Mortal Kombat is truly comic book stuff. If you like the idea of 90+ minutes of comic book style martial arts then you're going to love Mortal Kombat. Even for us non-believers, there are a good number of things to relish. For one, the sets are just incredible. The scenery, stages and settings are absolutely fantastic and well worth the price of the cinema ticket alone (at least at a 2 PM matinee here in Brighton). There are a number of gratuitous shots of the scenery, with suitable lighting and sound effects to relish throughout the film. Secondly, there is the music. Personally, I'm no great fan of techno, but I must admit that the combination of martial arts and techno music is rather novel and very good. The entire effect is that it transcends fighting and turns into a very elegantly choreographed dance (which is what it is anyway). It becomes something more than just another martial arts movie, enough of which we suffered during the seventies, along with so much else.
The acting isn't brilliant, particularly not that of Robin Shu, but there are the odd good moments. Most of these come from Christopher Lambert, who as usual, doesn't seem to take his role too seriously. Considering that he's playing the God of Thunder and Lightning, I don't suppose that's too bad a thing. The other real show stealer is Goro, a four armed monster. Unfortunately for the other actors, Goro is animated, which should serve as an indication to the level of acting in this film. Still, don't let that deter you. Mortal Kombat is quite enjoyable, provided you don't take it too seriously.
Moving from dark fantasy to dark future, Waterworld is set on Earth in the not too distant future when the polar ice caps have melted. The Mariner (Kevin Costner) stops at an island oasis in a world covered by water to pick up supplies, but find that he gets a mother and daughter along for the ride. All would be well, but both Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn), the mother, and the evil Deacon (Dennis Hopper) are obsessed with the idea of Dryland. In a world consisting of oceans, nothing is more valuable than land and the little girl Enola (Tina Majorino) has a tattoo on her back that just might be a map showing the way.
Waterworld is supposedly the most expensive film ever made and you can tell. This film is nothing if it isn't impressive. When I saw it, I made the mistake of seeing it on a screen that was slightly larger than your average sitting room television, but I can assure you that this is something that needs a fifteen meter wide screen, at least. The sets are incredible, the effects are outrageous, the score is fantastic, the entire thing is, well, I run out of superlatives. It is truly impressive. However, and this is the crux, it's really just another adventure film. The basic plot is well known, the outcome is awfully predictable, there are no real plot twists. The wrapping might be the most expensive and spectacular to date, but the contents is the same old, recycled Hollywood action-adventure that we are so used to by now.
Having said that, Waterworld isn't a waste of time or money. The acting is nothing spectacular (in particular Mr Costner's attempt seems pretty luke warm), with the exception of Dennis Hopper who always manages to portray criminal maniacs with that spectacular fervour. The reason for seeing this film lies in it's impressiveness. While the sets in Mortal Kombat are impressive, in Waterworld they are stupendous. See this film on a big screen, in a THX cinema with Dolby Digital Stereo. Sink back into the deep velvet cushioning in the chairs and let your mind boggle at the cost of making this film.
Finally, my favourite film of this trio -- Clueless. It's far from science fiction, I know, and it's even further from both Mortal Kombat and Waterworld, but there is something so adorably lovely about this film. It stars Alicia Silverstone of Aerosmith video fame as Cher Horowitz. At first, she seems to be another superficial Beverly Hills Blonde, but underneath the surface is a witty, intelligent and charming young lady, who tries, in her own way, to make the world a better place. Cher and her best friend Dion (Stacey Dash) come to the rescue of Tai (Brittany Murphy) who, being from the East Coast, has no idea how to behave in the Beverly Hills environment. After a complete, and successful makeover, Tai fits in just a little too well, and Cher starts wondering what she's done.
There is something irresistibly charming about this film. Alicia Silverstone is perfect as the happy-go-lucky Cher, who is so busy sorting out the love-lifes of others, she's sacrificing her own. The film is filled with fantastic exchanges and expressions, such as Cher: ''surfing the crimson tide'' and Cher: ''Hallo Dad, meet Tai'', Dad: ''Get out of my chair!'' For director Amy Heckerling this isn't her first visit to the world of high-school, but it is her best. So, don your bright red tartan designer jacket, buy your popcorn and extra large Coke and let yourself be charmed by the delightful Miss Cher.
The obvious thing about Goldeneye is, of course, that Timothy Dalton is no longer wearing the dinner jacket and bow tie, but has handed these over to his successor: Pierce Brosnan. In this writer's humble opinion, Mr Brosnan is the person who should have wielded them all along, but apparently contracts and money dictated otherwise. In any case, Brosnan's characterization of Bond is excellent, in particular the way in which he plays the ''sexist, misogynist dinosaur'' (in M's words), lost in the politically correct and changing world of the 1990s. Suave, full of boyish charm and relentlessly ignorant of his outdated demeanour, he happily does what he does best, much to the annoyance of everyone else.
Unfortunately, while most other things have changed, it isn't for the better. Bond films are made to a formula, granted, but Goldeneye sticks to it rigorously, never once straying, which results in an exceptionally predictable film. No plot twists, no sidelines, no sub-plots, nothing. In addition, the characters are so shallow they hardly penetrate the celluloid they're printed on. What are supposed to be awesome adversaries are reduced to cartoon-like puppets, suitable for The Children's Channel, much like those in that superhero's tragic ninetysix minute embarrassment, Hudson Hawk. The have one trait each, be it ''power hungry'', ''sadistic'', ''benign'', or whatever. The result is a cast of characters that are so unrealistic that you're left wondering whether the rating of 12 years for this film means maximum age.
Bond films are known for their gadgetry. As Bond's bedroom-judo partner for this adventure, Natalya Siminova (Izabella Scorupco), puts it: ''toys for boys''. Interestingly enough, there is a lack of just that. What is even more confusing is that although the obligatory scene where Q (ever faithfully portrayed by Desmond Llewelyn) demonstrates the latest technological whizzies to Bond, they never actually get used. The sports cars by that famous Bavarian motor company that was been talked about for months prior to the film's premiere and which, as demonstrated by Q, has the latest answer to traffic police helicopters, finally appears for about 35 seconds and does nothing except transport our hero. Other gadgets, such as a laser beam equipped watch, are used but never explained, breaking one of the cardinal rules of Bond films. The net result is an audience left wondering whether they fell asleep from the drudging monotony of the single-dimensional characters all at the same time, missing one of the (possibly) three vital parts of the plot.
While not brilliant in any way, the latest Bond film isn't all bad. One of its most redeeming features is the music, both the suggestive and interesting title music, written by the unlikely constellation of Bono, the Edge and Tina Turner, and Eric Serra's absolutely fabulous incidental music. The title music is, to this attendee's mind, the best Bond theme so far, with the possible exception of Goldfinger. Eerie and suggestive, it combines a steady pulsating rhythm with expressive vocals, resulting in one of the most catching tunes of them all and truly marvelous at setting the theme for what comes next (although what comes next fails to live up to the expectation). As for Serra, those familiar with films like Subway, Le Grand Bleu and ''Nikita'' will know his distinctive style and unique feel for incidental music. Few composers can set the mood using the simple, effective sound that Serra employs. If you can't stand the silly characters and the thin plot, then at least you can close your eyes and sit back, fully enjoying Serra's great music.
Another redeeming feature of this film is the dialogue. Most of the time it's of the same children's hour quality as the rest, but occasionally it rises above this abyss and results in some really good one liners. True, Judi Dench does deliver most of these, but the odd memorable line comes from Joe Don Baker too. Bond's female adversary, Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) is remembered mostly for her heavy panting. So, what's the bottom line? Well, if you enjoy films, and in particular film music, then this might not be a complete waste of time. If you like Bond films that are made to a formula and never stray from it, with plenty of explosions and not too much serious acting to distract from them, then this is definitely for you. The rest of us can wait for it to appear on television next Christmas. Rating? Well, about two out of 007.
The petty criminal Henry Young (Bacon) is placed in Alcatraz, along with many others, just to fill the empty space. He attempts escape, but is caught and placed in solitary confinement. He is kept there for three years, let out for half an hour of daylight each year and repeatedly tortured by the Assistant Warden, Glenn (Oldman), and his henchmen. When finally let out, he is two cards short of a full deck and in a fit of rage, spurred on by another inmate, murders the informant responsible for his three years of hell with the sharp end of a spoon. The case is obviously a hopeless one. One insane murderer, one dead body and two hundred witnesses. It is exactly for this reason that Public Defender James Stamphill (Christian Slater), fresh out of law school, gets the case. However, being the Bright Young Thing he is, he disregards the wisdom of his peers and decided that Justice will have its day. Arguing that Alcatraz murdered, that Young was merely the tool and accusing Alcatraz of Crimes against Humanity, he embarks on the quest for Truth. The only trouble is, no one is interested in Justice, nor Truth, including Young himself.
Christian Slater is Christian Slater and, despite the exquisite 1930s-style Armani suit, he simply doesn't have that elusive something that makes a great actor. At least, not yet. Kevin Bacon and Gary Oldman do. Bacon is truly fantastic as Henry Young, emotionally and socially crippled after three years of living in a dark, damp hole in the ground. Chillingly fantastic is also Gary Oldman as the sadistic Assistant Warden Glenn. The film uses rather unusual, hand-held and somewhat wobbly camera shots. These are evident particularly during the first half an hour, when Young's three years of hell are depicted. Although slightly disturbing, they do convey the mood well (perhaps a little too well). A nice touch is also the newsreel at the very beginning of the film, which really looks 1930s and not 1995 made to look like 1930s. If you enjoy a well acted film, with interesting characters, good cinematography and a plot which is something different from `boy meets girl' or `hero kills villain, saves maiden' then this is for you. Even if you don't like courtroom dramas, or cannot understand the thrill of seeing half a dozen people in a single room, two of which pace back and forth and argue their cases, then still give Murder in the First a chance. It's well worth it.
Another film genre is the ''costume drama'' and a film that fits nicely into this category is ''Angles and Insects''. It starts off a little slow, admittedly offering more ''costume'' than ''drama'' during the first thirty minutes, but this changes. William Adamson (Mark Rylance) is shipwrecked upon returning from a natural science expedition in the Amazon, losing almost all his possessions and specimens. He returns with only two butterflies to his benefactor, Sir Harold Alabaster (Jeremy Kemp). Being the kind, gentle soul he is, Sir Harold lets William stay at his home, in return for cataloguing his own extensive collection of natural paraphernalia. Here William meets the beautiful Eugenia (Patsy Kensit) and promptly falls in love with her. Realizing the impossibility of a man of his low social standing ever having a chance with someone like Eugenia, he is forced to resort to astonishment when she accepts his proposal of marriage. All is well and fine, but soon he finds himself longing for the Amazon again, while suffering the predictable monotony of life in England and the equally monotonous elitist sarcasm of Eugenia's brother Edgar (Douglas Henshall).
This film is almost Greenawayish in its symbolism. Although not laying it on quite as thick as in Peter Greenaway's films, director Philip Haas plays with the juxtaposition of dresses and butterflies, ant colonies and the people of the mansion, religion and natural science. (A bit of trivia for you: In 1989 in Lethal Weapon 2, Patsy Kensit played Rika van den Haas.) The costumes are stupendous and are quite unlike anything else I've seen from the late 19th century, but they fit in nicely with the rest of the slightly surreal environment. A nice touch to this film are the various sub-plots that operate on different levels. What starts off as a fairly straightforward romance film changes character after thirty minutes and becomes something much more sinister. There's Sir Harold, a devout Christian, who ponders his fate as ideas of natural selection and evolution are advanced and accepted in the world; there's Edgar, the spoilt, upper-class snob, who behaves like an alpha-male on an overdose of testosterone; there's Matty, the ''ugly one'', a woman of great intellectual power who helps William record the life of an ant colony; there's Eugenia, who appears to have the same function as the ant queen; and finally, there is William and Eugenia's children, who don't seem to follow the laws of genetic inheritance.
It's nice to see new films that offer something slightly different than a rewrite of one of the four normal predictable plots that Hollywood otherwise seems to stick to like white on rice. I can heartily recommend a visit to the cinema taking in Angels and Insects as a change of diet. While not quite as surreal or offending as some of Greenaway's films, it nonetheless offers an interesting look at the ways and whims of the rich and shameless.