The war film takes an exceptional cast to fly. To truly triumph the audience must become attached to the soldiers and spend their time championing the heroes in the darkness. This is why Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line was such an incredible vehicle, showing you the horrors of battle without falling back on gore like Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Jim Caviezel’s tortured soldier in Malick’s epic moves you more with a mournful gaze than all of Spielberg’s guns and bombs. In its genre I thought The Thin Red Line would never be surpassed. I was very wrong. Blackhawk Down (based on the book by Mark Bowden) focuses on the story of a group of young American soldiers in Somalia in 1992. They are sent on an “easy mission, to capture dignitaries of the Somalia militia.” Assured the entire job won’t take more than an hour, they find themselves in a 37-hour firefight.
Every performance in this film is amazing. It’s rare to see a movie where the cast gels together so brilliantly. You can’t help but be charmed by each and every member of this motley crew. Josh Hartnett (Pearl Harbor) tugs at your heart as the young Sergeant Eversman. In this one film he shows more emotional range than most actors do in five. Suddenly finding himself in a leadership position, the inexperienced army ranger digs up the inner strength to lead his team of friends straight into hell. He truly lets the character’s mettle shine through, putting the safety and sanity of everyone else before himself.
Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge, Shallow Grave) puts in a shining, ego-less turn as Grimes, the company clerk. Proving the old adage of ‘be careful what you wish for’, Grimes laments to a new recruit that his “rare and mysterious typing skill” keeps him from battle; only to turn around and find himself in the position of replacing a member of Eversman’s squad. Combining a facade of bravado, with an inner core of 90 percent courage and 10 percent pure terror, McGregor challenges his stereotype of being an action hero to play this young soldier with a mature sense of realism.
The other cast member that I must comment on is Ron Eldard (The Last Supper). He portrays pilot Mike Durant, a soldier with a family to lose but who follows the most dangerous orders without question. I would be challenged to find a moment in film as moving as the scene where the militia are surrounding Durant, and his only thought was to grab for the photo of his love and child. The determination he displays, blended with just a touch of desperation is overwhelming. Here, like Caviezel, is an actor who can communicate volumes without saying a word.
The last 30 minutes of this film become less about the heroism of these young men, and just overwhelm you with the senseless loss of lives. Director Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Alien) has spun glimpses of heroes, unlike Spielberg’s jingoistic band, Scott’s soldiers are all too human, making Blackhawk Down the new standard for the war film genre to live up to.

This may not be the greatest prison breakout movie ever, but it comes damnably close, and works on a number of levels – as technothriller, existentialist philosophy tract, and spectacular action movie.
Manny is a hardened convict in an Alaskan maximum-security prison, aptly named Stonehaven. He’s such a nasty piece of work, and has escaped so many times before, that warden Ranken (John P. Ryan) has locked him up and sealed the door for three years. Now, thanks to a liberal court judgement, the welds are broken and Manny sees daylight, again. Ranken may have a grudging respect for his nemesis, but in Manny’s heart there’s only vicious hate for authority. And so, when a ‘hitman’ attacks Stonehaven’s most feared and revered inmate, Manny flees into 30-below arctic conditions in yet another desperate bid for freedom.
Exiting a sewer pipe into an icy river, hero-worshipping hard-man, Buck (Eric Roberts), joins Manny for a hastily planned getaway. Heading into the unknown, and motivated by pure instinct, Manny hides at the railway yards before climbing aboard a huge four-engine work train, unaware that its driver has collapsed from heart failure just as it left the station. Meanwhile, back at Stonehaven, the angry but unsurprised Ranken uses a helicopter to aid his search for the escapees.
Over at the computerised monitoring centre, technicians (including Kenneth McMillan) fail to prevent the 90-mph runaway behemoth from smashing up slow freight carriages, while Manny and Buck discover a maintenance engineer, Sara (Rebecca De Mornay), who fell asleep before that accident, cannot halt their wild acceleration, either…
As the brooding Manny, Jon Voight gives a career-best performance of visceral tenacity. Not one that’s warmly life affirming, though. It’s one that is simply, but extremely, resistant to compromise, stubbornly defiant of failure and, ultimately, a standing-in-the-howling-wind challenge to death itself. Certainly, Manny is a heavyweight villainous character, lacking any positively human qualities, but we greatly admire him anyway.
Of course, runaway train drama has been done before (it’s a cliché of the disaster movie formula), but never like this. Here’s a powerful recurring image of the train as demon beast from hell, and a metaphor of searing intensity for Manny’s tragic journey through a life of crime. Images of the doomed locomotive, racing through wintry landscapes, with twisted fragments of wreckage stuck to its front are quite unforgettable. Based on a script by Japan’s Kurosawa, produced by Israeli duo Golan and Globus, directed by Russian Andrei Konchalovsky (who went on make the disappointing Tango & Cash), shot with a grand but gritty realism by prolific British cinematographer Alan Hume, and scored by the gifted South African-born composer Trevor Jones, Runaway Train arrived with an enviable international pedigree, and won critical acclaim as a classic of 1980s’ action cinema.
DVD extras: Dolby 5.1 or stereo sound options, biographies of the director and stars, photo gallery, trailer, scene finder with 18 chapters, fully animated menus.

A favourite mixture of camp, high adventure, culture clash, and martial arts excellence, Enter The Dragon survives today as the quintessential Bruce Lee film, the vehicle for his talents which finally allowed him an international reputation shortly before his early death. It is often listed as the pinnacle of kung fu cinema (the artiness of Ang Lee’s recent genre hit notwithstanding) and still enjoys a strong cult following.

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The film breaks down into six principal parts. There’s the opening fight and statement of Lee’s martial philosophy; the tournament arrivals and harbour scene; the start of Han’s tournament; agent Lee’s explorations and Roper’s temptation; then the conclusion of the tournament and Han’s defeat. It ends with a brief, wordless epilogue displaying a physical exhaustion of the principals, reminiscent of the close of The Wild Bunch. Such a straightforward structure works to minimise narrative subtlety while simultaneously showcasing Lee’s inimitable fighting talents. The backgrounds of the two main supporting characters, Roper (John Saxon) and Williams (Jim Kelly) is given in two flashback sequences, then hardly referred to again. No one would pretend that the dialogue, even when loaded with Lee’s own private significance, is anywhere more than adequate. Much of the conversation provides unintentional pleasure, whether through the fighter’s own oriental lisping, or the film’s emphasis on arch phrases (apparently characteristic of men of action). The most interesting part of the film’s spoken elements is at the start, where in Lee’s so-called ‘Monk Scene’ (missing from some release prints) then also a little later, he reveals something of his personal philosophy. Lee, we are told, has taken his fighting technique “beyond the mere physical level – to the point of spiritual insight.” For the fighter of this calibre opponents and all immediate combat concerns vanish, to be replaced by a notion of committed distancing, or ’emotional content’ (‘not anger’). Interestingly Lee remarks that each fight “should be like a small play – but one played seriously.” One can see that it is a series of such martial ‘dramas’, gradually increasing in scale, from which the tension and drive of the film emanates, rather than any traditional development of character.
If the cruel, autocratic Han and his island are reminiscent of Dr No, or his hall of mirrors of Lady From Shanghai, then the supporting characters are hardly less original. The wheeler-dealer Roper, down on his luck, a somewhat feckless gambler, is very familiar. Williams has dated more badly, most noticeably in the association of his black athleticism and streetwise ‘coolness’ with overt sexual virility. Confronted with a choice of Han’s whores, for instance, Williams chooses virtually all of the ladies on offer. “Please understand, if I missed anyone,” he nonchalantly adds, “but it’s been a big day.” It is Williams that faces the most emphatic personal end, pummelled dead, strung up and ditched into a vat of acid – in a conclusion that, on reflection, is almost a judgement on his racial assertiveness.
Lee is at the centre of the film. Throughout he provides moral, physical and sexual standards against which others are measured – most conspicuously, westerners. There is a revealing juxtaposition between the ultra-fit fighter and the middle-aged, bespectacled Braithwaite (Geoffrey Weeks) who briefs him at the beginning of the film. While Lee has a personal interest in Han’s destruction, one immediately understandable and honourable to the audience, the Englishman’s professionalism is both guarded and generalised. He represents only “gatherers of information upon which governments can act.” Braithwaite offers Lee a drink, (which of course the ascetic fighter declines), and confirms Lee’s unspoken judgement on the unattractiveness of firearms (“Any bloody fool can pull a trigger”). Naturally it is Braithwaite, tucked up in bed, that receives a distress call half an hour late, while Lee battles against superior odds out in the field. On the outward-bound junk, Lee proves his moral superiority to an arrogant competitor, outfoxing and leaving him adrift in a boat. Finally, by the end of the film, after winning every contest, the topless and blood-tasting Lee provides a far more convincing image of physical potency than ever do the sexually active Roper and Williams.
In real life Lee had an ongoing concern for the poor of the orient and saw the martial arts as one way to restore their dignity. His first film, The Big Boss (aka: Tang Shan da Xiong, 1971), set in and around an ice plant was (in its way) involved with commercial exploitation and corruption. For Enter The Dragon, it was partly through his insistence that director Clouse filmed the dramatic and memorable scenes in Hong Kong harbour, setting the arriving contestants amidst a floating shantytown. When, during the cavern fight, Lee finds himself in combat alongside the pens holding Han’s mute prisoners (his “bar room dregs”), his endeavours are explicitly and economically connected with the rights of those dispossessed. We realise then that he is fighting as much for their freedom as for Braithwaite’s secret masters, his sister’s memory or the honour of his temple. Fittingly, it is these discarded men who will eventually overrun Han’s island and restore their rights.

Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon Enter The Dragon collage from the Bruce Lee shrine

In fact, Han’s private island is a dictatorship; one in which he “lives like a king”; in which Nazi salutes of raised, punching fists greet the newly landed competitors, and where the ubiquitous fighting outfits of his kung fu army are also a uniform of repression. His tournament becomes a showcase for Han’s philosophy, as well as a convenient means to recruit. As one of the first things we see ashore, Clouse wisely lets his camera pan over a vista of striking fists with the martial shouts they engender. Like Riefenstahl’s images of a Hitler rally, and aided by Schifrin’s insistent, garish score, Han’s discipline en masse makes for a thrilling, if ominous, spectacle.
Such an island of course also provides an excellent proving ground for the heroic Lee’s talents. But, apart the relatively short opening taster bout, he hardly lifts an arm until reaching Han’s enclave – and even then spends long minutes as a calm observer of the opening bouts. In between he exercises more guile and restraint, sly humour and cat-like athleticism than the expected muscle. By then of course, we have seen just how his sister has been killed, and know he itches to tackle Han’s bullying bodyguard O’Hara. Lee is coiled and not yet sprung. The audience is eager to see him fight, just as we know Lee is himself aching to exact revenge. The resulting tension, a martial anxiousness, goes a long way to papering over any weaknesses in dialogue and leads to the highest expectations.
Fortunately for the viewer such expectations are fully justified. Lee’s legendary martial artistry is awe-inspiring, enough to catapult the film into the front rank of action movies. Frequently shown in slow motion so that the camera could catch his rapid-fire actions, Lee’s fighting demands repeated viewings. He fights O’Hara, numerous cavern guards, different individuals en route and, finally, Han in a mirrored room – all with an authority and skill, with bare hands and nunchuka.
During his fights Lee frequently demonstrates the previously described ’emotional content’ of his martial philosophy: a mental posture which manifests itself as a calm self-collection, concentrated into cold fury for victory. On the point of dispatching O’Hara, for instance, Lee ruminates on his immediate aggression with an intense self-absorption, killing his sister’s murderer through a contemplation of inner pain almost impossible to describe. Later, as the ensuing melee swirls around Lee, the camera zooms again on its hero: typically, he is calm, perfectly focussed. It is during moments like this, full of vengeful rectitude, that the actor provides overwhelming confirmation of star status.
There are a few minor disappointments in the film, not least of which is absence of Han’s “daughters and personal guard” from the final conflict. (Whether or not this was due to constrictions of budget, or shooting schedules would be interesting to discover.) Perhaps too Roper could have been given more to do in the final scenes besides fight in the tournament ground with the rest (although perhaps not a surprising decision, given that actor Saxon is not an experienced kung fu actor). These quibbles aside, one leaves Enter The Dragon frequently exhilarated by an action movie that has held movie audiences consistently down the years and continues to do so.
The DVD includes a fully uncut version of the film, trailers, TV spots, a contemporary featurette and an interview with Lee’s widow.

cast: Sean Connery, Charlotte Rampling, Sara Kestelman, John Alderton, and Sally Anne Newton

writer, producer & director: John Boorman

101 minutes (15) 1974
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
20th Century Fox DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Peter Schilling

It’s 2293 AD, and human civilisation has splintered into disparate groups. Within shielded enclave, the Vortex, live the eternals: a matriarchal order of impotent, sleepless telepaths, hiding their society’s failures – the old and senile renegades, and the bored immortal apathetics – from the attention of exterminators and the unenlightened brutals that roam the outlands. Beyond the confines of the Vortex, a giant stone head (sculpted in the likeness of director Boorman!) floats down from a foggy sky, then spews guns from its mouth in exchange for grain harvested by slaves, which incites an uprising against the dominance of the eternals. Zed (a hirsute Sean Connery) leads this macho rebellion by penetrating the Vortex and destabilising its complacent and fragile society, where crimes such as ‘psychic violence’ are duly punished by ageing, not prison or forced labour. Consuella (Charlotte Rampling) is fascinated and repelled by the permitted scientific studies of Zed, a sexually active catalyst for change and destruction…
The problem with Zardoz is its overabundance of ideas. It’s an allegory of the class struggle, a satire on religion, an art house psychodrama of hippie commune lifestyles – in a post-nuclear, rural idyll of crystalline intelligence and inflatable buildings, and it’s also a vision of man’s future at once more horrifying and complex than that of The Time Machine (1960). Shot on location in the Wicklow Mountains for a paltry $1 million, Zardoz was inspired by The Wizard Of Oz (Baum’s book, not the famous Judy Garland musical movie) and, while it’s amusing to consider Connery as protagonist ‘Dorothy’, Boorman’s self-indulgent yet undeniably ingenious re-interpretation of archetypal fantasy tropes remains entertaining to this day.
Geoffrey Unsworth, the cinematographer of Kubrick’s 2001 (1968), performs cut-price miracles using in-camera effects, ghost glass tricks, and rear projection techniques to create the strange world of Zardoz, without any post-production effects. Many of these visuals still look remarkable, even in our time of CG marvels, and Boorman is rightly proud of his film’s many achievements. Only one sequence here drags on too long (as Boorman confesses, he’d shorten it if Zardoz was re-edited); and that’s when Zed is drawn (absorbed?) into the Tabernacle AI, the cue for an hallucinatory montage of surreal images, filmed in a hall of mirrors.
Whether it’s viewed as a parody of SF, or as a radical revision of genre themes, Zardoz is a memorable film that repays several viewings and it deserves to find a new generation of fans with this release on disc.
DVD extras: an intriguing and candid director’s commentary (during which Boorman is delighted to point out his cameo as a farm worker, shot and killed by Connery as exterminator Zed), plus a gallery of artwork, stills and posters. Also a trailer and four radio spots, scene index in 24 chapters, 14 language subtitles.

cast: Rutger Hauer, Jeroen Krabbé, Susan Penhaligon, and Edward Fox

director: Paul Verhoeven

167 minutes (15) 1977
widescreen ratio 16:9
Tartan DVD Region ‘0’ retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Richard Bowden

A group of Dutch students react to German invasion and occupation in different ways.
Paul Verhoeven’s Soldaat van Oranje (aka: Soldier Of Orange), the religious excesses of his Flesh + Blood (1985) not withstanding, is probably the closest the director has come to an epic. At the equivalent of $2.5 million, it was the most expensive Dutch feature film made at that time. It was also the film which brought him to the attention of Hollywood, exemplified by Spielberg’s call to him after seeing the film: “What are you doing in Holland? Come to the USA, things are better there!”
During his childhood in The Hague, Verhoeven had been witness to the activities of the occupying Nazis, which made a great impression on him. He remembers vividly his father hiding in a cellar and seeing dead bodies in the street, for example. As one biographer has noted, Soldier Of Orange “was a theme he could taste, feel, and breathe,” a film shot with of honesty and verisimilitude, if perhaps less of the director’s characteristic excess, though still with distinctive vision and style. There are some familiar faces in the large cast: Jeroen Krabbé (as Guus Le Jeune) who took the lead in De Vierde Man (aka: The Fourth Man) is a key protagonist, and the svelte and good-looking Rutger Hauer, as the central character Erik Lanshof. The blond Hauer, who had until now been utilised by Verhoeven as a working class hero in such films as Turks Fruit

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(aka: Turkish Delight, 1973), and afterwards in Spetters (1980) is here transformed into a prosperous war hero, modelled on Erik Roelfzema, the author of the original dramatic memoir. Much of the fraught virility usually associated with Hauer is suppressed here, although it briefly reappears during his dalliance with Susan (Susan Penhaligon).
That Erik/Hauer is the focus of the film is suggested by his first appearance, although the episodic nature of much that follows in the narrative sometimes sidelines his significance. He is inserted, Zelig-like into opening newsreel footage, the ‘single aide’ at the postwar return of Queen Wilhemina. Like so many of his Dutch contemporaries, Erik is comfortably well off, a man to whom (if only at first) the conflict seems just another grand adventure. Previously the middle class had been presented in Verhoeven’s work as exploiters (as in Keetje Keeple, 1975) or as sexually ludicrous in Wat Zen Ik? (aka: Business Is Business, 1971). Such boisterous social irony is, in the present film, conspicuous by its absence as if the contemplation of war forced a different responsibility upon the filmmakers. Erik and his class of 1939-40 may sometimes be made effete, never risible.
Made at a time when Netherlanders were starting to face the realities of their wartime existence, unpleasant facts about home collaboration and acquiescence to occupation, Verhoeven’s film confronts these issues with a tale of student friends torn apart by war, having to face moral dilemmas and choices. Soldier Of Orange, complete with its stirring title music, is a title with a singular subject, implying a monolithic view of an individual at war. But the film actually focuses on a plurality of men, an ensemble of half a dozen privileged students, each of them responding to the conflict in a different way. Although Erik is the nominal hero, his actions are often ineffectual and have dubious results. His counterweight is Alex (Derek de Lint). Having served in the Dutch army, he sees his mother interned and decides to join the Waffen SS. The two meet only twice after: at a parade, where the Dutch civilians give flowers to the Germans, and at a dance where the two tango face to face, with obvious connotations of identity and mutual resemblance. Of the other friends, Robby (Eddie Habbema) betrays his colleagues to save his girlfriend, while another stays out of it entirely – one of only two surviving out of the initial group picture.
Soldier Of Orange begins, aptly enough, with an initiation ceremony. Cowed, humiliated, then celebratory, Erik and the others have to undergo rituals to be accepted into the student body. Of course the mocking cruelties they undergo echo the Nazi repression of later on: the fear, the anal torture and the firing squads. More immediately the process confirms for us the circle of friends, frozen in a group photograph, set to be tested further – what begins as a student’s club ends as a man’s struggle. This opening initiation is the coming conflict in microcosm. Soon it will be the flames of war, rather than the soup comically poured over Erik’s head, that offer a definitive rite of passage.
Verhoeven manages some exciting set pieces during the course of the film: the bombing attack on the barracks, the beach shootings scene, the initiation and the aborted seaplane rescue being standouts. There are also some quieter, poetic moments, such as the overhead and point-of-view shots of Jean’s white shirted execution in the dunes. (A striking scene which makes one regret Verhoeven’s recent descent into the special effects laden un-subtlety of the Hollow Man.) The episodic nature of the narrative is both a blessing and a curse: while the number of characters and subplots makes it possible to examine a society from a range of viewpoints, the lack of a single, strong momentum leads to occasional slacking of tension.
The abiding impression gained at the end of this long (167 minutes) film is that nothing in this war has been black and white, and Verhoeven has faithfully suggested the historical revisionism of the time. Out of these moral uncertainties, he has crafted an exciting and engrossing work, one that he now considers his best Dutch project. Although the ambiguities helped make Soldier of Orange’s initial critical reception lukewarm, it was exceptionally well received by the Dutch public. Interestingly, for overseas release the film was renamed Survival Run – a change that suggests a work much less of a complex national portrait than it actually is.
DVD extras include a trailer for the original release and that for Survival Run, subtitles, profiles and an introduction.

cast: Anna Faris, Shawn Wayans, Regina Hall, Marlon Wayans, and Tim Curry

director: Keenen Ivory Wayans

75 minutes (18) 2001
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Dimension DVD Region 2 rental
Also available to rent on video

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Porl Broome

When it comes to film parodies, Wayans has always been one of the better proponents. His blaxploitation parody I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988) is a classic comedy movie, and while the original Scary Movie didn’t quite scale to the same comedic heights it still proved entertaining and charmingly crude. This time around the action is centred on a parody of The House On Haunted Hill, with Scary Movie’s original cast (and a couple of newcomers) being summoned to Hell House by their psychology lecturer (played by a particularly lecherous Tim Curry) for a supposed experiment in insomnia. Of course, his motives are far from innocent, and his true intent (apart from groping co-eds) is to capture evidence of paranormal activity.
The parody comes thick and fast this time around, with everything from Charlie’s Angels, It, Little Shop Of Horrors and even Dude, Where’s My Car? and The Weakest Link getting the Wayans brothers treatment. There’s no denying that to an extent you have to check your brain at the door, and if you’re easily offended by dick jokes and copious amounts of bodily fluids then stay clear

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(Wayans has never been one to play the PC card). There are laughs to be had here, however the puns are very hit and miss – as is evidenced by the painfully unfunny Exorcist take-off (starring a wildly misguided James Woods) which opens the film. In the end, it’s the more outrageous character performances which carry the film – Marlon Wayans reprises his OTT empty-pothead role as Shorty, Anna Faris does the Neve Campbell thing very well once more, David Cross is very good as Tim Curry’s indignant paraplegic assistant, and Chris Elliot is disgustingly fascinating as Hell House’s creepy butler. Some of the others (particularly Curry) appear to be going through the motions somewhat, and the fact that a foulmouthed parrot steals some of the scenes should, I suppose, tell us something.
All in all, this is an entertaining movie, with some very funny ideas, which at least flies in the face of common decency (not a bad thing, in these namby-pamby days). Let’s just hope the train stops here and that the rumours of ‘Scary Movie 3’ remain just that.

cast: Mickey Rourke, Ellen Barkin, Elizabeth McGovern, Forest Whitaker, and Lance Henriksen

director: Walter Hill

89 minutes (15) 1989
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Momentum Take One DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Richard Bowden

A facially disfigured minor criminal is persuaded into a robbery, which leaves a friend dead, and himself in jail. Later, after reconstructive surgery, he plans revenge?
This is a minor Walter Hill film, partly redeemed by a couple of strong performances and an excellent score. Mickey Rourke (whose last good film, perhaps, this is) plays John Sedley, alias ‘Johnny Handsome’, and labours for the first part of the film under makeup presumably inspired by The Elephant Man, as well as a handicapping mumble recalling the actor’s idol Marlon Brando. Hill, one time Peckinpah protégé, has seen better days with such films as The Warriors, 48 Hours, Streets Of Fire etc, and here struggles to make a rather bald plot dynamic. Essentially, it’s a tale of crime gone wrong, betrayal, brooding then final revenge, enlivened with rather peremptory love interest. The surgery side of the story, in which Sedley is miraculously remade into handsome Mickey Rourke, is no more than a detour from an underworld tale we’ve all seen before.
Hill characteristically provides memorable opening sequences for his films. This strength is apparent here, as details of the cast appear over the preparation for the initial robbery, cut together effectively and precisely. The director fades the colour on these opening, planning scenes and, later, also includes a brief and horrific flashback in black and white. There are two robberies in the film, central points about which much of the drama revolves, carried off with some flair by the participants and the editing department. There’s something of the flair of Hong Kong crime cinema as the masked villains burst into shops and offices to make their ‘killing’. Elsewhere things flag a little – especially in the unconvincing Sunny and Rafe relationship, played respectively by an aggressive Ellen Barkin and the normally excellent Lance Henriksen. Sadly the character and motivations of the chief villain remain one-dimensional, and Rafe’s bare-armed menace never rises above stereotype.
Sedley struggles to first rebuild his face, then his life, while courting the rather insipid Donna (Elizabeth McGovern) and hatching his master plan. Although his motivation for revenge is clear, in between surgery and larceny he rather languishes. Donna is a ‘nice girl’ – either naďve or forgiving, however one chooses to see her, whose role in the final denouement is also deemed ‘nice work’. This vaguely pejorative epithet, as well as her ill-judged covering up for a former boyfriend, provides her character’s most defining moments. Her presence fails to give Sedley the impetus he needs, and her final abduction is sadly predictable. The attempt to work up another major character, this time through the doctor-with-a-social-conscience who treats Sedley (a peculiarly be-whiskered Forest Whitaker) is only partially successful. After a brief couple of confrontations with the implacable, and splendidly named, police Lieutenant A.Z. Drones (Morgan Freeman), he disappears. On the plus side, Rourke gives a generally good performance, being especially affecting in the scene when he examines his new face. Despite the limitations of the script, and even with the affected mumble, the actor avoids dropping into bathos in this critical scene, actually convincing the viewer of his pleasure in his new identity. His convincing gratitude to those who have changed his appearance pays dividends at the end of the film, during his confrontation with the vengeful Rafe. Rafe’s pummelling of Sedley’s face and vicious attack on his newly constituted features with a knife is truly disturbing, precisely because Rourke has so successfully communicated the humanity behind the criminal and surgical subject earlier.
As Drones (whose dogged perseverance reminds one of Inspector Javert in Les Miserables), Freeman is excellent. An actor whose distinctive tones and modulated performances give class to any film, he raises his part far above the lines he is given here, and goes a way in making up for weaknesses elsewhere. During his few prison scenes with Rourke, in fact, one can shut one’s eyes listen to his voice, and summon up the much greater pleasures of The Shawshank Redemption (1994). It is he who recognises the reality at the centre of the film: that Sedley can change his appearance, but can never change what is inside of himself or where it will lead: “I know what you are,” he says to the felon at one point. “And we both know where you’re going, don’t we Johnny?” At the close of the film, after bullets have flown and dust settled, Sedley finally acknowledges this fact using an ironic phrase which implies both physical and moral assessment: “How do I look?”
Fans of Rourke and Freeman will certainly want to see this film, although others will find there is rather less to it than meets the eye. Ry Cooder, a regular collaborator with the director, turns in a superb score full of slide guitar work, with dramatic bass lines for the action sequences. This makes one regret that the final package to which he contributed so valiantly is ultimately so unmemorable. Admirers of Hill, wanting to see one of his late urban thrillers with more interest, will be better off with Trespass of three years later.
The DVD offers a basic package of scene access, German and English language options, and a trailer.

cast: Dennis Quaid, Louis Gossett Jr, Brion James, and Lance Kerwin

director: Wolfgang Petersen

104 minutes (12) 1985
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
20th Century Fox DVD Region 2 retail
[released 3 June]

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Steven Hampton

This space castaway drama (based on a story by Barry Longyear) is an SF version of John Boorman’s Hell In The Pacific (1968), inspired by Robinson Crusoe. As such, there’s no avoiding comparison with Byron Haskin’s Robinson Crusoe On Mars (1964) and yet, in spite of all these genre and literary associations, German director Wolfgang Petersen’s story of tolerance and unlikely friendship is still an entertaining film, one that’s emotionally intense without being too melodramatic or sentimental.
During an interstellar war, space fighter pilots from opposing battle fleets are stranded together on the unexplored and inhospitable alien world of Fyrine IV. In no time at all, human spacer Davidge (Quaid), and reptilian drac, Jeriba – alias Jerry (Gossett), are trying to kill one another to follow the dictates of prejudice and propaganda their respective races have given them.

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Slowly these bitter enemies overcome the language barrier that hinders co-operation, and work together to ensure mutual survival. Their antagonistic jibes of ‘toadface’ and ‘irkman’ are set aside when frequent meteor storms and indigenous life threaten both of their lives. There’s also the matter of the drac race’s hermaphrodite reproductive cycle. Davidge becomes an uncle to the orphaned offspring and must return this young alien to its home world…
Dennis Quaid had starred in psychic thriller Dreamscape (1984), and went on to his breakthrough role as a cop in The Big Easy (1986), before returning to genre SF for Innerspace (1987). Here, he’s on good form, especially when playing opposite his co-star, black actor Louis Gossett. Gossett does an excellent job playing the lizard-like alien dubbed ‘Jerry’ by his human friend. The actor’s hissing and purring to suggest an alien language makes this a film that the creators of Star Trek and Star Wars ought to study more closely. When Davidge makes an attempt to learn the drac’s culture and philosophy, the drama becomes mystery for the planet squatters, but later events move too quickly.
The birth of baby drac, Zammis (Bumper Robinson), and subsequent human education only ensure the bond between man and alien child will cause Davidge to rescue his young ‘nephew’ from scavenger villains (led by Brion James, playing OTT evil scum of the universe) using aliens as slave labour in their secret mine on Fyrine IV. The finale has a rushed air that’s at odds with the slower pace of earlier scenes, and this detracts from much of the thought-provoking SF elements. What makes Enemy Mine an unforgettable film is the excellent design work and superb cinematography, by Rolf Zehetbauer and Tony Imi, respectively. Their use of rich colour schemes helps to create a fantastic milieu for the story, both on and off the alien planet.
DVD extras: scope presentation with Dolby digital 4.0 sound (in English, Italian or French), three photos, original trailer, extended scene (three minutes) in ratio 4:3 from the German TV version.

cast: Jon Pertwee, Caroline John, Nicholas Courtney, and Ronald Allen

director: Michael Ferguson

171 minutes (U) 1970
BBC VHS retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Ian Shutter

One of the early stories from Jon Pertwee’s four-year reign as many TV fans Time Lord of choice, this seven-parter scripted by David Whitaker (with uncredited re-writes by Malcolm Hulke), continues the then-current Doctor Who scenario with the Doctor stranded on Earth, helping paramilitary o rganisation UNIT sort out threats to UK and world security, and investigate bizarre happenings of the sort now commonly dealt with on The X-Files.
The Ambassadors Of Death is about a manned mission to Mars, and what goes wrong after the spacecraft makes contact with weird aliens. A rescue capsule returns safely to Earth (fulfilling the British Interplanetary Society’s ambitiously optimistic dream of a UK-based space programme!), but its three-man crew have disappeared under mysterious circumstances. The Doctor becomes suspicious on hearing reports that space-suited figures were seen committing a robbery, and he learns of a criminal conspiracy to use radioactive ‘astronauts’ for crimes, while a warmonger, General Carrington (John Abineri), campaigns for a nuclear first strike against the visiting aliens.
At mission control, console chief Ralph Cornish

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(Ronald Allen, from the old version of soap opera, Crossroads) detects coded messages between orbit and London that, after much subterfuge, turns out to be communications from the bad-guys and the ET space travellers. There’s an amusing mix here of Quatermass SF and hi-tech gangsters, as the London-based villains have flat caps and handguns, while a more uncanny menace is provided by the walking spacesuits (what’s inside them?), unfazed by bullets, emitting high energy bursts to kill humans.
In addition to UNIT boss, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), the Doctor’s assistant is Liz Shaw (Caroline John), still quite fetching in her white boots and miniskirt, on the run from kidnappers, getting into a car chase in old Bessie (the Doctor’s temperamental car), and generally making herself useful as one of the smartest Who companions ever. Eventually, of course, the Doctor has to ride a rocket into orbit to solve the mystery of the missing astronauts and get the aliens to reconsider plans for destroying the world.
This nearly three-hour video release is partly in black and white, due to BBC’s loss of their original broadcast tapes. However, some colour material was found on NTSC domestic cassettes in America, making this worthwhile viewing despite the intrusive and irritating background sounds.

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.

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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.