cast: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Kip Pardue, Til Schweiger, and Estella Warren

director: Renny Harlin

112 minutes (PG) 2001
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Warner DVD Region 2 retail
Also available to rent on video

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Steven Hampton

Written and co-produced by Sylvester Stallone, who may have intended this to be a sort of Rocky on wheels, Driven became a different film entirely with Renny Harlin (who directed Stallone in Cliffhanger, 1993) at the helm. Instead of being about a failed champ’s comeback, it focuses on fresh hotshot talent being primed to win.
By all accounts, Formula One racing is the most popular sport in the world. It’s certainly the most glamorous in a society where speed is sexy… F1 rookie Jimmy Bly (Kip Pardue) obviously needs a wise mentor not a smart manager, so his car’s owner, Carl Henry (Burt Reynolds in a wheelchair), calls on his old pal Joe Tanto (Stallone) to coax the whiz kid away from bland influence of his pushy brother DeMille (Robert Sean Leonard), and the romantic distraction of blonde groupie Sophia (Estella Warren, from the Planet Of The Apes remake), a rival driver’s girlfriend. This change of emphasis from Stallone’s mature drama to telling the coming of age story of a boy racer means Driven is fast, flashy and lightweight rather than a film about characters.

This makes decision making very complicated. It could not give results in line with the NPV method. There could be difference in the expectation of life, the cash flow or in the timings of the various cash flows.

There is difficulty in making the first trial Ethereum Code selection rate. Most fun is the car chase through Chicago at night (filmed in Toronto, where they closed many of the city’s streets), but don’t try that at home! Gina Gershon does her queen bitch routine (again), but to even less import than usual, so what makes the biggest impression here is the excellent visual trickery.
Apart from dealing with the logistical circus of filming at real life international sporting events in Brazil, Australia, Japan and Germany, Driven is a remarkable showcase for racing in which mini-cameras put viewers into the driving seat for a pretty wild ride. These 1,000 horsepower, nearly plastic-weight cars move at 250 mph, pulling five Gs on the turns. What makes this film even more unusual, and I think, particularly intriguing, is the particular use of digital effects. CG shots, like the ‘tunnel vision’ experienced by drivers at high speed may seem a bit gimmicky, and the slo-mo digital rain looks like a cartoon, but the movie features a couple of amazing CG-enhanced stunts, utilising the computer toolkit’s full potential.
The aesthetic of this technology is how it may be used to distort and, crucially, control time and space on cinema or TV screens with an impressive exactness. In particular, The Matrix has established this trend with its virtual reality backstory, proving that CGI opens up more possibilities for filmmakers than just economical depiction or representation of physical objects including static buildings, moving devices (Japanese styled mecha seems a natural for digital), and exotic creatures, using new desktop techniques to replace ‘outmoded’ model animation and matte paintings. Driven has over 600 effects shots, a staggering number made possible only because Harlin’s production set-up their own makeshift digital department, and their greatest triumph is surely Memo’s crash. Here, the car is airborne, nose down, and time almost stands still for a view from the ill-fated driver’s cockpit of other cars passing in a blur below. This is a dazzlingly achieved quiet moment of judicious stillness in a film that’s often all too hurried along, by rapid cutting and thunderous rock music.
DVD extras: director’s commentary, deleted scenes (52 minutes) about character of Tanto with commentary by Stallone lamenting his writing and acting efforts that were cut. Making-of footage (15 minutes) by HBO First Look, a documentary Conquering Speed Through Live Action And Visual Effects which only amounts to 10 minutes about a pit-stop fire that isn’t even in the film, trailers for the film and spin-off game, index of 34 chapters, choice of soundtracks (English, French, Italian) in Dolby digital 5.1 plus 12 subtitled languages.

cast: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, and Victor Wong

director: John Carpenter

95 minutes (15) 1986
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
20th Century Fox DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Tony Lee

This has long been one of my favourite Carpenter films – an ever watchable blend of comedy adventure, ghost story, kung fu, action thriller, monster movie, fantasy romance, it deftly mix ‘n’ matches genre elements with a crowd pleasing style. It was the director’s 11th film, after the teen and killer-car horrors of Stephen King adaptation, Christine (1983), and the upbeat science fiction of Starman (1984), Big Trouble In Little China moved in yet another direction.
After a pre-credits scene in which Chinese tour-bus driver Egg Shen (Victor Wong – a gifted actor who makes you want to believe in magic, weird science, or whatever he says!) starts explaining to a lawyer (Jerry Hardin, who went on play ‘Deep Throat’ in first season of The X-Files) what really happened in Chinatown, we flashback into the introductory scene for trucker Jack Burton (Kurt Russell, former Disney player who made several films with Carpenter, including Escape From New York, Elvis, and The Thing). Although Egg has just described Jack as saviour of the situation, we immediately grasp that he is actually something of a ridiculous blowhard, promoting his fuzzy philosophy to anyone listening on the CB radio. His truck is called the Pork Chop Express, and he’s either bold enough or unashamed to use hilariously bad clichés, such as “on a dark and stormy night” – as he waffles on regardless of whether what he says makes sense. Most surprising of all is that this commentary is relevant to both the freewheeling plot and Jack’s unconventional character.
When Jack arrives in the busy markets of San Francisco’s Chinatown district, we meet Wang Chi (Dennis Dun, who played the doomed police informant Herbert Kwang, in Michael Cimino’s excellent Year Of The Dragon, 1985), a headstrong restaurateur who appears nervous about meeting his fiancée, Miao Yin (model Suzee Pai, making her film debut), at the airport. Here, Carpenter hints at one of the film’s often-misunderstood twists: in which traditional roles of all-American hero and foreign (whether black or Asian) sidekick are reversed. It’s not that Jack is a coward in Big Trouble; he’s simply an ineffective macho protagonist. The true champion of this adventure is Wang, partly because he understands the cultural background, but also because – unlike Jack – he believes in the powers of magic from the start.
Other characters are introduced in rapid succession, with some clipped Hawksian dialogue, in sequences of confidently pared-down economy. There’s feisty and attractive, crusading lawyer Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall, now a TV star in Sex And The City), the inexperienced but eager reporter, Margo (Kate Burton), and central villain David Lo Pan (James Hong) an ancient 2,000-year-old magician. Each of the supporting cast brings a welcome, wholly necessary, sense of humour to their largely unambiguous stereotyped characters.
A street gang, called the Lords of Death, kidnap Miao Yin from the airport and when Jack and Wang pursue them back into Chinatown, our heroes are involved in a riotous back-alley fight scene. This is where the fantasy element kicks in with one surprise following another, as Jack runs his truck straight through the ghost form of Lo Pan, and a dignified Chinese funeral procession is disrupted by a wild gun battle between the Chang Sings and Wing Kong, rival tongs that go hand-to-hand with sticks and blades when they run out of ammo. This brawl is broken up by the arrival of the three ‘Storms’ – supernaturally bulletproof, Thunder (Carter Wong), Rain (Peter Kwong), and Lightning (James Pax). Though strange, offbeat and unusual, events have been fairly normal until this moment, but now we enter the realm of magic and wonders as the flying Storms make short work of all their foes. There’s more of this to come in the next major visual effects sequence, when Jack clumsily leads the way for Wang’s attempt to rescue his captured girlfriend from the White Tiger brothel. Again, the super-powered Storms, arriving with an explosive blaze of emerald fire, while still wearing their splendid lampshade hats, intervene to snatch Miao Yin away into the mystic night.
One thing that Carpenter does exceptionally well in terms of film comedy is the next scene, where he directs the actors to deliver backstory speeches with tongue-in-cheek style. Playing this key expositional stuff, which sets everything up for the film’s second half, for laughs distracts us from acknowledging the group’s failure to save Miao Yin, and makes the heroes realise they can’t tackle the evil powers of Lo Pan without the expert help of wise sorcerer, Egg Shen.
Here’s the gist: Lo Pan needs to marry and then sacrifice a girl with green eyes to appease Chinese demon Ch’ing-ti, and get his flesh and youth back. When he gets his clawed hands on both Miao Yin and Gracie (both have green eyes), he sees a way to subvert the prophesy – taking his life back while keeping his chosen bride alive. He plans to marry both women in a colourful wedding ceremony featuring an act of act of blood drinking that’s wholly necessary for this arch fantasy story’s internal logic but, of course, the heroes arrive just in time to prevent the villain’s plan to conquer the universe from succeeding. Throughout all the action scenes, the chases, fights and escapes, the pace remains compelling, with each and every break perfectly timed. W.D. Richter, who wrote the original treatment, achieved a similar balancing act of wacky ideas in a headlong rush of narrative with his own cross-genre cult movie, The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai: Across The Eighth Dimension (1984).
Much of the criticism of Big Trouble emphasises the incompetence of Jack as a hero figure – but fails to recognise this was always the filmmakers’ intention, while simultaneously bemoaning the fact that Russell (having made an ironic ‘Clint Eastwood’ antihero impression as Snake Plissken in Carpenter’s Escape From New York/ and L.A. movies), takes on John Wayne’s swaggering manner. But Carpenter experiments with more than one kind of humour in this tale. In addition to parody and satire, there’s comic-strip surrealism in visual gags and a bumper pack of literary and cinematic references, from Alice In Wonderland to Beauty And The Beast and The Wizard Of Oz.
Finally, by engaging Lo Pan in a magical duel of wills (not unlike the climax of The Raven, 1963), Egg defeats the evil forces, helping Wang save his fiancée, and allowing Jack to get his stolen truck back. This struggle between devious wisdom and evil lust ultimately brings “order out of chaos” – a resolution in wholly keeping with the themes of defeating monstrous invaders, so typical of Carpenter’s auteur horror thrillers. And so, having given the ‘pillars of heaven’ a damn good shaking, Jack moves on. He doesn’t get the girl (though Gracie almost proposes to him), in fact he doesn’t even kiss her goodbye. Jack must fulfil the strict demands of his role as a Western loner. He has weathered three Storms, proving he can handle whatever comes his way. In Big Trouble, Jack has paid his dues… yes, “the cheque is in the mail.”
This long awaited two-disc DVD release features a letterbox version with Dolby digital 4.1 sound plus 11 subtitled languages. There’s a commentary with director and star (though Russell laughs too much!), scene access in 44 chapters, and neat animated menus. Disc Two has deleted scenes (46 minutes, though much of this material brackets previously unseen clips with familiar stuff) compiled from poor quality of work-prints and Betamax tapes, making-of featurette (seven minutes), film notes from the original press kit, filmed interview with visual f/x supervisor Richard Edlund complete with photo inserts (13 minutes), filmographies of stars and director, interactive reprints of in-depth magazine articles, extensive gallery of photos, three trailers, and a rare music video in which Carpenter sings the film’s theme with his band the Coupe de Villes.

cast: James Caan, Mandy Patinkin, Terence Stamp, Leslie Bevins, Jeff Kober

director: Graham Baker

86 minutes (18) 1988
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
20th Century Fox DVD Region 2 retail
[released 3 June]

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Rob Marshall

You’ve probably seen this standard American sci-fi flick before on TV. It’s the one where James Caan plays an LA cop partnered, begrudgingly at first, with a potato-head alien played by Mandy Patinkin (who had just appeared in Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride, 1987). Alien Nation is an above average SF production, but fails to do much with an intriguing concept, opting for a simple but appealing level of humour to leaven ordinary action scenes.
Caan plays veteran detective Matt Sykes, determined to catch the bad guy who killed his black partner. What makes this different from the usual buddy movie is that Caan’s enemies are aliens, and so he needs a new alien partner to help catch the villains. Matt’s new sidekick is named ‘Samuel Francisco’ (Patinkin), one of an alien race being integrated into regular society after their slave ship arrives on Earth. These aliens struggle to fit into human civilisation, facing greater prejudice than foreign refugees because many of them act too eager to please – having previously lived a hard life as slave labourers. This, coupled with important fact that the ‘newcomers’ (also dubbed ‘slags’, without explanation) have no sense of humour, means they annoy a lot of people – including Matt.
Going into the ghetto community of Slagtown to track down a cop-killer alien, Sam (hastily renamed George!) helps Matt understand the newcomer culture but keeps some discoveries that are relevant to the case secret from the human cops. Harcourt (Terence Stamp) is a wealthy and highly respected alien among men, running a chemical lab to make powerful and addictive drugs for illicit sale to other aliens. We can guess that he’s behind the film’s central plot because he’s so smarmy you instantly want him shot dead (preferably in a violent battle with human cops). The stereotyping of alien characters with wholly human traits is one aspect of Alien Nation that dates this movie. Nowadays, a creative effort (at the script stage) would try to identify something entirely non-human about the newcomers, as a race, which makes them unique – instead of just having them adopt all mankind’s flaws.
There are jokes at the expense of both humans and aliens. The newcomers get drunk on sour milk, and seawater burns their flesh like acid, but in one amusingly played scene between Matt and George (alias, Sam, remember?) we learn that the aliens may have substantially bigger dicks than men and, despite their difficulties understanding comedy, the slags prove to be physically much stronger – due to genetic origins in slavery. When Matt questions an alien female at a strip club, there’s a question of whether he can get away from her without being raped.
However, nothing much is made of the potential for drama, horror or slapstick these ideas offer. Caan and Patinkin work hard to make their characters likeable, and Stamp does a decent job as their ambitiously menacing antagonist, but even actors of their calibre fail to save this film from succumbing to mediocrity at times. The director Graham Baker made The Final Conflict (the third Omen film), underrated thriller Impulse (1984) and, more recently, Beowulf (1999). Clearly, then, he’s not top of the class as a genre filmmaker. What’s interesting about Alien Nation is that it was successful enough a get a spin-off TV series, and the TV movies (directed by Kenneth Johnson) following it were able to explore some of the SF ideas Baker’s so-so effort ignored. Ultimately, this is a B-movie with an A-list cast. For superior aliens-in-our-midst comedy thrills, see Carpenter’s They Live, made the same year.
DVD extras: featurette (seven minutes), behind-the-scenes footage (four minutes), a trailer, TV spots, scene finder (16 chapters), 13-language subtitles.

cast: Jack Nicholson, Robin Wright Penn, Tom Noonan, Helen Mirren, Sam Shepard

director: Sean Penn

119 minutes (15) 2001
Warner VHS rental
Also available to rent or buy on DVD

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Richard Bowden

“I made a promise, Eric. You’re old enough to remember when it meant something.” The Pledge, downbeat and slow moving, inevitably divides viewers probably used to a different sort of crime movie. A remake of an earlier film by Ladislao Vajda (Es Geschah am Helllichten Tag, aka: It Happened In Broad Day Light, 1958), from a novel by Durenmatt, Penn’s third feature is both his finest to date as well as that rarest of commodities in American cinema: a contemplative thriller. It also marks to return to form of Jack Nicholson who, after a number of disappointing appearances, creates a vivid and moving portrait of retiring, alcoholic cop – Jerry Black, with one last brutal murder to solve.
Like the itch on his ankle, which opens and closes the film, the killing of the little girl is something that Black finds continuously nagging. He’s an angler, promised a trip to land the catch of a lifetime in Mexico by his colleagues, a man at the very end of his working life. He promises on his “soul’s salvation” to find the Larsen child’s killer. The result is suggestive of a ‘fisher of men’, Black waiting for the right catch, whether marlin or murderer. Perhaps the presumably twice-married, now separated detective feels that his remaining life needs commitment and a purpose. His motives for taking his last case, and investing so much in his dogged pursuit of the truth, are otherwise unclear. Whatever the reasons, his sincerity pledged to the victim’s mother, that troth sworn on the dead girl’s straw crucifix, makes Black’s investigative obsession suggestive of a religious quest – as does the grandmother’s tearful story of the angels, and his own straight-faced confirmation to the mother that “there are such devils.” Add the birds wheeling around Black’s head as he stumbles and drinks, his blundering into the church service held by the suspect Jackson, the child at the picnic ground singing ‘The Bible tells me so’ and so on, mean clear spiritual parallels are at work. Of course the final, shocking scene, which leaves the ravaged detective mouthing his convictions to the air is a bleak one. It suggests of a loss of faith, if not in God, certainly in himself. But, if we recall the Christian philosophy of good works done in secret, with no hope of earthly reward, the conclusion is less bleak. Black is unaware of his ‘success’ and has sacrificed his last chance at mortal happiness. Like God, the viewer at least is privileged to know the truth.
As Black’s belated chief suspect, Jackson’s appearance unfortunately telegraphs likely guilt to any cine literate audience. The actor Tom Noonan, playing Jackson, has had several villainous parts in his career. He earlier played the demented killer Francis Dollarhyde in Mann’s frightening Manhunter (1986), as well as the parody villain in McTiernan’s Last Action Hero (1993). Only because concrete elements of the case remain tantalisingly unresolved at the end is this one unimaginative casting decision off the hook.
Black’s retirement at the start of the movie, intelligently intercut with the discovery of the body, recalls that of Inspector Prendergast in Falling Down (1993). Like Black, Prendergast is in the last hours of employment with the force, and his successors and superiors treat his insights on this new case impatiently.

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The Pledge features a cop who has made his pledge to a victim’s mother while Falling Down has a detective promising his wife to retire gracefully. Black’s decline is more distressing because he has sacrifices the chance of what little happiness he finds, to solve a case. In a further parallel, Falling Down’s final scene shows Prendergast’s ultimate self-assertion, perhaps reconsidering plans for early retirement. Black’s end is one of despair and isolation, talking to himself outside of a dilapidated diner.
It is interesting to consider whether the hero is a victim of fate or circumstance. Is Black’s final misery foreordained, or just the result of an unlucky accident? Part of the problem lies in how we take the character of a man who can be his own worst enemy. Like the miniature porcupines offered by the murderer to his young victim, Nicholson’s cop is a prickly, independently minded creature. More explicitly, Penn frames the action of the film between scenes of Black’s obvious mental confusion, making mental ambiguity a point of narrative reference. Beside the hero, there is the Indian Wadenah (the original suspect in the case), as well as the presumed disturbance of the real killer to contend with. Nicholson’s performance is superb, his character alternating between crusty, confused, and convinced.
As his ex-colleagues point out, his retreat into obsessive retirement affects his ability to stay objective. For much of the film he is working ‘on a hunch’, relying on circumstantial evidence at best. Past experience of such scenarios suggests that such long shots tend to work out correct, but of course we can never be sure. As a disinterested third party, the profiler/doctor whom he visits (Helen Mirren) certainly has her doubts. She questions in turn his chain smoking, sexual dysfunction, and his distinction between reality and fantasy.
Black’s abstention from sexual relations, whether forced or not – until he hesitantly embraces Lori (Robin Wright Penn) is in stark contrast to the interview of Wadenah by Detective Krolak. Less of an interrogation than an act of sexual humiliation, Krolak’s work is profoundly uncomfortable for Black, on a personal and professional level. One senses that Black is a man who is awkward with intimacy – a further example of his ‘disengagement’ from normal human relations. The fact that he is willing to sacrifice a possible family of his own just to close the case, says it all. Ultimately, while Krolak reaffirms his status by an aggressive invasion of another’s personal space to elicit a confession, Black, broken by what he perceives as private and professional failure, retreats further into himself. The result is a frightening film, dark and adult.

cast: Eliza Dushku, Melissa Sagemiller, Casey Affleck, Angela Featherstone, Wes Bentley

director: Steve Carpenter

85 minutes (15) 2001
widescreen aspect ratio 16:9
Momentum DVD Region 2 rental
Also available to rent on video

RATING: 2/10
reviewed by Emma French

Soul Survivors is marked as a disconcerting generic mishmash from the opening scenes, in which it tries and fails at teen romance, clubbers’ cautionary tale, campus comedy, and suspense thriller. Various incidents begin to suggest that this is a horror film, but one of the most slow-moving and least scary movies in the canon. Though the relationship is barely developed before a fatal car crash in which the driver, Cassie (Melissa Sagemiller), appears to kill her lover Sean (Casey Affleck), the remainder of this dull yet offensive flick hinges on their all-conquering love for each other, transcending mortal boundaries. An agonising chain of events ensues for Cassie and viewers alike, of gruesome nosebleeds and hallucinogenic visits from Sean and other odd spectral aggressors, including psychic K.D. Lang look-a-like, Raven (Angela Featherstone), and a man with his face chillingly coated in… plastic wrap.
A final twist, the least original in film and television history (think Bobby Ewing stepping out of Pam’s shower in Dallas), is intended to silence all queries, but insufficiently redeems the endless nonsensical holes and inconsistencies along the way. Thus Cassie returns to her university place immediately after Sean’s funeral, but receives no pastoral care of any kind and attends a college where vacant hallways, deserted locker rooms and empty swimming pools luxuriously abound. Cassie’s college room is a sumptuous loft apartment – that echoes the palatial space inhabited equally improbably by Jennifer Beals’ welder dancer in Flashdance, and is frequently invaded by her obsessive ex-boyfriend Matt (Wes Bentley) and his girlfriend, Annabel (Eliza Dushku), a freakish 1980s’ Goth throwback. Spectrally beyond any need to attend class or lectures, they help Cassie to pop pills, have night sweats and redecorate. Though, natch, the paint soon turns to blood in yet another vision, it was more frightening when it went on the walls as tangerine and pea green.
Bentley, who radiated ‘Next Big Thing’ in American Beauty, provides a genuine element of pathos: reduced not only to appearing in abysmal movies but to parodying his break-out role, a kind of Linda Blair for the millennium. What Bentley played as quirky eccentricity and emotional damage in American Beauty is caricatured by him in Soul Survivors as a great deal of wide-eyed, psychotic staring and ‘intensity’. Sagemiller, blandly sexless in Get Over It, continues to play to type. Casey Affleck forms part of a criminally charisma-free contingent of teen male leads, like Sagemiller’s co-star Ben Foster in Get Over It, who create a genuine sense of marvel that they could beat anyone in the audition process. Luke Wilson, generally an actor with some degree of talent and discrimination, is one of the film’s unintentionally horrifying elements – miscast as angelic Catholic priest Father Jude.
Most culpable, though, is the film’s queasy, dubious subtext of sexual aggression and violence against women. Cassie’s pale, bruised body, particularly in facial close-up, is unnervingly vulnerable and open, frequently bloodied or assailed by a phallic drill. In a strange sequence it is suggested that a case of mistaken identity leads to her having sex against her will, and Annabel is punched, attacked and syringed to oblivion. Creating nonsense for 90 minutes and then passing it off as a cunning series of twists is not big or clever, and recycling the worst excesses of the slasher and sexploitation genres for cheap shocks verges on the immoral.
DVD extras: trailer, production notes.

cast: Chris Potter, Alex Reid, José Sancho, Neus Asensi, and Ravil Isyanov

director: Jack Sholder

91 minutes (15) 2001
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Arrow DVD Region 2
[released 6 June]

RATING: 3/10
review by Mark West

Arachnid

This film doesn’t start well. After panning across the ocean, a shoddy CGI waterspout appears, linked to what looks like a Klingon cruiser that’s partly invisible. A stealth fighter, on exercise, spots this – though it’s not on his radar – and chases said CGI away from land. Something happens and the pilot is forced to eject where, bizarrely, he lands in the middle of a jungle. He spots an alien, watches it get attacked by a giant spider, then gets attacked himself…

At some point later (the film doesn’t make it clear), a man is admitted to a hospital in Guam (how do I know this? There’s a sign above the nurses station that reads ‘Guam Hospital’) with mysterious bites. Dr Leon (José Sancho) decides to find out what caused them so he enlists Valentine (Chris Potter) and his crew – Bear (Rocqueford Allen) and Reyes (Luis Lorenzo Crespo) – ex-marines who just happen to be hanging around, to help him out. A local pilot, Mercer (Alex Reid), is drafted in too though she has different reasons for wanting to go to the island. What island, you ask? The island that the attacked man was from, silly… How did he get away from the island? Oh, erm, I don’t know…

Mercer, squabbling with Dr Leon and his nurse Susanna (Neus Asensi), loses control of the plane and crash lands it on the beach of the island. Entomologist Henry Capri (Ravil Isyanov, putting on a terrible English accent) discovers a giant spider leg and the group makes camp.

Let’s not beat about the bush here, Arachnid is a terrible film. Clearly made for the most rock-bottom of budgets, it suffers badly from poor CGI (the elements at the beginning must have been rendered through a ZX Spectrum), poor prosthetic work (no attempt is made to blend the clearly rubber parts with the actors skin, or even match the tones) and some truly slipshod direction. This is highlighted most clearly in the plane crash. At no point do we see the engines fail, though the characters keep telling us they have and, when we get shots of the plane coming into the beach the engines are clearly running. As for the point of impact, does director Jack Sholder involve miniatures? Nope, he points the camera at the beach and jiggles it around.

The acting is unfortunate, with Alex Reid perhaps coming out of it the best (she thankfully went on to make The Descent), though her character is very much one-note, as dictated by the script. Chris Potter tries his best, but never looks comfortable while José Sancho, and Neus Asensi (present, I assume, to satisfy quotas since the film is a Spanish-based production) clearly don’t have English as their first language, meaning that their dialogue (despite a credited dialogue coach – shame on you, Ramon Ibarra, for not helping out your countrymen) is garbled, unclear and not helped by being poorly recorded. The special effects from Steve Johnson’s XFX (he made the spider) are good, but just highlight how bad everything else is.

What is unbelievable is that the first minute of the opening credits is made up of logos from various Spanish bodies – film companies, government subsidies and grants – yet it appears not one of them either read the script or watched dailies.

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Clearly made on the cheap, if the filmmakers don’t have respect for the audience and deliver decent entertainment, why should the audience view the film?

My screener copy has three extras, one of which is the theatrical trailer. King Of Spiders is a 20-minute chat with Brian Yuzna (whose Fantastic Factory made the film), wherein he seemed to spend more time chatting about Stuart Gordon than anything else. The final extra is Creature Comforts, a 26-minute interview with Steve Johnson, and it makes for interesting, if quite sad, viewing. Johnson was a star of make-up effects in the 1980s and 1990s, as he states several times, with an impressive resume to match. But, as he talks about the advent of digital effects (and I share his hatred for them), and the pinch on money for animatronics, the bitterness seeps through the screen. Worse, after apparently getting knocked back by Spike Jonze (for Where The Wild Things Are), and Sam Raimi (for Spider-Man 3), he left the business. I don’t know what he’s doing now – the interview ends, before he says – but I sincerely hope that he’s remembered for his 1980s’ highlights and not this piece of schlock.

cast: Lenna Kurishingal, Tony Swansey, Charles Ramsay, Will Cummings III, and Dennis Doornbos

director: Bernie Woodell

90 minutes (18) 2009
widescreen ratio 16:9
Chemical Burn NTSC DVD Region 1

RATING: 2/10
review by James A. Stewart

Fast Zombies With Guns

‘Holy moley! Did that just happen?’ This is pretty much the question I asked myself after watching the revealingly titled Fast Zombies With Guns. In the event that the movie’s title doesn’t quite get you to the place you need to be in terms of understanding what it might be about then let me elaborate. There are three key ingredients to this film: zombies, speed and guns.

Well, actually there is a fourth ingredient but calling the film ‘Fast Zombies With Guns And A Couple Who Stupidly Chase Dollars Instead Of Just Driving Away And Saving Themselves’ would have been silly. By now you get the main thrust of the movie’s plot no doubt, but there is a smidgen more to it.

A mob hit goes wrong in the sleepy town of Spring Grove. Mob boss Paul Varlo sends a would-be assassin to take out an informant by poisoning the snitch’s water, but instead of killing the grass, the botched attempt turns him and his wife into zombies; and we know zombies create other zombies quicker than bacteria spreads. It is a rule that this film studiously adheres to.

This is a terribly acted film, akin to the kind of thing that you would expect from a primary school Christmas play; only the garb and direction are slightly better at school. There are, without exception, no laudable elements to the casting in this film. It appears to be a group of college friends and their parents getting together to have fun with fake blood and faker guns. However, and endearingly, there are scenes when fast zombies are chasing slow mortals that the cast and crew just appear to be having fun. It is like the whole thing is the kind of project a bunch of mates would do for a laugh.

The zombies generally consist of actors with pink or red tees (to represent blood, duh!) and whose make-up exaggerated to depict how zombies would turn out in Spring Grove. The budget of this film must have been about £4.20 and it shows, but somehow this adds an air of whimsicalness to the blood and gore. It’s like a beggar who asks for a couple of pounds to buy a can of special brew; honest but still wrong.

Anyway, for doyens of the zombie genre the flesh eating and carnage will appeal. The fact that the zombies are cast as Usain Bolts with rotting flesh is a different twist on the zombie flick, as is the fact that they have the coordination to shoot. This at least adds some novelty element to what is essentially an eat-fest of fake blood, crappy plotting and stammering acting.

Fast Movies With Guns is as titled. It is the Ronseal of zombie films. If you buy this and are disappointed then god only knows how you’ll feel about The Last King Of Scotland.

director: Bill Knell

240 minutes (n/r) 2009
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Chemical Burn / Reality
NTSC DVD Region 1

RATING: 1/10
review by Ian Sales

Aliens From Outer Space

The Fermi paradox states that given the size and age of the universe, it is statistically certain that other technologically advanced civilisations exist, but no evidence supporting this has ever been found. There are those, however, who would have you believe such evidence is common and frequent. The Earth, they claim, has been visited throughout history by aliens, that these visitors have encountered and studied humans, and that they are secretly in cahoots with assorted national governments. Naturally, this runs counter to common sense. The universe is huge, and travelling through it is both very difficult and very expensive. Having spent all that time and energy crossing untold light years, for alien visitors to land secretly in some US backwater and then stick probes up a redneck’s backside appears extremely unlikely. It seems a somewhat narrow area of study for a race whose curiosity and ingenuity has brought them across such unimaginable distances to our planet.

In Aliens From Outer Space, subtitled ‘UFO landings, crashes and retrievals’, UFO researcher Bill Knell lays out the evidence for UFO visitations, and the government conspiracies which have kept this fact hidden for almost a century. The documentary is presented as four hours of slideshow, with a voiceover by Knell. When Knell makes mistakes – slips of the tongue, or flubbing words – he doesn’t re-dub but simply corrects himself and carries on. I suspect the ‘film’ was knocked together on Knell’s home computer. It is an entirely amateur production.

The content is equally unimpressive. If you believe in flying saucers, Aliens From Outer Space is not going to change your mind. If you do not believe in them, Aliens From Outer Space is only going to convince that those who do believe are deluded fools. Knell’s concept of ‘evidence’ requires serious re-thinking, for a start. A reported incident is still anecdotal, it is not irrefutable evidence. And when, in response to a letter supporting the presence of UFOs and allegedly written by a senior NASA official, NASA point out that they have no copy of the letter themselves, and indeed the letter’s reference number is one that NASA has never used… this is not proof of a conspiracy. It means the letter is a fake.

In 1979, David Langford wrote a spoof alien encounter book, An Account Of Meeting With Denizens Of Another World, 1871, which purported to be a true-life account of an alien encounter by Victorian gentleman William Robert Loosely. Langford, the ‘editor’ of the found manuscript, declared that it had “passed every test to which it was subjected” [emphasis mine]. That book has now entered UFO mythology as one of the first recorded encounters with alien visitors. It is this eager grasping at straws which characterises much UFOlogical research. Knell is not unusual in this regard. There is a lack of scientific rigour in many of arguments. Not to mention that some of the incidents he covers are known to be fakes.

It is this disregard for scientific rigour and common sense which characterises most studies of UFOs. Occam’s razor is not in their toolbox. Given the most obvious solution for a situation, UFOlogists will pick the one that best fits with their beliefs. It is likely that many of the unexplainable UFO incidents of the Cold War were manufactured by the military-industrial complex as part of a complex misinformation campaign designed to protect military secrets. Other unexplainable incidents probably had perfectly natural causes, but eyewitnesses were too unsophisticated to realise this.

Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of the whole phenomenon is the meta-narrative which has arisen out of it. It is not enough for a series of probes – analogous to, say, the space probes sent by NASA and Roskosmos to the Moon, Venus, and Mars – to have visited Earth in search of scientific knowledge. The probes’ motives may be unknowable, their form may vary from one incident to the next, the technology which drives them may be magical to our untutored eyes… but this is insufficient. There must be a pattern. Humans demand it. The UFOs must be craft from specific alien civilisations – Greys, for example; or lizards from Zeta Reticulae. Their actions must have purpose, must be part of a great plot, a secret plot known only to the privileged and powerful.

It is not enough that an average person feels fear at how their lives are being increasingly controlled by an impersonal bureaucracy – and it is a chiefly American fear, driving both libertarian and conservative politics – and so threatening their ability to choose how to live their life. It is not enough that the government apparatus is beyond the power of one person to influence or control… There has to be some secret cabal underlying and managing this bureaucracy. Some believe it is the Freemasons, the Illuminati, or some secret plutocratic council. Others believe it is aliens.

Yet while the meta-narrative seeks to understand the story of ‘aliens from outer space’, no such narrative attaches to the visitors’ purpose for controlling Earth and its inhabitants. If there is a resolution to this story, there are no signposts to it. If there is foreshadowing, it is too subtle to be read. On the other hand, it could simply be that the only narrative which exists is the one supplied by those who invented the conspiracy. It is perhaps no coincidence that many of these secret alien bases are within military installations – such as in Dulce, New Mexico, at Montauk Air Force Station, New York. The misinformation contained only what was needed, and it is UFO mythology which has subsequently made of it one giant story.

Which is not to say that UFOlogy has not had its share of fakes and charlatans. Langford’s spoof may have only ever been intended as fiction, but there are those present themselves as bona fide experts and their ‘knowledge’ as fact. Some of these present themselves as experts – for whatever reason. Others are ‘eyewitnesses’ and it is gullible researchers who propagate their lies. Many such, resort to risible codenames, such as ‘Commander X’, in order to – supposedly – protect their identities.

Aliens From Outer Space is an amateur piece of work which does nothing to convince a sceptic, or present anything remotely like plausible evidence in support of its thesis. Given its subject matter, it would not be unreasonable to expect it to entertain on some level. But it doesn’t. It is long and dull. If it were someone you met in a pub, you’d make an excuse and walk away after five minutes. You certainly wouldn’t listen to them for four hours. Or pay for the privilege of doing so.

cast: Brittany Murphy, Dean Cain, Mimi Rogers, Peter Bogdanovich, and Tim Thomerson

director: Michael Feifer

84 minutes (12) 2010
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Scanbox DVD Region 2
[released 13 June]

RATING: 7/10
review by Paul Higson

Abandoned

Running times seem to be shrinking again and it’s all for the better. Particularly so, as the longer a film gets the less story they appear to have to tell, and the more hours they put you through the less content there is.

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To this end Brittany Murphy’s last film is a pat, well-paced thriller with the expected twist and the quota of three acts. No dawdling, just a lean, winding adventure told in a short 80 minutes. In the first act we are introduced to Mary (Murphy) a banking talent who is escorting her beau of four months, Kevin (Dean Cain) to a doctor’s appointment for an operation on his leg.

Following a string of bad luck relationships, Kevin is seemingly the one, but just so as not to jinx this she has kept him from view, and her best friend Christine (Kristen Kerr) is pressing her for an introduction. This doesn’t quite ring possible as Kevin was at Mary’s mother’s funeral a month before, and Mary may have few friends but, what, no other friends or family or acquaintances that could turn up? Still, the plot needs this unfeasible detail as Kevin must go in for his appointment but fail to return from it and, in the absence of those introductions, she can find nobody to verify that he was in the hospital or for that matter ever existed. The doctor who was scheduled to operate on him is on holiday, he went through reception unnoticed, ahead of Mary while she parked, and the nurse who met them, Amanda (America Young), is no nurse that any of the staff recall.

When he is over an hour late returning she goes looking for him and wrong sides the hospital staff; particularly hospital administrator Markham (Mimi Rogers) and the burly security man Holloway (Scott Anthony Leet). The more that she insists and the more she evades them the more convincing is their argument that she is suffering a mental breakdown and that the boyfriend is imagined. A police detective, Franklyn (Jay Pickett), visiting the hospital for a check-up is asked to evaluate the situation. He searches all floors and puts questions to all staff but to no avail. A glimpse of Kevin is identified by Mary in the corner of reception CCTV footage but it could be anyone.

Psychiatrist Doctor Bensley (Peter Bogdanovich) becomes involved and summarises that the fantasised perfect boyfriend is a result of her needing someone to help her with her recent bereavement and the failure to come to terms with her mother’s death. Medication is found on her to support all this, which she does not deny is hers but, of course, this helps convince nobody that what she is reporting as her version is the truth. This plot point made so early at least dismisses the twist option that Kevin is imagined as a double bluff and that being the case would be unwise.

Kevin, with his fear of hospitals, asked her not to leave him, not to abandon him, and it is a promise Mary is determined to keep. Evading everyone again, she hides in the morgue and finally receives a call from Kevin asking her to find him and instructing her not to trust anyone before he is seemingly discovered with the phone and assaulted. An accident puts her in one of the hospital beds where she is visited by the old man (Tim Thomerson) who had earlier befriended her in the canteen. His story then was a tear-jerker about supporting his wife in her treatment for cancer. Now he has another story revealing the true story of the plot against. Her talents are to be put to use or accomplices will begin cutting Kevin up into little pieces. Mary must now make some big decisions if she is to save Kevin, and she cuts loose through the hospital again to make a series of deadlines while trying to determine who she can trust.

This veteran film watcher was not to be tricked or derailed by any of the film’s revelations, though others should enjoy the rollercoaster ride for all of its twists and turns. Unfortunately, though the film is quick it is not zippy enough to avoid the un-likeliness of some of the plot devices. The CCTV cameras are not governed by anyone in the plot, so even if cameras were being avoided it seems unlikely that it could be spun out without their assistance. The inspiration for the plot against Mary comes from a book that plays a returning role in the story but it seems too big a clue to leave lying around and is an absurd revelation. The funeral attendance has been identified already as too much of a contrivance. The time frame is a bit ungovernable too. Jeez, are waiting times that good in the U.S.A. that someone is going to fret about someone one hour overdue. Kills do not take place when it would be most convenient for the villains. Instead, it is drawn out long enough for a reprieve and retaliation. But despite all of these chagrins, the pace of the mental legerdemain, whether it fools you are not, is appreciable.

On a more troubling note, there is certain tastelessness to the final shot and line when Murphy’s character is asked how she means to proceed following her ordeal. She responds, “I’m just going to go on living one day at a time.” They walk in silence towards an exit and the film announces in subtitles there and then that it is dedicated to its tragic star. It may have been wiser to withhold the dedication until after a fade to black.