ORBzine - History & Fantasy 2008 Movie Reviews

Count of Monte Cristo (2002)

Count of Monte Cristo (2002) Jim Caviezel [ Passion of the Christ ] is framed by his best friend, Guy Pearce [ The Time Machine ]. He spends many long years imprisoned by Michael Winfield [ The Crow, Alien: Resurrection, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves ]. Eventually he escapes, and plots his revenge.

This is based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas . It keeps more or less to the story, and is a fair retelling of it.

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    Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

    Rosencranz and Guilderstern are Dead This is based on a stage-play, itself a pastiche of Hamlet by William Shakespeare.

    Renaissance Denmark, and the title characters [Tim Roth and Gary Oldman] ride to the Royal castle. Their luck has changed - but they begin to suspect that now fate has taken over.

    Prince Hamlet [Iain Glen - Lara Croft: Tomb Raider ] has summoned them to attend him. A mysterious theatre-master [Richard Dreyfuss - Jaws] dogs their footsteps, and from the sidelines they watch Hamlet’s story unfold.

    Oldman accidentally stumbles across a number of scientific discoveries, thus revealing the characters’ potential. Roth, meanwhile, attempts to discover what is going on. And the disturbing realization that they are mere players, and all their world is a stage, is never far away.

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    Titus

    Titus This is a 1999 version of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. General Titus [Anthony Hopkins - Hannibal ] loyally serves the Emperor [Alan Cummings - Goldeneye ]. However, Jessica Lange plots against him.

    The makers retained the original Shakespearean dialogue, though the sets and costumes are Art Deco. The sadistic violence is typically shakespearean - think of Theatre of Blood . And Titus' revenge reminds one of of Hopkins' most famous role!

    Hopkins is ably supported by Colm Fiore [ Chronicles of Riddick ] and Angus Macfadyen [ Braveheart, Saw 3 ].

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    Don Quixote (2000)

    Don Quixote (2000) This is a 21st Century adaptation of a 17th Century novel - set in the 19th Century, to increase the anachronism. Don Quixote [John Lithgow 3rd Rock from The Sun ], an elderly gentleman, goes senile and thinks he is a Knight. He goes on a quest with his loyal squire, Sancho Panza [Bob Hoskins - Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Hook ] on behalf of a washerwoman he thinks is the Lady Dulcinea [ Vanessa Williams ].

    During their adventures, they meet a variety of equally interesting characters. Some are helpful, like the young graduate [James Purefoy - Rome ]. Others merely want to mock the adventurers - like Isobella Rossellini and Lambert Wilson [ Sahara, Catwoman ].

  • Man of La Mancha
  • Quantum Leap: Man of La Mancha
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    Shrek II

    Shrek II Shrek and Fiona visit Fiona's parents, King and Queen of Far Far Away. Naturally, the Royals are less than happy to see a couple of Ogres arrive!

    The King [John Cleese - Life of Brian ] hires Puss in Boots [Antonio Banderas - Zorro ] to assassinate Shrek!

  • Shrek
  • Shrek 3
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    Shrek the Third

    Shrek 3 The old King [John Cleese] dies. Shrek, as Fiona's Husband, is next in line for the throne. He doesn't want it, so he goes to find a young Prince [Justin Timberlake] who's also in the inheritance.

    They get a helpful wizard (Eric Idle - Life of Brian ) to lend a hand.

    Meanwhile, Prince Charming wants the Throne himself. He gets together an army of outcasts, the people who always come off worse in fairytales, and unites them with common cause.

  • Shrek
  • Shrek 2
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    Earthsea

    Earthsea On the world of Earthsea, Gerd the blacksmith's son (Shawn Ashmore - Smallville ) uses magic to repel Kurganite invaders (thugs dressed like Normans). A Wizard [Danny Glover - 2012 ) takes him as an apprentice, and sends him to the Unseen Hogwarts Uni. Alan Scarfe ( 7 Days ) is the UU Arch-chancellor. Gerd studied and developed his magical skills. He also falls out with a James Marsters type, and tries to summon the dead ( Amanda Tapping ).

    High Priestess Isabella Rosselini and her top pupil Kristen Kreuk are part of a sisterhood dedicated to keeping demons at bay. They guard the vault to the nether-world. The Kurganites seek world conquest, and don't care about magic or good versus evil.

    Part 2. (90 mins)

    The Kurganites have captured the Uni. Sebastian Roche gives a very disappointing performance as leader of the Kurganites.

    Gerd is on the run, pursued by the Nameless One he unleashed. It wants to possess him, and leave a trail of dead bodies. His only help is from another trainee wizard.and his sister, Katherine Isabelle . He must go on a quest to unite the pieces of the Amulet of Peace. This takes him to the Temple where Kristen Kreuk lives, thus drawing together the plot threads.

    The original author, Ursula LeGuin , disowned this primarily because of the casting. Producer Robert Halmi has filmed several pieces in Australia [ Farscape being the best example], where the cast can be selected to have a Polynesian appearance. Unfortunately this work was filmed in Vancouver, so the cast are predominently caucasian.

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    Hawk the Slayer

    Hawk the Slayer Darth Vader lookalike Voltan [Jack Palance - Spy in the Green Hat ] threatens to pillage a nunnery unless a ransom is paid. The head nun, Annette Crosbie, sends W. Morgan Sheppard [ ] to summon Hawk the Slayer [John Terry - Living Daylights ]. But even with Hawk's magic sword and Sheppard's automatic crossbow [!!!] they still need help. They recruit a band of desperados - a Giant [Bernard Bresslaw - Krull ], a dwarf and an elf. Yes, instead of the Dirty Dozen or Magnificent Seven, the nuns are protected by the ... Five.

    Patricia Quinn pops up as a sorceress.

    The best thing about it is the music, which owes more than a little to Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds!

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    Kingdom of Heaven

    Kingdom of heaven This is a big-budget epic with a great cast and director ( Ridley Scott ). Orlando Bloom [ LOTR, Pirates of the Caribbean ] is on the run, but luckily meets his father [Liam Neeson - SW1: TPM ], a Crusader.

    Once in the Holy Land, Orlando must save the Christians from defeat in a war that nobody really wanted. The story feels like Gladiator meets Pirates of the Caribbean , with a bit of SW1: TPM thrown in for good measure. True to modern political correctness, it makes the Templars eeevil and the Saracens noble.

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    Phantom of the Opera (2004)

    Phantom of the Opera (2004) This starts in b&w, set during the closing-down sale at the Paris Opera House. It then flashes back (in an amazing SPFX scene) to the place's hey-day, when it had just been bought by new management. The Diva Carlotta [ Minnie Driver ] storms out, so they get Christine the chorus girl [ Emmy Rossum ] to stand in for her. Christine is the protege of the Phantom, a mysterious and masked figure who creeps about the Opera House. A bit like Zorro, only he doesn't help people out of the goodness of his heart.

    The Phantom helps Christine's career, but only because he wants her for himself. Unfortunately, when she falls for the young Aristocrat who owns the Opera Hall the Phantom is greatly offended. He shows that he knows how to use a sword, among other skills.

    This isn't a crappy slasher or melodrama - it's a musical with wonderful cinematography. It's even in widescreen, to give extra value for money. Miranda Richardson and Jennifer Ellison provide able support.

    Joel Schumacher delivers an impressive piece, to say the least. In fact, the Andrew Rice Webber songs are probably the weakest part of it!

  • Sweeney Todd (2008)
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    Attila

    Attila King of the Huns, Steven Berkoff [ ] takes his orphaned nephew Attila [Gerald Butler - Dracula 2001, Lara Croft: Cradle of life, 300 ] as protege. Rome finally realises the danger the Huns represent. The Emperor's mother, Alice Krige , orders the release from prison of her political rival, Rome's greatest General [Powers Booth - ].

    Attila falls in love with peasant girl Simone MacKinnon .

    Part 2

    The Eastern Emperor [Tim Curry - Rocky Horror picture Show ] plots against Attila. Worse, the Emperor's sister makes her own plays for power. Attila finally gets an excuse to invade Rome. This brings him up against his old mentor, Powers Boothe!

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    Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, The

    Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, The This is the mega-budget adaption of the childrens' book by CS Lewis. It certainly doesn't disappoint. It's a lot more accessible to youngsters than the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which is the closest comparison.

    The story starts in the Second World War, when the four Pevensie children are evacuated from London. The go to live in a country mansion with Professor Jim Broadbent ( Inkheart ). The youngest child, Lucy, discovers that a wardrobe is actually a doorway to the magical world of Narnia.

    Narnia is ruled by the wicked White Witch ( Tilda Swinton ). However, the talking animals that live there look forward to the Second Coming of their saviour, Aslan the talking lion (voiced by Liam Neeson - SW I: Phantom Menace ).

    Lucy brings her siblings through the wardrobe. Peter, the eldest, is de facto leader. Susan ( Anna Popplewell ), ironically when one considers her eventual fate, is a contrary bitch who argues with every one of Peter's decisions. Edward, a middle child, goes off on his own ... and meets the Witch!

  • Prince Caspian
  • Voyage of the Dawn Treader
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    Prince Caspian

    Prince Caspian This is adapted from the first sequel to The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe . But while the source material was a children's book, a slim pamphlet of 190 pages (including illustrations), this has been much expanded to fill out over 2 hours!

    A year after the events of the first book, the Pevensie children are summoned back to Narnia. The land has been conquered by a human race, the Telmarines, and the magical Narnian creatures have been driven into hiding. The Pevensies must team up with Caspian, a young Telmarine Prince of their own age, and liberate Narnia in the name of Aslan. Little People Peter Dinklage and Warwick Davis [Reepicheep in the BBC adaption] play Dwarves. Davis gives a wonderful performance - his earlier work was OTT, almost pantomime material, but here he gives his character far greater depth. Eddie Izzard provides the voice for Reepicheep, the swashbuckling mouse.

    While the story stays more or less true, the dialogue is much changed. The original tweeness has been replaced with a modern cynicism - the D.L.F. line is the most obvious example.

    The Telmarines, the equivalent of the Norman Conquerers, are portrayed as Spanish conquistadors (with crossbows instead of muskets). But in fairness they are now actually introduced as individual characters, while in the book they were a bland conglomeration.

    All in all, despite all the changes this is a much improved version of the story. The CGI and celebrity supporting actors don't hurt it, either.

  • The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
  • Voyage of the Dawn Treader
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    Voyage of the Dawn Treader

    Voyage of the Dawn Treader The Pevensie children are still enduring the Second World War. Susan and Peter have been sent to America, and do not get back to Narnia this time. While Lucy and Edmund stay with their annoying cousin Eustace, they end up with Prince Caspian aboard a Narnian sailing ship named Dawn Treader.

    The story has been adapted quite a bit from the original book. A lot of action scenes have been added, turning this into a Hollywood 3-act structure The heroes must now locate seven magic swords in order to defeat an evil mist which uses the image of the White Witch! There is also more character-development - the younger Pevensie kids are suffering from sibling rivalry, which means that Susan and Peter get more mentions.

    There are other changes. For example, Reepicheep is voiced by Simon Pegg ( Star Trek Reboot ) instead of Eddie Izzard ( Mystery Men ).

  • The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
  • Prince Caspian
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    Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

    Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Harry and the others go back to Hogwarts for their Second year. Celebrity Wizard Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh Dead Again ) is the new Professor for Defence Against the Dark Arts.

    Some monsterous follower of Voldemort is on the loose in Hogwarts. It's even killing the castle's Ghosts! Suspicion is that the monster is something to do with the mysterious Chamber of Secrets, supposedly concealed somewhere in Hogwarts.

  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  • Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows (Pt1)
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    Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

    Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Harry and the others go back to Hogwarts for their third year. But Sirius Black (Gary Oldman - Lost In Space ) has busted out of Azkaban prison. Everyone thinks he’s on his way to Hogwarts, to kill Harry.

    David Thewlis ( Dragonheart ) is the new Professor for Defence Against the Dark Arts. He takes a liking to Harry, and teaches him the Petronas charm

    This was directed by Latin American film-maker Alfons Cuaron , and is far more serious in tone than the previous offerings by Hollywood kids' director Chris Columbus .

  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  • Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows (Pt1)
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    Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

    Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire This time the director is Mike Newell , best known for serious dramatic work. The film opens with a score reminiscent of John Williams' work and a landscape reminiscent of Mordor. The eeevil Voldemort is planning something.

    Meanwhile, the main characters head off to the Quiddich World Cup. This doesn't add much to the plot, but conveniently introduces most of the story's main characters. Then Voldemort's followers, the Death-eaters, attack - led by David Tennant [ Dr Who ]!

    Back in Hogwarts, the school has been chosen to host the Tri-Wizard Cup. The 2 other Magical schools send their best pupils, the typical bunch of shallow stereotypes. Each sends their best as a contestant for the Cup. The Russian is a sporty, slow-witted fellow. The French girl is also a stereotype. The Hogwarts golden boy is Cecil Diggory, who never made much impression before this movie. And someone mysteriously put Harry Potter's name in!

    Harry is forced to compete, while dealing with Ron and Hermiones' tantrums. Tabloid journalist Miranda Richardson pops up briefly to insinuate scandal into things. One gets the feeling there was a sub-plot in the book that was barely squeezed into the film.

    The climax really just sets things up for the next episode in the series.

  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  • Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows (Pt1)
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    Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

    Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Harry and the others go back to Hogwarts for their Fifth year. Ministry of Magic Securocrat Imelda Staunton is the new Professor for Defence Against the Dark Arts. Her main job is actually to cover up for the fact that Voldemort is back in business!

    Dumbledore has started his own secret army, the Order of the Phoenix. Snape is an important member, even though Potter and his chums still have a childish mistrust of the man that Dumbledore puts so much faith in. However, we get a brief flashback that explains Snape's emnity towards Potter's father ...

    Potter and his chums start their own self-defence classes. Of course, they have to escape the attentions of Ms Staunton. Meanwhile, Voldemort rebuilds his army by staging a mass breakout from Azkhaban. The old Death Eaters are back in force, including Bellatrix Lestrange ( Helena Bonham Carter ).

  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  • Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows (Pt1)
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    Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

    Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  • Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows (Pt1)
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    Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows (Pt 1)

    Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows (Pt 1) The Death-eaters are on the rise. Their first target is the Ministry, which is of course entirely unprepared. Despite all their planning and preparation, the Order of the Phoenix can do little to protect Harry.

    Harry, Ron and Hermione go on the run together. They try to stay off the grid, to stay out of trouble. Luna Lovegood's dad (Rhys Ifans - Hannibal Rising ) tells them about the new McGuffin - the titular Deadly Hallows. This consists of three magical super-weapons that the trio must locate to help them destroy the Horcruxes and defeat Voldemort.

    Our intrepid trio have a lot to worry about, but their greatest threat is from their feelings for each other.

  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
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    The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising

    The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising A teenage boy discovers that he is The Seeker, avatar of The Light. He must save the world from The Rider (Christopher Eccleston - Dr Who 2005, Heroes ), avatar of The Darkness. Ian McShane (Deadwood) and James Cosmo ( Braveheart ) are the Mentors who help our hero.

    This is much darker than the early Harry Potter films. And though it can't have had a huge budget, the production values seem very impressive!

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    Timeline

    Timeline This is yet another big-budget B-Movie based on a pulp bestseller by Michael Crichton . It's basically the time-travel equivalent of Congo.

    Archaeologist Billy Connolly ( X-Files ) works for Billionaire David Thewlis ( Dragonheart ) on an excavation at a medieval castle in France. Connolly's team include his son Paul Walker (Into the Blue), Walker's girlfriend Frances O'Connor and Connolly's sidekick Gerard Butler ( Dracula 2001 ). They make a lot of apparently off-the-cuff remarks that we know will turn out ironic later.

    The Billionaire sends his pet archaeologists through a time portal to the Middle ages. A couple of ex-Marines go along as token red-shirts. Naturally, things go wrong. Luckily it's a Hollywood version of History, without dirt or grime or suffering. Butler goes chasing after a French peasant woman (like all French women in Hollywood, played by an English actress - this time Anna Friel ). The English, especially the villainous Martin Csokas ( XXX ), make things as hard as they can for our heroes.

    The Archaeologists seem to know very little about the time period they're studying. The reason why they side with the villainous Frenchies instead of the hard-working English doesn't make sense either. Perhaps they wish to return to a future where the USA is now Greater Quebec!

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    Brothers Grimm

    Brothers Grimm The title characters are Heath Ledger ( Dark Knight ) and Matt Damon ( Dogma ), a pair of monster-hunters who help people in Napoleonic-era Germany. They don't do it for free, of course.

    Napoleon's Governor (Jonathan Pryce - Tomorrow Never Dies ) orders them to save some missing children from an enchanted forest ... Along with their sidekick McKenzie Crook ( Pirates of the Caribbean ), an Italian hit-man and a female rabbit-skinner ( Lena Headey ), they set off into the unknown.

    This was directed by Terry Gilliam . It's far cry from his Monty Python stuff - it's closest to Baron Munchausen or Burton's Sleepy Hollow . All the Germans speak with English accents (even Matt Damon!), but the acting performances are all excellent.

  • The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm
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    Casanova

    Casanova Heath Ledger ( Brothers Grimm, The Dark Knight ) is the title character, the arch-seducer at liberty in Renaissance Venice under the rule of Tim McInnery (Blackadder).

    He attempts to seduce Sienna Miller , the daughter of Lena Olin , while dodging Catholic Inquisitor Jeremy Irons ( Dungeons & Dragons ). Oliver Platt ( Bicentennial Man ) helps out.

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    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Dick Van Dyke ( Mary Poppins ) is an inventor who repairs an old car. His children name it Chitty Chitty Bang Bang because of the noises it makes.

    In the story within a story, Van Dyke and family use their car to take on the evil Baron Blomburst (Gert Frobe - Goldfinger ). They follow the Baron to his fairytale Rhineland castle. Like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom , the town they arrive in doesn't have any children. But this is a singing, dancing musical instead of a horror film.

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    Mary Poppins

    Mary Poppins Edwardian England, and a couple of upper middle-class children are miserable. But super-powered nanny Mary Poppins ( Julie Andrews ) appears on the scene, and cheers everyone up.

    Mary and her boyfriend the chimney sweep (Dick Van Dyke - Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ) take the kids on magical adventures, courtesy of the Walt Disney corporation. The result is a big-budget 1960s technicolour musical that mixes live-action footage and animation.

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    Nanny McPhee

    Nanny McPhee It's the Edwardian era, and English Country doctor Colin Firth ( The Last Legion ) has a bunch of unruly children. Not just playful, but vicious little bastards who play constantly mind-games to get his attention. He and housemaid Kelly McDonald are losing control of the situation.

    Luckily, Emma Thompson arrives with enough make-up on to be an extremely ugly nanny with supernatural powers and a heart of gold. Yes, this is basically Mary Poppins as told in the manner of Lemony Snickett's A Series of Unfortunate Events . Nothing too original, but young kids generally don't like surprising or original things. It was popular enough for a sequel to get made, so the intended audience must have liked it.

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    Dungeons and Dragons 2

    Dungeons and Dragons 2 Thousands of years after the events of the first Dungeons and Dragons movie, and there is no technological progression. Damadar (Bruce ), henchman from the first film, is now an archvillain in his own right.

    Damadar plans to revive a slumbering dragon, and use it to destroy a city. The city sends a handful of mis-matched adventurers on a dungeon-bash - much closer to the game than the original movie was.

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    Merchant of Venice (2005)

    Merchant of Venice (2005) This play, written by Shakespeare (an Englishman who never visited Venice in real life), has been given authentic costumes and settings. It keeps more or less to the original story, though certain nice touches have been added.

    Venice, circa 1590. Antonio (Jeremy Irons - Dungeons and Dragons ), the title character, borrows money from the Jewish money-lender Shylock. The small print? If Antonio cannot repay the debt in time, Shylock can instead claim a pound of Antonio's flesh!

    Al Pacino, famous for OTT acting, here manages to rein himself in as Shylock. The other performances are also impressive. Oddly, the female lead is a newcomer who was last-minute replacement for a big-name star. Perhaps she will get more opportunities in the future ...

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    Moll Flanders

    Moll Flanders Eighteenth Century London. Morgan Freeman [ Seven ] liberates a petulant young girl from an orphanage, and takes her on a journey to the Americas. This section frames the main story, as Freeman reads to her the journal of her mother - the title character. Freeman's English accent isn't the best, and makes his normally excellent narration sub-par.

    Moll Flanders ( Robin Wright ) was born in Newgate prison. She worked in a brothel, became an artist's model ...

    The Alex Kingston version had a lot more incidents, but as a TV mini-series it was a lot longer. This film does quite well at over two hours.

    This was filmed entirely in Ireland. Ardal O'Hanlon (Father Ted) is one of the Brothel customers, and Jeremy Brett (Sherlock Holmes) is the artist's father.

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    A Man For All Seasons

    A Man For All Seasons This is the story of Thomas Moore, Lord Chancellor of England in the reign on Henry VIII (Robert Shaw - Jaws). Unfortunately, Henry's divorce meant embracing the Reformation. Thomas Moore fell out of favour, and eventually became the target of his replacements.

    This was based on a biography on Moore written by his son-in-law, and thus is flattering to the point of being misleading. Moore is presented as being a fair-minded man, whereas in reality he was responsible for the execution of Tyndale for the crime of translating the Bible into English! The other three Thomases - Wolsey (Orson Welles - Casino Royale ), Cromwell (Leo McKern - The Prisoner ) and Cranmer - are all portrayed as extremely corrupt in comparison.

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    Kull the Conqueror

    Kull the Conqueror This is a 1997 adaptation of Robert E. Howard's work. There is a basic script, with rock music playing through the action scenes. Joel Goldsmith did the score. This is a Kevin Sorbo and Rafaella de Laurentis production.

    Kevin Sorbo ( Hercules ) stars as the title character. He is a fish out of water who becomes King by virtual accident (like the John Goodman film), and starts changing laws. Roy Brocksmith ( Total Recall ) is the royal eunuch. Thomas Ian Griffith ( John Carpenter's Vampire$ ) plots against King Kull, and raises sorceress Queen Tia Carrere from the dead.

    Kull goes on a quest, taking a ship to the Isle of Ice (like Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger ). The climax is similar to She by Rider Haggard , a comparison Howard himself might not mind. Compared to other Howard adaptations, this is closest to Conan the Destroyer in feel.

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    Solomon Kane

    Solomon Kane This is the much-awaited screen debut of the character created by Robert E. Howard , creator of Kull the Conqueror, Red Sonja & Conan the Barbarian .

    It's the year 1600, and Solomon Kane (James Purefoy - Rome ) is the greatest swordsman in the world. But when the Devil tries to claim his soul, he suddenly finds religion and becomes a pacifist!

    Kane falls in with a family of Puritans, led by Pete Postlethwaite ( ) and Alice Krige . They trek across late Elizabethan England, during the time of Shakespeare. The place looks like the modern-day Czech Republic, and is full of thugs and bandits. A thug in a medieval Jason mask is magically enslaving people so they serve an evil sorcerer named Malakili (Jason Flemyng - Lock Stock and 2 Smoking Barrels). Wasn't this originally a storyline in the ultra-low-budget 1990s TV show New Adventures of Robin Hood ?

    This effort owes little enough to Howard's character, or to historical accuracy. Solomon Kane is an English privateer sailing under the Union Jack ... with all 3 crosses on it! That is like using the US flag in the same period, including all 50 stars!

    There's an unnecessary back-story shoehorned into the plot, concerning Kane's relationship with his father (Max Von Sydow - Flash Gordon, Dune, Judge Dredd ). Lots of cliches are inflicted upon us ...

    However, it could have been worse. Kane doesn't have a love interest, thankfully.

    Compared to the recent trilogy of supernatural swashbucklers, this isn't as good as the first Pirates of the Caribbean film but it's better than the other two.

    All in all, however, this is a reasonable attempt that might even kick-start a straight-to-DVD franchise. The cast is great, the SPFX are excellent ... Maybe with a better script, the next film could be truly worthy.

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    Tristan and Isolde

    Tristan and Isolde This is a tale from the Dark Ages, and inspired the Lancelot/Guinevere subplot within the Arthurian legends. Historical and geographical accuracy are nowhere to be found - the map shows Dunluce Castle somewhere near Dublin!

    Tristan (James Franco - Spiderman ) is orphaned by Irish raiders, and is raised by King Marke (Rufus Sewell - Knight's Tale ). By a strange twist of fate he falls in love with Isolde ( Sophia Myles ), daughter of the eevil High King of Ireland.

    Kevin Reynolds delivers some nicely-executed action scenes. The romance is well done, though the plot is old enough to seem predictable. All in all - watchable, though it's easy to see why it flopped.

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    Snow White: A Tale of Terror

    Snow White: A Tale of Terror In the 1500s, Sam Neill ( The Dish ) marries Sigourney Weaver . This is a very dark story, strangely sympathetic to the evil stepmother.

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    Snow White: The Fairest of Them All

    Snow White: The Fairest of Them All A Genie (Clancy Brown - Starship Troopers ) offers a man three wishes. Naturally, his wishes (a Kingdom and a beautiful wife) come with strings attached ...

    Miranda Richardson wishes to be beautiful - but her vanity turns her into a Wicked Queen. In her jealousy she orders the huntsman to kill her stepdaughter ( Kristen Kreuk ). The girl ends up with the Seven Dwarves, embodying the colours of the rainbow and named after the days of the week. They include Warwick Davis ( Star Wars: Return of the Jedi ), Vincent Sciavelli ( Tomorrow Never Dies ) and the dwarf from Twin Peaks .

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    Jack and the Beanstalk

    Jack and the Beanstalk This is a Jim Henson production, a metaphor for exploitation of the Third World.

    Matthew Modine inherits his family fortune. Unfortunately he's cursed to die soon. His Aunt Vanessa Redgrave knows the family secret. They are descended from Jack the Giant-killer.

    Mia Sara travels from the Giants' world to bring Modine back for trial. The Giants include Richard Attenborough, Daryl Hannah and Honor Blackman .

    John Voight ( National Treasure ) is Jack's business manager.

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    Clash of the Titans (2010)

    Clash of the Titans (2010) This is a straight remake of the 1981 classic. Scene by scene, with relatively little variation. No surprises in the plot, really, for those who have seen the original.

    Our hero (Sam Worthington) was raised by Pete Postlethwaite (who has a similar mentor role in Solomon Kane ).

    There is a power struggle between Zeus (Liam Neeson - Phantom Menace ) and his jealous brother Hades (Ralph Feinnes - ).

    The Gods threaten to destroy a city run by underrused Polly Walker . Perseus is sent on a quest, aided by soldier Mads Mikelsson ( Casino Royale ) and immortal babe Gemma Arterton .

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    Centurion

    Centurion Michael Fassbender is a Roman Centurion. He gets captured by the Picts, which is ironic since he is probably the only cast member fluent in Gaelic. His sword-fighting skills are from gladiator school, not

    Hadrian sends in the Legio IX Hispana, led by General Dominic West ( 300 ). Their guide is Olga Kurlyenka , whose native accent is conveniently concealed by the fact that her character's tongue has been cut out and she never speaks.

    The Legion is ambushed. Fassbender and a small group of survivors (including Noel Clarke - Dr Who 2005 ) must rescue the General and then escape back to Roman territory.

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    Prince of Persia

    Prince of Persia This was intended as a swashbuckling franchise like Pirates of the Caribbean , with up to six sequels. It's got a lot of recent political commentary involved, but is mildly entertaining.

    Once upon a time, a Persian king adopted an Ali Baba type thief-boy, Dostan. Fifteen years later, Dostan (Jake Gyllenhall) is dragged along when his adopted brothers decide to conquer an Islamic city based on dodgy evidence of secret weapons caches. See what I mean about modern politics?

    The King is murdered, and in the most blatant frame-up ever poor Jake gets the blame. The scoundrel and the princess ( Gemma Arterton ) go on the run together, predictably bickering like ... well, like Han and Leia. They bump into Alfred Molina, who's paranoid about Big Government raising taxation and spending it on secret death squads.

    Dostan tries to clear his name, and find out who the real killer is. The King's brother is the Evil Hood (Ben Kingsley - Thunderbirds ). This means that the inevitable twist in the story isn't exactly unexpected.

    The climax involves a genuine super-weapon, a magical dagger which can turn back time.

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    Dragonheart: A New Beginning

    Dragonheart: A New Beginning The eldest brother from Malcolm in the Middle befriends a dragon. Together they must help decide who rules the kingdom.

    The location and cast are Slovakian, which kept costs down. The song is My heart goes with you, as unoriginal as it sounds. The fight double is Tony Leung, probably the best thing about this effort.

  • Dragonheart
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    Cleopatra

    Cleopatra This is a made-for-TV remake of the great epic. Timothy Dalton ( Flash Gordon ) is Julius Caesar, while some little Italian babe is the title character. The wee girl does some sword-fighting, to make this more acceptable to the Buffy audience.

    Familiar faces include Indra Ovid ( Space Island One ), Art Malik ( True Lies ), Oded Fehr ( The Mummy ) and Bruce Payne ( Dungeons and Dragons ).

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    Enchanted

    Enchanted The story starts in a Disney-esque cartoon. The wicked witch ( Susan Sarandon ) sends pretty Princess Giselle through a portal. Giselle ends up in New York City, where she looks like Amy Adams Ms Adams is a literally Oscar-worthy actress who shows her abilities for musical theatre, slapstick comedy and portraying a clueless bimbo.

    Giselle befriends Patrick Dempsey (an experienced straight-man in rom-coms). He is a single father who is only interested in career women. The wannabe-cat-lady type, not the wicked stepmother type.

    Giselle's fiance, Prince Edward (Matthew Marsden - X-Men ) comes looking for her. His talking chipmunk buddy is rendered mute, but his CGI antics make him more acrobatic than ever. Timothy Spall ( Red Dwarf ) is along for the ride, as the most interesting character in the film.

    This fairytale parody stuff has been done before in Ella Enchanted and the Shrek series. But Amy Adams takes this past the cliches and makes it incredibly watchable. That said, the climactic confrontation itself seems a bit forced.

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    Steampunk & Victoriana

    Sherlock Holmes

    Sherlock Holmes This is Guy Ritchie 's much-hyped rehash based on Conan Doyle's character. Robert Downey Jnr ( Iron Man ) is the title character, while Jude Law ( A.I. ) is his long-suffering sidekick, Dr John Watson. Together this dynamic duo take on a selection of thugs in some spectacular physical confrontations.

    Rent-a-villain actor Mark Strong ( Tristan and Isolde ) is Lord Blackthorn, a character about as subtle in demeanor as Severus Snape. This wicked Peer of the Realm is plotting to take over the Empire, and thus the civilised world, by means of apparent black magic.

    Holmes' lost love Irene Adler ( Rachael McAdams ) is in town, working for a shadowy figure who calls himself The Professor. This sub-plot is an indication that the inevitable sequel might be even better!

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    Wolfman

    Wolfman Someone returns to their childhood home to attend a funeral, and discovers that much has changed in the years they were away. This is the basic plot for literature novels, but in this case we get a Hammer-style Werewolf story set in the 1890s.

    Benicio Del Toro (Usual Suspects) is the hero. His mother was Spanish and he spent his entire adult life in America, which conveniently explains how he became the most unlikely English Gentleman. When the hero gets word of his brother's death he returns to stay in the family mansion with his father (Anthony Hopkins - Silence of the Lambs ), faithful Sikh manservant Singh (Art Malik - Living Daylights ) and the dead brother's fiance ( Emily Blunt ).

    The brother is only one of a string of mutilated corpses. Inspector Abeline of Scotland Yard (Hugo Weaving - The Matrix, Lord of the Rings ) pays a visit. The main suspect is the protagonist himself, of course. And since the curse can be spread by a bite ...

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    Howl's Moving Castle

    Howl's Moving Castle This is a piece of Japanese anime by Studio Ghibli ( Princess Mononoke ), adapted for the English-speaking world by the folks behind Toy Story .

    The story is set in a European country in the Late Victorian era. It's a Steampunk world with a heavy helping of magical realism. The moving Castle of the title is steam-powered, but the steam generator is heated by a fire demon instead of coal!

    Sophie ( Emily Mortimer ) befriends a wizard named Howl (Christian Bale - Terminator 4 ). Then she is cursed by the jealous Witch of the Wastelands ( Lauren Bacall ) and is turned into an old lady ( Jean Simmons ). She goes to Howl's castle, amnd works as his cleaning lady until she can be cured.

    Meanwhile, the country goes to war. Howl has never stood up for anything in his life, preferring to run away. Now he makes a tough stand ... as a conscientous objector! The thing is that to fight, a wizard must turn into a monster - thus turning to the Dark Side!

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    Wild Wild West

    Wild Wild West It's Reconstruction time, in the late 1860s. Will Smith ( MIB ), Kevin Kline ( Princess Cariboo ) and Salma Hayek team up against evil cripple Dr Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh) and his babes ( Musetta Vander, Bai Ling ). Ted Levine ( Silence of the Lambs ) is a Confederate general.

    Barry Sonnenfeld directed this steam-punk blockbuster, although it was never as successful as his previous collaboration with Will Smith ( MIB ).

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    True Grit

    True Grit The Coen brothers deliver a deceptively simple tale from the wild west. A teenage girl hires a couple of bounty hunters to go after a murderer. One is a Texas Ranger (Matt Damon - Dogma ), the other is one-eyed gunman Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges - Tron ).

    If this seems familiar, it is because the film was previously made in 1969. This new version is a re-adaption of the original novel, rather than a straight remake of the John Wayne classic. That said, the dialogue is almost identical to that of the original film. This is grimmer, more brutal and cynical - like Unforgiven with the bookend narration of Titanic. Unfortunately, it isn't as hard-hitting as either of those films.

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    Soon

    Soon

  • 2000
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