Sunday, February 16, 2014

Minute Review - "Seeking Justice"

Seeking Justice

Directed by Roger Donaldson
Starring: Nicolas Cage, January Jones, Guy Pearce, Harold Perrineau, Jennifer Carpenter
Aspect Ratio:  2.35:1
Running Time:  1 hour and 45 minutes

1 star (out of 4)

Nicolas Cage's career once commanded respect.  "Leaving Las Vegas", "Raising Arizona", "Adaptation"....even "The Rock" are considered gems in anyone's resume.  Recently, Cage has fallen on hard times, and even worse films.  "Seeking Justice" is just the latest example of his ineptitude.

Will Gerard (Cage) and his wife, Laura (January Jones), have a great life.  He's a teacher....she's a musician (how they came together is anyone's guess).  Then one night, Laura is brutally raped.  At the hospital, a man named Simon (Guy Pearce) gives Will a proposition.  They know who did it and if he agrees, they will "take care" of the problem.  They only ask sometime in the future that he repay the debt.  You can see where this is going.

The screenplay is convoluted and full of cliches.  There is the unwilling participant, the twist of who the person actually is that Will is tasked to "take care of", that everyone he comes into contact with is involved and there might even be someone in his life involved.  If done well, or even given a fresh spin, these cliches are forgivable and overlooked.  Unfortunately, this film doesn't have anything fresh.  Tired and old, like Nicolas Cage's acting.  Do the requisite crazy looks and yell a few lines....Cage's schtick nowadays that he gets paid for.

Then there is the wasted talent of the other actors.  Harold Perrineau = wasted, Jennifer Carpenter = not even in the film enough to be considered a cameo, Guy Pearce = criminally wasted.....should've elevated the material but not even Pearce can make this film better, January Jones = wa.....oh wait, she does belong in a film of this caliber....let's try that again....January Jones = terrible actor.

So, save your time, save your money (at least I watched it on Netflix) and just know that Nicolas Cage is still content with phoning in his performance and collecting a paycheck on direct to video scripts.  I only wish Guy Pearce had better standards. 

Sunday, August 08, 2010

In Defense of "Land of the Lost"

Land of the Lost

Directed by Brad Silberling
Written by Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas
Starring: Will Ferrell, Anna Friel, Danny McBride, Jorma Taccone
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Running Time: 1 hour and 42 minutes

3 stars (out of 4)

Last summer, "Land of the Lost" made its way onto big screens. Another mid year Will Ferrel comedy, how could it miss? "Anchorman", "Step Brothers", "Talladega Nights" were all former entries from the former SNL cast member that packed them in and were revered in their comedy and quotable lines ("Anchorman" is probably one of the most quotable in recent memory). Everything pointed to another hit for Ferrell. A funny thing happened (or unfunny in this case), the film tanked and was a box office bomb. Costing 100 million dollars to make, it only cashed in 49 million. The reviews, at the very least, were scathing, calling the film "a high concept disaster" and "resolutely uninspired". I, myself, left the film alone in theatres. Even when it made its DVD debut, I held off. How could everything that pointed towards the film being a steaming pile be wrong?

Even when I caught bits and pieces on HBO when it first premiered on the pay cable station, I hated it. Thought it was kinda lame, uninspired. But another funny thing happened...the film grew on me. Each time I caught a different part of the movie, I laughed a little more. It endeared itself to me, dug in like an Alabama tick. Watching it all the way through, from beginning to end, I discovered it is actually better than a lot of the Will Ferrell movies out there. In fact, I would put it above "Talladega Nights", "Step Brothers" and just a step below "Anchorman" as one of his best.

The keys to the success of "Land of the Lost" lay in a couple of different things. Will Ferrell does play his usual clueless man child (Dr. Rick Marshall) with the oblivious and slightly off look on his face. But his relationships with the other characters and the chemistry they possess together on screen make this film that much more enjoyable and funny to watch.

Will Stanton (Danny McBride) is a low rent attraction runner in the middle of nowhere who takes Dr. Rick Marshall and Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel) into his tachyon rich cave. You see, Dr. Marshall was embarrassed on national television by Matt Lauer for his theories on time and space dimension travel. Holly convinces Rick to try out his gadget and prove that his theories are correct. What happens is what propels the film forward, the three get sucked into a space and time vortex shipping them off into an alternate universe.

This alternate universe consists of past, present and future. Dinosaurs crushing Hummer limos. A giant T-Rex and aliens from another dimension (the slow moving Sleestak from the television series). Chaka, a primate from a tribe that resides in this alternate reality, becomes a sort of "guide" (if you want to call it that...mostly he just gets them into trouble). While trying to find Marshall's gadget that will bring them back to their reality, the group run from the dinosaurs, fight the Sleestak and save our reality from Enik, leader of the Sleestak.

What makes this film a cut above the rest is the nuances. Ferrel's character, Dr. Rick Marshall, is mostly an idiot. But he endears himself to the audience - We root for him when the T-Rex is trying to prove that his brain is bigger than a walnut. We love it when he taunts Chaka and is describing how he would taste after cooking him. And we cheer when he gets to shove it in Matt Lauer's face at the end of the movie. This is a testament to Ferrell's comedic acting and timing. If this was in the hands of say Adam Sandler, the movie would have been terrible. But Ferrell pulls it off with his empty looks and pseudo-intellectualism.

The comedic timing is further improved upon with the inclusion of Danny McBride. While he was under utilized in "Tropic Thunder", McBride is on full display here. He also has his share of empty looks and idiot moments (my favorite - when he sings Cher's "Do you Believe in Life after Love" while being vibrated by a giant crystal). But the chemistry between the leads is the key to the movie. Anna Friel plays the straight "man" in the film for the others to play off of. She also helps move the film forward by suddenly developing the ability to speak Chaka's language. Chaka is an important part of the comedy. From giving Ferrell and McBride hallucinogenic juice to only really speaking his name (McBride point this out during a hilarious scene when they are swimming in a hotel pool), the primate is a vital part of the film and is at its best when he's around.

While the plot takes a back seat to antics and one liners, that doesn't take away from the overall joy of the ride this film takes you on. From one reality to another, from pterodactyls to primates, the comedy is always pitch perfect and always on time. The critical drubbing of the film was unwarranted, in my humble opinion. I can see, on face value, how this film can not be what someone expected. It is a change of pace from Ferrell's other films. I see what the movie was going for, but that doesn't mean that everyone will like it or get it. It's a campy, hokey comedy that is a remake of a campy, hokey television series. If you treat it as such, you will get the most out of it.

I must admit that hindsight is 20/20 and I have the luxury of writing this review well after the film came out. If I was to have initially reviewed it upon seeing it when it first came out in theatres, I probably would have given it 1 1/2 stars or 2 stars. But I can give a film a second chance, and I'm glad that I did because my initial reaction to it was less than favorable. I would have amended the review and re-published it as it stands and I am never opposed to admitting that a movie is a lot better (or a lot worse) then when first watched or reviewed. Will Ferrell is at the top of his game in the film, and that is in this dimension or any other.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Review - The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight

Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Eric Roberts, Anthony Michael Hall
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Running Time: 2 hours and 32 minutes

4 stars (out of 4)

Recently there has been a rash of so-called "serious" comic book films. Some have been good, if not great ("Iron Man"). Some have been decent ("The Incredible Hulk", "Hellboy II: The Golden Army"). I personally wanted to hold off on any decision about "The Dark Knight" until I saw it. In fact, I wanted to hold off any criticism until I saw it a few times. For almost a year, and especially since the untimely death of Heath Ledger, there has been an immense amount of hype around this production - and rightfully so. Christopher Nolan reinvented the "Batman" franchise three years ago after it was run into the ground. "Batman Forever" and "Batman and Robin" soiled a once great comic book hero. It was thought giving Batman prosthetic nipples, day-glo batmobiles and prancing villains who spew cringe inducing puns was a good idea. Enter "Batman Begins", a brooding and dark reboot of the franchise. This was not your father's Batman. He was trained in martial arts. The story, characters and motivations were grounded in reality. During his fights, he bled and was bruised. It was a brilliant back story, launching Batman back into society's collective mind. The inevitable question - how does one follow up a great superhero movie like "Batman Begins"? "The Dark Knight" is the answer.

Following the events of "Batman Begins", "The Dark Knight" jumps right into the action. The Joker (Heath Ledger) is at the helm of an elaborate bank robbery in which millions of the mob's money is being looted. It turns out this is the start of an elaborate plan that the Joker has masterminded - more on this later. Batman a.k.a. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has his hands full with copycat "Batmen" who supposedly are trying to help him fight crime. Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) is meeting with District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) to discuss ways of bringing down the mob by hitting them where it really hurts - their wallets.

The Joker shows up during a middle-of-the-day meeting of the mob bosses. The figureheads are discussing with their Chinese money man a way to secure their money is not seized. The Joker states that, sooner or later, Batman will find a way to find the money while, at the same time, getting the Chinese broker to "squeal". True to the Joker's word, Batman does bring the banker to justice. At the same time, the mob unleashes the Joker onto Gotham City.

Dent, in conjunction with Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Jim Gordon and Batman, start to bring the criminals to justice. The Joker, always omnipresent in the film, starts to weave his web of chaos and destruction. Taking out key figures in the fight against the mob, he is able to terrorize the city from the inside out. So deep and intricate is the Joker's plan that no one, and I mean absolutely no one, could predict the unabashedly cruel genius of what he has in store for Gotham.

Pushed to his absolute limits, Batman is having a serious problem keeping control of his problems and emotions. Luckily he has not one, but two voices of reason. Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and the Wayne's loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine). But even with them providing balance to an otherwise chaotic world, the Joker's sadistic antics provide an almost impossible hill to climb. People that Bruce Wayne cares about are put into peril. Not all make it out alive. How much can one man take before he breaks his own rules and snaps? How much can one city take before they start to turn to chaos and anarchy? The Joker intends to find out the answer to those questions. His masterminding ends in an amazing two sided showdown - one involves the Batman vs. The Joker - the other involves citizen vs. citizen. It doesn't end with roses and rainbows, but there is a ray of light at the end of this dark tunnel.

The brilliance of this film - what is boosting it to the number two film all time in terms of grosses - is multi-faceted. First is the acting. What is there to say about Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker that hasn't already been said? It is an absolutely mesmerizing turn that captures the audience in its sheer emotional and visceral power. Ledger embodies the Joker from the start, erupting onto the screen fully formed and ready for action. Gone are the days of the "Batman" serial where the Joker's plans are not fully formed. Gone are the days of Tim Burton's Joker that threatens the city with poisonous body care products. Ledger not only creates a dark Joker - one that truly scares you and doesn't care about anything, a truly anarchist - but he also succeeds at bringing one of the most memorable villains to the screen, ever. A little bit of Alex from "A Clockwork Orange", a little bit of Sid Vicious and a whole lot of Heath Ledger - all of these ingredients create a truly evil force that only "wants to watch the world burn". Pouring his heart and soul into this character, Ledger all but disappears leaving us with a madman. It is an utter tragedy that we will no longer get to witness Ledger gracing the silver screen. To have this as one of his last performances is only fitting for a great talent like his.

Aaron Eckhart holds his own as Harvey Dent. His story arc is the true backbone of "The Dark Knight". Going from Gotham's White Knight to potentially bringing the city to its knees is a huge emotional roller coaster - Eckhart is able to sell the emotionality of Dent. One minute you are fighting crime, the next minute you are holding a man's life hostage with a flip of a coin. Eckhart has always been more a small scale, indie film type of guy. This film will definitely put him on a lot of people's radar.

Christian Bale is dependable as Bruce Wayne. I would never want to see another actor in the Batsuit - ever. Throughout the film, Wayne/Batman is presented with moral dilemmas. How far is too far? What rules must/can you break in order to stop a madman like the Joker? What limits can be pushed before you become the villain and are no longer the hero? These questions and the answers to those questions are portrayed diligently by Bale. The sorrow, the longing, the exhaustion - these emotions are worn on Bale's sleeve, easily readable and heart-breaking.

As for the supporting characters - Michael Caine once again shows why he was the perfect choice for Alfred. Morgan Freeman was a stroke of genius to cast in the role of Lucius Fox. Gary Oldman portrays a good cop at his wits end with crime. All three are Batman's conscience. Brilliant actors that only add to the movie, not steal from it.

Christopher Nolan and his brother, Jonathan Nolan, have written a masterpiece - comic book movie or not. As I said before, the real story here is Harvey Dent's character. He starts out a hero in plain sight. He has ideals that will clean up Gotham City, ridding the streets of mobsters and crime. But through the constant and relentless "influence" of the Joker, he turns into an extension of anarchy. Dent lets fate take over - if it frowns upon you, there are serious consequences to be had. The Joker's plan is very complex (maybe a little too complex) but it is believable. His aim is to turn the citizens of Gotham on each other and make the city his own personal anarchic playground. All of these elements are perfectly interwoven into a complex screenplay that should be celebrated.

While the screenplay is brilliant, Nolan direction is equally as impressive. He deftly handles the story material. Lending a hand is the cinematography of Wally Pfister. The gritty realism of Chicago is transplanted to Gotham City. What ends up on screen is beautifully dark - even in full daylight. Nolan's first American production was "Memento" (a great, if not brilliant, film) - he has gotten better with each successive film. Right now he has the Midas touch because everything he touches turns to gold.

The moral themes and ambiguity are heavy here. Who are the villains? Who are the heroes? How long will you remain on one side of the fence before going to the other side? The true constant of the film is the Joker - he is the catalyst that sparks all the changes. The diabolical plan that he hatches, and then enacts, is true genius. Batman blurs the line of morality. Dent becomes what he once fought. The Joker's downfall is his undying belief that all people are essentially corruptible. The people of Gotham feed into his belief until they are presented with the situation in which the lives of several hundred other citizens are at their mercy. The Joker is sorely disappointed to learn that not everyone is capable of his evil.

To call "The Dark Knight" a great film is an understatement. To call it a masterpiece may be premature - only time will tell. I could definitely go on and on about the sheer genius of the plot, acting, direction, costume design, etc., etc. - but it would begin to get repetitive. Just know that this film is destined for greatness. After experiencing it four times, the film got better with each successive viewing. Robert Downey Jr. has said that "The Dark Knight" is a complex film that requires a college degree to watch. Even though the comment was made in jest, it is partly true. It is one of the rare blockbuster pictures that is smart along with being exciting and brilliant. I hope, if there is a third film in this series, that it is half as brilliant as this. Not only is this one of the best sequels ever made, not only is it possibly the best superhero film ever made, "The Dark Knight" - in my humble opinion - is quite possibly one of the best films in the last twenty years.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Review - Hell Ride

Hell Ride

Written and Directed by Larry Bishop
Starring: Larry Bishop, Michael Madsen, Eric Balfour, Vinnie Jones, Dennis Hopper, David Carradine, Leonor Varela
Distributed by Dimension Films
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Running Time: 1 hour and 23 minutes

1/2 star (out of 4)

I remember back in 2004 when Quentin Tarantino pulled some strings and was able to release the Jet Li film "Hero" here in the United States. There was lots of buzz and hoopla around the release. For those who don't know about the subject, "Hero" was released two years earlier in its native country. The only way American audiences could see the movie was through bootleg versions and online pirating. Then Tarantino came along - he believed so much in the film that he was able to get an American theatrical release. The fruits of that labor were box office success. "Hero" did amazing box office for an end of August release, giving the film an overall haul of 53 million dollars. Tarantino became someone who could, just by presenting films to the theatre, lend some credibility to the production. So, by deduction, "Hell Ride" should have some semblance of being a decent movie. That deduction would be dead wrong. "Hell Ride" is an absolute mess of a film. From horribly written and spoken dialogue to plot lines that neither make sense or have any bearing to what is a sorry excuse for a story. From start to finish, "Hell Ride" is an atrocity of a film.

Following the sorry excuse for a plot is actually frustrating, and trying, so I will try and decipher what I got from it. Pistolero (Larry Bishop) is the leader of a biker gang. He leads a rag-tag bunch which includes The Gent (Madsen) and Comanche (Balfour). Since the mid-seventies, Pistolero has been trying to find the killers behind the murder of his beloved Cherokee (who was double crossing the leader of another gang led by David Carradine). There are many double crosses, a war with a biker gang led by Billy Wings (Vinnie Jones), and tons of in-fighting among Pistolero's bunch. This leads to Wings and his crew hunting down Pistolero's compadres. Along the way, wach gang makes time for strippers and threesomes.

There is a sub-plot (I use the word plot lightly) involving a femme fatale named Nada (Leonor Verela) who tries to intimidate Pistolero with her sexual prowess. Yelling out double entendres about sex and her most intimate parts being on fire, Nada eventually physically harms Pistolero in a very strange scene.

Eddie Zero (Dennis Hopper), a retired member of Pistolero's gang, shows up to help out. Playing both sides, he helps lead Wings' gang along. Eventually Pistolero and Comanche corner Carradine's character, sending to hell in a hand basket - literally. This sends a message to Wings who tries to retaliate, failing miserably at it. This whole "plot" leads to a safe deposit box buried in the desert that everyone is after yet only one person holds the keys.

While the film flickered on the screen and I sat there watching it, I couldn't help but wonder why anyone thought this film was worth putting onto celluloid. The characters are hardly even one dimensional, let alone three dimensional. The dialogue they spew is horrible - this is a bad imitation of a bad imitation of Quentin Tarantino. At many points during the running time, I groaned aloud at how badly written and spoken the conversations were. Most of the time, the script is trying to be witty. But what should have been rewritten a dozen times comes off as if a sex crazed fifteen year wrote the script.

The plot is incomprehensible. Every scene in a film should push the plot forward and contribute to the resolution - "Hell Ride" has scenes that neither contribute to the end result and are completely useless. Every scene that Leonor Varela is in has no point. It is just filler and, even then, it doesn't make sense. Granted Varela is a gorgeous creature (an absolutely stunningly beautiful woman), but this doesn't mean that the scenes she is in shouldn't have focus or influence the film.

The performances are universally bad. I have been a Michael Madsen fan since "Reservoir Dog". His performance in "Kill Bill Volume 2" is something to be admired and revered. Even though he seems like he is having fun in "Hell Ride", that doesn't excuse his hammy style of delivery or his wooden acting/movement. Larry Bishop scowls at his friends. He scowls at his enemies. He scowls at the women he has sex with. Sometimes it even seems as if his goatee scowls along with him. But scowling doesn't equal acting. Carradine is the the exact same character he was in "Kill Bill Volume 2" while Hopper wanders in and out of his scenes like a lost child. Utterly disappointing considering the level of talent involved with this project.

"Hell Ride" should have been a throwback to the Grindhouse films - just like "Death Proof" and "Planet Terror" were. Instead, it falls back and stands in line with some of the worst films of the decade. With a brilliant Executive Producer in Tarantino, a talented cast that has been in some of my favorite films, and a genre that is really hard to mess up - you would think that "Hell Ride" would be a slam dunk. A hit with audiences. Another chapter to add to cult films. Yet it fails miserably, falling flat on its face when it should be excelling. "Hell Ride" is a disastrous misstep that Tarantino should be absolutely ashamed of. I'm definitely ashamed I paid hard earned money to be witness to an absolute calamity.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Review - The X Files: I Want to Believe

The X Files: I Want to Believe

Directed by Chris Carter
Written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz
Starring: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly, Xzibit, Mitch Pieggi
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

I was never a huge "X Files" fan. I started watching it well into the show's television run and just never got a foot hold on the deep mythology laid down by Chris Carter (the front runner and creator of the "X Files"). That is not to say that I didn't like the show. With a mix of stand alone episodes (with their own assorted monsters and inhuman acts) and deep rooted mythology episodes (aliens and government conspiracies), the show was popular and very entertaining. Even the first movie, "The X Files: Fight the Future", was a cut above the series - a mix of action, suspense and a continuation of the mythology. Fast forward five years after the finale - Chris Carter makes his directorial debut with the series that made him famous. With such a long lay-off, one would think that there would be plenty of material to mine for a possibly brilliant return to form for the "X Files". That was the assumption I went in with, and I was dead wrong.

Mulder (Duchovny) and Scully (Anderson) are back, sort of. Scully is spending her time at a hospital helping children with diseases. There is a particular child that she focuses most of her attention on, quite possibly reminding her of the child she lost. Mulder, looking like the Unabomber, is still a conspiracy theorist. He cuts stories out of the paper and pins them to the wall, like a conspiracy collage. When the F.B.I. has one of its own kidnapped, they come for help from the dynamic duo. The reason for this - a pedophile priest (Connelly) has psychic visions that cause seizures and blood letting from his eyes. He claims to see the kidnapper and the kidnapped.

Soon Mulder and Scully are deep into the investigation. Mulder takes up his dry humor and is proactive in the hunt for the missing girl. Scully, ever the voice of "reason", doubts the validity of the psychic yet wants to believe in something - if not anything. Another girl goes missing soon after, the priest leads them to a grave of horrors and the story delves into a nightmare that has been at work for decades.

Sounds interesting, right? Nope - not at all. The chemistry between Mulder and Scully is almost non-existent. Maybe taking such a long hiatus is a bad thing. Let alone that the sexual tension between the two is now a distant memory (they live together now) but the two former agents share a surprisingly large amount of screen time apart. Scully is preparing for a series of highly experimental procedures on the little boy while Mulder would rather stick it through and see the investigation to the end. This may have worked during the series, when some episodes they would only speak to each other on the phone. But in a big screen venture, the two need to spend a considerable amount of time together to make it work.

The supporting actors are either completely horrible or wasted all together. Amanda Peet falls into the latter category. Peet has always been an average actress - some parts good, some parts bad. Here she just is another face in the ever revolving agent carousel. It seems that she is filling the Mulder quotient - the believer of the bunch who easily buys into conspiracies or the "paranormal". Unfortunately, there is no new ground broken with her character. Peet seems to just be going through the motions. If that is on purpose or not, I'm not sure. Either way, it doesn't work. Xzibit plays the Scully character - skeptical and tries to stay grounded in reality. Honestly, I have no idea why he was chosen to be in a film like this. His acting is sub-par and lends absolutely no credibility to the role. Maybe Chris Carter should have cast someone who's name doesn't consist of just one word. Mitch Pileggi's character, Skinner, isn't even in the film until the last twenty or so minutes. Treated like an afterthought, Skinner is basically brought in as back up to Scully - absolutely a waste of time and talent.

The story itself would be a stand-alone episode. A modern day Dr. Frankenstein with certain historical ties. The only thing paranormal is the psychic priest. No monsters. No aliens. No conspiracy. If this was an episode in the series, it would be considered sub-par - maybe even one of the worst episodes. The only excitement comes near the end in which Mulder is in grave danger and Scully is racing against time to try and save him. Other than that, there is long scenes of Scully obsessing over helping the child and Mulder believing in the priest - even when no one else will. When you think about it, you would hope that after such a long lay off from the series and a ten year gap between films, there would be something more. But Chris Carter lays an egg and the result is a half baked idea that spells disaster for potential box office returns.

With such a dense mythology and a wealth of potential stand alone ideas, "The X Files: I Want to Believe" is a colossal waste of time and talent. In my opinion, the only one who comes out looking a little better than the others is Duchovny. His dry sense of humor and charisma have always shone through - whether it be on "The X Files" or any other show. Hopefully, if they do decide to make another "X Files" movies, they get input from everybody. Let's try to satisfy everybody, just not hard core fans. Given the relatively low budget of the film, this may be a possible scenario. But in the wake of this disappointment, I just hope and pray they realize the mistake they made. I wanted to believe that this would be a return to glory for a dormant series. I wanted to believe that the magic, that was once there, would return. I wanted to believe that this would be one of the better films of the summer. Unfortunately, reality set in after seeing the film. All I can believe in now is that Chris Carter needs to make up for this mishap.

Monday, August 04, 2008

G.I. Joe in a remake of "The Thing"

I had to share this. Two of my favorite things from the 80s are merged and forged as one. It's actually a music video for a band called Zombie Zombie, but the sound of the music actually is eerily similar to that of John Carpenter - the director of "The Thing" who also does all of his own music.

It's not exactly a scene by scene remake, but it captures the essence of "The Thing" and also the direction of John Carpenter.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Review - The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Directed by Rob Cohen
Written by Alfred Gough & Miles Millar
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Jet Li, Maria Bello, John Hannah, Michelle Yeoh, Luke Ford, Isabella Leong
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Running Time: 1 hour and 52 minutes

1 Star (out of 4)

Sometimes sequels outdo the original film in action, plot and furthering the "universe" of the original film. Such sequels ("Aliens", "The Empire Strikes Back", "The Godfather Part II") are also revered as some of the best films of all time. Then comes the inevitable sequel to the sequel, otherwise labeled as the third film in a series. Out of these films, there are very few that stack up to the originality that spawned the series. "Spiderman 3", "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End", "Scream 3" are a few of the recent flops that tries to parade themselves as part of the series but ended up being mere impostors. "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" is a shell of what the original Mummy movie was. This is not to say that "The Mummy" series is classic cinema, quite the contrary. But the series, up until this point, had B movie roots with a silly charm that captivated audiences (even if it was a cheap knock off of the Indiana Jones films). But this film sinks to new depths, completely tarnishing an enjoyable series.

The plot, at least what masquerades as one, involves a Chinese Emperor (Jet Li) that lived before Christ. He conquered most of China, yet is dissatisfied because he feels he has so much more to do which would require him to be immortal. He dispatches his general to find a witch (Michelle Yeoh) who may or may not hold the key to immortality. In typical fashion, the Emperor betrays his general and the witch, but he has unknowingly been betrayed by the witch who has cursed him to an eternity of being trapped as a clay/metal statue. Cut to present day where Alex O'Connell is digging up the Emperor's Tomb. After surviving booby traps, Alex finds the Dragon Emperor and brings him to Shanghai.

Enter Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) and Evelyn O'Connell (Maria Bello, who replaced Rachel Weisz in the Role). They are given the task of delivering a rare artifact to Shanghai, which they gladly accept to escape there pampered, boring life. After a brief union with Jonathan (John Hannah) and their son, the O'Connells are double crossed by an old friend who is in cahoots with chinese militants. The Dragon Emperor is set free as a result and seeks the pool of eternal life. Thus sets the table for a cross country race through Shanghai, into the Himalayas, to Shangri-La and finally ending up at the starting point of our story - the tomb of the Dragon Emperor's soldiers.

While this may sound exciting on paper, the translation to the screen is dull, boring and groan inducing. In between the listless action sequences that are saturated with horrible CGI, there are scenes with the main characters that bog down the story with useless and horrible dialogue. The chemistry between Fraser and Bello is nonexistent while both characters ham up the relationship and their individual scenes with grade school acting. Maybe this is the fault of the director, or the writers, or both. But the "witty" one-liners that the characters spot are neither witty or clever - They are just plain bad. The secondary characters, especially the Chinese militant group, disappear and reappear with no rhyme or reason while the motivations behind these characters (particularly in the climatic battle) are both unexplained and laughable. Jet Li is completely wasted. Li is barely in human form during the film while his martial art skills are not utilized nearly enough. The "big" battle between Li and Yeoh is little more than a grade school fight. When it starts, its nothing more than punches and kicks (it doesn't even seem choreographed) and it ends before it even gets going. Such a great opportunity wasted.

The action scenes in a film like this are supposed to be grandiose in both style and scope. Unfortunately, this film has neither. The action is smothered with CGI that looks like it was made using an outdated laptop. There is no tension or real danger while in the middle of some of these scenes, the viewer realizes that they are bored to tears. The film comes to a screeching halt so many times, it feels as if the running time may be well over four hours.

It seems as if the writers also ran out of new ideas for the movie and started stealing scenes from other much better films. There is a part of the film that a character is mortally wounded. What follows is straight out of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade". All you have to do is plug in Sean Connery and Harrison Ford and you wouldn't know the difference. During the climactic battle, the undead soldiers start to pull routines straight out of "Army of Darkness". The Abominable Snowmen creatures look like oversized, all white renditions of Gizmo. Speaking of these "abominations" - they kick a bad guy in between two poles and one of them actually puts up his arms, signaling that the field goal is good. Really? Are you serious? It is vomit inducing.

I had some high hopes walking in to see this film. The first two were all in good fun, even if they were Indiana Jones wannabes. But "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" is boring, badly produced and just plain stupid. With all the other films that have come out this summer, Universal should be ashamed that they even greenlighted this sequel. The script should have undergone a major overhaul while the visual effects should have been fine tuned to make them less horrible. Walking out of the theatre, I had the feeling of being pissed off. Pissed off that I had been looking forward to this film and being severely disappointed. Pissed off that this film is now part of "The Mummy" canon. Pissed off that I paid money to see one of the worst films of the year.