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137 reviews in total 
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8 out of 16 people found the following review useful:
Better Than 'Saving Private Ryan', 23 May 2006

Once Before I Die is far more entertaining than most recent WW2 films such as Steven Spielberg's anaemic "Saving Private Ryan". This film may be the cinematic equivalent of a car crash but I would prefer to see Ursula Andress strolling through battle fields with perfect hair and make-up than watch Matt Damon pollute the screen as a lost soldier. This may also be the first and last war film to contain a "Porkies" style subplot about a soldier trying to lose his virginity.

John Derek is a hugely misunderstood director. Admittedly, he has made some of the most inept films in cinema history but at least he had the decency to fill his movies with large doses of gratuitous nudity and unintentionally hilarious scenarios. His films may be crap but they are rarely boring. Once Before I Die provides John with an opportunity to direct his lovely wife, Ursula Andress. The plot that John chose for his then wife is startling to say the least.

Ursula plays Alex, a Swiss "refugee" stuck in the Philippines during WW2. When the Japanese attack, Alex's soldier boyfriend, Bailey (played by John himself), invites Alex to tag along with his battalion on their way to Manila. Unfortunately, Bailey accidentally drops a grenade while trying to steal Alex a teddy bear and leaves Alex to make a general nuisance of herself during enemy attacks. A major exception to this occurs when Alex makes herself uncharacteristically useful by deflowering a soldier while the rest of the battalion attack a Japanese tank with tree stumps.

The film's storyline is undeniably ridiculous but it does compensate the viewer with surprisingly violent content for a movie made in 1965 and amusing visuals of Ursula prancing through the jungle like a slightly disheveled Bond girl. The combat scenes are reasonably well done but would have been more convincing if John Derek didn't superimpose faded images of Ursula over the action. The most bizarre example of this is the image of Ursula holding a glowing orb, which is superimposed over the opening air attack. The film also offers some beautiful photography and a visually impressive, if utterly confusing finale. The acting is hit and miss, with significantly more misses than hits, but Ursula is rather wonderful as Alex. It takes a special kind of genius to walk through a war zone in riding pants and high heeled boots without coming across as completely demented. Richard Jaeckel also scores points for his fantastically over the top portrayal of Custer, a deluded soldier.

Once Before I Die is a treat for John Derek aficionados and fans of crappy film oddities. You definitely wont see another war movie like this ever again.

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Overwhelmingly Stupid, 22 May 2006

I'm not sure why I even went to see this movie; I hated Dan Brown's book and find Tom Hanks about as appealing as dental surgery. More to the point, I'm not religious and couldn't care less if Jesus got hitched or not. I just figured that my expectations were already so low that I might enjoy the film. After all, despite its general idiocy, I still managed to finish that damn book.

The Da Vinci Code is not a poorly made film. I think the actors (with one exception) are fine and the adaptation is faithful to the novel. The problem is more that the concept of solving riddles is not cinematic, thus making the large, gaping holes in the plot so much more apparent. The film's slow pacing and unimaginative use of locations just makes things worse. I managed to take the film seriously until Robert and Sophie left France. After that the stupidity of it all became too much to bear.

Some critics have singled Tom Hanks out as the bad apple in the cast. Personally, I found him far less annoying than usual. His performance is relatively restrained and his general cluelessness seems appropriate for the dumbest hero in movie history. Audrey Tautou is endearing as Sophie. Audrey is too good an actress for trash like this. I just hope she was paid a lot of money because this will probably kill her international career, at least for the next few years. The supporting cast is composed of several great character actors. Ian McKellen, Hollywood's current favourite "hire-a-thespian", is enthusiastic as Leigh, while Alfred Molina continues to carve a niche for himself as a bad guy specialist. Jean Reno, not surprisingly, shines as Fache. However, he also made "Empire Of The Wolves" watchable, so the man is obviously capable of anything. I was also pleased to see Juergen Prochnow score a role in another big budget film.

The exception to the generally impressive performances belongs to Paul Bettany. It doesn't help that his character is a walking sight gag but there was no need to camp it up even further with crazy eyes and demented stares. The scenes of him running around London are unintentionally hilarious, with the Michael Jackson make-up and bad contact lenses, he looks more like a crazed fan on their way to a Star Wars convention than an Opus Dei monk.

The Da Vinci Code is not a total waste of time. For example, I congratulate the joker in the make-up department who gave Tom Hanks Pat Benatar's hairstyle. However, Tom's amusing mullet is not enough to sustain 120 minutes of this crap. Fans of the book may enjoy the film but I think that even they will be put off by the plodding action and cheap flashbacks. It saddens me to think that religious groups have taken this tripe seriously enough to bother protesting it. They really should have more important things to do.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Brilliantly Animated, 21 May 2006

Advent Children is a great addition to the Final Fantasy movie and video game franchise. This film is furiously paced and brilliantly animated. Once again, it is left to the Japanese to show us what computer animation is really capable of.

This film is aimed squarely at the huge Final Fantasy fan base. Even casual fans of the films and computer games will struggle to get the full meaning and context of events. Therefore, if you are a FF newcomer, my advice is to not worry about the finer plot details but simply to sit back and prepare to be blown away by the visuals. As with all the films in this series, Advent Children plays more like a Hollywood action blockbuster than standard Anime. The action sequences are mammoth in scope and superbly animated. My favourite scene is the motorcycle chase between Cloud and the three remnants, particularly when Cloud flips his bike upside down in order to shoot his pursuers. There is a sense of grandeur about this scene that is difficult to describe.

The detail in the character animation is just as impressive as the action scenes. These characters sometimes appear alarmingly human. The voice work is generally great with the exception of that damn Scottish cat. Rachael Leigh Cook (as Tifa) and Steve Burton (as Cloud) are particularly good. The voice synchronisation is satisfactory but should have been better as there is very little dialogue to begin with. The film's beautiful score is worth mentioning. The pulsating music contributes to the atmospherics significantly.

The film is a fantastic ride. It helps if you are familiar with the FF saga but it's not essential. The artistry and skill of the animation is more than enough compensation for some confusing moments. I can't wait for the next instalment.

Scarecrow Slayer (2004) (V)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Decent "straight to video" Horror Trash, 21 May 2006

Scarecrow Slayer is the sequel to Emmanuel Itier's cult horror movie "Scarecrow". This time around Itier has given the reigns to a new director and the result is not too bad at all. Forget the low IMDb rating, if you liked the first film or low budget horror movies in general, then Scarecrow Slayer is worth hiring.

Fans of the original film may be somewhat disappointed that this is a sequel in name only. Scarecrow Slayer does not follow the events of the first movie, so there is a new scarecrow victim and most upsettingly, no return appearance from scream queen, Tiffany Shepis. In fact, the only real link to the original is Todd Rex, who reprises his role as the scarecrow. Despite the new cast and storyline, this is not an awful sequel. Scarecrow Slayer definitely lacks the tastelessness and grim humour that made Itier's film a video favourite but it is 90 minutes of stupid, gory fun.

This time around a college student, Dave, is accidentally shot while trying to steal the scarecrow during a hazing dare. This results in Dave's soul entering the scarecrow with the intention of avenging his death and being reunited with his girlfriend, Mary. Dave even builds Mary a female scarecrow, so they can be possessed together after he kills her. Who says romance is dead. The plot of the movie basically involves the scarecrow chasing Mary around town, killing anyone who comes between them. The murders begin rather tamely but as the film progresses the gore factor increases significantly. I particularly liked the head squashing, which was very reminiscent of early Troma. The special effects are the work of Anthony C. Ferrante, who recently directed the atrocious ghost movie "Boo". Thankfully, his special effects are far better than his directing skills.

In addition to some decent low budget gore, the film also boasts a cameo appearance from Tony Todd - the "Candyman" himself! Tony gives a great performance as Caleb, the scarecrow's keeper. The other standout performance is given by Jessica Mattson, who plays the requisite big breasted bimbo with style. I'm surprised that her career has stalled, she definitely has the assets to be a scream queen. The rest of the cast is pretty ordinary but good enough for this kind of material.

Scarecrow Slayer is definitely only for fans of low budget gore. This is not high art, but you should know that from the DVD cover. I can't believe that people hire a movie about a killer bundle of hay and have the nerve to go online and write reviews lamenting the poor production values as if it were some kind of surprise.

28 out of 31 people found the following review useful:
A True Original, 18 May 2006

Marco Ferreri is one of my all time favourite directors, for both his fearlessness in pushing boundaries and his piercing originality. Ferreri's greatest achievement was making relentlessly intellectual films that also managed to entertain. While many other European directors could get caught up in their own genius, Marco Ferreri was never pretentious enough to forget about his audience.

La Grande Bouffe is one of Ferreri's best and most notorious films. The premise is infamous, four friends gather at a country mansion with the intention of literally eating themselves to death. When this becomes tiresome they hire three prostitutes and invite the local school teacher to join them. This is not a film that follows a linear narrative, instead it expertly crafts a sense of atmosphere from a series of acutely observed vignettes. There are enough unforgettable images and surreal happenings in this film to make Salvador Dali green with envy. The meat garden, Andrea and Michel's flatulent love making and Philippe's relationship with his nanny are just three that come to mind. There is genius at work here, this is not an exercise in empty symbolism but a disturbing slice of modern life.

The impact of La Grande Bouffe has not wearied with age. The sex scenes are possibly less confronting (although Marcello's inventive use of a champagne bottle still raises eyebrows) but the film's psychological impact has not been dulled. The characters' ruthless pursuit of death is all the more disturbing given their unadulterated appreciation for life's pleasures. For a film with such disturbing content, La Grande Bouffe is also effortlessly entertaining. Ferreri somehow manages to balance the building tension with black humour, raunchy sex scenes and even budding romance.

This is probably a good time to mention the cast. Ferreri has gathered together a who's who of European cinema. Ferreri regulars like Mastroianni and Tognazzi combine brilliantly with French heavyweights like Piccoli and Noiret. Andrea Ferreol more than matches it with these acting giants. She deserves significant credit for her illuminating performance as the open minded school teacher with the appetite of a blue whale.

La Grande Bouffe is intelligent, disturbing and unrelenting. Most importantly, it is also entirely non-judgemental. Ferreri would never insult his audience by suggesting to them what they should think. If only more modern directors had taken note.

47 out of 53 people found the following review useful:
Excellent Action Fluff, 16 May 2006

Universal Soldier might be dumb and derivative but I couldn't care less, it is also one of the most entertaining action films to be released in the 1990s and provided signature roles for two of my favourite trash icons, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. The film also serves as a testament to the last good movie made by Roland Emmerich before selling his soul to the Hollywood machine.

This film has long been a favourite with genre fans. Universal Soldier was a theatrical box office hit but really developed its cult following on video. I watch this film every couple of years and I'm always struck by the quality of the writing, directing and yes, even the acting. This is simply a well crafted movie and an excellent example of a film that is so much more than the sum of its admittedly tawdry parts.

Universal Soldier owes a hell of a lot to "The Terminator". It lifts a whole raft of ideas from Cameron's action classic, including the basic concept of a good guy with superhuman strength protecting a woman from a bad guy with superhuman strength. Actually, it even borrows minor details like the eye-cam, the nude walk and an act of self-mutilation. Nevertheless, the film never feels like a blatant rip off. Roland Emmerich, while never a particularly original mind, injects sufficient change and innovation into the film to ensure it has a distinct energy of its own.

The film recycles old ideas with great skill due to the excellent screenplay. The action comes thick and fast, and the dialogue is first rate for an action film. Furthermore, it provides several memorable characters and successfully introduces an element of black humour without detracting from the action. No matter how well written it is, an action film is only as good its action sequences and Mr Emmerich does not disappoint. The film contains several fantastic set pieces, from the grandeur of the hostage rescue to the phenomenal truck chase through the desert, which even manages to find time for a mid-chase game of "catch" with live grenades and a string of memorably corny one-liners. Emmerich is in his element, filming explosions and stunts from every imaginable angle. Universal Soldier is also far gorier than his later films and is all the better for it.

The film would not be half as enjoyable without its leading men. Jean-Claude and Dolph both give great performances. And no, I'm not being sarcastic. Jean-Claude was at his physical peak and excels during the action scenes. He performs several signature flying kicks in a great fight with Dolph, which is mercifully filmed in a long shot - I wish the John Woo wannabes from the "cut and paste" school of directing who directed Jean-Claude's later films had taken note. Dolph is great fun as the villain, making crazy eyes for all he is worth and relishing every trashy one-liner. They both are more than adequate in their non-action scenes, which probably has a lot to do with the fact that they are essentially playing refined zombies who walk around naked a lot. The supporting cast is also great. Ally Walker showed a lot of promise as the female lead and has gone on to have a good career in television. Jerry Orbach and Tico Wells, also TV regulars, give memorable performances in minor roles.

Universal Soldier is relentless, the film starts with a bang and never lets up. It might be trashy, but it is never less than completely entertaining. In my opinion, this is one of the seminal action films of the 90s. The sequels, however, are only recommended for experienced crap connoisseurs.

5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Enjoyable Interpretation Of A Familiar Story, 15 May 2006

Why has this film been so completely neglected? A Dangerous Place is without a doubt one of the most competent and entertaining B-grade teen action films to be released in the 1990s. This film plays like a more violent version of "The Karate Kid", only with cool car chases and without the endless training montages.

A Dangerous Place reinterprets a classic martial arts storyline. One brother is killed in a fight (usually during a tournament), forcing the other brother to brush up his fighting skills before facing his brother's murderer in the ring. A Dangerous Place loosely uses this framework but makes a number of interesting adjustments. In this case, Greg is killed in a fight with Taylor (Corey Feldman), the leader of the Scorpions Karate club. Greg's younger brother, Ethan (T.J. Roberts), suspects foul play and joins the club to learn the truth. This leads to the classic match showdown between the Scorpions and Ethan's club, the Lions. This film manages to breathe new life into the well worn formula by transferring the action to a high school and by making the Scorpions a criminal outfit, which carries out robberies orchestrated by their teacher and sensei. The great Pat Morita would most definitely not approve!

A Dangerous Place is directed by Jerry P. Jacobs, who made a string of great low budget action films in the 1990s. This man knows how to entertain viewers with a steady stream of robberies, car chases and karate battles. This film never lets up, from the opening scene, (in which the gang carry out a robbery after being dropped off by one of the boys' mothers!) to the dazzling finale. The fight sequences are particularly well done, with clever editing and interesting camera work. There is not much blood but the action is relatively realistic for a film aimed at a teen audience. Oh, and keep an eye out for Greg's ghost, which I thought was a highly amusing creative touch.

In addition to great action sequences, the film offers a fine cast of cult actors. The always impressive Mako plays the good sensei, while Marshall R. Teague has a great time playing yet another evil character, the crime lord sensei/English teacher. Corey Feldman has possibly his best role of the 90s as Taylor. As unlikely as it sounds, he is actually quite believable as an evil karate villain and does not look completely ridiculous in the fight scenes. The same can be said for T.J. Roberts, who does well in the fight scenes despite looking half the size of his opponents.

A Dangerous Place is worth hunting down. Contrary to a couple of reviews here, I don't think it is as good as "The Karate Kid" but I do think it is considerably better than most of the crap passing for mindless entertainment these days.

4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
An Impressive Horror Thriller, 13 May 2006

The Dark Hours is one of those rare horror films that takes itself and its audience seriously. There is no black humour, no manic referencing of horror classics and no "someone-is-about-to-get-diced" eerie music. As a result, Paul Fox has succeeded where most American film directors have failed - in making a scary movie that is actually scary.

This film reminds me somewhat of Alexandre Aja's hugely over-hyped "Haute Tension". Both films contain violent home invasion scenarios, which are subsequently turned upside down by revelations about the sanity of the protagonists. In this case, the central character, Samantha, joins her husband and sister for a weekend in their remote cabin. Unfortunately, their stay is well and truly ruined by the appearance of Harlan; an ex-patient of Samantha's intent on revenge. As the story unfolds, it becomes increasingly ambiguous as to whether Harlan is real or a projection of Samantha's own psychosis. The reason why I find The Dark Hours superior to "Haute Tension" is that within this film's (albeit unlikely) parameters, the plot twist not only makes sense, it also serves to raise the suspense. Neither of which can be said for the events in Aja's film.

Gore hounds need not be concerned. This is not a lame "psychological" thriller. The Dark Hours contains a significant amount of gritty violence and one startling act of self-mutilation. The gore effects are uniformly well done and horror fans will enjoy several unexpectedly grim plot developments. The bloodshed is balance nicely by the terror of Harlan's games (his interpretation of "Truth or Dare" was a highlight) and the uncertainty about Samantha's own mental state.

The performances are generally very good. Kate Greenhouse is a revelation as Samantha. Hopefully she'll be leaving Canada for Hollywood in the not too distant future. Aidan Devine is another standout as Harlan. This actor has been under-appreciated for far too long. Harlan is yet another memorable character to add to his long list. The supporting cast is not as impressive. The actors who play Samantha's husband and sister are rather dismal. Their responses during the "Truth or Dare" game are unintentionally amusing, which was really quite a feat given the context. Paul Fox contributes to the film's success with his stylish direction, particularly his innovative use of sound effects and editing.

The Dark Hours leaves a number of questions unanswered. You do not have to scratch too far beneath the surface to find holes in the plot, even if they are neatly camouflaged by flashbacks and clever editing. Despite these faults, I enjoyed the film immensely. I just wish someone could tell me what that damn noise in the attic was meant to signify.

A "Premium" Road Movie, 12 May 2006

Liev Schreiber's directorial debut is a very pleasant surprise. The idea of yet another actor stroking his ego by directing a film (about the holocaust no less), was not exactly enticing. However, Everything Is Illuminated is no vanity picture. Instead, Schreiber has crafted an amusing and original road movie, which only briefly threatens to become bogged down in sentimentality.

Everything Is Illuminated tells the story of Jonathon (Elijah Wood), the grandchild of Ukrainian Jews, who makes a trip to the Ukraine in the hope of finding the woman who sheltered his grandfather during the war. Helping Jonathon on his journey are his Ukranian tour guide Alex (Eugene Hutz), Alex's foul mouthed grandfather and the grandfather's demented dog, Sammy Davis Jr Jr. Despite suffering from initial culture shock, Jonathon soon discovers that he has a bond with Alex that extends all the way back to their grandparents.

The film expertly balances humour with pathos, largely due to Schreiber's acutely observed adaptation of Jonathon Safran Foer's novel. Much of the humour is derived from Jonathon's culture shock and Alex's amusing Ukrainian-English. I particularly like the scene where he dances at a disco and says "many girls want to be carnal with me because I'm such a premium dancer". Other favourite Alex-isms include "I don't want to make you petrified person" and "Sammy Davis Jr Jr is demented Seeing Eye bitch". In the hands of a lesser actor, Alex could have been an Eastern Bloc cliché. However, Eugene Hutz's performance ensures that the character rings true.

Beneath the humour lies a serious agenda, with both Jonathon and Alex discovering disturbing details about their family histories. The juxtaposition of Jonathon and Alex's discoveries provides an original perspective on the enduring and differing effects of this dark period of history on younger generations. Schreiber's approach to these issues is not heavy handed and, thankfully, the film focuses more on the present than delving into past tragedies. The scenes with Augustine's sister, Lista, are touching without being overly sentimental and the brief flashback segment is handled with restraint.

Everything Is Illuminated benefits greatly from its talented cast and beautiful cinematography. Eugene Hutz, as mentioned above, is a great find. Elijah Wood is initially quite mannered as Jonathon but finds his character as the film progresses and excels during the emotional scenes. They are both supported wonderfully by the rest of the cast. There are some minor issues with the film's pacing and the contrived nature of certain plot developments. However, these pale beside the film's many commendable qualities.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Pretentious Rubbish - Albeit Skillfully Directed, 11 May 2006

Twentynine Palms is an utter disappointment and can only really be viewed as a major misstep from a hugely promising director. It is hard to believe that the same man who created "Humanity" also spewed out this dreary exercise in pretension. You know you are watching a really bad film when you are bored despite generous lashings of gratuitous nudity and soft-core porn.

The most frustrating thing about Twentynine Palms (well, apart from it being crap) is the fact that the film company have had the nerve to promote it as a thriller, even referring to it as a horror film. There is nothing thrilling or scary about this debacle. It is either a pretentious experiment in hyper-realism or a horrendously scripted character study. For Mr Dumont's sake, I really hope it is the former, improvisation would at least explain some of the unfortunate dialogue.

The basic plot outline is as follows: An extremely unattractive couple go on a road trip through the desert, scouting locations for a photo shoot. Along the way they have loud sex in motel swimming pools and have riveting conversations about haircuts and car wax. This "idyll" comes to an end when they are attacked by a group of rednecks cruising the desert in an SUV (what the?). This attack is a catalyst for the truly ridiculous conclusion that feels like it has been tacked on by Dumont, probably out of guilt for making such a dull movie.

This premise had the potential to be at least psychologically disturbing. A film does not need litres of blood to be scary (although I find it helps). George Sluizer's "Spoorloos" (The Vanishing) is the perfect example of a film that is terrifying without being explicit. The problem with Twentynine Palms is that David and Katia are such unappealing characters that I basically did not care when tragedy struck. I'm aware that Dumont was attempting to make the characters as realistic as possible. Hence the unattractive actors, bad clothes and lack of make-up. I can even accept that their inane ramblings were the result of improvisation or an intention to sound unscripted. However, most "real" men are not repugnant misogynists like David, let alone perpetrators of domestic violence, and most "real" women do not walk up and down highways, hiding from cars like a crazy people. In fact, the film's greatest mystery is why Katia is even with David. He sexually humiliates her with his underwater fellatio stunt, beats her by the roadside and clearly has a very small penis. I couldn't help feeling that David somehow received his come uppence - "Deliverence" style.

I'm giving this film 3/10 instead of 0/10 due to the beautiful cinematography, which captures the surreal desert landscape to stunning effect and Dumont's accomplished direction. I like his use of long shots with a single stationary camera, although this was carried out to far better effect in the German film "Schultze Gets The Blues". Katia Golubeva also deserves some credit for once again surviving a terribly dull sex-fest with her dignity somewhat intact. I would have thought that "Pola X" would have been enough for anyone, but Katia is obviously a sucker for punishment or has a really bad agent.

Forget the people loudly singing this film's praises, I can only imagine that they are cineastes desperately trying to prove that they "get it" or misogynists who identify with David and sympathise with his plight.

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