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BloodRayne II: Deliverance

OK vampire western....oh, and I want to marry Rayne
Uwe Boll has gained a reputation during the last few years, mostly on the internet, of being "the worst director ever". Of course, as it usually happens with these exaggerations, I found this rep to be totally unjustified after watching his two "BloodRayne" outings. Sure, they are both flawed, but on the whole they're no worse than the average DTV release you can find in a quick trip to the video store; not to mention that all this negative hype actually works FOR them, because when you sit down to watch them you're expecting something much worse than what you get.

"BloodRayne" was a medieval vampire horror flick with Kristanna Loken as the title character. "BloodRayne II" is a much more contemporary vampire western, and Loken has been replaced with Natassia Malthe. I actually liked both interpretations of the role - Loken is a touch more sensual, but Malthe has perhaps better kicking abilities; the bottom line is, they're both extremely beautiful and their red hair compliments their faces even more. Production-wise, the film is OK, though it doesn't have the "epic" feeling of the first. The script has some flaws (too much time passes before we first meet Rayne, some of the supporting characters - especially her sidekicks - are not very well defined and seem to come out of nowhere, there are minor inconsistencies with the first film, etc.), but I think the weakest aspect of both films is the action itself: Rayne never seems to get into full kick-ass mode, and the action scenes are often too blurry in the first film, too dark here. I did like the nods to Morricone's scores though - were those notes from the harmonica theme in "Once Upon A Time In The West" I heard at one point?

What I enjoyed more about these films is probably the character of BloodRayne herself. She is ageless, she is strong, she can fight, but she is also essentially sweet: she cares about humanity and uses her powers to battle evil supernatural creatures that prey on innocent people. She will drink human blood - but only if it's offered to her, she won't attack you for it (she can live on blood from animals or other vampires). And on top of all that, she has a sense of humor. In other words, Rayne is marriage material. So if they ever make "BloodRayne III" - either with Loken or with Malthe - I'll be there; let's just hope the action scenes are longer and clearer the next time. (**1/2)

Illegal Aliens

Not especially funny, but likable and pretty sexy "Charlie's Angels" spoof / knockoff
"Charlie's Angels" meets "Men In Black", says the tagline on the DVD cover of "Illegal Aliens", and for once they got it right: like CA this movie has a trio of hot female crime-fighters (in this case, aliens in human form), and like MIB their mission is to protect the Earth from aliens with evil ambitions (add a bit of "Superman II", and you pretty much have the plot mix). Of course this is primarily meant to be a spoof, but too often the humor is forced and stale: fart jokes have never been and will never be very funny, and even the satirical and "breaking the fourth wall" jokes (such as a "Villain Monologue Timer" that appears on the screen, or the director of the film yelling "cut" and talking to the actors) have been done before, and better (remember that "Dead Body Counter" in "Hot Shots Part Deux"?). In her last film appearance, Anna Nicole Smith plays the lightheaded, childlike agent: it's an one-note performance, but she hits that one note well and she's pretty adorable. Joanie Laurer AKA Chyna chews the scenery to the 9th degree, which can get pretty tiresome, but at least she's still in good shape - if she ever wanted to return to wrestling, she looks like she could do it. As Anna's fellow agents, Lenise Sorén and Gladys Jimenez play it more straight and come off the best; they both also have fantastic physiques and the skimpy outfits to show them. In fact, I think that the people who will probably get the most out of this movie are the admirers of athletic female bodies. (**1/2)

Rage and Honor II

A slight improvement
In comparison to the first "Rage and Honor", this sequel comes out on top in three ways:

1) Better-shot fight scenes

2) Exotic setting (Indonesia) and higher production values (which allow for some chases and explosions along with the martial arts)

3) A good, unexpected twist near the end

On the other hand, it lacks the colorful supporting cast of the first movie (only Patrick Muldoon stands out - the villain and his henchman are generic), and in the final fight it is obvious that Richard Norton's opponent cannot measure up to him, so there's no chance of a good fight scene.

But on the whole, I found this sequel a slight improvement on the original. (**1/2)

Rage and Honor

Richard Norton and Cynthia Rothrock have teamed up several times in martial arts movies, either as partners or as opponents, both in Hong Kong and in America. This is one of their American pairings, and it cannot qualify as one of their best. The story is sloppy in parts, and the fight scenes are only so-so (and sometimes poorly shot). However, the two leads make an enjoyable team, and the movie gets some extra life from a colorful supporting cast that includes Brian Thompson as the main villain, a quite funny Alex Datcher as "Hannah the Hun", Stephen Davies as a druggie ex-stockbroker that everyone calls "Baby", not one but TWO (Terri Treas and Catherine Bach) stunning redheads (I love redheads), and in a bit part, female kickboxer Kathy Long. A good B-movie cast in a mediocre B-movie. (**)

The Only Way to Spy

Bad beyond your wildest imagination
"The Only Way To Spy" is not a movie. It is a random collection of images shown out of order. To say that it doesn't make sense would be an understatement; any given scene has no connection to the previous or to the next one. There isn't a shred of talent or professionalism to be found in any frame of this picture. I'm surprised that not only it exists, but it also got a video release with a colorful video box cover that makes it look 100 times better than it actually is. It's supposed to be a soft-core action spy comedy: there is no spying, no comedy, very little - and badly filmed - action, and, infrequently, some naked breasts. The busty actress who plays "OO6" is game enough, and with a different cast and crew around her, she could have been the lead in a genuinely sexy spy spoof.

My first "0 stars" rating in 2007!

Poirot: The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim
Episode 5, Season 2

"I was talking to the parrot!"
A wealthy banker disappears; "People don't just vanish into thin air!", says Poirot; Inspector Japp has a challenge for him: he bets 5 pounds that Poirot can't solve the case within one week without ever leaving his apartment; Poirot accepts the challenge, and sends Captain Hastings out with a list of "odd" questions to collect information.

Three things are most notable about this episode: a) the "Poirot solving the mystery from his own house" gimmick, b) the story itself, which is quite intriguing (as usual for an Agatha Christie story, the truth is hiding in plain sight), c) the little magic tricks that Poirot learns how to do by studying a book - they are amazing. I re-watched them step-by-step on the DVD, and I couldn't spot any editing tricks - it looks as if David Suchet did them himself! (***)

Poirot: The Lost Mine
Episode 3, Season 2

The ending makes this episode
A Chinese man arrives at a London hotel; he has with him the map to a long-considered "lost" mine, and he has agreed to sell the map to an English bank. But the next day he doesn't turn up at the time of the meeting; in fact, after a few hours, he turns up dead. The president of the bank asks Hercule Poirot for help.

Apart from the Oriental flavor (it's partly shot in London's Chinatown), and a brief look at Scotland Yard's methods in the 1930's, this is for the most part a rather trivial episode of the Poirot series. But it is saved at the end by the startling revelation of the killer's identity. Up until then, it's a ** out of 4, but the last 5 minutes make it a ***. One of the clues is so obvious in retrospect that you may feel like hitting your head on the wall if you miss it (and I did....miss it , I mean).

Hell Comes to Frogtown

Cult classic wannabe
"Hell Comes to Frogtown" seems to have many of the necessary ingredients to become a genuine cult classic, but the execution is uninspired and the film is not NEARLY as much schlocky fun as it could have been. The main problem is the pacing, which is, in a word, deadening: there are long stretches of nothing happening. In a movie like this, the No 1 thing you want to see is "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and Sandahl Bergman kick a lot of mutant frog butt. They do, but to a much lesser degree than you might expect (even after Piper enters a room holding two shotguns and yells "Eat lead, froggies!"). It doesn't help that large portions of the film seem to have been filmed in a small, dusty warehouse. But Piper is likable enough, Sandahl Bergman and Cec Verrell are 2 strong & sexy women, and the "frog effects" are acceptable, so I'm giving this a higher rating than it probably deserves: ** out of 4 stars.

Sword of Honor

Dishonorably dull
Zero points for originality or creativity here: within the first 10 minutes, two cops have stopped a convenience store robbery-in-progress, and a little later one of them, who is about to retire from the force, goes on "one last job"; no prizes for guessing what happens to him. "Sword of Honor" was obviously designed as a starring vehicle for Steven Vincent Leigh; he has some cool moves and his acting is OK, but most of the fight scenes are nothing special, despite the clear Hong Kong influences (people don't just fall down when they take a hit; they fly several feet away). There is barely enough story for 30 minutes, but the movie goes on for 90+, which makes it quite dull. Sophia Crawford has two exceptional fight scenes (her best trick: pulling a guy's jacket halfway down so that he can't move his arms and he becomes defenseless against her attacks), and shows her amazing body in lingerie, but she is wasted in the second half: she gets shot and falls into a coma. The most amusing scene is a nod to her Hong Kong film past, when she is shown understanding and even speaking Chinese. (*1/2)

Poirot: Peril at End House
Episode 1, Season 2

Good, not great
Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings travel to a small seaside English town for some "restful vacation". But that is not exactly what they get, when they meet a young woman who owns a large house near their hotel, and whose life seems to be in danger.

This is a 100-minute-long episode of the Poirot series, and I'd be lying if I said that the pacing never lags - it does. At the same time, I wish the post-climax had gone on a bit longer, to allow Poirot to make some further explanations. As it stands, the plot has some unclear points (the bullet....the poisoned chocolates....the cousin that was invited upon the insistence of Poirot....obviously I can't go any further without spoiling things), and it is possible that it doesn't stand up 100% under scrutiny. On the other hand, there's plenty to like here: the wonderful locations and production design, the exceptional acting, the cinematic direction, the small clues planted here and there ("Oh, how I like them!", says Poirot), some laugh-out-loud moments (the scene where Hastings tries to explain who Poirot is to Nick is a small masterpiece of writing and acting, as is the one of Inspector Japp on the beach).

As for another reviewer's remark, "how beautiful is Polly Walker!", the answer is: more beautiful than words can explain. (***)

Poirot: The Veiled Lady
Episode 2, Season 2

Poirot the burglar
A high society lady turns to Hercule Poirot for help: a secret love letter she had written in the past has fallen into the hands of a blackmailer, who now wants 20 thousand pounds to give it back to her. When that man goes to Paris for a few days, Poirot and Hastings decide on a bold course of action: they will break into his apartment and look for the letter themselves!

This is a somewhat atypical entry in the Poirot series: for the most part it appears to be a straightforward blackmail story, and Poirot does more snooping around than sleuthing. But of course there is a twist in the tale - and a quite clever one at that. There are also some pretty funny moments in this episode - when Inspector Japp finds Poirot locked in a cell, he says to a younger officer: "Nobody knows his real name, but they call him "Mad Dog"". The climax takes place inside London's Natural History Museum. (***)

Poirot: The Incredible Theft
Episode 8, Season 1

"Froggy KNOWS she didn't do it"
As you might have already guessed from the title, this episode is not dealing with a murder, but with a theft: to be more precise, with the theft of some top secret plans for a fighter plane from the desk of an English engineer. The main suspect is an American lady that many believe is a spy working for the Germans, but Hercule Poirot, who has been invited to the same house for the weekend, is not convinced that the case is that simple.

This is a rather trifling episode of the Poirot series, and maybe the easiest way to explain that would be to say that murder mystery stories are usually more engaging than pre-WWII spy stories. But then again, "this is a matter of national security", as one character says. No, I think the problem lies elsewhere: in the fact that, if you think about it, the story and its outcome would have been essentially the same WITHOUT Poirot's involvement (can't get into more detail without spoiling it, but think about it). On the plus side, Inspector Japp gets some laughs in this episode, particularly when he's trying not to look at the female suspect while she's getting undressed in the next room. (**)

Poirot: Problem at Sea
Episode 7, Season 1

Not a very difficult problem, I'm afraid
When a woman is murdered on a ship cruising around Egypt, the captain asks Hercule Poirot - who happens to be on board, along with Captain Hastings - to investigate the matter.

This episode boasts the usual high production values, but the mystery itself is transparent. It all relies on a single gimmick, and I was able to call it as soon as it was happening on the screen. Since I'm far from an expert at solving murder mysteries, I imagine that most viewers will solve this one prematurely, too. That leaves us in the position of being AHEAD of Poirot - a position as infrequent as it is undesirable. At least the actual revelation is done in an interestingly offbeat way. (**1/2)

Poirot: Triangle at Rhodes
Episode 6, Season 1

Evil under the (Greek) sun
Hercule Poirot goes to Rhodes (a Greek island) on vacation and, wouldn't you know it, gets involved with the death (via poisoning) of a rich and glamorous (and married, to her fifth husband) woman staying at the same hotel. Captain Hastings is not present in this one; Poirot's sidekick is a woman he meets in Rhodes.

The mystery is pretty good, once again appearances are completely deceiving, but the highlight of this episode must be the magnificent, vividly photographed island scenery. In both story and production values, "Triangle at Rhodes" reminded me of the 1982 film "Evil Under the Sun". This is a TV production of cinematic standards. (***)

Poirot: The Third Floor Flat
Episode 5, Season 1

Hitting close to home
Hercule Poirot doesn't feel too good this morning: a) he has a cold, and b) no new cases have come his way in the past few weeks. He even picks the wrong murderer in a theatrical murder mystery that his friend Captain Hastings takes him to (though he insists that the writer of the play cheated the audience). But all that is about to change when a real murder happens - in an apartment just 2 floors below his own, no less!

Featuring fluid camera-work that immediately establishes the setting (3rd floor: the murder victim, 4th floor: the people who find the body, 5th floor: Poirot), a typically clever script (when Poirot, back in form and obviously pleased with himself, says "And now, I know everything!", few viewers will be prepared for his revelations), fine acting, and even some suspense at the end AFTER the culprit has been revealed, this early entry into the Poirot series is a good solid whodunit. (***)

Tales from the Crapper

Cynical, witless garbage
"Tales from the Crapper" is gory, disgusting, tasteless, offensive, lowbrow and scatological. But that's OK, I was prepared for all that from my previous Troma experiences. What I WASN'T prepared for is that it's also witless, unfunny and boring. Very little of the genuine anarchic spirit of films like "Class of Nuke'em High" has remained intact; in its place, we get ENDLESS fart jokes (to the point where you start wondering if Lloyd Kaufman is going senile, thinking that adults find loud farting so darn hilarious!) and a cynical, shameless exploitation of the viewer, who is essentially investing time and money to see a "film" that even Kaufman himself seems to know should never have been released in the first place. Oh yes, there is plenty of female nudity on display, but let's face it: the average porn film probably offers a better storyline, higher production values, funnier humor, and above all more RESPECT for its intended viewer than this atrocity.

P.S: Kelly Powers AKA Suzi Lorraine (the blonde lesbian student in the "How to make your own movie" segment) is one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen.

Agents secrets

Very well-produced but mostly dry spy thriller
This movie offers several spectacular shots (free-falling, swimming against the sunset, scuba-diving, car flip / crash, etc), locations (France, Switzerland, Morocco, Spain) and means of transportation (cars, boats, subway trains, planes, helicopters). The production values are certainly very polished. But the director takes an overly detailed approach to storytelling - there are quite a few scenes that go on longer than necessary. The thrills are limited: a car chase ends almost as soon as it begins, and a fight between Cassel and a Spanish female assassin (Najwa Nimri) is shot in such tight close-ups that you literally can't see any of the moves. As for the insights into the spy business ("We're not asking her to collaborate with us; we're asking her to obey our orders"), they're not exactly groundbreaking stuff. The intense Cassel and the dazzling Bellucci are interesting people to look at, but for the most part this spy thriller is too dry - and the ending is poor. (**)

Le Concile de Pierre

Muddled and plodding thriller, unworthy of Monica Bellucci's brave performance
Monica Belucci's fully committed performance, as well as her commendable willingness to appear as unglamorous as possible (with very short hair, limited or no make-up, often bloodied-up and dirty), are wasted in this semi-supernatural thriller that suffers from a muddled script (just like a previous adaptation of a Jean-Christophe Grangé novel, "Crimson Rivers" - maybe his books are just too hard to condense in under two hours of screen time), an incomplete finish that feels like a set-up for an (unlikely) sequel, cold direction, plodding pacing, and a completely humorless tone. I honestly found it a bit of a struggle to get through. It will probably be watched / remembered only for the first "cross-generational" on-screen meeting of Belucci with Catherine Deneuve. (**)

88 Minutes

Surefire idea turns into an utterly riveting thriller - though the journey is better than the destination
I usually like movies that try the "real time = reel time" gimmick - movies like Hitchcock's "Rope", the little-seen "Nick of Time" and a large part of "Speed", for example. "88 minutes" is one of those movies, and Jon Avnet does a very good job of maintaining an unusually high level of pulse-quickening, teeth-gritting tension. If you stop to think about the plot, holes will probably show up left and right, but Avnet doesn't leave you time to think; he barely even leaves you time to breathe. He moves from one scene to another just as frantically as Al Pacino is searching for clues that will lead him to the person who is threatening to end his life in 88 minutes.

For Pacino, this was clearly a "commercial" project, but let's face it - Pacino reading the phone book out loud is still more interesting than many actors' finest dramatic moments! Plus, for a 67-year-old man, he still seems to be in great shape both physically and mentally, as if the years haven't slowed him down at all. His most prominent female co-star is Alicia Witt, and she almost manages to keep up with him - not an easy task (also, I have a soft spot for redheads and Alicia has grown into quite the beauty!).

But, as it usually happens in thrillers of this type (one of the very few exceptions: "Se7en"), the ending is not as satisfying as the journey taking you there : part of the problem is that the culprit can be spotted rather early (when the movie takes the time to establish an obvious alibi for that person), and part is that his / her performance at the end is not 100% convincing.

Still, for the most part this is an exciting ride. (***)


Lucy Liu has rarely been more commanding - not to mention beautiful - on the screen
In "Rise", Lucy Liu gets one of the most complex characters of her career so far - certainly a far cry from the fluffy "Charlie's Angels" - and she is absolutely compelling to watch. She is by turns scared, confused, desperate, driven, brutal, ruthless, cruel, humane, compassionate. She is both a heroine (taking revenge against the serial killing vampire clan that left her for dead), and an anti-heroine (killing innocent people to survive). She is a victim AND a victimizer. And she is solidly supported by the rest of the cast: Michael Chiklis takes a role that could have easily been just a sidekick, and makes him important. James D'Arcy, as the head villain, is both repulsive and suave. And Carla Gugino manages to make a strong impression in about 10 minutes of total screen time. The director keeps the story tight, at least in the first hour (and I'm surprised that so many people found the film's simple time twists "confusing" - I wonder how long they would last in "The Prestige"....), and makes very judicious use of gore - there is just enough needed to make the point and move the story along, but not too much to slip into gratuitous excess. "Rise" does look and feel like a B-movie, but sometimes a well-made B-movie is preferable to an overproduced blockbuster. Those expecting an action / gore fest will probably be disappointed, but those who want a bit of depth along with the feasting on their menu (think "Interview With The Vampire" here) may like this more. (**1/2)

Kansas City Bomber

Raquel Welch proves that she is more than just a sex symbol
Legitimate sex symbols like Raquel Welch have always had to face the (sexist) prejudice of the "since they're so beautiful, they can't act" variety (of course, this often extends to male stars as well - Richard Gere, for example). But Raquel gives a fine performance in "Kansas City Bomber" - quiet when it needs to be, spirited when it needs to be. And she was not the same type of sex symbol that Marilyn Monroe was: she was highly athletic, and in this movie you can see her roller-skating, punching, kicking, headlocking, elbow-dropping, jumping, ducking, taking bumps, rolling around on the ground (including a memorable catfight right next to some train tracks!), etc. It's a physically challenging role, and Raquel is more than up to the challenge. The movie does feel aimless and repetitive at times, the ending doesn't really resolve much and Kevin McCarthy is not exactly the most believable romantic partner for Raquel, but her fans, as well as fans of movies about women in sports, will probably find enough of interest here. (**1/2)

* Another recommendation: the pro-wrestling film "All The Marbles".

Brain Smasher... A Love Story

Thin fun
"Brain Smasher...A Love Story" is sort of fun to watch (there must be about 5 or 6 laughs here and there) and Teri Hatcher is sexy and feisty. But the script is just too thin and one-note: these evil Chinese monks want this flower that is the key to Ultimate Power, and Andrew Dice Clay, Teri Hatcher and Deborah Van Valkenburgh try to keep it away from them. That's it. The whole movie is basically an extended chase, without many plot complications: the monks catch up to the heroes, the heroes fight them off, the heroes run away, repeat. The other thing that bugged me was the inconsistency in the way these monks are presented: at certain times they seem to be invincible and almost superhuman, jumping from and to incredible heights (these acrobatics are definitely the freshest idea of the movie), at other times they are bumbling, inept and useless in a fight. Oh well, I guess you can just look admiringly at Teri Hatcher and try to forgive the weaknesses....Footnote: Brion James and Tim Thomerson have two very small parts as police officers. (**)

Hit Lady

"Well you must have upset someone, or else I wouldn't be here"
Yvette Mimieux looks gorgeous and gives a fine, understated performance as a contract killer who methodically seduces her targets, waits until they have let their guard down, and then strikes - lethally. But problems arise when she decides that she wants to quit the business. What I particularly liked about Yvette's performance here is that she presents the character and lets the viewer decide how he or she should feel about her. She doesn't force-feed you the answers, and neither does the movie. It proceeds economically from scene to scene, telling a seemingly simple story, but the unexpected twist at the end of it has real impact. Be warned: it's not an action movie (though there is one car chase), it's more of a character drama. (**1/2)

Catch the Heat

Routine action film, but Tiana is a real babe
This is, on almost all accounts, a routine mid-to-low-budget 80's action film, mostly set in Argentina, with its weakest point probably being Rod Steiger's totally boring, sleepwalking villain. So let's talk about the female star, Tiana Alexandra:

  • She is VERY good-looking

  • She has a charming smile

  • She fills out a wet T-shirt and a tight sweater beautifully

  • She can act (going from a foul-mouthed, no-nonsense cop to her undercover role as a naive young girl)

  • She can dance

  • She can fight (her ingenuity in dealing with the brick wall of a man "Professor" Tanaka inside a small room is certainly memorable)

  • She can pose BEFORE the fight and take the mental advantage over her opponent.

Basically, she's the only reason for someone to see this movie, and it's a shame she wasn't given a second break. If this one flopped, she should be the last person to blame. (**)

Tin si hang dung III: Moh lui mut yat

Arguably the best in the series
The Iron Angels (Alex Fong, Moon Lee, Kharina Sa, Fong's new male partner, and another guy called "The Computer" - no sign of Elaine Lui this time) go to Thailand to stop some terrorists. That's pretty much all the plot you need for this one. For pure fighting fans, this is probably the best film in the series. Moon Lee has more fight scenes than in the previous films and looks pretty lethal: one of her best moves is when she jumps on a guy, wraps her legs around his waist, flips backwards, lands on top of him and punches him straight on his face! And Fong has an extended Muay Thai ring match against a local fighter. But shootout fans won't be disappointed, either; a gunfight near the end has an INCREDIBLE body count that easily rivals that of most war movies. The girls-with-guns factor is brought down a little by the absence of Elaine Lui, and the fact that Kharina Sa is given nothing to do, but goes up again with the addition of several female baddies, the leader of whom is a pretty muscular blonde. There are also notable Bond references: we get the female version of the Bond vs. Red Grant train fight in "From Russia With Love" as Moon Lee takes on a Japanese killer lady (who even has shoe-knives!), the blonde villainess pets (not a cat but) a baby croc, and at the end the heroes attack the terrorists on jetpacks like the one Connery used in "Thunderball" - only these are equipped with inexhaustible machine guns! (**1/2)

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