'. Surprisingly this is quite funny at times as well as being rather surreal... I loved that Louie had to use a homing pigeon to contact Ghost Dog. Overall I'd definitely recommend this stylish film even though I know it won't be to everybody's tastes.

The Grand Tour: Funeral for a Ford
(2019)
Episode 14, Season 3

My dad drove a Cortina!
This episode was devoted to three mid-sized saloons; all made by Ford. The Cortina; a car that was so popular just about everybody's father drove one in the '60s... including my own; even though I was born in Birmingham! The Sierra, in particular the TWOCer's favourite the Sierra RS Cosworth and finally the Mondeo, the only car all three presenters admitted liking. They talked about the history of the cars and the sheer joy of seeing their father's new executive models... and Brummy Richard's shame that his got an Allegro Estate. To commemorate these cars and to mark their passing it ended with a service in Lincoln cathedral. That wasn't the only ending marked in the episode; this is the last episode of the show to use the format that dates back to their Top Gear days seventeen years ago.

I initially wondered if they had made a mistake ending the series on a Ford saloon retrospective rather than the excellent Mongolian Special... no they didn't! This was just how the long running format of the show should have ended. The talk about the cars was informative and entertaining with little in the way of silliness. Even the silliness, as Richard trashed a couple of unloved cars, was brief and amusing. The announcement at the end about the end of the current format was genuinely touching; the montage of scenes from the last seventeen years was great; I'm glad they were allowed to include 'Top Gear' clips as well as the recent Grand Tour ones. I will miss the current format even though I love the 'special' style episodes that are due to continue. I do hope there is still room for these more documentary style episodes, minus the tent section, in the new format.

Assassin's Creed
(2016)

Good early action but ends disappointingly
The introduction to this film explains how the Knights Templar are searching for an item known as the 'Apple of Eden' which they believe will end mankind's' violent tendencies by ending free will. Standing against them are the Assassins Brotherhood; a group dedicated to protecting the Apple and maintaining free will. The Apple was last seen in 1492 when it was taken by an assassin named Aguilar de Nerha.

In 2016 Cal Lynch is 'executed' for murder in Texas... except he isn't killed; he wakes in a Templar facility in Spain. Here he is told that he is the last descendent of Aguilar and using a machine known as the Animus he is forced to live his ancestor's memories in an attempt to discover where the Apple is now hidden.

Given that this is based on a highly popular video game franchise I feel I must point out that I've not played any of the games so can't say how true to the feel of them it is; I can just judge it as a film. The plot is nicely explained early on and I liked how the sections set in fourteenth century Spain were in Spanish... even if the subtitles could have done with being a little bigger. The film delivers lots of impressive action even if some of the swordplay felt toned down to get a UK-12/PG13 certificate... it will certainly feel tame to anybody who enjoys samurai films! Part of me thought that it might have been better if it was just set in the past but I understand that it has to keep some faith with the source material or it would just be a medieval adventure. The action sequences are impressively handled and the special effects are pretty good. The story played out well until the ending when things got too scrappy a bit confusing. Michael Fassbender does a fine job in the dual roles of Cal and Aguilar and Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons are solid as Dr Sofia Rikkin, the scientist who invented the Animus, and her father who runs the facility. Overall not a must see but neither was it as terrible as some reviews suggest; decent action with a somewhat messy, and disappointing end.

Hanna
(2019)

An impressive TV version of a great action film
This eight part series is centred on the eponymous Hanna; a fifteen year old girl not like others. We learn in the opening scenes that as a baby she was rescued from a top secret CIA programme by Erik Heller who raised her deep in a Polish forest far from other people; here she has learnt survival skills as well as languages but not how to interact with other people. One day she meets a logger and soon Marissa Wiegler, the woman in charge of the programme, learns of her survival... it isn't long before she is in a CIA facility.

She quickly manages to escape, showing that she has amazing fighting skills, and finds herself with an English family who were holidaying nearby. She travels with them for a while hoping to be reunited with Eric. In the episodes that follow she learns more about just who she is as well as what it means to be a teenage girl before ultimately confronting those who created her and now want her dead.

Having really enjoyed the 2011 film version of 'Hanna' I was keen to watch this, as well as a little nervous in case it was disappointing. Thankfully I enjoyed this too, perhaps not quite as much but that would have been too much to hope for. Early on it is effectively the same story but later deviates from being a remake... to my mind this was a good choice as it meant I stopped comparing the two version all the time. There is plenty of varied action throughout the series; certainly enough to please me. The extended run time meant more time could be spent developing characters; mostly this was a good thing although some of the time Hanna spent as an 'ordinary girl' in England seemed superfluous and a distraction from the main plot; I'm sure most action fans would rather watch her fighting bad guys than learning about boys! The cast does a fine job; I was particularly impressed by Esme Creed-Miles; she does a great job as Hanna. Also notable are former co-stars in the US version of 'The Killing' Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman as Marissa and Erik. Episode eight, the last at the time I write this ends in a way that could be a satisfying conclusion to the series or the end of the first chapter; I rather hope it is the latter as I'd like Hanna to return. Overall I'd definitely recommend this to fans of action packed television shows; it is certainly better than most recent TV versions of popular action films.

Violence Jack
(1986)

Violent action in a Devastated Japan
These comments are based on watching the UK DVD release from which most of the series' sexual violence has removed. This version was also dubbed into English with no option of watching in Japanese with subtitles.

After the Earth is struck by a comet Japan descends into lawlessness; most of the infrastructure is destroyed and the survivors become victims or oppressors. This series of three stories each feature the eponymous Violence Jack; a brutal giant of a man who uses his great strength to help the weak and brutalised. Whether it is under the wreckage of Tokyo or across the Kanto plain there will always be murderers and rapists for Jack to kill!

Given its title it is no surprise that these series is very violent at times and the sexual nature of some of that, even in the cut version, is somewhat disturbing. That said the stories are entertaining with lots of action. Violence Jack is an unusual protagonist; he doesn't say very much but grunts and growls during his many violent encounters. The villains are definitely evil so one feels no sympathy when they meet their ends. The animation is decent enough for a series of this age and the characters' design style suits the nature of the story. Overall I wouldn't call this a classic but if you like older, more violent anime then it is worth watching.

Katalin Varga
(2009)

An atmospheric tale of revenge
When the husband of the eponymous Katalin Varga learns that he is not the father of their ten year old son, Orban, he throws her out and demands that she leaves their village. She departs with Orban, telling him that they are going to see his sick grandmother. She has other plans though; Orban wasn't the result of an infidelity but of rape and now she intends to have her revenge. This is something that will have unintended consequences and put her in danger.

Usually when revenge is the subject of a film there will be lots of action before a righteous avenger slays the villainous character who wronged them. This is very different; there is little in the way of action but that is more than made up for in atmosphere. The rural Romanian setting is beautiful and in turns idyllic and oppressive depending on the location and even the weather. This is a world where ancient meets modern; Katalin travels in a horse drawn cart but characters have mobile phones. Hilda Péter does a great job as Katalin, a character who is rarely off screen; the scene where she talks about what happened to her is particularly effecting. The supporting cast are solid too; most notably Tibor Pálffy who plays the man she most wants revenge against... a character that is more sympathetic than one might expect. Overall I'd definitely recommend the melancholically beautiful film.

Life on Mars
(2006)

A twenty first century cop in 1973
DCI Tyler is an officer in the Greater Manchester Police in 2006; then something strange happens... he is involved in a traffic accident and when he wakes up it is 1973! As he repeatedly asks; 'Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time? Whatever's happened, it's like I've landed on a different planet'. Whatever has actually happened he is now living the life of a Detective Inspector who has newly transferred to a police station in central Manchester. He soon learns that policing and attitudes were very different then with casual sexism, racism and homophobia as well as a habit of beating suspects till they confess! Sam is in a team led by the no nonsense DCI Gene Hunt. The only person he tells about his predicament is WPC Annie Cartwright. Over the course of the series the team are involved in a variety of cases; he also crosses paths with members of his own family and even his younger self. While he is never fully certain what is going on he gets occasional messages from 2006 which suggest he might really be in a coma but he can't be sure... he can just hope that one day he finds a way home.

As the saying goes 'The past is another country; they do things differently there' and this certainly illustrates that. Some details are deliberately exaggerated but the series does have a great seventies feel. The central premise is a lot of fun but it only works because of the characters and the actors playing them. John Simm is impressive as Sam Tyler but it is Philip Glenister who steals the show as Gene Hunt; a character who at times make one yearn for the good old, no-nonsense days just before saying something so jaw-droppingly offensive to modern attitudes one realises the past wasn't that great. Liz White impresses as Annie, the most normal character and Dean Andrews and Marshall Lancaster are solid as cops Ray and Chris. Throughout the series I was interested in both the cases they were investigating and the question of what really happened to DCI Tyler. Overall I'd certainly recommend this to anybody looking for a cop show with an interesting twist.

The Croods
(2013)

A fun prehistoric animation
The Croods are a prehistoric family who live in a cave. Grug, the father, teaches his family that the new and unfamiliar is to be feared... along with just about everything else. His daughter Eep is curious though. One night she sneaks out of the cave and meets a boy she hasn't seen before. He is Guy and he tells her how there is going to be a cataclysm and if they are too survive they must head to the distant mountains. When Grug learns of this he just wants to retreat to the cave; however events force them to follow guy. As they journey they travel through new landscapes, meet new dangers and learn not to be afraid of everything.

This animation from Dreamworks is a lot of fun. The world it is set in is full of interesting and beautifully rendered creatures and features impressive 3D animation. The story is simple and the threats aren't too scary so it can be enjoyed by all ages. Similarly the gags are aimed at everybody rather than having references that only adults will understand. The characters are fun, have a good interpersonal dynamic and well designed. The cast, which includes Nick Cage, Emma Stone and Ryan Reynolds do a fine job bringing them to life. Overall I'd recommend this to fans of animation, whatever their ages.

Mandy
(2018)

A brilliantly bonkers trippy revenge horror
Red Miller and his girlfriend Mandy Bloom have a peaceful life in America's Pacific Northwest until a strange cult arrives in the area. Mandy catches the eye of the cults Mansonesque leader, Jeremiah, and he has her and Red kidnapped by the Black Skulls; a biker gang on acid with a penchant for human blood! Needless to say bad things happen. Red is left by their tormentors and the next day he sets off on his personal mission of revenge. This will involve a crossbow, battle axe and a chainsaw fight before he ultimately faces Jeremiah again.

This is a distinctly strange film but very effective. Once the bad things start to happen the violence is intense and quite disturbing. As Red sought his revenge many things that happened I couldn't help thinking of the quote from Friedrich Nietzsche 'He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster'... Red certainly does some monstrous things. There is something very surreal about what is happening; almost as if it were meant to be viewed as a nightmare or a bad hallucination rather than real events. Nicolas Cage is on top form as Red; his performance is more than a little crazed but that is what the role demanded. Andrea Riseborough and Linus Roache also impress as Mandy and Jeremiah. This clearly won't be for everybody but I'd recommend it to horror fans who enjoy the weird as well as the gory.

Kill List
(2011)

A disturbing hitman film with a horror twist
Jay is a former soldier who has been working as a hitman with friend Gal but after a job went wrong in Kiev he has been avoiding working for eight months. Now his wife thinks it is time for him to get back to work. After some pressure he agrees to do another job with Gal; they meet the client and learn that there are to be three targets on their kill list. The first is relatively easy if a little surprising; things get very messy on the second job but that is nothing compared to the third; that is downright weird taking the film and its characters from a crime film into the territory of horror.

This certainly won't be for everybody. It is brutally violent at times; this is done in a disturbingly realistic manner with nothing stylised or humorous to make it easier to watch. The change of genres comes as a genuine surprises even though there are earlier hints that something strange is going on; notably how the victims react as they are about to be murdered. Thankfully it isn't entirely bleak; some of Jay and Gal's conversations are quite funny. The cast does a fine job; most notably Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley as Jay and Gal and MyAnna Buring as Shel. The cinematography is great giving the early sections of the film a very real feel while the conclusion is made to feel like a nightmare. Overall I'd definitely recommend this to anybody who doesn't mind being disturbed and enjoys a conclusion that leave them thinking about what they have just watched.

Fu quan
(1981)

The Snake Strikes Back
This kung-fu comedy opens with student Lam being repeatedly punished for failing his master and being bullied by fellow student Sui. When the master dies Sui is determined to get his hands on a secret book; a book that teaches the 'Invincible Snake Fist' skill. He isn't the only one after the book; there are also three vicious characters from the south known as the 'Immortal Trio'. Now Lam must repeatedly fight against Sui and the trio to stop them getting the book. He is helped in this by being trained by the 'Potbellied Beggar' a skilled practitioner of Kung-fu.

If you are looking for a serious martial arts film this isn't it... there are lots of fights but much of the action is played for laughs. These fight scenes are highly choreographed and are exciting at times even if things aren't taken that seriously... it is impossible to take things seriously when a character's main weapon is his belly! Things weren't helped by the English dub in the version I saw... many characters spoke like cowpokes in a cheesy western; perhaps those responsible thought that would add to the comedy! The editing wasn't great; often scenes felt cut short to such an extent that I wondered if I was watching an edited version... the length of the film suggested this theory was wrong. For all its faults the film grew on me as I watched and as the end approached I was really enjoying it. Overall I'd recommend this to fans of low budget martial arts; partly for the action and partially for the laughs.

Go-Toubun no Hanayome
(2019)

The Quintessential Quintuplets
Futaro Uesugi is a high achieving high school student but his life isn't easy as his family is short of money. When the Nakano Quintuplets arrive at his school he has an opportunity to earn some money; there family is wealthy but they are academic underachievers and their father wants them tutored. Unfortunately the girls have little interest in study and some of them are less than keen on having a boy in their home. Over the course of the series he gradually gains their trust and their grades start to improve... but will they improve by enough for him to keep his job.

This is a fairly cute harem series; the opening clearly implies that Faturo will ultimately marry one of the girls but doesn't identify which. Futaro is a good central character; there is never anything deliberately inappropriate about his behaviour although as is always the case with the genre there are some misunderstandings. The five girls are also likeable and thanks to different hairstyles usually easy to distinguish. There isn't too much in the way of fan service which I found refreshing. Overall I'd definitely recommend this to fans of the genre.

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

The Grand Tour: The Mongolia Special-Survival of the Fattest
(2019)
Episode 13, Season 3

The Grandest Tour
This special opens in a remote corner of Mongolia hundreds of miles from the nearest civilisation. As the trio look around and introduce the show three crates are parachuted from a helicopter; these contain parts to make a rudimentary off road vehicle and a week's supply of army ration packs... there is also a sketch-map showing the location of their destination and a compass. The destination is a town called Moron; it is hundreds of miles away across rugged terrain. Once the car is made they head off and encounter numerous obstacles; dunes, rivers, bogs, mountains, forests and boulder fields... some can be skirted but most must be tackled head on. To make matters worse they have no booze!

This was a classic 'special' in possibly the most epic setting they have visited. They may have been to more rugged locations but I doubt any were so vast. As they crossed hundreds of miles they didn't see a single local and hardly a sign that people ever went there; just an abandoned shack and a wooden tepee. Since they were all in one vehicle and the task was already hard there weren't the silly 'modifications' or sabotaging each other's cars. There was enjoyable banter between the trio but they worked together to get the job done effectively. There were no moments that were obviously staged and only once or twice did I think things might have been. The scenery was amazing; showing locations that are so far off the beaten track that I doubt they have been on TV before and only the hardiest traveller might visit. Overall a top quality episode.

Yakusoku no Neverland
(2019)

The Promised Neverland
Set in the year 2045, this anime is centred on Emma, Norman and Ray; three children living in Grace Field House, an orphanage. Here they are looked after by a caring 'mother' who provides them with their needs. They wait to be adopted by a loving family; the latest this ever happens is their twelfth birthday. The only rule is that they may not leave the grounds until they are adopted. Everything is great for them until one day they learn a terrible truth; after that they work to find a way to escape along with the other orphans.

This anime series is distinctly bleak... the revelation at the end of the first episode is one of the biggest shocks in any series I've watched and once revealed effects every moment to come. The characters are impressive; not just the likeable children but also characters who initially appear good but are in fact anything but. Despite little real violence there is a real air of menace and futility. The creators have given the series a great look which makes it stand out from most other series; the characters are distinctive and the backgrounds beautifully rendered. Overall I'd say this is a must see; I can't wait for season two.

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

Gârî Ea Fôsu
(2019)

Girly Air Force
This anime series is centred on Kei Narutani, a Sino-Japanese boy who is evacuated from Shanghai to Japan when an alien known as the Xi attack. During the evacuation he witnesses a pink Gripen fighter engage two Xi craft before crashing into the sea. He instinctively goes to help the pilot and finds a girl in the cockpit. It later emerges that she is more than just a pilot; she is part of the plane's systems; an android known as an 'anima'. She is also faulty, this is what caused her to pass out and crash. It is noticed that Kei has a positive effect on her so soon he is flying in her back seat. She still isn't as effective as Japan's two similar craft; Eagle and Phantom but at least she now shows her worth in the war against the Xi.

When I read the description of this I thought it might be a bit 'Strike Witches' since the planes have androids resembling teenaged girls and alien invaders... actually it is quite different; and not just because it lacks the fan service. Much of the story is dedicated to Kei's involvement with attempts to improve Gripen's performance rather than just battling the Xi. Kei is a solid enough protagonist but inevitably the girls are more interesting as they are also warplanes. I was initially unsure about their vivid colours but as the series progressed that stopped bothering me... it did at least make them stand out from normal aircraft. The character designs are pretty good and in the case of the girls match their planes. The animation is top notch, especially during the highly dynamic flight scenes. Overall I'd definitely recommend this. The series concludes in a way that leaves things open for further episodes; I'll certainly watch if more are made.

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

Maleficent
(2014)

An interesting retelling of a classic fairy tale
This live action Disney film shows the story of Sleeping Beauty from the other side; focusing on Maleficent, the 'evil' fairy who cursed her. As the story opens we are told how there are two neighbouring kingdoms; one of greedy humans and another of friendly magical folk. Maleficent is a young fairy who lives in the latter. One day she meets a human boy named Stefan. They become friends but ultimately he comes to see her less and less. The years pass and Maleficent grows up. Then the human king attacks the fairy realm but it thwarted by Maleficent. He promises his kingdom to the man who rids him of Maleficent; Stefan uses her trust to get close to her and then betrays her. He becomes king and has a daughter, named Aurora. On the day of her christening Maleficent places a curse on her... a curse that will take effect on her sixteenth birthday. She grows up in the care of three fairies and with Maleficent keeping a watchful eye to ensure nothing happens to her before the curse is due to take effect. Inevitably the day of her sixteenth birthday approaches and Maleficent starts to regret cursing Aurora; will anybody be able to prevent it happening or end it if it does occur?

The way the focus of the story is moved to Maleficent is rather fun; she starts off as one of the good people before the act of betrayal leads to bitterness and a desire for revenge. This doesn't mean she comes across as evil or as a real villain. She is shown as a caring character who comes to regret actions made in anger. If there is a real villain of the film it is Stefan; the betrayer who's actions started the curse. There are plenty of exciting moments throughout the film leading up to a finale that should be exciting for children and adults alike... and perhaps a little too scary for some younger viewers. The story ends in a way that should be pleasing for most viewers. The cast is solid with Angelina Jolie standing out as Maleficent; just menacing enough to be seen as dangerous without being evil. The special effects are really impressive; especially the various magical creatures. Overall I'd certainly recommend this to those who like new takes on old stories.

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