Outlander  (2008)    59/100

Rating :   59/100                                                                     115 Min        15

Sci-fi that sees Jim Caviezel’s soldier from another humanoid race (who seem to be exactly the same as us, something never touched on – nor is their relationship with Earth explained) crash land in Norway in the year 709 AD, releasing his deadly cargo onto the harsh and beautiful Norwegian landscape (although it was mostly filmed in Canada). Encountering a local tribe led by John Hurt, he must help the natives defend themselves against the extra terrestrial beastie he has forced upon them, and will inadvertently garner the lusty attentions of the king’s daughter, played by Sophia Myles (who is essentially recreating her character from ‘Tristan + Isolde’ 06), but how will the local churls react to potentially losing one of the two attractive women we see in the village? Well, they are about to get eaten anyway, markedly improving our hero’s chances.

A reasonably interesting story with convincing sets and average-decent swordplay, but one that is sadly let down by having an all too traditional resolution and increasingly improbable action sequences.

Mad Money  (2008)    70/100

Rating :   70/100                                                                     104 Min        12

This film has been critically annihilated by just about every journalistic source I’ve seen it mentioned in, but I really don’t think the poor reviews are merited, it’s just a nice, easy to watch film. Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes star in a crime caper about three women working in menial jobs at the federal reserve, who decide (largely at the instigation of debt ridden Keaton, whose husband Ted Danson has been forced out of work) they could really do with some of the money they see being moved around every day, surely no one would miss it …It’s based on an earlier British film, ‘Hot Money’ (01), which in turn loosely depicted real life events (no details here in the interests of avoiding spoilers). The film is directed by Callie Khouri, winner of the best original screenplay Oscar for ‘Thelma and Louise’ (91), and this was her second feature film behind the camera.

It opens with the three women frantically trying to dispose of their ill gotten gains with the feds waiting outside their homes, so we know it goes pear shaped eventually, but it still manages to be interesting, and the three leads are fun to watch. The Red Dragon had a splitting headache after eating something that disagreed with him (a couple of Tory campaigners) and this, together with a cup of tea, was a perfect remedy, requiring little brain power and yet I didn’t want to leave the room for too long during the break for fear of missing some of the dialogue (always the sign of a good film). It’s the sort of light hearted film your mother would enjoy, but to be honest, I quite liked it too.

Bigger Stronger Faster* : The Side Effects of Being American  (2008)    90/100

Rating :   90/100                       Treasure Chest                     105 Min        12A

When I first came across this film I thought to myself ‘What in the name of God is this?’, I almost turned it off, but it was amusing in an ironic sort of way so I hesitated awhile. Good job I did as, of course, it was meant to be ironic, and what unfolds quickly becomes a very, very well put together and fascinating documentary about the use of performance enhancing drugs in the world of sports in America, particularly in the field of weight lifting, but also athletics and baseball. The film is fast paced, fitting in a ton of information – every bit of which is relevant, advances our grasp of the subject, and also manages to deepen the interest level, as the interviews progress from members of the filmmaker’s family, to members of congress and top level athletes like Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis.

It is the fruit of many hours work, and the brainchild of Chris Bell – and for an inexperienced feature filmmaker it’s a sterling production. The footage and interviews with his family over a period of what seems to be a couple of years add a very human relevance and emotional connection to the film, as we see the wide reaching implications of the story unfold. The scope continues to widen as it fits in the big business world of sports supplements, the tales of poster boy stars like Stallone and Schwarzenegger, and it even manages to sneak in an interview with Stan Lee, of Marvel Comics fame, to talk about the popular appeal of the idea of superhuman strength. The asterisk in the title refers to the ones used to mar an athletes record if they are found to be using anything illegal. Sadly, one of the brothers in the film, Mike, died shortly after the film was completed (click here for the details).

A must see movie for anyone who likes well researched, balanced and eye opening documentaries.