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Miss Sloane (2016)
Miss Sloane (2016)
2016 | Mystery
9.0 (2 Ratings)
Movie Rating
“I never know where the line is”.
In a roller-coaster year for political intrigue on both sides of the Atlantic, and with all hell breaking loose again between Trump and ‘The Hill’, here comes “Miss Sloane”.
Jessica Chastain ( “The Martian“, “Interstellar“) plays the titular heroine (I use the term loosely): a pill-popping insomniac who is working herself into an early grave as a top-Washington lobbyist. The game of lobbying is, as she describes, staying one step of the competition and “playing your trump card just after your opponent has played theirs”. But all is not going well for Elizabeth Sloane. For the film opens with her being on trial for corruption in front of a congressional hearing, chaired by Senator Sperling (John Lithgow, “The Accountant“).

Through flashback we see how she got to that point, moving from one firm headed by George Dupont (Sam Waterston, “The Killing Fields”) to another headed by Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong, “Kick Ass”, “Kingsman: The Secret Service“) against the backdrop of the high-stakes lobbying around a new gun-control bill. Her fanatical drive to ‘win at all costs’, and the trail of destruction, through her cutthroat work ethic, that she leaves behind her, digs her an ever-deeper hole as the political and legal net closes in around her.

Jessica Chastain has played strong and decisive women before, most notably in “Zero Dark Thirty”, but probably never to this extreme degree. Here she is like Miranda Priestly from “The Devil Wears Prada”, but not played for laughs. Miss Sloane is an emotionally and physically damaged woman, but a formidable one who takes charge both in the boardroom and in the bedroom, through the unashamed use of male escorts (in the well-muscled form of Jake Lacy, “Their Finest“). As such her character is not remotely likable, but one the I could certainly relate to from past business dealings I’ve had. (And no, I don’t mean as a male prostitute!)
I found Sloane to be one of the more fascinating characters in this year’s releases: I was never being sure whether her actions are being powered from a background of strong moral conviction (fuelled by a devastating childhood incident perhaps?) or through pure greed and lust for power. I thought Chastain excelled in the role, but for balance the illustrious Mrs Mann thought she rather overplayed her hand at times.

Outside of Chastain’s central performance though, this is a very strong ensemble cast. Mark Strong – not with an English accent for once and not playing a heavy – is great as the frustrated boss, as is the seldom-seen Sam Waterston (who, by the way, is the father of Katherine Waterston of current “Alien: Covenant” fame). Christine Baranski (so good in “The Good Wife” and now “The Good Fight”) pops up in a cameo as a flinty Senator. But the outstanding turn for me was Oxford-born Gugu Mbatha-Raw (“Belle”, “Beauty and the Beast” – and yes, I’m aware of the irony in this pairing!). Playing Sloane’s colleague Esme Manucharian – both a lady with a secret in her past as well as possessing a great name – Mbatha-Raw is just riveting and deserving of a Supporting Actress nomination in my book.

What binds the whole two hours together is an extraordinarily skillful script by debut writer Jonathan Perera, which has both a gripping and ever-twisting story as well as a host of quotable lines. Ladies and gentlemen, we may have a new Aaron Sorkin on the block! It’s a brave script, dealing as it does with 2nd amendment issues, since there seems to be nothing that stirs up American comment like gun-control. For those living in the UK (where gun deaths are over 50 times less per capita than in the US) the whole topic is both fascinating and perplexing and there were a lot of nodding heads during Sloane’s TV rant about it being an archaic ‘Wild West’ throwback that should no longer be set in stone. (But it’s not our country any more, so you Americans can do what you like!)
The marvelous Cinematography is by Sebastian Blenkov – the second time this gentleman has come to my attention within a month (the first time being “Their Finest“).

The director is Portsmouth-born Brit John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”) and he does a great job in sustaining the tension and energy throughout the running time. This all makes it a great shame that the film has not done well at the US box office, perhaps because ( the film was released in December 2016) the public had more than their fill of politics after a bruising and divisive election. (I’m not sure the UK release date now – just before our own General Election – is wise either).
But for me, this was a memorable film, and come the end of the year it might well be up there in my top 10 for the year. I’m a sucker for a good political thriller with “All the President’s Men” and “Primary Colors” in my personal list as some of my favourite ever films. If you like those films, “House of Cards” or remember fondly TV series like “The West Wing” or (for those with even longer memories) “Washington Behind Closed Doors” then I would strongly recommend you get out and watch this.

Bob Mann (459 KP) rated Logan (2017) in Movies

Sep 29, 2021  
Logan (2017)
Logan (2017)
2017 | Action, Adventure
“When the man comes around”
At last – a superhero movie with real heart… (and not just the chunks over the knuckle blades!). Logan is a bit of a revelation. I was reluctant to go and see it, since a) I’m a lukewarm X-Men fan at best and b) I hadn’t seen either of the previous two Wolverine spin-off films. (Seeing the other Wolverine films, by the way, is not a pre-requisite for enjoying this one). After a long day at work, my choice was “Logan” or “Kong: Skull Island”. I voted for this one, and I’m so glad I did.
It’s now 2029. Hugh Jackman plays Wolverine, but this is not a Wolverine we have seen before. This is an aged and deteriorating superhero: his self-healing powers are waning; a limp is developing; and his fighting prowess (although still legendary) doesn’t show the stamina it once did. This is a Wolverine that is also an unlikely carer, looking after a mentally degenerating Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), now 90 years old and finding it increasingly difficult to keep his devastating mental superpowers under control. This is a Wolverine trying desperately to avoid the limelight, working diligently as a limo-driver in an effort to save money for the dream of buying a ‘Sunseeker’ and sailing off with Xavier into the sunset, gaining true anonymity among the boating fraternity.

Life doesn’t play ball though. A brutal encounter with a gang on the highway outside El Paso advertises Wolverine’s presence and brings him into contact with a strange eleven-year-old girl (Dafne Keen) with impressive powers of her own. The girl is being pursued by a “reiver” (Boyd Holbrook, “Run all Night”) supported by a small private army. Against his will, Wolverine is forced into a memorable road trip with the old man and the young girl that leaves a trail of bloodied bodies behind them.
For, be warned, this is an *extremely* violent film, with much dismemberment and ‘blade work’ that must have kept the prosthetics department busy for months. It’s also quite emotionally brutal, particularly within a central segment set in a “Field of Dreams” style idyll (featuring Eriq La Salle from E.R.) that you know in your gut is not going to end with “Goodnight John Boy” pleasantries.

The well-choreographed and frenetic action within the road-trip segment reminded me at times of the harsh cinematography and dynamics of “Mad Max: Fury Road” – a great compliment.
But the film also takes time to pause, in uncharacteristic Marvel-ways, for character development and genuinely intelligent dialogue. These interludes allow the acting to shine, and it is first-rate. We all know (from “Les Miserables” for instance) that Hugh Jackman can act, but this is arguably his best-ever performance: a meaty role (he actually has two in the film) that affords him tremendous range and emotion. At one point towards the end of the film I thought “this has genuine Oscar show-reel potential”. He will surely never get nominated – a Marvel film? Get Away! But wouldn’t it make a refreshing change if he was? Recognizing good acting, regardless of the context.
Patrick Stewart is a great Shakespearean actor, and here he also gets given full rein to impress as he hasn’t had chance to in most of his movie roles to date.

Claiming the prize so far this year for the most unusual casting decision is Stephen Merchant as the albino helper Caliban, unrecognizable to me at first until he had some lengthy dialogue to flex his Bristol accent on! A non-comic and dramatic role, Merchant does really well with it.

Finally, I can’t leave the acting without doffing my cap to young Dafne Keen whose mesmerising feral stare would probably put the fear of God into every parent of a pre-teen girl! Even though she has only a handful of lines, this is an impressive feature film debut. I predict we will see much more of this young lady.

Less convincing to me was Richard E Grant as the evil mastermind behind the scheme, who never quite seemed nasty enough to me to be believable: in one scene he could be calling back a dog that’s run off down the beach rather than desperately trying to gain control of an out of control situation!
Directed by James Mangold (“Walk the Line”, “Knight and Day”), who co-wrote the piece with Scott Frank (“Minority Report”) and Michael Green (“Green Lantern”… yes, really!), this was a gritty and well constructed movie. If you can stomach the gore and the body count (I would see it as very lucky to have got away with its UK ’15’ certificate) this is a rollercoaster of a movie that is recommended.
By the way, to save you from sitting through the end titles (although you do get a Johnny Cash classic to enjoy) there is no “monkey” at the end of this Marvel film. (I’m no stranger to still be sitting there as the lights come up… but many of the crowd that were left looked vaguely embarrassed!)
In terms of my rating, I’m not a fanboy for Marvel or DC properties, but here I award a rating I have only previously bestowed on two superhero films before: the quirky “Ant Man” and the anarchic “Deadpool“….

Purple Phoenix Games (2087 KP) rated Dice Town in Tabletop Games

Aug 13, 2019 (Updated Jun 24, 2021)  
Dice Town
Dice Town
2009 | American West, Dice Game
Hoo doggie! That’s definitely what we say in the 1800s Wild West! Yeuuuup, it’s time to take over this here town and call it ours. What are you waitin’ fer? If you ain’t helpin’ me, then you ken giiiiiiit out. This here’s mine now, just gotta… convince the people. *whistles at a horse to giddyup*

Dice Town is a rootin’-tootin’ dice chuckin’ game relying heavily on poker and card majority. Each player is trying to gain the most money, gold nuggets, and property cards to beef up their VP totals once the game ends to become the baddest dude in the West.
To setup, place the town board in the middle of the table and populate its different areas with their components: the Gold Mine receives all the gold nuggets, the Bank receives $3 initially, the General Store receives all the cards of its deck with three property cards will be displayed next to Town Hall, and Doc Badluck will receive its deck with two cards displayed. Each player will receive a dice cup, five dice, and $8 to start. The youngest player received the Sheriff badge card and the game may begin!

Turns are taken simultaneously among all players. Players will roll their dice using the dice cup and choose one result to keep. They may keep more dice by paying $1 for each die kept, or they may pay $1 to keep zero dice and try again. Players are attempting to roll the best poker hand during these turns to set themselves up for the next phase of the game – actions.

Once all players are finished keeping dice and building poker hands, they move to the actions phase. Beginning with the Gold Mine and moving left to right, each area of town will be resolved based on the players’ results. The player with the most 9s rolled will take nuggets from the Gold Mine equal to the number of 9s rolled. The player with the most 10s will take the money at the bank. Most Jacks will draw General Store cards (that can mess with other players or help the holder) equal to the number of Jacks rolled and choose one card to keep. The most Queens will summon a lady at the Saloon to help steal any General Store or property card from another player. Most Kings will be the new Sheriff in town and will break all ties (and also can be bribed). Whomever was able to build the best poker hand will be able to claim the property card at the bottom of the display and one additional property for each Ace rolled. Finally, if a player was not able to win anything up to this point, they will be able to claim a card from Doc Badluck which can be very powerful.

Play continues in this fashion until either the supply of gold nuggets has run dry or all of the property cards have been doled out. Players will score VPs for nuggets, certain General Store cards, one VP per $2 cash, $5 from being Sheriff at the game end, and VP printed on property cards owned. Once the winner is determined, that player must now challenge the losing players to a duel at high noon. Or just gloat a lot.
Components. As you can see in the photos, the component quality is excellent, as with most Matagot titles. The dice cups are sturdy plastic, the embossed poker dice are awesome, the gold nuggets are great as well! I like the quirky cartoony art style. What I do not like about Dice Town components are the cards. They are super glossy, and that’s heck for taking photos and I just don’t enjoy the feel of them as much as the nice linen-finishes. It doesn’t break the game for me or make me enjoy playing it less, I just prefer other types of finishes on cards.

I really like Dice Town. I have always had a great time when playing, and I have even acquired it twice now. I sold my first edition copy via a BGG auction (I was addicted to auctions several years back) and missed it, so I was able to grab a second edition copy last year. I haven’t regretted reacquiring it and though I rated it a 4 I don’t see this ever leaving my collection again. I love the American West theme, and I love the way the dice cups feel and sound as players are slamming them on the table. But also I hate the way the dice cups sound as players are slamming them on the table when my children are trying to sleep or without some type of buffer material between the cups and a hard table top.

The second edition printing is definitely the way to go when deciding whether to purchase Dice Town. Everything is upgraded, and the rules have been tweaked a bit for the better. I don’t really know why I like American West in my board games so much because I can’t stand Western style movies or books, but I can’t get enough of them in my games. If you and I share preferences on games and themes and components, try to grab a copy of Dice Town. You will certain like it quite a bit. We do. Purple Phoenix Games give this one a 12 / 18. While that doesn’t seem like a great score, we would rather have access to it than not. And with so many games out there, earning a place on my shelf is a big deal for a game. So enjoy!
The Woman in Black
The Woman in Black
Susan Hill | 1998 | Fiction & Poetry
7.2 (9 Ratings)
Book Rating
Great paranormal aspect (1 more)
Good narrative
Overuse of some words (1 more)
Some scenes that could have been written better
In Susan Hill's novel, "The Woman in Black," she puts a small twist on an urban legend that is widely known to most - - - 'the lady in white,' which if you haven't heard of it, it's a spectral woman that is seen throughout the world, dressed all in white, only to show up in places of tragic events. This novel only has one main character, Arthur Kipps, a 23-year-old young man who is a lawyer in late 1800's England. He usually takes care of the conveyance of property leases, but one day, when his boss, Mr. Bentley, hands over a case and responsibility of finding a newly deceased's Last Will and Testament for their lawfirm, Kipp graciously accepts the new adventure without knowing that what is ahead will haunt him the rest of his life.

As Kipp soon finds out after traveling to the town just outside of the deceased's home, there is more to this woman, Alice Drablow, than just an old hermit- - - anytime her name is mentioned, people fall silent; the same goes for her home: Eel Marsh House. Kipp doesn't allow this to put him off from doing his job, but when he finds out about the marshes the house lives on, he is told that there are only certain times of the day that he can cross before the marshes become too flooded to cross. 'The Woman in Black' has spine-chilling moments and great descriptive details to make this a quick ghost story to be enjoyed.

Before Kipp heads off to the Eel Marsh House, he must attend Mrs. Drablow's funeral; he is accompanied by a man named Mr. Jerome, an agent that had dealt with Mrs. Drablow's property and land business while she was alive. While at the church, only one other person turns up for the funeral: a woman dressed all in black. Kipp takes note that this woman does not look well and, being the gentleman that he is, tells himself that he will offer his arm to her for stability after the funeral, but when they are leaving the church yard, the woman is suddenly gone. Kipp brings this up to Mr. Jerome, but he merely states that they were the only ones at the funeral.

The best scene to come is Kipp's first night at Eel Marsh House, where he experiences his first real scare in the ruins close by the house that is a dilapidated cemetery. " Suddenly conscious of the cold and the extreme bleakness and eeriness of the spot and of the gathering dusk of the November afternoon, and not wanting my spirits to become so depressed that I might begin to be affected by all sorts of morbid fancies, I was about to leave, and walk briskly back to the house, where I intended to switch on a good many lights and even light a small fire if it were possible, before beginning my preliminary work on Mrs. Drablow's papers. But, as I turned away, I glanced once again round the burial ground and then I saw again the woman with the wasted face, who had been at Mrs. Drablow's funeral. She was at the far end of the plot, close to one of the few upright headstones, and she wore the same clothing and bonnet, but it seemed to have slipped back so that I could make out her face a little more clearly. "

Over the entire course of the book, Kipp only visits the house one more time after this incident. The book has a good story, but it isn't flawless; first, there is the overuse of the word 'estuary,' which is practically used on every page whenever Kipp is at the Eel Marsh House or discussing it. It gets very tiresome. There is also instances of bad writing, where I feel that Hill could have delivered the scenes better than she did: Kipp changing his mind the very next sentence (if you read my reviews pretty regularly, you will realize that I can't stand it when a character contradicts themselves within a page or two), and then Kipp saying he can't do something, than directly after, does it. When you read this book, you will realize that Kipp is not the type of character that would change his mind on a whim.

Kipp is also an interesting character for a male set in this era. Most men in the late 1800's were stoic and refused to show an ounce of emotion in public, but Kipp is not afraid to have other men see him fall apart, and he is also very considerate of other people. There isn't much of a backstory on where Kipp came from or how his parents raised him, but it wasn't really needed for this story. Yet, we meet Kipp's step-children and his first and second wife, without too much of a story about them, so when certain things happen (to not give a spoiler), it doesn't really leave an impression.

There isn't much I can say that wouldn't give away what makes this story enjoyable to read. Overall, this is a good and quick ghost story that may cause shivers for some, but even if it doesn't, the Woman in Black is a must-read for lovers of the paranormal. To me, this seems like a good book to read while traveling because it's easy to pick up and set down without getting lost as to what was going on.
Gemini Man (2019)
Gemini Man (2019)
2019 | Action, Drama, Sci-Fi
Special Effects, including Will Smith's "youngification' (0 more)
The script - truly dire (0 more)
Will Smith plays top US hit-man Henry Brogan who is making the world "safer" one bullet at a time! With the mirror telling him his age, Henry hands in his firearm (not withstanding the arsenal under his stairs) to spend more time going fishing and doing the crossword.

But all is not well when Henry's 'one for the road' hit turns out to not be quite what it seems.

Teaming up with marina manager Danny (Danny??) Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the pair go on the run from operatives of a government-funded black-ops organization called Gemini. Gemini is a private semi-military organization (didn't we just go here with "Angel Has Fallen"?!). These 'baddie goodies' would rather see Henry - and all who know him - fed to the fishes rather than have him catching them.

But one of these guys, under the direct command of Gemini-boss Clay Verris (Clive Owen), looks kinda familiar...

Let's focus on the positives for a minute. This is a spy movie that has all of the polish that the recent "Angel has Fallen" didn't have. Some nice photogenic locations fly in and out again (Georgia, Budapest and Colombia: the latter for no obvious reason I can remember!). It occasionally reminded me of a glossy Bond film, but without Bond.

There are also some high-class special effects (the special effects coordinator is Mark Hawker). A moonlit CGI Gulfstream with a zoom into the cockpit is particularly impressive.

Some of the action set pieces also entertain. A Will-on-Will bike chase is well done, and I've not seen a bike used as a hand-to-hand weapon in this way before!

And Will Smith is no doubt a class act, with his 'youngification' (I'm not sure what the official word is) also being effectively done. I also enjoyed Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who was great in "10 Cloverfield Lane". The lady has real screen presence.

But man oh man, that script. Let's name the guilty parties in this film: the scriptwriters David Benioff (Game of Thrones), Darren Lemke and Billy Ray. (I'll put Ray last in the list, since the story was by Benioff and Lemke and this has the smell to me of Ray - who has a history of some great scripts like Captain Phillips under his name - being drafted in to steady a listing ship).

Some of the dialogue in this film is not just a bit dodgy. It's head in the hands groan-worthy (and I actually did at times: fortunately the cinema was barely half full and I was on my own in the whole row). And some of it is just plain offensive. Henry meets his old pal Jack Willis (Douglas Hodge) on his yacht where he explains his wife is on a trip to Paris as a scantily clad dolly-bird wanders past. Henry comically rolls his eyes at this adulterous behaviour, with some sort of "Jack, what are you loike!" comment. Cringe-worthy.

Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Benedict Wong (their ally, adding some comic relief) are clearly good actors. But the script often makes them look utterly vacuous and stupid. And Lee seems to have a "good enough, move on" approach to the filming. One jaw-dropping moment has Will Smith telling the others that they are going to Budapest. "Budapest?" Winstead and Wong are supposed to say in union, but mistime it. "Can we do that again?". Nope. It's on the screen.

As for Clive Owen... sorry, he's really not in the same acting league, and the script does him even fewer favours. As he says at one point "It's like the Hindenburg crashing into the Titanic". I couldn't have put it better myself.

"Uncanny Valley". You know this phrase. The Princess Leia and Moff Tarkin scenes in "Rogue One" is the classic example. Effects that don't quite work on the big screen. "But" - you say to yourself - "Dr Bob just said that the 'youngification' of Will Smith was done really well?". And I'll repeat again that it was. It's on a par with Samuel L. Jackson's 'youngification' in "Captain Marvel". Where something strange happens is in the film's overall projection. Ang Lee has tried again with his experiment of filming at a massive 120 frames per second..... five times the normal movie frame rate of 24 fps. And the quality of the picture - particularly during high-speed action scenes - becomes outstandingly good! But equally it just doesn't 'look right'.

When the human eye presumably works at an equivalent "fps" of thousands of 'frames per second' you'd think that it should all be fine. But for some reason I just found it distracting. Presumably the audiences for "The Jazz Singer" thought the same about sound; and those for "Gone with the Wind" and the "Wizard of Oz" about colour. Maybe we've seen the future, and its the new norm that we just need to get used to. We'll see.

Ang Lee's "Life of Pi" was extraordinary. His "Hulk" was one of the poorest of the Marvel canon. Unfortunately, this movie is at the "Hulk" end of the spectrum. Which is a real shame. The duo of the 51 year old Smith and the 35 year old Winstead work really well together. They have great chemistry, but, you'll be relieved to hear, avoid any icky love interest.

What a shame. With a different script, and some good production values, this could have been a very different story.

(For the full graphical review, please check out )
The Roads Not Taken (2020)
The Roads Not Taken (2020)
2020 | Drama
7.0 (2 Ratings)
Movie Rating
Javier Bardem and Elle Fanning act their socks off (1 more)
Robbie Ryan cinematography is Oscar worthy
Molly is a bit two-dimensional (0 more)
Pain and not a lot of Glory.
If you like your movies action packed you are going to dislike this movie. If you like light and uplifting stories you are going to positively loathe this one! For everyone else, "The Roads Not Taken" is a very thought-provoking piece of film-making from writer/director Sally Potter that I have a lot of respect for. Even more so, since I learned that the film is based on the director's time caring for her now deceased brother Nic, diagnosed with early onset dementia in 2010.

It's not a promising premise. "The Roads Not Taken" concerns a New Yorker with dementia being taking to the dentist and the opticians. Gripped yet? Nope... didn't think so. But stay with me here.

Elle Fanning plays Molly, daughter of the almost catatonic Leo (Javier Bardem) who is receiving a lot of support to stay in his own home. As his daughter assists him on his trip to his medical appointments, he is only about 10% 'there'. Glassy-eyed and almost incomprehensible, his utterances are often taken to refer to his present experiences. But actually, he's 90% somewhere else, revisiting two key episodes in his past life and reacting in the real world to what's happening in his dreams.

As he relives 'the roads not taken' we can piece together the elements of a life that's lived and - perhaps - lay out some elements that might have contributed to his mental decline in later life.

Before we plunge into the doom and gloom of the story, there was one moment of levity for me in the opening titles. I commented in my review of "The Farewell" that the company 'dog-tags' at the start of the film reminded me of a famous Family Guy comic moment. But this is kindergarten level compared to this movie. I assume Sally Potter must have tapped her complete phone contacts list to raise the funding for this one! Since I counted FOURTEEN different production companies referenced! Is this a record?

As you enter later life, it's common for many of us to suffer a significant source of stress. Sometimes - if you're lucky - four sources of stress. The reason? You stop worrying about your kids as much and start worrying about your aged parents and in-laws. Like heating up a frog in water, it's often imperceptible how much stress you are actually carrying with that until the last of the relatives 'shuffles off this mortal coil'. Within the grief, there's also a source of guilty relief in there somewhere. Such is the maelstrom that young Molly is in - with knobs on - given the disability of Leo. As a professional in her 20's, she is also having the juggle this responsibility with progressing her career.

It's a bit early in this turbulent year to talk of Oscar nominations. But for me, there are three standout performances in this movie:

1) Javier Bardem: what an acting masterclass! As with Daniel Day-Lewis's win in 1990 for "My Left Foot", the Academy loves a disability-based performance. I haven't seen much Oscar-buzz about this performance, but I'd personally throw his hat into the ring, for at least my long-list;

2) Elle Fanning: this young lady has been in movies since the age of 2, but rose to stardom with "Super 8". She's building a formidable filmography behind her. Here she matches Bardem shot-for-shot in the acting stakes: a caring daughter being emotionally torn apart; always needing to be in two places at the same time (as nicely positioned by the cryptic ending). A first Oscar-nomination perhaps?

3) Robbie Ryan: with an Oscar-nom previously for "The Favourite", could another one follow for this? For this is a beautiful film to look at, despite its downbeat story. There are some drop-dead gorgeous shots. One in particular is where a sun-lit Fanning has a "Marilyn Monroe subway skirt moment" at a window (with her hair being blown, I should add). Glorious. And all of the Mexican/Greek scenes (all Spain I believe) are deliciously lit and coloured.

"The Roads Not Taken" is an intelligent watch for sure, and reminiscent to me of Almodovar's "Pain and Glory": another artist's life lived again in flashback. If anything, this one is more unstructured in setting out a box of jigsaw pieces that you need to piece together through the unreliable narrator's random memories. ("Ooh, look - here's a bit with Laura Linney on it... ah, that goes there"; "So that's who Selma Hayek is"; etc.) But, as with a jigsaw, staying the course and putting the last pieces in is a very satisfying experience.

There's also a really feelgood scene in a taxi rank that restores your faith in the underlying goodness of people.... and a rant by a "Trump-voter" that gives you quite the opposite view!

Where I found some frustration was in the lack of backstory for Molly. She seems to be painted rather two-dimensionally. Yes - young with job, but of her personal life we see nothing. Adding another dimension (a young family for example) would have added yet another set of stresses to the mix. Leo's flashbacks are also focused on just two time periods. More wide-ranging reminiscences might have broadened the drama.

But I personally found "The Roads Not Taken" intensely moving. I'm not sure I could say I "enjoyed" it, but it is a worthy watch and has left me with thought-provoking images to chew on.

(For the full graphical review, please check out the One Mann's Movies here
Midsommar (2019)
Midsommar (2019)
2019 | Drama, Horror, Mystery
In 2017 the stale market of “horror” thrillers got a royal shake-up when Jordan Peele made Get Out. All of a sudden it seemed possible again to use the tired genre, that had been relying on gore and jump shocks alone for at least two decades, as a palette for intelligent social commentary and some seriously artistic flourishes. The following year, Ari Aster came out of nowhere with a debut feature that impressed everyone for it’s originality and bravado in this new “art-horror” model – the devisive yet always interesting Hereditary, a film that confused me on first watch, but gave me faith that I could be unnerved again, it’s secret being that you couldn’t compare it to anything since the golden days of the 70s.

So, when I saw the trailer for Midsommar in 2019 and realised it was the same director, it went straight to the top of my must see list. Add to the appeal the significant lure of the lead actress and main character, the extremely promising Florence Pugh, who blew me away for her raw ability in Lady Macbeth, and beguiled me even more in every minute of Chan-Wook Park’s superlative espionage mini-series The Little Drummer Girl, and I knew this was something I didn’t want to miss. Sometimes it only takes two projects on a CV to elevate a future star from obscurity to A-list potential. In Pugh I had already seen enough range, charisma and depth to suspect she was one of those special few. By the end of Midsommar I was convinced of it!

Plot wise, all you need to know going in cold is that Dani (Pugh) racked with grief following early scenes is dragged to Sweden to participate in the Midsommar celebrations of a small isolated community, as her relationship with boyfriend Christian is very much on the rocks and she is in need of some catharsis and release. At first the Idyllic setting, bathed in sunlight you can almost feel, seems refreshing and clean. The whites, yellows and blues of the images are so crisp you can imagine every smell and texture, and you find yourself smiling, despite the fact a creeping unease and sinister secret is already infiltrating the calm in wonderfully subtle ways.

Needless to say it goes to some very dark and strange places. So much so I gasped out loud twice and stood up from my seat involuntarily on one particularly disturbing moment. To try and explain how that unfolds and comes to be is both impossible and would need some big time spoilers, so I won’t do that. It’s enough to say that where you are emotionally at the end of this filmic experience is very, very far from where you started. Much in the same way as Hereditary, you feel you have been dragged by the hair on a very uncomfortable journey that is both strangely unsatisfying, confusing and upsetting; you can’t say you “liked” either film as much as admitting you can’t stop thinking about them and need to see them again to absorb the detail, if indeed you can bear that.

As of writing this I haven’t gone back and watched this again – I’m genuinely wary of putting myself through it a second time! But, I have gone back to Hereditary and appreciated it much more knowing the ending already, and seeing the detail that is there from the beginning, that makes it all make sense in a way it doesn’t first time around. Midsommar, I sense, is the same, in that there has been so much attention to the build up and background that you will see and hear relevant clues to the mystery much more the more times you watch it. What they are wearing, images on walls and seemingly insignificant things the camera picks up on create a tapestry of loose threads that can be woven together into deeper meaning if that is what you want to do.

Without doing that it may seem like a bewildering entity, deliberately odd for the sake of it, and as such it could put anyone off. At 2 hours and 28 minutes it is a bit of a stretch, and the last half hour, once it descends into the complete madness suggested earlier, perhaps doesn’t live up to the promises it makes. Also, despite Pugh being a mesmeric presence from start to finish, the supporting cast can’t quite go with her on the same level. Even the talented Will Poulter seems burdened by a less than three dimensional character, underwritten as are many in a script that focuses so much on Dani that everything else suffers.

My overall impression of it as a film is that it falls short of greatness by a narrow margin, but comes very close at times to genuine genius. It is the promise of Aster as a filmmaker that excites me most, even if this is not the film it could have been with a little more experience, maturity and, perhaps, budget. It is his Bottle Rocket, or Hard Eight, when you suspect he will have a Grand Budapest Hotel, or a There Will Be Blood in him at some point down the line.

In conclusion, I can’t emphasise enough how much I was drawn to every moment of what Florence Pugh was doing. Be wary of the film if a casual viewing experience is what you want, because it may infuriate you, and compel you even to switch it off, if you are not totally ready to meet it where it wants to take you. But, watch it for Pugh and see what a rare talent she is bringing to cinema into the 2020s. A very exciting prospect indeed.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)
2016 | Comedy, Horror, Romance
A film for all those women who dream of chivalry, but want to kick some ass.
Contains spoilers, click to show
"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains."

A mysterious plague has fallen across England. The countryside is a relative haven, where the city has become a playground for unmentionables. The oriental arts have become the fashion and a desirable young lady no longer needs to be the prim and proper wife, unless your name is Mr Collins.

The Bennet's lovely daughters, beautiful and strong of body and mind are accustomed to a regimented life of training, until the handsome stranger Mr Bingley comes to the country. A whirlwind of romance and the undead lead them into a battle for family and love.

Heaving bosoms, country estates. Brain eating corpses and assorted weaponry. Everything you'd expect when the undead meets Jane Austen. As if on cue my playlist has shuffled to Zombie by The Cranberries. I can't deny enjoying this film, I should point out that I was always going to enjoy it, be it Oscar or Razzie worthy. It definitely had the potential to be an epic re-watchable classic or the B-movie winner that shone from the book.

When it was first published I picked it up almost instantly and soon found Quirk Books and other crossover books developing a little shrine-like area. [Now given pride of place in my nerd room.] Having a dislike of classics embedded in me from school and enjoying the general kick-assery of action films, it was a great crossover to bring those classics back into my life.
Admission time, while I've read the book I can't actually remember when, it was dozens of books ago. I loved it but not everyone did. I'm going to make a big sweeping statement. [Sorry, not sorry] It's not a Jane Austen book people, get over it. "He's ruined Elizabeth Bennet!" No he's taken a strong minded female character and put her in a new fantasy setting. I'm sure there would have been less objections if all the names were different (and the title too) and it was just described as "loosely based on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice". But swings and roundabouts, because it probably wouldn't have been as popular if it wasn't called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Sam Riley's Mr Darcy was no Colin Firth, but it was still very good. It did kind of seem like they threw him in a lake because they felt they should pay homage to Firth's dunking.

Note to those who see the film, Liz Bennet's heaving bosom is seen on a regular basis and is entirely distracting. I'm not sure there's a plot line linked to them, they're just always there, they probably should have got their own credit for the part.

I think my favourite scene was where Darcy came to Elizabeth to proclaim his love... and then they proceed to beat each other with sticks, books, basically whatever is to hand. Heated and packed with sexual tension it made for entertaining viewing. It also reminded me of the scene in Buffy where the slayer and Spike fight in an abandoned building, and the amount of sexual tension between the pair results in breaking the building, amongst other things... but those other things probably wouldn't work so well in Austen's time.

Even with all the bits that brought a smile to my face and made for enjoyable watching, there were some things I couldn't help but be annoyed with.

Firstly, Matt Smith, my dear number 11... [insert long silence here] I know Mr Collins is there for the annoying comic relief and awkwardness but oh my god. It was too much and I was overcome with annoyance. The cast is made up of relatively unknown people, with the exceptions of Charles Dance, Sally Phillips and Matt Smith. I can't help but wonder if Mr Collins would have been easier to deal with if he was an unknown actor.

The camera work had its own peculiarities. Some shots were taken from the zombies point of view. They were blurred and frustrating to watch, I can't really tell what it added. I'm sure it would have added a bit more drama if you'd seen the potential victim being run at. Again, I'm not an expert in showbiz filming but I'm fairly certain that making your audience want to throw up is not the idea. Right near the end there is a shot that perfectly portrays the devastation of the situation...

"How should we get across the devastation of the city and cut out to the next scene?"
"Spin the camera round until people want to vomit?"

I sat there feeling a bit woozy, trying to avoid looking at the screen for the whole thing. I'm not sure either of the fancy styles really improved anything.

My only other wonder about the film is whether it should have gone all out spoof. This was a sensible spoof [relatively speaking], in that it wasn't made specifically for laughs. It did have some, but there were also some moments of emotion too. Should they have played the film out for more comedy? Who knows, but I feel the scene where Darcy and Elizabeth are stabbing a field to kill zombies that are buried underneath was completely wasted in a sensible spoof!

All in all I did enjoy it, but for those of you looking to see it at the cinema I'm not sure it's worth a £10 ticket. Well worth it if you have an offer of some description though. Just remember going in to it that it isn't Jane Austen, it's just your run of the mill zombie period drama... wow, never thought I'd say that sentence.

Kara Skinner (332 KP) rated Chained in Books

Sep 10, 2019  
7.0 (1 Ratings)
Book Rating
As acting high lord of the house of Toustain, it’s Lady Gwendolyn’s job to manage affairs of Dinasdale, and that includes managing her new unruly prisoner, Caden Maignart. Unfortunately it looks like the only way she’ll be able to manage him is to have him chained up in her bedchamber.

After thirty years of peace, tensions are mounting between Daleria and Dinasdale again. After receiving reports of Dalerians massacring a Dinasdale village and Gwen’s brothers vanishing after being attacked, Gwen won’t take any chances with the Dalerian intruders found on Dinasdalian land. But she quickly realizes just throwing them into the dungeon won’t work, not when one of them is willing to stir up as much trouble as he possibly can to be freed. Chaining him up in her bedchamber keeps him secure, but it causes a whole new set of problems. Like how she can’t hide her thoughts and feelings from him. Not to mention the growing attraction she feels towards him, despite him being the enemy and her being engaged to another.

I will say this: Elise Marion can world-build. Like damn! Not only did she bring two completely different cultures to life, but she also wrote intricate histories for both of them. And it is definitely amazing. I love both Dinasdale and Daleria equally even though I think I’d rather live in Daleria. It’s all woods and mountains and women can become knights instead of just marrying for status. And honestly, I like red meat, not fish, which is the main food in Dinasdale. Yeah. Marion can world-build. These feel like real regions instead of fictional ones.

Unfortunately, the world-building choked the story a little bit at the beginning. In the prologue, when the three kings met, I was having trouble just trying to remember who belonged to which country, let alone keeping the reason for their conflict straight. I reread entire passages three times or so before I gave up on matching the names to the countries and points of contentions. Luckily as the story goes on, I could figure it out better.

Another thing that was frustrating was how much this plot relied on slow communication. I mean, if this world had email then not nearly as many people would have been killed. I’m reading the second book now, and that is still the main plot device, which makes me impatient for the characters to get caught up to speed on what’s happening. But hey, it works, right? The dramatic irony was killing me.

Mostly, I really love this story. I mean as soon as I finished the first one I bought the second, which is very rare for me. But I love it a lot. In addition to the seriously realistic world-building, there is also a really great plot full of political corruption and mystery. Even though I don’t think Rowan’s character is at all realistic, I like the story. There’s a lot going on at once. My summary up top doesn’t really do the plot of the book justice, honestly. It’s very hard to explain how intricate the plot really is, so I highly recommend you read it.

And yes, the love story between Caden and Gwen is fantastic. Caden is a really decent guy, even to Gwen despite the fact that he’s chained to her bedroom wall. Despite being the high lord heir for Daleria he’s very just and noble, which is way more than what can be said for King Rowan or Prince Gawain. I mean, I just get angry when I think about those two. And Gwen is a perfect match for him. She’s as headstrong and clever as you can get, not to mention beautiful (and can I just say that I love that she’s not caucasian? Too often romances like these are very monocolored unless it’s really relevant to the plot. The different races is only mentioned as an identifying trait between Dalerian and Dinasdale, but not a point of contention between them. It’s incredibly refreshing).

She is definitely wasted as Gawain’s fiancee. She holds her own really well and unlike other “strong” female heroines I see sometimes in books like these, she’s actually really smart and fierce instead of being just sassy. I mean, she killed three men in the first scene. She rocks. Her family makes me angry, though. How can they expect her to just be married off to Gawain? Her mother is delusional and selfish, so I understand why she wants her daughter to act all ladylike, but her brothers should know better and so should her uncle! It’s really frustrating to see how they want to coddle her and get her out of the way all the time.

Gwen and Caden are fantastic together. I love the chemistry between them and how sweet Caden is to Gwen. The gods know she needs it after her rough handling from Gawain. One thing I didn’t like, however, is how Caden was reluctant to be with Gwen because of her engagement to Gawain. Yeah, I admire the need for loyalty, but when Gwen didn’t want to marry Gawain in the first place, Gawain tried to rape her, and he probably caused the rift between Daleria and Dinasdale, the value of an engagement should probably be meaningless. It’s also frustrating that he kept saying that she belonged to someone else. Like her family, he sees her a little bit like a possession, which was really annoying. I know that probably has nothing to do with her sex. He would probably say the same thing about a guy engaged. But that didn’t stop me from disliking him a little bit.