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Flight of Fury (2007) review


Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see Steven Seagal try and recover an invisible stealth jet? It’s not just me, is it? Well if you are as easily pleased as I am, then Flight of Fury is the Seagal film for you.

For anyone who is a fan of Seagal’s direct to DVD efforts, just about all of the usual cliches and slappy hand action sequences are present and correct. Heck, there’s even an amusing fight in a convenience store that sees Seagal sliding along the floor, unstoppable. This apparently is possible thanks to either a highly polished surface, or him owning a coat that lacks friction. And villains beware. Don’t try and grab hold of him whatever you do, he’ll manage to squirm his way out of your grasp and turn the tables on you. Somehow. He’s just that damn good.

The story sees Seagal, a former military man, drafted in to help recover a missing stealth bomber that has a cloaking ability, Star Trek style. Not only do we have to believe that Seagal is capable of pulling off all of his nifty action man moves, despite being blatantly too creaky and overweight to move fast, but that such a plane exists.

Unless he was fighting a Cornish Pasty of course, he might move a bit quicker when faced with such a competent and tasty enemy. Ironically it seems that Seagal was praised for his weight loss going into this film. If this is what he looked like after, I dread to think how heavy he was before.

He whispers his way through all of his dialogue, and much like all of his other non Under Siege films, all of his fight sequences are shot in ridiculous close-up to hide the fact he’s become much slower over time. In fact, I would pay good money to see a “whisper off” between Seagal and Vernon Wells from Commando. Now there would be a fight for the ages. My money would be on Vernon Wells to win.

Other than Seagal it’s another typical direct to DVD cheap action movie. There’s an excessive amount of stock footage used, a plot that doesn’t work anywhere near as well as they’d hoped. In fact there is a rushed feeling to almost every aspect of the production. Plus the story is not only (apparently) lifted wholesale from the 1998 film Black Thunder, it lingers in that noughties era of action cinema that linked everything to the War on Terror.

As far as the remaining cast go, there’s almost nothing to be said about them. They’re there, saying the lines, but they lack anything that makes them stand out. In fact the only part of this that stands out is Steven Seagal. And perhaps his gut. Without him, it would be immediately forgotten.

So unless you’re a sadist you’d be best served watching The Rock instead. Despite the fact it’s a Michael Bay film, it is a far better production with a similar plot, and doesn’t suffer from post 9/11 traumatic plotting syndrome.

Freefall – Part 12


Hello again and welcome to Part 12 of this ongoing double drabble serial. If there’s anybody new tuning in at this point, I’d suggest going back to the Short Stories page and read through Parts 1-11 so you’re up to speed. There are an ever growing number of short stories available on there, so have a scroll through the site and see if there’s anything that takes your fancy.

Any thoughts or comments? Give me a shout through the Contact page. Any and all feedback is gratefully received. Even the bad stuff, I like to hear constructive criticism as much as the praise. Besides which, I have a carapace to protect me from the worst comments, so go ahead and say what you like.

Now, onto the story:

Two guards had been left on duty outside the shuttle as the rest of the team searched for Farrow. There was nothing for them to do other than wait for Kohra to find his target and return with him to the ship.

The guard on the left of the ramp spoke first.

“It boggles the mind how anybody could continue farming when there’s a war on.”
“Folks need to eat I guess. Besides, the front line’s miles away. What else is there to do but get on with your life?”
“True. No guarantee it’ll stay that way though. I hear the line can move more than fifty miles in either direction on any given day.”
The guard on the right was impressed.
“As much as that? Now that is surprising.”
“Nothing surprising about war, and I’ve had my share. When this tour’s over, I’ll be going back home to write my stories.”
“You’re not still doing those fiction pieces are you?”
“I have a talent that needs to be released.”
“Is that what it’s called?”
“Enough of that. Look sharp. He’s on his way back.”

They snapped to attention as Kohra emerged from the farm. He did not look happy.

The Future (2013) review


I wonder sometimes why I watch some of the films that I do. In particular the more esoteric, out there sort of films that owe a debt to surrealism or try to portray fictional events as real footage. One such case is The Future, aka El Futuro in its native language (not to be confused with Il Futuro starring Rutger Hauer). To say that pretty much nothing happens for an hour would be entirely true.

What this amounts to is just over an hour of youngsters in 1982 having a party and listening to music. The music is often the only subtitled information we get, containing mostly nonsensical lyrics that on first glance bare no relation to the images on screen. You’ll have to dig a bit deeper for the subtext, and there’s plenty to get stuck into from there. If you’re hot on subtext watch then there is almost no point watching The Future.

There’s little appeal for anybody who is either not Spanish or isn’t a cinephile like myself. Unless of course you are a fan of 80s fashion, in which case there are a lot of hideous outfits for you to enjoy.

It also helps if you are aware of the historical context it is set in. Watch out, I’m about to head into pretentious film critic mode. Well, sort of. I’ve literally got nothing else to talk about except for the costumes and the self-constructed, home video style of the film. On that note, it’s very much like one of those home videos families put together, one that’s been edited together haphazardly and doesn’t capture any of the important moments of the night. It seems that all the fun stuff (random nudity aside) is happening somewhere else at the party.

Anyway, back to pretentious film critic mode.

Spain in 1982 was on the verge of breaking away from its old ways. The 1982 elections saw a landslide victory for the Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party, heralding an era of political stability and democracy. This is in direct odds with the current political feeling in the country in 2016, where disillusionment and unrest is once again rife.

It’s trying to say something about how political change such as this can be a positive force, that the possibilities for the future are unwritten but, on the whole, not as bad as you might think. The thing is, with all the good will in the world, for me it didn’t do anything to live up to that concept. Watching a group of youngsters having a drink and a laugh is all well and good, but if there’s no real point to it than saying “hey look, the future might not be as bad as you think!” then there are far easier and better ways of saying it.

Bearing in mind how little this represents cinema as a method of storytelling, I can only imagine that the director, Luis Lopez Carrasco, will present his next feature film as a washing machine spin cycle in all its glory, uncut for a full 80 minutes, in extreme closeup and, possibly, 3D.

Short Story: Curse of the Gods


Hello once again, here’s another little story for you. If you want to send any feedback my way, drop me a line via my Contact page.

“Behold, the greatest discovery of our time!”

Professor James Stanforth stood over the tomb’s entrance, a gentle breeze whipping the sand up around him and the seventy or so reporters and locals that had gathered to watch him. The sun beat down on them all, its heat Their faces were a mixture of boredom and curiosity, people who had either been keeping a close eye on the dig or had been drawn in by the crowd and had no idea why they were there.

“In this, the year of Our Lord 1921 I, Professor James Stanforth, do solemnly decree that the tomb of Tumon-Ra has been discovered. Only a few short steps away lie the secrets of a previously thought lost generation.”

He paused for breath, allowing his comments to sink in. Yes, after almost a decade of searching he had finally located his treasured prize. The tomb that had remained elusive for all these years was now opened and rife for discovery. Fame and fortune would be his at long last.

A man, swaddled in rags so only his eyes and the top half of his nose were visible, stepped into the circle of people who stood watching the archaeologist. Stanforth took a step back despite himself. The swaddled man pointed a finger at him, his eyes ablaze.

“You will stop at once, the Gods command it!”
“I, er…” Stanforth was speechless.
“To desecrate the tomb of the great ones is to bring
“Preposterous. Somebody remove this man immediately.”
Stanforth’s security team moved in to escort the man away. As he was directed to the back of the crowd he turned again to look directly at Stanforth.
“But it is cursed! You will bring the wrath of the Gods down upon us! Stop now, before it is too late!”

Stanforth waved away the local, dismissing his claim and gathering his composure. What tosh! There was no such things as curses. They were a myth, a tale passed down by each generation to deter grave robbers and the like. He clicked his fingers to call over his assistant, Perkins. He was a short barrel of a man, a perpetual sheen of sweat on his brow. He had not reacted well to the dry heat of Egypt, yet he had not complained once.
“See to it that there are no further disturbances.”
Perkins nodded. “Of course, Professor. I’ll see to it.”
Perkins waddled away, dabbing his brow with his handkerchief. Perkins wasn’t the best at his job, but he had been the cheapest. Stanforth didn’t need the best, he needed adequate. Perkins fit the bill in every respect.

He paid no further heed to the remaining locals as he removed artefacts from Tumon-Ra’s tomb and loaded them onto the fleet of vehicles. They were being taken to the British Museum to be studied and, later, displayed for the public. His time in Egypt passed by without further incident, and he thought no further about the wild accusations of that man.

He took a single object from the tomb, a small gold representation of Tumon-Ra himself. A spoil of war, as it were. He left it in a prominent position in his home on the mantlepiece in his hallway. All visitors would see it as they entered the building. It would be an excellent talking point when greeting dignitaries and the like.

But as the weeks went by Stanforth began to think that the Egyptian may have been right after all. His health began to wane, feeling himself grow increasingly weaker with each passing day. Just as he was starting to feel well again, the malaise struck and he was reduced to feeling miserable once more.

Inexplicably, each of his five beloved pet dogs died. It was not clear how or why, they had just dropped dead. Then his housekeeper died under similarly mysterious circumstances. Then his gardener. One by one, those closest to Stanforth were dying. Nobody could offer an explanation.

Perkins had continued to visit despite the warnings from everyone around him about being near Stanforth. Good old Perkins. He remained a picture of health, if you ignored the sheen of sweat that had accompanied his brow all the way from Egypt. Stanforth had no explanation for it. Perhaps there was a curse?

After more than six weeks of occasional illness, Stanforth’s condition worsened and he found himself bed bound. Incapable of moving without exerting all of the energy that was left in him, the days passed with little enjoyment. Eventually, inevitably, he weakened so much he slipped into unconsciousness. The end came shortly thereafter.

The funeral was held behind closed doors. Rumours of an Egyptian curse followed him even in death. Only the hardy few, remnants of his distant family, Perkins, a few close well wishers, were all that were willing to risk the wrath of the Gods that Stanforth had brought back with him from foreign lands.

The swaddled man knocked twice on the wooden door, opened it and stepped inside. Inside a dozen flaming torches hung from the walls, the room well lit to compensate for its lack of windows or natural light. At the far end of the room sat an ornate throne, gold gilded. In it sat the High Priest, of which denomination wasn’t clear. The swaddled man approached with deference, kneeling at the foot of the throne and lowering his head to the ground.

“It is done.”

“You have achieved much” said the High Priest. “Now they shall fear the Gods, and we as their loyal servants shall be rewarded.”
“I live to serve.”
“Were there any complications?”
“Just one. The fat man, the one from the dig. He lives. He was the only one who did not enter the home through the front door. It seems he had family working on the grounds and he would visit them beforehand. He would walk in through a side entrance somewhere away from the poison in the artefact he took as his own.”
“It is of little consequence. To leave one alive after so many have died… the Gods are appeased. Return to your Order, do the will of the Gods.”
The swaddled man nodded and backed away from the throne. There were rumours that another foreigner was seeking the tomb of Tutankhamun. If so, he was certain his services would be called upon again in due course.

Cuadecuc, Vampir (1971) review


Filmed alongside Jesus Franco’s Dracula in 1970 (ignore the film’s opening text saying it’s from Hammer’s Dracula film – it isn’t), Vampir is an intriguingly odd movie. Filming behind the scenes of that interpretation of the Dracula tale – in high contrast black and white no less – a new tale is formed, one all the more sinister thanks to the lack of natural sound and dialogue. This has been replaced with ambient noises that are disconcerting and disturbing in equal measure. Almost as much as the vast periods of silence that dominate the film, in fact.

It creates a huge distance between the film and the audience, making you think about what you are experiencing and how you should interpret what you are seeing. This is not just a vampire film but a behind the scenes expose. I admit, it’s a bit of a weird one all the same. Scenes that would have intended to scare the audience in the original film are undercut by watching the cast and crew messing around on set, or revealing the secrets of filmmaking as par for the course.

It might be best if you looked on Cuadecuc as a parody: both of the horror genre and of filmmaking as a whole. Both of these, after all, only have the rules we give to them. If we were to throw out the rulebook about what cinema can do, what would the result be? Inevitably, something very much like this. I think my brain has just dribbled onto the floor.

What results is something that is disconcerting, yes, but not scary. It reveals the power of film, its ability to pull you into a story – any story – and obscuring all of the behind the scenes work that goes into making the action on screen a reality. It’s not always clear what exactly you’re watching, the camera occasionally zooming in or focusing on very specific details within a scene, on or around an actor.

Here, Christopher Lee’s Dracula is older than his Hammer equivalent, more taciturn and stoic than the sexual predator he is presented as elsewhere. This is in keeping with Franco’s vision of the character, who grows younger each time he imbibes blood. That is perhaps the only through line that is maintained. Everything else is disjointed, confusingly arranged.

The soundscape is also at odds with the images. Modern day sound effects – mechanical diggers, the hustle and bustle of city life – are dumped on top of the footage without rhyme or reason.

Our journey through the madness ends with Lee giving us a reading from Stoker’s novel. This is the only relatively sane part of the film. It fits with the preceding 70-odd minutes but is also at odds with it. Lee is superb, as you might expect, giving Stoker’s words added gravitas and intonation.

An interesting curio then, and perhaps more heavily indebted to the political regime in Spain at the time than is at first apparent. It’s something unique, subversive and intriguing in equal measure.

Shoah (1985) review


Without using any archive footage, Shoah provides hours and hours of interviews with survivors, former Nazis and local historians to build a picture of humanity’s darkest hour.

It is a slog, but almost deliberately so. The Holocaust marks perhaps the darkest period in human history and in many respects the long running time of the film reflects this. This is a record for future generations, to avoid humanity making the same mistakes. How? By learning about the Holocaust, the thinking behind it, and why such an event should never have cause to happen again.

Obviously, I can’t compare the plight of the Jews and others interred and murdered during World War 2 to sitting through a nearly 10 hour film. The latter can’t compare to that level of suffering and torment and I wouldn’t consider the two anywhere near similar. What we do have though is a journey, one of pain, inhumanity and suffering the likes the world has not seen before or since. By watching Shoah, a film that was shot and edited over a period of several years, we see the impact of the Holocaust on survivors who were persecuted by the Nazis, those who witnessed events, and those who directly or indirectly perpetrated the mass killings.

The first five hours, the first half of the story, take their time in getting to the point. Claude Lanzmann has given us an incredible insight into the past, but the frequent on location translation starts to get in the way of the information the film’s trying to give us. Rather than defer to a direct voiceover translation, Lanzmann asks a question, the translator asks this to the interviewee, they respond and the translator tells Lanzmann the answer. It’s a laborious approach but it does have a very direct “as it was” style. More so as Lanzmann asks for what would be considered minor details. But while they are small pieces of information it all builds to a substantial whole.

Returning to the site of the various death camps some thirty or forty years later is a chilling experience. Not just for the violence that once took place there, but for how calm and serene those areas were in the late 1970s/early 1980s. To look at them you would barely expect them to have been the sites of horrific acts. Of more concern is that they have now mostly fallen into disrepair or been left to be reclaimed by nature. Preserving such locations may not be ideal, but to not do so is risking that it will be forgotten in a generation or two.

It is in the second half where the interviews really pick up in terms of their content and their approach. There are more secretly filmed interviews with former Nazis, the grainy images further distancing these people from right thinking human beings. Their justifications for following through with the extermination plans are weak, but the most value gained from them is their insights into the running of the camps.

The resulting opinions are, on the whole, that it was as if they were looking after cattle rather than fellow humans. Even cattle deserve to be treated with some level of respect and compassion. If there are lessons to be learned then it is here in particular, the former guards and representatives of Hitler accepting the offer of being interviewed but refusing to be filmed.

Put simply, Shoah is an experience, one that I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to see. We should never forget what has come before, to prevent the mistakes of past generations happening again.

Cloverfield (2008) review


“Found footage Godzilla”. That pretty accurately sums up Cloverfield, a film that emerged out of the gates back in 2008 as a complete unknown. The production had been shrouded in secrecy and the true nature of the story was kept hidden right up until release. All we had to go on was a potent image of the Statue of Liberty without a head. What could this be about? An alien invasion, a big creature attack, or something equally as horrific?

Well, in hindsight it’s not an incredible film. Intriguing in places, yes. A few good ideas dotted throughout, of course. But, and this is its key problem, all it really presents is a ground level view of events as seen from a group of New Yorkers whose party is interrupted by the arrival of (pause for dramatic effect)… something.

This is where most of the opening third takes place, establishing the characters and their relationships with one another. Unfortunately they don’t come across all that well, being needy and emotionally broken, as people tend to be, but not in the sense that they are interesting people. As it happens they are borderline irritating and I can easily see a lot of people who have never seen it before tuning out after before the good stuff begins.

As the characters are people I barely cared about, I couldn’t name anything special or particularly outstanding about any of them. Plus, the question is raised once again about why somebody would keep filming something like this when most of us would just be interested in getting out of the combat zone.

By the time the lights go out and things start exploding (objects and, amusingly, people), you need this burst of action to wake you up. Thankfully while the opening 20-25 minutes are rather stale and dull, the rest of the film is sufficiently action packed to keep the energy levels up. Journeying across New York the group head to an apartment block to try and rescue whatshisname’s main squeeze.

Or hopeful main squeeze, they’re not a formal item. Given the grey nature of their relationship, if I was him I wouldn’t have bothered and just got out of town. But then that is why I’m not a film character, I’m led by reason rather than my hormones or the whim of a screenwriter.

So we go on a journey throughout New York, encountering the creature, the army and destroyed landscapes. Visually it’s a delight, and certainly a factor that ensures it’s not a total waste of everybody’s time.

Despite my initial misgivings, I’m intrigued by the creature, its origins and the massive question mark that hangs over its reason for existence. That is where the true strength of Cloverfield lies and cements its legacy. It’s less about what we see and find out and more about the little hints and glimpses that we get. While it may have been more in its favour to answer at least some of these details, it works just as well in letting you work stuff out for yourself.

Sherlock Bones: Ace Detective (1994) review


For those of us who grew up in the 1990s, there were two types of film aimed at the children’s market. The first type were the films heavily laden with early and incredibly cheap CGI. This list includes the likes of Casper, Flubber and Jumanji to name but three. The second type were the Homeward Bound style films, featuring real life animals that can talk and insisting that everything is shot practically in camera.

Both categories also made extensive use of slapstick humour wherever possible, because that stuff always makes kids chuckle. Sherlock Bones is one of those slapstick heavy films, the sort where performances are over exaggerated, the story is as wafer thin as a particular brand of post-dinner mint, and the script is diabolical.

As this is a kids film, the plot is a mild caper and never likely to offer anything that is deep or meaningful. The story is designed to amuse and keep kids out of their parent’s hair for 70 minutes or so. If my viewing is anything to go by, it’d be lucky to entertain anyone of any age, gender or description.

Gasp! As a young boy makes a slow escape from a tie-dyed villain!

Shriek! As a man tries to balance a tray on one hand and manages to spill its contents!

Amaze! At the Scottish accented talking dog!

Or not. None of these things are any good. The only part that vaguely entertained me was the girl at the end managing to pull together all of the various plot strands like a three foot tall MacGuffin Machine.

Somehow she knows exactly how to prove everything that the villains have done by running up and down the beach collecting items related to the story. Clearly, whoever wrote this backed themselves into a corner in the final act but then didn’t think it would be worth going back and making it work. Just let the young girl do it for no good reason, that’ll work. Humbug.

It comes to something when the worst aspect of a film isn’t that its star is a talking dog. In fact it’s a train-wreck of epic proportions, made on the cheap and the fact it has a talking dog in it barely has any impact on the story. You could have got rid of him completely and it would have carried on regardless. Besides which he spends the entire film wit his paw bandaged up and limited in his involvement anyway. What’s the point?

If the cloying family movie music doesn’t make you want to garrotte yourself within fifteen minutes, the badly dubbed dialogue will. Be warned, watching Sherlock Bones: Ace Detective is a true exercise in patience and endurance. If you have a child to entertain and a choice between this and literally any other film, pick the other film. And if you own a copy of this film: burn it. Destroy it. Turn it into a cheap frisbee. Anything to save another person from accidentally watching it. Trust me, you won’t miss it when it’s gone and you’ll be doing future generations a favour by hiding any and all evidence of its existence. Except for this review of course, this should be kept. A warning against what might have been if nothing else.

Freefall – Part 11


The stories keep on coming, and we’re building slowly to the next stage of the Freefall tale. What else is to come, you might ask? You’ll just have keep tuning in week after week for each new chapter.

Do you like the story so far, or do you not like some or all of it? I’m always happy to receive feedback on my work. If you want to send me your thoughts, you can get in touch through one of the methods on my Contact page. Good or bad, please get in touch and I’ll read what you have to say.

And now without further ado, onto the story!

Farrow heard the shot from inside the bunker. He finished taping up his injured ankle and switched on the external monitor, the one the farmer had pointed him towards before rushing off to meet the incoming ship.

He saw the farmer’s inert body lying on the floor near Kohra. The death of the old farmer saddened Farrow. It was a pointless death. It was typical of Kohra to follow such a plan of action, to shoot first and ask questions later. This feud would only end when one or both of them were dead.

There were secrets in his past that would soon be revealed. Kohra had no idea, at present, exactly how intertwined their lives were, what Farrow had done to get here. But when he found out the full details, that would be when all reason went out of the window. Then it would be a choice: kill or be killed.

He watched as the soldiers behind Kohra moved across the farmyard. Soon they would search the barn, find the entranceway that led to the bunker. They would walk down the corridor, find the bunker’s metal door. They would get inside.

Farrow needed a way out, and fast.

The Passage (2011) review


The Passage proves that there’s no one way of presenting a road trip movie. In every case, the toad movie is used as a metaphor for the journey through life, whether it be a comedy or a serious drama. It represents twists and turns in both a literal and a metaphorical sense. In some cases very little really happens. Such is the case here, with this first part of Roberto Minervini’s Texas trilogy. In its favour, The Passage is much like an iceberg in that there is much, much more going on under the surface.

Presented in a cinema verité style (in other words, like a documentary), The Passage follows three characters: a woman, Ana, who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer; a convict out on parole; an English guy. All of them are middle aged at best, advanced in their years at worst. And, it seems, everybody involved isn’t a professional actor. This enhances the documentary feel to the story, made all the more believable because you don’t get the impression that these people are acting. They’re just living, playing their lives out for us all to see.

The purpose of Ana going on her road trip is to visit a new age alternative therapy commune – without even going into spoiler territory any sensible thinking person will know how that turns out. Our convict friend is along for the ride but dealing with complex family issues, and our English guy has recently been divorced and is travelling to establish an art exhibition. Shame for him that it’s tainted by his dark thoughts following the end of his relationship.

There’s no rush for the characters to get out on the road, nor is there a rush to connect our three characters. There is a slow build set up and our English representative doesn’t show up until nearly an hour in. They’re an interesting group, none of whom you’d traditionally expect to lead a film narrative. The depth and breadth of cinema strikes again, in all its glory.

The unofficial fourth character is the Texan landscape, as rich and varied as the characters living there and travelling through it. In one scene they stop to watch a thunderstorm in the distance. If you were looking for allegories about life, existence and human struggle, just take a look at the scenery Minervini uses here. The planet gives (such as when they take a dip in some murky, muddy water) and it takes away. I’ve no doubt there is even more subtext there for you to get stuck into should you want to dig a little deeper. That’s part of the enjoyment.

What we do have though is a disparate trio, all from different walks of life, uniting in a common cause. The film ends without a real conclusion. But this is just like life – there are no Hollywood style endings, no ultimate finale to wrap everything up nicely. The future is unwritten, and it’s up to us to write the next chapter in our lives.