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Culture: Classic Sports movie with a deliriously funny kick.

Byline: Mike Davies

SHAOLIN SOCCER

CERT 12A 87 MINS

Stephen Chow's wonderfully silly kung fu soccer comedy comes up trumps as one of the year's most deliriously fun films.

Adopting the classic sports movie formula of the hapless underdogs who come good when they take on the bad guy opposition, this could well be called Bend It Like Bruce Lee.

Chow plays Sing, a martial arts master with a mission to bring Shaolin kung fu to everyday life, in much the way acne-ridden street vendor Mui (Vicki Zhao providing the eventual romantic interest) does in making her steamed buns.

In a fit of inspiration he decides that the best way to do this is by putting together a footie team of fellow disciples from his old monastery, joining forces with Golden Leg, an ageing former soccer star crippled by rival player Hung who now lords it over the soccer world with his, yes, Team Evil.

They're an unlikely bunch of ragtag losers but when they get in touch with their Shaolin selves they can kick balls so hard they catch fire and, Matrix-style, give a whole new gravity defying meaning to the term flying tackle.

The narrative's all over the pitch while the comedy rockets between send up and slapstick like manic pinball machine.

But there's considerably more fun to be had in the wildly ridiculous matches than anything you're likely to see between two goalposts in the whole Premier League season. HHH

TOOLBOX MURDERS

CERT 15 94 MINS

Having recently seen his own Texas Chainsaw Massacre remade, Tobe Hooper now keeps the ball rolling by reworking Dennis Donnelly's low budget 70s horror, one of the original so called 'video nasties'.

For horror fans fed up with all the knowing self-reflexive post modern irony that's taken over the genre in recent years, this is a welcome return to the old school splatter days where psycho killers cheerily went about despatching their victims with as much glorious gore as the make up departments could muster.

Not that there isn't a hefty degree of style involved too . Hooper affectionately recreates that queasily washed out look that graced the likes of Driller Killer, wedding a series of ingeniously grisly murders (using a variety of handyman's tools as you might surmise from the title) to rather more depth of character than is usual for such fodder and lacing everything with a humorous line in homages that range from Psycho to The Perils of Pauline.

It all takes place in a dilapidated hotel that was once home to Hollywood's glitterati but which, like most of its current residents, has now fallen on hard times.

Just moved in with her intern husband, teacher Nell (Angela Bettis) is less than impressed with the building's shoddy state of repair, something the sleazy caretaker dismisses as part of the place's historic charm.

Before long though, poor plumbing's the least of her worries as neighbours along the corridor start disappearing. Following hints from one of the older residents, she discovers not only a whole series of hidden floors but that the hotel has its very own indestructible and possibly supernatural live-in killer going by the name of Coffin Baby.

With nail guns, claw hammers, drills and, in the 'best' of the bunch, a bolt cutter, all put to spectacularly bloody service, the film provides any number of red herring and potential suspects, the building's emotionally retarded leering handyman just one of the most obvious.

Hooper cranks up a genuine sense of gloom and terror as Nell journeys deeper into the heart of hotel - and Hollywood - hell. HHH

THE CORPORATION

CERT PG 145 MINS

Achbar and Abbott's lengthy documentary examines the concept and nature of corporations and, legally obliged to put financial interest before the public good, their impact on the world. Drawing on interviews with CEOs, pundits and whistle blowers (interviewees include Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky), it is illustrated with witty archive footage and psychoanalyses a corporation as if it were (as legally defined by the Supreme Court) a person.

It paints a compelling, if disturbing, picture of a psychopathic institution exploiting the planet beyond sustainable bounds in the name of corporate greed.

Individual items such as Fox's appalling attempt to whitewash the news about toxic chemicals in a drug designed to increase milk yield, Walmart's sweatshop labour and how Coke created Fanta to maintain a presence in Germany during the second world war all rivet, but the whole film is essential viewing. HHH

CARMEN

CERT 15 119 MINS SUBTITLED

Ditching the songs, Vicente Aranda gives Bizet the boot and goes back to the original novel for this smouldering bodice ripper of sex, jealousy and murder in 1830s Spain.

It introduces the original novelist, Prosper Merimee, as a travelling writer to whom soldier turned convicted bandit Jose (Leonardo Sbaraglia) recounts how his obsession with spitfire factory worker Carmen (Paz Vega) has brought him to the eve of execution.

It's a thoroughly steamed up dose of Spanish melodrama about machismo and female sexuality.

What with coarse dialogue (though one suspects the subtitling slang isn't entirely historically accurate), plenty of claret spilling, crude vulgarity involving cigars and a flouncingly stroppy Vega apparently unable to keep in her clothes for longer than five minutes at a time, it's nothing if not overripe.

Unfortunately, while it looks fabulous there's more sexual chemistry between Sinead O'Connor and The Pope than there is Sbaraglia and Vega, making the ploddingly meandering two hours even more than an ordeal than it already is. HH

INTO THE MIRROR

CERT 15 113 MINS SUBTITLED

When a series of bizarre deaths occur inside a Korean department store that's about to reopen following a post-blaze refurbishment, security chief Yeong-min, an ex-cop hung up over a botched hostage incident that left his partner dead, becomes convinced they weren't suicides but that the victims were somehow killed by something within the store's mirrors.

Naturally, neither his store manager uncle nor the detective in charge (with whom he inevitably has history) have time for such talk.Then, fresh from a mental home, along comes the twin sister of the woman who died in the fire.

The next thing you know the film's tumbling together corporate conspiracy, ghostly revenge and a climax that borrows from both Ringu and the more recent Phone.

Despite relying on the now well worn Asian supernatural horror motifs of half glimpsed long haired women staring out of mirrors, it does manage to deliver a reasonable number of visually stylish deaths and chill moments. Not least the first time you see a mirror image take on a life of its own.

But ultimately, overloaded with abstract and existential themes of duality, reflections and the looking glass worlds of life and death, this is more concerned with being clever than creepy. HHH

CAPTION(S):

The punishment was swift for missing penalties like Beckham in Shaolin Soccer
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 12, 2004
Words:1144
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