ORBzine - Movie Reviews December 2005

Tsui Hark's Vampire Hunters

Tsui Hark wrote and produced this, but didn't direct it. It's irrelevant that the story is in Chinese - it's all about the action, really.

In medieval China, 4 martial artists are trained to kill vampires. However, their master goes MIA in combat and they have to carry on the mission alone. They fumble about, like Jackie Chan wannabees, while a subplot about stealing an old man's golden hoard takes over the film.

  • Search This Site
  • Daredevil

    Along with the successful Marvel comic adaptions like Spiderman and X-Men came this effort. For all its big-budget posturing, it's really not up to much.

    Ben Affleck [ Mallrats, Paycheck ] is Matt Murdoch, a crappy lawyer who makes up for it at night as a superpowered vigilante serial-killer. Paul Ben-Victor [ Invisible Man ] is just one of his victims.

    Thing is, Matt Murdoch is blind! He lost his sight in a childhood accident involving toxic waste, that also gave him his superpowers. He also lost his father, murdered by gangsters. And like the first Michael Keaton Batman film, only a whole lot cornier, that gets tied into this story as well!

    Local gangster The Kingpin [Michael Duncan Clarke - Green Mile ] hires a hitman named Bullseye [Colin Farrell - Alexander ] to take care of business. By strange coincidence, our protagonist falls for Elektra [ Jennifer Garner ], who is also daughter of the Kingpin's enemy, and Bullseye's target. Plus, she has Ninja skills that make her the combat equal of Daredevil or Bullseye. Or do they?

    The standard cameos take place. Stan Lee [Marvel's Chairman Emeritus] and Frank Miller [creator of the Daredevil character] both get screen time. As does Kevin Smith , long time comic-book fan and buddy of Affleck.

    The best scene? Wait until the very end, after the final credits. They're pretty brief, and the last bit's worth it!

    The actual sequel, however, was the equally dreadful Elektra !

  • Search This Site
  • Supernova (2005)

    This is an American made-for-TV miniseries.

    Part One

    A scientist [Luke Perry - Jeremiah ] discovers that the Earth might be destroyed by Solar Flares.

    Tia Carrere is a US Federal Agent - well, an MIB, really. She works for Lance Hendricksen [ Terminator, Aliens ]. They try to arrange a coverup, and kidnap a bunch of scientists to help them.

    By strange coincidence, Perry's wife testified against a very ugly serial-killer. He's really eevil, mostly because of his ugliness. What are the chances he will escape from jail, and come after the hero's wife?

    Emma Samms is a journalist who uncovers the conspiracy. This is just another sub-plot to pad out the story.

    Part 2

    Luke Perry and Tia Carrere go back to the big city, hoping to make the plot simpler by bumping into other main characters.

    Can they save the world? Of course not! Luke Perry predicted it mathematically, and heroes are never wrong. I mean, what kind of story hinges on the hero being crap at his job?

    Meanwhile, the serial-killer is on the rampage, after Perry's family. Can we have a violent climax and a feel-good ending? Will we have a Cape fear rip-off? Has the convict seen Cool Hand Luke?

  • Search This Site
  • Capricorn One

    This is a space-age conspiracy thriller from the Watergate era. Ironically, considering the content, E4 have screened it to run in tandem with their new Reality TV show, Space Cadets .

    A trio of astronauts [James Brolin, Sam Waterston and OJ Simpson] are due to be the first men on Mars. The space rocket takes off, but they are not aboard. Instead, they are in an elaborate set-up run by Hal Holbrook [Magnum Force], who wants to fake the Mars landing rather than risk having NASA scrap the mission.

    Elliot Gould [Escape to Athena] plays a nosy journalist who suspects something is wrong. While he follows up leads and searches for a story, he's hassled by MIBs.

    The plot takes it up a level, and the astronauts end up being chased across the desert by a pair of sinister black helicopters!

  • Search This Site
  • Wing Commander

    Chris Roberts delivers his debut feature, and so far his only one. His qualifications? He created the computer-game super-franchise this is based on!

    The fact that this is based on a game is the reason it flopped. Fans were expecting the hero, Blair, to be the Mark Hamill [ Star Wars ] character from the games. However, this is a prequel. Blair is played by Freddie Prinze Junior [now married to Buffy the Vampire Slayer herself], while his sidekick Maniac is Matthew Lillard [their co-star in Scooby Doo ]!

    The 2 space cadets, straight out of the academy, are stationed on a starship. Earth is at war with the Kilrathi Alliance, so they need every starfighter pilot they can get. The ship is sent on a mission to save Earth from an invading alien armada.

    Because this is a prequel, the design look is very retro. Except for the presence of female crew members like Saffron Burrows this could easily be a Second World War movie. In fact, certain scenes are stolen from The Blue Max and Das Boot. The problem is, gamers wanted a slick action-adventure piece like Battlestar Galactica (1978) . Instead, what they got was a tense space-based war-drama like ... Battlestar Galactica (2003) !

  • Search This Site
  • Flash Gordon

    This is a post- Star Wars scifi-extravaganza from 1980, directed by Mike Hodges and produced by Dino De Laurentis . It's an underrated classic.

    Earth is under attack from an unknown force that controls the weather. US Football star Flash Gordon [Sam J Jones], accompanied by air stewardess Dale Arden [ Melody Anderson ] and mildly mad scientist Hans Zarkoff [Topol - For Your Eyes Only ] get on a rocket-ship and investigate. Robbie Coltrane [ Harry Potter ] and William Hootkins [ Star Wars: ANH ] both narrowly avoid coming along too.

    In a plotline similar to the Doug McClure Amicus films of the early 1970s, they end up in a mysterious world where they are captured by the Evil Overlord. In fact they are on the planet Mongo, and their captors are Ming the Merciless [Max Von Sydow - Dreamscape ] and Klytus [Peter Wyngarde -Jason King].

    Flash must overthrow Ming by uniting various factions. They include Ming's daughter, the unbelievably gorgeous Princess Aura [ Ornela Muti ], Vulcan the Hawkman [Brian Blessed - Star Wars 1: TPM ] and Prince Barin [Timothy Dalton - The Living Daylights ]. He must also save Dale from marriage to Ming, and save the Earth from destruction!

    This film delivers on every level. Sex, violence, romance, ... The cast is excellent. Dalton's sidekicks include Richard O'Brien [ Rocky Horror Picture Show ] and Peter Duncan [Blue Peter]. The soundtrack is by Queen, who also did the soundtrack for Highlander .

  • Search This Site
  • Dracula, Prince of Darkness

    This is the first of the Hammer sequels. It starts with a quick retread of the original film. Van Helsing [Peter Cushing] vanquished Dracula [Christopher Lee].

    Flash forward ten years, and we meet Father Shandor [Andrew Kier - Blood From The Mummy's Tomb, Dr Who: Invasion Earth ]. He wanders the forests, an oddly secular monk, and cures the peasants of their superstitions. Luckily he knows things, like a vamp can't enter a building without an invitation!

    A couple of Victorian English gents, and their wives [including Barbara Steele ] are passing through the area. They ignore advice, and end up spending the night in Castle Dracula! The driverless carriage that delivers them seemsa homage to Nosferatu (1922) , whereas most else is just a plot contrivance.

  • Search This Site
  • Carrie (2002)

    No, this is not the Brian DePalma effort. 25 years on, Stephen King 's work has been re-adapted into a TV mini-series.

    Carrie White is a teenage girl in the USA. She is taunted by school bullies Emilie de Ravin, Katharine Isabelle and Kandsye McClure , and abused by her religiously fanatical mother [ Patricia Clarkson ]. Unfortunately for them, she has telekinetic powers ...

    The movie is interspersed with clips of a police detective [David Keith - Daredevil ] interrogating the characters. This miniseries was originally intended as the pilot for a TV show, but the ratings were poor so the series was cancelled. And it's not as anti-religious as the original - the director introduced new lines at the request of David Keith.

  • Search This Site
  • Satan's Slave

    This is yet another mediocre British horror flick from the 1970s. Unlike the classier Hammer films from the 1970s, this has a contemporary setting.

    A beautiful young woman goes to stay at the country mansion of her uncle, Michael Gough [ Dr Terror ]. Unfortunately, he's involved in Satanic rituals and human sacrifice!

  • Search This Site
  • The Wizard of Oz

    Made in the 1930s, this is the first real Hollywood attempt at a Fantasy film. Instead of adapting the works a contemporary 1930s pulp writer like Robert E Howard they used a decades-old book by a more child-friendly writer, L. Frank Baum . Like the other 1930s technicolour blockbuster, Gone With the Wind, this is taken from a book with quite political subject-matter. But while Margaret Mitchell's tale of the fall of the Old South was literal, Baum's fantasy setting allowed a more subtle allegory.

    The story is about a young girl, Dorothy [ Judy Garland ]. A resident of a small farm in Kansas, she is swept up by a tornado and deposited in the mystical land of Oz. To make her way home she must seek the help of the title character, The Wizard of Oz, who lives in the Emerald City. On her way there she is joined by 3 companions - a scarecrow, a tin man and a lion - and menaced by the wicked witch.

    The story is so old and copied, it is not regarded as original these days. Which is a compliment, really, since it shows how enduring the story is!

    The really impressive thing about this film is the technical aspects. The technicolour is so bright, the shading so perfect, the lighting spectacular. And the camerawork and cinematography do not let it go to waste. There is an army of extras to fill the gigantic interior sets, and even today for a studio to duplicate this wold be a major feat.

  • The Wiz (a 1970s blaxploitation musical adaption)
  • Return to Oz (a 1980s adaption of Baum's sequel)
  • Search This Site
  • 10.5 AKA Earthquake 10.5

    Seattle is hit by an Earthquake. It's so violent that even the Space Needle topples, even though it was specifially built to be the most stable structure in the city! However, a man on a push-bike manages to out-run [ok, out-cycle] the tremors!

    This being made-for-TV, a female seismologist [ Kim Delany ] is the only one who can save the world [AKA California] from the next quake, which will be even bigger!

    Beau Bridges, formerly a USAF General in Stargate SG-1 , has been promoted to President of the US.

    Among the civilian quake-fodder are John Schneider [ Smallville ] and Kelly Cuaco .

  • 10.5 Apocalypse
  • Search This Site
  • The Sight

    Andrew McCarthy [ Kingdom Hospital ] is an American architect assigned to London. He discovers he has psychic powers - he can see ghosts, and gets psychic flashes of a serial killer.

    Amanda Redman is one of the police detectives leading the murder hunt. Kevin Tighe [ Lost ] is McCarthy's boss.

    This is a made-for-TV effort from 1999, but it's actually okay. Paul W.S. Anderson delivers a good British film on a TV budget! He even gets Honor Blackman to deliver a cameo!

  • Search This Site
  • Sword of Xanten [aka Ring of the Nieblung, aka Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King]

    This is a modern-day retelling of the tale of the Germanic hero Siegfried, which Wagner used as the basis for Ring of the Nieblung.

    Siegfried slays an dragon, and bathes in its blood to become invincible. Then he befriends King Gunther [Samuel West - History of the Monmouth Rebellion] and his sister [ Alicia Witt ]. Things start to go wrong when Gunther gets Siegfried to help him marry the Queen of Iceland [ Kristanna Loken ].

    The film is an epic, over 3 hours long. It has a great big-budget look, and was made on location in Europe.

    The only things that really let it down were the dreadful lighting during the climactic fight scene, and the cheesy use of modern rock music for the end credits. Surely in this age everyone knows to use an Orchestral score!

  • Search This Site
  • A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie

    An evil banker woman [ Joan Cusack ] wants to foreclose on the Muppet Theatre. The Muppets realise they can't raise enough money to pay the debt in time. Piggy quits, and becomes an Extra on Scrubs.

    Kermit blames himself. He wishes he was never born. Cue the It's a Wonderful Life trip into an alternate universe.

    Watch out for the cameo by the second great Frank Oz character - Yoda!

  • Search This Site
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1979)

    This is an animated adaption of the C.S. Lewis classic. It's shown every Xmas, and this time it matches up with the cinema release of the CGI version.

    Basically, it concerns 4 children [2 boys, 2 girls] who have been evacuated to a country mansion in 1940s England. They discover a wardrobe that is a gateway to the fantastical world of Narnia, scene of a rebellion led by the magical talking Lion, Aslan, against a wicked witch.

    Lewis' sources are varied, but this is childrens' literature at its best. The human children are no doubt inspired by E. Nesbit's 5 Children and It . The talking animals are from the works of Beatrix Potter , the witch is from Hans Christian Anderson's The Snow Queen , and the title is a pun on Will, the Witch and the Watchman, a stage show by the Victorian magician, Maskelyne. However, the theme itself is one of Christianity. The lion, Aslan, is a representation of Jesus.

  • Search This Site
  • Scooby Doo

    The Mystery Machine Gang are back in business! Fred [Freddie Prinze Jnr - Wing Commander ], Daphne [ Sarah Michelle Gellar ], Velma [ Linda Cardellini ] and Shaggy [Matthew Lillard - Scream ] are called out of retirement by Rowan Atkinson [ Johnny English ] to solve a mystery at his remote island hotel.

    The movie plays against the cliches, adding in tons of surprise twists. Shaggy even gets a girlfriend, Isla Fisher !

    Scrappy Doo's cameo is incredible. Yes, this is a film to be remembered!

  • Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed
  • Search This Site
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

    Evil pirate Geoffrey Rush [ House on Haunted Hill (1999) ] kidnaps delightful damsel Keira Knightly . Her admirer, Will [Orlando Bloom - Lord of the Rings, Kingdom of Heaven ] must free good pirate Captain Jack Sparrow [Johnny Depp - Astronaut's Wife ].

    Gore Verbinski delivers an incredibly impressive film. The cast is incredible [Jack Davenport from UltraViolet is the British Captain charged with capturing the pirates] and the SPFX are impressive too. Gothic horror with Pirates? Who would have thought it would be so successful they did 2 sequels?

  • Search This Site
  • Elizabeth

    Shekhar Kapur , best known for the brutally violent Indian biopic Bandit Queen, delivers a biopic of yer another female war-leader.This time it is England's Queen Elizabeth the First, with Australian actress Cate Blanchett in the title role. Her fellow aussie Geoffrey Rush [ House on Haunted Hill (1999) ] supports as Walsingham.

    This squeezes 20 years of history into a 2-hour story that supposedly takes place over only a couple of years. But it's very well done, and certainly looks the piece.

  • Search This Site
  • Shakespeare in Love

    London, the 1590s. A theatre-owner [Geoffrey Rush - House on Haunted Hill (1999) ] needs to pay off his loan shark. He hires Will Shakespeare to write him a new play. However, Shakespeare has writer's block!

    Gwyneth Paltrow acts as his muse, and also pretends to be a boy so she can act on stage! Colin Firth [Bridget Jones Diary] is his rival for her affections.

    Judy Dench [ Die Another Day ] is the middle-aged Queen Elizabeth, while Ben Affleck [ Mallrats ] is the lead actor. Martin Clunes is manager of a rival theatre.

  • Search This Site
  • Hercules (2005)

    It's been about five years since the Kevin Sorbo TV show, and after the success of the film Troy the Ancient Greek Myths are popular. So we get a new retelling of the Hercules story, split into two sections of about 90 minutes each. Predictably, made in New Zealand by the Hallmark Channel.

    The first half sees Hercules' birth, and upbringing by Timothy Dalton [ The Living Daylights ]. However, he falls foul of his wicked mother [ Elizabeth Perkins ] and the uber-bitch priestess of Hera [ Leeanna Walsman ]. The only decent woman in his life is peasant-girl Leelee Sobieski .

    The second half sees Herc head off on his 6 Labours of atonement. His squire is Sean Astin - last seen as Frodo's sidekick in Lord of the Rings !

    The labours are:

  • Kill the swamp-birds [harpies]
  • Kill the Nymerian Lion [a Griffin]
  • Capture the Cretan Bull [a bandit]
  • Tame the Mares of Lemnos [Aussie-accented babes]
  • Bring Down the Cyrenian Hind [a CGI deer]
  • Defeat Cerberus [a monsterous 2-headed dog]

  • The Odyssey
  • Search This Site
  • Child's Play

    Charles Lee Ray [Brad Dourif - Alien: Resurrection ] is a serial killer, shot by police detective Chris Sarandon [ Fright Night ]. However, before he dies the murderer ninvokes some voodoo rites over a plastic doll.

    Catherine Hicks , an overworked single mother [Captain Kirk must have knocked her up and dumped her back in the 1980s after Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home ] buys the doll for her pre-teen son's birthday. He's very taken with the gift. He talks to it, and says it talks back to him. Then his babysitter dies in very mysterious circumstances ...

    This is where the film is at its best. The creepy psychological torture, very 1970s-style like Rosemary's Baby ... The kind of thing that is once again becoming popular, thanks to the influence of Japanese horror films

    Unfortunately, this film was made in the 1980s. It descends into predictable slasher antics, and spawned a slew of predictable sequels.

  • Search This Site
  • Dark Crystal

    This is an early 1980s offering by Jim Henson , using among others the voice talents of Frank Oz . Unlike their other films, like the Muppet movies and the later Labyrinth , this is an all-puppet film without any interaction with human actors.

    The story starts with an extensive voice-over monologue. Alien world, prophecy, mystical quest ... The plot is basic, not exactly original. The protagonist, an elf-like fellow, must replace a shard on the Dark Crystal that it was shattered from. It that happens the prophecy will be fulfilled, the eeevil Skeksis will be defeated, and so on.

    No great plot twists, but the visuals make this a unique experience.

  • Search This Site
  • Mirror Mask

    Dave McKean delivers his directorial debut, based on a graphic novel written by Neil Gaiman with artwork by McKean himself.

    Basically it is a darker, more British version of Labyrinth . Stephanie Leonidas is excellent in the Jennifer Connolly role. She's a better actress, and unlike Hollywood films this actually has a teenager in the teenage role!

    The protagonist is a teenage girl who is a juggler in a circus family. Her stormy relationship with her mother takes a turn for the worse when mother has to go to hospital.

    Holding herself responsible, she descends into a fantasy world. With decent SPFX and a great cast, this is a wonderful change from dreary old England. But can she escape from the dream, or will she be trapped there forever?

  • Search This Site
  • Angels And Demons

    This is a Dan Brown novel. In fact, DaVinci Code was the sequel to it. They deal with similar themes, but this is far more sympathetic to the Catholic Church.

    This is an attempt at a Fraternity of the Stone type thriller. However, Brown is nowhere near the writer that David Morrell is! The plotting and structure are too obvious. It's written like a screenplay, following the 3-act structure. There is no depth of character or description, and the research is shallow to say the least. The CERN institute is made out to be like James Bond's Q-Department!

    Basically, a Harvard Professor is called in when a secret society, the Illuminati, murder a CERN scientist and steal his work. Their plan is to blow up the Vatican!

    Fantastic! I love things like that! Detectives stories and conspiracies about the Vatican. Religion, sex and excitement, that's what people want. Normal people, I don't want to read about their problems with their boss or their job or whatever. I've got enough problems of my own. I like to read about people doing an important job, something you can really believe in. Call it escapism if you want.

    Vincent Lavery:
    The first time I read it I thought it was very badly written. The second time I didn't read it all in one go. I liked it.

    It's written by an American academic who's a specialist in a very narrow field, writing about Europe. Second time you understand the structure. It's very well-plotted.

    Phil Mulholland:
    Short chapters - if the next one's only 4 pages long, you'll keep reading. If it's 40, you'll put it down until tomorrow.

    The Reading Group's selections for the next 3 months are:

  • Nov/Dec 2005 = Buffy: Wisdom of War
  • Dec/Jan 2006 = Angel: Impressions
  • Jan/Feb 2006 = The Princess Bride: 30th anniversary edition

  • Search This Site