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Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Remastered edition) [1970] [DVD]
Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Remastered edition) [1970] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jaroslava Schallerova
Price: 8.81

4.0 out of 5 stars Dark Vampire Fairytale, 30 Sep 2012
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Within fairytale and mythology are deeper meanings, stories illustrating our quest to get through life unscathed by its tribulations and challenges. Before the writer Perrault polished up many of our European fairy tales which eventually became, via other writers and storytellers, the child-friendly versions we have today, they were a lot darker and bloodier tales (often adapted themselves from more ancient stories). "Valerie & Her Week Of Wonders" director Jaromil Jires heads back to this era with a dark coming-of-age fantasy. Like the old Greek tales of Jason & The Argonauts, a metaphor for a boy's coming-of-age with lessons about sexuality and understanding the feminine, so "Valerie & Her Week Of Wonders" is a girl's sexual awakening in fairytale form with dark references to the masculine, told using the symbolism of that most sexual of nemeses, the vampire.

Valerie discovers the Nosferatu-style vampire revealing himself in male authority figures in her life; with the help of Eagle, her boyfriend/brother and archetypal "trickster" character and her magical earrings, she then has to confront the betrayal in her beautiful, pure grandmother's secret plan to use her as a sacrifice to the vampire to immortalise the grandmother and return her to her youth.

IMHO the film has that "bright but eerie" atmosphere of another (though very different in storyline) film of the same era, the Australian movie Picnic at Hanging Rock. A compelling adult fairy tale.


Dredd [DVD]
Dredd [DVD]
Dvd ~ Karl Urban
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: 4.87

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In Fear For Dredd, 24 Sep 2012
This review is from: Dredd [DVD] (DVD)
The plot of Dredd is pretty basic: law enforcer Judge Dredd and a rookie Judge Anderson get trapped in a tower block ruled by a drugs lord and go on the offensive, heading to her lair on the top floor in an attempt to to take her out before she gets them first.

The cartoon versions of futuristic law enforcer Judge Dredd change perceptively with the artist; like the cartoons, then, compared to the previous Dredd film, this world of Judge Dredd has shifted noticeably (as has its budget, i.e. drastically reduced from the previous Hollywood offering) with the director.

Forgive me for not being quite geeky enough to know the names of which artists draw Dredd in which style (my last read of 2000AD was - genuinely unfortunately - some time ago); but if Sylvester Stallone's Dredd was the huge big-boned one, then Karl Urban's Dredd was the more scrawny, stubbly-faced one with the much rounder helmet (here's hoping that Dredd readers will know what I mean!).

Gone are Dredd's tight-fitting black uniform, gone the trademark giant eagle shoulder protectors and pads, and, in keeping with so many other comic book hero adaptions for film of late, he's found himself in a rubber 'armour' suit. On the plus side, as per the instructions to the 2000AD cartoonists, Urban's Dredd manages to keep his helmet on all the way through the film, having to express his entire emotional range using his mouth only, and he does a very good job of it.

Mega City itself has changed for Travis/Garland's film; the Stallone feature drew heavily from the comics for its vision of Mega City I, including its layers and layers of Megways and the characteristic shape of the blocks. In the Urban movie we have a sprawling city (reminiscent of an ariel view of Mexico City), punctuated by giant blocks rising up out of it, perhaps rising a little too regularly in a computerised graphics kind of way, giving an early glimpse of the budget restrictions.

The comic book references were more muted too; a 'Drokk' denim jacket patch here, 'Chopper' graffiti there, then a glimpse of a Fatty. References that would perhaps give a cinema audience knowing smiles, while being completely missed by those new to the Dredd mythos. But gone was the massive eccentricity of Mega City I, the costumes, fads and altogether oddball behaviour of its occupancy as detailed over the years in the comics, being replaced by a population of much more poverty-stricken and vicious hoodies. Here I think is the main difference between the source material (and indeed the first film) and this new outing; it's much darker and the violence is much more brutal and realistic. The bad guys are no longer the darkly eccentric characters of science-fiction but the brutal gang lords (or in this case lady) of a world much closer to home; the twisted character of torturer, drug lady and Queen of the block Ma Ma (excellently realised by Lena Headley of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles fame) may sit too close for comfort to, for example, the Mexican drug lords who line up kid's heads on beaches. It's not a modern social commentary or anything, but neither is it highly futuristic sci-fi.

According to critic Charlie Jane Anders on the i09 site, "There will probably never be another Dredd film .. Dredd didn't even meet the studio's lowball estimates in its first weekend in the United States .. and it hasn't even done well enough in the U.K. and other European countries to compensate."

In the comic book world Dredd is now in his 70s, losing his touch, and also suffering from cancer (since 1977 the comics have been keeping a year of Dredd time parallel with a year of real time, so the character ages each actual year).

I'm sorry to hear all this doom and gloom - there are things I liked and things I didn't like about both the Stallone and Urban films, but the Judge Dredd mythos is one that deserves preserving in all its incarnations, and surely someone will revisit it for the love of doing it rather than just for the box-office takings. It will take more than a box office disaster and Dredd's rumoured comic book death to stop the stories coming though - there must be many other tales from his earlier street days which we've yet to hear. And he is of course just one of a number of clones ...
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 23, 2012 1:53 PM GMT


Skyline [DVD]
Skyline [DVD]
Dvd ~ Eric Balfour
Offered by Direct-Offers-UK-FBA
Price: 2.65

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A View From Above, 16 Sep 2012
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This review is from: Skyline [DVD] (DVD)
Skyline is an alien-invasion movie, set for a large part of the film in the penthouse of an exclusive Los Angeles tower block, where the characters have to decide whether to stay and defend themselves in the penthouse, or make a run for it.

The film draws heavily, and directly, on other films and productions, rarely displaying any original ideas, and yet is bolstered by its production and special effects.

So first we have the strange glowing lights falling out of the sky, witnessed by those looking at them out of the windows wondering if its some kind of meteor shower (Day of the Triffids), then the lights shining through the slats in the window blinds and luring people out towards the alien craft (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) then, with the characters hiding behind pieces of furniture, the lamp-faced, Nessie-necked probe searching the room for them and reacting to the slightest noise (War Of The Worlds (2005 remake)), thereafter they're running through the streets chased by a gargantuan entity thumping and shaking the ground (a la Cloverfield ), and so on.

The characters themselves are fairly ill-defined and their background stories seem to have been added because the director/writer felt they should have some; their jobs, hopes and fears discussed between themselves turn out to be irrelevant and their fairly chaotic relationships between each other ill-explained (did one of them rape another as they were hiding from the aliens? I really couldn't make out what was supposed to have happened before the 'we'll talk about this later' scene).

Just as the viewer is getting bored of the eternal chases with the aliens through buildings, the characters are captured and the film improves somewhat as we see the inside of the alien craft and how it is reproducing itself and why the humans are required.

The film's special effects are very good; the aliens are biological but almost mechanical looking, their craft conscious and made of living tissue and the scenes of them being wounded and reproducing are well-done.

Overall a highly derivative film with very little plot, bland characters, the main ones with a convoluted story, yet enjoyable action sequences and effects that gave the film an extra star for me (otherwise it would have been a 2 star review).


Summer of Blood: The Peasants' Revolt of 1381
Summer of Blood: The Peasants' Revolt of 1381
by Dan Jones
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.49

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lots Of Heads On Sticks, 9 Sep 2012
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Dan Jones' summary of the Peasants' Revolt contains background information on the environment and on the times leading up to the revolt, and a decent narrative of the revolt introducing the characters on both sides, along with some of his own conclusions.

There were numerous political factors that eventually set off the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. In fact, among the first things that struck me about the 1380s background and setting to the revolt were some of the parallels to the politics of our England of the 20th and 21st Centuries. There was of course the mediaeval Poll Tax (there were Poll Tax riots in the 1980s). Then there were the exorbitant rents levied in London and the south east by unscrupulous landlords and landowners. There were also the endless wars (in Scotland and France of course, rather than Afghanistan) that drained the public purse: "the considerable expense of paying for an army in the field became an increasing burden on a country that simply could not cope with the demands of a protracted war [Edward's] rule and his royal servants were under constant attack from the taxpaying classes, who were heartily sick of pumping cash into the yawning maw of a war bogged down in its own ambition [...] The process of impeachment was used for the first time, aimed against royal servants who were widely blamed for mismanagement of the war chest and corruption at court."

In the wake of the fairly recent (fairly recent at the time of writing this, I should add) London Riots of 2012, some of the descriptions of the rioting in the peasant's revolt - the wanton destruction, not necessarily by those with legitimate political concerns, but by those jumping on the bandwagon see the impotence of law enforcement and everything for the taking.

The peasant's lot was not a good one in Mediaeval England, and there were particular classes of the peasantry (Serfs and Villeins) who were effectively slaves, 'owned' by, and working for, a lord. Occasionally in this book, the term peasant and serf are used interchangeably, and on occasion this causes slight confusion - Serfs may have been protesting about slavery, but not of the taxes - as slaves they wouldn't pay it, likewise the peasants protesting about the "threat of serfdom" would likely be those slightly higher up the peasantry ladder who were not already suffering from it. I found reading Ian Mortimer's The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century a very useful book to read at the same time, it's set in almost exactly the same period of the Middle Ages and explains the difference between the classes of peasantry (serfs, villeins, husbandmen, yeomen etc) and gives further information about some of the characters mentioned in Summer of Blood.

Just how under-defended (with no police force and most soldiers in Scotland or France) civic England was in those days was incredible, with tens of thousands of peasants leaving their homes and villages and joining en mass - and surprisingly enough, mobilised with military precision and in units carrying banners - to wreak havoc across the countryside and in London; the process of beheading the gentry, bishops, and rich landowners, tax collectors and putting their heads on sticks in parody of their own treatment at the hands of English justice was widespread and gruesome. The fact that they were devoted to King Richard, but hated everyone in his employ, says a lot about the mediaeval mindset; the King was appointed by God, so they remained his devout followers, and claimed it was his nobility with which they had a score to settle, claiming the nobility and senior priesthood were traitors. Eventually all this led to the youthful King Richard II famously meeting the peasants to negotiate a short-lived truce, with the king's idiot decision to tell the peasants that if they found any traitors they were to bring them to him - leading to more rampaging. The book also follows the details of his change of heart towards them and the vindictive backlash that he unleashed upon them once he had the manpower available.

However the rebellion against the Poll Tax and against the wasting of taxes on war and against slavery and serfdom, whatever the parallels, wasn't the same as the London Riots of 2012 despite the superficial similarities of mass looting and burning and days of rampant lawlessness across a number of cities. These people were in abject poverty, little more than the slaves of the ultra-wealthy aristocracy, and in many ways there are more similarities with the French Revolution. This, for me, makes it surprising that Brown's conclusion seems to regard the peasants' revolt as more of an orgy of lawlessness than a legitimate protest; yet by his own preceding words, we can see it is much much more than that.

With some graphic scenes, and light shone on some weird and wild characters, this is a well-written book exploring a revolt of a size not dissimilar to the English Civil War, and a lasting lesson about injustice, slavery and discrimination and what happens when the infuriated majority have finally had enough.


Mrs. God
Mrs. God
by Peter Straub
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 14.64

4.0 out of 5 stars Eerie Metaphysical Tale, 9 Sep 2012
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This review is from: Mrs. God (Hardcover)
Standish is an American academic unhappy with his home and work life, who is offered an unusual and prestigious short-term research posting in England. The post is notorious for rejecting applicants, or worse, accepting and then at the last minute rejecting scholars due to some minor misdemeanour from their past which has been dug up.

Arriving in England, despite a dour locale and surly locals, Standish finds the facility he is to work at a vast elegant mansion set in beautiful grounds, and is a haven of tranquility. He is greeted by a stunningly sensuous and beautiful woman, by whom he is immediately captivated, and who directs him to his room. Everything seems perfect, and his first meal is taken with his sponsor, who announces he is to go away and leave Standish to his own devices; the wonderful food and wonderful wine goes down well.

However things become very strange very quickly. Things are always ready and waiting for him; he only hears, but never sees, the servants, and the kitchens and servant's areas always appear empty. His sleep is racked with nightmares, the floors and corridors of the house seem to change frequently leaving his most and confused until he can find his way back to the room he was seeking.

Peter Straub's novelette "Mrs. God" is a metaphysical horror, where different locations and times coexist; where the world outside the property is bleak, angry and threatening but within is enigmatic, dreamlike and surreal.

Unfortunately parallel with Standish losing his mind in this environment, Straub's writing also becomes a little more chaotic; originally published as a short story, more space for a cohesive narrative would have been welcomed. However it's an engaging and welcome visit to an earlier style of surreal horror.


The Innkeepers [DVD]
The Innkeepers [DVD]
Dvd ~ Sara Paxton
Price: 3.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Missing Towels, 9 Sep 2012
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This review is from: The Innkeepers [DVD] (DVD)
Claire and Luke, two overworked and overtired young staff members are the only staff on reception duty, winding down the last days of a hotel about to close its doors for the final time. The hotel is famous for its historical story of an affluent woman murdered in the basement and the ensuing ghost tales that have crept up around it.

Down to only one or two operational floors, the two staff are sleeping over at the hotel on shifts, and spending their spare time with recording equipment semi-seriously trying to capture on tape paranormal sounds or even the voice of the ghost.

Despite not expecting any guests, two check in during the hotel's last days; an angry, awkward woman with her small child, and a former actress who has become a New Age guru. Claire's recording begins to turn up something very eerie in the piano lounge, and while cynical Luke thinks there must be a rational explanation, the New Age guest is more responsive. Finally a third guest arrives, demanding a specific room on a floor that isn't open, and it's after the staff finally acquiesce that things become chaotic.

The Innkeepers is more or less a basic ghost story, but made more interesting because of the odd guests that check in and their subtle connections to the plot; it's also a film carried by some good acting and characters (Claire's open minded what-you-see-is-what-you-get bouncing off Luke's more secretive, cynical computer nerd who shows his true colours later) and a decent atmosphere, which perhaps makes up for the fact that it's hardly a terrifying horror story.

3.5 Stars overall.


Dust Devil (Director's Cut) [DVD]
Dust Devil (Director's Cut) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Robert Burke

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Shape Shifter In Shifting Sands, 1 Sep 2012
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With beautiful, sweeping scenery and theme music that is both powerful, emotive and eerie, Dust Devil tells the tale of a demon on the dusty roads of Namibia, making his way between desolate dying towns and feeding off the anguish and suffering of their inhabitants.

Brutally murderous, he leaves behind him pieces of body, rooms drenched in blood, and occult symbols painted using it.

Now he has sensed the despair of an English girl who has walked out on her husband and has hit the road; her husband is out searching for her. The dust devil is also on her trail, however she is proving a more elusive prey than his usual victims.

Meanwhile on *his* trail is a cop investigating the ritual murders. With rationality persuading him to find the culprit one way, and the native African culture of magic and witchdoctors and pressure from a shaman persuading him to use other forces, it's a game the results of which will depend on who catches up with who first.

This is a powerfully atmospheric film, carried by the cinematography and the film score and its rooting in African legend and culture. For a viewer like myself not used to images of backwoods desert Namibia, it looks sometimes like it's set in the Dust Bowl of 1930's America, with the ever present dust storms, vintage vehicles, and steam trains pulling in to deserted hick-town stations.

Let down only very slightly by some occasionally stilted acting (even the dust devil himself is perhaps not as evilly eerie as he could have been), overall an enjoyable experience.


Buck Rogers In The 25th Century: The Complete Second Series [DVD]
Buck Rogers In The 25th Century: The Complete Second Series [DVD]
Dvd ~ Gil Gerard
Price: 10.00

4.0 out of 5 stars The Search For Lost Colonies, 1 Sep 2012
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The first Series of the 1980s incarnation of Buck Rogers In The 25th Century was somewhat claustrophobic in its setting, often placed in the same buildings in New Chicago and featuring use of the same or similar sets for different episodes. The second is based from the starship Explorer, where Buck and chums search for lost Earth colonists and try to recontact them.

Thus set, it's somewhere between the Battlestar Galactica's search for the 13th colony, and the Starhip Enterprise's quest to seek out new civilisations. This means that it loses the niche held by the uniqueness of the first series and thus retreats to a familiar territory that the producers perhaps felt would be more populist. In my opinion, that's a shame, as the second series of Buck Rogers shouldn't have tried to move in that direction. (The swishing door noises from Star Trek joined the Explorer too, as did the short skirts for female crew members, though personally I have less of a problem with that!)

Buck's commander is now Admiral Asimov (no doubt a nod to sci-fi writer Isaac), a bit of a stick-in-the-mud although he's always won over eventually by Buck's ideas. Colonel Wilma Deering is back as Buck's lycra-clad comrade as is the diminutive android Tweeky (although sporting a female voice for the first couple of episodes for no known reason). Added to the key crew members are the bumbling genius Dr. Goodfellow, and Chrichton - the latter a tall, bizarrely shaped robot with an extending neck, exuding a pompous attitude, who is the go-to in the series for all complex ship functions, information and data. Out of all of TV spaceship's artificial life-forms, Chrichton has to be the worst I've ever seen portrayed. (Blake's 7's Orac did pomposity much better, and negated the need for a ridiculous looking contraption to spout it.) Hawk is the main newcomer, a humanoid that evolved from avian origins and has his own hawk-shaped craft.

Having the new characters is fine, however their airtime is somewhat diluted as Buck usually only takes one of them with him per episode, so while they all appear in the Explorer, they don't all appear regularly for long enough. Thus it seems that Wilma, Hawk and Tweeky are often somewhat sidelined.

The plots themselves are quite good, a little Star Trek -esque (TOS), and early episodes often evoke more of a fantasy genre with riddles and quests and mythological creatures. There are some excellent episodes and some of the plot devices, while never complex, are more interesting and engaging than many in the first series.

All in all while the second series lacks something that the first series had, it makes up for it a little with the plot lines, but loses again for diluting the roles of key members of the team we'd got to love in Series 1. Still good stuff though :-)


The Quiet [DVD] [2007]
The Quiet [DVD] [2007]
Dvd ~ Elisha Cuthbert
Price: 5.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Turning A Blind Eye, 1 Sep 2012
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This review is from: The Quiet [DVD] [2007] (DVD)
The Quiet follows the story of Dot, a deaf girl who is adopted into the family of a wealthy relative after her last surviving parent dies.

Her new sister, Nina, is a pretty but obnoxious school cheerleader, whose best friend is even more obnoxious. Dot's new mother seems caring, but spends her evenings retiring early to bed, dosed up on prescription medication. The father seems strict and is always asking Nina not to go out and stay in and concentrate on schoolwork.

At first Nina, her best friend, and just about everyone else at the school actively ignore Dot and leave her sitting on on her own. That is until she attracts the attention of the school basketball team's captain, who feels he can offload to a deaf girl, which provokes jealousy from Nina and friends.

Meanwhile back at home things get more complicated as Dot stumbles across a nasty domestic secret involving Nina, while Nina stumbles across Dot's secret. These episodes force her and Nina closer together to hatch a plot to escape.

Despite the theme of deafness, it's the theme of "turning a blind eye" or willful ignorance that comes to the fore here. After selfishness from many of the characters in one form or another is revealed at various points in the story, from one perspective in the end it's perhaps the Mother who turns out to be the hero; or perhaps she's just atoning.

The Quiet isn't a film that will jump out as anything special, but it's interesting and engaging enough, well produced/filmed and decently acted.


Buck Rogers In The 25th Century: The Complete First Series [DVD] [1980]
Buck Rogers In The 25th Century: The Complete First Series [DVD] [1980]
Dvd ~ Gil Gerard
Price: 12.05

5.0 out of 5 stars What's Up, Buck?, 31 Aug 2012
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Buck Rogers In The 25th Century follows the tale of William "Buck" Rogers, a USAF pilot who finds himself catapulted from 1987 500 years into the future. The concept began life in "Amazing Stories" the 1920s, and through cartoon versions in the 1930s and TV shows in the 1950s, this is the late 1970s incarnation of the story.

The various plots involve mostly Buck and Col. Wilma Deering, along with their little side-kick android Tweeky, based in a post-apocalyptic New Chicago defending the Earth from a new threat each episode.

Gil Gerard plays Buck as a jokey, affable character with compassion, but one who shows his strength when needed. Erin Grey plays Col. Wilma Deering (a stunning sylph whose costume is so tight she needed to be stitched into it), a Colonel and fighter pilot who becomes Buck's most trusted friend and colleague in the 25th Century.

The reasons for rating this series with a "5" include the light-hearted atmosphere (the earth is under threat just about every episode, but there really is never any sense of danger), some of the fantastic lycra-abundant costumes, and the reminiscence factor; I absolutely loved watching this as a kid. Because to be fair, the plots are wafer thin!

Released in 1979, it appears two years after the end of Space 1999 and the release of Star Wars, amazingly appearing the same year as Ridley Scott's "Alien"; although Buck Rogers is definitely a product of time and place, clearly in the 1970s and 1980s TV sci-fi mould rather than attempting to break it as did the aforementioned films.

There are a number of sci-fi cross references in the episodes. In an early episode a medallion bears the Enterprise logo, (plus there appears use of the famous Star Trek sound effects of the swishing doors, alerts, and beaming sounds and visuals elsewhere in the series), a spaceport scene features a tannoy call for a "Captain Christopher Pike", and Flash Gordon makes an impromptu appearance too. Buck also gives Captain Kirk a run for his money in the romance stakes, managing to find himself wrapped up with a new girl almost every episode.

Overall, a great, light-hearted TV sci-fi opera from the late 1970s, and lovely to see it all again!


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