Un amour de sorcière (René Manzor) - So that’s what Vanessa Paradis is doing now: Drew Barrymore impressions... At least, it seems that way in this French film which pits her, as Morgane the good witch, against Jean Reno’s magnificently malevolent sorcerer Molok, with Jeanne Moreau helping the forces of light, and Gil Bellows as a Bill Gates-like figure, dragged in as the only person who can prevent evil from triumphing (largely ‘cos Molok has killed all other candidates). The style here is really, really nice: flowers blossom around Paradis and Bellows after they’ve made love, and it creates a world half-a-step outside ours. It would have been interesting if they’d made more of the set-up which seems to pit technology against magic, and Moreau is sadly under-used. However, Reno steals the entire movie: he absolutely looks the part of a dark wizard, and he’s perhaps too good, since you may find yourself quietly rooting for him, especially against the blatantly over-cute toddler who is the focus of things. Still, a sweet modern fairy-tale. B

The Art of War (Christian Duguay) - A step up for a director best known for doing the later entries in the Scanners series, to a “proper” Hollywood action-flick, even if it feels like it should go straight to video. For the film founders on a plot that rarely breaches the achingly obvious: Wesley Snipes is the UN agent framed for assassinating the Chinese ambassador, who must find the killers to ensure a trade deal goes through. Snipes does his best, despite looking like he’s auditioning for a Malcolm X biopic, yet the bad guys are painfully clear to the audience from the outset. Therefore, the longer he takes to see it, the less interested we inevitably get. Although some nicely kinetic chase sequences mean you never totally lose attention, the “one man against the system” thing has been done far too often, and there’s a sad lack of anything new here. C-

The Assault (Jim Wynorski) - As the title would suggest, this is a close relative to Assault on Precinct 13, with Stacey Randall as the cop who takes a murder witness to a women’s refuge, only for the killers to lay siege to the place. There’s the usual pot-pourri of stereotypes inside, from the mentally-ill to an old foe of Randall’s, and the dialogue between them is mostly unconvincing – though at least it avoids the lame attempts at humour which plague the police HQ. When everyone shuts up and lets their guns do the talking, it’s a good bit more pacey, with Wynorski getting in some fine Night of the Living Dead riffs – in particular, because the bad guys attack with the intelligence of brain-dead zombies. Predictable nonsense that takes itself a little too seriously. D+

Bad Girls (Lawrence Kasdan) - It’s hard to see why this is as uninteresting as it is; probably something to do with a sudden change of director in the middle of production. The acting isn’t bad, with Mary Stuart Masterton and Drew Barrymore fine and feisty, though Andie McDowell lives up to her surname once more. However, unanswered questions flail all over the place from the central premise: I can just about credit four prostitutes running off from a Wild West saloon, and rescuing one of their number from a lynching, but their conversion into outlaws is simply implausible. Perhaps having four heroines was a mistake, since it dilutes the focus: it might have worked better as ‘Bitch Cassidy’ or summat. Or maybe I just don’t like westerns very much – and two side-on glimpses of Barrymore’s right breast fall some way short of making up for the deficiencies. D-

Bikini Bandits (Steven Grasse) – Few films get an immediate second viewing in TC Towers, but then, few films are less than five minutes long. The Internet is perfect for such shorts, whose material is better suited to low bandwidth connections, and gems like these two make the download time worthwhile. And what’s not to like about girls in bikinis with guns? The first one (labelled “Episode 7” – a cunning ploy to bypass boring stuff like plot and character development) has the all-girl Bikini Bandits gang robbing a convenience store; the second, Bikini Bandits and the Magic Lamp, has them finding a genie. Both punch well above their weight with the visual style of Natural Born Killers - fortunately without the self-importance - and more sexual energy than a coke-crazed rabbit. Or am I misinterpreting the adverts for ‘Beef Flaps’? As near to perfect as you can get in less time than it takes to cook a Ready Meal. Also available: Bikini Bandits Go Dutch – will someone give Grasse enough money for a feature? Please? Downloadable at http://www.atomfilms.com. A

The California Dolls (Robert Aldrich) - The plot here is formulaic: the Dolls (Laureen Landon and Vicki Frederick) struggle towards a championship match against the rival Toledo Tigers. What makes it work are the characters, most notably their manager - Peter Falk delivers a barnstorming performance as a man who keeps loaded dice in his pocket, a baseball bat in the car boot, and is ready to use either. Even though you know precisely where this is going, it’s a fine look into the sub-culture of women’s wrestling, and despite being twenty-odd years old, you get the feeling things haven’t changed much. Anyone who watches the WWF will know how tough it is for women to get on without demeaning themselves, while life on the lower levels probably does still involve dodgy promoters and flea-bag motel rooms. B

Cyborg 2 (Michael Schroeder) - Parts of this are strikingly effective, and go way beyond what you’d expect. Yet there are just as many clichés, and the overall impact is slight, despite a surprisingly heavyweight cast including Elias Koteas and Jack Palance – or, at least, his lips (you’ll understand if you see it!). No Van Damme, admittedly, nor even any Albert Pyun in this sequel, instead, it’s the rather more shapely Angelina Jolie, daughter of Jon Voight. Did she ever dream she would win an Oscar (for Girl, Interrupted), while she played a ‘borg pumped full of liquid explosives, intended for use as a corporate weapon? She’s forced on the run, accompanied by human guardian Koteas, though going by the skills on view, it’s questionable who’s taking care of who. From here on, it’s the usual post-apocalyptic mix, heavily influenced by Blade Runner, although the production values are not too bad, and Karen Sheperd delivers a ruthlessly effective supporting role as a bounty huntress. Flashes of brilliance, flashes of mediocrity, and the rest is adequate entertainment – it also turns out to be rather good practice for Jolie’s upcoming role as Lara Croft. C-

The Erotic Witch Project (John Bacchus) - “I’m very, very sorry...” Largely for wasting my bucks on this dismal piece of crap, whose sole reason for existence is to prove just how good The Bare Wench Project actually is. Three girls go into the woods and have thoroughly unconvincing sex with each other - so who is operating the camera which zooms, pans and changes angle even when no-one is around? There’s a vague suggestion of an Evil Dead-like presence, and you get the same blow-up dolls and dildos scattered around as in Bare Wench – that’s about as far as the parodic elements go, and what the bloke in a gorilla suit was doing running around, escapes me entirely. Lacking any spark of invention beyond the painfully plain, it fails as a satire, it fails as smut, it fails as a movie. E

Forbidden Zone (Richard Elfman) – While there are a lot of elements borrowed from elsewhere in this, Elfman has taken them from a wide enough range (Pennies From Heaven through Pee-Wee’s Playhouse to the films of Guy Madden), and added enough of his own to come up with something that is genuinely different and very strange. It centers round a house with an entrance to another realm in the basement, into which the hero goes in search of his lost sister. Okay… It’s ruled over by Hervé Villechaize (“Da plane, boss! Da Plane!”) and Susan Tyrell, with Danny Elfman, the director’s more famous brother, turning up as Satan. And everything grinds to a halt for jaw-dropping song-and-dance numbers that truly have to be seen to be believed. It’s cheap, shot in b&w, and although you may find yourself looking at your watch despite the 75-minute running time, when it works, it’s a wonderful slice of mad invention, and just the sort of thing for which cinema was invented! B+

Living in Oblivion (Tom De Cillo) - This starts off looking distressingly like a self-indulgent piece of “cinema about cinema” (anyone seen Irma Vep?), yet after twenty minutes, it does an abrupt flip and heads off in another direction, namely convincing wannabe film-makers to go back to their jobs in McDonald’s. Steve Buscemi is struggling to make his low budget flick, in the face of truculent actors, actresses, cinematographers, mothers and dwar...er, “small people”. Half the fun is trying to work out who the models for the various prima donnas were, and although I’m fairly sure there are a lot of jokes which will only truly be appreciated by industry insiders, there’s plenty going on for the rest of us to enjoy, as Buscemi’s waking nightmare heads towards completion. If the ending is somewhat lame, doing little more than peter out, the characters we meet are great – I get the feeling De Cillo is getting revenge for some very bad experiences... B

Noose (Ted Demme) - TC 23’s Dennis-Leary-on-the-rampage movie has him playing another complex character: a coked-up and racist car-thief, yet fiercely loyal to his friends and family, even when they are unlucky enough to incur the wrath of highly disturbing Irish mob-boss Colm Meaney. It took me about 15 minutes to start catching the dialogue - heavy accents and cocaine do not make an easy listening mix - yet I found it easily worth the effort, as Leary develops unexpected depth and passion. I originally expected both Famke Janssen and Jeanne Tripplehorn to have more to do, but this is a very masculine movie, so they remain background characters. It’s no surprise where this all ends up, and the ending may prove a little too open for some – I’ve no complaints on that score, and few on any others. B+

Titanic 2000 (John P.Fedele) - I was more than a little concerned, given the same company did The Erotic Witch Project – fortunately, this is nowhere near as bad. They’ve bothered with a script for one thing. And some actors, too, although Tammy Parks, as the lesbian vampire shipped out in the hold of new cruise liner TITanic 2000 (their capitalisation, not mine) does little but expose her, ah, fangs. There is so much computer-graphics and blue-screen work it goes beyond cheap and becomes almost a badge of honour, lending the whole thing an odd nobility, and there’s enough humour to tide you over the dull moments (seen one lame striptease, seen ‘em all). Still, how can you not like a film with lines like: “I’ll lick you yet, you two-bit, penny-ante lesbian vampire from purgatory - and I’ll put an end to your evil and erotic and sensual and seductive ways, which are quite fun to watch, but are pure unadulterated evil, nevertheless.” Lovely. C+

Top Fighter 2: Deadly Fighting Dolls (Toby Russell) - This is an immensely irritating documentary. The Eastern Heroes crew have done the hard work, tracking down martial arts actresses both well-known and obscure. They then screw things up with amateurish mistakes, such as truly dreadful audio quality on some of the interviews, and an almost complete failure to tell you from which titles the clips are taken. Indeed, the clips themselves are another shortcoming; they obviously have only a limited selection with which to work. Thus, they talk about Michelle Yeoh, probably the most famous currently DFD after her Bond role, but show nothing from the last five years, when she really broke through. Having said that, there is some fascinating background material here, especially for the older, and less famous actresses. There are anecdotes galore, and you come away realising that there have been Deadly Fighting Dolls (a truly bad title!), for almost as long as there have been Deadly Fighting Dudes. B-

War Cat (Ted V.Mikels) - As soon as the chief villains says to his henchmen, “I hope you gentlemen are going to be safe out there. After all, she is an unarmed woman”, you know that they won’t be. For this is yet another remake of The Most Dangerous Game, though it takes its time getting there. To start with, you see more of a militia group - somewhat prophetically for 1987 - holed up in the hills, fending off Hell’s Angels and the like. When one member kidnaps a writer (Jannina Poynter), she is set loose as a training exercise; a bad move, given she’s an Army brat with a fondness for very sharp sticks. As Angel of Vengeance (not to be confused with the Abel Ferrara film), this ran into trouble at the BBFC and was refused a video certificate. Hard to see precisely why: despite some nastiness against women, aided by a brutish performance from Macka Foley as slow-witted thug Manny, it’s nothing some pruning couldn’t fix. However, its obvious cheapness limits it, and Mikels shows no eye for action, so this never gets much above the pedestrian. D+


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