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media roundup - capsule comments on genre tapes & discs, and SF TV
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A
The Adventures Of Rocky & Bullwinkle (2000) review by Rob Marshall
This is a mix of live-action and animation in the manner of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (which is referenced), based on the popular US cartoon series developed in the 1960s by Jay Ward. The central joke is casting Robert De Niro as Fearless Leader, a megalomanic villain intent on world domination by using trash TV shows to brainwash Americans. You get an endless stream of mesmerisingly awful puns, more than one convenient coincidence, and the amusing sight of De Niro sending up his Taxi Driver mirror monologue: "Are you talking to me?" - in a camp accent.
   With its flying squirrel and its dumb but supposedly loveable talking moose free to roam Washington and New York thanks to ILM visual effects, this is a superhero comedy adventure with fun for the whole family. If you aren't familiar with the cartoon series, you may enjoy the sparky one-liners about hi-tech media and genre conventions. CGI itself is foregrounded in the cyber-driven plot's climax, turning necessary evils to ironic web-surfing favour. I could have done without the recurring use of Supertramp's inane brand of 1980s pop, though.

The Android Prophesy (Channel Four, 22 September 2001) review by Steven Hampton
A 60-minute documentary about robots in sci-fi cinema and TV, this intriguing survey of a popular genre subject looks at humanoid machines from Metropolis to The Stepford Wives, and Blade Runner, and includes clips from Spielberg's A.I.. There are interview snippets with notable actors, SF writers (Clarke and Aldiss, mostly) and directors from Brian Forbes to Ridley Scott and Paul Verhoeven.
   Although the programme makers chose some unlikely targets to focus on (Forbidden Planet's Robby the robot, the mechanoids of Lost In Space, in both original TV series and clumsy big screen remake), appearing to make no distinction between the robots of Star Wars, the more human-like androids of Westworld, and cyborgs of The Terminator movies, it's interesting to hear Peter Weller talk about RoboCop. Overall, a worthwhile effort with a quite reasonable ratio of film clips to background research and fascinating trivia.

Antitrust (2000) review by Christopher Geary
Talented computer whiz kids (Ryan Phillippe, Rachel Leigh Cook) in a high-pressure lab rat workshop environment; surveillance of code geeks in their own garage dens; a satellite webbed communications system; the young hero with a conveniently debilitating allergy; an outsider buddy murdered for his ideas; rapid descent into paranoid nightmare as even best friends can't be trusted; final twist of deviously cunning plan to beat villains at their own game...
   How do you outthink someone who knows everything? Even with Tim Robbins as the ruthlessly ambitious dot-com tycoon, and SF author Gentry Lee on hand as science and technology consultant; Antitrust still needs to get its narrative drive defragged. The hi-tech trappings are suitably glossy, but the characters are paper-thin. One day someone will make a really great technothriller about the twin worlds of multimedia and telecom inventions. Despite lots of babbled techno jargon from the keyboard jocks, about how best to bypass data compression bandwidth limits of regular phone lines, I'm sorry to say this isn't it.

Arachnid (2001) review by Rob Marshall
Any movie that starts with a weird UFO causing a stealth aircraft to crash, and sees the surviving Navy pilot eaten by a giant alien spider, sounds like just the sort of thing Brian Yuzna would produce... So he did - but it's directed by Jack Sholder, who previously made cult SF thriller, The Hidden (1987), and enjoyable buddy movie Renegades (1989), but was also responsible for appalling rubbish like A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985).
   A mystery disease (which turns out to be spider venom, of course) on a tropical island attracts medics like flies but, like the military pilot's jet before them, their plane ditches. Struggling to shore, and out of contact with the authorities, these armed researchers are stalked through the jungle by ferocious and fast-breeding monsters with eight spindly legs...
   In an amusing scene designed to please both sexes, superglue cobwebs stick the pretty heroine's blouse to the hunky hero's shirt - so to get untangled they both have to get their tops off. Aside from such moments of humour, there's plenty of horror with 'ticks' that burrow under the skin, victims cocooned alive, and one or two absolutely ghastly vomiting-to-death scenes courtesy of effects creator Steve Johnson, who worked on The Abyss (1989), and Species (1995).
   Although the monster is unconvincing in its full-scale form, this is a passable attempt to mix Aliens (1986) with Predator (1987).

The Astronaut's Wife (1999) review by Steven Hampton
Here's a villainous role for clean cut Johnny Depp, as the rocket jock husband of boyish Charlize Theron - who gets infected with his alien seed after a shuttle accident leaves Depp host to something unknown. A minor X-Files type plot is transformed into operatic modern horror drama about a broken marriage in faceless corporate America. However, one too many genre references - to everything from Rosemary's Baby to The Quatermass Experiment, Cronenberg's remake of The Fly, and even The Village Of The Damned, eventually build enough familiarity and forewarning that the film's impact is diluted. A reliance on only two special effects sequences leaves the actors to carry the resonant narrative, and frankly, neither Theron nor Depp are up to the task. It is well worth seeing, of course, but expect disappointment.


B
Bats (1999) review by Tony Lee
Unimaginatively titled millennial version of Nightwing, this stars Lou Diamond Phillips as a smalltown sheriff, and Dina (Johnny Mnemonic, Starship Troopers) Meyer, as a biologist called in by the US government when an obviously mad scientist frees mutant bats to spread a weird virus around Texas. Here, cute furry night flyers are turned into smart, omnivorous predators.
   Omni-competent heroes make like The A-Team, tracking the creatures to their roost in a disused mine, where Phillips and Meyer end up swimming in ammonia-laced guano, while trying to freeze the bats into hibernation. Characterisation's sketchy, drama is dull-witted and obvious, and it's left to f/x and camerawork to generate any sense of peril. Not scary at all, but it does play up the old myth of bats getting all tangled up in women's hair, and the imagery of a great dark cloud of bats almost blotting out the Moon offers a strikingly apocalyptic vision.

Blast From The Past (1997) review by Jeff Young
Post-nuclear age SF is full of A-bomb bunker tales. In this highly enjoyable romantic comedy, innocent Brendan (The Mummy) Fraser emerges from buried refuge, fully grown, 35 years after his panicked scientist father and pregnant mother locked themselves away from the world during the Cuban missile crisis. Now it's 1997 and the educated but wide-eyed Fraser is sent out for provisions, and to find "a nice girl from Pasadena."
   Needless to say, Blast From The Past wrings plenty of good jokes from this scenario. With veterans Christopher Walken and Sissy Spacek as the half-crazed parents, and Alicia (Clueless) Silverstone as sassy Eve to Fraser's Adam, this sweet natured fable is a winner despite its inevitable feelgood conclusion.

Blood Surf (2000) review by John M. Peters
I guess that Blood Surf is as good an exploitative movie title as you can find, and in this case pretty much fits the movie like a glove. This low-budget schlock horror movie is set on a nameless Pacific island, where a group of surfer dudes arrive to be filmed surfing through shark infested waters. The surfers and their camera team friends chill out on the island, only to find that the waters they have to surf is patrolled not just by sharks but by a giant seawater alligator that proceeds to eat most of the cast as his preferred type of munchies. A Captain Ahab-type old sea dog (played by Duncan Regehr) rescues them and drags them along on his quest to kill the croc. The animatronic alligator created by John Carl Buechler out acts the cast easily. So, a pretty facile Jaws clone at least 20 years out of date, that's really only good for a Friday night in with the lads and a crate of Fosters. You have been warned.

The Bogus Witch Project (2000) review by Ian Shutter
On 21st November this year, a lone movie reviewer, with no experience of South Central LA, saw a time-coded VHS preview tape of The Bogus Witch Project, directed by Victor Kargan.
   Lacking sufficient alcohol to erase all memory of such an ordeal, the tormented survivor sent off a last desperate warning about what he'd seen. This review, his last recorded statement, is all that remains...
   You know me, right... I'll watch anything, but this compendium of ridiculously laboured jokes about The Blair Witch Project is enough to send anyone screaming for an armchair ejector switch. Under the umbrella of a fictitious TV show called 'The Woods', the filmmakers have assembled absurdly titled parodies like Griffith Park Witch, Blair Underwood Project, Watts Bitch, and Bel Air Witch, etc. Plenty of apologies to camera, off-screen shrieking, stolen camcorders, while bodies are reported to have "seriously disappeared," even before the film crew get away from their rendezvous point at the Laundromat.
   Composed of jokes in the familiar TV sketch style of Saturday Night Live, and the lunacy of Zuckers' Police Squad mixed with America's Scariest Home Videos, this unquiet rubbish is unlikely to advance the careers of anyone involved. Very little was left of my appreciation for low-budget exploitation flicks (or sympathy for undergrad film student humour) after half an hour. The full duration is not recommended for those of an intelligent disposition.

Bones (2001) review by Trent Walters
Bones should have been rated higher, but didn't quite live up to its excellent promise.
   Businessman of a mysterious business, Jimmy Bones (Snoop Dogg), died in 1977 when he refused to help a crooked cop and a drug dealer bring drugs to his neighbourhood. The cop has all witnesses stab Bones, including his bodyguard, buddy and girlfriend. They bury him under sand in the basement.
   When a couple of young brothers pile their savings together to buy the place from their father and to convert it into a disco, the ghost revives, going after more than just the few drug addicts who happen to stumble into his haunting place. The spectre is exceedingly freaky: a long, distorted shadow of a hand, a body crawling along the ceiling and walls after its victims... until light flashes upon it. The filmmakers fail to make full use of these ideas. Instead of conjuring horror, the movie pursues the gore. You can't complain about the acting but the choice to have Bones carry the heads of his victims around was ill considered and laughable, wrecking the entire mood. Furthermore, the system of justice goes far beyond even an eye for an eye: a young man who takes Bones' ring thinking he's dead deserves death? And the ending, while no doubt clear to the director or someone on the set, bears no logical relation to the previous events.
   Still, despite major flaws, the movie is fun.

Bringing Out The Dead (1999) review by Debbie Moon
You can just imagine Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader pitching this film to the studios, can't you? 'It's Taxi Driver - with Nic Cage - in an ambulance!'
   Well, yes and no. The fevered neon illusion that is Scorsese's New York night is present and correct, and Nic Cage rises to his harrowing role with exactly the right degree of bewildered mania. But this time the horror is not just on the streets, it's in the hospitals and the homes, and it's not about corruption and depravity, but the small desperations of life and death in a city too big to care.
   Frank Pierce (Cage) is a paramedic who hasn't saved a life in weeks, maybe months. As if a nightly parade of junkies, gang shootings and homeless drunks wasn't bad enough, he's beginning to see the ghosts of those who died under his care. In addition, he's fallen for Mary, the ex-junkie daughter of a heart-attack victim his partner saved - or rather, consigned to the hopeless cases ward, shocked back to life every time his heart stops.
   The film follows Frank through three manic nights, with three partners - the unruffled professional (John Goodman), the devout Christian (Ving Rhames), and the certifiable psycho (Tom Sizemore). Each makes the most of their role - Rhames' barnstorming resuscitation of an overdose victim is worth the price of admission alone.
   But it's Cage's film, and he excels in his role, swinging from burned-out guilt to doped-up mania with gut-wrenching plausibility. His uncertain relationship with the fragile Mary (Patricia Arquette) drives the otherwise fragmented plot forward, culminating in a strange and riveting act of mercy that finally frees him from his guilt.
   The ghosts remain an understated presence; perhaps a figment of his disintegrating mind, perhaps genuinely supernatural. The film bristles with religious imagery, adding to our sense that Frank is poised uneasily between the living and the dead. Not an easy film, or an uplifting one, but a compelling experience nonetheless.


C
Charlie's Angels (2000) review by Christopher Geary
Cameron Diaz jiggles, Drew Barrymore pouts, Lucy Lui cracks the whip, and the glamorous trio star in this update of the 1970s TV detective agency show, with lots of CG enhanced martial arts stunts... Yes, this is what happens when a filmmaker overdoses on John Woo action movies! Combine De Palma's Mission: Impossible scenarios and Batman style gadgets with fighting sequences from The Matrix, and the result will be something like this. A dizzily hyper tale of beautiful girls saving the world from homicidal data pirates (intent on making telecom privacy obsolete), not to mention their reclusive boss from a vengeful attack.
   Is this really charmless and disagreeably overproduced, offering audiences nothing more than alarmingly lightweight Hollywood trash? Perhaps... It's true, there's not much here in the way of originality, unaffected melodrama, or post-feminist character development but, despite its undeniable faults, Charlie's Angels is still rather good fun, overall.

Charly (1968) review by Steven Hampton
Ralph Nelson directed Stirling Silliphant's adaptation of 'Flowers For Algernon' by Daniel Keyes, and this movie, starring Cliff Robertson and Claire Bloom, still does the business, despite its late sixties' ethos. It shows how another laudable medical experiment goes tragically wrong because of a conceited blindness to failure on the part of doctors involved.
   Charly Gordon (Robertson, winning an Oscar) is retarded until surgery to fix his brain enhances his intelligence to genius level. Recovering his lost youth through motorbike, camping trip and romantic fling with his teacher (Bloom), Charly strives to mature emotionally in short time, but succeeds only in confronting his betrayers and delivering - with dramatically piercing insight - a scathing outburst against how things are, and how they will be.
   If you can tolerate some scenes of cheesy melodrama, and the irksome split-screen visuals (seen at their best in this new widescreen DVD release from PT Video), this serious SF movie is well worth tracking down.

Chicken Run (2000) review by Debbie Moon
It's The Great Escape - with chickens! What more do I need to say? Aardman animation, the genius behind Wallace & Gromit, set to work with a Hollywood budget and several tons of plasticine, and after thousands of hours of work, we find ourselves behind the PoW-camp wire of Mrs Tweedy's chicken farm. Tired of collecting eggs and enduring her husband's paranoia that the chickens are planning a mass escape, she plans to liquidate the entire business - into pie filling. But she's reckoned without the determined Ginger and her scatty sidekick, Babs. And when a passing American rooster drops in, quite literally, the plan gets underway in earnest...
   This is old-fashioned family entertainment: slapstick for the kids, sly jokes and film references for the adults, star names and astonishing craftsmanship. From the distant sunsets that feed the hens' desire for freedom to the Heath Robinson complexities of the pie filling machine - scene of a rollicking 'Indiana Jones' style escape - the visuals have a simple beauty all their own. A plot crammed with ingenious plans and unexpected setbacks will keep all but the most cynical amused, and you can always play 'guess the celebrity voice'.
   A good, fun film that should find a perch on everyone's video shelves.

Chill Factor (1999) review by Rob Marshall
Offbeat version of some vaguely science fictional chase film like Broken Arrow or Chain Reaction. A secret weapons research lab blow up an entire island. Peter Firth is the scapegoat who knows too much, sent to prison for ten years. When he gets out, he plans to steal the crystals that explode at room temperature, but they are stashed in a stolen ice-cream lorry.
   Action hero wannabe Skeet Ulrich plays a cut-price Keanu Reeves, while Cuba Gooding Jr attempts an Eddie Murphy type loudmouth scam artist without much success, but both are involved in a truck-driving stunt that pays homage to Wages Of Fear.
   Unoriginal and shallow, mid-budget f/x popcorn that's clunky, harmless and dumb but also a pleasant and undemanding timewaster.

Contagion (2000) review by Pete Short
When I was 13, I had to write a 200-word essay on 'One Square Yard of Outer Space'. Hard to highlight the full, rich complexities unless you have the necessary knowledge to find something a tad more than terminally boring for the uninitiated.
   And then I saw Contagion.
   Peter Weller is a disgruntled old guy who feels he has been prematurely axed from his job in a central European laboratory that plays around with viruses. After confrontation, shots are fired, Weller escapes with the bugs and is chased by William Hurt, the only character with immunity from infection.
   Beyond the words, 'Hey Bill, grow long hair', Hurt could not have been greatly directed in this role. Never the warmest of actors, and although he is capable of adding a thoughtful and enigmatic quality to films like The Accidental Tourist, Altered States or A.I., - he has, in this project, no more than lame lines to match the lame action and story. Not young, he looks so much more athletic than Peter Weller in old-guy mode, that you can't see why he has so much trouble in catching him. Throw in a couple of cliché scenes and bizarre props and 'One Square Yard of Outer Space' starts to look damned fine.
   Romantic interest woman to aqualunged Hurt: "Slow down, you're making too many bubbles."
   The inaction trundles along, and just when you think nothing at all of any importance is going to happen... it doesn't!
   Once I settled for seeking the funny side of all this, it did get better, but why any production company thought this would be good enough even for 'straight to video' I have no idea. I'd love to ask William Hurt why he did it. If it was to pay his barber's bill. It must still be owing; no profit can result from such an exercise.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) review by Tony Lee
Certainly, I think this fantasy martial arts adventure is a big improvement on the director's recent lacklustre western outing Ride With The Devil. It's a wonderfully seamless blend of kung fu thrills and romantic drama with engaging characters and plenty of exhilarating action - even if there's 15 minutes of scene setting, establishing dialogues and character introductions before the first fight sequence!
   The stars, Chow Yun-fat and Michelle Yeoh are both great, dominating proceedings with a hypnotic presence not shared by the supporting cast, although Zhang Zi-yi is excellent as Jen, a young girl rebelling against several old Chinese traditions at once. The story is basically hokum, simply but honestly reiterating many of this genre's somewhat naff clichés - honourable warriors with romantic passions, the minutiae of a society that's completely alien to westerners, but also inverting (and reinventing) other diverse elements - cultural nostalgia, decisive feminism, and the tragedy of flying heroes burdened by repressive social mores.
   Chow, best known for his Hong Kong gangster roles, swaps guns for the Green Destiny sword, and sunglasses for a Manchu ponytail. Yet, even with a newfound mastery of combat with a blade - instead of his trademark automatic pistols, the two heroines still eclipse Chow's reluctant hero; the longest fight scenes involve the women! There's one vigorous duel between stubborn Jen (Zi-yi) and irate Shu (Yeoh) that's equal to any of the spectacular fighting displays seen in The Matrix - unsurprisingly, though, because the extremely capable Yuen Woo-ping was action choreographer on both films.
   Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is not quite as enjoyable, overall, as say, New Dragon Gate Inn. But the film does make up for its lack of relentless pacing, distinctive energy and general weirdness - with high levels of visual polish and artistic style that only big money productions can hope to achieve. I really can't recommend this enough, especially to fans who have ever felt disappointed by the often low-grade roughness of finish applied to most Hong Kong movies.


D

E
The Eternal (1999) review by Rob Marshall
'Two pints of Guinness and a packet of crisps, please!' OK, so no-one actually says that in this spooky mystery set in Ireland, but when a couple of unrepentant alcoholics visit the woman's slightly barmy uncle (underplayed by Christopher Walken) you'd expect one of them to get some in before the pub landlady called last orders. The Eternal has nothing to do with Mark Chadbourn's novel of the same title. That's not a problem, though, because there's plenty of uncanny stuff going on anyway. The woman suffers blackouts and grainy flashbacks to a childhood tragedy. The mad uncle keeps a 2000-year-old witch's corpse (preserved by a local peat bog) in his cellar. Alice, a young girl adopted by Walken, lights cigarettes for the resident batty granny when not narrating the convoluted plot. The corpse is revived and turns murderous and seductive and then motherly. IRA gunmen appear from nowhere but fall victim to druid magic. How exactly do you prevent 'the transmigration of a soul', anyway? Some of the imagery in this odd little chiller is quite extraordinary. Although the meagre budget limits effects to a shock throat slashing, clever animation and falling down stairs stunts, the imaginative use of camera angles and adroit performances from the leads - Alison Elliott has dual roles as the silent witch and troubled wife of Jared Harris (who does a fair impression of Walken at one point!) - combine, winningly, to generate a notable sense of unease throughout.
   If you liked Ghost Story, and enjoy traditional horror tales, see this one soon.

Evilspeak (1982) review by Jeff Young
Orphaned loser Stanley Coopersmith (Clint Howard), is picked on by other cadets at a once prestigious military academy, until he discovers a book of magic while cleaning out cellars (once used for black mass) under the school's chapel. Socially inept Stan uses a computer to translate the Latin text and attempts to call up Satan, but he only makes contact with the restless ghost of Esteban (a devil-worshipper we see condemned by mediaeval priests in the film's prologue). Young Stan makes friends with a black cadet and the alcoholic cook, but their sympathetic efforts aren't enough to save him when a gang's cruel practical joke pushes him into madness.
   The impact of such grim, bloody and occasionally unsettling horrors that follow is slightly dampened by an unsubtle revenge theme, a sadly predictable plot, colourful yet dated computer graphic effects, and the relative cheapness of the whole affair. At least the hell-raising finale does not disappoint, and the homicidal hogs are a nice nasty touch. The third act's pageant to find 'Miss Heavy Artillery' (you can snigger) was filmed at night, making it appear sleazier than it actually is.


F
The Faculty (1998) review by Rob Marshall
A basic yet likeable video grab of SF-horror ideas cut from the slime bloated corpus of skiffy cinema, The Faculty concerns aliens taking over a high school. A variation on The Puppet Masters remixed with Carpenter's The Thing, it's served up in a no-brain-required format to please the Buffy crowd. Robert Rodriguez directs almost anonymously, and it's really down to guest stars like ex-Bond girl Famke Janssen and Robert (Terminator 2, The X-Files) Patrick to carry the whole show, between the copious special effects. About the only thing of genuine interest here is the use of illicit drugs (that's taking drugs not testing for them) by a group of 'outlaw' students, to determine who's who and what's what, before the grand finale with the monstrous alien queen in the school's gym.

Faust: Love Of The Damned (2001) review by Ceri Jordan
An impoverished artist is robbed of the woman he loves, and is offered revenge by an otherworldly force - at a price. Sounds familiar? Alas, this schlock horror B-movie has none of the bleak conviction of its role model, The Crow. Instead, it has a characterless painter who sells his soul to an Andy Warhol look-a-like, and is transformed into a psychotic imitation 'Wolverine', claws and all. Despite eating the hearts of his enemies and having sex with women with improbably large breasts, he tires of his life of slaughter, and falls in love with a prison psychiatrist. When his patron buries him alive, he returns to wreak yet more revenge, save the psychiatrist from camp Satanists, and battle a cheap special effect.
   Well, I'm sorry, but it really is that bad. The plot is a string of random clichés, the dialogue sounds like a hasty translation from Japanese, and the psychiatrist's character is an insult to all womankind. It even spends the first 15 minutes convincing you that a maverick detective is in fact the main character, only for him to drop out of the plot completely. The DVD release boasts brief interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and stills and biographies, but no hint at how the film turned out so awful. Its only value is as a challenger to Frankenheimer's version of The Island Of Dr Moreau for the title of worst movie of all time. In fact, no, it's not even bad enough to be good. Avoid at all costs.


G
The Gate (1986) review by Steven Hampton
This low-budget horror movie can be discussed alongside such genre entries as Phantasm, Child's Play, and The Monster Squad, all of which explore similar themes, gently subverting familiar conventions before re-establishing the required balance of power between good and evil. All manner of youth culture staples are thrown into the mix here. There are sci-fi comic-books, model rockets, and heavy metal records being played backwards. The little monsters that appear in a quiet suburban house after two home alone boys crack open a mysterious hollow rock (a meteorite?) are realised far more convincingly than the gigantic Lovecraftian demon that erupts through flooring inside the living room. But, as is so often the case with these films, it's the low-key effects (such as the eye opening in a the young hero's palm) that are more imaginative and startling, even if they're just as meaningless in terms of the plot. Well worth a look if you like independent schlock.

The Gift (2000) review by Tony Lee
A low-key psychic thriller in the whodunit stakes, this stars Cate Blanchett as widow Annie, struggling to raise a family on state charity and donations from locals for her fortune-telling services. Oddly, she uses Zener cards for readings, not the usual tarot pack - but this adds a quirky SF dimension to the ghost story plot. Not that anyone in authority, especially the local sheriff, believes in Annie's ESP powers, even when he's required to ask in desperation for her help in solving the disappearance of straying bride-to-be, Jessica (Katie Holmes, from Dawson's Creek)...
   Keanu Reeves delivers an exceptional performance here, playing a jealous and violent redneck, Hilary Swank is notable as his battered wife, and Giovanni Ribisi (Saving Private Ryan) is thoroughly compelling in a modern day variant of the 'village idiot' role. Together they make The Gift an actors' showcase, so that the impact of the mercifully few special effects sequences takes second place to strong characterisation, and the almost claustrophobic small town atmosphere.
   Director Sam Raimi returns to genre filmmaking after the relative disappointment of A Simple Plan, but appears - in a highly rewarding shift of emphasis - to have swapped black comedy and extreme horror for emotive tragedy and supernatural chills. Here's a fine mystery drama - full of eerie suspense in the manner of The Sixth Sense, where you care what happens to the heroine caught up in precarious situations, and even the villains are realistically drawn, believable characters.
   There's more than enough darkness here, in terms of the film's general mood, at least, to please most of the shock-horror audience, while the anticipated happy ending succeeds in being quietly moving - without slipping away into gushingly sentimental closure.

Guardian (2000) review by Christopher Geary
Offbeat mix of action thriller and occult fantasy concerning a resurrected Babylonian death god, and a boy messiah. Mario Van Peebles plays a Gulf War veteran turned cop on the trail of a serial killer that can switch bodies when each host is injured. The villain is selling a drug that turns users into homicidal maniacs. Our hero is aided by a fashionable warrior woman straight out of The Matrix, and that's not the only influence that makes this hodge-podge of genre references almost entirely derivative. James Remar, Ice-T and Daniel Hugh Kelly round out the exploitation movie cast. Watchable D-grade nonsense which explores familiar territory (The Hidden, The Keep, Highlander, etc) but lacks coherence or much in the way of narrative invention, convincing dialogue, believable characters, real suspense or internal logic.


H
House (1986) review by Peter Schilling
Struggling writer (is there any other kind?), Roger Cobb, played by William Katt, moves into his old family home, from where his son disappeared mysteriously, years earlier. He meets with his ex-wife, Sandy (Kay Lenz), who has become a TV soap star since their estrangement, chats to his next-door neighbour Harold (George Wendt, from Cheers), who's an enthusiastic fan of Cobb's books, and then Roger tries to get on with his new autobiographical novel, a Vietnam War story. However, there's a monster hiding in an upstairs closet and uncovering the secret of this haunted house is just the diversion from writer's block that he needs...
   With excellent cinematography by Mac Ahlberg, Steve Miner's likeable comedy horror, House was a huge success, with at least three sequels. What makes it so good is that it works on a number of levels. Richard Moll is scary as zombie G.I., 'Big Ben', but his hulking form and vengeful rage represent the nightmare demons of Roger's past that must be exorcised by means of his therapeutic writing. Jungle stalking helps with this episodic film's pace, but doesn't overwhelm the script's psychological aspects. Here, the corridors and doorways of the house may be seen as analogous to Roger's haunted state of mind. More than just another Elm Street fantasy with a Munsters sitcom subplot, House - for all its light-heartedness - is a subtle drama of betrayal, loss and guilt. These are all problems to be overcome by the hero before he can find answers, redemption and make a fresh start in life.
   Trivia fans should note that the woman in need of a babysitter, Mary Stavin, was a former beauty queen, and watch for Steven (The X-Files) Williams playing a uniformed cop. The original story is credited to Fred Dekker.

The House On Haunted Hill (1999) review by Dawn Andrews
Another horror remake, as with The Haunting, that completely fails to produce any of the original's charm or ability to shock. Not only that, but I must ask the question, how can something be a remake when the plot is completely different? Am I missing something here? Compared to this offering the remake of The Haunting was sheer class.
   In an old lunatic asylum a collection of unlovable and completely uninteresting mugs gather - to make money, what else? - By lasting out the night of fun, frolics and gore with their charmless and, it must be said, witless, host and hostess. The hostess, played by Famke Janssen, tries to make up for the truly leaden marital discord subplot by revealing as much cleavage as possible at all times, but even that cannot hold the attention - and as cleavage goes, is not a patch on Hammer horror yarns. Vincent Price, in the original, made up for the rather silly effects and plot with radiant wit and his own brand of debonair irony - Geoffrey Rush seems to think that all he has to do is mimic a superficial parody to do the same. Think again, Geoff. This is awful, and awfully boring.


I
Inspector Gadget (1999) review by Jeff Young
Basically, this big screen spin-off from the likeable Saturday morning cartoon series is RoboCop for the pre-school audience. Matthew Broderick stars as the eponymous cyborg police officer, in a plot that borrows heavily from various Bond movies, The Mask, and the aforementioned RoboCop saga. At least there are a few choice satirical gags to keep older teenagers interested, the mums may like Rupert Everett's sneering corporate villain, while dads will enjoy the all-too-brief appearance of robo-Brenda, an android copy of the heroine/inventor played by Joely Fisher. For his part, Broderick struggles to keep a dignified presence during the almost non-stop slapstick comedy, and only comes into his own when playing robo-Gadget, the hero's city wrecking doppelganger. The effects work is dazzling and flawless, just as you'd expect from the world's foremost animation studio. Keep your seats for the final credits sequence where they have tacked on all the best jokes!


J

K
Knightriders (1981) review by Jeff Young
Offbeat and affecting with bags of charm and an allusive script, horror king George A. Romero's dalliance with Arthurian myth is such a radical departure from the material he's better known for that it does feel strained (it's as if Ridley Scott made a screwball comedy!), and not simply because of the wholly artificial nature of its 'Renaissance fayre' setting.
   If you're unfamiliar with this cult classic here's the gen. Ed Harris leads a band of stuntmen on motorbikes, attempting to live in freedom like knights of old ("I'm not trying to be a hero. I'm fighting the dragon!"), apart from the modern world and all its hassles, cares and woes. But there's trouble in the forest - especially when, as the tag line for this movie suggests: "Camelot is a state of mind." A crooked cop gives the travelling company much grief, while personalities clash over the rules of the noble games and players' alternative circus lifestyle. Eventually, of course, some of the bikers (led by Tom Savini's Morgan) succumb to the temptations of decedent corporate advertising and sell out for to soul-leeching sponsorship deals.
   The jousting tournaments are action packed, and the characters are mostly played to perfection balancing emotional drama with a sense of adventure in comic episodes. The one brief fantasy sequence at the end means this deserves to be viewed as a genre film and it's a thematically complex tale mixing pageantry and honour, offering far more than simply Easy Rider meets Excalibur.

Komodo (1999) review by Jeff Young
Large predatory reptiles have risen to top of the food chain on a tropical island, where unscrupulous oil drilling has exterminated creatures' usual prey, leaving unwary humans subject to nature's revenge...
   After his family's slaughter, a teenage boy bravely returns to scene of the tragedy with his female shrink in an effort to regain his memory of what happened there. Soon enough, lizards with poisonous drool attack, and a battle for survival ensues in which survovors must confront the dilemma of killing an endangered species before they can escape. As director Michael Lantieri worked on special effects for Hook, Congo, Mars Attacks and Mouse Hunt, it's no surprise action set-pieces are seamlessly mixed with animatronics and CGI visuals in style of the raptor scenes of Jurassic Park.


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Lake Placid (1999) review by Jeff Young
Consistently amusing Hollywood monster movie about a giant man-eating crocodile, discovered in quiet waters, whose unsettling presence in an typically stifling rural setting, enlivens the otherwise routine lives of a mixed group of scientists, park rangers and local lawmen, all trying to kill or catch it. Bill Pullman and Bridget Fonda are amiable enough leads, and the special effects are quite outstanding for such trashy B-movie exploitation material as this.
   Although the entertaining drama unfolds with formulaic rules and eventually succumbs to a predictable ending, there are lots of situations here that offer a delightful blend of horror and humour with a commendable lightness of touch. Well worth hunting down if you want likeable no-brain fun that won't disappoint a family audience.


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A Man Called Hero (1999) review by Donald Morefield
Overburdened with flashbacks and 'many years later' new chaptering, this tells the story of two generations of Chinese martial arts experts travelling back and forth between their homeland and New York, in an effort to avoid enemy vengeance, and a lonely destiny, as bearers of their master's mystic-warrior secrets.
   The main players in this strained narrative of enslaved Chinese boat people and Caucasian racism are manga superhero archetypes, with names like Sword (the abandoned young son of Hero Hua - a man born under the accursed Star of Death), Brother Shadow, and a villain called Invincible, rather than any sort of conventional movie characters. Sublime period Chinatown is photographed for maximum atmospheric effect, enhancing excellent fantasy kung fu sequences.
   Despite all the action, though, this is essentially a tragic romance full of personal anguish and honourable intentions, evoking the icons and tropes of both western and gangster mythologies in a drama on the epic scale of a war film.

Maniac (1980) review by Jeff Young
Inspired by the successes of Hitchcock's acclaimed Psycho (1960) and Hooper's seminal The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), director William Lustig and New York actor Joe Spinell made this low-budget horror thriller to explore the mind of a fictional serial killer - Frank Zito - as never before attempted on screen. Spinell wrote or improvised a lot of his dialogue, mumbling away to himself in blackly comic scenes of violence (he strangles and then scalps a hooker, and a nurse) and implied sexual abuse (watch and listen closely as Frank plays hairdresser with his harem of mannequins) that shocked and appalled many reviewers at the time of its original release.
   What probably appalled the film's critics most of all is that Spinell creates a dreadfully unappealing sociopathic character, and then strives to make audiences feel sympathetic towards him, due largely to the suggestion that he was abused as a child. Kubrick achieved this in a science fiction context with droog rapist Alex (Malclom McDowell) in A Clockwork Orange (1971), and Lustig repeats the still-daring affect in a contemporary setting. This was unacceptable to some people...
   The Region 1 DVD (released in the USA by Anchor Bay) includes some outrageous opinions in a compilation of excerpts from the critics' reviews:
   "a compendium of pornographic violence and misogynistic fantasy"
   "unspeakable and genuinely depraved"
   "reprehensible, irresponsible, degrading, dehumanising and sick"
   "propaganda for violence against women".
   It's no surprise then, that Maniac remains banned in the UK by the BBFC and there appears to be no hope of a reprieve in the near future. This is a great shame because fans of John McNaughton's excellent Henry, Portrait Of A Serial Killer (filmed in 1986, yet unreleased until 1990), would doubtless admire this onetime 'video nasty'. Spinell is quite relentlessly sleazy and disturbing as the tormented Frank though, ultimately, he is a tragic figure meeting his end (?) in a sequence of chillingly spectral retribution.
   Former Hammer starlet, Caroline Munro, co-stars as the fashion photographer Anna, a potential victim who gets away. The film's mayhem and madness was, at the time, reflected in reality, as there had just been a serial killer hunt in the city. Outtakes of helicopter footage from Dario Argento's Inferno (1980) are used by Lustig to add glossy visuals to his unlicensed location shooting. Tom Savini plays one of Frank's victims - whose head is blown off by shotgun, in a big splash of gore.

Mindstorm (2002) review by Trent Walters
Don't be fooled by the semi-cool title or the electric blue spirograph in the human iris on the cover art. This movie deserves an anti-star rating. There aren't even any nifty special effects to inspire awe. The dialogue isn't just wooden, it's particleboard: "I know my warning you to stay away would be like advocating abstinence to a teenager" (a paraphrase superior to the original). No, wait, it gets worse. The actions aren't just illogical, they're the epitome of stupidity: fleeing an armed helicopter, Antonio Sabato leaps out the back of a house and begins firing to let the helicopter know that he escaped and where he is; next, he tries to outrun the helicopter in a van.
   Tracy Wellman, who had spent her youth in a psychic training camp that got blown up, is a psychic investigator for the FBI, hunting for missing children. The senator, who had a part in blowing up her beloved childhood training camp (a vision of which looms in her mind, though later she claims she couldn't read his mind), is up for the presidential bid and asks Tracy to find his missing daughter. The daughter is in the training camp of a religious cult led by Tracy's childhood training camp chum trapped inside the body of a man who has reprogrammed the daughter to hate the dad until the dad is no longer her dad in a sinister plot to take over the world.
   Perhaps Mindstorm (directed by Richard Pepin) is part of a larger trend. Omega Code sucked dog biscuits, and it also starred Michael Ironside. Other bad movies of his: Top Gun and Starship Troopers (Total Recall, on the other hand, was good fun). Since he's not a particularly bad actor, one wonders if he picks movies to look good in comparison to the other actors. The only reason to rent this movie is to sleep through or to laugh at it, but wait until Mystery Science Theater gets hold of it.

Mr Murder (1998) review by Steven Hampton
Stephen King's books about writers block (see The Shining) have all been filmed - to variable effect, with aspects of the writer-character facing down a psycho-fan (Misery), and his pseudonymous alter ego (The Dark Half). Mr Murder is Dean Koontz' take on the theme, and as you might expect it begins as SF before steadily degenerating into standard chase thriller clichés.
   Stephen Baldwin stars in dual roles as a famous mystery writer, and the cloned assassin produced in secret by a eugenics lab. The military project never intended to copy the author's genes they just picked up the wrong blood sample over at the hospital. When a psychic link is forged between scribe and killer, they become aware of each other's existence, and when the inevitable meeting occurs a tangle of mistaken identity scenes ensue. Acute differences between the deeply troubled hypnotised hit-man and happily married father of little girls are apparently quite beyond the acting abilities of the star, who plays both characters with the same slightly dull edge, making little of the inherent conflicts between good and evil - though, amusingly, the killer finds his parental instincts easier to deal with than the writer finds handling guns.
   Despite an appearance by James Coburn in a cameo role, this is a moribund and undistinguished cat 'n' mouse tale directed with routine TV-movie qualities by the blandly practised Dick Lowry - who made gripping dramas like The FBI Murders, but also gave us Kenny Rogers as The Gambler, and was responsible for the terrible Smokey & The Bandit 3. Lowry may be forgiven one bad sequel but not four existing Gambler films!


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The Ninth Gate (1999) review by Peter Schilling
A creepy supernatural mystery thriller from Roman Polanski, this stars Johnny Depp as an American dealer in antique books hired by an obsessive collector (Frank Langella) to authenticate the only known copies of a rare occult text. Naturally, as the content of these ancient volumes may contain taboo material written by the Devil, there's a cabalistic society of Satanists following Depp on his investigative trail in Europe. In this secretive, decadent world of murdered librarians, suspenseful double-crosses, ironic twists of fate, black magic ceremonies and malicious ambition, not a soul can be trusted.
   As with Polanski's non-genre Frantic, there's a stifling atmosphere of paranoia, intriguing plot details, and some great location scenery. Undoubtedly, this is the sort of accomplished old man's film that Kubrick's lamentable Eyes Wide Shut could have been, if only the studio backers had not fallen for the vain star glamour of Cruise and Kidman. Depp is on good form here, and even Emmanuelle Seigner, as his deceitful guardian angel, is tolerable. Not really an exceptional drama, then, because the conclusion is so badly fluffed - but still highly recommendable viewing.


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Progeny (1998) review by Ian Shutter
What The Astronaut's Wife only to dared hint at, Brian Yuzna's Progeny gives full frontal exposure to. A doctor's wife is abducted from the marital bed and impregnated by monstrous aliens disguised as ethereal X-Files styled phantasms. Her weirdly erotic dreams are revealed under hypnotic regression to be glossed over, and distinctly unsanitary, memories of rape. Arnold Vosloo (villain of The Mummy) here plays the hero as baffled doctor and husband, while crusty old Wilford Brimley puts in an appearance as concerned authority figure and Vosloo's doomed mentor. Brad Dourif completes the set of main characters as the disreputable author of UFO books contacted by Vosloo's disbelieving but anxious doc. The slimy effects are done well and the grand finale in a hijacked hospital operating theatre is suitably tense, despite a less than satisfactory ending.
   As so often happens, the lesser of the films on this theme mentioned here unaccountably received a full cinema release, while this clearly superior offering is released direct to video. Unsubtle Progeny may be, but unlike the aforementioned Johnny Depp vehicle, this SF-horror shocker confronts its admittedly ridiculous sex-with-aliens subject matter, directly, instead of merely alluding to it.


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Ring Of Darkness (2003) review by Jeff Young
Not to be confused with Reign In Darkness, this lame and irritating occult mystery-thriller from David Decoteau (maker of legendary schlock like Creepozoids, Dr Alien, and I Was A Teenage Sex Mutant), concerns attempts by the poseurs of a boy-band to replace their recently murdered lead singer. They hold auditions, invite the most promising three back to their island mansion, and offer each candidate the promise of eternal life if he joins their death-cult troupe... Yes folks, it's that old chestnut about a Faustian pact (with shades of Dorian Gray), administered by an sacrificial bloodletting ceremony which hints at both homosexual gang-rape and vampirism, but isn't really as homoerotic or campily amusing as that sounds. Sadly, even the presence of onetime femme fatale Adrienne Barbeau, as the aged pristess, or beautiful Ryan Starr, as the hero's supportive girlfriend, can't save it. "There is life after death," claims the DVD cover blurb (under a picture that's reminiscent of ad-art from vampire flick, The Lost Boys.) Well, possibly, but I'm not sure there's life after watching their soulless, boring trash.


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Seven Days (1989) review by Donald Morefield
Ingeniously conceived, but routinely executed, TV adventure series about time travel that is clearly inspired by TimeCop. Big-nosed Anthony LaPaglia plays hero Frank Parker, working for a secret NSA project called 'BackStep', which blasts its agent seven days into the past whenever something bad happens to threaten America's national security... or anything else if they are having a slow week. In the pilot movie, Frank has to save the US president from assassination by mad terrorists. Other episodes play on espionage thrills and spy game humour that develops between Frank's maverick action man, the exec suits in control of the project, and the techno guys (and female Russian doctor) maintaining the weird science hardware.
   What's most amusing about this show, apart from the hero's fragile state of mind, is that Frank invariably finds that whatever he does, things have a way of turning against him anyway, reducing or negating his efforts to prevent whatever event he's stepped back in time to prevent. Although he's got plenty of notice, Frank still tends to arrive breathlessly on the scene only moments before disaster strikes. Besides exploiting - or paying homage? - to the likes of Groundhog Day, in an episode with frequent déjà vu gags, there are witty throwaway codas to some stories - like the live TV show that tries to expose BackStep's secrets (after one of the staff blabs to a reporter), only to have Frank reveal his psychiatric history and Roswell UFO origins of the time machine technology to an entirely sceptical audience.

The Shepherd (2001) review by Tony Lee
This is yet another in America's interminable line of cheapo SF films and like the vast majority of its kind is best avoided, if possible. Proving he's hit bottom and is still falling, C. Thomas Howell plays a hitman on the rocky path to redemption who saves a woman and her kid from street gangs in a dismal underground city, apparently controlled - for the benefit of no-one, by wacko religious cults (who appear to be inspired by excess pre-teen readings of Philip K. Dick's pulp novels). Chief among the televangelist nuuters is Roddy Piper (of John Carpenter's They Live, and cult fave Hell Comes To Frogtown) as a manic street preacher, and the vaults and bunkers are sparsely populated by the likes of David Carradine as a seedy dopehead and wannabe ventriloquist with homicidal and/or homosexual inclinations. With far too many moments that are farcically bad or just plain old boring, this absolute tripe is only really watchable if you can take a break, every five and a half minutes, for more beer...

Soldier (1998) review by Tony Lee
From the maker of Event Horizon, this bleakly imagined SF war movie takes the premise of The Universal Soldier into deep space. Set on a battle-ravaged Earth where campaign hardened veteran Todd (Kurt Russell) earns his stripes fighting with a wide variety of implausibly large guns against unnamed enemies, before transferring to a junkyard planet where dumper ships rain surplus aircraft carriers and car wrecks to a surface prone to lethal dust storms, Soldier is a strongly moral fable about the role of the military, and a lesson in how practical experience beats mere training and whiz bang technology every time. Laconic to the point of robotic stupor, interplanetary superhero Russell should be no match for the new GM breed of warrior epitomised by Jason Scott Lee, but he is of course. And he also manages to knobble a whole squad of 20 just like Lee along the way to his assured victory, and farewell-to-all-that nuking of the trash planet, while leading the motley of castaway survivors to their version of the Promised Land. As a piece of film design this passes muster, but as brain-food SF it contains about the same amount of meat as a tin of vegetable soup, any variety.
   DVD extras: Warner's bog-standard subtitles and Dolby 5.1 sound. But also the unusual offering of two different formats: side A has the film in fullscreen 1.33:1 while side B of this 'flip-disc' is in 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The point of this is rather more intriguing an exercise in marketing than the film itself.

The Sorcerers (1967) review by Steven Hampton
In this British science fictional horror movie starring Boris Karloff, the great man plays Professor Montserrat, an expert in medical hypnosis, who has invented his own system of mind control. Ian Ogilvy plays Mike Roscoe, the bored young man who becomes the wise old codger's test subject. With the help of his wife, Estelle (Catherine Lacey), Montserrat's experiment results in a full brain washing service with a telepathic link between Mike and the elderly couple. As a bonus, there is a sensory feedback allowing Mike's experiences to be shared by his controllers, who enjoy the sensations of swimming by proxy and the vicarious thrill of a motorbike ride (without a crash helmet!). It seems like a marvellous invention - but the aged professor has reckoned without its addictive quality, and the baser motives of his thoroughly embittered spouse...
   There's a refreshingly antagonistic sense of nihilism about the swinging 1960s here, and some wry sexism (including Susan George in a miniskirt) that is more authentically subversive when viewed again today than anything in those Austin Powers movies. When Ogilvy arrives at his girlfriend's flat, he asks classy French bird Nicole (Elizabeth Ercy): "Why is it that girls claim to be nearly ready when they're walking around half naked?"
   The film's themes of dehumanisation and ultra-violence, and its psychedelic lightshow, predates Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971) and even though The Sorcerers is undoubtedly the lesser film, there's something in its down-to-earth depictions of amateur breaking and entering, casual back street murder, and its unapologetic meditation on voyeurism (albeit of a fantastical psychic kind) that, makes this challenging film prominent among similar cult dramas, in spite of its standard car chase finale.

Space (2001) review by Donald Morefield
Junior league science documentary series that's low on facts, and the causes of facts, but high on all those gosh-wow visual effects that today's TV execs seem to believe audiences will accept - in place of personable talking heads and explanations scripted without condescension or rudimentary intelligence. The human face of this show (which has location shooting in New Zealand) is the formidably laconic Sam Neill, most famous for teaching our kids about dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park trilogy (did Jeff Goldblum say no?). My wife thinks he's sexy as a presenter - but, then, she also watches reruns of Top of the Pops, and married me, so her tastes are questionable.
   Space has plenty of technology on display in its faux holograms of known planets and imaginary stars, and endlessly dizzy galactic zooms across the Milky Way, via repetitive CGI, but its aim is scattershot, its focus way too vague, and the hard scientific content is just so dumb it will eventually become frustrating to even the most undemanding viewer. Whatever happened to presuming intellect instead of insulting it? Excuse my cynicism, here, but I think Patrick Moore does this sort of thing so much better.

Stigmata (1999) review by Steven Hampton
The main criticism levelled against this horror mystery thriller is that it rips off The Exorcist. Well, although I wouldn't go so far as to say Stigmata improves upon its esteemed predecessor, it certainly is a more complex exploration of that earlier film's themes than was possible back in 1973. For one thing, the 'possession' here - of Patricia Arquette's flighty hairdresser - is not linked to a demon of any sort, and the fact that she doesn't commit the cardinal sin of flinging a priest out of her bedroom window (though she does beat one up a bit!) makes her plight all the more disturbing.
   Gabriel Byrne (who played the Devil - in Schwarzenegger's comparatively tame End Of Days) is cast here as a Vatican scientist who investigates modern miracles. (One of the few humorous asides of this ambitious film is that supposedly true Catholic believers hardly want to 'believe' at all). When Byrne discovers that Arquette's urban atheist has inexplicable injuries closely mimicking crucifixion wounds, he's naturally sceptical. Until, that is, she begins speaking in tongues, writing the Aramaic text of Christ's unsung 'lost' gospel, and he stands witness to a bloody epileptic-type attack.
   At this point I remembered The Entity (1983) - in which Barbara Hershey's heroine is assaulted, repeatedly, by an invisible rapist - and I was half expecting Stigmata would follow a similar route of improbable scientific inquiry. But, agreeably, it doesn't fall into the pseudo-science trap that nearly always reduces intelligent theologically inclined drama to pretentious trendy waffle. Instead, it aims high, targeting corruption in the Church, and delivering a message about organised religion that's clearly heartfelt, and strangely moving - even to a completely faithless heathen like me.
   Director Rupert Wainwright overdoes the fast-cutting style of a flashy rock video here, but this mostly works in the film's favour, adding almost subliminal visuals to central horrific images, and hinting at the off-screen presence of a tortured soul rather better, or at least in a different (more sophisticated?) manner, than all the grisly makeup effects and green vomit of The Exorcist ever could.

Stir Of Echoes (1999) review by Christopher Geary
Psychic thriller written and directed by David Koepp, from Richard Matheson's novel of the same title, this derivative - but nonetheless entertaining - drama casts Kevin Bacon (Hollow Man) as an ordinary man driven to the brink of insanity by visions from beyond the grave, after he undergoes a psych student's party trick hypnosis. Drawing heavily on Poe, for its elements of all-consuming mania (yet unlike 'The Telltale Heart', it's not our protagonist who's guilty), and such memorable films as Roeg's eerie Don't Look Now and Cronenberg's chilling The Dead Zone for its visual flamboyance, Stir Of Echoes is an admirably spooky murder mystery, and one that benefits greatly from Bacon's compelling central performance as the haunted everyman.

Swordfish (2001) review by Tony Lee
From the director of Gone In 60 Seconds, this film reunites X-Men hero Hugh Jackman with co-star, Halle Berry (they portrayed Wolverine and Storm), makes them both mere mortals again and then sets them in league with ambitious bank robber John Travolta, in a likeable but disappointingly superficial hi-tech action thriller.
   It opens with a curiously affected dialogue scene in which Travolta's character, Gabriel, muses on what could have happened in the movie Dog Day Afternoon, if Pacino's antihero had planned his bank robbery more effectively. What happens next is a stunning reinvention of the bullet time camera movement showcased in The Matrix. Apart from this audacious sequence, the film's highlights include an excellent helicopter stunt involving a sky-crane, a hijacked bus pursued by a fleet of cop cars, and the tall buildings of Los Angeles - which I do not believe they would get permission to film today, in the wake of September 11th.
   This is typical blockbuster action with gadgets, babes, firefights, and a crooked genius easily outwitting hapless cops. Jackman fails, spectacularly, to endear his computer expert, Stan, to viewers and his improvised scenes that are supposed to infuse his role with hacker cool are laughable and dumb. Sam Shepard is on hand as a corrupt senator, and Travolta seems to enjoy his bad-guy role, but the rest of the supporting cast (Don Cheadle and Vinnie Jones) can hardly make themselves visible against the background of saturated colours, car chases, explosions, and big money in a plot centred on misdirection.


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The Thirteenth Floor (1998) review by Tony Lee
This is based on the 1964 SF novel Counterfeit World (aka: Simulacron-3) by Daniel F. Galouye, which was adapted for German TV in 1973, directed by Fassbinder. With a small screen history like that it was inevitable that Roland Emmerich would get involved with this new movie version, giving fellow German, Josef Rusnak (2nd unit director on Emmerich's Godzilla), his Hollywood breakthrough. The Thirteenth Floor is palatable enough as slightly dodgy sci-fi, with VR worlds entered by exchanging your conscious mind with that of a CG character but, honestly, if you've ever read anything by Philip K. Dick then the eventual outcome of all this identity swapping will be obvious, immediately. This leaves the genre literate audience to concentrate on the gizmos (which I thought were massively clunky and too noisy) and the movie designers' superbly recreated Prohibition era L.A. (period detailing, and largely self-indulgent visual effects without the panache that Brian De Palma bought to The Untouchables). The rest, I can't resist adding, is history. And even the supposedly unexpected twist ending has, unfortunately, a frightfully dated quality. Recommended only as no-brain entertainment.

2000 AD (1999) review by Rob Marshall
This is a Hong Kong action thriller about a bunch of computer game players who get mixed up with a gang of data terrorists. There's also a team of cyber cops that are trying to prevent the financial meltdown of an information war in Southeast Asia, linked to a system wrecking Y2K virus program.
   An industrialist's private plane is shot down, and a technologist's home is spiked by localised EMP. There's a car bomb shock and a terrifying sniper attack that is intended to kill off any witnesses and people in the know. Local HK cops and American security agents engage determined assassins in a parking structure gun battle that's as intense as any Hollywood shootout. The inevitable car chase is gripping stuff, and things like the elaborate use of computers and a 'white room' interrogation sequence are likely to broaden this film's appeal to the sci-fi crowd, in addition to martial arts fans.
   With its mishmash of hi-tech thrills, kung fu action, daring stunts and digital effects, 2000 AD is pretty exciting stuff - with plenty of strong characterisation, directed by Gordon Chan (Fist Of Legend), and starring Aaron Kwok.

2013: The Deadly Wake (1997) review by Trent Walters
The idea behind 2103: The Deadly Wake must have a strange origin. Admittedly, working on a ship, this reviewer had a few SF ideas lurking in his head, but the stock of ships in SF stories are far more numerous in their space incarnation. The unusual setting, however, is about as interesting as it gets.
   Malcolm McDowell of A Clockwork Orange fame is a drunken, washed-up ship's captain whose career demise coincided with the demise of the un-seaworthy ship he captained and sank. Likewise, the same owner hires McDowell as scapegoat to sink her crew of criminals and illicit cargo designed to create an ecological disaster. McDowell finds the ports of Nigeria closed to him; the owner has bombs planted to go off amid a storm, and an unstoppable cybernetic organism is bent on destroying the crew. McDowell has to employ all his crewmen in order to save the ship and the world.
   The acting on behalf of the corporate criminals of Proxate is poor - a sorry bunch of femme fatales these - and the ship's name, Lilith, though a consorter with and propagator of demons that plague men in Hebrew mythology, is otherwise inappropriate for both the feminist and mythical usage as liberation from male relationships. The male-female themes are almost non-existent in the story. Moreover, who hasn't heard of the SF plot to exploit prisoners for financial gain? Yet certain aspects intrigue: mysterious wet footprints, the design of the ship, and McDowell's character.
   Unfortunately, some of the mystery turns hokey in director G. Phillip Jackson's vision. While his intent, had it been fully realised, could have been powerful, instead the scenes of a waltzing ship captain and the mystical battle between a sorceress (?) and a melodramatic cybernetic (?) robot are embarrassments. Had the acting been better, the symbols smoothed out, and the general silly scenes been modified, this movie might have been quite an accomplishment.

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The Watcher (2000) review by Peter Schilling
This movie about an obsessive cop's pursuit of a serial killer plays like it wants to be a hyper-stylised version of genre classic Manhunter (1986). James Spader is cast as FBI detective Joel Campbell, mentally and physically traumatised by his previous encounter with killer Griffin (Keanu Reeves) in LA, who discovers the murderer has followed him to Chicago. Griffin starts killing lonely girls again, but he sends a photo of each intended victim to the cops in advance, taunting them to catch him before another body turns up strangled...
   Marisa Tomei plays the savvy headshrinker trying to help Campbell overcome his psychological problems, and it's painfully obvious from the start that she will end up as Griffin's final victim with our FBI hero rushing to rescue her at the last minute. All the central performances are of a far higher standard than the film's regrettably clichéd script deserves, in all honesty, so it's to their credit alone that The Watcher is watchable at all.

What Dreams May Come (2000) review by Tony Lee
Visually magnificent but insufferably sincere in its bleeding heart metaphysics, Richard Matheson's novel finally makes it to the screen with lavish artistic abstractions and state-of-the-art computer generated effects work. Robin Williams loses first his children, and then his wife (bloody careless, if you ask me), while the director Vincent Ward and screenwriter Ron Bass foolishly mistake ponderousness for poignancy with a woolly script and glacial pacing in their telling of how the film's troubled husband and father looks for familial redemption to cure his heartache in the magic mushroom splendour of a fantasy world inspired by his wife's rather traditional oil paintings. Sadly, Vincent Ward is not Frank Capra and, although What Dreams May Come certainly does score a bull's-eye, in terms of pure cinema spectacle, the drama here only results in the sort of grossly romantic sentimentality we haven't had to put up with since Christopher Walken declared his undying love for Natalie Wood in Douglas Trumbull's Brainstorm opus. As a movie this would make an exceptionally beautiful and stylish PC screensaver!
   Universal's DVD extras: anamorphic transfer, original trailer, interviews with cast and crew.

What Women Want (2000) review by Ian Shutter
Is What Women Want a dippy screwball romance or a deeply scathing account of the modern male psyche? Can action star Mel Gibson carry a seriously comic role? What is the point of a contemporary fantasy where nothing really changes in the end?
   After chauvinistic ad-man Nick (Gibson) loses a coveted promotion to Darcy (Helen Hunt), an accident at home gifts him the psychic power to hear women's thoughts. As suggested by a shrink (Bette Midler), he uses this ability to steal all Darcy's marketing ideas, aiming to win a lucrative contract for his firm, and fully expecting that his boss (Alan Alda) will give him Darcy's top job in gratitude. However, spending time inside women's heads transforms Nick's life. His blatant hypocrisy falters, sexist attitudes decline, blasé insincerity fades, spiteful outlook wanes and he starts to develop a conscience...
   It may be fun for a while to see a letch turn suddenly courteous and kind to his female co-workers, but Gibson overplays the role embarrassingly, acting horribly smug at times. Nancy Meyers is an accomplished Hollywood screenwriter, having refreshingly feminist comedies like Private Benjamin (starring Goldie Hawn) and Baby Boom (with Diane Keaton) to her credit. This does not mean she can direct. What Women Want suffers from a lack of focus and restraint, as bathetic jokes and annoyingly winsome moments tend to undercut the film's social commentary - so any rockets of wisdom it fires off always hit the target like missiles of Hollywood blancmange.

Wild Wild West (1999) review by Jeff Young
What can be said about Barry Sonnenfeld's comedy adventure except it's been frightfully overrated? An ill-conceived mix of special effects laden action, some very low comedy, and ridiculously bad acting - welcome to the mild west. Apart from Will Smith's hollow cowboy hero (who seems to have been modelled, without much success I should add, on Mel Gibson's Maverick characterisation) to contend with, there's also a truly dim witted performance from the usually hyperactive Kevin Kline (here almost anaesthetised, as if his sense of comic timing is not just out of sync but has been stopped altogether), playing the smart fool to Smith's glib gunslinger. Add to this, pantomime reject Kenneth Branagh, as the legless villain who plots to overthrow President Grant's United States, and you have a dreary waste of 100 minutes of you life.
   You may well have guessed by now that there are only two reasons for seeing this movie. One is the impressive variety of gadgets and prototype machines (of the alternative-history milieu that SF fans call steampunk, but also influenced by Jules Verne, and styled after Heath Robinson's cartoon inventions), and the other reason is the supporting cast of delightfully costumed ladies - including Salma Hayek and Bai Ling wearing tight corsets and not much else. If you liked Roger Moore's outings as 007 and the third Back To The Future film, this may just appeal. But discerning western fans should steer well clear of this frequently inane and wholly derivative Hollywood venture.

Wishmaster 3: The Devil Stone review by Ian Shutter
This sequel in the series, originally presented by Wes Craven, about an evil genie intent on world domination by magic and the granting of wishes, is a watchable timewaster but offers only a rehash of standard genre clichés. Possession, demon transformation, temptation of the innocent in a battle between good and evil, and violent scenes with flashy visual effects is about all you get here.
   Only blond Jason Connery makes much out of motley of stereotyped roles, but even he can't save a film when its makers think that any surprise may be mistaken for originality. Pitting a devilish djinn escapee against the human incarnation of Saint Michael smacks of desperation for something just a bit different from what occurred in the earlier films and is not very clever really.


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