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Human Target: Season 1 (3 Discs)
Region 1 DVD
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Echoing the previous comment here, I wasn't familiar with the comic-books myself, but the series is fantastic - a prime example of a superior ensemble series. And it is just that, Mark Valley's portrayal of Christopher Chance has just the right balance of drama, humour and charm to work and the friction between Winston and Guerrero carries the story nicely along without holding things up, the latter character holding a lot of appeal to me (love how he casually refers to everyone as 'dude'); he could have a series all to himself.
Sadly though, it's yet another case of a belting American TV series that seems to have passed the UK by when it comes to an official dvd/Blu-Ray release. Like Max Headroom before it, they certainly have fan-base in the UK and it is a quality series, with some finely crafted stories, modest production values, sterling cast and pacey direction. It's series like this that makes it worth running up your electricity bill and to hell with keeping warm.
With the drek you frequently see being released onto these shores from our colonial cousins - and even from our domestic vaults, I hasten to add - we could do far worse than seeing an official UK release of this.
Akira: Collector's Edition Steel Book (Blu-ray & DVD)
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If you have a love of anime, or if you care about cinema, you must own this film. It's that simple.
The Final Frontier (Limited Edition Tin Sleeve)
Iron Maiden - CD
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Those Maiden guys are a canny lot aren't they? Whilst other music artists are releasing their shiny spinny discs in flimsy card wallets (no names mentioned, but you know who you are!), that's not good enough for the 'Irons'. Nay and thrice nay, they put their disc out in a METAL CASE and to Hades with being environmentally friendly! And a sweet looking thing it is too, but what the heck have they done to our Eddie?! Looks like a 'Predator' reject, so he does!
To the album then, and it's quite a belter, albeit a little flawed. It starts off very well with 'Satellite 15. . . The Final Frontier', a two-fister that starts with a great atmospheric intro and concludes with a ripping song, now unobscured by its nonsense video, which gets the album off to a great start. 'El Dorado' is a little corker of a track that hits the ground running and scarcely pauses for breath by the end and hints at a direction I'd love to see Maiden go in the future. 'Mother Of Mercy' is a typically Maiden-esque sounding track, which is let down just a little by Dickinson's vocals, surprisingly, as he seems to struggle a little bit with the top notes during the chorus; you could argue that he's really pushing himself as a singer, but his range definitely tells in this song. 'Coming Home' ironically sounds a bit like early 90s Helloween as it opens, but turns into a lyrically fantastic song which is definitely drawn from Bruce's piloting experiences (presumably his co-writing credit for this song is for the lyrics), with some nice composition and Guns and Roses style guitar solos which smacks a little of 'Out Of The Shadows' from MOLAD, but not too much to the song's detriment. 'The Alchemist' kind of spoils the party a bit, given the quality of the songs that came before. Its composition smacks of very early Maiden - it's not a bad song, just decidedly average for Maiden. 'Isle Of Avalon' however is a different matter altogether, which I think should make for a great live experience, but loses its way just a smidge in the middle on the CD incarnation, perhaps it could've done with being a minute or two shorter, as it does come across as a bit over-indulgent. 'Starblind' is another solid Maiden composition which has grown on me with successive plays, but has the problem of sounding a little bit too samey, compared to other contemporary Maiden tracks. 'The Talisman' you could almost mistake for being written for some off-Broadway stage production, but that's not particularly a bad thing. Depsite its slow start, it does build in drama and has a good amount of variation in the composition which makes for a very enjoyable track. 'The Man Who Would Be King' is a fine song with a good hook and a good attempt at doing something different although, again, it's a bit of a slow starter, tempo-wise, but its place on the album is a good way to start to wind things down to the final track. And what a final track it is; 'When The Wild Wind Blows' is a great album closer and a fine track in itself. Fantastically atmospheric and eerie and is weighted with an immense amount of pathos and tinged with a strong sense of sadness, in a similar way to 'Paschendale' from 2003s 'Dance of Death' album, with very strong lyrics and fantastic composition. A magnificent tribute to the Raymond Briggs film 'When The Wind Blows' and a fine example of Maiden getting it absolutely right.
In all, an excellent album which could easily have been a classic, if it weren't for the weaknesses of its middle order, but comes back batting strong for the climax. Arguably their best work since 'Seventh Son' and proof, if any were needed, that the Irons still have plenty to offer after over thirty years.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind: 30th Anniversary Ultimate Edition (3 Discs)
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This is a sublime collection, not just for fans of the film or the sci-fi genre, but also as a study in filmmaking and editorial control, as in many respects, you get three completely different films here. I was merely four years old when the theatrical release came to town, so some of the scenes were a complete surprise to me, as my earliest experience of the film was the 'Special Edition' rerelease from the Eighties.
It's been a long while since I last saw this film, so I was taken aback at my recollection of how good this film is. I was further taken aback however by how good it looks; an incredible job has been done cleaning up and remastering the images you see on screen and even the dvd release on my bog-standard 28" CRT screen looked astounding.
My twelve year old son watched it with me earlier today and was completely engrossed in it. Proof that you don't need fancy CGI to impress - this 30 year old classic still will and will probably continue to do so in years to come.
A film you must own and watch - it's that simple and at this price, no-one has a reason not to.
Spartacus: Blood And Sand - Series 1 (4 Discs)
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Those other reviewers who liken 'Blood And Sand' to 300 or even Gladiator are seriously selling this show short. It is truly an epic show and one of the very few programs I've ever seen - possibly the only show in at least the last five years - which has left me breathless with anticipation for the next episode and has never failed to please.
Pretty much all of the characters you can associate with, liken to or at least understand them as you follow their own courses during the series. Batiatus, the social climber, played almost with ease by the incredible John Hannah, in possibly the best role I've ever seen him in. Lucretia, his wife, elegantly portrayed by Lucy Lawless, demonstrating how underused her talents as an actress were as Xena and how stunning she still looks over a decade after the role, her character torn between the prestige her husband is bestowing on the house, her passions for Spartacus' predecessor - the excellently gritty Manu Bennett as Crixus - and her desire and obligation to bear a child to continue the family name and succeed her husband as dominus over the house and diplomatic leader of Capua. There's noble Varro, portrayed with subtle grace by Jai Courtney, who values the bonds of family and the honour of friendship above the glory of the arena. and then there's Spartacus himself - Andy Whitfield - who for me is a revelation as an actor, who plays his role with such subtlety and pathos it truly brings tears to the eyes in some episodes. He carries with him a screen presence rarely seen since the likes of Sidney Poitier, Yul Brynner or Toshiro Mifune and his abilities as an actor hint at a similar calibre.
Look past the sex and gore of this series - they're merely means to an end - and what you have here is the makings of truly classic television and an epic journey worth joining.
Rambo: First Blood
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The seminal 'one-man army' action flick, but not as dumb as one might think. Stallone by no means portrays himself as the hero of the piece, nor does John Rambo have any desire to be treated as such, but it tells a solid tale of how ones service to ones country counts for nought as time goes on, which may strike a chord with many, once the post Iraq/Afghanistan fallout begins.
This also serves as testiment that Sylvester Stallone can actually act well, playing Rambo with great pathos in this outing which, as with Rocky, sadly becomes almost a parody of itself with each successive movie, with the possible exception of 2008's 'Rambo', which scrapes near the knuckle, but just manages to reign itself in.
If there is one movie that stands out as a demonstration of Stallone's abilities, 'First Blood' just about scrapes above 'Rocky'.
The Prisoner (2009) (2 Discs)
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Before watching this series, you almost need to dismiss the original, or at least see this series as a continuation, rather than a retelling, or see it as a 'reimagining', but I hate that buzzword, so myself I'd rather see it as a continuation; liken it, if you will, to the Will Smith 'I, Robot' film - not an adaptation of the book, more an addition to the universe it immerses itself in.
That said, the series isn't that bad; Ian McKellen makes a great Number 2, carrying just enough menace and authority without looking ridiculous. And Jim Caviezel makes an okay Number 6, having enough guile and determination to challenge authority, but being just flawed enough to not have it all his own way, but lacks the on-screen presence and gravitas that Patrick McGoohan (R.I.P.) carried off so well in 1967/8. The series does keep you wondering what's going on, but you sometimes wonder - particularly by episode 5 & 6 - if those involved in the series' production even know, as it does seem to amble about a bit toward the end and its whole point seems to get lost along the way. The main problem with the show is that it takes itself far too seriously; maybe it was felt that you couldn't make it too humorous, lest it makes itself look silly, but its sly wit is what made the absurdities of the original series easier to swallow and what made it and its characters so endearing, not to mention enduring. The lack of humour in the modern version makes it difficult to care about anyone very much, '147' being about the only one to bring even the slightest bit of levity to proceedings.
The show does pay some lip service to its predecessor; not least the setting of The Village (although Portmeirion it ain't, it lacks any of its charm and is very uniform in design, but perhaps that's the point), but the eagle-eyed amongst you will glance a penny-farthing in the nightclub, echoing the motif from the '60s and of course Rover is there, which still is a weather balloon with attitude, but seems to have much more presence on-screen, despite its short appearances and does look genuinely menacing. But one omission that is unforgivable is the lack of even the slightest mention at either beginning or end to Patrick McGoohan and George Markstein, co-creators of the original show without whom the remake wouldn't exist. Hopefully, the eventual big-screen adaptation will redress that issue.
In all, a good show which is watchable with some good performances all-round, but hard to actually enjoy, although the key elements and subject matter of the show - of information and surveillance, the value of the former and the apparent reckless use of the latter - is as relevant today as it was then, if not more so.
Harry Potter And The Half Blood Prince (Year 6) (2 Discs)
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I must say there was quite a bit of anticipation with this and to a point, it delivers quite well; the tone is a little darker thean 'OotP' but still retains a good amount of humour, with some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. Although it has a more emotional core, with the developing relationship between Potter/Ms.Weasley and Weasley/Granger, it didn't interfere too much with the story and just enough goes on outside of love triangles to carry the film along.
BUT, the pacing is very disjointed in places, some parts feeling like mere skits to the next scene, rather than part of one grand, fluid entity, the final 20-30 minutes in particular seeming a very rushed affair, almost as if to fall under some externally imposed two-and-a-quarter hour time limit. Also, some of the characters are horribly, almost criminally, under-used - most prominant in my mind being Helena Bonham Carter as the deliciously nasty Bellatrix Lestrange and Evanna Lynch as the beautifully ethereal Luna Lovegood (and if she was maybe 10 years older, I could really take a fancy to her!).
Then there's the omissions, some of which you'd expect with a novel adaptation - you just can't include everything, otherwise the movie would be about seven hours long, costing about a $billion to make - but the omission of the Hogwarts battle between the Aurors, students and Death Eaters is pretty near criminal. The only possible reasons I can think of for not including it are this:-
Warner Brothers wouldn't fork out for the pyros and stunt doubles, so therefore wasn't shot. Or-The sequence was shot but was edited out, either because a) it would push the film outside its afforementioned time limit, b) they wanted to retain the sequence for an extended edition to milk the Potter cash cow after Deathly Hallows sees its dvd/Blu-Ray release or c) Warner knew that including that battle would show up the final film, seeing as the action quotient in it will be relatively low.
That's not to say the film is not a complete wash out; it's beautifully shot, the SFX don't even need mentioning and the young actors really are growing in their abilities, although I'm not sure about Michael Gambon playing the camp card with his Dumbledore, as opposed to Richard Harris' quirky eccentric. Saying that, special mention has to go to Tom Felton, whose portrayal of Draco Malfoy has gone from sneering spoiled brat to a young man made slave to the obligations of his lineage, which really does make you feel sorry for the guy and strangely, one of the few characters you do actually care about in the end.
Sadly, it's just not enough to redeem the film. Hopefully, David Yates can conjur up (sic) something a bit more well-rounded in the two-part climax.
Harry Potter And The Half Blood Prince: With Exclusive Film Cell (2 Discs Bonus DVD)
Haven't seen the film yet, but I just gotta say it's a great idea releasing this 'triple-play' package; I've not yet upgraded to Blu-Ray, so it's a nice idea that you can get more than one format in the same pack - saves on having to buy it yet again when you finally do upgrade, and at this price, I think it's quite a bargain.
I hope other studios follow suit, as this is a great idea!
Muse - CD
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Not that it has any bearing on anything, but I've been a fan of Muse since 2001's 'Origin Of Symmetry', after seeing the video to 'Bliss' on MTV and as time goes on, you expect a certain amount of eccentricity in the trios' work, but I'm not sure if 'Resistance' goes a bit too far, even for me.
It parallels in tone for me with 'Absolution'; a lot of experimental stuff going on, one-or-two 'safe' tracks, with a little something for you to think about mortaring it all together. But it doesn't quite gel together, there seems to be too many influences here that are too disparate (big nod to Ultravox's 'Vienna' for one track - cheekily swiping the riff, you half expect the electronic drums to kick in - sweeping orchestrals in another, with a soupson of Queen and nu-punk for good measure). It makes for a bit of a confusing, almost schizophrenic mix which - if it wasn't for that foreknowledge of Muse often doing things with tongue-firmly-in-cheek (the corking 'Knights Of Cydonia', by way of example) - almost makes you think they're taking the mickey a bit.
In a nutshell; enjoyable, by no means their best, owing to it's overly-eclectic nature and occasionally dodgy lyrics.
One issue I'd like to take issue with, more than the music, is the packaging for this CD, mine arriving in a simple card sleeve, a la the kind you'd get a free dvd in with your Sunday paper. I know there's a need to reduce costs, the impact on the environment, etc, but this isn't the way forward. At least something a little more sturdy-looking (along the lines of Metallica's 'Death Magnetic' album comes to mind) would have been preferable - this cheap card doesn't look like it's gonna last five minutes! If this is the future of cd packaging, given that I'm paying around ten notes for little more than a cd in a card slipcase, it seems that I'll be downloading my music in future. . . . or is that the point?
There, another conspiracy theory idea for Matt & Co's next album, perhaps?