DVD Review: River

30 Nov


Stellan Skarsgard delivers a career defining performance in ambitious crime drama.

Nordic Noir comes to the East End of London in the form of Swedish film star Stellan Skarsgard. Temporarily leaving behind Hollywood soundstages for a UK TV series Skarsgard plays the eponymous River, a police detective who hears voices.

Multi-layered and emotionally potent, River is an audacious series from BAFTA Award winning screenwriter Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady). Updating the detective drama Morgan has created a gritty and lyrical show that is one of the strongest dramas to debut in 2015.

A complex examination of the human psyche’s frailties, Morgan’s screenplay explores the motivations behind murder with a degree of empathy. Possibly influenced by Nordic Noir’, River focuses on criminality’s collateral damage with a strong emphasis on grief’s corrosive effects.

The latest in a long line of troubled TV police officers, River is suffering from survivor’s guilt following the death of his partner. Since childhood he has heard what he believes to be voices from beyond the grave. Convinced his recently deceased partner (Nicola Walker) is communicating with him River’s grief endures.

River’s erratic behaviour is viewed with suspicion and concern by senior officers Police Superintendent Marcus McDonald (Owen Teale) and DCI Chrissie Read (Lesley Manville). Ordered to attend a series of therapy sessions with the police psychiatrist Rosa Fallows (Georgina Rich) he must prove to be fit enough to remain on active duty.

Skarsgard’s masterful performance conveys the pain of a man haunted by guilt. A BAFTA worthy portrayal of isolation, anguish, and suppressed rage.

More than an updated Randall and Hopkirk or a The Sixth Sense imitation, River is a sharply written six-part drama. Virtually faultless, the series makes a brave attempt to create a distinct identity and not be seen to swim in Broadchurch‘s slipstream.

A series rich with an abundance of excellent performances, supreme writing, and filmic cinematography. Undeniably one of the most significant British dramas to air this year.

River is available to order from Amazon:



DVD Review: 101 Reykjavik

30 Nov


Offbeat Icelandic slacker comedy.

One of Iceland’s most prolific directors, Baltasar Kormákur has helmed a number of films that have been commercially successful both at home and abroad. Best known internationally for Contraband, 2 Guns, and Everest his oeuvre also includes the highly regarded Icelandic films Jar City and The Deep. A career as an actor on stage and screen preceded his move behind the camera. Kormákur continues to act and has appeared in several of his own feature films.

For his directorial debut Kormákur adapted Hallgrimur Helgason’s breakthrough novel. This idiosyncratic and bleakly comedic snapshot of pre financial crash hedonistic youth pays homage to Pedro Almodovar’s early films and effortlessly merges art house and mainstream cinema in a film which presents an ironic portrait of a generation.

Taking its name from the district where its characters live 101 Reykjavik presents a contemporary Icelandic Saga as a highly accentuated comedy of errors. Male repression and extended infantalism is contrasted with examples of female dynamism and determination as mother and son compete for the affections of a Spanish lover. Emotionally stunted Hlynur (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason) is in his early thirties living with his mother determined to live on welfare payments until he reaches pensionable age.

Insulated from the consequences of his actions by a laid back mother, he is unknowingly imprisoned by self-imposed lack of curiosity about the world beyond his district. Determinately disassociated from adult life, Hlynur spends his days gazing at internet pornography and evenings consuming a diet of soft drugs and alcohol.

Hilmir Snaer Gudnason delivers a performance pitched with an equal balance of pathos, cynicism, and vulnerability. Never straying into the realms of parody or sentimentality he conveys a complex myriad of emotions and traces an increasingly poignant journey as Hlynur’s certainties are eroded forcing the anti-hero to chose between a descent into inner turmoil or an embracing of personal responsibility.

Kormákur’s insightful and non-judgemental screenplay is brought to life by a succession of humane and honest performances. Explicitly acknowledging Almodovar’s influence Kormákur cast Victoria Abril (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!) as the Spanish flamenco instructor who sleeps with Hlynur and then reveals herself as his mother’s lesbian lover.

Released at a time when Iceland was becoming fashionable as a travel destination, Kormákur’s film’s cultural cachet was enhanced by a knowing score from Blur’s Damon Albarn and The Sugarcubes’ Einar Benediktsson.

Unsentimental and wry, 101 Reykjavik is a dark and eccentric character study. Hlynur’s internal monologue is complemented by crisp, clear and unadorned cinematography which captures the stark beauty of an Icelandic winter.

A strong debut from Baltasar Kormákur and an ideal stepping on point for an exploration into Icelandic cinema’s rich history.

101 Reykjavik is available to order from Amazon:


DVD News: The Bridge – The Complete Season Three

23 Nov


Arrow Films has announced the the critically acclaimed crime-drama series The Bridge The Complete Season Three will be released on DVD & Blu-ray on Monday December 21st. The Bridge Trilogy Boxset will also be released on December 21st on DVD and Blu-ray.


The series premièred on BBC Four on Saturday evening to a record audience of 1.2m viewers, continuing from the record breaking 3.2 million viewers that tuned in to the premiere episode in Sweden. The hit series stars Sofia Helin as the enigmatic, unorthodox Swedish detective Saga Noren.

Saga once again partners-up with a Danish officer, this time the equally troubled Henrik Sabroe (Thure Lindhardt), as they unravel a series spectacular murders.

The Bridge – The Complete Season Three will be released on DVD & Blu-ray through Arrow Films on Monday 21st December.

Arrow Films will also be releasing The Bridge Trilogy Boxset on DVD & Blu-ray for fans to enjoy the beloved series in its entirety, from Saga and Martin first meeting on the infamous bridge, to the gripping third season finale. The boxset release will coincide with the release of Season 3 on December 21st.

The Bridge – The Complete Season Three  is available to pre-order from Amazon:



The Bridge Trilogy is available to pre-order from Amazon:



Download your personal Bridge mini guide to Malmö here:


DVD Review: Downtime

16 Nov


Unofficial Doctor Who spin-off materialises on DVD

In the early 1990s Doctor Who was a battle weary Time Lord consigned to repeats on UK Gold. A combination of enemies more fiendish than the Master and Daleks had vanquished the errant science fiction hero; falling viewing figures and an indifferent BBC. Languishing in the time vortex of viewers’ memories the intergalactic vagabond would be revived for one night in a misguided TV movie starring Paul McGann and then placed back into the cryogenic freeze of development hell until Russell T Davies’ successful reinvention.


During those long dark days when enthusiasts clamoured for fresh adventures featuring their favourite foes a group of fans turned media professionals decided to take matters into their own hands and produce an independent and unofficial straight-to-video drama. Prohibited from including the Doctor or TARDIS the producers secured rights to include cherished characters and attempted to make Doctor Who without the lead character.

Produced on a budget smaller than the notoriously low funds available for late 1980s Doctor Who, Downtime was initially released on VHS at a time when fans were enjoying the more lavishly financed visual spectacles being offered by X-Files and Babylon 5.


A sequel to a pair of 1960s adventures, The Abominable Snowman, Web of Fear, Downtime sees Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) investigate a university which is offering personalised syllabuses without tuition. Run along the lines of a religious cult, New World University harnesses then cutting edge IT to enslave students and prepare a gateway for an evil force to enter this world.

The voice of her long dead father draws Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling) to a Tibetan monastery. Will the message from a man who died on an alien world bring salvation or unleash the ultimate foe?


A forgotten slice of Doctor Who history making its debut on DVD. Downtime‘s cast features several Who stalwarts; John Leeson (voice of K-9), Jack Watling (Professor Travers), Geoffrey Beavers (Tom Baker era incarnation of the Master).

An ambitious but muddled script aims high and crashes spectacularly. Littered with plot holes, inconsistent characterisation, and absurd dialogue the screenplay exemplifies the very worst of fan productions. Foolish attempts to reference Bergman’s Seventh Seal resemble Scottish Widows commercials.

A kitsch classic? The Who-niverse’s equivalent of Plan 9 from Outer Space? Dated visuals, and uneven performances from the supporting cast, mean Downtime is unlikely to find favour among fans of 21st century Doctor Who.

Downtime is available to order from Amazon:


Bridge Over Nordic Water

12 Nov


How a TV series is helping transform Malmö into a must visit destination: Sweden’s third largest city is the backdrop to a hit Scandi-crime series.


Showing no signs off running out of steam the third season of Danish-Swedish crime series The Bridge has been a critical and ratings success throughout Scandinavia.

One of Scandinavian TV’s biggest exports, The Bridge has been screened in 174 countries. Interest in the series is at an all time high cementing the third season’s status as one of 2015’s most anticipated returning dramas.

Since The Bridge first aired on BBC Four Malmö has had an allure for fans of Nordic Noir eager to follow in the footsteps of Saga Norén and Martin Rhode. In tandem with the launch of the third season a series of events and activities have been organised that that will satisfy even the most ardent Saga Norén fans. 

Malmö Museer’s display of props, costumes, and set designs is a must visit destination for aficionados. Running until September 2016 the exhibition is entitled ‘A Non-Existent Malmö’. As the title reflects, The Bridge represents a Malmö that does not exist. The collection of exhibits invites visitors to consider what The Bridge’s success may say about contemporary Nordic society.



Alongside Saga Norén’s costume and mustard coloured Porsche, the centrepiece of the exhibition is a concrete bunker which represents cracks in the welfare state. Visitors that peer through the fractured edifice will see props and costumes from all three seasons including amulets and animal masks from the second series.


The exhibition also includes photographs, video clips, a map of Malmö locations featured in the series, and a large production bible which details the series creators’ key creative choices offering a revealing insight into the workings behind a hit TV series. Illuminating and engaging, the exhibition provides an exhaustive overview of The Bridge and its place in modern Scandinavian society.


Fans eager to take the experience of being in Malmö to an entirely different level should book a place on the location tour.

Travelling around the city’s hotspots, its backstreets and deserted industrial plants, a guide reveals behind the scenes stories, explains how Malmö has been transformed in recent years, and offers insights into Swedish culture.

An on board DVD player screens clips enabling fans to compare locations with their appearance on screen.

The tour lets fans follow in the footsteps of on-screen detectives Saga Norén and Martin Rohde. Viewers will be surprised to discover that a doctor’s surgery doubles as the city’s police station in the series. Taking in Malmö locations featured prominently in the series the tour visits the exterior of Saga Norén’s apartment block and offers fans spectacular views of the Öresund Bridge. 


Backdrop to three seasons of murder, intrigue, and international police co-operation, the Öresund Bridge is a symbol of cross-border harmony. Opened in 2000, the ten mile crossing has a deep meaning for Denmark and Sweden. Until 1658 Skåne County was part of Denmark and in the years between 1521 and 1814 the two nations went to war 27 times. An architectural triumph, the bridge represents close cultural and economic ties between countries that once waged war but have now found a lasting peace.

The Facts:

Fans making a pilgrimage to Sweden’s southern capital to inspect scenes of crimes featured in the series will experience a metropolis more vibrant than its small screen counterpart. A cosmopolitan city undergoing expansion and renewal, previously an industrial district Malmö is now at the forefront of cutting-edge developments in design. An international centre for innovation and culture, Malmö ranked fourth in Forbes 2013 list of the world’s most innovative cities. This future-facing metropolis is home to a diverse populace, the city’s residents speak 176 languages.

Easily accessible via Copenhagen Airport. The average rail journey time between airport terminal and Malmö Central is 20 minutes.

Further Information

Scandinavian Airlines offer direct flights to Copenhagen from London Heathrow, Aberdeen, Birmingham and Manchester:


For more information about Malmö:


Find information about The Bridge exhibition at Malmö Museer and tickets for The Bridge Tour here:


Download your personal Bridge mini guide to Malmö here:


The Öresund Bridge: Photo © Janus Langhorn /imagebank.sweden.se

Blu-ray Review: Black Girl & Borom Sarret

18 Oct


Pioneering African filmmaker confronts neocolonialism.

One of African cinema’s founding fathers, Ousmane Sembène was born in Ziguinchor, south Sengal. Expelled from school at 15 after striking a teacher he worked in a variety of sectors before being called up to fight in World War Two.

After demobilisation he moved to Marseilles and became a dock worker. Politically active, Sembène campaigned for African independence and joined the local Communist Party. His rejection of colonialist ideology inspired him to write an autobiographical novel that spoke about the then contemporary diaspora experience. Published in 1956 Le Docker Noire depicts a young Senegalese man living in France. Addressing institutionalised racism, economic exploitation, and cultural imperialism Sembène’s debut novel contained themes which he would further explore throughout his career as novelist, poet, and film director.

Conscious of poor literacy levels in colonial era Africa Sembène was determined his pro black liberation Marxist anti-colonialist message should reach a wide audience. Aware of cinema’s mass appeal after attending racially segregated cinemas in Dakar he decided at the age of 38 to enrol in a film school. A scholarship enabled Sembène to study at the Gorky institute in Moscow.

Returning to Senegal he achieved the notable distinction of being the first black African to direct a film. Shot on a second hand 16mm camera with film stock donated by European friends Borom Sarret offers a cinematic glimpse of a culture that had previously been oppressed by French colonial rule. Prior to independence black Africans were legally prevented from making films.

Employing a combination of documentary techniques and fiction Borom Sarret is a short film which captures Senegalese society in a transitional moment as it tentatively becomes a post colonial nation. Critical of urbanisation and ghettoisation of traditional African cultures the stark and unsentimental film attempts to effect social change by drawing viewers attention to the negative aspects of European influence.


An African Bicycle Thieves, Borom Sarret chronicles the day in the life of a cart-driver living in abject poverty. Forbidden from collecting fares in the more prosperous newly built urban region he tries to earn a living transporting passengers and goods in Dakar’s poorer districts. Routinely taken advantage of by his passengers, the driver is frequently tricked out of his fare.

The driver’s turbulent day involves transporting a father who wants to bury his child in the local cemetery. Carrying the dead body in his arms the father is denied access to the graveyard because he does not have the correct paperwork. As official and grieving father argue the driver leaves the child’s body on the ground and departs without his fare.

A well-dressed man persuades the driver to enter the city’s affluent district. The cart is impounded by police officers leaving the driver without any means of earning a living.

Employing non actors Sembène’s cinematic debut is an economically filmed portrait of a society battling against inequality, suppression, and manipulation.

Continuing his rejection of modernity and neocolonialism Sembène’s first feature length film tackled modern forms of slavery, cultural domination, exile, and called for the empowerment of African women. Released in 1966 Black Girl attracted attention at international film festivals and was awarded the Prix Jean Vigo at the Cannes Film Festival. Credited with putting African film on the world cinema map the film communicated post-colonial anxieties to a global audience.black-girl-01

Influenced by the French New Wave Sembène’s debut feature film is a politically charged attack filled with complex visual metaphors and naturalistic performances. A searing indictment of cultural imperialism it is considered by historians to be the first full length film directed by a Sub-Saharan African.

Based on a real life incident that Sembène had previously adapted for a short story before transferring to the big screen Black Girl powerfully equates domestic servitude with slavery.

A young Senegalese woman, Diouana (Mbissine Thérèse Diop), relocates to France anticipating a glamorous new life as an au pair. Illiterate she has been reliant on her new employers for information about her new home. The promise of better living conditions and greater freedom are soon exposed as a lie. Entrapped, isolated, and dehumanized Diouana works as housemaid without payment. Exoticised and subjected to intense emotional abuse by her employers and their friends she feels death is the only way to escape this life of drudgery and degradation.


The director’s use of flashbacks contrasts Diouana’s life trapped inside a French apartment with her past in Senegal. Moments of repression are set in opposition to enthusiasm and optimism witnessed in the Senegalese sequences. Symbolically rich the film employs African iconography to illustrate the contrast between European and African perspectives.

Thought provoking and poignant Black Girl is an unflinching exploration of the consequences of colonialism.

An indispensable purchase for world cinema enthusiasts. Alongside supremely restored editions of Borom Sarret and Black Girl the disc contains an interview with Thérèse M’Bisine Diop and a documentary about Ousmane Sembène.

Black Girl & Borom Sarret is available to order from Amazon:


Book Review: Last Days of the Condor by James Grady

13 Oct


Sequel to the classic 1970s conspiracy thriller.

Soon to be remade for TV, James Grady’s 1974 novel Six Days of the Condor tapped into Cold War era paranoia. A feature film adaptation mined post-Watergate suspicions of government. Starring Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway, the movie was part of a wave of conspiracy thrillers released in the 1970s that included All the President’s Men, The Conversation, and The Parallax View. Four decades on from the original book and film James Grady has revived the CIA operative formerly known as Condor for one final adventure.

Released from the CIA’s insane asylum Ronald Malcolm has returned to Washington D.C No longer known by the codename Condor, Malcolm is now called Vin after Steve McQueen’s character in The Magnificent Seven.

Heavily medicated, Vin is adjusting to normal life after a breakdown. Working at the Library of Congress he has been placed under surveillance by his former employers and receives regular home visits from a case worker. After the death of a CIA operative Vin is framed for murder. Once again on the run trying to stay alive and expose the real killer.

Successfully capturing the mood of a nation increasingly distrustful of its elected representatives James Grady’s first Condor novel resonated with readers coming to terms with the loss of innocence brought upon by the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the Vietnam War. The then relatively original idea of the CIA being one of the most significant threats faced by America is now a familiar trope in political fiction. Grady’s return to his most famous creation updates familiar themes to accommodate four decades of developments in society, politics, and surveillance technology while making the plot relevant and relatively fresh for a generation that may not have read the original novel or seen the Sydney Pollack directed feature film.

An intelligent action-packed spy novel for the WikiLeaks era.

Last Days of the Condor is available to order from Amazon:



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