November 28, 2014, Posted by Tom Troughton in Culture, Film & TV

Film Sequels We Could Have Done Without

With trailers released this week for Jurassic World and Star Wars: Episode 7, sequels to our best loved classics are still coming thick and fast. The newest member of the MWSAB team, the lovable rogue Tom Troughton, looks at some film sequels that Hollywood probably shouldn’t have bothered with…

Check out the box office listings lately, and you’ll find an interesting catalogue of hits: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay; The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies; even my personal favourite, Nativity 3: Dude Where’s My Donkey?!

It seems that Hollywood is sticking to what it knows best, rebooting film series and churning out sequel after sequel. In celebration of this cheery revelation, let me take you through some of the worst film sequels I’ve had endure (no donkeys included…).

The Matrix: Revolutions (2003)

The original film hit cinemas back in 1999 and changed the face of science fiction. I assumed that the second in the series, The Matrix: Reloaded, was just a bad Hollywood mistake that would be corrected by this final instalment. It turns out that the special effects are still terrible, the plot is equally (if not more) confusing than its predecessor, and Keanu Reeve’s wooden acting can only be tolerated for so long. When a tonne of characters die towards the end (SPOILER ALERT!), you’ll just shrug and say ‘meh’.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) and At World’s End (2007)

The Curse of the Black Pearl is genius. Sadly its two sequels aren’t*. As per The Matrix, there’s so much going on in the plot, it might help by talking it out with a friend (‘So there’s a bad guy called Beckett who wants to arrest some other guys … and another bad guy with tentacles on his face … and then Captain Barbossa, the bad guy from the first film, who isn’t so bad after all?’). Johnny Depp’s slurry, drunken performance starts to grind after a while and that scene with the army of crabs just, well, it just makes me sad. Can I ask why a fifth film is scheduled for 2017?

* I would review the whole Pirates series collectively but I gave up on the fourth (On Stranger Tides).

Indiana Jones 4: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Come on Spielberg, you’re meant to be a film genius! I’m not going to pretend like Indiana Jones was a film of my time (I’m a 90’s kid after all…) but I did grow up watching the original trilogy over and over again. I just have one question, really: What the hell are the aliens about?!

 Quantum of Solace (2008)

Casino Royale reinvented the 007 series – Daniel Craig’s James Bond was funny, suave, ruthless (and blonde!). Quantum of Solace kicks off right where the previous film ends, throwing us straight into an action scene. However, it’s all down hill after the opening ten minutes. Craig’s Bond loses his cool and instead becomes a character set on avenging his lover’s murder. This film trades in the usual humour of the Bond series for characters that barely utter two lines before they’re killed off and a villain who is just a jaded businessman in a suit (talk about character development…).

Do you agree with these? Tweet us @StareAtBooks and let us know.


November 3, 2014, Posted by Beau Merchant in Culture, Film & TV

The Killing Fields 30th Anniversary Edition

Celebrating it’s 30th anniversary with a release on Blu-ray, Roland Joffé’s The Killing Fields remains one of the rawest, powerful and unforgettable films ever made.

Set in war-torn Cambodia during the bloody civil war, the real life relationship between American journalist Sydney Schanberg (Sam Waterston) and his Cambodian translator Dith Pran (Oscar winner Haing S. Ngor) is played out beautifully by the two leads and shot with an astounding gritty realism by Joffé. Much praise must also go to Bruce Robinson (writer of Withnail and I) for his script adaptation, and to Mike Oldfield for the frantic (and sometimes bonkers) synth score.

The searing heat and the scores of refugees coupled with the life-changing dilemma which faces the two friends all make for the most remarkable 140 mins you’ll likely spend in front of your TV.  Some scenes are truly breathtaking and will stay with you long after the film has finished.

An epic of hope, friendship and the fight for the truth. If the final shot doesn’t bring a tear to the eye, as John Lennon’s Imagine plays, then you’re made of sterner stuff than me. A monumental achievement which has lost none of it’s power.


The Killing Fields Blu-ray

The Killing Fields 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray is out now

October 30, 2014, Posted by Beau Merchant in Film & TV

The best films to watch this Halloween

There’s no better way to spend the damp, dark Halloween weekend than to sit down, put your feet up and be scared sh*tless. Below are my choices for the best celluloid scares for you and your mates to watch this weekend. Sweet dreams.

The Curse of Frankenstein

The Curse of Frankenstein – 1957 (BBC iPlayer)

The late, great Peter Cushing plays Victor Frankenstein, who whilst in prison awaiting execution tells a priest the story of how creating his monster has led him to the situation he now finds himself in.

Even though it’s over 50 years old now, it is a genuinely creepy and haunting film with Cushing’s traumatised Dr. Frankenstein being one of his career-best performances. An essential classic.

Watch it here


You're Next

You’re Next – 2011 (Netflix)

Fresh, original and a whole lotta fun, Adam Wingard’s home-invasion horror revitalised the genre.

A family get-together descends into bloody anarchy as their (remote) holiday home comes under attack by a group of animal mask-wearing hoodlums. There’s twist and turns a-plenty and the transformation of Sharni Vinson’s Erin from meek victim to kick-ass heroine is remarkable.

Watch it here



Martyrs -2008 (Amazon Prime Instant)

It’s hard to know where to begin with Martyrs.Some of the images and themes shown shouldn’t belong in film. It’s gruesome and sometimes unwatchable, but it’s also powerful, touching and will live long in the memory. More of an experience than entertainment. You’ll be left speechless.

Watch it (through your fingers) here


The Blair Witch Project

The Blair Witch Project – 1999 (Netflix)

One of the most profitable films ever released (a budget of $60,000 going on to make over $248 million worldwide), The Blair Witch Project remains one of the most influential horror films of recent years. The clever marketing, website and back-story meant there was genuine belief that the “found footage” you were watching was real.

There seems to be a split of those who just don’t get it and those who were terrified by it. I’m definitely in the latter. I slept with the light on for a week after watching it in the cinema and still get a shiver thinking about the final shot of the film. If you’ve not seen it, watch it. If you haven’t seen it for a few years, watch it again.

Watch it here


Eden Lake

Eden Lake – 2008 (Amazon Prime Instant)

On a weekend away at an idyllic location, Steve (Michael Fassbender) plans to propose to girlfriend Jenny (Kelly Riley). Their peace and quiet is shattered by a group of chavs who don’t take kindly to being told to turn their music down.

Violent, breathless and relentless, you’re left feeling as battered and shaken as the victims in the film. Sure it stereotypes slightly and pushes the boundaries of realism, but after watching the last 5 minutes you won’t care. You’ll never go to a Wetherspoons again.

Watch it here



 Zombieland – 2009 (Netflix)

After all that tension, it’s probably best to finish the weekend with something a little more light-hearted.

A unique and intelligent horror comedy with fantastic performances by the cast (Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Woody Harrelson), this was a surprise on release. Laugh-out-loud funny and with a few creepy set-pieces it’s a film that stays fresh with repeat viewings. It also includes the greatest cameo EVER. Solid stuff.

Watch it here

And if you’re after a terrifying Halloween read, then this FREE ebook should sort you right out. It’s got chapter samplers from the likes of Dean Koontz, Richard Laymon and Nick Cutter and more.

Happy Halloween and all that…

September 18, 2014, Posted by Beau Merchant in Film & TV

Salvo review: A compelling and unique drama

Palmero during a heatwave doesn’t look much fun. The increase in air-con use has caused the electricity grid to go kaput, meaning everywhere is hotter and nothing works.

Salvo, an enforcer for the local mafia, drives through the city with his boss (known only as Boss). A violent, explosive but bodged assassination attempt is made on them by a rival gang.

In what is an absorbing, haunting and beautiful scene, Salvo breaks into the home of the gang’s boss with the aim of taking him out. He instead finds the man’s blind sister, Rita, and follows her around the house as music plays. The camera lingers, Salvo the blurred stalker in the background.  Every so often Rita pauses as if she feels/hears him. Salvo follows some more and no dialogue is spoken. It’s all truly breathtaking and captivating cinema. The man returns home, Salvo kills him and, not knowing what do with Rita, kidnaps her.

The film slightly unravels as Salvo is faced with the usual dilemmas and questions involved with his line of work as he becomes closer to the captured Rita. The later introduction of some supernatural elements didn’t sit quite right, although the final stand-off is well worth the wait. There are some grand and interesting ideas not usually associated with this type of film, so praise must go to the film makers for trying something new.

An exceptional opening 30 minutes and some unique ideas and themes makes this a film you should definitely dig-out.

Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 11.54.30

Salvo is released on DVD and VOD September 29th



September 16, 2014, Posted by Tom in Film & TV, Music

20,000 Days on Earth and 5 of the best music documentaries

20,000 Days on Earth is a ‘documentary’ following a day in the life of musician, author and general hero Nick Cave. The day covered, as the title suggests, is his 20,000th day living on Earth. Having being launched to much acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival back in January (it picked up two awards), the film receives a general UK release from the 19th of September in selected cinemas (find your nearest here). We will definitely be attending a screening, and, if you watch this trailer, we’re pretty sure you’ll want to see it too…

So this got us thinking about our favourite music documentaries. Here, in particular order, are five other superb pieces of musical film making from the last few years that you should definitely check out…

1. No Distance Left to Run (2010) – The story of Blur’s 2009 reunion tour, which culminated in the huge headline gigs at Glastonbury and Hyde Park. It’s emotional stuff…

2. Shine a Light (2008)
– Martin Scorsese documents a Rolling Stones concert from their A Bigger Bang tour, interspersed with archive footage from throughout the band’s (extremely long) history. The live footage looks amazing.

3. Shut Up and Play the Hits (2012)
– The story behind LCD Soundsystem’s mammoth final gig, where they played virtually every song from their career in a huge 3-hour concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden. It follow’s frontman James Murphy over a 48-hour period, as he struggles to come to terms with the closing of a huge chapter in his life.

4. Sound City (2013)
– Foo Fighters frontman/Nirvana drummer/nicest man in rock Dave Grohl makes his directoral debut in this film about the legendary Sound City recording studio in LA. It’s not just one from music geeks, we promise…

5. Made of Stone (2013)
– Shane Meadows documents the reunion of The Stone Roses, one of Manchester’s most influential bands. It’s clearly a director paying tribute to his favourite band, and is all the better for it. Cracking stuff.

What do you think of our choices? These are all from the last few years, so we haven’t gone very far back (give us a break, we were only allowed to pick five…), so let us know which ones we’ve missed: @StareAtBooks

September 8, 2014, Posted by Beau Merchant in Film & TV, Reviews, Sport

Next Goal Wins review: What the beautiful game’s about

With the game of football gradually becoming more about the money, the diving and the prima donna attitudes of the star players, it’s sometimes hard to remember why it was ever called ‘the beautiful game’. Next Goal Wins goes a long way to reminding you.

In 2001, following a record 31-0 defeat to Australia and being ranked bottom in the FIFA world rankings, the minnows of American Samoa are the laughing-stock of international football. A decade later they are still rooted to the bottom, not winning a single match and scoring twice in seventeen games. Things are not looking good.

With qualification for the 2014 World Cup looming, they place an ad for a new coach to improve their chances. They have one application. Enter Dutch madman Thomas Rongen.

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 10.50.29

What follows is one of the most surprisingly touching and moving documentaries you’ll see this year. As the rag-tag bunch (including the game’s only transgender player, and Nicky Salapu – the goalkeeper who let in the 31 goals) go through the rigorous and frantic sessions under Rongen, we see the group gradually grow in confidence and ability. There are some truly wonderful and heartbreaking moments and Rongen’s personal story will especially pull the heart strings.

Everyone should watch this film, whether fan, non-fan, player or coach. This is what the beautiful game’s about.

Next Goal Wins is out on DVD now. Find out more here and on Twitter: @NGW_Movie

August 28, 2014, Posted by Tom in Books, Film & TV

7 great films you might not know were based on books

You’re a big reader, sure, and of course you like films. You’re a well-rounded individual. It’s fair to say that, over the years, some amazing books have been turned into brilliant films. Ok, so not all have been so lucky, but we didn’t actually mind Baz Luhrmann’s Gatsby

But anyway, here are a few films we’ve enjoyed that you might not know were actually based on books. If you did, well done.

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The full list of ruddy good films based on books you might not have been aware of:

  • Drive (based on Drive by James Sallis)
  • Rambo: First Blood (based on First Blood by David Morrell)
  • Brokeback Mountain (based on Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx)
  • Forrest Gump (based on Forrest Gump by Winston Groom)
  • The Prestige (based on The Prestige by Christopher Priest)
  • Jaws (based on Jaws by Peter Benchley)
  • The Shawshank Redemption (based on Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King)

Which have we missed? Let us know: @StareAtBooks

July 10, 2014, Posted by Tom in Film & TV, Reviews

Mistaken For Strangers review

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of The National. Each of their six studio albums have been widely praised by critics and fans alike, and they have a reputation as one of the finest live acts on the planet. They seem like pretty sound guys too. But what would it be like to join them on tour as a roadie? To work as part of their crew, day in day out, in cities across the world? And what if you were actually there to make a documentary about them? Oh, and you were also the frontman’s brother?

That’s the premise behind Mistaken For Strangers, a music documentary film by Tom Berninger, the younger brother of singer Matt . Hilarious, insightful and often quite moving, it shows the band on their 2010-11 High Violet world tour and the often strained relationship between the siblings.

Tom and Matt Berninger (© Dogwoof)

Tom and Matt Berninger (© Dogwoof)

As the rest of The National are comprised of brothers (drummer Bryan and bassist Scott Devendorf, and twin guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner), bringing Tom along to help out and make his film initially seems like a great idea, allowing a notorious underacheiver to finally complete a project and escape the shadows of his famous and successful older brother.

However, adding this extra element to the mix causes Matt some headaches, as Tom’s shambolic attempts at organisation, his bizarre interviewing technique and over enthusiasm for partying leads to tension with the band’s management.

Far more than just a tour documentary, it’s a study in family and differing levels of success. Matt’s the star of the Berninger household; adored by critics and fans alike. Tom is a 30+ guy who doesn’t even own any plates, and doesn’t want a girlfriend as he doesn’t feel he has the right clothes to wear on a date. But the project brings them together in a way that is both poignant and amusing.

Whilst some scenes may feel a little staged, on the whole this is a fascinating portrait of a band on the road, and some of the live footage is excellent. Despite Tom’s somewhat unorthodox style, it’s beautifully put together, making Mistaken For Strangers well worth a watch, even if you aren’t a huge fan of the band.


Mistake For Strangers is out now on DVD and on demand. Watch the trailer:

Find out more about the film here: