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Documenting the nightmarish journey of two hitmen, Kill List confidently straddles the visceral end of genre filmmaking and the gritty strata of social realism, showcasing the mercurial skills of up-and-coming British film director Ben Wheatley. Buoyed by the critical acclaim for his feature length debut, Down Terrace, Wheatley's second film is a slow-building, ominous creep-out that will stay with you long after the final reel.
Teaming social realism with strains of the seventies conspiracy thriller and British horror, Kill List isn't just confirmation of Ben Wheatley's talent; it's an affirmation of the merits of genre filmmaking. Terrifying and traumatic, it's the best British film of the year and yet another reminder of why the UK Film Council shouldn't have been disbanded.
Kill List: Double Play (2 Discs)
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The Collector (2009)
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Written by first-time director Marcus Dunstan and co-scribe Patrick Melton, those perverse brains behind the Feast and most recent Saw scripts, The Collector was originally conceived as a prequel to the Saw films only to be rejected by the producers. But the Saw series' loss is our gain because this gleefully sadistic, below-the-radar home invasion thriller is a tidy little shocker.
Imagine an 18-rated version of Home Alone where Macauley Culkin is replaced by a 6ft plus, mute masked killer and you're getting close to the core of The Collector. Riffing on Dario Argento's supernatural giallo horrors, Suspiria and Inferno, for atmospheric music, breathy sound effects, strange psychosexual antics and creative murders, it ratchets up the tension to unbearable levels but not without splatterings of the perverse humour that colour Dunstan and Melton's Saw outings.
Pumping the home invasion genre full of gore, suspense, slasher stylings, a little nudity and some physics-based butchery, The Collector is a worthy addition to the hallowed halls of horror and a reasonably smart entry at that. Made by horror fans for horror fans, there's little to recommend to the unconverted or the squeamish but plenty to excite those of us who like unbearably claustrophobic, high tension tales of sadistic violence. Superior low budget horror.
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The legendary French director Francois Truffaut once claimed that there was an "incompatibility between the words "British" and "Cinema." To be fair, since the British film industry's inception, it has done little to prove him wrong. Bar the array of angry 'kitchen sink', social realist dramas in the late fifties and early sixties, no cinematic movement has been born in Britain. Recent films like Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank and Shane Meadows' This Is England prove that there is a cinematic Britain out there waiting to be harnessed, and now first-time director Nick Whitfield emerges as another talent with his highly original magic realist, metaphysical comedy-drama, Skeletons.
Exploiting the magical in the mundane and the mundane in the magical, Whitfield's film follows the adventures of two lumpy exorcists of the soul: sarcastic wildcard Davis (Ed Gaughan) and mummy's boy Bennett (Andrew Buckley), who move up and down the Peak District helping people extract and overcome their secrets. To do this, the not so dynamic duo fill in some forms, wield a magical gizmo at the client's closet, through which they enter the subconscious to discover and expunge troublesome memories.
Their lives change completely when they're sent to exorcise the memories of a family whose father mysteriously disappeared eight years earlier. Single mother Jane struggles with mute daughter Rebecca and neglected son Jojo, which draws Bennett ever-closer to the struggling brood. Meanwhile, Davis becomes ever reliant on his own memories to pull him through his unhappiness. With both their jobs and their very existences on the line, can the troubled twosome solve the mystery behind the family's malaise?
The chemistry between lead actors Ed Gaughan and Andrew is quite something and their duologues make for some brilliantly funny, eminently quotable and highly literate exchanges that get close to Withnail and I levels of quality - no mean feat. Gaughan is a real find; his delivery and timing is impeccable and he always finds the right beats in every scene. Buckley is incredibly sympathetic and a real gentle giant, the straight man to Gaughan's funny man. Most surprisingly, relatively big star Jason Isaacs proves very adept in a small but memorable role as the boy's domineering mentor, even stealing a couple of scenes with his bizarre behaviour.
Skeletons' ultra low budget magic realism taps into a quintessentially British literary tradition that hasn't been successfully exploited since the heyday of Powell and Pressburger. Asking big questions with warmth and sincerity without descending into mawkish schmaltz, films about the nature of memory and identity might not be thin on the ground, but few can compete with Whitfield's (first) masterpiece.
Hot Tub Time Machine
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Not the successor to Anchor Man some have been suggesting, nonetheless, Hot Tub Time Machine is a tremendously funny, unrestrained gross-out buddy flick, superior to similar comedies that insist on serving a side of schmaltz with their slapstick. Essential viewing if you're a fan of eighties Hollywood cinema, Chevy Chase or time travel movies.
Sword Of The Stranger (2 Discs)
High quality animation and dynamic action, well-drawn characters and a rollicking if unoriginal story combine to create the kind of crossover film the Japanese film industry has been looking for since Hayao Miyazaki showed everyone how it's done with 1997's Princess Mononoke. For lovers of jidaigeki, man-with-no-name style shenanigans and innovative martial arts movies, this is essential viewing. For everyone else, Sword Of The Stranger is a quality anime movie that tells a simple story well, and despite a bit of a lull in the second act, delivers a denouement that will stir the emotions of even the most restrained viewer. I defy anyone not to punch the air several times by the end!
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With 12 witching hours on first play alone, plenty of collectibles and a combat system that will see you dispatching even the most powerful of enemies in the most stylishly brutal of fashions, Bayonetta is a game for gamers. Taking one of the most impure gaming characters and building a game experience as pure as anything seen on next gen consoles, Platinum Games have thrown down the gauntlet to Sony's God Of War 3. To quote Bayonetta's bald buddy, Rodin, quoting Resident Evil 4, "Whaddya Buyin'?"
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Pontypool isn't just for zombie or horror fans. Intelligent, ambitious and with plenty to say, it operates successfully as a thriller, horror and political satire. You could argue that it overreaches and ultimately fails to make good on the grand point it sets out to nail, but then it does try to tackle the nature of humanity, the media, language, and the psychology of language acquisition, so failing to quite make this statement coherently is kind of forgivable! I'm a firm believer that such a worthy attempt should be rewarded. And if all that fails to grab you then there's always Stephen McHattie's mesmerizing tour de force of a performance - you probably won't see a better one all year.
Final Fantasy XII
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I'm not going to laud the previous games for their unique and involving storylines, because, in my opinion, only Final fantasy VII deserves the plaudits for that. Since that instalment we've seen some pretty patchy scripts and some ill-conceived character arcs. Final Fantasy IX almost got it right, but it didn't quite have the epic feel of VII or even VI.
This chapter, however, has the poorest storyline of any FF game I've played to completion. Given that the main man behind the story, Yasumi Matsuno, was responsible for Vagrant Story and FF Tactics (poor English translation notwithstanding), I was expecting an incredible story and for the first 15 hours I got it. What follows is a disjointed, bland affair which completely underwhelmed me to the point where I simply stopped caring about the story. The unbalanced narrative and lack of character development may have something to do with the fact that Matsuno left the project half-way through, citing mental exhaustion. Regardless, the medieval/sci-fi setting, the judges and the civil war were all elements that had so much potential. The characters were crying out for more focused, detailed back stories and motivations but it never happened.
What this mean for future instalments is anyone's guess. Were we spoilt by the dynamic storytelling of FFVII or have Square lost sight of what made that game so exciting at a time where games rarely had any emotional depth? Is it time for qualified script writers to invest in the games industry and show these boys how it's done?
The one major positive to come out of FFXII is the combat system, specifically the gambits. I found this mode of battle infinitely more satisfying and sophisticated than the turn-based antics of yonder. Definitely a system to keep and build upon for further games in the series. The job system would have been welcome, but as other reviewers have said, the customizable antics of FFXII do allow an awful lot of scope for development.
Also, the graphics are truly sumptuous and a tribute to the innards of the PS2, a machine much maligned, but finally coming into its own at a time where the next generation machines have arrived a year too soon. I for one, won't be dispensing with the PS2 for some time yet.