Wednesday, 29 October 2014

DVD Reviews Autumn Round-Up

Rust & Bone (15)
Director: Jacques Audiard

Gritty tale of survival in a tough economic climate set in a beach-side town in France. (Subtitled) Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) is a killer whale trainer who suffers a life-changing accident throwing her into a relationship with aspiring boxer, Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) who is caught up in illegal boxing and security work trying to provide for his young son. Realistic and uncompromising but ultimately uplifting a rewarding five out of five stars.

*****

Her (15)
Director: Spike Jonz

Sci-fi love story about a lonely ghost writer who falls for the operating system on his computer. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson and Amy Adams. Stylish but to the detriment of the plot, three out of five stars.

*****

Robot & Frank (12)
Director: Jake Schreier

Another sci-fi interpretation of human interactivity with technology, this time an elderly cat-burglar is given a robot to look after him as his son is too busy to deal with his dementia. Frank Langella plays the incorrigible thief who embarks on one last job with the help of the robot. An engaging four out of five stars.

*****

American Hustle (15)
Director: David O. Russell

A big, brash, no-holds barred movie based on a 1970s true story of a con-man and his partner forced to work for the FBI in a sting to catch Mafia and crooked politicians. Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Jennifer Lawrence shine in last year's guilty pleasure. A hair-raising, wing-collared five out of five stars.

*****

The Wolf Of Wall Street (18)
Director: Martin Scorsese

Another true-life story set in the mad money world of Wall Street in the 1980s. Corruption and greed get the better of aspiring stock broker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) as his hedonistic lifestyle spirals out of control. An eye-opening roller-coaster of excess. Four out of five stars.

*****

Dallas Buyers Club (15)
Director: Jean-Marc Vallee

Matthew McConaughey gives an extraordinary performance as Ron Woodroof, an AIDS patient who takes on the FDA to smuggle unapproved drugs into the USA. He sets up the 'Dallas Buyers Club' as a way to get experimental drugs to fellow sufferers during the 1980's when AIDS was still misunderstood and few treatments were available. Jennifer Garner is the nurse, Eve, caught up in the unjust legalities of the medical trial system and Jared Leto is the fragile Rayon, an aids patient Ron befriends. An intensely moving true-life story, five out of five stars.

*****


August: Osage County (15)
Director: John Wells

Adapted from a play, any hint of bleak comedy has been boiled out in a stiflingly oppressive story of the dysfunctional Weston family gathering for the funeral of Beverley Weston, writer and alcoholic husband to the despotic matriarch Violet, who terrorises her family using her cancer as a weapon. An all-star cast includes Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis, Julianne Nicholson and Margot Martindale as the quartet of subordinate women trying to deal with Violet, monstrous in her grief played brilliantly by Meryl Streep. A mention for Chris Cooper whose understated hen-pecked male presence is a much needed foil. An achingly dry three out of five stars.


*****

Monday, 27 October 2014

Last Dog Standing ~ Episode Five

Countdowns...

As night approaches, the last dog pauses and sniffs the cooling air. There is a carcass lying near to the edge of the road he is travelling on. The New Forest pony is little more than a pile of bleached bones and stretched hide, picked clean long ago by crows but something to chew is better than nothing to chew and the dog pulls a section of the carcass free. He trots off to a nearby thatch of scrubby gorse to gnaw the night away. At sunrise he'd continue on the trail, it's a strong trail, with little else travelling on the road to confuse it. As night falls, behind him the forest stretches away, back towards the big towns where no lights burn, only the slow smoke pyres of desperation.

'THREE...FOUR....'

'Another countdown, what is it with the countdowns today!' Something inside Daisy seems to wake up, as though the day has been a dream, a sleep walk through a nightmare landscape but this, this now is too much. Enough is enough. A point has been reached and she can take no more, indignant rage takes over. 'STOP IT with the counting!'
'Open the door and I'll stop... FIVE...'
Daisy is about to scream a reply when the most extraordinary sight appears on the monitor. Into the glare of the headlights leaps a stag. In the space between the bloke and the ICL it canters past, nostrils flaring, spittle foaming from its mouth, whites of its eyes rolling, a wild creature flashing past. For a second Daisy and the bloke are shocked into silence and stillness. Then the blood-curdling howls of a pack of dogs reaches them and before either can move a slavering, clamouring posse of what once were pets streams across the front of ICL, yelping and baying, oblivious to them, absorbed only in the chase and their quarry.
'Dog pack!' The bloke whispers under his breath, he had dropped his guard, stopping on the road is never a good idea. The yelps almost die away and then one or two grow stronger, returning. On the monitor, Daisy can see the dark shapes of three dogs, slinking round, just on the edge of the headlights reach, stalking the bloke.
'You have to let me in.' The bloke whispers, edging towards the door.
'Piss off! You were about to shoot me! You're the one with the gun, shoot them instead.' Daisy whispers back.
'I can't shoot them! I don't have any bullets. I just use it as a deterrent...'
'As a deterrent?'
'Well, sometimes it works... you have to let me it, they'll eat me alive... please...'
Daisy is about to tell him to get lost when the image of the last dog standing, arm bone in it's mouth suddenly leaps into her head and she knows she has no stomach for murder. Outside the dogs are beginning to edge into the light, more confident of a kill. She makes up her mind and slides out of the cockpit and back through to the door, picking up the fire extinguisher on the way.
'Can you still hear me?' she whispers.
'Yes!'
'OK, move to the door, I'm going to open it, leap in.'
She hits the release button and the door slides open, the bloke leaps in just as the dogs launch their attack in a frenzy of barking. Daisy fires a burst of the extinguisher into the air and the dogs back off in surprise, long enough for the door to slide shut again. Daisy leans against the door and sighs then turns round, gripping the cannister tightly to find the bloke sprawling in heap on top of the soggy mess of her pink onesie still lying where she left it on the floor. The semi automatic is at her feet. She picks it up and walks over to him, fire extinguisher in one hand, gun in the other.
'Now, you and I are going to sit down like civilised humans and you are going to tell me exactly how the hell the world has gone, quite literally, to the the dogs because I am absolutely at the end of my patience...' There is something in her tone of voice that makes the bloke just nod dumbly in reply as she motions to a nearby chair with the gun.

Outside, on the motorway to London, the dogs circle the ICL but soon lose interest once they establish there is no way in. As one, they turn and follow the rest of the pack, the image of the stag still fresh in their minds. 

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Last Dog Standing ~ Episode Four

No time like the present...

Daisy slams a fist onto the panel of the bulkhead, aware it won't open it but at least it vents some frustration and fear as the capsule rocks slowly from side to side. 'What's making us shake?'
After some seconds the reply from the computer program. 'It is some people with what look like metal poles, trying to push over the ICL... Daisy, I'm going to let you into the cockpit and then talk you through an emergency evacuation procedure...'
'I am not going back out there, it's that cannibal and his cronies... I knew there'd be more, there always is...is the dog there?'
'No, I mean yes, the dog is there but I am not asking you to leave the safety of the ICL, just to drive the capsule away from the present situation.'
In front of Daisy the bulkhead panel slides open and reveals a small cockpit, complete with a joystick, leather upholstered chair and a heads up display on a split screen monitor showing four different views of the exterior of the capsule.
Daisy slides into the seat and straps herself in. In front of her is the joystick and the screen. Two of the camera angles show a group of four or five people, as thin as skeletons, trying to lever the capsule over with long scaffolding poles. Nearby stands the old man and his dog, shouting instructions. A closer look at this gang of walking skin and bone in their filthy clothes reveals they are tethered together with lengths of chain similar to the dog's lead. These are what...his pets...his slaves...his next meal? An image of the arm bone springs up in her mind and the thought stays in Daisy's head as the computer program talks through the start, drive and speed procedures.
The capsule rocks particularly violently and Daisy hits the start button and the engines quietly start running. 'Where to?' she asks.
'I would suggest anywhere but here!'

As the capsule speeds away across the warehouse towards the large bay doors, Daisy watches on the monitor as the metal poles are suddenly catapulted out from under the moving ICL and the gang is torn from their feet, falling like ninepins into a heap of chains, twisted metal and screaming. Running after her is the old man and his dog. In front of her, on the forward camera looms the closed bay doors. She closes her eyes and pushes the joystick to its full extent as the capsule picks up speed and hurtles at the metal. The doors are ripped open and one flies back over the capsule roof as Daisy opens her eyes in time to see it hit the man square on, pinning him under it as the dog dodges it and races after the capsule. Daisy steers the ICL through the jumbled masonry in the car park and out onto the avenue, weaving in and out of the abandoned vehicles littering the way as the capsule careers its way up to the dual carriageway, the dog barking as it races to keep up.

'I don't think they are following.'
The computer program waits for a response from Daisy but gets none.
'I don't think we need to keep driving so fast. We are not being followed. The dog stopped when we reached the dual carriageway.'
Still there is no reply as Daisy keeps the capsule driving at full speed, swerving every now and then to avoid empty cars, trucks and tanks .
'DAISY, STOP NOW!'
But Daisy drives on, oblivious to everything but the road on the monitor in front of her.
After several miles through the bleak landscape of the New Forest the dual carriageway merges into a motorway and then the motorway begins to empty of abandoned vehicles until it is just the ICL on the empty three lanes heading northeast to London. Night is falling and it occurs to Daisy that none of the motorway lights are working.
She loosens her grip on the joystick and asks, 'Do we have headlights?'
'Yes, we do. Try the yellow button on the console in front.'
Daisy presses the button and the exterior lights flood out, pushing back the night. She eases up on the speed and the capsule slows to a crawl and then to a full stop as she slumps back into the seat, the adrenalin pumping around her system from earlier fading away. 'So what now?' she asks, almost to herself.
'I thought you wanted to go to London, to the SpaceLife Science headquarters to contact the team.'
'London? Yes, yes if anywhere survives it will be London. There will be contingency plans and protocols, you know for the Government and stuff. They are probably all down in the underground, like during the wars.' Daisy sits up at he thought. 'London it is.'
She turns on the engine again.
'You don't want to wait till tomorrow morning? Till daylight?'
'I've spent the last five years waiting around. No time like the present.'
The engine purrs into life again and Daisy settles at a comfortable speed of thirty-five mph as the motorway slips past in the night. Far behind them, in the warehouse, the dog sits by the metal door pinning his master down. But his master isn't breathing and after a while the dog gets up, ignoring the chained gang still in a writhing heap on the floor and sets off back up the avenue in the direction of the motorway following the scent of the ICL.

Daisy is dreaming. On the road in front of her, beyond the arc of the headlights is a bright light, like a flame, then two flames, like a shining pair of wings. An angel! There is an angel here to meet her on the road.
'Daisy! Watch out! You're going to hit it!' The voice program overrides the controls and slams on the brakes as the capsule shudders to halt but not before the sound of an ominous thud.
'What!' Daisy starts awake. Had she been asleep at the joystick? 'What was that?'
'Something on the road, you hit it.'
'I saw an angel!'
'No you didn't.'
'Well, something that looked like an angel.'
'I am comparing images from the cameras with my database, it looked like a pair of solar panels attached to something moving. They reflected the headlights back at you.'
'It could have been an angel.'
'Or not. Go and see what it is.'
'What? Go out there again?'
'Yes, you'll have to clear whatever it is out from under the wheel anyway.'
Daisy glances at the monitors, it is still dark beyond the arc of the lights.
'Can't we just wait till morning?'
But before the voice program can reply, the sound of an irate voice can be heard through the display screen cameras.
'Oy! Look what you've done to my solar trike I was only trying to hitch a ride, ROAD HOG!'

'Did you just hear that?'
'Yes, Daisy, I did. That is definitely not an angel.'
'OY! You in there, what the hell d'you think you're doing? Look at my trike! How am I gonna get anywhere now? HEY, In the tin can, can you hear me?'
On the monitor, a lone figure appears in front of the ICL on the monitor, illuminated by the headlights. Daisy stares at the good-looking bloke yelling at them. 'Body of an angel, though.' she thinks out loud.
'I heard that.'
'HEY! What are you going to do about my TRIKE?' The bloke kicks the ICL and then hops about holding his toe. Daisy smiles. 'Look, he's hopping mad. Can we talk to him? Through the monitors?'
'Um... yes.. I can reroute the internal speakers... just a moment. Try that.'
'Helllloooooooo?'
For a moment the bloke stands still as Daisy's hello echoes out across the motorway in the dark.
'Sorry, too loud. Try again.' whispers the computer program.
'Hello? Can you hear me?'
'Er... yes. I can. You ran over my trike.' The bloke shades his eyes from the glare of the headlights but can see no door or window opening on the capsule. 'I was just trying to hitch a lift.'
'So you said. How do I know you're not another cannibal... with a gang, how do I know this isn't a trap?'
'Do I look like I'm a cannibal? Look I'm unarmed.... I'm just trying to get home.' The bloke stretches out his arms and turns around so that whoever is in the capsule can see he is not hiding any weapons in the close-fitting cycling outfit he is wearing. 'At least move you're.. your whatever this vehicle is back off my trike.'
Daisy sighs and slowly reverses the capsule back a few feet. In the headlights she can see the crushed remains of his trike.'
'Look what you've done to it!' The bloke kneels beside the trike and tries to stand it upright.
'Sorry! It's just that it's been a bit of a day today and...'
'And now it's going to get worse!' The bloke springs back up to his feet with a large semi-automatic weapon he has pulled out from the wrecked trike and points it directly at the ICL.
'You have exactly ten seconds to exit the... the vehicle thing or I start blasting holes into you...ONE...TWO....'






Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Last Dog Standing ~ Episode Three

Episode Three
Just You, Me and the Dog...

As Daisy picks her way back over the fallen masonry into the late sunshine of the car park outside the Isolation Capsule Laboratory, the dog keeps its distance, preferring to stalk her. She clutches the CO2 canister a little tighter to her as she heads for the nearest road junction to look for a road sign. She crosses the road and heads up a wide avenue running between derelict warehouses and business units. Here and there are abandoned cars, doors gaping. Bullet holes are splashed across the bonnet of one, windscreen glass scattered across the seats. There is no one, no bodies, no bits of bodies, nothing. Behind her she can hear the dog picking its way through the shadows, just a few yards behind her and so she picks up her pace and starts to jog. At the top of the road she finds an empty dual carriageway and finally, some road signs.
'A31/M27 Northbound' Daisy reads out loud.
'Bournemouth, that's where you are.'
The voice makes her jump out of her skin and she spins round to find a dozen paces away, the dog has company. The man bends and loops a length of chain through the dog's collar. 'Now, don't mind Nibbles here, she's alright.' He pats the dog and 'Nibbles' lies at his feet panting.
'Anyhow, that's the road back to London, if you fancy a walk, the petrol ran out about four years ago, now.' He laughs the scratchy, dry laugh of someone with nothing to laugh about. 'You in that pod thing? I thought there'd be someone in there. Any more is there?'
'No, no.. just me. I've been in there for five years... I don't know what's happened, what I've missed...'
'What's happened? What's happened? Now there's a thing. Just you though? Well, well. End of the world. That's what you've missed.' The man eyes her up and down, not with a leer but with a look of hunger, a look that says he hasn't seen live flesh for a long time. He sighs, noticing how uncomfortable Daisy is from his scrutiny.
'Don't mind me. Just a long time since I've seen a live... It was the petrol first, ran out. Some big world banking thing, the internet got hacked and all the money deleted from the system. I mean all of it. Nothing got paid, global transactions froze, everything stopped. Then, before they could get it back up and running the petrol ran out, no money no imports, food ran out in supermarkets, followed by the gas, chaos set in, riots, looting, country was like a war zone. The whole world they said, up in flames... by the time the hackers work had been undone it was too late. Then a year later, after the riots, war. Global war. Then famine... now, now well.. I think it must just be you, me and the dog by now. Just you, you say, in that pod?'
Daisy cannot believe what she is hearing but the evidence is everywhere, littering the dual carriageway, empty cars, empty lorries, empty army tanks. The man tugs at the dog's lead and starts to walk towards her. She instinctively starts to back off.
'No need to be like that, I won't harm you. Just... OK, let's stop and have a nice chat shall we, get to know each other a bit?'
The man smiles and Daisy can see his teeth, filed into points and then she notices his necklace, half hidden by his dirty grey shirt. Little bones, a necklace of little bones under an old business shirt and the suit, too stained to be just dirt...
Daisy runs as fast as she can, hoping surprise will be on her side. She easily outstrips the man for speed but the dog is another matter. As she runs back towards the safety of the ICL, she can hear the rattle of the chain as 'Nibbles' is let loose. As the dog gains on her she just has time to turn round and fire the CO2 at it. It stops the dog in its tracks and Daisy sprints across the car park and back into the ICL, slamming the door shut and pressing the seal-lock button, sinking to the floor in a heap of terror and exhaustion.

'Daisy, I thought you were leaving.'
'Yes, well, now I'm back.'
'Didn't the canister work on the dog?'
'No, it worked.'
'Did you find out where you are?'
'Yes... yes, Bournemouth. I'm in Bournemouth.'
'Good, so you can soon find your way to London.'
'No point. The world I left no longer exists.'
'Feelings of anxiety and fear are only to be expected after five years of solitude, would you like me to play some mood music?'
'No, no you don't understand...'
'Would you like to talk about it?'
'The world is over, there is nothing out there, there's been a global meltdown... there's no one left.'
'How did you find this out Daisy?'
'There's a man with the dog. He told me.'
'But you said there is no one left. Clearly that is wrong, there is you, a man and a dog.'
'Who both want to eat me.'
'That's still something, not nothing.'
'They have been waiting outside for me to come out, not to congratulate me, not to buy my diary, but to hunt me down to eat. That's something all right... that's... that's....!'
'If you can't walk to London, then you will have to drive.'
'What? How? The petrol ran out four years ago and by the look of it, there are no drivable cars left..you don't understand...it's all over, civilisation is ended...'
'The pod. You can drive the pod.'
'I can what?'
'The SpaceLife Science Isolation Capsule Laboratory was designed to not only independently sustain life for five years but also to be the first green, sustainable state-of-the-art caravan for the 21st century. Why do you think you had to compact the toilet every day?'
'I presumed so I didn't drown in a sea of my own waste in here.'
'Biodigesters eat it and convert it into water, methane and pelleted solids. The methane fuels the engines, the pelleted solids are burnt to generate electricity.'
'And the water?'
'Is filtered for reuse.'
'This has an engine?'
'It was one of the ways to maximise profit from the experiment. There would have been a country-wide publicity tour afterwards using the ICL itself, to generate sales. The cockpit is the locked compartment just below the sleeping bunk. The engine is cleverly built into the substructure of the ICL along with the wheels...'
'I've spent the last five years locked in a caravan in Bournemouth?'
''Isolation Capsule Laboratory' corrects the computer program.
'I have spent five bloody years locked in a bloody caravan in Bournemouth while the world burns outside...I've been outside! Twice! I could have been eaten alive and only now you are mentioning this capsule can be driven?'
'You are yelling.'
'So there's an engine and fuel, tell me, are there windows too?'
'No. But there is the navigational 360* viewscreen in the cockpit linked to external monitors.'
Daisy storms to the bulkhead and tries to open what she thought for the last five years was a water storage facility. 'Open the cockpit!'
'I don't think you should drive in your current agitated state, plus you have not worked through the ICL Easy-Drive training module..'
Daisy is about to reply when the whole ICL starts to shake.
'What's that? Is it an earthquake?'
But the computer program does not answer her, emergency override protocol has diverted all its attention to the external monitors.




Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Last Dog Standing ~ Episode Two

Episode Two
Inside the ICL...

'Daisy, why aren't you leaving?'
'I have left! There's nothing out there.'
'What do you mean, there's nothing out there?'
'I mean the warehouse is empty, deserted, derelict and the streets.. the roads beyond... it looks like a war zone out there... there's no one there!' Daisy can detect a note of hysteria creeping into her voice and can feel tears welling up under her eyelids.
'Is this a joke?'
'NO, no it is NOT A JOKE. There's nothing there. It's as though World War Three broke out while I've been shut up in here... I don't know... and there's a dog, with a bone.'
'A dog with a bone seems quite normal.'
'A dog with a human arm bone in it's mouth is not normal!' Daisy shudders at the recollection.
'A human bone? How can you be sure?'
'BECAUSE IT STILL HAD THE HAND ATTACHED TO IT!'
'Do you need a sedative?'
'No, no I need a... a... an explanation! I need to know what's happened. Where is everyone... and why the hell is there a dog eating a human outside... what do I do?'
There is a long pause and then the computer programme replies.
'Is it time for a nice cup of tea?'
'What? What kind of answer is that?'
'It is the best answer I can come up with within the parameters of my programming... sorry.'
Daisy stands up and smooths down her hair and wipes away her tears.
'OK, so... we need to contact SpaceLife Science Team, perhaps it's just some local war or something. Can we contact the team?'
'No, there is no external contact.'
'Well, there must be something...'
'No, you signed away your life, remember. You signed a waiver that said and I quote...Being of sound mind and body I hereby forfeit all access to humanity for the full five years and in the interests of scientific research I am prepared to surrender my body and mind inclusive of all conditions and addendum listed herewith...'
'Yes, yes, OK, I get it. But really? You don't have an emergency procedure. What If I had died during the five years?'
'If there is no one waiting for you outside, then you must travel to where you came from before you entered the isolation capsule laboratory, perhaps they are waiting there for you.'
'The trouble is, I don't know where I am! The experiment was deemed a security risk and so, to keep the public away the whole location was secret... I was blindfolded and driven here, I have no idea where I am.'
'Driven? So you never left the country you were in?'
'Um... no, no. I was driven from the SpaceLife Science headquarters in London. They did a big media thing and then.. it was all hush hush to protect me and the capsule.'
'So, we are still in London?'
'No... no much farther than that. A couple of hours... have you got a map in the system?'
'No but if you know where the SpaceLife Science headquarters are, you can return there and find your answers.'
'And how do you propose I get there?'
'Public transport.'
'Public transport? It's deserted out there... there's nothing, no humans, no signs of any life except some mongrel corpse-eating dog who thinks I'm it's next meal. For all I know it could be the last dog standing on the planet and you think I can go and just catch a bus?'
'Do you need a sedative now?'
'NO... NO... I need a way to... to get past the dog so I can find out where I am.'
'Well, dogs like bones.'
'Which is why it tried to eat me, I have a lot of bones.'
'Perhaps it is just hungry. You could feed it.'
'Hmm, let's see, bean-sprouts and freeze dried egg powder or my legs...'
'I detect a note of sarcasm. I am only trying to help you.'
'No, it needs to be something to scare it... to keep it away.'
Neither Daisy nor the computer programme can think of anything so a silence builds up in the capsule, slowly stretching from minutes to hours.
'Under the cooking hob.'
'Pardon?' Daisy almost jumps as the sentence interrupts her daydreams of how the world ended while she was in the ICL.
'Under the cooking hob in the kitchen pod is a CO2 fire extinguisher, you could scare it with that.'
'How come I didn’t know that we have a fire extinguisher?'
'You are more of a microwave person.'
'I can cook.'
'Yes, as long as it's toast.'
'I heard that.'
'I know.'
'Under the cooking hob... which is the cooking hob?' Daisy scrambles to the kitchen pod and casts an eye around the cramped space.
'It's the round shiny thing with the dials in the corner.'
'Got it!'
Daisy stares doubtfully at the small, red CO2 cylinder in her hands. It would have to do, hopefully it would keep the dog at bay long enough for her to find out where she is and what the hell has been going on outside in the last five years.