ORBzine - Movie Reviews November 2005


Joss Whedon made this big-budget masterpiece after the original TV show, Firefly , was cancelled halfway through the season. With the budget to bring the story to life, this is far more impressive than a simple extended episode.

The story starts with a some expositionary scenes. Psychic teenager Summer Glau and her brother are on the run from the interplanetary government, The Alliance. An unstoppable secret agent, The Operative [an African fellow with a very English accent] is on their tail.

The fugitives are hiding out with Mal Reynolds [Nathan Fillion - Buffy Season 7 ] and his crew of smugglers [ Jewel Staite, Gina Torres et al]. The team plot a bank robbery, and the psychic's talents are useful. Especially when the Reavers [humans gone mad on the edge of space] get involved!

The main focus of the film is the attempts to escape the Operative. This allows the smugglers to visit a few old friends, such as Inara [ Morena Baccarin ].

Finally, everything gets pulled together in a rather convenient conclusion. All the standard Hollywood requirements are there - the McGuffin [thanks to a cameo appearance by Sarah Paulson ], the space battle [better than the recent Star Wars Prequels , and almost as good as Flash Gordon ] and so on.

The film's not without its flaws - things seem a little too compressed. But there's talk of making sequels. And if they're as good as this, they'll be worth watching!

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  • Saw

    In the spirit of Cube , a couple of strangers wake up in an unconventional prison. They are chained up with a dead man, a gun and tape-recorded instructions ...

    One of them is a doctor [Cary Elwes - Princess Bride ]. He provides the necessary exposition. He was consulted by Cops Danny Glover [ Predator 2 ] and Dina Meyer , who are hunting a serial killer straight out of Se7en . The sicko imprisons people, and plays twisted games with them ...

    The casting is excellent. Monica Potter is the doctor's wife.

    Ironically, during the casting of Usual Suspects the director deliberately stayed away from known bad-guy actors like Tobin Bell. Instead they picked a talented theatre actor, the relatively unknown Kevin Spacey. Hence Spacey's meteoric rise to fame, including the affore-mentioned Se7en . Now, Tobin Bell is listed in the credits of this film. But his appearance is so unlikely, the twist so unbelievable ...

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  • Mermaid Chronicles 1: She Creature

    Victorian England, and a pair of Oirish carnies - Rufus Sewell [ Knight's Tale ] and Carla Gugino - are running a fake mermaid sideshow. They manage to steal a real mermaid [ Rya Kihlstedt ], and take her off to America on a wooden sailing ship.

    However, trapped aboard the ship, things start to go bad. The mermaid only eats human flesh ...

    This was made by independent company Creature Features for US TV. Since Stan Winston was one of the Producers, the make-up and SPFX works as well as can be hoped. As a period piece, it works fine was well. But what works best of all is the drama played out between the two leads. They are performers of star quality, neither using their own native accent, and Gugino especially rises to the occasion.

    The excellent casting of Gugino may be explained in part by the fact the director, Sebastian Gutierrez , is her boyfriend. Similarly, Kihlstedt's husband Gil Bellows [ Shawshank Redemption ] pops up as one of her victims!

    The title, and the relatively open ending, suggest that a sequel was in the offing. However, as of the date of this review, none has been released.

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  • The Kiss

    This is a low-budget, relatively low-key horror film from 1988. Joanna Pacula , cursed by the kiss of a witch-doctor, goes to live with her sister's family. Unfortunately this disrupts the life of her beautiful teenage niece. Mysterious goings-on follow, including the occasional inexplicable mutilation. She also has an annoyingly OTT animatronic cat, the witches' familiar from hell! No pun intended.

    In this era of convoluted deathtrap movies like Final Destination and Saw , this still packs a punch. The teenage melodrama that dominates the film gives far greater impact to the brief interludes of terror. And the scene with the escalator is excellent!

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  • The Howling

    TV anchorwoman Dee Wallace meets up with Serial Killer Robert Picardo [ Star Trek: Voyager . She survives the encounter, but is traumatised. She and RL husband Christopher Stone must stay at The Colony, a back-to-nature lifestyle place run by Patrick MacNee [ Avengers, Battlestar Galactica ].

    This turns out to be a bad idea. Scary things are lurking in the woods, and the wolves howl at night ...

    Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this film is that Dennis Dugan [ The Spaceman and King Arthur ] saves the day!

    Rob Bottin provides the SPFX, giving what was at the time the best transformation scene yet done.

    Director Joe Dante has delivered other, somewhat self-knowing and tongue-in-cheek Genre films. This is perhaps too serious, trying too hard to be scary, to succeed. As a werewolf film it's far inferior to An American Werewolf in London .

  • Howling 2: Werewolf Bitch
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  • The Beggar's Opera

    This is a 1952 technicolor musical. It's not as bad as it sounds, actually - it's an admirable period piece adapted from the stage-opera written in the 1720s by John Gay.

    Captain MacHeath [Laurence Olivier] is a Highwayman in Newgate jail, due to be hanged at dawn. On his last night he sings an Opera of his life - basically the entire film is a flashback bookended by the jailhouse scenes.

    The exterior locations are excellent, the musical scenes extravagant, the duets marvellous. The original 60 short tunes are condensed into fewer, longer ballads. Watch out for the 300-year-old tunes like Over the Hills, Greensleeves and Lilliburlero.

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  • Twin Warriors AKA Tai-Chi Master

    Jet Li [ The One ] is a Shaolin Monk whose boyhood friend joins the forces of the Evil Overlord. Our hero is comforted by Michelle Yeoh .

    Yuen Wing-po , choreographer of The Matrix , delivers a kung-fu comedy of the kind that westerners would usually see Jackie Chan in. What really sets it apart is the fact that the two talented leads, Li and Yeoh, have since made their Hollywood breakthroughs.

    Remarkably, although the version screened was dubbed, the dubbing actually worked! Maybe it was the comedic nature of the film that saved it.

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  • Angel Heart

    1950s USA, and Down-at-heel gumshoe Harry Angel [ Sin City ] is hired by the mysterious Louis Cypher [Robert de Niro - Frankenstein ] to solve a missing persons case.

    Unfortunately, every tine Angel questions someone they end up the victim of a ritual murder!

    Alan Parker delivers a powerful film, a detective thriller with supernatural overtones. This is the film that so many other supernatural thrillers attempt to emulate.

    Lisa Bonet is the key to the film's shocking finale.

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  • Phantasm 2

    Don Coscarelli delivers a sequel to his low-budget shocker, Phantasm .

    It starts with a flashback narrated by one of the new characters, a psychic girl. Our hero, left for dead at the end of the last film, spent 8 years in a mental ward and is now played by a different actor.

    The Tall Man [Angus Scrimm - Alias ] and his evil minions are cutting a swathe across the American midwest. Depopulating towns, looting graveyards ... strangely, the state police and the National Guard seem ignorant. Nobody has even called a couple of Feds from that basement filing room! Yes, the fate of the world lies in the hands of a couple of deranged shotgun-wielding redneck maniacs!

    Our heroes use chainsaws [and steadicam] to fight evil. This is basically an Evil Dead clone ... but it's a nice lo-budget horror [no stars, doesn't rely on SPFX].

  • Phantasm 3
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  • Mists of Avalon

    This is a 3-hour TV mini-series adapted in 2001 from the 800+ page novel by Marion Zimmer Bradley . It's a retelling of the Arthurian legends, so the best comparison would be Excalibur .

    This is taken from a female-centric, if not actually Feminist, perspective. Told from the perspective of Morgaine [AKA Morgana Le Fay], it starts when she is just a girl. Her mother Ygraine [ Caroline Goodall ] is manipulated by the Lady of the Lake [ Angelica Houston ], and they both have to watch against their scheming sister Morgause [ Joan Allen ]. Yes, it's a big matriarchal dispute, just like in the Soap Operas. The men are bit players, and there's not much fighting.

    After an hour or so, the girl has grown up and become Julianne Margulies . She meets her cousin Lancelot [Michael Vartan - Alias ], as well as Arthur and Gwenhyfr.

    The second half certainly gives the feeling of a huge book being compressed, with large chunks being left out. The actors are all given make-up to make them look older, except for Joan Allen who begins to look her real age.

    Mordred goes to Camelot and joins the Round table. He's smart enough to avoid referring to King Arthur as Uncle Dad. The young fellow is the best actor of the bunch, and the best thought-out character [to start with, anyhow]. He's also pretty handy with a sword - yes, there are some battle scenes in this bit. Even Morgaine kicks some ass, more effectively than the soldiers meant to guard her.

    The ending ... very melodramatic, and the pseudo-twist ending is totally out of keeping with the essense of the story.

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