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The wisdom of JOHN RAMBO (voiceover, whilst forging a big machete in hot metal): "...if pushed, killing's as easy as breathing'"
Judging by this film, it's even easier than that. Once again, our spiritually benign hero's reset button gets a good, solid poke, turning him back into the face-pulling, primal screaming, bullet-spewing oncoming storm of destruction we all knew was just waiting to erupt. For Rambo, it's onwards and upwards and don't stop me now. For Stallone, who directed and co-scripted, it was probably a similar situation: raise the bar with more violence, more bloodshed, more hatred...and more mumbling.
Assisted by a group of mercenaries, the misunderstood ex-'Nam Vet has to rescue a team of missionaries captured by Burma's Most Sadistic Soldiers. And the jungle is the setting for what has to be the most violent rumble you've ever seen. No-one is spared, not even women and children; heads are blown off or decapitated, limbs are separated, torsos split in two, throats are ripped out and knives plunged deeply into flesh. Fine, it's a war movie. Now if the CGI blood and guts had been less fake and more realistic I might not have been so indifferent. As it was, digital desensitization set in quite quickly and, to be honest, after about an hour the level of gross behaviour had done its worst and peaked. Meanwhile, the 'enemy' behaved in typical fashion (2-dimensional and vile) so they got everything they deserved, and the mercenaries, unsurprisingly, failed to rise above being irritating racial stereotypes. Nothing new there, and one of the reasons why this is only a 3 star review. To be fair, the battle scenes were, as I imagined they would be, well handled and quite entertaining. By which I mean, the kind of 'entertainment' that succeeds on a strictly base emotional level. The hardware and technology may be highly sophisticated, but the rest is pure Captain Caveman.
The picture on my Blu-Ray disc was vivid and sharp and the Tru-HD surround sound crystal clear. As for the film...there's no redemption for Stallone with this gruesome effort, but at least the John Rambo character gets some closure by returning home to America and finding his dad. Perhaps that's what the story is really all about in the end.
Alien Quadrilogy Box Set (9 Discs) (5.1/DTS)
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Rumour Control, here are the facts: the ALIEN QUADRILOGY Box Set (pictured above) is an absolute must-own, worth every last penny.
Thanks, Brian, couldn't have put it better myself...
Anyone interested in the sci-fi/horror phenomenon no doubt has their own favourite ALIEN movie. In my case it has to be the first, the one where the acid-for-blood, exo-skeletal chestbursting creature makes his jaw-droppingly spectacular debut (might as well start as you mean to go on, I suppose). And yet, whilst fully delivering on what is nowadays referred to as 'genre expectations', Ridley Scott's ALIEN still manages to be the model of restraint, a 'less means more' approach to storytelling and is, consequently, the best film in the series.
In complete contrast (and necessarily so), James Cameron directs his ALIENS with all the subtlety of a migraine attack. It's a brilliantly staged affair that - once you get over the gung-ho Uncle Sam histrionics - provides a very exciting continuation of the story, throwing into sharp relief the terrifying link between Ripley and the Alien Queen (the dual parallels of surrogate motherhood being a particularly strong and bloody motif throughout). An excellent film, sponsored by Neurofen.
It's only with hindsight that David Fincher's ALIEN 3 can be assessed with a degree of rationality. In 1991 it seemed a disappointing mess in comparison with what had come before but now, thanks to the extras, we can at least understand why the production was so troubled. Yet there were many good elements in that second sequel, some of which clearly fell under the radar of disappointment first time around. A long-overdue revisit to Fiorina Fury 161 therefore may be a pleasant surprise - it certainly was for me. For further information and insight check out THE ALIEN QUARTET by David Thomson, published by Bloomsbury. (see review)
Jean-Pierre Jeunet's ALIEN RESURRECTION is, to my mind, the most controversial of the quad. Part European Art-house, part formulaic actioner, it never quite gels in the way it should. Certainly, it has the overall feel and texture of everything that's gone before but there's a chill vein running through the centre of this film that fails to warm up even as the story heads back to Mother Earth. Good, but it could have been so much better.
The extras for ALIEN QUADRILOGY are by themselves reason enough to purchase. Directors, producers, screenwriters, actors, modelmakers, composers, designers, set-decorators...all talk candidly about every aspect of the four films. Fox deserves huge credit for not stepping on studio-critical opinions and, as a result, there is a genuine sense of good and talented people doing the best they can in often trying circumstances. As to the importance of certain individuals' contributions, ask yourself this: how would the ALIEN series be regarded now if RIDLEY SCOTT and H.R. GIGER hadn't been involved? It's a very refreshing look behind the scenes and renders the featurettes (of which there are many) totally engrossing.
Picture and sound quality is excellent throughout and the packaging clearly shows that Fox have pride in their product. It's an inspired way to show off each 'Director's Cut' to its best possible advantage and, short of a Hi-Def alternative, there is no better representative of the ALIEN franchise currently available.
Get a hold of this now, and then let it get a hold of you. You won't be disappointed.
VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDEDb
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This book may be small, it may sit comfortably in your pocket, but it's no lightweight thing. A lightweight thing wouldn't mess with your head or leave you contemplating a shower after reading it. Taking into account the subject matter, high praise indeed.
An unlikely companion to ALIEN QUADRILOGY, it is, however, the perfect antidote to all those 'Making Of...' books that flood the market every time so-called blockbusters hit the multiplexes. ALIEN QUARTET, by DAVID THOMSON, has positioned itself deliberately upon the upper slopes of intellectual analysis (high prose indeed?) and invites the reader to share in the author's overview of a series of films that are substantially more than they might appear. Despite admitting that the first instalment may not even be 'great' - "it is 'only' something I have never been able to get out of my head" - he then proceeds to get right under the skin of ALIEN, ALIENS, ALIEN 3 and ALIEN RESURRECTION with great skill and insight. There are BIG THEMES at play here. And in Thomson's capable hands, the correlation between base instinct and deepest fear feels all too real, highlighting barely concealed metaphors about rape; male impreganation; the inextricable link between life, death and rebirth; sexual identity; supressed urges with regard to species and survival...oh, the deep, down and dirty list just goes on. All this from what was initially conceived as a B-movie set in a place where no-one can hear you scream. Just goes to show.
There's also a substantial 'how it all began' section followed by well thought out scene breakdowns for all four films, details of subsequent box-office returns, and, in the case of ALIEN RESURRECTION, a (partial) alternative screenplay. Even with the great God of hindsight at his disposal, Thomson still conjures up a fascinating and legitimate look at what could have been.
So, ditch the sci-fi geek who riffs on about a tall bloke in a tight monster suit at the pub, okay? and get acquainted with this little beast instead. You may need to be more than a little focused, but I guarantee it's well worth the effort.
Stimulation and alarm in equal measure.
VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
2001: A Space Odyssey: Special Edition
The greatest science-fiction film ever made.
You've seen it, you sort of know the plot: extra-terrestrial guidance, via ANCIENT MONOLITH, shapes Mankind in preparation for his next stage of evolution. For many, it's the quintessential love-it or hate-it experience.
And since we haven't been able to catch STANLEY KUBRICK's masterpiece in a cinema - much less a digitally-equipped one - for over thirty years, I'm assuming that you already possess a HIGH-DEFINITION WIDESCREEN TV, a PS3 (or similar) and want to know if this BLU-RAY edition of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY lives up to expectations, yes?
Well, it does. The picture is fantastic, the level of detail is incredible. THE DAWN OF MAN sequence has astonishing depth of field, which is all the more amazing when you discover that the skyscapes were in actuality stills, or plates, front-projected onto the backdrops of an outdoor studio near Shepherd's Bush. A place, or a moment, in 'pre-historic' 1968 where the ordinary became truly extraordinary.
As we reach outer space, and fractured bone becomes brushed metal, pinpoints of stars twinkle like never before, the exterior cladding of ships, satellites and moon shuttles rendered with similar clarity to allow us the ultimate space vehicle inspection tour. And isn't THE USS DISCOVERY the most beautifully designed ship of them all?
JUPITER AND BEYOND THE INFINITE is where we get to take the ultimate trip in every sense. This is where the high-definition image really earns its money, as far as I'm concerned, and it's the showcase moment let loose in all its glory, a sequence that had much the same effect when I saw it in 70mm Cinerama. Completely mind-blowing.
Soundwise, the film has a very centre-speaker feel but don't be put off too much by that. The dialogue is well placed and significantly superior in uncompressed 5.1 to the regular DVD, right down to the oft-present oxygen hiss in the EVA sequences or the infamous moment when DAVE BOWMAN literally pulls the plug on the "incapable of error" HAL 9000 series. I wonder whether Daisy would have had such a heartless response to his distortion of information?
Music is used sparingly but to brilliant effect. For example, STRAUSS's THE BLUE DANUBE and KHACHATURIAN's haunting GAYNE'S ADAGIO sound wonderful and complement perfectly their out-of-this-world setting (a quite audacious leap of faith on the director's part, incidentally, seeing as both pieces were only intended for use as guide tracks on the rough cut).
Whichever way you look at it, this REGION FREE BLU-RAY DISC is a stunning example of what the format stands for.
Did I also mention that the film's pretty good, too?
Doctor Who Encyclopedia
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A well produced hardback with excellent photographs, visually arresting layout and eminently readable text, THE DOCTOR WHO ENCYLOPEDIA is a worthy addition to any fan's collection. GARY RUSSELL has clearly done his research and the finished result is perfect for the Target Audience which, in theory, must reach into the millions.
Pretty much everything to do with the last three seasons is covered from major characters to major events with direct and indirect references and links, but there's still no avoiding the plot holes, contradictions and contrivances found in most DOCTOR WHO episodes - that sort of thing simply goes with the territory, especially shaky science, which has been elevated to almost art-form status since the show's rebirth. What this encyclopedia attempts to do, however, is fill in some of the more "Eh...?" gaps with solidly thought-out explanations which weren't always made clear in the original broadcasts, the result of (presumably) lazy or fuzzy scriptwriting. As you no doubt already know, Exec Producer RUSSELL T DAVIS is no stranger to this particular phenomenon.
But, hey, now we can all understand the Master's plan for the Toclafane in UTOPIA or the effects of The Paradox Machine from THE LAST OF THE TIME LORDS; the method by which the Weeping Angels steal people's futures from BLINK or how The Beast came to be held captive and the engineering of his subsequent destruction from THE SATAN PIT. Presented in paragraph or short caption form it all appears to make perfect sense now (within some seriously barmy parameters, that is). The introduction even manages to include names or words that might feature in a future revised edition, including Adipose, Rattigan, Mrs (!!), Vespiform...and so on. A neat bit of foreshadowing there, Gary.
Whatever the case, when the time comes, let's ensure this Doctor Who product enjoys a full and happy regeneration.
The Brave One
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Looking beyond its more 'controversial' aspects, THE BRAVE ONE emerges as a solid and highly atmospheric thriller with consistently great cinematography. In other words, a natural choice for the Blu-ray treatment. In 1080p high-definition the picture quality is stunning, containing a depth of field almost entirely absent from the standard-definition DVD and, I have to admit, that both the dramatic and technical experience stayed with me for some considerable time afterwards - which in my book is usually a good sign of something a bit out of the ordinary.
Erica Bain is a New York DJ who, along with her fiance, is brutally attacked and left for dead. She survives, and the only way of coping with her ordeal and her grief is to become a vigilante, wandering the lonely streets of the city and wasting the lowlifes that inhabit its nocturnal underbelly. Complications arise when she strikes up a relationship with the cop who's working on the case...
JODIE FOSTER puts in an excellent performance by injecting her character with a real sense of humanity, making the resulting moral ambiguities somewhat easier to accept (unlike, say, Charles Bronson in DEATH WISH, whose one-dimensional expressions gave away practically nothing of the internal struggles that must accompany such behaviour). Yes, there are contrivances in incident and aftermath but the film builds to a powerfully satisfying climax which is largely unexpected, and due in no small part to a tight script and convincing dialogue. Director NEIL JORDAN has painted a rich canvas, mostly without resorting to cliche, and the city at night is both a beautiful and terrifying prospect. The onscreen violence, as you might imagine, is gritty but it is also entirely justified - any pulling of punches in that crucial area may have seriously harmed believability from the outset, especially given the petite stature of the main protagonist, so kudos to all concerned for keeping it as real as possible.
Overall then, a film with some substance and meaning, dealing with several issues including revenge, self-awareness and confession/redemption. It may take a mental post-mortem to come to those conclusions but, whatever else you do, don't dismiss THE BRAVE ONE as sensationalist nonsense.
Ultravox - CD
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Another well-chosen selection of some of ULTRAVOX's best songs. VIENNA remains the benchmark album and saw the arrival of MIDGE URE (so if you only own one complete Ultravox recording, make it that one). There's no doubt that his keen pop sensibility and impressive vocal range steered the band away from their previous Kraftwerkian experimentalism, infusing it instead with a warmth and depth that lasted for several more years.
It's not just Ure that should be praised either, original members BILLY CURRIE, WARREN CANN and CRISS CROSS were just as instrumental in creating that unique (and much-imitated) sound. A sound that, at the time, was a revelation. Given the more avant-garde nature of the band up to that point, who could seriously have predicted or imagined something as beautiful and evocative as a violin solo providing the beating heart within their best-selling single 'Vienna'? Not me. Don't get me wrong, I'm not belittling the JOHN FOXX era but the point at which the music started touching people's emotions began, ironically, with a lyric that included the line "this means nothing to me". Far from it.
A seductive combination of the subtle and intense (VIENNA, DANCING WITH TEARS IN MY EYES) and the lofty and bombastic (REAP THE WILD WIND, LOVE'S GREAT ADVENTURE)...yet the result is never less than engaging. This collection may not be quite up there with THE BEST OF ULTRAVOX, but it's not far off and, as such, remains a solid buy.
Best of Ultravox (Enhanced)
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A superb selection of many of ultravox's best songs, the ones that represented their breakthough into mainstream acceptance and subsequent commercial success. Vienna remains the benchmark album and saw the arrival of midge ure (so if you only own one complete ultravox recording, make it that one). There's no doubt that his keen pop sensibility and impressive vocal range steered the band away from their previous kraftwerkian experimentalism, infusing it instead with a warmth and depth that lasted for several more years.
Passing strangersViennaThe voiceDancing with tears in my eyes
All classic songs, and especially so if you were there at the time of their release. It's not just ure that should be praised of course, original members billy currie, warren cann and criss cross were just as instrumental in creating that unique (and much-imitated) sound. A sound that, at the time, was a revelation. Given the more avant-garde nature of the band up to that point, who could seriously have predicted or imagined something as beautiful and evocative as a violin solo providing the beating heart within their best-selling single 'vienna'? Not me.
I'm not belittling the john foxx era, but the point at which the music started touching people's emotions began, ironically, with a lyric that included the line "this means nothing to me". Far from it.
Buy this first, then head off in the direction of austria and see where that leads.
Very highly recommended
Wilder (Original Recording Remastered)
Teardrop Explodes - CD
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From the egocentrically weird mind of julian cope - a man who might have been locked up for the duration in less enlightened times - wilder has his unique personality stamped all over it like the words through a stick of rock. Part pop, part psychedelia and arguably part cry for help, some of the songs here occasionally struggle under the weight of his intense delivery and vision, but who can deny the brilliantly crafted bent of out shape, colours fly away, passionate friend and the great dominions?
Although there's nothing quite as immediate as kilimanjaro's reward or treason to get the pulses racing, wilder - complete with 9 bonus tracks, nearly double the length of the original vinyl lp - is certainly worth getting your teeth into. And give jules his due, he did go on to write the sublimely gaga sunspots and trampoline.
From A to B
New Musik - CD
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NEW MUSIK'S first and best album. Ten perfect songs plus b-sides.
A regrettably short then-lifespan for a band - three albums over not-quite four years - but the modest splash they made and the resulting ripples were almost always perfectly formed. And most of the success was due to one man, TONY MANSFIELD, who crafted a new wave electronic sound that was both unique and unmistakably no-one else's. As part of the burgeoning synth movement that sound enabled them to stand out. Conversely, their image - or complete lack of it - rendered New Musik almost invisible (to a man they appeared to belong squarely behind the sales counter at Maplins, rather than onstage at Top of the Pops wearing drab boiler suits), but I suppose that's showbusiness for you.
However, the singles STRAIGHT LINES, THIS WORLD OF WATER and LIVING BY NUMBERS were light, swirly, infectious gems. Populated throughout by regular bass, drums or drum machine, precise electric/accoustic guitars and layers of sharp synths (over which Mansfield sung deceptively simple lyrics) this became the template for the New Musik sound.
Don't be fooled by the above scan, the album cover is in stark contrast to the musical contents, all grey walls with a folorn daffodil stuck in a glass of water looking for the sunlight. No respite on the inner sleeve either as storm clouds and rough seas threaten to engulf the expressions of our four bemused and windswept townies. Note: the magic of owning the original 12" vinyl LP, of course, meant that sizewise you could stare at the content for hours trying to read in some kind of cosmic significance (that's the kind of thing you did when you were eighteen) even if it was simply another routine day in Margate for everyone else concerned.
A truly original album, full of memorable music. It's as contemporary now as it was in 1980, but it remains special to me because I was there, ready to be swept away right from the start. Happy times.