Tag Archives: Action

TELEVISION REVIEW: The Librarian: Curse of the Judas Chalice – Still In Like Flynn

Every so often, you need a little low-budget, B-movie fun. The Librarian: Curse of the Judas Chalice [TNT, Sunday, 8/7C] provides exactly that. This time, Flynn Carson’s [Noah Wyle] New Orleans vacation is interrupted in unique style as it comes to light that the Judas Chalice – the chalice made from the silver of the thirty coins paid to Judas Iscariot for Christ’s betrayal – has come to light. Obviously, The Library would like to add it to their private collection.

Librarian 3

Curse of the Judas Chalice continues to mine the Indiana Jones format to good effect. The movie opens with Carson bidding on a vase from the early Ming Dynasty [circa 1411] and having to destroy it to obtain the real treasure inside. There follows swordplay – and a throw pillow is involved – all of which leads to Carson’s girlfriend breaking up with him.

From there, a serious meltdown and a strange dream lead our hero to take a vacation in New Orleans – where he encounters a statue and a woman that were in said dream. Mix in a former KGB agent and Russian government official named Kubicek [Dirkan Tulaine], who has a lead on the chalice; a decrepit history professor named Professor Lazlo [Bruce Davison], and a legend that suggests that the Judas Chalice can resurrect vampires and you’ve got a potent mix for adventure. Once Carson encounters the woman from his dream, Simone [Stana Katic], singing in a club, the action comes fast and furious.

Curse of the Judas Chalice is a bit of a comeback for the franchise. As with the Indiana Jones films, the second chapter wasn’t quite right [and Gabrielle Anwar was no Sonja Walger – whom we see in the opening credits here for some reason]. Where the second Librarian movie was too silly, Curse is just silly enough. The idea of resurrecting vampires combines well with revelations that make sense of Judson’s [Bob Newhart] appearance in New Orleans to give the series an extra layer of the epic.

Jonathan Frakes keeps things light and breezy and Marco Schnabel’s script is witty and slightly deranged. Add in genial performances and solid effects and the result is an entertaining bit of froth that will provide a cheery couple of hours – which is exactly what it sets out to do.

Final Grade: B

MOVIE REVIEW: Transporter 3: Taking Package X From Point A to Point B!

The basic premise of the Transporter movies is, as noted above, taking Package X from Point A to Point B. What makes the series fun is the obstacles that pop up every time we see Frank Martin [Jason Statham] take on a new gig. In Transporter 3, Frank is unwittingly involved into helping an eco-terrorist named Johnson [Prison Break’s Robert Knepper, going from scuzzy and greasy, to silky and sly] blackmail a member of The Ukraine’s government into signing a contract that would enable him to have toxic materials dumped there on a regular basis.

transporter3

How does he plan to do this? By kidnapping the minister’s daughter, Valentina [Natalya Rudakova]. How does keep the minister from finding her and thwarting his plan? Yup. By hiring Frank to take a package from just outside Marseilles to Budapest. Frank thinks the package is the bag in his trunk – but only for about as long as it takes to realize that she shares the same booby trap as him – a bracelet that will blow them up real good if they venture more than seventy-five feet from the car.

Director Olivier Megaton [there’s a good story behind the pseudonym – look it up online] brings a fresh zing to the franchise. His film has more of a staccato rhythm than its predecessors, and the bottom to the score literally rattles the theater. Cory Yuen returns to choreography the martial arts mayhem and gives us a look at why Frank’s wardrobe is so important to him.

Also as usual, stuff does blow up real good – just not Frank or Valentina. The special effects work is bigger and, and yet more delicately placed [in terms of timing], fuelling Megaton’s rhythms as much as Yuen’s fight sequences. Frank remains rather droll, looking more inconvenienced by his opponents than any danger – until he does finally catch up with Johnson, of course.

By limiting Frank to a set distance from his, Megaton and scriptwriters Luc Besson and Robert Kamen create a situation where Frank has to be even more creative in the way he handles problems – and it’s Statham’s wry presence that helps the audience to buy into the conceit. In Transporter 3, we get a purely fun flick to offset all the mawkish holiday movies and serious awards bait. It’s not brilliant, but better-than-average, propulsive fun has its place.

Final Grade: B-

MOVIE REVIEW: Quantum of Solace: Vengeance is Mine, Quoth Bond!

If you’ve seen Casino Royale, then you’ve gotten all the character development you need to enjoy Quantum of Solace, the latest adventure of MI6 operative James Bond [Daniel Craig] – but it’s not all the characterization you’ll get before the film ends. This film, which begins twenty minutes after the end of Casino Royale is a sleek action flick that – while it may be influenced by what Paul Greengrass did with the last two Jason Bourne films – manages to use some of the handheld techniques from the Bourne trilogy without ever moving completely away from the equally kinetic but different style of the previous film.

Bond & Camille

Here, Bond is out to avenge the death of the only woman he ever loved. The problem, he learns, is that her killer is part of a global network dedicated to take over the planet by perverting the fight against global warming to their own ends. The film’s most visible antagonist is Dominic Greene [Mathieu Amalric], the front for an organization of alleged ecological crusaders. Complicating things is a woman who is after the man who killed her family – and is now working with Green.

Quantum, it turns out, is the name of this shadowy organization and their claim that they are everywhere is supported by an attempt on M’s [Judy Dench] life by her own bodyguard. Circumstances dictate that she cut Bond loose to do what he does best – while looking like she’s trying to get him to stand down. It gets even more complex from there though Bond’s ability to suss out information from the slimmest resources gets him through it in fine style

Marc Forster’s direction, as mentioned above is somewhat influenced by the Bourne films, but he skilfully weaves unexpected character moments throughout in a way that’s so invisible that many reviewers have found the film devoid of characterization. Such is not the case – though much of Quantum’s character moments come through choices Bond makes in the midst of action.

The action sequences are breathtaking throughout, but the bookends of the opening chase/fight sequence and the wall of destruction just before the film’s conclusion are among the best I’ve ever seen. The cast is excellent as well – especially Olga Kurylenko as Camille – the woman who, like Bond, has vengeance on her mind [her situation at the end may have something to do with her not sleeping with Bond, but that’s a subject for Bond fanatics to debate.

Amalric makes a good villain for two reasons: acting skill [and knowing when not to chew the scenery], and the fact that his eyes seem just a tad bit too large for his face [just enough to be creepy; not enough to be funny]. In terms of sheer presence, none of the other Quantum employees/conspirators matches him.

Overall, then, while Quantum of Solace won’t be making any top ten best films lists for 2008, it is in no way a bad film. Rather, it is one of the half-dozen best Bond films – and that’s not too shabby.

Final Grade: B+

DVD REVIEW: The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior – Fast Acting B-Movie Fun!

One of the mixed blessings of the continuing advancement of CG effects is that they make it possible for movies that might not otherwise exist to reach the public – usually in the form of sequels and/or prequels to theatrical films that earned enough to warrant a sequel/prequel, but maybe not quite enough to warrant a blockbuster – like The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior.

Box Art

The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior is, essentially, the story of how the young Mathayus [Michael Copon] became the warrior who would eventually become the Scorpion King. TSK2 is a jaunty little B-movie given more flare than it deserves by director Russell Mulcahy [Highlander], who almost made the resident Evil franchise interesting. Of course, in his RE movie, he didn’t have to contend with the stolid Randy Couture as Sargon, the brutish trainer of would-be Black Scorpion warriors and assassin of the king. Couture looks good in fight sequences, but has the acting chops of Howdy Doody.

Still, the adventures of Mathayus and his friends, Layla [Karen David] and the poet Aristophenes of Naxos – not Aristophenes of Corinth [that hack!] – [Simon Quarterman], are rousing fun in the tradition of spear & sandal/sword & sorcery epics of the sixties. You’ve got travel to exotic lands, messed up myths, and even an angry/jealous/lonely goddess [Astarte, played with cheerful malevolence by Natalie Becker].

Mulcahy keeps things moving at a quick enough pace that you might not even notice a scantily clad member of the group suddenly sprouting a couple of dangerous [and long] swords, and the effects are above average for a direct-to-DVD release. Plus, we get the usual gang of just-there-to-die-horribly characters to add the possibility of danger.

For a straight-to-DVD fantasy, TSK2 has a pretty decent assortment of bonus features: Deleted Scenes; Gag Reel; Fight Like an Akkadian: Black Scorpion Boot Camp [again, not quite the in-depth look at training it suggests, but still fun] Making of TSK2 [more a behind-the-scenes glimpse than an actual look at the making of the film]; Becoming Sargon: One on One Randy Couture [Couture discusses his time making the film]; On set With The Beautiful Leading Ladies [behind-the-scenes with Karen David and Natalie Becker]; Creating a Whole New World [Production design], and The Visual Effects of TSK2.

Grade: The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior – B-

Grade: Features: B+

Final Grade: B

MOVIE REVIEW: Death Race: Baby You Can Drive My Car!

The original, Roger Corman production of Death Race 2000 was a high energy, in your face film that [sadly] predicted the reality TV thing. In its highly campy way, though, DR2K mixed in social commentary through the race’s rules [Hit a pedestrian? Add points. The pedestrian is an old lady? Bonus Points!]. The remake is a grittier, nastier piece of work that pits prison lifers against one another – and the last driver left alive wins [win five races and go free – in theory].

Koehler, Statham, McShane & Vargas

Jensen Ames [Jason Statham] is framed for the murder of his wife and finds himself on Terminal Island [think Alcatraz, 2015]. The warden [an exceptionally elegant Joan Allen] asks him if he will take over for a driver known only as Frankenstein. Poor Frankie died in the last race and she needs to keep the myth alive to keep up the ratings on the race’s internet subscription pay-per-view. Ames is given Frank’s pit crew, an oddball lot that includes Coach [Ian McShane], the pit chief who stayed on after his sentence was completed; Gunner [Jacob Vargas], a master mechanic, and Lists [Frederic Koehler], who seems to know more about everything than anyone else in the film.

Arrayed against Ames’ version of Frankenstein are nasties like Machine Gun Joe [Tyrese Gibson], Pachenko [Max Ryan] and Travis Colt [Justin Mader] – killers who treat their vehicles as weapons. Furthering the goonage is Jason Clarke as Warden Hennessy’s head guard, Ulrich. To balance the villains, Frank’s navigator is a gorgeous female convict named Case [Natalie Martinez], and she even gets to take part in the action a couple of times.

The big surprise about Death Race is that it is infinitely better than anything else director Paul W.S. Anderson has ever done. The writing [again by Anderson] is tight – though his attention to detail still needs a bit of work – and he stages some pretty impressive races. Even more impressive is that practically all the stunts and driving were done… well… practically.

True, the cast isn’t required to do much more than hit one or two notes apiece, but they hit those notes with the kind of enthusiasm that communicates itself onscreen. Although darker than the colorfully camp original, Anderson’s Death Race is not without its humor – some of it telegraphed but done with panache, and some of it sneakier than you might expect from the guy who gave us the Resident Evil and the Alien vs. Predator movies. And you won’t find many who can out cuss the elegant Warden Hennessy when things start to go wrong…

With a big budget and marketing plan, Death Race could, finally, vault Statham to actual action star status [and well past time]. It’s not the greatest action movie ever, but it does hit just the right spot in terms of vicious action, ham-fisted social commentary and general mayhem.

Final Grade: B-

MOVIE REVIEW: Pineapple Express: The Apatow Comedy Factory Narrowly Averts Disaster!

Seth Rogen may have used his action sequences in Pineapple Express to audition for his upcoming The Green Hornet, but despite action sequences choreographed for humor as well as thrills, his earnestness in them almost takes deflates the good-natured stoner buddy comedy that Pineapple Express really is.

Dale Saves Saul

Dale Denton [Rogen] is a process server who loves his job [mostly because of the costumes he uses to fake out his victims – and the time it affords for smoking up]. After a day of multiple disguises, he stops at his dealer’s place. There, Saul Silver [James Franco] hooks him up with some Pineapple Express – smoke so potent that you can high just smelling it! From there, Dale heads off for one last delivery before calling it a day – a summons for Ted Jones [the comically malevolent Gary Cole], the dealer who supplies Red [Danny McBride], Saul’s supplier. When Dale witnesses Ted and a policewoman [Rosie Perez] kill an Asian man, he freaks out and tosses his roach of PE – which in turn leads Ted to Saul, via Red and things go from easy flowing and happy, to omigawdomigawdomigawd! And I haven’t even mentioned Dale’s high school student girlfriend, yet…

If Harold and Kumar are the stoner Hope & Crosby, then Dale and Saul are the stoner Riggs and Murtagh. Director David Gordon Green somehow manages to takes Rogen and writing partner Evan Goldberg’s split personality script and makes it feel like a single piece. The action sequences ramp up the tension, but much of the choreography and stunt work have elements of humor to them that hold the film together despite Rogen’s dead serious approach to them. Fortunately, between the ridiculous action, Franco’s ability to just bliss out – even when under fire – and some way out bits with McBride’s Red, the goofily genial absurdity of the film is maintained.

Although Pineapple Express is the weakest of the productions from the Apatow Comedy Factory, it remains, largely, above the average because of its slightly hallucinogenic bromance and its integrity when it comes to maintaining its overall upbeat mood. And did I mention Danny McBride’s Red? Definitely one of the best parts of the flick…

Final Grade: B-

MOVIE REVIEW: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor – Uninspired Sequel Bores!

The first two Mummy movies may not have been critical successes, but they did have an off-kilter charm that made them hits with the masses. As one member of those masses, I have to say that I did enjoy them, myself. So, why then, do I not care for the third instalment in the series?

The Emperor's Army

Writer/director Stephen Sommers only produced this film. They recast Evelyn O’Connell – and Maria Bello ain’t Rachel Weisz, not by half. Luke Ford, who plays the O’Connell’s grown son, Alex, has the charisma of a box of Shreddies. Brendan Fraser, who threw himself into Journey to the Center of the Earth, seems to be going through the motions here. John Hannah’s exclamation, “I hate mummies! They never play fair!” is the height of the wit in this installment’s banter [you know you’re in trouble when Hannah has to force his dialogue…]. The action set pieces – and the CG, for that matter – have a been there/done that feel about them.

On the plus side of the ledger, we have Jet Li, whose energetic and charismatic villain might have been fun if he’d a script worthy of him; Michelle Yeoh, who manages to rise above the morass that is this film, as an immortal witch whose one true love was drawn and quartered by Li’s Dragon emperor, and Isabella Leong brings some badly needed spirit to the proceedings as Lin, the witch’s equally immortal daughter, who incomprehensibly develops a thing for Alex.

Despite director Rob Cohen’s best efforts, The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor galumphs along at a lacklustre pace for a would-be summer blockbuster. If it wasn’t for the performances by the key Asian actors, this would be a complete disaster. Thanks to them, there are enough bright spots to avoid an F.

Final Grade: D

DVD REVIEW: Stargate: Continuum: Playing with Time

Stargate: Continuum is the first DTDVD stand-alone adventure of the SG-1 team and it’s a bit of a time traveling doozy! It begins with SG-1 and General Jack O‘Neill [Richard Dean Anderson] attending the extraction ceremony for the last Goa’uld still existing in a Goa’uld System Lord. The Goa’uld is Ba’al [Cliff Simon], or rather, the last clone of Ba’al, who warns them that they’ve made a terrible mistake. As the ceremony proceeds, Vala [Claudia Black] and Teal’c [Christopher Judge] vanish. When members of the Tok’ra begin to disappear, too, the remaining SG-1 members and O’Neill realise that Ba’al has gone into the past to prevent the Stargate from being used – leaving Earth open to complete domination by the Goa’uld.

One of the best things about Stargate time travel tales is that they are usually a lot of fun. Continuum takes that to a whole new level, with appearances by nearly every major character in SG-1 lore – even though many are surprising cameos [check out the appearance of the System Lords, for example]. Also, Continuum is a stand-alone movie, so it’s not wrapping up a cliffhanger – or leaving fans hanging on yet another one.

SG_CONTINUUM Box Art

In the alternate timeline that’s created by Ba’al’s maneuver, we get to meet alternate versions of O’Neill, General Hammond [Don S. Davis], Major-General Landry [Beau Bridges] and even President Henry Hayes [William Devane] – and we learn that, in this timeline, Col. Samantha Carter [Amanda Tapping] was an astronaut who died saving her shuttle crew and Daniel Jackson [Michael Shanks] is a discredited crackpot. Not only that, but Lt.-Col. Cameron Mitchell [Ben Browder] is in a position to create a Grandfather Paradox [look it up] if he screws up.

Stargate: Continuum works on a couple of levels: it’s a solid SG-1 adventure replete with action, humor and wit, and it’s also a breathtaking visual achievement, with some brilliantly shot sequences in the Arctic – and the first ever time that a nuclear submarine has been used in a movie [the captain being played by the sub’s real commander]. The writing is a bit above the average for the series and the cast get to play some interesting variations on their characters – especially, Shanks, whose Daniel Jackson suffers more than usual [even for him]. The direction is, as with the series, pretty snappy. Even the expository scenes are rife with wit and fun. As for the effects, they’re terrific – though they can barely hold their own against the majesty of the Arctic.

Features include: Audio Commentary by Executive Producer/Writer Brad Wright and Director Martin Wood; The Making of Stargate: Continuum Featurette; Stargate Goes to the Arctic Featurette, and The Layman’s Guide to Time Travel.

Grade: Stargate: Continuum – B+

Grade: Features: A

Final Grade: A-

DVD REVIEW: Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Fourth Season: Wraith, Replicators and Pregnancy!

One thing you can say about the Stargate franchise – it may rarely reach brilliance, but it’s equally rarely less than fun. Season four of SG Atlantis found Torri Higginson’s Dr. Elizabeth Weir leaving her command for a pretty good reason – to keep the Replicators from destroying Atlantis. In her stead, the Atlantis Expedition welcomed [all except for maybe David Hewlett’s Rodney McKay] Col. Samantha Carter [Amanda Tapping] as their new commander.

Box Art

Along with other familiar villainous faces [like the Genii], season four also brought the former Wraith Michael [Connor Trinneer] back and tied his arc into the story of Teyla’s [Rachel Luttrell] pregnancy [Luttrell’s real pregnancy sparked the writers’ ideas]. We got to see Rodney attempt to propose marriage; the deserted Atlantis of twenty-eight thousand years in the future, and a fable about a little girl who was about to become queen. The season’s creative high point may have been Tabula Rasa [with everyone’s memories gone, including his, Rodney has to save the city], but I particularly enjoyed Midway wherein Col. Carter asks Teal’c [Christopher Judge] to help Ronan [Jason Momoa] prepare for his IOA interview – and things go, of course, hilariously wrong.

Overall, Atlantis’ fourth season rarely disappoints. The writers have a firm handle on the characters and seem able to produce interesting new riffs on the many aspects of the series. The cast is a well-oiled unit, figuratively speaking, and each has shown the capacity for bringing new shadings to their characters as the writers delve more deeply into them.

Features include: Audio Commentaries on nineteen of the twenty episodes [excepting only the one I wanted most, Midway]; four Mission Directive Featurettes [Doppelganger, This Mortal Coil, Quarantine and Outcast]; A New Leader: Amanda Tapping Joins Stargate Atlantis Featurette; The Doctor is In: The Return of Paul McGillion Featurette; The Making of Trio Featurette; A Look Back at Season Four Featurette; Bloopers; Deleted Scenes, and the usual collection of Photo & Design Galleries.

Grade: Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Season Four – B

Grade: Features: A+

Final Grade: A-

MOVIE REVIEW: Hellboy II: The Golden Army Is Glorious Fun!

Although technically not a superhero movie, Hellboy II: The Golden Army is one of the most beautifully visual films of this or any other year. It’s also a combination of a lot of genres: comic book movie, action flick, fairytale, horror story, eco-fable, romantic drama, pulpy noir, FX flick. The thing is, because of writer/director Guillermo Del Toro’s love of the characters, and his amazing visual sense, all of these genres fuse into a whole that is ever-so-slightly greater than the sum of its parts.

Hellboy [Ron Perlman] and Liz Sherman [Selma Blair are together in this film – a situation that is more a bit awkward. As Abe Sapien [Doug Jones] puts it, “They have their good days and their bad days… and their really bad days. Complicating matters are Hellboy’s longings to go public – FBI liaison Tom Manning [a woefully underused Jeffrey Tambor] is particularly put out by a photo which the big guy posed for… and autographed!

Into this chipper little situation comes an elvish prince named Nuada [Luke Goss], who wants to raise the legendary Golden Army to destroy mankind as mankind has been replacing nature with shopping malls and parking lots. His twin sister, Nuala [Anna Walton] is dead set against this and flees – encountering Abe in the Troll Market [think a fusion of the Star Wars Cantina and the Floating Market from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere], where he helps save her from a troll. Everything escalates from there.

HB vs. Golden Army

Perhaps The Golden Army’s greatest asset is Del Toro’s amazing visuals. All of the film’s creatures are beautiful [sometimes in very disturbing ways] and the sets are enthralling. The creatures are mostly practical and the prostheses and animatronics are absolutely state of the art. Of course, they wouldn’t mean anything if the story and the characters didn’t support them – but they do.

The film is probably hardest on Abe, who encounters romance for the first time in his life, but the Hellboy/Liz relationship takes some interesting and powerful turns as well. Then there’s the new kid on the block, Johann Strauss [voiced by Seth McFarlane], a Teutonic being of ectoplasm housed in an encounter suit that resembles the old spider-Man villain, Mysterio. Brought in to bring Hellboy to heal, Strauss shows some unique abilities, but can’t contain the curmudgeonly demon.

Del Toro shows that Pan’s Labyrinth was no fluke as he sets up action sequences and emotional situations that are simultaneously larger than life and as real as oxygen. He puts his characters through trials of epic proportion, while keeping their feet firmly on the metaphoric ground. The only real flaw of the film is that it may be too rich, too full. There’s so much going on – on every level – that it’s hard to get it all in one viewing. The cliché, “I laughed. I cried. It became part of me,” may actually apply here – Hellboy II: The Golden Army has an effect that lingers long after you’ve left the theater.

Final Grade: A