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Die Another Day

A potential classic, time will tell.
Die Another Day was shaping up to be the best Bond film ever. My favourite Bond by a mile was back. There was a director that you believed wanted to make a modern Bond, better than all its predecessors. You knew they had the locations. You had seen the bad guy with the diamonds in his face, and he looked too cool to be a disappointment - he was Bond's Darth Maul. The Bond girls looked better than ever. The title was crap, but you learn you live with it (Beyond the Ice always sounded better to me). The theme tune had caused controversy, only serving to increase the anticipation. Arriving at the cinema (where the queue was actually out of the building), it was almost impossible to not feel like a five year old on Christmas morning.

The opening is spectacular, just as you would expect. Not only that, but Bond seems somehow more human in it. There are the usual politically `safe' villain nation - North Korea chosen this time, probably on the grounds that they aren't likely to see the movie. The stunts have continued to grow exponentially, getting bigger and better than the last movie. The excitement levels have been suitably encouraged by the time the opening credits kick in. And blow me, Madonna's theme actually works. I'm not really sure why, but it does. The credits themselves have also grown up. Its not just naked women performing random acts of gymnastics in silhouette, although they are there. The credits themselves actually serve as part of the narrative, which is a blessing as far as I'm concerned. I have never enjoyed the opening credits of a Bond film until now. I was seriously optimistic about this movie.

Pierce Brosnan has finally grown into a rounded Bond. He has developed from the simple suave manner he had already perfected in Remmington Steel into a character with underlying insecurities about the people he works for and a contradicting loyalty to the country he would die for. For the first time since Brosnan took the baton you really want him to win, and to beat the bad guys in a way no bad guy has been beaten before. You also find yourself actually wanting him to get the girl, but not for one night as he inevitably will, but for good. As for the girls, Jinx (Berry) is essentially the American PC version of Bond. She, is black, is independent, is successful, sleeps with anyone she wants - Oprah would be so proud. She is also the first person to have reasonable graphic sex with Bond, although this is still a Bond film so its not that graphic. The main problem I had with Berry's character was her slightly boyish form (save for the two obvious differences): short hair, slim and muscular. This problem comes to light most during the aforementioned sex scene. The scene is all done in silhouette and, did we not know better, we could be convinced that it was a gay sex scene. The Bond girl crown is stolen in Die Another Day by Miranda Frost (Pike). She is far more feminine, sexier and an all round more convincing character.

The two/three main bad guys are also way above average. Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee) is convincingly hard. We meet him as he practices his martial arts on a punch bag with human stuffing, and we are very glad we aren't in his bad books. His henchman, Zao (Rick Yune) is a modern Jaws. The pair of them are clearly psychotic, and completely perfect for Bond villains. Although the pair of them are outdone by the malevolent Gustav Graves (Stevens) and his Teflon diamond-fortune-funded lifestyle. He is the anti-Bond. He is English (although he admits it is an adopted nationality), suave, likes the finer things and is determined to win at all costs. He also looks like he might be the one guy who could beat James Bond, you believe he stands a chance of winning this fight. The rest of the cast, Judi Dench (as she is credited), John Cleese, Michael Madsen and the usual background characters, they hold their own. Dench is her usual brilliant self, possibly giving her most convincing M performance yet, and Cleese has taken on the role of Q (he received a promotion from R) and appears to have set himself up for as long a stint as Desmond Llewellyn's before him. Samantha Bond on the other hand serves as nothing more than a cheap joke at the end, a shame as I rather liked her interpretation of Miss Moneypenny.

The film itself looks somehow different from the traditional Bond visuals. There is a far more modern feel to the images. It is grainier and harsher and nowhere near as shiny as previous pieces in the oeuvre. There are also original (to Bond films) stylistic traits brought in by Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors) which will make this Bond film either unique amongst Bond films, or will make it age badly. Within the piece though they keep the pace fast and edgy. Tamahori also looks like he should actually be a Bond villain, a fact that we can assume has not escaped him, so has paid a lot of attention to the styling of his bad guys. He has also managed to use a script which could have been tacky in its nods to the past and made it sexy and amusing. It appears that as the twentieth in a series everyone involved has taken the best bits of the past and pulled them all together.

Die Another Day will be many peoples favourite James Bond movie, and certainly most peoples' favourite Brosnan Bond movie. Personally it comes in my top five, but I cant help feeling that there couple of minutes that the movie would have benefited from losing. Stood against any other pretenders to the crown (xXx, The Bourne Identity) this effort is head shoulders and bow tie above the rest. A modern movie, with more than a dash of Moore era narrative and plenty of jokes in there for the aficionado, Tamahori has directed a Bond movie that will be remembered as one of the better ones. And if the Broccoli family have any brains in their head they will get Brosnan and Tamahori back for another one, next time with them learning from their mistakes. As for the suggestion of a Jinx spin off series, it may have the face and the breasts, but I just can't see it having the legs.

8 Mile

British view
For those of you who haven't heard about this movie, it's the acting debut (ignoring Da Hip Hop Witch Project and The Wash) of Marshal Mathers III. This is not another film with a singer wanting to play at acting, this is Eminem demonstrating that the last three years of switching between Slim Shady, Eminem and Marshal have taught him how to play at being someone else. And that is the last I intend on referring to Eminem (as he is credited) and his other career, not referring to him as an actor demeans him and this movie.

Not due out for a couple of months in this country, I will try not to spoil too much of the story for you. I will however, try to save you from a little of the hype - and there's going to be a lot of hype. This film is not a semi-autobiographical `Life of Eminem,' it has a couple of similarities and that's it. Set in Detroit in 1995, 8 Mile tells the story of Bunny Rabbit (Eminem), a white, working class rapper and his struggle against gangs, racism and his own insecurities. 8 Mile focuses on Rabbit's attempts to get a record deal or at least some respect for his skills as a rapper. At the start of the film we see Rabbit `battling' on stage at a rap venue, the only problem being that there are no words coming out of his mouth. Despite the directors (Curtis Hanson) pedigree, this is still an American movie and we can all see where the narrative is going. What Hanson does manage to do is guide us through the journey to its inevitable climax without us ever being too concerned with the fact that we know where we are going.

The supporting characters are well played by a mix of actors and rappers. Mekhi Phifer is probably the pick of the pack as Future, Rabbit's best friend, who hosts the battles and pushes Rabbit when he needs pushing, even at the risk of their friendship. Basinger as Rabbit's alcoholic trailer park mother is cast strangely. Her performance is perfect, but perhaps the make-up department could do with a few tips. If a poor single mother of two was living in a trailer park desperate for money to avoid eviction and she looked like Kim Basinger, she would be straight to Playboy. Basinger needed making-down, not up. Brittany Murphy, apart from looking eternally drugged to the eyeballs, was sorely underused, serving mainly as a shag piece for Rabbit just after he has defended a gay guy (the audience obviously needed reminding that Rabbit was open minded but heterosexual). The other performances are fitting, no one steeling the show and everybody contributing to the plot. We can only assume that Hanson directed them all well, as he has certainly directed the rest of the movie well. Locations are honest (especially as the whole movie was shot in Detroit) and the visually are realistic, at times seeming almost like a documentary. The final showdown battle feels like a climax to Faking It.

8 Mile is a portrayal of the individual following their dream and doing what they need to do to achieve it. The entire meaning of the film is captured by Eminem himself in the theme tune to the film: `Look, if you had one shot, one opportunity / To seize everything you ever wanted…One moment / Would you capture it or just let it slip?' The movie is uplifting in an unusual way. It would not be giving away the ending to say that it doesn't end exactly the way you expect, although you can't help but feel a little pleased for Hollywood for having made a film that satisfies the audience yet doesn't stick to all the rules.

Talks of Eminem being Oscars bound are probably a little premature. There is no doubt that he has what it takes to be an Oscar winner, but it seems unlikely that this will be the performance that will garner him the little golden genital free man. The film itself probably won't win too much by way of serious silverware, other than maybe for the soundtrack (which is itself integral to the film, in the most part). In terms of major drawbacks from enjoying 8 Mile there are only a couple. The same reason that most people will want to go an see it, Eminem, will be the main reason that lots won't. Those that aren't staunch Eminem haters should give this a chance, as he succeeds where so many singers fail, he convinces you that he is the character, you stop seeing him as Eminem very early on. The other problem may well be the language barrier. Large sections of the movie are rapped, not like a hip hop musical, but because the scene dictates this. The battles, where much of the character creation takes place, for example, requires a keen ear to catch every word, but you will be rewarded for your concentration with some insults of quite unbelievable grace.

This is a convincing debut from about the most famous man in the entertainment world and a good film that might suffer due to its inevitable hype. Worth seeing as soon as you get the chance, in the hope of avoiding the media attention 8 Mile will get. It is in parts amusing, tragic and painful, and will leave feeling hopeful although not completely euphoric as many an American fell good movie can do. This is intelligent entertainment, something the film world is often found lacking.

Mark: 8.5/10 Who to go with: Anyone, but not a first date.

Slap Her, She's French!

Teen comedy without brains
Rating: 12 Stars: Piper Perabo, Jane McGregor Theme: Teen comedy Violence/Language/Nudity: Comedy violence and occasional strong language

Very few films these days have a title which deserve the applause this one does. Regardless of the quality of the movie, Slap Her.She's French is simply a brilliant, and completely unexplained, title. So after worshipping one of the funniest film titles of all time, is the movie any where near as good as the name promises. Well, no. But then the title is a lot to live up to, so its not to say that the film isn't any good at all. A French foreign exchange student comes to stay with a stereotypical hicksville Texan family and their beauty pageant winning daughter. The French girl, however, is not all that she seems. Essentially this film abuses the French and the Texans, so far its appealing to most Brits.

The story is pretty predictable, as are most of the jokes. The characters are all stereotypes, conforming to tried and tested formulae. Slap Her. sets itself up as an inferior version of Drop Dead Gorgeous. The narrative is slow to start and when it eventually does, has plot holes the size of the Lone Star State. Not all the jokes miss the mark though. For every couple of missed funnies, there is one laugh out loud moment. Some of the set pieces are neat and will appeal to the audience with a slightly more discerning tastes, but these moments are rare and unappreciated by the film's creators. You can't help but feel that had this been made by a British team the humour would have been that bit more subtle and consistent. The narrative itself is incredibly slow to start, something which could have been avoided had the director (Melanie Mayron) realised that we already knew everything she was telling us about her characters. A montage sequence would have been far more successful method of exposition.

The performances are varied. Perabo as the "obviously" French Genevieve is either wasted or just plain useless, we can only hope its the former. McGregor's Starla (even the name's obvious) is over the top but appealing. The supporting cast often fair better, but are hideously underdeveloped. The entire lesbian relationship sub plot of Starla's two best friends comes and goes without rhyme nor reason. Starla's mum (Julie White) and her alcoholic ice tea habit could have been a thread worth developing, but there is no reason for it being mentioned at all with the script the way it stands. Even Starla's consumption of an entire flask of her mum's favourite tipple fails to create any humour from her inevitable drunkenness. Starla's saviours are her brother (Jesse James) and school newspaper photographer Ed (Trent Ford). Neither of whom are used anywhere near as much as they should have been. These actors and their performances suggest that this movie could have been so much more than it is, had the actors been given the script that you get the impression could have existed.

Many of the movies problems stem from the sensation that there was originally a much larger and more complete script that followed through some of the story lines suggested in the final piece. It is almost as if the makers didn't want to offend anyone too much and therefore removed lots of the superior narrative. This all leads to an average movie that could have been so much more. Never quite reaching straight to video levels, this is never going to be a classic in the vein of Ten Things I Hate About You, which it easily could have been. As a Sunday night diversion Slap Her.She's French is acceptable. There are enough laughs to prevent you feeling cheated, and a slightly warm fuzzy feeling that you just can't help getting in your stomache. This is simply a teen comedy which missed the opportunity to be a classic of the genre, and you just can't help feeling that it really could have been a contender.

Mark: 5/10 Who to go with: Your girlfriend or younger sister


Rating: 12A Stars: Vin Diesel, Asia Argento, Samuel L Jackson Theme: Secret agent action adventure Language/Nudity/Violence: Moderate language, scantily clad ladies, loads of extreme violence

Big bald black guy with an obvious dislike for authority and a propensity for hobbies most would class as "more than a little silly" is forced to work for the government he so regularly and deliberately irritates. And that's pretty much all the plot you need to know. Guns, gadgets, cars, bitches (I'm quoting), bangs, maniacal sociopathic mastermind criminals and testosterone levels so high that your girlfriend may leave the cinema as your gay lover. What more could you possibly want from a Friday night?

The easiest comparison to make is the one that the xXx publicity machine has been using to generate hype, James Bond. The writer and director have had 19 Bond movies to use as a reference library, and some of the choice cuttings are obvious. The opening scene celebrates the death of the old guard with the killing of a tuxedoed secret agent who slips from back streets into a club. But this is not a champagne reception, rather a European industrial thrash metal gig. The Bond-esque agent falls from the stage after being shot, right onto the moshing crowd. A prolonged shot of his dead body being bounced aloft lets you know the movies intentions from the outset. There is a regular stream of references throughout the movie, including the obvious two fingered salute of a parachute decorated with an American flag (thankfully the only stars and stripes this movie contains). xXx wants very much to be the replacement franchise.

While comparisons are apparent, there is also the deliberate differences, highlighting just how alternative xXx is. The unbeautiful cast - Diesel is not the typical pin-up model and his 60 Marlboro Reds a day voice is certainly not the velvet Queen's English of James Bond, the conspiracy theorists version of the NSA is far removed from Bond's government department and the soundtrack is more street than Albert Hall. Q, excuse me, Agent Shaver is taken out of his mad professor's house and actually given some field experience. Jelena is alluring but no Halle Berry. Bang for your buck, the explosions far outnumber the exposition, although there is very little you will need explaining. Even the appearance of Xander Cage (6'2" Vin Diesel) is the polar opposite of Bond, tattoos on top of muscles on top of attitude. His coat is stolen from a Hollywood pimp and the rest of his wardrobe is borrowed from Bruce Willis' Die Hard collection. Even his choice of car is designed to show that he is not part of the Bond generation. Out of a line of Ferraris, Lambourghinis and other European super machines, Xander chooses the American classic GTO (and to any other humans being he has clearly made the wrong choice, but he seems happy with it) .

The acting is passable, Asia Argento is probably the best, and has the critical European acclaim to back up her ability. Jackson isn't stretched and Diesel is Diesel, the same way that Arnie is Arnie. The narrative is unimaginative and the dialogue is laughable. And it just doesn't matter. For all its failings xXx is entertainment and not pretentious enough to even claim anything else. At just over two hours, its about the right length and packs more stunts into its duration than an audience can rightfully expect. The stunts are big too, really big, and so much fun to watch that you are grateful for the multi-angle repeat shots. They're even more impressive because, thanks to a little clever CGI, Diesel's face can be seen as he throws motorbikes, cars and himself around like hacky sacks.

This re-teaming of Rob Cohen and Vin Diesel, having had great success with The Fast and the Furious, is going to make people money. It will have at least two sequels, hopefully with a different writer. It will make lads around the country more than content for a couple of hours at the weekend. And I'm sure there are a fair number of women out there who aren't going to mind watching Diesel's body for a while. With an obvious inspiration, a couple of cameos (Eve, Matt Hoffman) and a couple of bizarre references (the theme tune to The Third Man being the most obscure), xXx is entertainment of the most mindless order. Bond movies are a genre unto themselves and they remain in their own company for now. This film, and potential franchise, shares borders with Bond, but never quite reaches its territory. While the King retains his title, the crown prince may have been found. Not a replacement, more an alternative, and certainly an acceptable filler until Die Another Day next month.

Mark: 7/10 Who to go with: The lads.

Lilo & Stitch

Disney, mainly like we know it.
Rating: U Stars: Ving Rhames is the biggest name Theme: Disney - says it all Language/Nudity/Violence: comedy violence

"Ohana means family... family means, nobody gets left behind, or forgotten"

Yep, Disney has taken its family values and shoved them further down your throat than ever before. The central message is the importance of family, no matter who you are or where you come from. Lilo lives with and is cared for by her older sister, Nani, in Hawaii. Stitch is an intergalactic killing machine who crash lands on aforementioned island. After some typical Disney confusion and comedy timing (and some blind ignorance from the people running the dog pound), Lilo adopts Stitch. Cue the hilarity.

At least, cue the chuckles. There are a few moments of laugh out loud humour, but generally its smile raising and appreciative giggles all the way. The story itself isn't classic Disney, which is refreshing. And the characters aren't typical beautiful Disney faces. The women in the movie all have the kind of thighs that a New Zealand winger would be proud of and all the human characters have flattened Hawaiian noses. Of course they are all cute, those animators aren't completely stupid. Stitch himself is even quite loveable, despite being in need of serious orthodontic care. And the setting lends itself to images vibrant with bright full colours, classic Disney more like Aladdin than Beauty and the Beast.

The animation itself harks back to classic Disney. Perspective is considered greater than flashier effects. The mind blowing three dimensional animation of Beauty and the Beast or Mulan isn't apparent for most of the movie. It is used carefully to separate worlds and to add to the narrative the notion of differences and colliding cultures. In fact it was the intelligence with which the movie was created which impresses more than the movie itself. The prologue, set in a space craft and modern in its animation style, contrasts with the classic animation of the Earth scenes. On the few occasions when space craft are seen flying around Earth, the animation switches back to the modern rendering. The perspective on Earth is that the viewer is looking up to everyone (which may explain the thighs). The only characters we can see eye to eye are Lilo and Stitch themselves - we are one of them, one of the family.

This is not the greatest Disney movie ever released, but its not the worst. It will probably spawn a snatch of straight to video sequels and make a fortune in merchandising this Christmas. It will also earn many a boyfriend out there some extra brownie points as well. This is a pleasant enough Disney film that won't offend anyone and won't seem like 90 minutes of your life wasted. But don't expect a life changing experience, or even to spend too much time thinking about the film after you leave the cinema. Perfect for a quiet night out.

Rating: 6.5/10 Who to go with: Men, your girlfriend. Women, your boyfriend (and he won't mind taking you either)

28 Days Later...

The UK perspective
Rating: TBC (lets face it, its an 18 and then some) Stars: Mainly unknowns, and Christopher Eccleston Theme: Horror/Sci-Fi/Drama Language/Nudity/Violence: Very bad language, huge amounts of violence (once sexual) When Hollywood made The Beach they gave it the usual Hollywood spin. 28 Days later is what happens when you actually let Alex Garland write the screenplay. Set in a quasi post-apocalyptic world, a virus has been let loose on an unprepared public by ill-judging but well meaning animal rights activists. It is made perfectly clear in the prologue that this is not a film for the weak of heart, or even the moderate of heart. And even the strongest stomachs can expect to be tested.

The Vanilla Sky sequence around a deserted London is one of the creepiest things you will have ever seen on screen. Not only will it encourage the tension and dread that the film is trying to draw out of its unsuspecting audience but it will force you to try and work out how on earth they managed to shut the entire city down. Until this point the movie has been relatively slow, but this is all about to change as the story really kicks off. It would be unfair to the film to reveal much more of the plot after this point, and even more unfair to the potential audience.

The cast is made up of unknowns and faces that you are sure you have seen before somewhere, but just can't place. Whether this confusion was intentional in the casting or not I'm not sure, but it certainly enhances the overall sense of displacement. Christopher Eccleston's appearance later in the film awards him with the entrance that all actors would like. Unfortunately he spends most of his role looking slightly embarrassed about being in such a trivial movie, only once enjoying himself as he torments a captive. There will not be any best actor Oscars winging their way to the cast of this movie, but they're acting ability isn't really what the movie is about. They are all perfectly acceptable as their characters, with Jimmy being the standout performance. This is a mood movie that is designed to mess with you head but not allow you enough time to work out the answers.

28 Days Later is essentially I high budget, intelligent and deeply scary horror film in the vain of many a 1950s B movie. This is not Eight Legged Freaks (Arach Attack), but comparisons could be made. It is darker, less humorous (although not devoid of humour), and definitely British. The main difference between this and the last decade worth of horror movies is just how possible it really is. This is not a spoilt brat slasher or alien invasion movie, this is a tangible danger that is no leap of imagination to consider real.

Mark: 9/10

Who to go with: Someone big and strong to hide behind.

My Little Eye

The UK perspective
Rating: 18 Stars: All pretty much unknowns Theme: Reality TV horror Language/Nudity/Violence: Bad language, nudity and strong violence

This movie has received generally good reviews all round. And it has been praised for dealing with a predictable subject in an intelligent way. Its greatest flaw is that it was aware of how intelligent it was trying to be. It's essentially a British film, so this doesn't come as too much of a surprise. While it is obviously trying to be intelligent, however, it does succeed in the most part. It wonderfully assumes a certain type of audience who can read the visual language of Big Brother television and who can deal with the type of camera work and editing that this genre has created. We very quickly learn that we are dealing with something above and beyond a normal horror flick.

The premise is easy, its essentially Big Brother for six months with a final shared prize of one million dollars. There are no evictions, but the rule is that if one person leaves, no one wins any money. So the pressure is on everyone staying, no matter what "The Company" throws at them. And they throw every little piece of history their research has dug up at them, in some sick and twisted ways. My Little Eye is a fish market of red herrings, and at some point you are lead to suspect everyone of being the cause of the unpleasantness. For a very long time I thought that I had completely worked out the ending, and was surprised when I was wrong. Unfortunately the final twist isn't everything you want it to be, and you are left a little unsatisfied by the final explanation. I imagine that the intention was for an ambiguous finale, but unfortunately it falls slightly short of the mark. Not short enough to ruin the movie, but just enough to make you feel a little cheated.

The narrative itself is well constructed and reasonably void of clichés. The characters on the other hand are nothing but clichés, although this is to the benefit of the movie rather than its detriment. Again the viewers knowledge of stereotypes allows the narrative to be rapid in its exposition at the start of the movie and means that when we join the group about a week before the end of their six months, we can assume a lot about what has happened in the time that has past. The actors themselves, each to varying degrees someone you think you have seen before but can't place, are very good in their roles. None of them are standout, but then this is a horror movie and ham acting is part of the territory. For all the OTT acting there is always the balance of the bleached visuals and out of focus shots to temper the campness. There is also some very inventive photography generated by the reality genre. During the movie you feel like a helpless on-looker and rarely feel like shouting at the characters. It is all far more voyeuristic than the average horror flick.

This is not part of the Scream/IKWYDLS collection. This is closer to The Blair Witch Project but doesn't quite reach its genius standards. The constant tension makes My Little Eye slightly uncomfortable to watch, and occasionally jump out of your seat scary. It could easily reach the cult video status of Blair Witch after its inevitable cinema success, and it will undoubtedly breed many copy cats. I can only hope that should a sequel be in the offing, that it will not follow the Blair Witch 2 approach. A very good movie, prevented from greatness by its self conscious intelligence. My Little Eye is one of the two enjoyable horror films out in the run up to Christmas. Perhaps less accessible than its closest comparison, 28 Days Later, but none the less worth going to watch with your brain working.

Mark: 8/10 Who to go with: Someone to be near, but who won't grab you at the scary moments.

Ali G Indahouse

A Staines local comments...
Pretty much exactly what you would expect from an Ali G movie. Crude jokes, loads of stereotypes to laugh at and a million references to places we all know (start practising your Englefield Green hand signal the minute you leave the cinema). The first half hour is absolutely brilliant, but then the story kicks in. which leads to about half an hour of slightly less funny stuff, but still has its moments. The rest goes back to Ai G the way we like him.

The performances are all pretty good. Sacha Baren Cohen's is the main reason you are going to see the movie in the first place. Kellie Bright as Mi Julie is good, but I still found it a pity that we even got to see her, as it was almost better when she could potentially have been a myth. But is was obviously something there for the sake of the story. There are a few recognisable faces throughout the movie making cameos or playing smaller roles, which are fun to spot.

Ultimately its Ali G for an extended period of time, with less intelligence and more base humour. There are some lovely pop culture references which will bring back memories from your childhood, and a great game of spot the location as they go around Staines. Leave your brain behind when you go to see this and you will have a great time.

We Were Soldiers

Mel Gibson war movie.
The whole movie is based around the battle which apparently started the Vietnam war (so a worthy subject to dramatise). Its a war movie with the usual Gibson sentiment, but despite the occasional Americana its very good. The battle scenes are amazing, with some originality thrown in for a change, not just old hat war stuff. Brilliantly filmed as you would imagine, and the CGI effects are kept to an apparent minimum (clearly they are there otherwise there would be a massive drop in the extras available in Hollywood).

There is at least an attempt to explain why the war happened, although it is far from satisfactory. There is even an attempt to show that the "enemy" really aren't any different from US. The script is not Oscar worthy, but at least its not the usual cliches we associate with war movies. The cliches are there, but they are few and far between. The story has no massive surprises as its not that kind of film. Its about the battle. People die, people survive. Its more about the sensation of war that is forced upon you.

I confess to watching this with the intent of not liking it. I generally don't like Americans doing war movies. This surprised me however by being a good movie. Gibson's performance is very much Braveheart with a gun, but as a starting block, there are worst characters to imitate. The biggest problem is that you leave wondering just how much of the story is true. It is after all an American film about war, based on a novel (We Were Soldiers Once...And Young) by an American guy who was in the battle, released at a time when America is at a war of sorts and needs something positive to lift them.

A good movie which would have been great accept for my own cynicism.

Ice Age

CGI fun for all.
This is obviously aimed at the same market as Monsters Inc and Shrek, but is different in its less cartoony feel (despite the deliberately cartoony characteristics of the lead creatures). The story is not one that had a massive in your face moral at the end (its more like its tugging at your shirt sleeves) but chooses just to tell a story about relationships between different "animals." You know the outcome, but you can't help being drawn in.

The characters themselves are far more than their voices (the advantage of less famous actors doing the voices), unlike most Disney movies. They are well rounded and completely believable, strangely. The group dynamics are brilliantly well presented and the character revelations and quirks are subtle and enjoyable. You will find yourself rooting for them far sooner than you would like to think.

The animation is brilliant, as you would expect, and you will be praying for the opportunity to go on the ice slide in the movie. You will fall in love with the characters, especially the comic relief of the prehistoric squirrel and its desperate attempts to bury its nuts. I came out wanting the obligatory merchandise, especially the sloth toy, only to be disappointed the next day when I couldn't find anything vaguely related.

Which, strangely, makes the movie all the more pure.

Better than Monsters Inc or Shrek.

The Mothman Prophecies

Surprisingly entertaining
Starting off promisingly with X-Files creepy events (deaths and visions) this young persons horror movie has a suitably tense edge. Based on a myth last discussed in great detail in the 60s, this is a modernised version of the legend of the Mothman, a mysterious figure who comes to people to foretell disastrous events. There is an air of Saturday night channel 5 about this film, but don't let that discourage you as its in the upper echelons of b-movie fair.

Richard Gere is surprisingly entertaining as someone who essentially doesn't say much and just gets creeped-out. A lot. His character isn't that challenging for any actor, so there won't be any Oscar gongs headed his way for this. Laura Linney is excellent as the town sheriff, like someone straight out of Twin Peeks. The other characters are pretty much just there to move the plot along, rather than to catch your interest.

The first half hour or so is entertainingly tense, but then the film lulls for the plot in the middle. The ending is satisfyingly and beautifully tidy, with a wonderful action sequence that clears up the vast majority of the weirdness from earlier on. The tight ending, while pleasurable and final is also one of the reasons that the movie isn't better than it is. There is no sensation upon leaving of question or edge. No concerns about turning the next corner for fear of what might be there. This is perhaps why this movie feels like Channel 5, and perhaps why its a 12 not a 15. Essentially its a creepy movie and not an out and out horror.

Blade II

breaking rules
Other than the explanation of where he came from, who he and everyone else is, at the beginning, this film stands nicely on its own. for those of you that know the first one, then this opening explanation will be a little irritating (and a tad confusing, but it becomes clear later). The opening does smell strongly of franchise potential, being repeated in all the inevitable sequels still to come. Once past this though, we are lead through a massive fight and action scene that sets up the whole movie. and warns anyone who can't stand Hong Kong action scenes that they are probably watching the wrong screen.

The movie is essentially a platform for Snipes to have fun with his most renowned character. And he does so with very entertaining results. The movie has reasonably well rounded characters, suspicion piled on top of everyone, some amazing set pieces and a good sense of humour. The impact of all the blood and guts is reduced by the obvious fantasy of the fights (wires and SFX a lot of the time), but its still pretty powerful.

The lead performances are all very good, although some of the peripheral characters are a little too hammer horror. Luke Goss demonstrates great potential, although you would need to see him without the make up, body doubles, and special effects to really judge. and there is occasionally that urge to shout "when will I be famous." and the pure blood female vampire who takes a shine to blade is well worth being bitten by.

Overall it feels less like a sequel and more like a stand alone movie. with this in mind, I think its in fact better than the original (a rare example of the exception that proves the rule).

Training Day

Undermined by its hype
Its the rookies first day with the specialist street crime squad. He is spending his training day (no complexity in the title) following the leader about on his "average" daily duties. Ethan Hawk plays the new guy who is all dreams and ideals, Denzel Washington plays the hardened street cop who is all realism and street vibes. If he were retiring in a week the cliché would be complete.

We learn very early on that the only way to police the street is to become the street. Essentially by being less of a cop, and more like a teacher to the hoods and gangsters. While you may take them out for selling drugs to kids, stealing from the rich to feed you family is ok. Why break up a rape in progress when all you are going to get is a lot of paper work at the end of the day? Slowly Washington removes hawks' ideals, breaking him down to be one of the team. This starts with hawk being tricked into smoking a PCP laced joint, which inevitably leads him on a downwards spiral as things get more and more surreal throughout the day.

The story is nothing particularly new. There is the buddy element, the cop turned crook element and the will he/won't he element of doing the right thing. The script has already dictated who should come out on top by navigating your sympathies in the direction of Hawk's plight. Hawk himself carries himself very well in what is essentially a stock role picked from the Hollywood book of stock roles. And if you turned to the next page you would see Denzel Washington's character. Washington was very good in the role, but it was certainly no Oscar performance. This is an average film with above average performances.

Wait until the video comes out in Blockbusters.


The UK perspective
I had gone to great lengths to watch this movie without knowing anything about the plot other than what I had learnt from the numerous viewings of trailer before every film for the last month or so. I had managed to ban anyone who had seen it from telling me anything about the plot, just so that I could go into the film with my own expectations, and could then have the pleasure of trying to work out the inevitable plot twists that you expect to accompany a Shyamalan film. I had enjoyed his previous two efforts (although I am not a fan of Stuart Little) and was hoping - expecting - to be entertained and confused by the writer/producer/director/actor's movie.

The Signs opens by throwing clues and red herrings about so that your brain immediately starts to calculate likely outcomes and try to fathom which information to discard. Assumptions that we all know and understand the various theories behind crop circles and their hoaxes helps to maintain the narrative's speed in getting to Shyamalan's version of events. Based almost exclusively on a farm owned by Mel Gibson, where he lives with his brother, son and daughter, there is clearly meant to be a sense of claustrophobia within the film. Gibson only leaves the farm twice within the movie, once in his memories and once to visit the man who killed his wife (played by Shyamalan) in the car crash he continuously flashes back to. The enclosure is further strengthened when the family barricade themselves into the farm house.

Its not giving too much away to state that this is essentially an alien invasion movie. The Signs is presented like a microcosm of Independence Day, and would have perhaps been more suited to an episode of ID: The TV Series should they have ever made it. The clues given earlier in the movie that forshadow the ending are all too easy to spot and work out their importance. Even if you are the worlds worst sleuth there isn't an overwhelming realisation moment when you finally spot the connections between the opening and the end. For those of us who enjoy seeking out the connections, we are left disappointed as many of the earlier events are left unexplained whether they bore any relevance to the conclusion or not. This is particularly disappointing if you are a fan of Shyamalan's writing as, until now, the plants and woven links running through his movies were part of his massive appeal. Similar undertones and issues are dealt with, most of all being Shyamalan's constant investigation into the spiritual world and the conflict of religion with the unexplained. Unfortunately, like almost everything else in The Signs, the study falls short of either reaching a conclusion or creating enough conflict to justify its inclusion in the script. Here it is a particular shame as a three way fight between religion, the unexplained and precognition could have been the boost this movie so badly needed to take it from average (by an average directors standards) to at least something that bit special.

This film is ultimately unimpressive. The cast are underused, criminally in the case of Phoenix, the plot is underdeveloped and feels like one half of a story, and visually what could have potentially been a stunning mix of unexplained imagery and haunting glimpses turned into straight-to-video mistakes. The scariest thing about Alien was that you never fully saw the one thing that caused the fear, this is perhaps something that could have been considered when this movie was being made. On a more positive note, should you go to see this movie having no preconceptions about it being a movie by the man who made The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, then you are far more likely gain some pleasure from it. This is not a bad movie, but it must be questioned whether its release would have been quite so widespread and successful, or even attracted the cast it did, had it not been for the fascinatingly monikered author.

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