One of the great things about Mill Creek Entertainment [besides their commitment to make available inexpensive volumes of cult TV shows] is that they also collect and release B-movies… lots and lots of B-movies.
GoreHouse Greats is their latest such collection of horror movies. To review all twelve titles would kill a bit too much bandwidth, so, following the jump, there’s a look at a few of the titles with assessments of the set’s overall quality.
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.
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-
Indiana Jones is back – and it’s a Very Good Thing!
Indy has faced many obstacles in his life, but never before has he been considered a potential threat to national security! And let me tell you, it really bugs his @$$!
The problem arises because of a [former] friend who helps a covert Soviet team steal something highly magnetic from Area 51. The consequences of that incident even lead to Indy being put on “on indefinite leave of absence” from his teaching job – the timing of which is conveniently perfect for him to meet a Brando/Dean/Fonzie wannabe named Mutt Williams [Shia LeBeouf], who says his mother told him that Indy could help them. Indy is further persuaded by the KGB goons who try to grab him and Mutt [which leads to the revelation of one of the most poorly kept secrets in the history of cinema…].
It seems that an old colleague of Indy, “Ox” Oxley [John Hurt] may have found the location of the legendary lost city of gold – and the Commies want something that should also be there – something that ties in with the object they nabbed in the film’s opening. “Mother” turns out to the former Marion Ravenwood [Karen Allen] is as feisty as ever [if she could have duped her guards into a drinking contest, she might well have escaped].
Now we come to the key to the whole film – the Crystal Skull of Akator. Spalko believes it’s one of thirteen and when united with its fellows will give the Soviets the ultimate weapon. She’s sure of this, because it speaks to her. Apparently she’s a bit on psychic side…
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the kind of adventure that many of us would kill to have, if only they didn’t happen in some wonderful parallel universe that looks like our own but has as much magic as science. There are chases [and we never even think to question how there could be two parallel roads next to each other in the Mayan jungle]; sword fights on jeep hoods [see parallel roads], and strange and wondrous artifacts, like the exquisitely beautiful, if oddly shaped crystal skull. There’s even a lost city [and a pretty cool explanation for why our modern satellites have never encountered it].
Every Indy film is very much of the time in which it takes place: Raiders and Last Crusade, set in the forties, dealt with Nazis, as well as supernatural artifacts; Temple of Doom [set in the late thirties] was a pulpy adventure that revolved around a Kali death cult. So it’s no surprise that Crystal Skull uses the trappings of the cold war as the basis for its story [and riffs on the best known film cold war allegories for its trippy conclusion].
Even when it’s dealing with exposition [as in most of the middle act], Indy 4 entertains by making the “Basil Exposition” character [John Hurt’s Oxley] interesting – and tossing in some action or surprise every time things look to be slowing too much. Many of the best allusions to the previous films happen here – watch for a great gag with a snake, in particular.
Though there are some significant CG effects used in the film, a lot of the best stunts are practical, and Ford can be seen, clearly, doing more than enough of Indy’s stunts to make us believe it’s still him when a stuntman takes over. Even little things [like the over-the-top meaty sounds of the fist fights] perfectly recapture the feel of the previous films.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is much better than I was expecting [and I was expecting a lot!]. Steven Spielberg does what he does best – marrying action and adventure to interesting characters. He keeps the film moving and provides some wonderful sights along the way.
If you want to put it in terms of the entire series, Crystal Skull fits in, quality-wise, at about the same place as Last Crusade. The two films even deal with daddy issues, so that’s a pretty natural conclusion.