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Gears of War (2006 Video Game)
9/10
One of the ultimate multiplayer military strategy games
1 January 2007
In GEARS OF WAR you control Marcus Fenix, a disgraced squad leader of the forces of the Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG). After his cohorts help him to escape from prison, he takes his squad to attempt to thwart the onslaught of the Locust Horde and to destroy their network of tunnels within Planet Sera. An optional second player can join in and control comrade Dominic.

In this third-person shooter, you must make judicious use of all available cover in order to succeed without being wiped out very quickly. When under cover you can shoot from behind it either by poking your head out to have a look at what you're shooting, or you can blind- fire (meaning that you can just poke your gun out without having to look, which is safer but lacks the accuracy of viewed firing). You can also roll to one side or the other to hopefully get to the next bit of cover quicker, if you are on one side of a door you can quickly spin to the other side, or you can jump over your cover (if it's low enough). There is even an option to run lower and more quickly towards the next bit of cover (provided that it's not too far away), which can be advisable if you are in the open too long as being lower and quicker makes you harder to hit.

You have a multitude of weapons at your disposal, most of which have limited ammunition (which can be picked up if it's lying on the ground, or you can top up a lot of weapons for which you do not have full ammo). There are various kinds of pistols and other handguns, although really these are only advisable if you don't have a bigger gun to use. Bigger guns come in a variety of sorts, with possibly the most well-known one being the Lancer, which has the much-talked-about chainsaw bayonet for close-quarters combat. Whereas with some of the other weapons you can strike with the butt of the gun, with the chainsaw bayonet you can rev it up and enjoy something of a guilty pleasure as your character swings the blade into the foe, ripping its skin apart and sending dark red blood jetting upwards, even spraying your screen! (Don't worry, you can still see through it and it does quickly fade). There is quite a bit of gore in GOW, but by far the chainsaw bayonet is among the goriest imagery in the game.

Other bigger guns include (but are not limited to) the shotgun and the sniper rifle, although its chamber can only accommodate one bullet, so you have to reload after every shot.

Reloading presents an extra facet which, when mastered, will allow quicker reloading and more powerful shots. When you start to reload a reload bar appears, with a meter running from left to right; when it reaches the right of the bar your gun will be reloaded. However, if you can stop the meter when it's within a small marked section of the bar which is about a third of the way across you will gain the aforementioned quicker reload and the accompanying benefits.

Also available are frag grenades, although you can only have up to four of these. When you use these you can either just throw them or you can aim using an on-screen arc that shows where your grenade will bounce and where it will explode.

There are also some other more powerful weapons, which I won't give away, but these should understandably be saved for the more troublesome foes.

When you take a hit you start to see a red cog appear on the screen; the more complete it is the closer you are to dying, so get under cover quickly! If it turns into a fully intact cog with a skull in the middle the screen goes bright red and you are dead (unless you're in multiplayer mode, where another player can go up to you and revive you).

Graphics are dark and moody, sometimes genuinely scary and very gory. There are bits later on where a small swarm of creatures known as Kryll will kill anyone who strays into shadowy areas for too long. Sound is equally cool, although some of the dialogue has voices that aren't quite up to the same standard.

Gameplay is simple enough to pick up, and all the various actions are well thought-out, with one button being a context-sensitive button, where your character might flick a switch, kick open a door or turn a valve. Before too long you will be ducking under cover and taking pot- shots at the foes like a seasoned COG war veteran.

If I did have one minor complaint, the scenes in rocky sections (e.g. caves) seem too artificial, almost as if they had been designed to contain cover (I know they have, but it still seems artificial). In the building-related scenes the cover is justified and logical (e.g. church pews in churches, fountains outside, pillars, bits of broken walls, windows etc), but when you see conveniently-placed rocky outcroppings to hide behind it somehow detracts slightly from the immersive experience that GOW otherwise offers. Another complaint involves the grenades in multiplayer mode; some details of the aiming arc can be off-screen if playing using two-player split-screen, which can make them harder to use than normal.

However, GOW stands out as a brilliant game in its own right, and is probably the main reason for investing in an XBox 360, especially in multiplayer mode.
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The Protector (2005)
6/10
Doesn't have the same effect that ONG-BAK had on us.
6 August 2006
Kham (Tony Jaa, ONG-BAK), who spent his childhood raising elephants with his father, has two stolen and taken to Sydney, Australia. He then catches a plane to this city in an attempt to rescue his beloved pachyderms.

His trail takes him to a Tom-Yum-Goong restaurant, and he recognises one of the guys that was exiting the building -- Johnny (Johnny Nguyen) -- as one man responsible for the elephant stealing. He inadvertently gets in trouble with the police -- one of whom is officer Mark (Petchtai Wongkamlao, ONG-BAK) -- but is soon back at the restaurant, fighting his way to the upper floor in possibly the most memorable scene (more about that later). But when he encounters Johnny and his gang he finds something more horrific and sinister...

Let's get one thing out of the way: whether we like it or not, this film is going to be compared to Tony Jaa's previous outing ONG-BAK, which really blew audiences away upon initial release, especially as we were being treated to martial artistry completely unaided by wires or CGI in a film world populated by the likes of HERO and CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON where fighters floated and ran up walls using wires. We were also introduced to Tony Jaa and his incredible agility, gymnastics and Muay Thai (admittedly combined with other styles) in a way that just grabbed the imagination. Somehow that same freshness is not there in WARRIOR KING, and there isn't really anything that rivals the superb market chase in ONG- BAK.

Also not as good this time around is the general performances of the cast. Tony himself is called upon to get really upset at a couple of intervals, and he simply does not convince in these bits. Petchtai Wongkamlao, who speaks English a lot in this, is neither as good nor as much fun as his Humlae character in ONG-BAK, and bits of his English were hard to make out. There is, however, a nice cameo from the other main ONG-BAK co-star, the young girl Pumwaree Yodkamol, whose brief appearance involves her speaking English, and her English was crystal clear. But its the Australians whose acting is the worst; just fortunate that it's not nearly as bad as in the Jackie Chan film MR NICE GUY.

The only thing that really saves this from being a low-point is the action. Tony Jaa is still fun to watch when he kicks butt, and he still finds moments that leave you astounded; there just needed to be more of them (maybe he showed too many fancy tricks in ONG-BAK?). The fights here are much more brutal than in ONG-BAK, particularly one scene where he takes on a whole gang and leaves almost all of them nursing a broken bone of some kind. There is also a very exciting fight between Jaa and Capoeira expert Lateef Crowder, which is possibly the most evenly-matched fight scene due to both being very agile, which actually makes us believe that Jaa has a worthy foe that could really be a problem for his character.

But the scene that will probably stand out most in my mind is a true cinematic accomplishment: the scene where Jaa fights his way up the restaurant. When you see it you will be treated to a fun-filled action sequence that lasts about four minutes and is all in one shot! The planning for this scene alone must have been a challenge!

But, ultimately, as a film it falls a bit flat. Only the mighty action saves it.
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Magnificent 7 (2005 TV Movie)
7/10
Autism and other psychological disorders handled with care...
3 January 2006
MAGNIFICENT 7 is not a remake of the classic 1960 western, but, rather, a film based on a real-life family of seven children and their single mother Maggi, played by Helena Bonham Carter. Being a sufferer of Asperger's Syndrome, I felt compelled to watch this one-off when it appeared on British television recently.

Like in the aforementioned real-life family (mother Jacqui Jackson, who, along with her children, helped make the 2003 documentary 'My Family And Autism' -- she and her son Luke Jackson have also written relevant books, and Jacqui herself oversaw this film), Maggi has three girls and four boys. The 'catch', for want of a better word, is that all four of the boys have some kind of disorder, especially the likes of Curtis (he is allergic to Christmas and is panicked by anything that is red in colour), Christopher (he has Asperger's Syndrome, is very naïve and trusting, responds awkwardly and sometimes inappropriately to social situations, and cannot understand idioms and sarcasm), and (if I remember correctly) Davey has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The film itself follows the family over the course of a year in its 90-minute length, complete with some of the struggles as the boys cause (usually unintentional) problems and this understandably all strains Maggi a bit. Christopher, who is unsurprisingly being bullied at school, soon finds a friend in foreign caretaker Dmitri (Bruno Lastra), who somehow seems to click with the family and know a lot about Maggi herself...

While some bits would undeniably be exaggerated (something I always expect in dramatisations of subject matter of this ilk, especially when it's based on a true story), and there are some faults that somewhat watered it down a bit (including the school bullying of Christopher being a bit too tame -- I felt that it needed to be just a little more vicious to bring it closer to reality; and the other noticeable fault is that we are not satisfactorily told just how Dmitri seems to know so much about Maggi on first speaking to her), the fact that this was made and televised at all should, I hope, further enlighten the nation -- and maybe the rest of the world -- to the autistic spectrum disorders and give some indication of the problems -- and sometimes joy and surprise -- those that have such disorders can bring.

Other than that, most people should find this intriguing and informative viewing.
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8/10
Cool cartoon marking the first appearance of the duckling
25 November 2005
Tom steals an egg from a nest while the mother duck goes for a swim, delighting at the prospect of a fried egg, only to find that when he cracks the egg a little duckling appears. He then has a sudden change of mind and decides to make a duck dish.

The duckling escapes Tom's clutches and hides in Jerry's mouse-hole. Jerry then tries to keep the little duckling away from Tom in various amusing ways.

This was the first appearance of this little duckling, who would appear quite a few more times throughout the T&J series. I just love his voice (which was done by the same guy that voiced Donald Duck and his nephews), with that unique, cute, 'quacky' twang to it!

The cartoon's enjoyable and funny too. Check it out!
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8/10
Snoopy never left my heart...
25 November 2005
This feature, as you probably gathered, largely centres around Snoopy, Charlie Brown's dog.

Charlie Brown has been becoming ever more resentful of Snoopy's recent independence (in particular going to the beach to spend time with Peppermint Patty), and, after cutting his thumb while trying to open his can of dog-food, he gives Snoopy a scolding and makes him feel guilty and worthless.

The following day, when Snoopy tries to go to the beach to see Peppermint Patty again as promised, suddenly a sign has been put up saying that dogs are not allowed on the beach. This starts a chain reaction that begins a string of frustration within Snoopy...

More snubbing comes from other members of the Peanuts gang when what started off as being a bit of fun with Linus and his security blanket soon turns sadistic and nasty, once again with Snoopy on the losing end.

Snoopy then has a bit of fun with Linus' elder sister Lucy, who is using boxing gloves, and they have a bit of a light-hearted spar, but again Snoopy pushes things that little bit too far and ends up upsetting Lucy and she spits the dummy at him.

Shortly afterwards, Snoopy receives a letter from a mysterious girl named Lila, who is in hospital and for some reason craves his presence. Snoopy and his bird friend Woodstock (making his animated film debut here) suddenly set off to meet her. Their journey is plagued by quite a few of the famous 'No dogs allowed'-type signs, which again do little to heighten the spirits of our favourite beagle!

Eventually, however, Snoopy and Woodstock reach the hospital where Lila is staying, and her spirit does indeed rise when the dog suddenly appears by her bedside and enriches her enthusiasm. However, little does Snoopy know that she will practically coax her into doing something that will really tug at his heart-strings...

I first saw this film as a boy in my early tens, and even when I watch it now it has lost none of its ability to endear and -- in particular -- choke. There is one particular section that still makes me cry to this day at a party for Snoopy, where poor Charlie Brown is just too choked to say anything. Even just THINKING about that scene induces tears...

As a whole, though, the film is enjoyable fare. It's not a classic, but it's still memorable, and has some actually quite good songs that are not in the least bit intrusive and only add to the overall charm. There is also some spot humour, much of which is caused by Woodstock's erratic flying and Snoopy's constantly being taunted by the 'No dogs allowed' signs permating his venture.

Recommended, but don't expect your eyes to be anything other than moist at some point in the film!
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9/10
A classic cartoon with Tom, Jerry and Nibbles
6 November 2005
This classic, Oscar-winning cartoon has the little grey orphan mouse Nibbles visit Jerry. Nibbles has a little note asking Jerry to feed him, as he's always hungry. A veritable banquet has just been prepared by Mammy Two Shoes, the black maid, and Nibbles starts to go into overdrive at the sight of so much food! It's not long, however, before Tom, dressed up as an Indian (as in Cowboy enemy, rather than person from India), gets in on the act.

This cartoon is so cool, has plenty of laughs, especially when Nibbles' appetite gets out of hand.

The version of 'The Little Orphan' that I am reviewing here is the uncensored original that I have been fortunate enough to see and appreciate before the political-correctness brigade supposedly forced the distributor to cut a scene where a candle scorches Tom and turns him black. The cut is very clumsy and the result is that this section of the cartoon no longer makes much sense. (Some versions have Mammy Two Shoes' fleeting appearance removed for similar racial reasons).

Great cartoon, but definitely preferable in the uncut version.
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9/10
Truly amazing Wing Chun-themed kung-fu film
6 February 2005
Sammo Hung's classic 'Warriors Two' features Korean super-kicker Casanova Wong in his biggest role as Cashier Hua (the 'Zhao Qian Hua' of the title), who works in the bank run by Banker Mo (Fung Hark-On). One evening, just as he was about to pack up for the day, he inadvertently hears a discussion between Mo and some of his other employees where he plots to take over the whole town and become the new Village Head by disposing of the current one.

Hua tries to warn the Village Head, but instead falls into a trap where some of Mo's henchmen beat him up quite badly. But Hua escapes, albeit seriously injured, and bumps into Fei Chun (Sammo Hung), who hides Hua in the home of his master, Mr Leung Tsang (the 'Zan Xian Sheng' of the title, played by Leung Kar-Yan), a Wing Chun master and healer.

Mo and his cronies go about trying to lure Hua out of hiding by murdering his last remaining family member (in Chinese customs of the period it was traditional to avenge the deaths of murdered friends or family -- something exploited in a lot of the period kung-fu movies of this era), but Fei Chun eventually makes Hua see sense, that he doesn't stand a chance of avenging death as his fighting skills aren't good enough. That's where Mr Tsang comes in -- but Hua's quest for revenge makes Tsang reticent about teaching Wing Chun to him, as kung-fu (like all martial arts) is not supposed to be used aggressively. Will Fei Chun be able to make Tsang capitulate and become his Sifu?

This movie was where Sammo's early promise as director and action choreographer shown in his directorial debut 'Iron-Fisted Monk' comes to the fore, as he steps up the quality of the fight choreography and overall structure of the film, and came up with a true masterpiece. Sammo's ability to choreograph the performers in such a way that they come across as powerful as they would ever look on-screen is something that fans of his work are used to (even his former Peking Opera classmate Jackie Chan has benefited from Sammo's excellent choreographic genius), and 'Warriors Two' is no exception, with some superbly crisp fights that contain shots where fighters perform well over ten carefully-timed moves before a cut occurs! But what's most amazing is that Sammo has actually managed to transfer Wing Chun to the screen successfully (some arts don't translate that well to the screen without some minor changes due to the limitations of film -- something that Hong Kong film-makers, especially those of Sammo's ability, have acknowledged over the years and allowed for accordingly), and has actually depicted Wing Chun very accurately in a way that you would appreciate even if you're not a dedicated martial artist.

Casanova Wong's acting ability is a bit limited, but in my mind is not enough to completely hamper the film as a whole, and his kicking, combined with the hand techniques his character would learn throughout the movie, is superb. The bit most people talk about is his amazing jump-spinning back kick over a table (in one shot!) which even I rewind and watch again and again!

As Banker Mo, Fung Hark-On gives what I believe to be his best bad-guy role outside of Jackie Chan's 'Police Story' (1985), with a menace he never really matched again. His character even provides a bit of a twist at the end!

'Warriors Two' features an all-star cast including Eric Tsang (who would appear as Roundhead in the 'Lucky Stars' series), Lau Kar-Wing (Liu Chia-Yong; he's the real-life brother of Liu Chia-Liang), Fung Hark-On, the late Lam Ching-Ying, Yuen Biao (who would later co-choreograph the action in 'Shanghai Noon'), Mang Hoi (a.k.a. Randy Mang!), Dean Shek... Oh, and let's not forget Lee Hoi-San as seemingly-invincible Iron Bell fighter Ya Chao!

Being a Sammo film, there are also some moments of broad comedy (some of it dark), but it works within the film, and was still fairly unfamiliar in Hong Kong movies in 1978.

Mark my words: 'Warriors Two' is a cast-iron classic. It doesn't QUITE have the polish of Sammo's other Wing Chun movie, 'The Prodigal Son' (1983), but it's still an enjoyable film in its own right, and is different enough from the other kung-fu movies out there to help it stand out, and it still looks wonderful all these years later.
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Tiger on Beat (1988)
8/10
Hong Kong Lethal Weapon?
3 January 2005
'Tiger On The Beat' is considered by some to be the Hong Kong version of 'Lethal Weapon', in which Chow Yun-Fat plays Sergeant Francis Li, a police officer who has not had a promotion in 11 years due to his constantly chasing women with his irrepressible charm instead of knuckling down to his work. His supervisor gives him his big case that he needs to earn a promotion -- a drug heist that may or may not involve a group of local Thais -- and is put with antagonistic martial-arts cop Michael Tso (Conan Lee).

Unfortunately, Francis and Michael really do not see eye to eye, and clash frequently over many things. But when things hot up, can they put their differences aside for long enough, especially when their trail leads to that of a possible link to the crime, a woman named Marie-Donna (Nina Li Chi ['Twin Dragons'], who's now best known for being married to Jet Li), is thrown into the mix?

This is more of a comedy than an all-out actioner, and some possible unintentional comedy can be found in the 1980's fashions (bright yellow trousers, anyone?). The intentional humour will depend on whether you are watching an English dub (which, like many other English dubs, loses some of that comedy) or its original Cantonese with English subtitles (and those will depend on who released the version you watched). Some of the humour doesn't travel that well outside of the Cantonese-speaking market, but there's still some great one-liners in the version I saw (the DVD release by Hong Kong Legends, which also has an audio commentary from Bey Logan explaining some of the more obscure gags), and one particular one from Chow when up against a Western kung-fu fighter had me in stitches when I first saw it -- just the timing of it! Chow is actually a gifted comedy performer, and for those used to his work in 'The Killer', 'Hard-Boiled' or even 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' may be surprised at this difference. He does still get to do some action himself, though.

As with many Hong Kong 1980's movies, the main reason people lapped up these movies was because of the action sequences, and that's largely where Conan Lee comes in, although he really doesn't get that much fighting to do in the movie. He still gets to do a one-on-one encounter with Gordon Liu (recently seen in 'Kill Bill') in which they are both armed with some very unique weapons in one of the most memorable battles of this era (I won't give it away but it's crazy!). Still, there are some bits that make you really wish that things had worked out better for Conan (who's also known as Lloyd Hutchinson in other movies) in terms of his potential career as an action superstar.

One thing I should warn women in particular of, however, is a scene where Francis and Marie-Donna have a bit of a disagreement. It's something that played well to local audiences in Hong Kong, but many Westerners may object to it and it may leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth, and it wouldn't surprise me if even some Chinese-speakers found it over-the-top in today's climate.

All in all, though, while not completely great, it does have a certain retro charm, and the action in it is enjoyable.
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Garfield (2004)
Hardly the cat's whiskers...
16 August 2004
Based on the comic strip created by Jim Davis, which first saw the

light of day in the public eye on June 19th 1978, this rather limp

offering stars Breckin Meyer as Garfield's owner Jon Arbuckle,

Jennifer Love Hewitt as Dr. Liz Wilson (the vet Jon falls for), and

the tubby feline himself is voiced by Bill Murray, who to be fair gives

a pretty good stab at it (the man who voiced Garfield so brilliantly in

the cartoons in the past -- Lorenzo Music -- sadly passed away in

2001).

In the story, due to a misunderstanding when Jon takes Garfield to

see Liz, he ends up adopting a dog named Odie. This causes a rift

for Garfield, understandably, as it seems he is being replaced by

this new arrival.

It is during a canine talent show that a TV advertisement star spots

Odie performing and tries in vain to get Jon interested in allowing

Odie to work for him. The scheming advertisement guy then gets

the idea to steal Odie after he runs away from Jon's home. It's up

to our cat to save Odie.

This is really a pretty naff way to bring the Garfield universe to the

big screen in a live-action environment. Problems for me include:

(a) the animal characters other than Garfield himself are real

dogs, cats etc (Nermal, who's supposed to be the world's cutest

kitten, is not that cute as a beige cat with a black face; and Arlene,

who's supposed to be Garfield's love interest, suddenly changes

from pink to grey and loses that big lipstick smile with the gap

between her teeth). This makes them less interesting than they

could've been (mind you, even the CGI Garfield is not particularly

endearing)

(b) the villainous TV advert guy's really not that menacing. Now, I

know that, given the target audience, it couldn't be too mean, but

when you have excellent villains in the likes of Ursula in Disney's

'The Little Mermaid' or even Maleficent in 'Sleeping Beauty' -- those

were animated characters and were more menacing! -- this guy

comes across as too cuddly and cheerful to really pass as a bad

guy (although his reference to lasagne later on in the film is worth

a chuckle)

(c) some other things had been changed that might have made all

the difference, such as Liz agreeing to go out on a date with Jon

(while this did happen in the strips, the number of times she

rejected his advances was not even used here), the constant

eating being reduced somewhat (if Garfield could've had more of

his trademark snack attacks -- or even nap attacks -- it could have

made a difference to the otherwise very basic humour), Nermal

doesn't taunt Garfield with his constant references to his eternal

cuteness, and Arlene's relationship with Garfield is completely

absent.

(d) the humour itself is, as I just mentioned, very basic. Anyone

aged from about their teenage years and beyond will find very little

to laugh at here. Jon and Liz really don't get that much to do.

The biggest problem is that I honestly feel that keeping it as a

cartoon would have been preferable. I would imagine that Bill

Murray's voice would have sat well in any of those earlier cartoons

had Lorenzo Music not been given that role, so it could work.

What a shame...
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A lame spy spoof with no real laughs or surprises.
13 October 2003
Rowan Atkinson stars in a film version of a spy he portrayed in a load of adverts for a credit card in the 1990s, and, as those brief ads were quite entertaining, one would think that this would undeniably translate well into a film. What a shame that it ultimately turned out to be a missed opportunity. Actually, that's a big understatement, as we shall see...

Atkinson plays Johnny English, the secret agent assigned to prevent anyone

from stealing the Crown Jewels. Unfortunately, being him, and this being a

comedy, he stuffs up in spectacular fashion and the jewels disappear. His only real assistance comes from Bough (Ben Miller) and Interpol agent Lorna

Campbell (Natalie Imbruglia). But can they catch prime suspect Frenchman

Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich) and foil his plans?

OK, that's basic plot out of the way. And I do mean 'basic' -- and that's being generous.

'Johnny English' really is a pretty lame effort, and you wonder what kind of

substances the makers were taking when a potentially great idea is reduced to juvenile and/or predictable humour. The sight gags and so forth can be seen a mile off, and the over-use of jokes about bottoms and poo really do not endear grown-ups to this (in fact, when I saw this in the cinema I don't think I heard even so much as a titter from the adults there). And, to be perfectly honest, I really am getting seriously ticked off with the overused idea of spoof spies practicing martial arts moves whilst doing lame Bruce Lee-style wails; THAT GAG'S BEEN

DONE TO DEATH! The film is also undeniably racist and I wonder what certain

countries made of it.

Not even the title song (sung by the one and only Robbie Williams) can save it from being anything more than dumb. It's not awful, and it's not boring, but it could, and should, have been a lot better than it is.
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Great fun even if you're not a hard-core Trek fan.
11 October 2003
Following on from where Star Trek III left off, our heroes are on Vulcan, having been reunited with Spock (Leonard Nimoy). Soon afterwards they set off on an

unusual adventure. The Earth of their time is under threat from an alien probe, and the crew discovers that the only answer is to bring back some hump-backed whales from the past -- which in our universe was the then-present: 1986!

One of the most wonderful things about this movie is how the 23rd Century crew have difficulty adapting to the 20th Century Earth, with people being far less hospitable than they are used to, as well as things like Spock's trying to fit in as a human (including concealing his famous pointed ears) in some very amusing

ways (you'll have to see the film to find out), while at the same time trying to remember things prior to THAT event in Star Trek II! Another thing that is equally wonderful is that even someone who has not followed Star Trek in any of its

previous incarnations could enjoy this due mostly to the familiar 1986 setting.

Admiral Kirk (William Shatner), Dr McCoy (the late DeForest Kelley), Sulu

(George Takei), Chekov (Walter Koenig), Scott (James Doohan) and Uhura

(Nichelle Nichols) are still as engaging to watch as ever, with McCoy still giving his trademark quips and Spock's half-human nature still causing

embarrassment in rather amusing ways.

Absolutely fantastic even today. Light-hearted, escapist fun for all the family.
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Tongan Ninja (2002)
Why do filmmakers have such a problem making chop-socky comedy?
6 October 2003
Every time I see a new film come out that purports to be a martial arts comedy, I should learn my lesson.

This film stars Sam Manu as the Tongan Ninja of the title, who was one of two kids who survived a plane crash years earlier and ended up training in Ninjitsu in a temple (the other kid was Marvin, played by Jemaine Clement). However,

when our Tongan hero is picked by the teacher to help out the daughter (Miss

Lee, played by Linda Tseng) of an acquaintance of his, Marvin is determined to get his vengeance.

Unfortunately, the whole film falls flat. The plot is very similar to Bruce Lee's self-directed 'Way Of The Dragon' ('Return Of The Dragon' in some parts of the world), right down to the threatened restaurant idea, and as a comedy it is not even remotely funny; it's just plain pants. The bad dubbing idea is somewhat

dated now that foreign-language movies get released in their original language with subtitles, and the fight scenes are so dumb even for a comedy (and most of the people don't seem to be real martial artists).

'Way Of The Dragon' itself was, and still is, more amusing for the right reasons and is much better as a whole (and the fight sequences are still awesome). Or, in a nutshell, why have cotton when you could have silk?

Avoid 'Tongan Ninja' like it was about to strike you down with its five fingers of death; you'll be wishing for that fate if you watch it. If you must watch a martial arts action comedy, you'd be better off going for 'Beverly Hills Ninja' or a vintage Jackie Chan or Sammo Hung film; either would be much more satisfying.
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Talent-free tosh
28 September 2003
This is, as you might have guessed, based on the MTV television show of the

same name. The only supposed difference here is that it is more extreme than

its smaller-screen cousin.

I say 'supposedly' because there is very little here that's noticeably more

extreme (bar uncensored foul language). It's also a bit of a cheek calling it a movie when there's no actual plot -- just sketches of insanity -- and no real talent either (although not recommended, anyone could do the things here).

There are also some sketches that are simply tedious repeats of others (albeit in a different setting), meaning that it is even more of a con. And it's not even all that funny either (I certainly wasn't exactly rolling about splitting my sides); it's just juvenile.

What a waste of film.
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A bit lame now, but once had its place...
23 June 2003
This, besides the Bruce Lee movies, probably got people interested in martial arts.

Directed by John G. Avildsen, it tells of a young school kid named Danny (Ralph Macchio), who has just moved with his mother to a new town. Before too long he is attacked by The Cobras, a group of karate students whose leader used to

date a girl named Ali (Elisabeth Shue) who takes an interest in Danny.

After just one too many beatings, plus the discovery that an old man named

Miyagi (Pat Morita) knows karate, Danny decides that he must learn karate.

However, can he last through Miyagi's unorthodox teaching methods?

This film used to be quite amusing, and is one of the few Western films

containing martial arts that shows some of the martial spirit (in an unusual way), but now it looks rather dated and tacky. Knowing from other movies that Pat

Morita can speak English a lot better than he does here is a little insulting. Also, what exactly is the Crane stance -- a kung-fu stance -- doing in a film about karate?

Its only real saving grace these days is that many parents will not feel that it's something they should shield from their little 'uns (fortunately it's not excessively violent), provided that they take on board that martial arts are not to be used aggressively.

Look out for Chad McQueen (son of legendary Steve) as one of the Cobras.
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Rape Me (2000)
3/10
Disgusting, sickening, uninteresting...
13 May 2003
I don't quite know what initially drew me to rent this film. Perhaps it's because a lot of the French films I've seen (not that I've seen loads, mind) have been good. It certainly wasn't because I knew the title translated to 'F*** me' (I'm not that shallow!).

This is a tale about a prostitute and a recently-raped woman who join forces and go on a wild sex-followed-by-brutal-murder spree across the country. And that's about it...

The film has perhaps every conceivable swear-word in its English subtitles, and the violence factor is high. But it's the sex scenes that really leave the sourest taste in the mouth. Anyone thinking that American films were explicit will get a shock with the sort of things you experience here...

But the most disturbing thing is why they even bothered to make the film. The chances are you've probably made more interesting home videos yourself --

and ones you wouldn't object to showing your grandparents...

Don't believe the hype...this is plain trash. Steer well clear of this one.
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Hi-tech antics with cat and mouse!
4 June 2002
Mammy Two Shoes, disgusted at the laziness of Tom, has previously placed an order for Mechano, a robot cat, which arrives one morning. After she demonstrates Mechano's effectiveness at ejecting Jerry from the household, a now-redundant Tom packs his things and leaves the house.

Jerry, meanwhile, tries many ways to outfox the mechanical moggie...

This is a fast-paced, very entertaining cartoon. It was also the last one to feature the dark-skinned, drawling Mammy Two Shoes. The race laws had somewhat changed the previous year, and the character was now no longer appropriate, so she was finally ejected from the series after just over a decade.
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3x3 Eyes (1991– )
A very enjoyable, though gory, animated series.
3 June 2002
This five-part series is a classic Japanese anime series that centres around a young student named Yakumo Fujii, who works in a gay bar in Japan. One night, while at work, he meets a young

girl named Pai, who as it happens has been looking for him. Pai had previously been with Yakumo's father, the

late Professor Fujii, on an expedition in Tibet. As explained in the Professor's final letter to Yakumo, which Pai had on her to give to Yakumo, Pai is the last of the Sanjiyan race and she wishes to fulfil her ambition to become a human being. In order to do this, they must locate the Ningen-Nozo (the Statue Of Humanity).

A little later on that evening the city is terrorised by a fearsome, giant, winged creature named Takuhii. Yakumo escapes on his scooter, taking Pai with him. Pai, who is actually friends with Takuhii, tries to stop his attacks, but to no avail, and before long his sharp talons skewer Yakumo. Pai, however, manages to save Yakumo's life with the help of her normally-hidden third eye in her forehead

(which causes her personality to alter completely). Well, she SORT OF saves his life -- he becomes a guy that looks and acts just the same, but not only can he now not be killed by anything, but also he carries the Wu symbol on his forehead (the 'sign of the void' is how it is worded in the English dubbed version I have seen).

This complicates things for Yakumo, for now there is no escape from what his

father asked him to accomplish -- help Pai become a human, for only then will Yakumo become a mortal again...

This series is one of the best anime series I've ever seen. It's light-hearted in many places, Eddie Frierson and Rebecca Frostadt provide some more-than-commendable dubbing for the

voices of Yakumo and Pai respectively (though many of the others do brilliantly too), the story never really drags, the artwork is top-notch (as you'd expect for anime), the characters are really interesting and draw you in, the animation's pretty good even though it isn't as smooth as Western animation at the best of times, the monsters that try to stop our heroes are inspired and are the work of genius, and the music's brilliant!

Check out this series, but be warned; there is a lot of bloodshed that makes it unsuitable for children despite '3x3 Eyes' being an animated series.
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Tom-ic Energy (1965)
Plotless energy, more like...
3 June 2002
Warning: Spoilers
This is one of the few movies that literally can't be spoiled with spoilers by giving too much plot away, because basically there isn't one. It's all a mad chase in and out of a building in a city (some bits are even repeated later on). This emptiness would have looked pathetic in one of Chuck Jones' own Roadrunner cartoons; at least those had a point, namely Wile E Coyote always being in the middle of nowhere, starving and wanting to eat the Roadrunner (if he could catch him). 'Tom-Ic Energy' is basically just cat chasing mouse, really with only a bulldog (who's nowhere near on a par with the magical Butch/Spike of the earlier Hanna & Barbera T&J period) and an annoying red cat who chats up a dress-clad Tom with a daft Pépé le Pew voice to add any sort of variation.

Even though I knew that the 34 Tom & Jerry cartoons made by Chuck Jones were never going to have the charm of the Hanna & Barbera period, and that they were undoubtedly going to be more interesting than Gene Deitch's 13 T&J entries, I expected better than this from Jones. This is without a doubt one of the weakest of his entries into the T&J series, and it isn't really that funny or interesting.
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Possibly the best Road Runner cartoon of the 1960s
3 June 2002
This entry into the Roadrunner series of cartoons which began in 1949 with 'Fast And Furry-ous' is one of my favourites. It runs along at a frenetic pace after the initial decision by Wile E Coyote to catch Roadrunner and eat him for lunch. As usual Wile never succeeds, but the ways he tries to do it are genius.

I mean, just how many times can you think of where using a giant catapult to hurl a boulder (in an attempt to squash the fleet little bird) has gone so hilariously wrong in so many different ways?

This cartoon rocks!
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Ghastly cartoon...
3 June 2002
A toy set contains implements for a Tom & Jerry cartoon, including Tom and

Jerry themselves (hence the title). The cat and mouse come to life and use

various items in the kit to outdo one another.

That's basically it, and as usual Gene Deitch fluffs it up in spectacular fashion with his barely-fluid animation; diabolical, tinny sound effects and uninteresting story (and when it's not dull it's just plain stupid in a way that even being a cartoon cannot rectify). And I just wanted to shoot that narrator...

URGH! I can't even imagine kids liking this.
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Tuffy tries to get tough!
3 June 2002
Tuffy (once known as Nibbles) arrives in Paris in an attempt to become one of the King's Mouseketeers. He calls in at the headquarters, where Jerry, already a Mouseketeer, is.

Fulfilling a promise to Tuffy's father François Mouse, Jerry takes the little grey French-speaking mouse on board. Tuffy attempts the training required to serve the King, making mishap after amusing mishap.

After one too many of said mishaps, one of which almost cost Tuffy his life, Jerry sends Tuffy away with a letter to give to François saying that Tuffy has no

chance of becoming a Mouseketeer. But Jerry is suddenly attacked by

Cardinal's Guard Tom. It's up to Tuffy to see if he can seize this last chance to convince Jerry to give him the accolade...

The above is as much as I dare say without giving away too much about the

cartoon. It's superb fun, and was Oscar-nominated for the best cartoon of 1954 (actually, on a sadder note, this was the last nomination the Tom & Jerry series ever got). One thing that puzzles me is: how come Tuffy's training to become a Mouseketeer here, when in the 1952 cartoon 'The Two Mouseketeers' he

already is one? Never mind, eh?
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Dangerfield (1995–1999)
First two series were good, the third onwards were a bit limp.
2 June 2002
Being a lover of medical dramas, and noticing way back in 1995 that this new

series about a widowed police surgeon (thus removing the cliché of hospitals) was starting, I decided to check it out. I was not disappointed.

Nigel le Vaillant (himself no stranger to medical drama after having been in

Casualty previously as a member of its hospital's staff) played Paul Dangerfield, who sort of has two medical jobs: one in a doctor's surgery and the other as

police surgeon for the local station. He had very little time for much of a social life (much to the distress of those he got romantically involved with, the favourite of mine being Dr Joanna Stevens, played by Amanda Redman in series 2), let

alone time for his son Marty (Sean Maguire, later Tim Vincent) and daughter Al (Lisa Faulkner, later Tamzin Malleson); all three are trying to cope after the sudden death of Paul's wife in a car accident. Until they moved house in Series 3 the piano she used to play remained, as did the painful memories for Paul...

In the first two series I thought there was a fine balance between Paul doing 'doctor' stuff and the case the police were on; in series three onwards this was lost somewhat, with the police investigation almost negating the need for Paul's real job (this may have been due to the changes in writers - they did seem to change a lot at this point); the only decent episode in the third and fourth series that seemed to have anything like the old formula was one where actor William Gaminara played the part of a fake doctor.

At the end of series four we were introduced to Dr Jonathan Paige, played by

Nigel Havers ('Chariots Of Fire'), who had a little more lightheartedness than the serious Paul, and replaced him for series five (the final series) after the

departure of Le Vaillant at the end of series four. Sadly, gone was the surgery and the other doctors etc., instead with Paige working solely as police surgeon. Although it was slightly better in content than the third and fourth series,

somehow it lacked the charm and variety of the first two.

So, to sum it up. Series 1 & 2 are great, but be prepared for disappointment after those two.
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Long de xin (1985)
'Long de xin' - a commendable departure for Chan
5 May 2002
In this atypical movie starring Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung, Jackie stars as Tad, a former SWAT member turned CID officer. He has a steady job and a girlfriend, but he is forced to reconsider the golden opportunity of becoming a sailor on a cruise ship, for his older brother Dodo (Hung) is mentally retarded and acts like someone about a third of his age (even his friends are little boys). Dodo tries desperately to become more adult, even trying to get a job, but is either rejected or humiliated. Further problems arise when Dodo gets entangled in a jewellery heist...

Action fans beware. This is NOT really an action movie at all (although it does have a couple of scraps), it's a heart-wrenching drama in which Jackie jettisons his usual happy-go-lucky action persona. There are some truly tear-jerking moments as the relationship between Tad and Dodo becomes more strained the more trouble the latter gets into, and Sammo Hung truly deserves acclaim for his performance as the child trapped in a 29-year-old body, especially as he gets no chances to fight whatsoever. The scene where, after a heated argument between Tad and one of his friends (where Tad blurts out some cutting questions in the presence of Dodo such as 'What would you do if you had a brother like him?' before admitting to being cold-blooded and retreating into his bedroom), Dodo goes into Tad's room, finds him on the bed shedding tears, begs him not to be angry, and both brothers hug each other tearfully, is one of the most memorable parts of the movie.

Even though there's little action, what's there is good, particularly at the end where Tad is on a rescue mission. The action, choreographed by Yuen Biao, is among the best Jackie has done, with him doing all manner of punches, kicks, and even a backwards flip off a pillar (a bit like Keanu Reeves does in the training session with Laurence Fishburne in The Matrix, but being an early 1980's Hong Kong movie there was no need for wires, thus making it even more impressive). Jackie also gets to fight against then-Hong Kong regular nemesis Dick Wei (best known as Sanpao, the pirate leader in Project A) in a blistering exchange of kicks and punches. Don't expect a light-hearted battle, because this is more rough-and-tumble than Chan fans may be used to.

In fact, the whole movie should be praised for carrying off such a subject in the commendable way shown here. Jackie turns in a fine acting performance (which is not surprising since he learned acting at Peking Opera School as well as the trademark flips and martial artistry his other movies have displayed), and his character even gets to kiss his girlfriend intimately, which, as Chan fans know, is something not often seen at this time due to the reactions it allegedly provoked among female fans.

I have seen both the dubbed version and the subtitled version. I'd definitely recommend the latter; while the dubbing in the former is not the worst I've heard, it lacks the intensity of the original Cantonese track.

Look out for appearances from Wu Ma, Dennis Chan (he played a character who trained Jean-Claude Van Damme's character in 'Kickboxer') and the sadly-now-departed wonder that is Lam Ching-Ying.

Definitely worth a look if you're into Chan and want something a little different (OK, a LOT different).
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Fun sequel - one of the better sequels out there...
7 February 2002
This sequel to the 1986 film 'An American Tail' sees the Mousekewitz family,

now living in America, still struggling against the cats, who are led by the evil Cat R Waul (John Cleese). Papa Mousekewitz (again voiced by Nehemiah

Persoff) and Mama Mousekewitz (again voiced by Erica Yohn) question why

they came to America and feel like they have been cheated. Following an

encounter with the felines, they hear about going way out west, where

maybe...just maybe...they can make a half-decent fresh start. Tanya (now

voiced by Cathy Cavadini) dreams of becoming a singer, so she hopes to do

this out West. Unfortunately the mice are all being led into a trap which only little Fievel Mousekewitz knows about.

Fievel (Phillip Glasser again, although with not quite the same kind of cutesy voice as he had last time understandably -- well, Glasser was close to teenage years at this time so the inevitable voice-break was on its way), once again, gets lost after falling off the train taking the mice West. Unlike the first movie, where he just had to find his parents again, this time he has to find them to warn them of the aforementioned trap they are falling into! There to hopefully help him are not only his old pal Tiger (Dom DeLuise again reprising his delightful role), but also the legendary dog sheriff Wylie Burp (voiced by the late great James

Stewart in what I believe to be his last-ever role in a feature film) -- that is, if Fievel can get the latter to overcome a little problem he has!

Is this a good movie? Well, I'm in two minds. Although it lacks the sentimentality of the original (which will be either a blessing or a curse depending on your view), it makes up for it with racier slapstick comedy and fun. Mind you, the cats don't seem quite as menacing this time around. Wylie Burp is a joy to watch, though.

Technically it scores highly, too. The characters are well-defined and sharply drawn, and a burst of 'Somewhere Out There' from Cathy Cavadini, plus some

other nice (and some fun) songs, also add to the proceedings.

Basically, if you loved the original you may love this one, although not quite as much. If you thought the original was too sentimental you may enjoy this one more, however. Weird, eh?
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A Tail (ahem!) of joy...
7 February 2002
Ex-Disney animator Don Bluth brings us a tail (sorry, TALE! Well, that's the proper word in the context!) of the Russian Mousekewitz mouse family, who, like all of the other mice in late 1800's Russia, want to escape from the cats. They dream of a land known as America, where there are no cats. Travelling to

Germany, they board a ship bound for America.

However, during a violent storm, little Fievel Mousekewitz (voiced by Phillip Glasser) becomes separated from his parents and sisters. Fortunately for Fievel he was saved from drowning by being ensconced within a bottle, which quite by chance floats to New York, USA. Unfortunately not only is America very big, but it -- well, let's just say that for all mice concerned it's not all it was cracked up to be.

With the help of friends such as Tony Toponi (voiced by Pat Musick) and Tiger (Dom DeLuise), Fievel goes on a mammoth quest to become reunited with his

family.

Although it is a little on the sentimental side, it does have a certain charm, which is further helped by James Horner's musical score, as well as the wonderful

song 'Somewhere Out There' which has since become my favourite duet of all

time (I've even sung the end-credits version, as sung by Linda Ronstadt and

James Ingram, on Karaoke!). Some adults may not like the sentimentality, but stick with it, and you'll be rewarded with a gem, particularly if watching with either the young or the young-at-heart.
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