ORBzine - Movie Reviews October 2005

National Treasure

At a time when American jingoism is at an all-time hight, Disney churned out this feel-good stuff concerning the US Declaration of Independance. There's a very unpleasant subtext to it ...

Nic Cage [ Face Off ] is trying to find the treasure of the Freemasons, hidden by George Washington and other Founding Fathers of the USA. He falls out with best buddy Sean Bean [ Goldeneye ] when it becomes appparent that they must borrow the Declaration of Independance to find a treasure map written on it ...

Though Cage's reason for splitting with Bean is over the Declaration of Independance, he decides to steal it anyway. A better way of seeing it is, the greedy bastard doesn't want to share! Along for the ride is Hessian mercenary - I mean, Museum curator - Diane Kruger . Jon Voight pops up as Cage's father - which means that Lara Croft must be his sister!

The eeeevil Bean and his buddies [all of whom have British accents, incidentally] are one step behind them at every stage. Also after them are the FBI, led by Harvey Keitel [ Saturn 3 ].

Our US patriots run around a lot of US militaristic landmarks, basically commemorating a vicious war against fellow white English-speaking Christians like the English, Irish, Scots, Welsh, Canadians and so on. This isn't racist as such, but it's notable that there are no ethnic characters in the cast. Of course, the US rebel leaders were all white men - many of whom owned slaves. But that is all ignored in the attempt to facilitate US jingoism.

Despite its dubious morality, this has some good aspects. It's an Indiana Jones style romp that's low on violence and high on excitement. Very little shooting, and more use of brainpower to save the day. We get some nice use of modern computer technology to solve riddles, which is a nice piece of originality.

All in all, an enjoyable and well-made piece. The propaganda aspect will mostly be lost on non-American Citizens, so it probably won't be perceived as being truly offensive!

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  • Curse of the Cat People

    This is the 1944 sequel to the 1942 spine-chiller. A 6-year-old girl, who has a tendency towards confusing fantasy and reality, becomes obsessed with her father's deceased first wife. It's possible that she might be haunted by the ghost of one of the Cat People .

    Unfortunately, this is just an attempt to cash in an extremely successful first film. The original movie made so much money it saved the studio from bankruptcy [the debt was accrued by Citizen Kane, incidentally]. This film re-uses characters, but owes little to the original ideas or execution.

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  • Die Another Day

    Bond takes on North Korea's most villainous soldier, Colonel Sun. Unfortunately he ends up in more trouble than he expects. He spends half the movie tracking down the MI6 mole who betrayed him. On the way he encounters the expected Bond Girls - Jinx [ Halle Berry ] and Ms Frost [ Rosamund Pike ].

    Lee Tamahori is a well-known action director, and this had a bigger budget than the average Bond film. However, just throwing money at the screen does not make an automatically good movie. The theme song, by Madonna, is a strange electro-pop melody that has no place in Bond!

  • 2000
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  • Revelation

    This is a lukewarm supernatural thriller. Terence Stamp, leader of a secret society [the Illuminati? Freemasons? whatever] possesses a Jesus-related artefact callled the Loculus. Throught some very clunky expository dialogue we are told that the Loculus must be taken somewhere and hidden. The villainous Udo Kier [ Blade ] is after the Loculus.

    Later we are introduced to the hero, Stamp's son. Our hero and a conveniently nubile woman are the only witnesses to the villain's rampage, so they must go on the run and recover the Loculus. Luckily help is on hand, in the form of Paratrooper Padre Liam Cunningham!

    This doesn't even begin to compare with great supernatural thrillers like Angel Heart . The editing [at the start, at least] is choppy, the plot extremely derivative. But it does have a couple of things that balance out these problems.

    Although it seems to be a British film - English cast, poor distribution - it's filmed mainly on location in France and Malta! This gives it a glossy, big-budget feel that is somewhat wasted on it. The supporting cast is high-end, though. The hero's mother is played by Celia Imrie [Like Stamp, she is a veteran of Star Wars I: Phantom Menace ]. Derek Jacobi [ Dead Again ] gets a tiny cameo as a librarian.

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  • The Bunker

    During the Second World War a group of German soldiers seek refuge in a fortification. However, their refuge turns out to be host to an ancient evil. They are killed off, one by one ...

    If that seems familiar, it's because it's the story of The Keep , an excellent film by John Boorman . In an ironic piece of Casting, Boorman's son charley [who made his debut in his father's Excalibur ], plays one of the Germans. The only other familiar name is Jack Davenport [ Pirates of the Carribean ].

    The truth is, this isn't a bad film. The acting is decent - all the Germans are English, speaking English with English accents, but with willing suspension of disbelief this can be ignored. It's nowhere near as good as Boorman's film, but it doesn't have the budget. All in all, a decent diversion for a couple of hours.

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  • Mission To Mars

    A NASA mission to explore the face of Cydonia on Mars goes badly wrong - albeit with very impressive SPFX. Don Cheadle [Out of Sight] is trapped. Earth must send out a rescue mission!

    Tim Robbins [ Shawshank Redemption ] leads the team. Along for the ride are his wife Connie Nielsen , best buddy Gary Sinise [ Forrest Gump ] and Jerry O'Connell [ Sliders ].

    Director Brian DePalma is famous for delivering powerful Hitchcockian thrillers. This is a disappointment - his first real big-budget SPFX-heavy film, it lacks the pace of the identikit movie released at the same time, Red Planet . This is slow - but unlike, for example, 2001: A Space Odyssey , it lacks suspense. And for a director who specialises in suspense, that is a true disappointment!

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  • Gemini Man

    This claims to be based on the novel of HG Wells . Presumably it's a reference to The Invisible Man, but that does a great disservice to Mr Wells.

    An American tough-guy is caught in an atomic explosion that gives him a superpower. Specifically, the ability to turn himself [and whatever clothes he is wearing!] temporarily invisible. He spends his time hunting down a gang of saboteurs who are conducting anti-American activities. He doesn't really need superpowers, though - he can defeat several men in a fist-fight, and is an accomplished stunt-driver as well.

  • Hollow Man
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  • 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1996)

    This was made for US TV in the mid-90s by Producer Robert Halmi Snr responsible for other speculative fiction TV specials. As can be expected, while it's based on the novel of Jules Verne there are a few bastardised ideas present.

    A strange whale is ramming passenger-ships of the American [it was really British, but nobody here cares] White Star Line. The USN sends USS Abraham Lincoln to investigate. Abaord are Professor Aronax [Richard Crenna - Rambo], his suffragette daughter [ Julie Cox ] disguised as a boy named Charlie Darwin [!!!], and the harpoonist Ned Land [Paul Gross - Due South].

    After an encounter at sea they are taken aboard the Nautilus by Captain Nemo [Ben Cross - First Knight ] and his mixed-gender crew. Nemo, despite dressing like Joe Stalin, purports to be a utopian pacifist.

  • 2000
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  • Trucks

    This is basically a remake of the trashy Stephen King film, Maximum Overdrive . Basically, a group of people [including Brenda Bakke ] are trapped in a roadside diner when the HGV trucks come to life.

    This time, the machines come to life due to a toxic spill. The US Federal government sends in the specialists - 2 men in a white van! Their final scene has to be seen to be believed.

    Strangely, the people trapped in the Diner are all UFO enthusiasts. Two are redneck conspiracy theorists, while another is a pilot stationed at Area 51!

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  • The Librarian: Quest For The Spear

    Part of a magical spear is stolen from a special archive. Jane Curtin sends rookie Librarian Noah Wyle [E.R.] to retrieve it.

    The bad guys, a gang of thugs led by Kelly Hu and Kyle McLachlan [ Twin Peaks ] are after the artefact too. Luckily, our hero has kickboxing babe Sonia Walger to protect him.

    This is a lightweight made-for-TV adventure show, in the spirit of National Treasure . Family-friendly, OTT, tongue-in-cheek.

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  • Lost Souls

    This is a very stylishly-shot supernatural thriller. The cinematography is magnificent, to be expected when the director is Spielberg's cinematographer, Januz Kosminski .

    Winona Ryder was exorcised by a priest [John Hurt - Alien ]. Now she helps out, saving souls from Satan.

    Ben Chaplin [The Truth About Cats And Dogs] is a journalist who studies serial-killers. Sarah Wynter pops up as his fiance. Is he a target for creepy Satanists?

    Elias Koteas [ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ] creeps up as a religious fanatic.

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  • Ed Gein

    Finally, the man who inspired Norman's Mom in Psycho Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs gets a movie of his own!

    Steve Railsback has played a lot of deranged loonies and backwoods nut-jobs lately. Duane Barry in X-Files and Colonel Veiss in The Visitor are only two that spring to mind. And here, true to form, he plays a deranged loony backwoods nutjob.

    I'm tempted to slate his performance as OTT, but I never knew Ed Gein personally. The truth is, this story is best told in the documentary form. There is no hero, barely a villain - just a man whose mental illness drives him to do unimaginable things.

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  • Audition

    This is a controversial Japanese horror film. Like the awesome Ringu , this plays as a straight drama that slowly descends into a nightmare.

    Our protagonist, a middle-aged man with a teenage son, is looking for a lady friend. He has a friend set up phony audition sessions for a movie, and then dates one of the girls.

    Unfortunately, his relationship with her becomes more complex. She's concealing a terrible secret ...

    The film uses extensive use of flashbacks, which increases the chill factor but leads to narrative confusion.

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  • Earth Vs The Spider (2001)

    This is a tongue-in-cheek piece that shares nothiing except the title with the 1950s black&white giant spider flick. It was made by an independant company run by Stan Winston and Colleen Camp .

    Our hero is a comic-book fan who works as a security guard at a genetics lab. His favourite superhero is the Arachnid Avenger, a multi-armed 8-eyed monstrosity.

    The city is riddled with crime. Small wonder, since their best police detective is Dan Ackroyd [ Ghostbusters ], preoccupied with his unfaithful wife [ Theresa Russell ]. So after a massacre at the lab, the superhero-wannabe injects himself with spider fluid.

    The result starts not unlike Spiderman , but being a parody it takes a much more realistic approach to man-spider melding. It sorta turns into The Fly !

    Basically, this is more like the original comic of The Mask than of the movie adaptation.

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  • Rosemary's Baby

    Roman Polanski directed this chiller back in the early 1970s. It's not a gore-fest, but instead relies on a creeping uneasiness that overpowers the viewer. Not unlike modern Japanese horror films.

    Rosemary [ Mia Farrow ] and her husband, John Cassavettes [ The Fury ] move into an apartment in a gothic 1920s NYC skyscraper.

    As suspicious events unfold, Rosemary becomes paranoid about her creepy neighbours. Her husband brushes her suspicions aside, siding with the neighbours. Is he part of a conspiracy?

    When Rosemary discovers she is pregnant, she doesn't know whether the father is her husband ... or Satan!

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  • The Omen

    Gregory Peck [ Moby Dick ] and Lee Remick spent ages trying for a baby. Then they got a son, Damien, and Peck was appointed US Ambassador to London. Lovely.

    Then the mysterious deaths start.

    Peck is warned by a priest [Patrick Troughton - Dr Who ], a journalist [David Warner - Time Bandits and an archaeologist [Leo McKern - The Prisoner ] that little Damien is behind these supernatural forces ...

    Meanwhile, Damien is looked after by creepy nanny Billie Whitelaw .

    Richard Donner delivered this post- Exorcist satanic thriller, before he went on to the Superman series.

  • Omen 2: Damien
  • Omen 3: Final Conflict
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  • The Astronaut's Wife

    Charlize Theron , fresh from being driven insane as the wife of Keannu Reeves in Devil's Advocate , now playes the wife of Johnny Depp [ Nightmare on Elm St, The Ninth Gate, Pirates of the Caribbean ]. Depp, looking a lot more butch than usual, is a NASA astronaut. He's sent into space on a routine mission, but something goes wrong. The spaceship loses contact for 2 minutes. Back on Earth, Depp recovers but has a new personality.

    The wife suspects that her husband has been ... made different, somehow. It doesn't stop her from having erotic sex with him. She gets paranoid, and when he gets her pregnant she considers aborting.

    NASA security-man Joe Morton [ Terminator 2 ] also has his reservations.

    Theron turns to her sister [ Clea Duvall ] for support. Ms Duvall is prettier than usual - she usually plays the skanks - but is nowhere near as attractive as Theron.

    This is a lot more than a Species II rip-off. It's more like a hi-tech Rosemary's Baby . And the ending? Both unexpected and shocking. Worth the wait. Though not the kind of film you could watch twice.

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  • Ravenous

    In the mid-19th century a US Army officer, Guy Pearce [ Time Machine ] is posted to a remote frontier post in the Rocky mountains. Trapped there with the likes of Jeffrey Jones [ Howard the Duck ] and David Arquette [ Scream ], the monotony is broken by the arrival of Robert Carlisle [ The World Is Not Enough ].

    Carlyle's story is that he was in a Donner Party style group, trapped in the muntains for the winter and forced to resort to cannibalism. He offers to lead a search party to the other survivors.

    The Native American scouts are suspicious. They know the legend of the Wendigo - men who eat human flesh, then develop superhuman strength and healing abilities. Like vampires, but without the demonic aspect. And this is where the film falls down.

    If you can maintain suspension of disbelief, this is an excellent action-packed chiller.

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