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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Excellent fantasy adventure., 6 April 2005

A year before "Lord of the Rings" came along and made all previous attempts at epic fantasy sagas look like child's play, there was this great little mini-series that resulted from a USA-UK-Germany co-production.

It's about a teenage girl and her father, living in New York on the edge of central park, who through a series of unusual events end up taking refuge in a fantasy world consisting of nine kingdoms. I know what you're thinking -- this has Cheap TV Teen Fodder written all over it, and there are moments throughout where it does border on that. But as it progresses, there are enough great ideas and excellent performances to keep it well above that level, and it certainly does not look cheap.

At first the only object is to return home to their own dimension, which they almost achieve with the help of their companions -- a half-wolf, played brilliantly by Scott Cohen, and a prince who has traded bodies with a dog due to an evil witch's black magic. But as it goes on, they become involved in an epic struggle for power caused by the descendant of Snow White's evil step-mother ... and there are plenty of clever twists, turns and not-so-subtle fairy tale references to keep you hooked on this for hour upon hour. Chances are you'll probably end up like me, watching the first four or five hours in one go, then having to stop for fear of becoming one with the television.

There are appearances from cult icons such as Warwick Davis (who probably played about 90% of all memorable fantasy dwarf characters you can think of) as a tough dwarf convict, and the great Rutger Hauer (Ladyhawke, Blade Runner) who plays a very cool 'huntsman' character with a magic crossbow. The most memorable performance in the series would definitely come down to a toss-up between Hauer and Cohen, but the entire cast do a good job, and Dianne Weist in particular is perfectly cast as the deviously evil queen.

In short, 10th Kingdom is as clever, funny and dark as the fairy tales it's based on. It's an epic story about dwarfs, trolls, magical mirrors and mushrooms singing "A Whiter Shade Of Pale". Who could ask for more?

59 out of 72 people found the following review useful:
Superb teen horror movie ... almost perfect., 6 April 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The first thing you need to know before you watch Ginger Snaps is that's a real horror movie. That means genuinely unsettling, disturbing, makes-your-skin-crawl kind of stuff. And you're plunged right into this from the start. The opening scene involves a mother and her young son discovering that the family dog has been torn to pieces, bloody scraps and guts all over the back yard ... which pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

In a way it's not really that gratuitous. The whole movie is a metaphor for adolescence, which in itself is a pretty gruesome thing to have to go through. There are these two morbid sisters, Ginger and Bridgette, who are afraid of growing up so much that they have a suicide pact together. They are obsessed with death, and for art class they take photos of each other in disturbingly realistic fake death poses. Ginger begins going through puberty, has her first period, and whoosh! Cue the werewolf attack.

The initial changes she goes through are pretty common -- mood swings, bleeding, pains, hairy legs, growing a tail ... okay, maybe that last one isn't quite so common. Bridgette, along with a drug dealer named Sam who accidentally hit the original werewolf with his van, begin to suspect what's really going on and start thinking of how they can cure the disease of lycanthropy. The idea of werewolves is introduced early on, and the characters accept it pretty quickly after the things they see which means we can just get on with the story.

Karen Walton has written a fantastic script here, and John Fawcett proves himself a competent director. All of the leads are excellent in their roles, with the two lead actresses Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle expertly playing the disturbed Fitzgerald sisters with fantastic chemistry. Kris Lemche is also notable as the drug dealer, giving a performance reminiscent of Christian Slater's shining moment in "Heathers". In fact, the two movies are similar in tone in a number of ways, and both have become cult classics with very similar audiences. The special effects team, headed by Paul Jones who worked on such projects as "Dracula 2000" and "Wolf Girl", have also done a pretty good job, creating some great-looking physical effects, with blood and guts piling up in every passing minute. The design of the wolf itself is interesting and original, giving us something that we really haven't seen before.

And so, though not for the faint of heart, this dark and wonderful piece of work ranks as probably the smartest, most subtle and intelligent werewolf movie ever made.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
My god ... a GOOD werewolf movie!, 6 April 2005

The concept for this movie is perfectly described in six words, which are lovingly splattered all over the posters -- "Six Soldiers. Full Moon. No chance." Like most great werewolf movies, it's not subtle ... but we love it. It starts off with a couple camping out in the Scottish highlands, and the girlfriend decides to give her boyfriend a silver dagger as a present. Hmm. They then proceed to get gruesomely slaughtered by an unseen beast. The real purpose of this opening scene is to let us know straight away that this is a werewolf movie, because for the next twenty minutes or so we are plunged straight into an ultra-realistic soldier movie instead. In director Neil Marshall's own words, this is a "soldier movie with werewolves", and not the other way around. But that's exactly what makes "Dog Soldiers" so great.

I can promise you great visual gags, entertaining dialogue, identifiable characters and most of all, brilliant werewolves. And it doesn't take place in some fantasy world -- these people are real soldiers stranded in a cottage doing their best to deal with a supernatural threat. Neil Marshall, along with a first-rate team of actors, keep the blood pumping and fill in the gaps with realistic conversation. All of the principal cast are great -- the leading man Kevin McKidd, Emma Cleasby, Liam Cunningham, and most of all Sean Pertwee, who excels as the squad sergeant.

The special effects could easily match any big-budget Hollywood movie, if only because of the way that they are utilised and shot convincingly. Most of all there's a sense that genuine love and care went into the making of this movie, and everyone involved understood what it was about and intended to make it the best it could possibly be. It references films like "The Evil Dead", "Night of the Living Dead", "The Matrix" -- and of course "The Howling" and "American Werewolf".

If this movie has any flaws they are it's own lack of ambition. It's sets out to be a fast-paced, exciting Friday night movie about soldiers fighting werewolves, and that's exactly what it is. There's no real subtext or exploration of the werewolf myth, just full on carnage from start to finish, and the execution of the concept is spot-on. Some of the dialogue may be a little difficult for non-British folk to follow, but the level of slang is fairly realistic -- unlike in many British films where it feels forced and false. It also may be difficult for some people to believe that they'd actually still be worrying about the results of an England v Germany football match while being stalked by a pack of werewolves, but, well ... we would.

"Dog Soldiers" is a movie for anyone who's after a howling, snarling, throat-ripping good time.

Dark Wolf (2003) (V)
13 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
So very, very bad., 6 April 2005

Hip. Erotic. Wickedly sexy ... whatever. It's "The Terminator" with werewolves.

No, seriously. The cop saves the girl (waitress!) from the big monster and refers to himself as her 'protector'. The lead actor Ryan Alosio does a pretty good job of emulating Kyle Reese ... there's a massacre in a police precinct ... the bad guy is muscular with red eyes ... and it even contains dialogue along the lines of "You said it yourself, he won't ever stop. Never." The dire script comes from a first-time screenwriter who, thank God, hasn't sold anything since this, and it's all thrown together by famously bad director Richard Friedman.

The movie opens in a strip bar (always a good sign), and a mean-looking biker guy bursts in for no apparent reason, pursued by three cops. One of them is black, and (shock horror!) he's the one who gets killed in the first five minutes. The film goes downhill for the next hour or so, then picks up a little with some decent action sequences, before rounding it all up with an abysmal ending.

For the most part, the cast come across as competent actors doing what they can with a bad script and a director who's willing to settle for less. If nothing else they appear to be learning how to act in this movie and Alosio, along with some of the supporting cast, shows signs of talent. DarkWolf in his human form is played by gargantuan Kane Hodder -- famous for his numerous portrayals of Jason Vorhees in the 'Friday the 13th' movies. He's decent enough, especially considering he isn't used to speaking roles.

It's become famous amongst groups of horny teenage boys for the lesbian rooftop scene between Andrea Bogart and Sasha Williams, who gets her kit off a couple of times in the grand tradition of former 'Power Rangers' actresses. And it's unnervingly clear that the editor spent WAY too much time on that scene ... anyway, the main redeeming feature is that the physical werewolf effects are rather good, and the design of the wolf isn't bad at all.But the CGI is bad. Just plain bad. I mean seriously, if you can't reach some level of realism - why bother? Just throw a little extra money into the make-up! Aside from the terrible script, this movie does have it's moments, many of which are unintentionally funny. It's good for a laugh if you don't have anything better to do, but just don't spend any money on it. Please.

Underworld (2003)
0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Surprisingly Good ..., 6 April 2005

The writing team of a stuntman, a gargantuan actor and a prop assistant probably doesn't seem like a group who could lovingly craft a Gothic mini-masterpiece about vampire and werewolves, and actually get it made. But they did.

That team was Danny McBride, Kevin Grevioux and director Len Wiseman. They pitched the story as "Romeo and Juliet, for vampires and werewolves", which is interesting as the romance angle of the story is barely even existence except for a few moments here and there. What it really is would be more like "the Matrix with vampire and werewolves", although they're probably sick of hearing that by now. But to be honest, they don't even try to hide the similarities. It opens with a shoot-out in a subway station, almost identical in visual style to the Matrix, and for no apparent reason it even has those weird electronic sound effects. Is this movie set inside a virtual reality as well? But by copying the Matrix, it does make itself an undeniably cool action movie. Probably the best thing about it is the design of the creatures and the locations it's shot at. The look of the movie is dark, Gothic and brilliant. The vampires are portrayed as a decadent, sensual race living in the lap of luxury, while the Lycans are brutal, animalistic and live in squalor -- and you don't see a single female werewolf.

The script certainly has it's short-comings but on the whole is fairly well-structured and intricate, with the politics and mythology of the universe coming through loud and clear (even if it is a rip-off of White Wolf's role playing games). It's all very well executed, and you can tell they had a lot of fun making it. Kate Beckinsale does give a great performance, constantly conveying emotion with the slightest of facial expressions. Michael Sheen is also notable as the lycanthropic leader, and Scott Speedman and Bill Nighy both fill their roles competently.

"Underworld" wisely markets itself as an action movie rather than a horror movie. It's fun, entertaining and cool, but not a whole lot more than that. If you're in the mood for an ass-kicking, leather-clad bullet-fest, this may be the one for you.

Exhumed (2003) (V)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Decent low-budget zombie flick, 6 April 2005

When somebody attaches the word "epic" to an independent, low-budget film it generally invokes some suspicion. But the truth is, "Exhumed" is indeed pretty epic. It's a great idea, and for the most part it's fairly well executed.

The story begins in feudal Japan, when a samurai warrior encounters a monk in the woods, and they soon find that they're both after the same thing -- an artifact which is rumoured to have the power to raise the dead. The warrior wants to claim it and take it back to his leader, while the monk says it must be destroyed. Pretty soon, they're attacked by zombies and find they must team up with each other in order to ensure their survival. Then suddenly, whoosh, we're in 1940's America, in a story about a female detective who is hired by a man to track his ex-wife. This leads her down a trail of mystery which has something to do with the recent graverobbing occurrences in the city, and a mysterious ancient artifact of great power ... and then, for the final chapter, we are whisked forward into a post-apocalyptic future where rival gangs of vampire mods and werewolf rockers do battle in ruined cities. Two of them are captured by some military fellows and taken to a base for an experiment involving that same artifact.

These three stories are linked together by more than just the single artifact. There's an aspect of time travel, and also there's a brief mention of an insane general in the future using a map drawn by the insane monk in the first story. It's all tied together fairly well, and for the most part the script is fairly well-written. The special effects are quite innovative, though obviously not that convincing given the budget. There's lots of heads being smashed against walls, zombies torn apart by chainsaws or samurai swords, and just a whole bunch of general carnage. You at least get the impression that they had a lot of fun making it.

It's really a mixed bag because of the three distinct styles of film-making. The samurai story was probably my favourite -- the film-making, the acting and the script are all very good and it's a great opening to the movie. The film noir segment has a pretty good script, but some of the acting is a little dodgy and the directing wasn't nearly as good -- there's often too much plain dialogue and not enough happening on screen, and the editing needed to be tighter in places. In the final post apocalyptic story, the film-making is competent and the acting is generally okay, but all of a sudden there's a lot of unnecessary nudity thrown in, which lowers the tone of the movie somewhat.

This is really only a movie for fans of independent movies or the zombie genre. It's a good effort from director Brian Clement, but it seems he needs more experience before he can have a serious career in movies.

15 out of 29 people found the following review useful:
Not as bad as they say ..., 6 April 2005

Partly because I'd heard in so many reviews that this movie was awful, and party just because it was one of the biggest flops of the year, I didn't have very high expectations of this one. Perhaps that's why I enjoyed it so damn much.

This movie follows the story of Doctor Gabriel Van Helsing, who we all know from Bram Stoker's Dracula as an ageing professor who takes on the evil count. Here, however, he is a young and handsome demon hunter / acrobatics expert with an array of cool weapons. In the opening scene of the movie we see Doctor Frankenstein, under the supervision of Dracula, bringing his monster to life while the torch-wielding peasants are already storming his castle. Meanwhile, Van Helsing takes on Mr Hyde in the Notre Dame Cathedral. These scenes pretty much set the tone of the whole thing. The plot has absolutely no internal consistency, but when the film looks this good, how much does it really matter? ... yes, it's stupid, but if you can get in the right frame of mind it can also be a lot of fun.

The acting unfortunately isn't that great ... Hugh Jackman isn't really given a whole lot to work with as far as his Van Helsing character is concerned, and for the most part he simply gives his 'Wolverine' performance all over again, especially towards the end. Kate Beckinsale is a fine actress and has the perfect face for Gothic horror, as best shown in Underworld, but here with her silly Transylvanian accent and looking like Catherine Zeta Jones, it just doesn't work. Probably the most memorable performance comes from David 'Faramir' Wenham, who provides most of the comic relief as Van Helsing's bible-bashing sidekick.

In terms of special effects it's pretty amazing -- this movie did, after all, have a ludicrous amount of money thrown at it ($160 million), but perhaps relying so heavily on CGI was a mistake. Many directors have said that if an effect can be achieved physically, often that's the best route to take. And here, the computer-generated stuff is at times very distracting as rather than being involved in the plot you're sitting there thinking, "Oo, doesn't that creature look good?" The soundtrack is also very cool (even the bits stolen from "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade").

It's unfortunate that this wasn't the box-office hit it was clearly intended to be, but if you're in the mood for a big, stupid, fun action movie that makes no sense and has absolutely no point to it, this one is as good as any.

The best one yet!, 6 April 2005

It's a peculiar thing. The "Prisoner of Azkaban" was written by the same author ... adapted by the same screenwriter ... played by the same cast ... so why the hell is it so much better than the previous two? The answer, of course, lies in the change of director. Mr Columbus, I don't want to hurt your feelings but ... you suck. The arrival of foreign director Alfonso Cuarón has saved the franchise for me, just when I was about ready to give up on the whole series of films. The problem was that I could see the potential of the books, which had thus far not been realised on film. They just had no magic about them at all. But this latest offering from Hogwarts has plenty of that magic to spare.

The colour palette for the movie is suddenly all dark shades of blue and green, a stark contrast to the browney-orangey memories I have of the first two -- and it suits the mood of the film so much better. And remember all those tedious sequences that you hated in the other two movies (i.e. the Dursley household, Dumbledore's office)? Well, in this one either they're cut short or they're done in an interesting way.

Also, the dialogue is considerably less clunky, even though it's written by the same people and spoken by the same actors. Either Cuarón fiddled with the script a little, or he taught the kids how to act. It certainly appears so, as the three child stars who failed to be convincing in the previous movies have suddenly learned their craft a whole lot better. The new arrivals, notably Gary Oldman and David Thewlis, are somewhat unusually cast in their roles, but both come off extremely well.

One criticism of the film is that it may be a little confusing to those who haven't read the books. Whereas the previous two movies had those tedious dialogue sequences which explained everything that happened, this one sacrifices those to save the pace of the film. I only wish that Cuarón had signed on to direct the next installment, and then I could honestly say "The Goblet of Fire" is one of my most anticipated movies of the coming years.

Cursed (2005)
Maybe this movie WAS "cursed" ..., 6 April 2005

So here it is, finally. After going through serious movie production hell with the studio, which involved massive re-cutting and taking out several major characters, this movie was finally completed and given an R-rating. Then it turns out Wes Craven had to go and butcher it yet more, in order to get a PG-13.

And this is the result.

The main characters are these two poor unfortunate rich kids who live in Hollywood, who one night get involved in a car crash that leaves one woman dead and the two of them bitten by some kind of wolf-like creature. The teenage nerd boy stereotype quickly figures out what's going on, while his sister, the kind-hearted young career gal stereotype, thinks he's stupid. They then proceed through the standard Hollywood werewolf formula, while trying to figure out who the werewolf was that bit them (which the audience have of course already figured out since 15 minutes into the film).

Don't get me wrong -- it's okay to make a standard formulaic teenage horror flick with little to no character development, and even less originality. But it has to be scary. Or it has to be funny. Or the plot has to make some kind of sense. Or it has to have a sense of humour about itself (and I'm not talking about that stupid self-referential Hollywood humour, e.g. the Ashton Kutcher references). Everything that was good about the Scream movies is completely absent here. The acting isn't even worth mentioning, as there isn't an actor alive who could make anything worthwhile out of this material. As for the effects ... they're actually not bad. They certainly aren't anything special, though. The CG sticks out like a sore thumb, and the werewolf design isn't the best I've seen. Someone ought to make Wes Craven watch Dog Soldiers.

The strangest thing is, from the premise this actually sounded quite original. I know it's a bit much to expect something original from the "Scream Team", but I guess I'm just an optimistic kind of guy. In the end, it's hard enough to make a good werewolf movie ... making a good werewolf movie with a PG-13 rating is going to be damn near impossible, and the truth is they probably would have been a lot better off scrapping this whole project when it came to that. There's a whole revival of great werewolf movies going on at the moment, and while Wes Craven may have wanted to be a part of it, he isn't.

Final verdict? Go and rent a Ginger Snaps movie instead.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Interesting documentary, 25 April 2004

This 30-minute documentary is available on the "Brief Encounter" DVD, and features interviews with surviving cast and crew, the background to the film and stories about the film's production. It explores exactly why the film itself is so popular, and why it still has the same emotional content today as it ever did. It's a very interesting watch, and gives you a much deeper understand of the film and the Noel Coward play on which it was based, as well as some light background on what the general situation was like in wartime England when the film was made.

Definitely worth seeing if you're a fan of the film.

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