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The Wolverine [Blu-ray]
The Wolverine [Blu-ray]
Dvd ~ Hugh Jackman
Offered by Game Trade Online
Price: £8.82

3.0 out of 5 stars A missed opportunity for Wolverine greatness, 5 July 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Wolverine [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
The Wolverine is a 2013 action fim starring Hugh Jackman as the iconic Wolverine. It is largely set in Japan and based loosely on the graphic novels by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller which saw the start of Wolverine's Japanese connection. The run-time on the Blu-ray is the same as the theatrical release. There is some talking head feature as part of the Extras but not much else. The Blu-ray comes with a downloadable version.

Wolverine is one of the greatest of the comic book heroes. His sense of honour, the underdog with that rage, his immortality, and pervading sense of grief are so well known. Wolverine's journey into Japan is a part of his lore, something well known to fans. It is good to see this part of the great Wolverine on screen.

The Wolverine is not a direct translation of comic book onto film. In the Extras, producer Hutch Parker says that the best films do not stick too closely to canon. He is completely wrong, the closer a film sticks to its origin the better it tends to be with only a few rare exceptions. The Wolverine is not an exception, it is a good film but never great, it is not as interestng or exciting as the world from which it was drawn but it is a perfectly fine action adventure.

One of the most difficult things about The Wolverine when compared to the original is Hugh Jackman himself. He is a magnifcent Wolverine. Jackman is so intense, appears to be locked so deep in thought all of the time. The fire within burns throughout and seems to be just on the cusp of control. It is an excellent performance. The problem though is that he is too big. This is not just an issue of comparison but also affects the way his character comes across. Jackman is a really big guy, Wolverine is a notably average height superhero. With Jackman on screen he never seems like the underdog in this film. Every physical scene looks like one his opponents have no chance to win. Part of Wolverine's mystique is his willingness to take on unfavourable odds. The sense of drama lacks when Hugh Jackman towers over his opponents and his huge muscles are enhanced by lighting and some visual effects.

The worst example of this is the fight scene with Shingen Yashida played by Hiroyuki Sanada. Jackman is nearly a foot taller than Sanada who is a small framed guy anyway. Normally in these situations it is the little guy who the audience should support - Bruce Lee in Game of Death being the stereotypical example. It is hard to sympathise with a brutal savage who overpowers his rivals and in any case cannot really be hurt by them.

Far more effective are the character driven elements of the fillm. In particular, Wolverine's appearance at Nagasaki that fateful day is an outstanding sequence. It does what works so well for the Wolverine character in previous films in that it takes real happenings and puts Wolverine into them in a realistic way. The sequence with the future Yashida patriach in which Wolverine saves his life is beautiful and really quite moving. When he returns later in the film to that same spot it is something quite special.

There is though not really enough character and there is too much action. The action sequences are generally ok rather than excellent. The use of a slightly different choreographic style for Wolverine compared to previous films is good, the use of samurai swords always a winner. However, the battles with Yakuza are not especially exciting. Part of the lack of drama is that Wolverine is too powerful, he is always going to win. The absence of other mutants makes it an immortal demi-god taking on puny mortals.

The final sequence vs the Silver Samurai is terrible. The Silver Samurai looks far too bulky and unrealistic. It is a tin robot, the sort of thing Terminator should be taking on rather than Wolverine. Tt is a real surprise to find this abomination was designed by the legendary Weta Workshop. Possibly it needed to be so big and appear so clumsy because Hugh Jackman is too big.

An exception to the poor action sequences is the ride on the bullet train. Fight scenes on trains are nothing new. What makes this sequence work so well is the sense of speed. It is really well directed to have the illusion of threat from speed generated by blue screen. The Bullet really does seem to travel at its breakneck speed. It seems to pose a real challenge to Wolverine, the sequence is excellent.

When he is not fighting, Hugh Jackman is outstanding. He is a magnificent screen fighter but the directing and choreography really let him down. However, the directing cannot get in the way of his wonderful screen presence. There is a calmness about Jackman that always seems to be on the brink of breaking apart. His interaction with the other characters, especially the women, works well. Jackman's Wolverine is a troubled beast trying so hard to deny the monster within while doing everything he can to support those around him. Jackman captures his character so well it generates real pathos.

Jackman's primary screen compatriots in The Wolverine are relative unknowns Tao Okamoto as Mariko Yashida and Rila Fukushima as Yukio. It is Yukio with whom Wolverine first interacts and the pair seem ideal. The playful and fun Yukio seems to be exactly who Wolverine needs to be with, ideal girlfriend material for him to shake him out of his permanently sombre mood. Unfortunately the beautiful Fukushima is not the love interest, she is just the bodyguard. Fukushima seems to be having fun in every scene she appears in, her light footed combat style is really pleasing to watch. It is a bit confusing to see Yukio wearing the red and grey hoops worn by Lady Deathstrike in the animated series and it seems to associate the two. Fukushima looks great in the outfit though, almost the cyberpunk part of Japanese culture.

Tao Okamoto has less presence. As love interest Mariko Yashida she is not overly endowed with personality. She also does not look the part. Okamoto is a much more westernised vision of beauty. She is very tall, slender, almost frail. Okamoto's modelling career has existed in part because she does not look typically Japanese. In Japan this makes sense but there seems little point in casting a Japanese person who looks just like a westerner. Mariko is subdued and quiet which is supposed to make her a contrast for Wolverine's rage but it is too close to the contemplative Wolverine on screen most of the time. Compared with the imposing Hugh Jackman, Okamoto really fails to shine at all.

The minor characters are not given much to go on. Villain Viper is a fun threat but plays a limited role in the story. Kenuichio Harada seems to be a good marksman but in the comic to movie world is just a poor man's Hawkeye. It is a bit weird for the original character of the Silver Samurai to just be a bit part player in a film that actually features the Silver Samurai. Jean Grey makes a brief un-needed appearance mid-way through the story.

Visually The Wolverine is good. It looks decent on Blu-ray. The settings are great, using parts of Tokyo and other parts of Japan adds authenticity.

The Extras are terrible. Nearly an hour of verbal back-slapping between the various talking heads does not a special feature make. It is a great example of what not to do. There is hardly any behind the scenes activity, nothing about how things unfolded the way they did, just line after line of slightly defensive self-praise.

The Wolverine is a missed opportunity. It is a missed opportunity to take one of the greatest characters of the 20th century, put him in one of his iconic settings in Japan, and present the next great comic book based film. Director James Mangold seems to have got much of it really quite wrong. This film should have been slower in the Japanese style. It should have been more character based and dialogue heavy. The action sequences are generally poorly designed. The casting of Tao Okamoto was a mistake.

There are really great things about this film, notably the excellent acting of Hugh Jackman and Hiroyuki Sanada as well as the playful Rila Fukushima. It could have been great, it is just ok.


The Siege of Vienna
The Siege of Vienna
by John Stoye
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Detailed description of the siege and its time, 13 Jun 2014
This review is from: The Siege of Vienna (Paperback)
Siege of Vienna by John Stoye is a detailed historica description of the great siege of 1683 that ended Ottoman expansion in Europe. Stoye's work is a densely written and extensively researched exploration of the build-up to the siege and the events of that year. It was the first modern English language historical description of the siege. It has since faced competition, most notably The Enemy at the Gate which is a much easier and more interesting read.

Siege of Vienna is not an especially easy read, it was seemingly never really written with a reader in mind. It is much more the bringing of historical evidence together. The start of the book is one of the most glaring examples, it reads like a report of the sources Stoye has found rather than historical analysis. Stoye also seems to downplay every exciting moment as if fighting too hard against the trend to simplify by describing particular moments as critical. However, reading Stoye's description of the great charge of the Winged Hussars as 'the Poiish then deployed their cavalry' really fails to capture the essence of what happens in favour or a simple recitation of limited facts.

Stoye's work also gives undue weight to minor and un-interesting details while underplaying key figures like Jan Sobieski. Occasionally skirmishes that change the balance of power in the siege are referred to only in retrospect as having happened rather than being part of the narrative. The impact of the Ottomans on the lands immediately outside Vienna score only a minor reference right at the end of the book. The de-population of much of Niederösterreich is an event so significant it still impacts international politics but Stoye's detailed work makes practically no mention of it.

When analysing the impact of the siege, the reader is treated to an analysis of the relationship between Louis XIV of France and his wife. A complete tangent. On the other hand far too little time or attention is devoted to Jan Sobieski. No doubt it is right to spend more time on the Emperor and on the Duke of Lorraine but surely Sobieski would be a prominent figure in a narrative surrounding the Siege of Vienna.

Despite these limitations, Siege of Vienna is still a remarkable work. It is a detailed if not sufficiently thorough description of that pivotal year. The Siege exists in its context, Stoye provides it admirably. Given the disparity in the existence of sources there is of course more emphasis on the Habsburg side than the Ottoman but the painstaking research is obvious. The descriptions of the various diplomatic efforts the Habsburgs put in to build an alliance capable of repulsing the Ottomans is fascinating. The tension bewteen various Austrians, the circumstances of those living through the siege, the campaign in its totality are all present..

The full year's description is what makes Siege of Vienna a worthy inclusion in a collection of history books. The competing Magyar factions, the failed efforts to bulwark against Ottoman advance, the preparations to defend Vienna itself are all part of the Siege's story. Stoye has compiled so much from the extant historical record.

There is so much here that the actual siege begins only about half way through the work. The description of the siege is quite technical, providing enough information for a modern reader to begin to grasp some of the siege tactics used by both sides. The absence of artwork of the various pieces Stoye describes makes it a bit hard to picture with the dense writing style but for those with some knowledge of the technical language used it is a thorough description of the competing efforts.

Perhaps the strongest area of Stoye's work is his description of the various groups operating within Vienna itself. The description of the layers of Viennese society is terrific. From the top down, a series of rigid structures had clearly embedded themselves into every aspect of Viennese life. Not all that much has changed in the time since then. Great historical analysis requires an understanding of the factions and incentives within a group rather than just analysis of heroes and leaders. Stoye offers quite some detail on the complex governance structures and the power struggles across strata.

This work is not great historical analysis, there is too little analysis for that to be the case. It is mostly reporting which is in itself useful if not gripping. The weakness of this approach is that it distances the author and the reader from the times. A simple re-telling of facts is not enough. What is here though is interesting and useful, compulsory reading for those interested in the period but somewhat lacking depiction of the drama involved.


The Baader-Meinhof Complex [DVD]
The Baader-Meinhof Complex [DVD]
Dvd ~ Martina Gedeck
Price: £5.06

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Post-War History Film, 26 May 2014
The Baader-Meinhof Complex is a magnificent German biopic of leftist terror group the Red Army Faction. It is a film covering a remarkable period of German history, a period in which a group of radicals turned their anger against the capitalist system an against their parents war-ravaged generation into a campaign that cost many lives. Baader-Meinhof is far from the only film covering the group but it is the best. Baader-Meinhof's combination of historical narrative, blistering acting, and emotional directing stands it as one of the best films German cinema has produced.

Based on the book of the same name by the journalist Stefan Aust, Baader-Meinhof offers a dramatisation based on real events over a decade between 1967 and 1977. It is a fascinating account, offering enough of the context to explain the world the Red Army Faction existed in. The febrile atmosphere of the late 1960s was a time of upheaval across the western world, the German story of those times being nowhere near as well known as the US or France but perhaps offering something much more compelling because of the front that line between east and west that ran through the country.

The atmosphere of the film is defined early on with an incredible scene recreating the chaos of the 1967 protests against the Shah of Iran. Baader-Meinhof places the blame for the trouble firmly in the hands of the Shah's supporters and their attack on the protesters. It seems likely that the aggression of the Persians was simply the spark that ignited underlying tension. It is though a piece of iconic German post-war history for the tragic reason of the death of Benno Ohnesorg. His killing by a police officer is recreated though of course the exact details of the shooting are not known. What is known is the image of Ohnesorg laying dead in the street, being cradled by another protestor. Baader-Meinhof brilliantly evokes that moment, building a credible story around something that was etched into German consciousness.

Baader-Meinhof does not depict everything about that moment. It does not deal with the killer's links with the Stasi, something that was not known to Stefan Aust and not picked up in time for the creation of this 2008 film. What it does do though is generate an incredibly absorbing visual of the demonstration. Director Uli Edel gets so much right and that demonstration feels so authentic, the reactions of the people involved in smoke-filled chaos with fire in the background is haunting.

Ohnesorg's death as well as the shooting of leftist student leader Rudi Dutschke and subsequent riot against the newspaper Bild is the setup for the emergence of the RAF led by the violent and charismatic Andreas Baader played by Moritz Bleibtreu and the inspirational Gudrun Esslin played by Johanna Wokalek. The casting in particular of Wokalek is perfect. Esslin has in retrospect become the face of the RAF, it is terrific casting to have someone like Wokalek who genuinely looks like Esslin in the film. Esslin's look is not incredibly unique especially in northern Germany but it really adds to the production to have her well-known look replicated so well.

Wokalek plays Esslin in a really fascinating style. Adorning her with 60s sexual liberation, Esslin is potrayed as being confident and ideologically driven. There is no doubt Esslin was academically gifted so the idea of her being the ideological fulcrum around which the RAF developed seems credible. Somehow Wokalek offers such a calmness to Esslin's determination that it generates a sense of destiny about the group's actions. It is a convincing enough performance to see the method behind the RAF's madness. It is a performance deserving of the accolades Wokalek received and a world away from some of her previous screen efforts.

Wokalek's Esslin is one of three main characters all of whom are on the front cover of the DVD. It is probably the best of the three performances. The other two are still really good though. Leader Andreas Baader is charismatic, fun, and incredibly violent. Bleibtreu plays Baader as being close to unstable. This is probably an accurate depiction given the much later post-mortem analysis which identified brain damage probably suffered in 1962. In the early going Baader seems to be more interested in criminality than politics, the character arc fitting with the thesis that it was Esslin who was the ideological brains behind the group.

At times Baader seems reckless, his high speed driving, treating Palestinian terrorists disrespectfully, risking being caught by the police suggest he thrives on the danger. As the film develops, so does Baader. He becomes more serious, more bookish in time to deliver his performance during the trial in Stammheim prison. It is a nuanced and impressive performance from Bleibtreu, one of Germany's more underrated performers.despite his previous star turns.

Next to the charismatic Baader, the third of the headliners is Ulrike Meinhof who takes a much more rationalist and less emotional approach to the efforts of the RAF. Martina Gedeck's performance offers a more introverted character better able to deliver a message in written form than vocally. Gedeck does not really look all that much like Meinhof but the performance she projects gives a credible exposition of an extremist under terrible pressure. The icy veneer with which she abandons her own children becomes so much more believable towards the end with Meinhof's reaction to being held in Stemmheim.

The use of the real Stammheim prison is somewhat haunting. Baader-Meinhof is a recreation of real events, this is not some Hollywood tale. The story of the Red Army Faction is part of the reality of post-war West Germany. Many of the events are well known to a Germanic audience but perhaps less so outside that sphere. Perhaps the best known of the RAF terrorist actions was the hijacking of Lufthansa Flight 181. The hijacking and subsequent rescue by GSG 9 is a part of German lore known as the German Autumn. It is incredible to be reminded quite how far the RAF were prepared to go.

Exploring how far the RAF were prepared to go is not an easy task. These were real people so their stories are told fairly sympathetically. It is easy to associate with them, young radicals looking to make the world a more equal place. Baader-Meinhof seems to err slightly on the side of recognising their beliefs. It is only right at the end that support for them is questioned. An almost throw-away line about remembering them as they really were is just about the only injection of scepticism. In part this is because the film came out just too early to reveal the full story of the RAF's role with the Stasi regime of East Germany.

For all the ills of West Germany, East Germany was much worse. That the Stasi funded and supported the RAF makes them a lot harder to sympathise with. The absence of this part of the story is a sin of omission. There is though a lingering suspicion that director Uli Edel might well have preferred the RAF to have won.

Aside from the tendency towards supporting the RAF's motivation, the directing of Uli Edel is excellent. The recreation of real events draws well from the images of those times. Where less is known, Edel's portrayal looks good. In particular his recreation of a Hizbu'llah training camp treads the balance between light hearted character development and really quite deep seated ideological differences well. The ideology is shown in the starkest relief with the disgust shown by the Islamo-fascists disapproval of the libertarian women in the RAF. It is a simple and powerful image, telling the story much better than words would have done.

Edel's directing provides close-up personal moments to extract the emotions of the characters involved as well as it does the larger set-pieces like the hijacking or the protest against the Shah. Edel chose to go with more dalogue and character than vivid action depiction. It is the right choice. Although there is the odd montage moment where several attacks are strung together, the key moments are shown in more detail. Baader-Meinhof is not an action film, it is a character film. The action is so well tuned. The character and dialogue is terrific.

The quality of the DVD is fine. The subtitling is generally pretty good. The occasional change in slang use eg from Alte Schwein to You Pig can miss some of the subtley for instance in this case resonating with a generational charge. The lighting is excellent, it looks ever so slightly dated to reflect the colour schemes and ambience of previous decades.

The DVD special features are strong. There is subtitling in English for the extras. There is a specific feature on the riot leading to the death of Ohnesorg which reflects in part the impact that moment had on Germany. There is plenty of exposure to excitable director Uli Edel, he is clearly a very emotional man. It helps to reflect the impact of the moments involved on people who were there at the time.

Baader-Meinhof presents the story of the Red Army Faction in an easily understandable form. It uses the people involved as the centrepiece, bringing their motivations and personality types to the fore in order to make it a more believable experience. The film came out a year too early to use the final piece of information about the links to the Stasi. However, it is a fascinating slice of history told so well. A great watch for those familiar with post-war Germany, and a fun and engaging character film for everyone.


Mad Max Trilogy: Mad Max / Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior / Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome [DVD] [2005]
Mad Max Trilogy: Mad Max / Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior / Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome [DVD] [2005]
Dvd ~ Mel Gibson
Price: £9.43

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Iconic Rather Than Great, 30 April 2014
The Mad Max Trilogy is the iconic dystopian near future sci-fi that launched Mel Gibson into stardom. First appearing in 1979, Mad Max set the visual tone for post-apocalyptic sci fi, bringing a fashion sense and personal style that has been copied many times since. The films themselves were iconic at the time but have dated somewhat since their release. The DVD set contains only the films as it is without any extra features of note.

Mad Max stars the then 23 year old Mel Gibson as the title character. It is an Australian film from 1979 for which most of the budget seems to have been spent on vehicles. It is something of a B Movie with fairly low quality acting except from the lead man and production values which do not jump out in high definition. Despite its lo-fi qualities, Mad Max is perhaps the only Australian cinematic character to have become immortalised in popular culture. He has become the archetype for the dystopian anti-hero that all others have followed.

The plot of Mad Max is limited in its ambition. Max is a cop in a barren Australia plagued by violent biker gangs. To some extent the set-up is derived from Westerns as the lone sherrif goes up against a band of criminals. There are allusions to a crumbling world, the backdrop is hot and clearly unpleasant. The police seem to be overstretched and struggling. As the lone hero it is interesting that for most of Mad Max, the lead character is certainly not alone. The person he becomes only emerges in the final couple of scenes. The legendary Mad Max is not the man the viewer meets for most of the first film.

Mad Max is actually a loving family guy, a young man prepared to drive hard and fast to catch the bad guys. The bravado of the young sees Max take on biker leader The Nightrider in a racing duel. The car chases are the heart of the action. There are plenty of them though the directorial choices to speed up the framerate makes them look dated. There is not the sense of speed that was perhaps originally envisioned. The chase scenes are also very long and can easily lose that part of the audience not enamoured with them.

Hokey car chase scenes with violent endings can work very well in dystopian sci-fi, after all Death Race 2000 is a brutal sports classic. While the director of that film four years earlier than Mad Max claims Mad Max to be superior it is not. The difference is that Death Race was funny whereas Mad Max is completely straight up. There is no varying of the emotional tone, things are bleak and get bleaker. There are no moments of levity and no humour.

The dialogue of Mad Max is pretty good though. Max and his police compatriots speak in that very direct law enforcement style. There is a fun moment when the police captain tries to rouse Max with a couple of inspirational lines about the need for heroes only for Max to comeback with a completely grounded sense of reality.

In the battle against the gangs not all the good guys make it. Interesting that the cop known as Goose is killed off, interesting because presumably there is some inspiration for the Goose character in Top Gun. Goose is killed not long after gang members escape justice. The judicial system is not able to deal with the bad guys so the cops have to be the ones dispensing justice.

The denouement of Mad Max is brutal. The Mad Max as we all remember him only emerges after tragedy. He is otherwise just a fairly regular guy. The transformation is swift.

The original Mad Max exists in popular memory because of what the lead character becomes. The first film is not actually all that good. However, where it was completely groundbreaking was in its sense of style. The spiked leather of the good guys and the bodged enhancements on the cars work really well. The clothes and cars look so good and are probably the most influential element of the original movie.

One slightly uncomfortable aspect of Mad Max is its latent homophobia. The good guys are straight shooters, muscular decent guys with hard wearing clothes. The villains are camp. They wear make-up, some of them dance with each other. There are bisexual references with gang members blowing kisses at one another. This is not done in some ironic way. There is a real sense that the bad guys are not only criminals but are also sexually deviant. Knowing Gibson's intolerant personal views makes it even harder to ignore the homophobia running through the film.

Mad Max 2 is the film that many critics site as being the most iconic of the trilogy. It sees Max in his purest form driving along an incredibly long road while under attack by a violent gang. The DVD trilogy version is the Road Warrior version so there are some cuts. However, compared to Mad Max, Road Warrior is a vastly superior film.

The look of Road Warrior goes further than the original. The post-apocalyptic feel is amped up, Gibson looks incredibly cool as Max. The costume work is outstanding and is the defining moment of dystopian fashion.

The plot of Road Warrior is pretty straightforward. Max makes a deal with an oil oasis town to drive them and their tanker out of the danger from a huge criminal gang. Unlike the first film, Road Warrior sees Max bantering and relating to some of the people around him. He is a much more rounded character despite his being much more jaded and battle-worn.

The centrepiece of the film is the long chase sequence with Max as the driver of a tanker under attack. It is one of the longest car chase sequences in cinema and it is almost all along one road. Australia is huge. The chase is a fantastic fight scene, the villains attacking with a range of weapons and tactics. It is not all believable but it is a lot of fun. Max has a couple of outriders to support him which helps add to the variety. The rest of the film does not matter hugely because that chase is legendary.

Perhaps the most surprising negative about Road Warrior is the music. It is appalling. The music for the first film was not great but in Road Warrior it is perhaps one of the worst film scores ever recorded. It is too loud, does not fit the action, and is largely jarring. Apparently it was composed by Brian May. Had it been the Brian May we all know then perhaps it would have been better but the Australian Brian May has put together something truly awful.

The setting of Road Warrior is excellent. The harsh desert environment in Australia conjures up post-apocalyptica in a way that few other places can. The wide angle shots of the desert are dramatic and beautiful largely because they are the complete opposite of lush. It is a harsh and unforgiving environment, much like the man Max has by now become.

The lead villain is hilarious. The Humungous certainly is a big guy. He also has very little to work with, waving his arms around as the dialogue was clearly filmed separately given the size of his mask. There is something of out-of-sync American dubbing of Kung Fu films about The Humungous which makes him faintly ridiculous.

Much more threatening than the hulking leader is Toadie who is the spokesperson for the bad guys. He is a much more convincing villain because of the absence of bulk. The unpleasant Toadie is the person a viewer wants to see Max defeat.

There is not a huge amount of depth to Road Warrior but it is so much better than Mad Max, it takes the lead character into the place he is remembered for and turns the lconic look into something spectacular. The chase sequence with the tanker is awesome.

The third film in the trilogy is Beyond Thunderdome. It has not always been as well received as the others but is the only one of the three films to have any layers of plot or character. Thunderdome is a part of the world ruled by Tina Turner as Aunty. Turner is surprisingly good as an actor and she looks amazing. Aged 46 in 1985 Turner certainly had it.

The layers of Thunderdome are much more intriguing than the previous two films. Bartertown is two separate entities. Aunty rules above ground but below where the energy is being generated, Bartertown is run by a midget called Master. Master is a cruel and unpleasant little man but Aunty is also ruthless and bloodthirsty. Max finds himself caught between these two when he is thrown into the Thunderdome itself to fight Master and his servant Blaster. As Master-Blaster the pair are a great mind and a huge body.

The Thunderdome itself is innovative as a way of making cage fighting look good and it is a great location for a fight. The casualness with which onlookers jeer for death and on the odd occasion suffer it themselves sets the theme so well. This is clearly a brutal world Max now inhabits. Gibson performs well in the action sequences, always managing to look close to defeat but never close enough to make a comeback seem implausible.

The conclusion of the fight turns Master into a sympathetic character but the writing is not especially good at that point because it is he who has been exploiting idiot Blaster and who put Blaster in dangerous positions. From that point on the viewer is supposed to forget that Master was essentially a slave owner who exploited everyone he met as Aunty becomes the main villain.

Fortunately there is good banter between Turner and Gibson, largely thanks to Turner. She is perhaps the only person in the trilogy to upstage the central character. The slightly demeaning giggle she employs behind the line Raggedy Man is delicious. When the film finally concludes there is a sense that Aunty is still having plenty of fun.

Unfortunately Thunderdome is taken down a silly sidetrack where Mad Max saves a bunch of children. The look of those children is again iconic though. Presumably they are a group heavily influenced by Lord of the Flies but children dressed as tribal warriors look has been repeated time and again on childrens television since. The eery singing of the word Walker as the children mis-identify Max is really good.

The car chase sequence this time is less central to the story than the previous films. It is not anywhere near as impressive as the Road Warrior sequence and copies quite a bit of action from that chase. The fact that it is not as long makes it an easier watch for those interested in character development and plot rather than just cars.

Musically, Thunderdome is in a different league entirely to the atrocious soundtracks of the first two films. The culmination is of course Tina Turner's We Don't Need Another Hero which is a film song that crossed over to be a major hit. Unlike some of the other hit film songs of the mid-80s, Turner's song still sounds decent three decades later.

Beyond Thunderdome is sometimes criticised because it is a bit more mainstream. It is a much better put together film despite the annoyance of the lost village of children as well as the implausible character development of Master. Thunderdome does not have great car chase of Road Warrior but it is a better film all told and Tina Turner puts in the only excellent performance of the entire series other than Mel Gibson's constantly impressive starring role.

Looking back decades later, Mad Max remains iconic but it is the look which has stood the test of time best. It would make sense for a trilogy of this nature to carry special features on the DVD set but regrettably there is nothing here at all other than couple of written notes which are of no use. Reflecting back, the first film is not very good and serves only really as a set-up for Mad Max 2 which is a decent if flawed film with a great car chase. The more mainstream Beyond Thunderdome wraps up the series but does make some compromises with the purity of the first two in order to make for a more complete viewing experience. Had Ma Max not been followed by others it would be hard to recommend it. Mad Max 2 and Beyond Thunderome have different strengths but both are fairly memorable experiences.


Breaking Bad - The Final Season* [DVD]
Breaking Bad - The Final Season* [DVD]
Dvd ~ Bryan Cranston
Price: £16.97

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quality Show's Finale, 29 April 2014
The Final Season of Breaking Bad concludes one of the most memorable of US television shows for a while. It has been a watercooler phenomenon. While the eeking out of the final phases by splitting what was the final season into two separate segments each with their own DVD releases was a bit unnecessary, what is offered here is a satisfactory conclusion to Walter White's story. The FInal Season covers the last 8 episodes and includes a range of decent DVD extras.

It has been quite a journey for Walter White. His transformation from a Hal-like almost comedy figure of a father to the meth king Heisenberg responsible for dozens of deaths has been some tale. These final episodes are primarily taken up with the final set of opponents for White to best. Most prominent among those opponents of course is brother-in-law Hank. The final episode of Season 5 made every viewer aware of the showdown between the two, apparently the showdown the audience had been wanting. Not this reviewer who would have preferred the denouement between White and the last man to point a gun at him to be the focus of the final rivalry. Still, given where the show went in its final episodes the battle between Hank and Walter plays out extremely well.

The early face-off between the pair in Hank's garage is awesome, the closing of the garage door is such a terrific visual. After building up this rivalry for a while, both characters seem to have more of an edge, more focus. Hank in previous seasons was something of an idiot. He was a loudmouth tough guy of a DEA agent and a devoted family man despite his own lack of children. He was always potrayed a falling far short of Walter's intelligence. In The Final Season, Hank ups his game to take on the man he has been chasing for so long.

The first few episodes in The Final Season have plenty of Hank. Dean Norris fans have plenty to cheer. His acting does not in any way achieve more subtlety, Norris still appears to be playing the idealised version of himself, but he carries an intensity not really seen before. The interaction between Hank and Skyler is especially good writing even if neither Norris nor Anna Gunn represent the best of the acting on display. Seeing Hank not get his way when he attempts to persuade Skyler onto his side really ups the ante.

Skyler for her part is almost the moll Walter was advised to acquire by lawyer Saul early on in his criminal career. She has so much to lose it makes sense for her to side with her husband. Skyler's character is not especially well conceived during The Final Season as she both encourages Walter to take on Hank's investigation including seeking to discredit him then rejects the conclusion her actions lead to. Skyler is the weak link in Breaking Bad and has never really been an impressive character. She does not look the part, she is the worst mother television has to offer, her affair while pregnant in an earlier season was cringeworthy, and when she finally seems to have conviction in The Final Season she flip-flops afterwards.

The Final Season does not see a huge amount of the rest of Walter's family. There is not much more to the story of Walt Jnr to tell. The lack of screen time really helps though because for those moments when Walt Jnr/Flynn is in view it is that much more impactul. When he takes the call from his father who seems to have hit rock bottom at the time, Flynn's reaction is visceral and to some extent shocking.

There are only a few shocks in this season but they are big. The shoot-outs during this season are the most weaponry it has brought to bear, and they drastically change the fortunes of those involved. The action sequences are generally pretty well choreographed and believable.

Breaking Bad was always more about character than action though. It was about the planning as much as it was about the execution. In the previous season there was really not enough of the clever Heisenberg as the series retreated into much more traditional territory with Mike as an archetypal antagonist. The Final Season does not offer the brilliant science that helped to make the early seasons zing but it does come up with a great scheme or two. The final sequences are worthy of the early season promise and a highly credible ending.

There are fewer characters still around by the time of the ending as over the various seasons Heisenberg has eliminated so many people. He is a brutal killer, the image of him as this terrible crime lord, the Scarface analogy, is not what makes him so endearing. It is though a danger for everyone around him.

Closest to Walter through his journey has been Jesse. He plays some role in The Final Season especially when he forms an unlikely alliance. The scene with him in a rage at Heisenberg's house is awesome. It is terrific directing and camerawork to potray Jesse's mental state without being too jerky. Aaron Paul is not just a pretty face, he is a damn fine actor able to potray a character so emotionally damaged. Reflecting back on that first appearance of Jesse jumping out of a milf's window, he too has taken such a journey.

There is a good deal of that reflection going on in The Final Season. A couple of flashback scenes to the good old days where Walter and Jesse naively begun their adventure do tug on the heartstrings.

Perhaps the biggest shame of The Final Season is that Jesse's growth does not continue in the trajectory a viewer might have hoped for a couple of seasons ago. The ending was perfectly satisfactory but it perhaps could have been so much more had there been less focus on Walter's rise and fall and more on Jesse as his true heir. Perhaps the writers took the easier route instead to make the emotional response of viewers more clear cut as Walter takes on antagonists that cannot be sympathised with.

Jesse's original crew get a bit of an airing which is a nice bonus. Badger and Skinny Pete are pretty much the only humour in what is generally a dark season. The tone of The Final Season is not as upbeat as some of the previous ones, the absence of humour presumably being a deliberate part of that but it does take away one of the pillars of what made the show so gripping earlier on. Badger in particular is pretty funny with the best comedy of the season being about him with a reference to Babylon 5..

Normally Saul would be the comedy genious but he is not that funny this season. Bob Odenkirk remains one of the stand-out features of Breaking Bad but with the general darker tone he is also in a darker place. Odenkirk has excellent comedy timing so even when his lines are not in themselves all that funny he tends to dominate most of the sequences he is a part of. Saul is apparently getting a spin-off show. While it does not sound all that promising, more Saul and therefore more Odenkirk is always a good thing.

Saul's allies Huell and Kuby are still good fun. More Kuby would have been good as Bill Burr was brilliant every time he was on screen. Huell is excellent because of who he is as much as anything. Lavell Crawford as the hugely fat black man channels a comedy archetype that works everytime. When Jesse squeezes past him it is funny because it is true.

Newcomer Ed in The Final Season is probably the one who changes the tone the most. He is an associate of Saul's played by Robert Forster in a style very similar to his efforts in Jackie Brown. That same character of the emotionally aware experienced ally brings a pathos otherwise missing. When he and Walt talk in a cabin it is the first sign of the real vulnerability within Walter.

The sequences with Walt on the edge of defeat are particularly impactful. They are impactful because a dying man with no hope is something incredible to watch when portrayed by an actor with the excellence of Bryan Cranston. The image of a broken man coughing and seemingly out is haunting. Cranston is incredible in offering glimpses of the great Heisenberg buried underneath the fragility of Walter White. Cranston has been formidable throughout Breaking Bad but those scenes in the cabin may well be the very best.

Very few of the character have no pathos. They a seem to be someone, even businesswoman Lydia has enough quirks and clarity of motivation for her time on show to be interesting. The relationship between her and loyal but psychopathic Todd is enough to raise a smile. Todd's uncle Jack has a little bit more about him. The slightly jittery physicality means he is absorbing even though he is a killer.

Breaking Bad has used the locations around Albuquerque to good effect. The desert in particular is awesome. To find out it is Indian Territory adds an extra touch. The cabin scenes are particularly good, it seems to be a world away even though in reality it is not. One of the pivotal scenes in the film takes place in Albuquerque Civic Plaza. It is a great scene, so well acted and so well designed with a huge amount of suspense. The location is ghastly which adds so much. Albuquerque Civic Plaza is so ugly the setting works perfectly.

Pacing and tension are some of the hallmarks of Breaking Bad. The Final Season lives up to that standard well Nothing is rushed, thought processes are given time to play out. Most of the time there is little action which means when it does kick off the impact is all the greater. The directing is generally of a high standard throughout The Final Season.

Musically, The FInal Season is a litlte less memorable than in some earlier seasons. There are no great musical pieces unlike the montage accompaniments of earlier times.

The DVD extras are really good. Most of the earlier season DVDs have been really disappointing on the extras front The Final Season makes up for that. Each episode has a litlte explanatory talking head session and some behin the scenes stuff. The snippets are good and fun to watch. Each disc also contains a couple of other extras such as a gag reel or an explanation of weapon work. The best of the extras is the alternate ending, it is absolute genious and put together by people who really understand what made Walter White the character he is.

The actual ending though does satisfy. The journey has been an incredible one, well worth sticking around for to the very end. Breaking Bad has been a rare example of a very popular show that is actually really good. Popular perception may rate it a little higher, it is not a show that competes right at the top of the US television pantheon but it is still one of the best shows of recent years and for those who have come this far The Final Season works well.


Game of Thrones - Season 3 [DVD] [2014]
Game of Thrones - Season 3 [DVD] [2014]
Dvd ~ Peter Dinklage
Price: £24.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Continued Excellence, 23 April 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Season 3 of Game of Thrones seals the series place among the pantheon of US television. It is a continuation of the excellence from the first two seasons with the layers of plot, character, and intrigue adding even more richness to what was already something special. The DVD box set is the ten episodes with a small number of extras included.

Perhaps what makes season 3 so impressive is that very little actually happens. It feels so much more real despite the fantasy setting that there are not huge set-pieces, and time is given to character above all else. The characters are fascinating. In season 2 it was Tyrion Lannister to the fore. In season 3 it would be hard to consider him having top billing because his character has fallen back into the pack having lost the position of Hand of the King. Indeed, Tyrion does not appear in every episode, none of the characters are present in all ten.

The force at the capital, King's Landing is now Lannister patriach Tywin. Played by Charles Dance he is an imposing figure. He is not especially large or intimidating but he is forceful, determined, and most importantly successful. Dance brings such stature to the role simply by his personal presence. When he demands things to be done he never needs to raise his voice, he just demands things to be done and they happen. He is the power in season 3. At a meeting of the Small Council, King Joffrey complains that he has to visit Tywin rather than the other way around. The scene concludes with Tyrion incredulous that Tywin has sent the king to bed. Tywin does it simply by dominating personality and that is largely because Charles Dance exudes the impression of his being in charge.

Leadership qualities seem to be the theme of this season, they are tested sorely. Tywin is tested by new arrival Lady Olenna Tyrell. Played by the legendary Diana Rigg, Olenna seems to be Tywin's match. She is a wise and intelligent older lady with a knack for getting what she wants. The pace of her speech is brilliant, the beats are much faster than with any other character on show. It is a clever trick to show her as faster witted than those around her. Even when in the company of Tywin she outpaces him, intellectually she tests his ability to win. The schemes Olenna comes up with are excellent, she is ambitious and clearly aiming to move from being the incumbent second family of Westeros into taking top spot. As de facto head of her household it is a real pleasure to see Olenna and Tywin match wits and to see the limitations of what they can achieve exposed by the other. The scene in which Dance and Rigg cross intellectual swords is magnificent television highlighting two of the great actors of their generations.

Olenna's efforts are backed up by a sense of humour not present in many others. She is laugh out loud funny, taking over from Tyrion as the show's humour. Her one-liners and deprecating sensibilities work so well when accompanied by the ultra professional Lady Margaery Tyrell played by Natalie Dormer. Margaery is one of the few characters who seems to have a rock solid understanding of the environment she operates in. She says all the right things even when provoked by the ever unpleasant Cercei Lannister. Somehow amidst the chaos and intrigue of Game of Thrones, Margaery seems calm at all times. Her knowledge of self is explicitly referenced when she refers to her own pig nose. So brilliant for the writing team to identify Natalie Dormer's main physical weakness and use it so perfectly to portray the character's appreciation of her own place in life.

Not quite all of the casting works so perfectly. Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark seems a bit of a stretch purely because Sansa is described by others as being so very beautiful. The wardrobe and make-up work for Sansa is excellent giving her a rich deep red hue but beautiful Sophie Turner is not. She turns in a perfectly fine performance but as she grows into a woman from the girl we saw in earlier series the description of her from others becomes less believable.

Sansa does appear in the funniest scene of the entire season when stood next to Tyrion. Seeing the dwarf humiliated by his nephew Joffrey to exacerbate the height disparity between Sansa and Tyrion is hilarious. It is also so uncomfortable. Tyrion remains the best depiction of a dwarf ever seen on screen and arguably the best depiction of a person with disabilities, seeing him humbled is a reminder that he is really just another person with his own limitations who can be taken down by others.

The scheming and intrigue at King's Landing is always helped by the presence of the oozing Lord Verys played by Conleth Hill. Alongside seeming nemesis Petry Baelish the two represented the scheming danger of the capital in the previous season. Here they get less screen time which is a shame for Baelish in particular who is an excellent character. Verys though does have one incredible scene where he explains the origin of his eunuch status and what he has done all these years to seek revenge.

The Verys backstory is chilling and adds layers to his previous actions. It seems to pale when compared to the backstory for the Kingslayer, Jaime Lannister played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. The backstory is almost a revelation, casting Jaime in a completely different light and perhaps flipping him from funny bad guy to unrecognised hero. Jaime is fascinating to watch because he is such a presence behind his floppy hair and bushy beard. The banter between him and Brienne of Tarth is consistenty genious. The performance by Coster-Waldau is particularly impressive because he has such a perfectly suited voice, he has a well fitting accent that seems just a little bit Americanised to give him ever such a slight touch of the matinee hero. In reality it turns out Coster-Waldau has a really scratchy speaking voice in English so it is amazing to hear him so excellently as Jaime.

The sword fight between Jaime and Brienne is outstanding choreography. It is one of the few fight sequences on display and is done so well because it defies expectations. It really does look as though Jaime is using his fast brain to outwit the more powerful Brienne, levering himself into a position to escape.

What makes Jaime so much more this season is his revelation about the decision making and leadership he had to show and the personal consequences he has suffered for it. The burden of those decisions weighs on several of the characters including the rival claimants to the throne who are all tested. Claimaint Stannis Baratheon is tested because he lost the battle towards the end of season 2. Whether he is able to come back from that defeat is questioned all through season 3. He seems to be a puppet under the control of Melisandre, a belief held by his loyal number two Davos Seaworth. The Stannis style of leadership is hard and direct, it is not subtle or intelligent which makes him vulnerable to Melisandre. Ultimately it is clear that she is the leader rather than he.

The relationship between Stannis and Davos remains one of the most intriguing, Davos continues to demonstrate loyalty beyond anyone else despite the personal peril it puts him in at the hands of Stannis. It is also fascinating to see a bit of Stannis backstory with his family brought into the show for the first time. The hold Melisandre has over all things Baratheon is breathtaking when Stannis addresses his wife about his relationship with the red witch and she tells him how happy she is about it.

Melisandre's leadership stretches beyond Stannis. She makes a trip into the heart of Westeros to intersect with the Brotherhood Without Banners. They are a merry bunch of highwaymen in the Robin Hood style. As an unknown force in season 2 it was not clear the Brotherhood actually existed but when they do turn up they're a band of adventurers with a look and set of skills that could easily make them the core focus of an entire story by themselves. Most amusing of the Brotherhood is Thoros of Myr played by Paul Kaye who has something so reminiscent about Mick Fleetwood in Running Man about him. The Brotherhood is perhaps most interesting because of who they actually are rather than what they seem to be at first.

Perhaps the best line in the entire season crops up at the end of Melisandre and the Brotherhood's interaction when Arya Stark questions why anyone could like Melisandre and in response is told she couldn't understand because she's a girl. There is something about Carice van Houten that makes her so alluring.

Arya herself grows a little during the season, finding herself combined with The Hound. the two are as unlikely a pair as Brienne and Jaime. There are so many great looks in this show but perhaps best of all is The Hound. Rory McCann is a huge guy, the armour he wears and the make-up/wig work is absolutely first rate.

Beyond the wall leadership is of a completely different form. King Beyond The Wall Mance Rayder offers a glimpse of something different. Mance Rayder's leadership is based on a deeper, more fundamental philosophy - for there to be a 'we' there must be a 'them'. Absolutely fascinting as the White Walkers are the driving force behind Mance's leadership. The scene in which Jon Snow offers fealty to the imposing barbarian he thinks is Mance Rayder is really very subtle because it strips away the viewers preconceptions at exactly the same time as Snow's. Leadership is not always about force.

Outside of the main plot line remains Daenerys Targaryen. The leadership challenge she faces is very different, she fought herself up from nothing to take on Qarth in season 2. In season 3 she is leading from the front, her character growing into a major threat. Her morality is a bit too pure to be easy to engage with but her interactions with the slavers of Astapol is excellent. Her interaction with slaver Kraznys mo Nakloz is spectacular. He is so very insulting, it is really quite impressive. Dan Hildebrand is well cast. He looks like a Berber in this show and could credibly pass for one of the North African slavers. The venom with which he spits his insult is beautiful. It helps that his words are translated by the dazzling Nathalie Emmanuel as the character Missandei. As in season 2, Daenerys is accompanied by a vastly more beautiful woman who happened to be played by an actor from Hollyoaks. Interesting that when Missandei leaves the service of Kraznys to join Daenerys she is dressed in much less attractive attire, perhaps a nod to the idea that the viewer is supposed to be looking at Daenerys.

Leadership elsewhere is less successful. The leader beyond the wall is up against a terror greater than any other. It is a shame not to actually see the battle at the Fist of the First Men. Understandably character trumps action but for such a pivotal fight to just gain passing mention feels a bit of a missed opportunity. The story arc for the Night Watch is good but would have been better had it been seen more fully.

More effective is the arc for Robb Stark, King in the North. The episode commonly known as the Red Wedding is absolutely shocking. It might well be the very best episode US television has produced. The performance by Michelle Fairley is specactular, the rawness of her emotion absolutely visceral when she takes what little action she can. It is an incredible part of the arc which is foreshadowed through the season as Robb's leadership fails him. It fails him largely because of his terrible choice of wife. His choice with the Karstarks is wrong. A good man Robb might be but he is not suited for Kingship. Tywin Lannister utters the words which reveal what is going on with the Starks - those who put the family first will win. Stark does not and Red Wedding is the result.

Red Wedding is a real jolt, it seems to change the direction of the show. There are some clues of course but only seen in retrospect, not the least is that anyone with any knowledge of British history and geography would have known Lord Bolton's true allegiance while those who did not should have guessed from his accent.

Red Wedding is not the only shocker. The fate of Theon Greyjoy is hard to watch. Leaving him in season 2 having been dumped in Winterfell, the mystery of why he is being tortured and by whom is only revealed right at the end of season 3. Game of Thrones spares very little for the viewer in seeing quite how savagely Theon is treated. Tough watching.

With such a huge array of people it could easily be difficult to follow the action but it flows so well. This is a testament to the writing and directing. The pacing is so right, things go slowly rather and focus on character rather than action. Dialogue is king. The sets are lavish and utterly believable. The music is pretty good with one exception with the poor choice of a jarring modern rendition of a folk song following the ending to episode 3.

The settings are again superb. The scene with the wall climb is particularly visually impressive. New for this season is Morocco which is instantly recognisable and the perfect place to film scenes set culturally in North Africa.

For such a high quality show the DVD extras are a letdown. There is hardly anything at all on the DVD set. The only notable extra is a short discussion of the importance of marriage as a political tool. Nothing new of course to anyone even vaguely aware of Monarchist systems. However, it is pretty helpful in that it solidifies why Walder Frey took the actions he did - not just revenge but perhaps more importantly to protect himself from the risks resulting from the failure of his use of marriage as a tool. There is an extra about the folk beyond the wall but is not especially enlightening except to highlight the more nuanced backgrounds of those people to incorporate a wider range of accents including Nordic which helps a bit to rectify a problem with accent blending between the North and Beyond the Wall from previous seasons.

The packaging is also a letdown. Compared to the two previous seasons the box is ugly. It comes with a tacky piece of material, is an uninteresting off-white colour, and has a boring shadow of a dragon as the motif. It does not look right sat next to the other two seasons on a shelf.

The accessories aside, Game of Thrones season 3 is magnficent if slightly too short at ten episodes. The show is perhaps the best thing US television has ever produced with now three excellent seasons behind it. The range and depth of characters is breathtaking, the interest in seeing what happens to them built over a period of time and with so many possibilities still left. It is the rare series a viewer might wish could last forever.


24 - Redemption [DVD]
24 - Redemption [DVD]
Dvd ~ Kiefer Sutherland
Price: £5.15

2.0 out of 5 stars Writers Strike Era 24, 3 April 2014
This review is from: 24 - Redemption [DVD] (DVD)
Redemption is a standalone film in the 24 world. It fits in prior to the start of season 7 of 24 with hero Jack Bauer in Africa after spending time to find himself again after the difficulties of season 6. The original version is 89mins long, the extended is 102mins meaning in practice this is like watching a couple of episodes of a season. It is not as good as a couple of episodes of 24.

The plot sees Kiefer Sutherland's Jack Bauer finding himself a bit of redemption by volunteering to help out old friend Carl Benton played by the irrepressible Robert Carlyle. Carlyle does a pretty good job in Redemption as a man who has clearly seen horror but has chosen to do his bit by helping poor African kids. Carlyle has always been able to produce a spot of emotion and he carries a great deal of pathos. A character with pathos in 24 has a sure ending. While he's there Carlyle puts in a quality peformance, a notch above everyone else on display.

Jack Bauer is not really himself. He is conflicted and unsure of his place in the world when he finds himself with Carlyle. He has been rejected by the US for the crimes he has committed while protecting the nation. It is an effort to show Bauer in a slightly different light, not just the death-dealing avenger but a man troubled and unable to keep pace with the changes in the world around him.

Taking Bauer away from the comfort of CTU in Los Angeles affects Redemption quite significantly. There is none of the interaction and intrigue present in 24. What made the show so great was never really knowing what the next phase would be, the uncertainty made every episode a must-see event. In 24 there is none of the banter, no layers of opponent to overcome, just a fairly obvious move through the jungle to Jack's inevitable acquisition by the US authorities.

The storyline is not especially imaginative. An African warlord recruits child soldiers and tries to prey on the kids in the care of Robert Carlyle's character. Bauer cannot save the kids and himself. He has to do what is right and is prepared to pay the price for their cause. He is inevitably too much of a match for an African militia so he is able to shoot his way through the bad guys who are not especially interesting or engaging.

Perhaps the one positive about Redemption is the lighting. It looks so different to the regular 24 with a completely different palette. The pale colours make the setting seem so very different as it should given this is largely a rural African story rather than the urban American one normally on display.

Redemption does lead in to season 7 which is the only reason to watch it. The only reason to own it is as part of the collection. As a standalone it is the equivalent of a couple of 24 episodes without being as good as most of them. That it was conceived around the time of the Hollywood writers strike seems to be no surprise.


24 - Complete Season 1-8 + Redemption (New Packaging) [DVD]
24 - Complete Season 1-8 + Redemption (New Packaging) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Kiefer Sutherland
Price: £32.00

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 24 in a box, 3 April 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
24 was utterly groudbreaking television. First screened in 2001, nearly a month after the 9/11 attacks it ran for 8 seasons through 2010. It is the standard by which all other US action adventure shows are measured. The innovations it brought in including the use of a running clock and split screen are iconic. The DVD boxed set of the complete seasons 1-2 + Redemption is primarily the shows with only a very limited selection of extras. It does not include the bonus discs on which many of the extras were housed.

24 began at its best, the first 12 hours of the first season are still absolutely mesmerising. The hero of 24 Jack Bauer played by Kiefer Sutherland is at his best at the start of the saga with the threat of a terrorist attack against a black Presidential hopeful, the backdrop of a bomb on a plane, and his daughter missing. In the low light of pre-dawn LA, the action is so gripping. The revelation that no-one can be trusted makes adds tension to every moment. The prospect of a conspiracy within the specialist Counter Terrorist Unit makes everyone suspicious. In that environment only Jack can be trusted but every action he takes puts the interests of his daughter first rather than his country, he is a family guy who would do everything for them even on a day when the Presidential contender could be assassinated.

Jack's attempts to save the day while also saving his family are excellent adventure. He is an archetypal lone wolf hero, prepared to take anyone on to make sure everything succeeds. He is a highly physical character very happy to bend the rules to serve the greater good including using lethal force so very often. Morally Jack is really challenging. Even in season 1 Jack advances some of the short term goals of his enemies and is used as a tool in a fiendishly complex terrorist plan.

Jack is very often on the back foot, fighting against a superior and deadly opponent. In season 1 that is represented by the bad guy having complete visual access to his every move. When it turns out someone he and his wife trust is in league with the enemy it is a great twist.

Bauer develops over the various seasons from that excellent start. His hard life takes its toll on him. He variously finds himself a complete outcast or in charge but mainly fights from a position of weakness. The decisions he takes a pretty shocking at times. He fights hard meaning he kills bad guys but it also means he is ruthless even with his own people. The end of the story arc featuring Ryan Chappelle is heart-rending. There is a sense that as early as season 3 24 jumped the shark when Chappelle is killed. It is an absolutely shocking moment and really quite hard to take. It is a blatant example of why we do not negotiate with terrorists. Chappelle is not the only person who suffers a shockingly brutal end when it does not seem appropriate. The death of Curtis Manning is utterly unneccesary because it does not even accomplish the end goal.

Bauer's ruthlessness means he is often very alone. Love creeps into his life every now and then. It starts off with his wife who he loves dearly. She is an archetypal homemaker, somewhat dowdy and not especially interesting but she represents all Jack wants in his life along with his daughter. Other women feature in Jack's life. Most of them end up suffering. Perhaps the one who doesn't suffer too much is Kate Warner in season 2. Played beautifully by Sarah Winter she seems to be the perfect woman for Jack but the pain he is in means it unfortunately does not last. Other women such as the ugly Audrey Raines or kickass Renee Walker never seem likely to be able to mend Jack.

The only women in Jack's lives who seem to be able to have coping mechanisms are his daughter Kim and colleague Chloe who becomes his most trusted confidente. Kim is a fascinating study in Hollywood beauty. As the damsel in distress in season 1, Elisha Cuthbert is mind-bendingly beautiful. Through later seasons the glamour has faded dramatically. Cuthbert never made the breakthrough into stardom her season 1 appearance may have suggested.

Chloe is one of the few comedic characters in 24. It is unclear what her role is early on, she appears to be a PA but she later turns out to be a mastermind analyst. Her bad temper and regular facial expressions turn in pretty much all the laughs 24 has to offer. The moment when it appears Chloe, Jack, and Bill Buchanan appear to be forming their own version of the A-Team is hilarious but it does not last long.

Nothing lasts long in 24. There are so many main cast actors through the various seasons. Some of them are awesome and it is a real shame for instance that there was not much more of George Mason played by Xander Berkeley in possibly the most charismatic performance the show offers. He is also a real hero.

The reason there are so many cast members through the seasons is the very high body count. Working for CTU is a very risky proposition, most end up dying. The body count for everyone in 24 is high. Terrorists succeed in killing thousands of people. The escalation of body count becomes a bit laughable and is a bit unnecessary as it is not deaths that add to the tension but the unknown. 24 never really captures again those perfect first 12 hours but the other 7+ days are all good fun anyway.

While many characters disappear quickly, a few manage to last for a while. Of note is Senator and later President Palmer played by Dennis Haysbert. Some social commentators have suggested President Palmer's existence made it easier for the American public to accept President Obama. Palmer is not a particularly charismatic President, Haysbert's bass voice makes it hard to inject a lot of emotion. He also appears completely unrelated to his children or to his brother as they look nothing like him. Still, Palmer is a solid archetype of the American President. When he commits to torturing his own Defense Secretary and then shows no guilt when admitting it, a change in the morality of 24 is heralded.

The morality of 24 is really quite challenging. What is the righteous action? The right action sees the security and prosperty of millions safeguarded against the threat from a small handful of terrorists. To achieve that right action, Jack and associates torture, steal, lie, and even kill others fighting for the same cause. On each occasion Jack's justification is "I had no choice". He did have a choice. On balance he probably does do the right thing most of the time but for instance with Curtis Manning there is no question he makes the wrong call despite Bill Buchanan proclaiming it correct and Jack having no choice.

As America changed through the 2000s and the lessons from the Iraq war came to light, so do the implications of Jack's actions. He is hauled before a senate hearing to account for the brutality of his work and its blatant disregard for due process or human rights. When he is paired with FBI agent Larry Moss, the two represent conflicting world views. In the real world Moss is right. In the world of 24 the hero Jack gets the plaudits.

Jack's morality is not especially fair. His actions against Tony Almeida in season 7 are despicable. Jack would have done exactly the same thing and pretty much did so in seasons 1 & 2 as well as the end of the storyline arc with Nina Myers. Tony is a thoroughly likeable guy despite his early gruff appearance. Despite the similarity of Jack and Tony's intentions and actions, Jack has no trouble in making sure Almeida suffers for doing exactly as Jack did.

Jack's morality makes 24 really interesting. He is a hero, he saves the day a lot of the time, he does things others would not dare to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of people. He is an utterly dishonourable friend who cannot be trusted and is prepared to ensure those around him pay the ultimate price. Fascinating.

The villains of 24 come in all different shapes. Post 9/11 and with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars raging it could have been assumed that the villains of 24 would largely be Islamic terrorists given they pose the clearest danger. Instead, 24 draws villainy from a range of sources. Occasionally they are pure Islamic terrorists but even then the villainy is often a bit more subtle. This is never clearer than in the case of Hamri al-Assad in season 6. Played by Alexander Siddig he brings the unknown back to 24 really effectively. al-Assad is a terrorist but hoping for a future of peace. He has blood on his hands including blood of American troops in Iraq so trusting him is hard yet the plot unfolds to put him close to the President. Not knowing which way he will go is great, helped by Siddig's pitch perfect performance within type as someone potentially cleverer than his adversaries including Jack.

Typically the various seasons follow the same formula for Jack to overcome, mainly involving the reveal of ever more villainous bad guys as Jack despatches the first wave. To some extent it is a bit like a computer game with Jack clearing a level each season. The bad guys generally fall into two categories - enemies within and enemies without. The enemies without are the ones posing the danger, possessing all sorts of horrendous weaponry and sometimes they are really successful. During the eight days of 24 the US takes more casualties from terrorism than anywhere in the world has had since WWII. The enemies within though are typically the more dangerous.

Enemies within create uncertainty because it is never quite clear who can be trusted. Perhaps the most deadly enemy within is Christopher Henderson in season 5. In order to show how deadly he is, several well-liked characters are killed off which is a bit of a shame. Henderson is a great foil for Jack though because it means Bauer is up against someone with the same skill level and knowledge as himself. Played by Peter Weller he is a gruff and believable adversary, almost an image of what Jack could become should he ever fall from the righteous path.

Other enemies within are a bit less believable. It is pretty obvious who the antagonist really is in season 6 as soon as James Cromwell appears on screen. He always plays the same character and does so again here. He is utterly cruel though, exploiting Jack's weakness but his motivations are hard to follow given he is supposedly about legacy yet he throws away every chance at making sure his legacy survives.

The motivations of the various characters bob about a bit. In part this adds to the uncertainty and the feeling that anything can happen. It is rare to be able to predict the unfolding of events which makes the telling of 24 so exciting. It does though mean that characters can end up doing implausible things. Part of the reason for the changes is that the team generally were writing the season as it unfolded rather than having a long-term plan. Using a large number of different directors means changes in pacing and impact in different episodes but that all adds to the uneven and real feel.

The style of 24 is so clearly defined. CTU looks awesome, the dark in the background offering a sense of the lurking danger. Of course CTU is highly secured yet is inflitrated and blown up repeatedly. Still, the look of the place is great including the glass box upstairs where the head of CTU sits. Part of the style is also shown through the flow of dialogue. Characters in 24 generally speak very quickly, especially those on the side of good. They bark out instructions and answers with great precision in a rapid-fire style. Villains tend to speak more slowly and enunciate more.

The rapid barking generates a sense of urgency, the characters have no time for idle words. They do not have time for niceties so the good guys are generally not all that nice ot each other. The management style is particularly amusing. The best exponent of management at CTU is Tony Almeida. When he barks out an order for an underling to perform some computer-based task quickly then stands over them to watch them do it, the inefficiency of his management is unintentionally hilarious.

Almeida is one of the few characters to have any romantic development. He's an unusual choice for romance given his strange look and unsexy gurning but that also adds to the feel of the show. His relationship with the interesting looking Michelle Dessler is pretty sweet. Actor Reiko Aylesworth has part Japanese heritage which explains her eye-catching appearance when combined with excellent hair.

Other parts of the 24 style have also become iconic. The ringtone used by seemingly all the CTU agents has now fortunately disappeared from common use as it became over-exposed. The sound associated with the clock countdown however is utterly unforgettable. Perhaps the most impressive sound decision on 24 is to avoid over-burdening the ears. There are moments of stillness, especially at night. The quiet is much more impactful than the explosive. The absence of music adds to the believability of it all.

24 is interesting in its politics. Naturally the show fits more with the Republican mindset than the Democratic one yet the good Presidents are Democrats. The bad Presidents are Republicans. None is worse than Charles Logan played by Gregory Itzin as an evil version of Nixon. 24 stretches the political reality by featuring two black Presidents and a woman President. Now that a black President is heading towards the end of his second term it does not seem particularly groundbreaking but 24 offered a more open-minded America than had been the case previously.

America is the location for pretty much all the 24 action. For some reason terrorists are obsessed with trying to cause carnage close to CTU in Los Angeles. The typically urban setting for the action gives it a closer feel than some distant war might otherwise. 24 does leave the country occasionally including heading to Mexico to take on the Salazar gang in a sequence that leads to the end of the Nina Myers storyline.

24's biggest journey outside of LA is to Africa in the film Redemption. Redemption is part of the set offered here. It is really unimpressive. That it took place during the Hollywood writers strike is evident. It is good to have Redemption as part of the collection because it helps complete the 24 set but despite sterling work from Robert Carlyle it carries none of the tension or excitement of the main series.

Ultimately it is the tension and excitement that made 24 so good. It is a bit of car crash at times and the plot does not always make sense but it is always gripping. The machinations of the characters keeps the viewer on edge. It is never clear exactly how far Sherry Palmer is prepared to go for instance or whether noble Aaron Pierce will make it through the next season.

The show has many memorable characters, too many to go into detail but three CTU agents do stand out. The short arc for Edgar Stiles is one of the few sequences played for emotion in a show where human life is disposable. Pretty Nadia Yasser is the positive representation of an American-Muslim. Miles O'Brien is the funniest guy in the show with sarcastic one-liners, he is unsual for having a English accent and not being a villain.

The extras on the DVDs are pretty disappointing. There are no extras of note on most of the seasons with just deleted scenes and the occasional commentary on offer. The last two seasons though do have extras with a couple of particularly good extras on season 7. The Untold Story of season 7 is particularly interesting showing the difficulties after the show began to receive criticism in season 6.

The packaging is two solid large boxes each containing 4 seasons plus a slim dvd case for Redemption. The boxes and case fit inside one big package that does stand out a bit on a shelf of DVDs.

24 changed television. It is an incredible action adventure filled with suspense and uncertainty. It exists in a world where it is hard to know who to trust and any episode could change a viewer's perspective completely. The box set offers the prospect of watching seasons in full without the agonising wait for next week's viewing. There may be better US television shows but 24 stands as testament to a decade of the American psyche lived through the heroic form of Jack Bauer.


Willow (Special Edition) [DVD] [1988]
Willow (Special Edition) [DVD] [1988]
Dvd ~ Val Kilmer
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £7.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Fun Family-Friendly Fantasy, 2 April 2014
Willow is a 1988 fantasy film featuring Val Kilmer and Warwick Davis. The Special Edition DVD offers the main feature at a runtime of 120mins compared to the theatrical release at 126mins as well as two 20min featurettes and a couple of other minor extras.

Willow was released towards the end of an impressive decade for the fantasy genre. It is a fun family film aimed at slightly more at the younger end of the family spectrum than the very best of 80s fantasy like Princess Bride. Slightly more than 15 years after release it is still a credible film with a touch of magic for young viewers. Those who enjoyed it at the right age the first time round will be pleased to return and find it still fun.

The casting of Warwick Davis as the central character makes a lot of sense for the internal logic of Willow. The young audience associates with the small person doing their best for the forces of good. Davis is the best known little actor of his generation, benefiting from boyish looks and a sense of innocence. His portrayal of Willow Ofgood fits well in the main, it is a character with an assertive sense of right and some recognition of the limitations his physical size presents. At times Davis is a bit hectoring, for an adult the sight of Willow nagging other characters is not always appealing but his persistent stance in favour of good gives him the clear moral worldview that fits well with the pre-cynical.

The character of Willow is part of a community of little people who display a range of attributes. Just because they are small does not mean they're all great human beings. Willow's main rival is Burglekutt played by Mark Northcutt. Burglekutt is bigger than the others and is the leader of the community. He's also a bit of a jerk, exploiting his position in particular to undermine Willow. Great that Willow has a foil within his own community and it also shows that he is a bit exceptional rather than just being good because he is small. Northcutt though is really funny as the bully Burglekutt, the best comic timing of those on display in this film.

Comedy is supposed to be generated by the two Brownies played by Kevin Pollak and Rick Overton. They're not especially amusing but add a bit of physical humour for the target audience to enjoy.

The full-size cast is not especially extensive. Val Kilmer is Madmartigen the anti-hero, a gruff and not quite trustworthy swordsman who fights alongside Willow. Kilmer was not long off his role as Iceman in Top Gun at the time of filming so was just making his way into stardom. Madmartigen represents such a different character to Iceman, he is quite wild in his physical mannerisms and sardonic in his dialogue delivery. Madmartigen to some extent is the main character for the post-cynical audience.

Madmartigen is really quite insulting especially towards Willow which is the bravest directorial choice of the film. Despite the obvious disparities between Kilmer and Davis it somehow never seems to be bullying or offensive when Madmartigen insults Willow and his kin with the funny phrase Peck. He is also charming in a slightly insulting way when dealing with the evil Sorsha played by Joanne Whalley (later Joanne Whalley-Kilmer).

Sorsha and Madmartigen are the grey in the black and white morality of Willow. Madmartigen is possibly a bad guy but is on the side of good. Beautiful Sorsha is on the side of evil but is tempted by good. The scenes between Kilmer and Whalley are generally pretty good fun.

Leader of the forces of evil is Queen Bavmorder played by Jean Marsh. She is an excellent children's film villain with no redeeming qualities. Marsh's performance is a little reminiscent of Cruelle DeVille minus some of the humour. Bavmorder is prepared to kill as many children as she needs to prevent the outcome of a prophecy foretelling her doom. The arrival of the child in question to Willow and his efforts to do the right thing by that baby is the main plotline.

The plot is aided by some good fantasy swordplay. Madmartigen is the main physical character on display as he chops his way through a range of villains including trolls and a two-headed dragon. The action sequences are decent and well choreographed. Battle treads the line needed to be exciting without being scary.

What separates Willow from some other films around its time is innovation in visual effects. The use of a technique called Morphing does not look all that remarkable over 15 years later but it lets the magic of the film sparkle. The use of blue screen was still fairly innovative at the time, it hasn't aged quite as well but is not too distracting. The two-headed dragon has been criticised in the time since release but it looks perfectly fine and more importantly it has character, the visual effects beast is interesting because it is fascinating to watch one beast with two minds and the brief glimpses when those minds think ever so slightly differently. The magic also works and is visually appealing enough.

Musically, Willow is not especially groundbreaking. The best sound is the folk tune from the little people village which is used to some extent as the theme.

Locations are largely Britain, they look fine though are not amazingly eye catching in part because Bavmoder and her surrounds are deliberately very grey and drab.

Director of Willow is Ron Howard. Nowadays Howard is a directorial A-Lister, Willow was recognition of his abilities running a complex major studio production and turning out something that has a place in the hearts of many despite it being a Lucasfilm.

There are two main additional features. The first is a fairly advertorial piece with a bit of talking head comment but largely feels like a promotion rather than a documentary. The second piece is a retrospective on the technical breakthroughs on Willow. It is a decent piece that places Willow in its historical context nicely.

Willow is not the best of 1980s fantasy but it is still a thoroughly charming family film. It has not aged too badly and is worth a place in the collection of any family who can avoid being too cynical.


Keinohrhasen (Rabbit Without Ears) (DVD) (2007) (German Import)
Keinohrhasen (Rabbit Without Ears) (DVD) (2007) (German Import)
Dvd ~ Til Schweiger
Offered by dvd-uncut
Price: £9.90

4.0 out of 5 stars Funny German RomCom, 2 April 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Keinohrhasen is a rare beast, a really funny German RomCom. Starring Til Schweiger who does not have to stretch too far in his role as large-ego'd papparazo Ludo, Keinohrhasen conforms to many of the genre types but what makes it stand out compared to many others is the witty dialogue. Part of the humour is thanks to Matthias Schweighöfer who plays Ludo's protege Moritz as a young and eager participant with a range of comedic facial expressions. The romance side is a bit less excellent with the main pair not being especially endearing but watching Ludo struggle with foreign language (Dutch) instructions is hilarious.

As with several recent Til Schweiger films, Keinohrhasen is a Til Schweiger vehicle. Schweiger is lead character, director, and producer. What that means in practice is this is a very male RomCom, Ludo is very handsome and very successful with women despite or perhaps because of being an utter jerk. He is made into a better person by meeting nerdy Kindergarten teacher Anna played by Norma Tschirmer. Ludo is arrogant but good looking. Anna is uptight but presumably good hearted. She doesn't really show that good heart through much of the film which is Keinohrhasen's main weakness. There isn't really any reason why Ludo would want to be with Anna. It is just the right thing for the alpha male to do in a RomCom, settling down with an average woman.

Prior to meeting Anna, Ludo is a lad. He jokes around with Moritz, making a particular fool of himself by ilterally crashing into Wladimir Klitschko's wedding. That part of the film is great fun, Schweiger and Schweighöfer clown around bantering with each other and with passers-by using the expletive loaded vernacular common in Germany. The early going also introduces the audience to some of Ludo's many conquests who he has clearly charmed and then discarded. The self-affirming philosophy of the playa is firmly in evidence and delivered with a boyish sense of humour.

A particularly notable scene sees Ludo and Moritz interviewing German actor Jürgen Vogel. Vogel is known for being a bit odd looking so the scene works fabulously with Vogel wearing a perma-tan, a blond wig, and bleached teeth. The payoff for that scene later on is hidden in the background so the irony of it is somewhat lost but on face value it is laugh out loud funny.

Another part of the papparazi storyilne sees Ludo and Moritz stoop to exploitative tabloid journalism when interviewing a pair of Bavarian folk musicians. That the woman in the pair hates her faux-rural character is brilliant when set against the man speaking in a heavy and hard to follow Bavarian accent.

When things take a turn for the worse, Ludo is forced to perform community service. It happens to be at a Kindergarten run by Anna. The pair instantly dislike one another, trading barbs. Anna does her best to make sure Ludo fails. It is at times funny but there is an utter lack of chemistry between the two. Anna is incredibly dowdy but underneath she's painfully skinny with a spiteful personality. Somehow Anna is the woman Ludo needs in his life but as she's a bit erratic in her mannerisms and has few redeeming qualities it is never clear why this is a perfect match.

The romance becomes a bit silly when it crosses into Ludo's celebrity world and the humour becomes a little less sophisticated. Perhaps Til Schweiger needs someone to tell him when he's slightly off the mark as Keinohrhasen is really excellent in the main.

The best moment of the film is a face-to-face discussion between Ludo and a child called Cheyenne-Blue. The name is deliberately silly and pokes fun at the way actors name their children. Cheyenne-Blue is of course Til Schweiger's daughter Emma Tiger Schweiger. Despite this being a blatant Schweiger-fest, it is a charming interaction bewteen father and daughter.

The minor characters of Keinohrhasen do not take up all that much screen time. Rick Kavanian is funny as the abusive tabloid editor. Barbara Rudnik is a bit low-key as Ludo's sister. Alwara Höfels could have deserved more screen time as Anna's naughty friend Miriam. The seeds of a relationship between Miriam and Moritz looked like fun and could have been more of the story.

The Keinohrhasen itself is a bit silly, it is a proper used to show Ludo really cares for Anna but does not seem to be enough to make it the title feature.

Accompanying the visuals is a painfully cool soundtrack. It is so cool, the DVD comes with the playlist and the album has sold well. Few of the songs themselves are overly memorable but what the soundtrack does do is make the film feel contemporary.

The DVD Extras are not all that enlightening. The first featurette serves more as a marketing tool than offering insight. The second is outtakes, many of which seem to be because Matthias Schweighöfer clearly had a lot of fun making the film. An alternative ending does not seem to be very alternate to the original ending. There are a few deleted scenes and a commentary.

Subtitling in the main is pretty good, using the right kinds of slang. Where the translation tends to fall away a bit is with cultural references. Nordsee just doesn't translate as Fish and Chips because the cultural connotations between the two are different. Still, it is a pretty good set of subtitles in English.

German cinema has not dominated the world RomCom market. Keinohrhasen though is one of the better offerings because it is so funny. The romance is not sparkling but the dialogue and wit certainly is. For a decent Germanic laugh with a sprinkle of romance involved, Keinohrhasen does a decent job.


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