The Four Feathers (2002)

Reviewed by James Holloway

"Freedom. Country. Honor. Passion. To save his best friend, one man must risk everything he loves."

Directed by Shekhar Kapur
Starring Heath Ledger, Kate Hudson, Djimon Hounsou and Wes Bentley

BMM Keywords: Laughable racial stereotypes, Boring, Senseless waste of solid potential

    This is like the seventh movie based on A.E.W Mason's 1902 adventure novel, so there must be material in there somewhere that works. So. Heath Ledger is Harry, a dashing young blade who loses his bottle when he finds out that his regiment is going to be shipped overseas to fight the forces of the Madhist uprising in the Sudan. He resigns his commission, and his three mates (but not steadfast best buddy Wes Bentley, oh no) give him white feathers as a symbol of his cowardice. His fiancee Ethne gives him one as well: DISSED! 
    I could be misremembering that, actually. Anyway, overcome with shame and disowned by his father (Tim Pigott-Smith, who knows a thing or two about colonialism, I should say), Harry heads out for Egypt with the intent of ... doing ... something. Along the way a bunch of meaningless incident gets him lost in the desert. He hooks up with rugged native Djimon Hounsou, and they catch up with the regiment just as it's getting its ass whupped by the sneaky Madhists (there's more to it than this -- which is actually part of the problem). Oh dear! Jack (Bentley's guy is called Jack. The others have nicknames and names and things, but I just think of them as Wide Mouthed Guy, Stiff Upper Lip Guy, and Trench -- his name, even!) is blinded and Harry ships him home, then goes tearassing off to Omdurman to rescue Trench, who's been locked up by the baddies. He rescues him, once again with the aid of Hounsou. Actually, Djimon does most of the rescuing. Meanwhile, Jack and Ethne are falling in love. Or, uh, maybe not. And Harry's dad learns to love him again. And then maybe he and Ethne get back together. I guess.

What's wrong with it?

    Well, there are really two -- or maybe three -- separate problems. 

  1. You never really get a grip on Harry's character. For a Victorian gent, he's very sensitive -- or at least he doesn't brutally opress the natives. He also swings wildly in terms of behavior -- it's a very short while in film terms between his quitting the regiment and enduring terrible disgrace as a result of his fear to his crossing the desert in a caravan full of cutthroats and scum, which is surely equally dangerous but doesn't seem to bother him at all. I mean, not "he's overcoming his fear." He seems confident. Foolishly so, in fact, because the predictable happens and he gets mugged.
  2. You never get any evidence that Harry and Ethne really care for each other, other than that they're both young and attractive. She disses a brother pretty quickly.
  3. The film's goofy narrative clatters along from one over-explained incident to the next, and most times the scene ends with Djimon Hounsou saying something profound or saving Harry's ass. Why this isn't called Djimon Hounsou: Dumbass Imperialist Rescuer: The Motion Picture, I'm not entirely sure.

What's right with it?

    Uh, the big battle scene where the Fuzzy-Wuzzies knock the tar out of Wes Bentley and co. is pretty exciting. And there are some nice landscapes and things, and a pretty decent evocation of the various aspects of Victorian England. So I guess you could say it looks pretty nice.

How bad is it really?

    It's ramshackle. Picaresque adventure stories tend to be like that, but usually you have to have a hero who's competent or likeable. "Good-looking" won't cut it in a film like this, I don't think.

Best bit?

    Probably the battle bit. And even then it was kind of confusing. And really not long enough.

What's up with...?


Production values: All right. Battles, costumes, deserts. 5

Dialogue and performances: Hmmm. Leads cast for looks. Djimon Hounsou does the best he can with, basically, Tonto. 15

Plot and execution: Jumbled. 15

Randomness: High; a lot of stuff happens, all right, but not all of it with much in the way of motivation. 16

Waste of potential: Obviously people liked the novel. And one or more of the previous filmed attempts. No excuse. 15

Overall 66%


Mighty Jack (1968)

Reviewed by Simon Drake

Directed by Kazuho Mitsota
Starring Hideaki Nitani, Naoko Kobo and Hiroshi Ninami

“Space age narco agents in underwater bust”

    Ace mountaineer/cartographer Harold Atari is captured by an evil criminal organisation called “Q” so the U.N call in the help of Mighty Jack to find him and bring him in. Mighty Jack is a six person team lead by the lethargic Colonel Yabuki and his band of hapless idiots that traverse the globe in their flying submarine (which is indeed yellow!) battling against cat-stroking supervillains with maniacal laughs.
    Harold Atari is taken to a tropical island where he’s locked in a room with a wooden door guarded by one inept hench-idiot and tortured with a sunbed by a cat-stroking supervillain who’s quite fond of extreme close ups whilst laughing maniacally. After Atari confesses after three seconds of intense tanning he finds that there’s a radio transmitter/tracking device in his shoe given to him by Mighty Jack (although they only gave him a jacket in the flashback…and didn’t even tell him about the gizmo hidden within!) and triggers it. This leads Mighty Jack to him and despite the one guard and balsa wood doors, Jerry, the hapless womanising Mighty Jack spy gets captured anyway and is subsequently rescued by Captain Roger. Jerry is sent back to the sub for being a complete prat thereby leaving it up to Roger and Atari to shoot up a computer bank for some reason. Then they all fly off, blow up a random flying machine that’s following them “Take that CNN!”…Then do a U-turn and blow up the island. It turns out Harold Atari is in fact a Commander and is now in charge of Mighty Jack.
    Now as if that wasn’t confusing enough, the storyline suddenly changes to a completely different plot leading me to believe the producers simply (and rather badly) edited together two episodes. The second plot is about a crazed evil German called Fritz Von Mueller who has a molecular altering dashboard mounted gun that can turn anything into ice. So obviously the first place he uses his ice forming superweapon on is a base in…erm…the Antarctic. Because, you know…there’s not much ice and erm…he’s evil you see.
    Anyway after several boring and thoroughly confusing scenes involving French folk singer politicians and double crossing travel writers it all ends with Hans shagging a suitcase until it blows up and kills him (no really!), an exploding underground lair and then the cat seems to shoot the supervillain.

What’s wrong with it?

    As you can probably guess from the plot synopsis it’s a James Bond rip off from Japan that makes bugger all sense. The acting is in the ‘Joey from Friends’ calibre which is obvious even before the lame dubbing, and the characters are the worst kind of stereotype; hapless womaniser, smooth spy, evil German called Fritz…and the old classic, the cat stroking übervillain.
    The model effects footage look as if they are swept up from the editing room floor after the Stingray team had disregarded them as being too unrealistic. As for the groovy 60’s music, however cool Theremins sound they are completely inappropriate for your average action rescue scenes…that also goes for ukuleles used to score submarine skirmishes.

What’s right with it?

    It’s kind of a laugh to watch, especially if you’ve seen Austin Powers. However it’s pretty painful filmmaking.

How bad is it really?

    Just really, really bizarre.

Best Bit?

    Probably the ‘aqua team’ rescue…which is in fact two scuba Action Men in a bath.

What’s up with?


Production Values – This is what you get when you have a stack of old Gerry Andersen stock footage, a couple of spaceship corridors and some shiny costumes. And then get the Beach Boys to do the soundtrack. 19

Dialogue and performance – As it’s dubbed, the dialogue could have started out completely different but this version is really poor, all Bondian spy talk and Star Trek techno speak. The acting is lame, with hilarious dramatic pauses and British dubbing. 17

Plot and execution – Lazy eyed psycho trying to take over the world from his underground lair, by way of the most confusing convoluted route know by cartographers. Directed in much the same way. 18

Randomness – Killer cats, exploding secretaries, flying submarines…It’s like Monty Python making a James Bond film with a ukulele. 20

Waste of potential – The best Japanese Bond film about a crime solving unit in a flying submarine I’ve ever seen. I just hope Mike Myers has watched it. 11

Overall 85%


End of Days (1999)

"Prepare for the end."

Directed by Peter Hyams
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Byrne, Robin Tunney and Kevin Pollack

BMM Keywords: So bad it's good, Jesuit commandos, 'Did I mention I'm evil?'

    A girl born under the sign of the Occulus Dei (Eye of God) is prophesied to be the chosen bride of Satan, mother of the antichrist, blah, blah, blah. While the Vatican debates whether to try and save her or kill her, the international Satanic conspiracy are all over this business like ugly on an iguana, setting one of their own as the midwife and consecrating the kid to the Dark One within minutes of birth.
    Twenty-some years on, on the eve of the millennium, young Christine York (Tunney) is plagued by visions, and a Wall Street broker (Byrne) gets possessed by an invisible angel and goes strange. Now the devil incarnate, he goes forth to gather his minions, get laid and claim his bride in the hour before midnight on New Year's Eve.
    Enter Jericho Caine (Schwarzenegger), suicidal but still-mighty ex-cop turned bodyguard and his sidekick, Chicago (Pollack). Hired to protect the broker, Caine's day goes weird when a priest named Thomas Aquinas takes a shot at his principal. Pursuing the case for no reason whatsoever - especially since the principal has already gone missing - and hampering police investigation in the meanwhile, Caine tracks down Christine and saves her from a pack of Renegade Vatican Masonic Ninja Jesuits.
    There follows a series of Satanic shenanigans in which Caine repeatedly refuses to accept that his puny mortal weapons have no effect on the Devil. He resists the temptation to hand over the girl in exchange for his murdered family's restoration, but is suckered when his detonated buddy appears miraculously unscathed and thus gets himself crucified.
    Recovering very quickly, Caine takes out a temple full of Satanists with heavy weapons, blows up the Devil's host body and faces his true form down in a church. The Devil possesses Caine, but by asking God to give him strength Caine is able to throw himself on the incredibly sharp sword held by a statue of St Michael just at the storke of midnight. As he dies, he sees his family beckon to him.

What's wrong with it?

    End of Days' main problem is its sheer, unutterable stupidity. The plot hinges on everybody, from the Pope to the head Satanist to Jericho Caine being a big dummy. The Vatican, despite vast funds and an international organisation, are way behind in this game. The Satanists, despite years of preparation and a massive head start, can't complete the relatively simple assignment of getting one girl to the right place at the right time. Even the Devil, despite having all the moves, can't score.
    I guess part of the Satanists' problem is that they're too busy being gratuitously evil - seducing children, corrupting justice and generally doing the metaphysical equivalent of pissing in the font - to have any really good contingency plans, such as say escape tunnels. It's also never explained why - for example - since they've been raising Christine throughout her period of moral education, they didn't just teach her that she was the predestined bride of Satan and Queen of the World. Even if she had to be some kind of innocent, you'd think they could have worked it so Satan rescued her from the Renegade Vatican Masonic Ninja Jesuits, after which he'd be in like Flynn.
    Oh, and the whole 666=1999 was a hoot.

What's right with it?

    In a word, the usual suspects. Byrne and Pollack are the real top billers here, but the supporting cast is wonderfully sincere and even Arnie comes off well. The acting here is really very good, so it's just a shame the script is so very, very stupid.
    The effects are also pretty good, with the highlight being the Devil as a floaty, invisible angel and the nadir the Devil as unconvincing horn-ed beasty.
    And did we mention: Renegade Vatican Masonic Ninja Jesuits?

How bad is it really?

    Well, to be fair this was one of the real gems of the pre- and immediately post-millennial boom of 'Book of Revelations' Y2K movies. Now, in part this is because all the rest were so appalling, but End of Days rattles on at a cracking pace, never seems to take itself too seriously, and besides; where else can you see Miriam Margolyes beating the tar out of Schwarzenegger?

Best bit?

    The clergy explain to Jericho that in dreams numbers often appear upside down and back to front, so that the Number of the Beast, 666, actually refers to the year of his release; 1999.
    Apparently numbers in dreams also miss off the '1'.
    Alternatively the Renegade Vatican Masonic Ninja Jesuits busting into Christine's house to kill her and insisting on giving her the Last Rites first.

What's up with...?


Production values - Top-notch, with the exception of the crappy devil at the end there. Almost scrapes in very low indeed, but there's just that element of naffness which can't be ignored. 6

Dialogue and performances - A number of rather talented people - and Rod Steiger - give it their all in this movie, acting their little hearts out, bless their cotton socks. Even Arnie can be seen - once or twice - to emote. Sadly, the script isn't quite up to this standard, but it's better than your standard action flick fare, and at least Arnie doesn't dispatch Satan with a corny kiss-off line. "Hey Satan; go to Hell!" 9

Plot and execution - Oof. What gives here? The plot is a flimsy tissue held together by coincidence and rank stupidity on the part of pretty much all concerned. Still, the direction maintains a certain pace. 14

Randomness - Remember how I said the plot is held together by coincidence? Well, there's your randomness. Plus, if Renegade Vatican Masonic Ninja Jesuits aren't random, I don't know what is. 16

Waste of potential - As noted, one of the very best apocalyptic action thrillers of its time. If only they'd given it a little thought. 7

Overall 52%