ICE AGE

Review By Paul Mount, 4 out of 5 It looks very much as if the writing’s on the wall for the traditional cartoon. Just look at the box office of recent disappointments RETURN TO NEVERLAND, ATLANTIS and TREASURE PLANET. Then look at the big-hitters; the TOY STORY films, A BUG’S LIFE, ANTZ, SHREK and MONSTERS INC. Add to that list ICE AGE, a creative hit if not an enormous smash at theatres. We’re talking the age of computer animation, my friends; we’re talking about the respectable new face of animated film making.

ICE AGE is the first full-length feature by animator Chris Wedge and, whilst the film betrays its ‘new kid on the block’ status by its C-list voice talent and its familiar, kids/adult friendly storyline, it’s an impressive effort nonetheless. Basically the film is SHREK in the snow (and in the distant past) with two mismatched misfits (Sid the comic-relief sloth and Manfred the moody mammoth) forced by circumstance to work together to return a lost human baby to his tribe. The animation is faultless and the humour is pretty sharp. In many ways ICE AGE is a more creative and less cynical effort than the likes of MONSTERS INC where the overwhelming impression was of a theme park ride in-waiting. Here the focus is more on story and character but with plenty of spectacle and hair-rising wild rides to provide the excitement. Of course it’s an American kid’s movie so there’s a bucketload of schmaltz too but it’s easy to forgive in a film which cleverly explains exactly why the dodo became extinct and why you should never trust a sabre-tooth tiger. Plenty of colour and comedy for the kids and lots of way-over-their-head adult stuff for the mums and dads. Classy.

THE DISC: A packed disc with loads to entertain the kids and plenty of behind-the-scenes stuff. There’s ‘Gone Nutty’ a brief new adventure for the main feature’s recurring squirrel character Scrat and a raft of ‘making of’ featurettes with the usual commentaries, trailers, galleries. A generous selection.

GHOSTWATCH

Review By Paul Mount, 4 out of 5 Halloween 1992. BBC 1 are hosting a brave live television investigation into the supernatural, a studio phone-in hosted by Michael Parkinson (Parky) and Mike Smith (Smithy) with Sarah Greene (er?reeny?) spending the night into a haunted terraced house in Foxhall Drive where some very strange things have been going on. Meanwhile Craig Charles is interviewing scary locals and generally being waggish about all things supernatural. Things take a turn for the worse when some of the phone callers reveal some of the interesting background to the house on Foxhall Drive and all Hell breaks loose in the house itself and, eventually, in the TV studio. Except, of course, it doesn’t. Because GHOSTWATCH isn’t a live TV presentation at all ?it’s actually a drama. And a big ‘thank you’ to the British Film Institute for exhuming this lost and controversial bit of classic TV from the BBC archives.

Now this was only broadcast ten years ago but I can’t remember a thing about it. I clearly didn’t see it at the time and the furore following its transmission entirely passed me by. Viewed now, ten years later, and with the benefit of the knowledge that it’s all a work of fiction, it’s hard to imagine the hair-raising effect this must have had on the unsuspecting public who tuned in and watched it live. GHOSTWATCH is gripping from start to finish. Its pretence at live television is totally convincing (except towards the end when even the most gullible of viewers must have started to twig that it was all going a bit too far) and the appearance of the respectable Michael Parkinson and the far-less- irritating-than-I-remembered Mike Smith and Sarah Greene adds the show a veneer of respectability which must have wrong-footed many viewers. It’s all here; the clumsy banter between the presenters, the gurning by-standers in the street, BBC bods running around the studio and the outside broadcast location, oddbod boffins pontificating on the supernatural. Utterly captivating and even now, incredibly easy to be taken in by. But the clues are there for the more discerning viewer; the whole production descends into a sort of Dennis Wheatley chaos as the studio lights explode, ghostly winds whistle around the studio and the location, unearthly wailing noises fill the air, Sarah Greene is locked in a cupboard (and didn’t we all want to do that back in 1992?) apparently with a malevolent child-murdering ghost for company and good ol’ Parky is possessed and starts muttering mumbo jumbo. Roll the credits and, one would expect, there drops the penny. But apparently the British public were scared witless and GHOSTWATCH itself was consigned to the Archives with a big fat ‘Not to be retransmitted’ sticker plastered across the tape.

GHOSTWATCH is an important piece of British TV and one which is oddly only half-remembered, even though it’s of fairly recent vintage. Despite its entertainment value it serves to remind us of several important facts; firstly, the BBC were once able to commission and produce innovative dramas of this quality and secondly that presenters like Mike Smith and Sarah Greene, vilified as they were at the time, were Gods of broadcasting compared to the shambling amateurs who shuffle across our TV screens in the early twenty-first century. How far we’ve come without making any progress at all. GHOSTWATCH, a low-key release from the BFI, may be difficult to track down but it’s worth the effort. BBC television wouldn’t be this terrifying again until the arrival of David Dickinson and BARGAIN HUNT. But that’s another horror story altogether.

THE DISC: Broadcast standard quality, sound mix unexceptional which is a shame because there are lots of spooky sound effects which get a bit lost. There are even some extras; a dry commentary and some script exposition. Quality stuff.

DECOYS

Review By Brian Edwards, 2 out of 5 Available to rent from the 16th August 2004

Ok – for a start – this film bills itself as SPECIES meets AMERICAN PIE not a promising start. The plot concerns a Canadian High School having a spate of mysterious deaths where the victims have been found frozen solid

It is quickly discovered by a first year that one of the sorority houses is actually populated by aliens and not the blond and beautiful teens that he first thought.

With the film centring around an alien invasion starting in a High School and only one teen realising that others at the school are actually aliens I was expecting this straight to video offering to be a low budget attempt at THE FACULTY. I was right, to a point. Where THE FACULTY was a pastiche of B Movie scifi/horror with lashings of pop culture slickness, DECOYS is more of a mishmash of horror/scifi/teen comedy and black comedy. There is the occasional success in each of the attempted genres. I did grin if not laugh at least once, there were some reasonable CGI alien affects, painful deaths and the most underplayed of the genres, black comedy, is actually where I feel the director would have excelled in if he hadn? chosen the ?rying to please everyone?route.

Ok, so that is my rant. There was potential, the cast didn? stink, the effects were serviceable but the whole film didn? really have anything to offer (unless you count a quick boob shot). Its is like none of the production staff could decide whether to play it for laughs or not.

Unmistakably there is a certain charm to this film (I say this about most of the dross that comes through my letter box) but there is not enough of any one thing to make me watch it again. Actually the only thing that could make me watch it again is several pints of JOHN SMITHS and a few mates round, as you often find that this type of film can make good post pub entertainment.

There is a behind the scenes featurette on the DVD, it was the least they could offer for an inexcusable waste of digital media.

BATMAN RETURNS

Review By Liam O Brien, 4 out of 5

“Ok. . .now I’m a lil’ worriedT

As its Christmas, or was as I’m writing it, I’ve decided to trawl over my video collection to find the best possible films based around the season. So far in my quest I’ve managed to turn up the excellent Grinch, and now I have found another brilliant flick, based during Crimbo, but hardly your average family tale.

And, before I go on, let me make this clear: this is NOT a family film. This is a bleak, violent 15 rated actioner, with macabre visuals aplenty. Not Batman and Robin then. You want cosy from a film, got get the original Adam West TV movie. But for those of you looking for a blockbuster a bit more interesting to offset the flood of sentimental ‘family’ movies- look no further.

From Michelle Pfeiffer’s Selena Kyle (aka the leather togged Catwoman) being pushed by her boss (a brilliantly weird Christopher Walkern) out of a sky scraper window, to Danny De Vito’s Penguin; a pale, sick minded little pervert with an umbrella full of death and mayhem; to the dark portrayal of the Dark Knight himself, by the one true Batman, Michael Keaton, this film is exciting, sickening, and brilliant all in one “lucious Christmas gift pack.”

The basic premise is this: Walkern’s Millionaire Max Shreck (no he’s not big and green, he’s not I say!) teams up with the Penguin to take power from the mayor and make Gotham City putty in their hands; meanwhile Pfeiffer’s Catwoman romances Bruce Wayne/Batman, until it all comes together in one final explosive (and heh electrifying?) confrontation.

The action set pieces out do the original film: Batman’s opening assault upon the Penguin’s gang in the snow filled streets of Gotham; Catwoman Vs Bats; The Penguin taking control of the Batmobile with the Dark Knight still in it (“helpless old lady at ten o’clock!”) are among the best moments.

But, surprisingly for a superhero movie, the characters are diverse and interesting- infact, the three main villains get more screen time in the end that Keaton’s brooding avenger. The Penguin is the best fleshed out of the three, very well played by a perfectly cast De Vito, and yes, the Penguin make up is by Rick “The Grinch, Planet Of The Apes”Baker. Pfeiffer puts in a career best performance as Selina/Catwoman: starting out quiet and timid; the mutation from geek to sex kitten with s and m overtones is quite startling.

The film however, is not just one parade of dull depressing visuals: Director Tim Burton’s sense of the bizarre and macabre is bought across in a script filled with funny moments (Bruce and Selina defending their alter egos after slanderous articles in the Gotham papers- “they say Catwoman ways about 180 pounds!”).

The sets again are excellent, covered in frost and snow, making Gotham feel different but none the less foreboding; and Danny Elfmans score is among one of his best, bringing out the Penguins child like qualities, playing up the wintery setting.

Overall a dark, menacing film, perfect to put off Boxing Day boredom everywhere.

ANY GOOD?: Burton shows how sorely missed his visual style was in the following two Batman movies, and Keaton gives us the best Batman ever (why George Clooney-WHY?). The villians are excellent, even if certain elements of the plot seem to sag after time, the pace is kept up so such things fly by. An exciting, interesting and brooding film to get you through those wintry nights- just tuck the kids away first. . . .

EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS

Review By Paul Mount, 3.5 out of 5

Ellory Elkayem’s affectionate homage to all those classic 1950’s mutated monster B-Movies (the best of which, THEM, is referenced here) is a bright and breezy fun romp which thrills but never chills and is an inoffensive way of wasting 95 minutes. And that’s the problem. EIGHT-LEGGED FREAKS’ tongue is too firmly in cheek, the horror is downplayed by the attempts at levity and the real terror of the scenario – basically giant spiders on the rampage – is buried under the weight of a script which never takes itself seriously. The inaptly-named Arizona town of Prosperity is besieged by horse-sized arachnids and much chaos ensues as the spiders stock up their underground larder and reluctant heroes Chris McCormack (Arquette) and Sheriff Parker (Wuhrer) lead the fight back against the mutated aggressors.

It’s a fast and furious movie. The Z-list cast throw themselves into it with gusto (nice to see TV’s SLIDERS star Wuhrer in a high-profile movie for a change) and the effects are breathtaking. The tone of the film just lets the side down a bit too much. The relentlessly cheery music score detracts from the scares and the anthropomorphing of the spiders – lots of squeaks and grunts and the spider equivalent of comedy gurning – robs them of any real fright value. One or two scenes chill and there’s a high ‘splat’ factor but the overall impression is of a film which could have been a lot more memorable if it had been less tribute-to-a-genre and more modern reinvention. An entertaining failure.

THE DISC: The usual high quality transfer we might expect from Warners and a nice raft of extras including an amusing commentary by Arquette, Elkayem and producer Dean Devlin and, best of all, Elkayem’s short black-and-white film ‘Larger Than Life’ which actually racks up a lot more tension than the film itself. Oh, and Warners, can we have a word about those clip cases? They really have to go, you know.

DOCTOR WHO: THE THREE DOCTORS

Review By Paul Mount, 4 out of 5

As this remarkable 40th Anniversary year of DOCTOR WHO draws to a close, what better way to round off the celebrations than with a trip back in time thirty years, to a more innocent era when DOCTOR WHO rarely acknowledged its own history and when the idea of wheeling out a few old faces from the past was a really good idea and not just a tired gimmick relied upon by a desperate production team? ‘The Three Doctors’, released just in time for Christmas, is DOCTOR WHO-as-Panto with garish, colourful sets, larger-than-life performances, bad costumes and a real live ‘He’s-behind-you!’ bad guy. It’s all utter nonsense but it’s hard not to love it like an old friend because it’s such a timely reminder of how much fun DOCTOR WHO used to be.

The Time Lords are in trouble. A mysterious space force is draining their energy through a nearby black hole. The only man who can help is the Doctor (Pertwee) but he’s been exiled to Earth and his TARDIS doesn’t work. Some bright spark on the High Council decides to lift the Doctor’s previous incarnations (that’s Troughton and Hartnell, to you) out of their time-streams to give him a helping hand. This unholy triumvirate (with the first Doc stuck on a screen in the TARDIS) finally find themselves in the anti-matter world of Omega (Thorne), a forgotten legendary figure from Time Lord history. Much scenery-chewing and tramping about in quarries ensueszp>

‘The Three Doctors’ is worlds away from the harder SF fare of, for example, Pertwee’s first season or even the lighter but pacy adventures of his second and third. By now Pertwee, a little bit greyer but as glittery as ever, is happily esconced in his starring role, surrounded by his ‘UNIT family’ and the return of his predecessors, the scene-stealing Troughton particularly, has clearly got his dander up. Troughton himself slips effortlessly back into the role he only gave up four years earlier and sadly Hartnell, too ill to participate fully in the story, is scarcely recognisable as the pioneering old grump from the show’s black-and-white years. The supporting cast are just there to make up the numbers and they seem to know it, relishing in the opportunity to watch these old masters at work. Courtney’s Brigadier completes his slow transformation into the ‘idiot soldier’, and Katy Manning’s Jo Grant is as high-pitched and irritating now as she was thirty years ago. Bless her. ‘The Three Doctors’ is hardly essential DOCTOR WHO but it’s still loads of fun and a nice reminder (as if we needed it) of how bright and breezy the show could be even when it was on auto-pilot. If you can’t make it to your local Panto, grab yourself a copy of ‘The Three Doctors’ and disengage your brain for a couple of hours. Marvellous.

THE DISC: HmmmmUthe transfer doesn’t seem to be one of the Restoration Team’s best with plenty of grain and fuzzy colours. The disc excels, yet again, with its extras. Like this year’s ‘Talons of Weng-Chiang‘ the extras serve to put the show into a contemporary context, reflecting its popularity and ubiquity back in the glory days. So we have lovely clips from BLUE PETER and PEBBLE MILL (featuring a distinctly uncomfortable Patrick Troughton in a rare TV interview setting), a thirty-minute 1993 Convention panel featuring Pertwee, Courtney and a somewhat hyperactive Katy Manning, some bits and pieces from a cheesy 1990s BSB DOCTOR WHO weekend, photo gallery and a chatty commentary from producer Barry Letts and Manning and Courtney. Overall a marked improvement on recent dreary releases from the show’s dying days.

DOCTOR WHO: THE TWO DOCTORS

Review By Paul Mount, 2.5 out of 5

1985. DOCTOR WHO is in trouble. But this time he’s not just bedevilled by Daleks and surrounded by Cybermen. No, he’s up against two terrible enemies which will prove to be the downfall of this most remarkable of television adventurers; viewer apathy and BBC disinterest. As this tired twenty-second season of DOCTOR WHO rolled around audiences had fallen (to a mere six million which ironically, by today’s standards, would be hailed as a great success and lead to an instant recommission for another season), the series had lost its ability to tell clever, thrilling stories (preferring instead to lose itself in its own long-forgotten history) and its likable new star Colin Baker had been lumbered with an unsympathetic characterisation and a dreadful pantomime costume. It’s hardly surprising that future production of the series was ‘suspended’ during the broadcast of ‘The Two Doctors’.

In truth, ‘The Two Doctors’ has precious little to recommend it. It’s a world away from the witty, inventive dramas the series had been pumping out just a few years earlier. The story, such as it is, involves sixth Doctor Baker embarking on a quest to save his former self (Troughton) who has been captured and imprisoned by rogue Sontarans who want to extract the vital Time Lord gene which makes the race capable of time travel. Throw in some augmented cannibals, sunny Spanish locations and dreary direction and you’re left withTothing of any real substance. Like the tedious overeating scenes featuring salivating Androgum Shockeye (Stratton)and the corrupted second Doc ‘The Two Doctors’ leaves its viewers hungry and unsatisfied, desperate for more fulfilling fare.

Desperate is a word which really sums up ‘The Two Doctors’. Teaming Baker with Troughton really does neither actor any favours. Baker, as the new TARDIS incumbent, is only a handful of stories into his tenure. Reminding viewers of a far superior predecessor effectively torpedoes any chances he has of winning over the show’s remaining audience and Troughton’s currency is diluted somewhat by the arbitrary and unnecessary nature of his reappearance. With ‘The Five Doctors’ fresh in audiences memories ‘The Two Doctors’ exists for no other reason than to get Troughton back on the screen. Admirable in itself, it robs ‘The Two Doctors’ of any sense of occasion; it’s just another story over-reliant on the programme’s own past. It’s another excuse for the general public to switch off because they’re not in on the joke and they really don’t remember much about the show’s history. They watch DOCTOR WHO to be entertained and excited. ‘The Two Doctors’ does neither.

For a show now so obsessed with its own continuity ‘The Two Doctors’ takes dreadful liberties with it. The script has Troughton acting as an agent for the Time Lords and happily wittering on about his own raceo bit rich considering all this backstory was only revealed in his last adventure ‘The War Games.’ It serves only as sloppy storytelling and takes away a little bit of the mystique of the Troughton era. The less said about the sixth Doctor’s violent and murderous tendencies in the story the better ?although I seem to recall this was a bit of a running theme throughout the year, one which lead a well-known Australian fan to dub the series ‘Doctor Hooligan’. Trite maybe, but difficult to argue with. The humanistic, generally pacifistic Doctor of earlier years has been replaced by a brash, gaudy, irritating boor quite happy to shoot people, toss them into pits of acid or, as in ‘The Two Doctors’ snuff their lives out with chlorophyll. The idea may have been to create an edgy, unpredictable character; in fact, it just makes him and his show unlikable and unpleasant to watch.

At three fifty-minute episodes, ‘The Two Doctors’ is long and uninvolving. Peter Moffatt’s direction is famously unsympathetic ?the hitherto-unrevealed bad guys the Sontarans (great villains ruined here by awful rubber masks and shouty performances) are exposed in a long shot ?and Robert Holmes, the show’s best writer, delivers a distinctly under-par script. The performances are flat and unenthusiastic, the special effects grim even by DOCTOR WHO standards. Unless you’re a completist, this is a release to avoid at all costs.

THE DISCS: Even the extras on this two-disc set are disappointing. The forty minute tribute to Robert Holmes is fun, lots of familiar and unfamiliar anecdotes recounted by professionals (rather than fans, which is a relief) serves to remind us how many of this great writer’s stories are already out on DVD and how much better than ‘The Two Doctors’ they all were. There’s too much boring studio and location footage and a nearly-unwatchable feature where Production Assistant Gary Downie wanders around Brighton beach reminiscing about location filming in Spain. Deadly dull, this isn’t even supported by production stills or drawings ?just more clips from the story we’ve just watched. Far more useful would have been a feature on the cancellation crisis which received plenty of media attention at the time and would have been a damn sight more interesting that Downie’s wistful memories. Even the commentary track can’t enliven the story; director Moffatt remembers little about the filming and Colin Baker’s not firing on all cylinders here. The track becomes irritating and unlistenable when Jacqueline ‘Darling!!’ Pearce turns up now and again. The most damning comment about the story itself is that the JIM’LL FIX IT extract ‘A Fix With the Sontarans’ is better than the story because it’s only eight minutes long and not one hundred and fifty. All in all, a shabby and disappointing release.

28 DAYS LATER

Review By Paul Mount, 4 out of 5

2002 is likely to be remembered ?by me at least ?as the year the British film industry put aside the crinolines and gave Hugh Grant the afternoon off and rediscovered the simple pleasures of a well-told monster movie. Hot on the heels of DOG SOLDIERS came Danny Boyle’s visceral vision of life in a post-Apocalyptic Britain. Alex Garland’s economic script tells of an escaped psychological virus called the Rage which turns everyone it infects into a slavering, blood-crazed?r?ombie. The survivors battle to escape London to join a group of soldiers outside Manchester who, according to their radio broadcast, have the solution to the virus. Or do they? And if they do, is it quite what the survivors expected?

It seems from Boyle and Garland’s DVD commentary that they’ve finally accepted that what they’ve crafted here is a stylish zombie movie. The Infected look like zombies, they sound like zombies, they behave like zombies. Ok, they run like Olympic athletes but then the shambling arms-outstretched zombies would probably rob the film of much of its palpable sense of terror. For 28 DAYS LATER is a terrifying film. It’s a very British film too; the post-Apocalyptic scenario is one conjured up by generations of British SF writers from John Wyndham, John Christopher and the more contemporary Simon Clark. There’s no mistaking the power of the film’s early scenes in the deserted streets of London; one image of the film’s hero figure Jim wandering over a deserted Westminster Bridge is worth a thousand scenes of empty streets and decaying corpses. Bicycle courier Jim (Murphy) awakes in hospital from a coma (in the nude ?hmm, is this the norm for coma victims?) to discover London dead and deserted. He wanders into a church and finds it full of rotting bodies ?and a few screeching humans infected by a terrible bloodlust. He meets up with Selena (Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley) who fill him in on the background of the Rage and its devastating impact on the country and, they presume, the world.

28 DAYS LATER rarely lets up the pace. For a low budget British movie it packs in spectacle upon spectacle, thrill upon thrill. It’s true that the film loses it way a bit in its last act when the soldier boys arrive and things go a bit DOG SOLDIERS and the upbeat ending is a bit pants but they’re minor criticisms set against the grim, unrelenting tone of the picture as a whole. It’s a heady, remarkable achievement and a film which you’ll watch again and again.

THE DISC: Now this is curious. Famously filmed on digital video, 28 DAYS LATER was a grainy eye-strainer in the cinema. The format suits the TV screen however; the picture seems sharper and brighter and it’s often easy to forget it wasn’t filmed on 35mm at all (apart from the coda at the end of the movie). Extras abound; Boyle and Garland’s commentary is witty and revealing, the deleted scenes are excellent, there’s a gloomy twenty-five minute ‘making of’ called ‘Pure Rage’ which tells us that a global pandemic is practically inevitable. Cheers. Trailers, storyboards and galleries round off a nifty package.