Monday, June 21, 2010

The A-Team and The Phantom: 2 Reviews

The A-Team

As far as my prime time television programs go, “The A-Team” was almost always a favorite of mine when I was growing up. Mercenary soldiers for hire would go out and right some wrongs on a near-weekly basis, often without shedding any blood or leaving bodies behind. In point of fact, their methods were usually as non-violent as they could be with an emphasis on the show of “possible” force in order to intimidate the black hat of the week into giving up. It was a fun modern day version of the “three musketeers” for the 1980’s, complete with national patriotism and swashbuckling stunts, flippant remarks thrown off the cuff, and the occasional romance. Most people also remember the A-Team as a major star vehicle for cultural icon “Mr. T.”, but the cast of characters included a number of unforgettable roles. But I have to admit, news about a theatrical film rehash didn’t really do much to spark my interest. Even with Liam Neeson headlining, my hopes were abysmally poor and I didn’t think much with regards to heading off to see the film. My intended quarry for the month was going to be Jonah Hex…. Fortunately, enough bad reviews from trusted sources steered me away from that travesty and sent me to “The A-Team” in celebration of Fathers’ Day.

In the opening moments of the film, Hannibal Smith is in the midst of a dangerous mission that eventually introduces, assembles, and draws all four members of the team into a daring escape from Mexican soil while simultaneously setting up their intended target. It’s the first of many missions that would take place over the next eight years before we’re brought up to Iraq and the Teams’ mission that ultimately sees them set up and imprisoned on trumped up charges. They escape, of course… and I’m sure you can pretty much guess the rest from here on out. Revenge, action, romance, and tales of derring do set to a heavy rock soundtrack and great character chemistry between the four men.

The man who truly shines in this film, however, is Patrick Wilson as “Agent Lynch”… as the primary antagonist throughout the film, he uses, abuses, and ultimately attempts to eliminate the Team in a bid for the McGuffin device set up. Wilson is fantastic as a smarmy punk CIA agent who wants to be far more dangerous than he really is; in truth he is more like something of a frat-nerd in awe of the pop culture around him. Like an armchair quarterback, he sets up the pieces and relies on them to do the work. When the action begins to creep far closer to home, he begins to make one mistake after another and they start to snowball out of his control. Wilson has been making the rounds in a number of stand out performances this past decade, from Raoul in “Phantom of the Opera”, to Nite Owl in “The Watchmen”, and his lesser seen yet ultimately fantastic performance in “Hard Candy”. Wilson is a name to watch out for in the coming years.

As good as the film is there is one glaring flaw in what had been an extremely satisfying theater experience. Unlike the original series, the film racks up an impressive body count with several graphic scenes of violence. Maybe it’s a small quibble for me (and sounds excessively odd from a guy who loves the blood and guts of a horror film), but I thought some the violence was a little excessive and didn’t really stay true to the spirit of the original show. One scene in particular felt a little brutal, kind of spoiling the excitement for a moment. It’s not something many people would have noticed with the tone and pacing of this film, but it simply felt “wrong” to me.

4.5 out of 5.

The Phantom

Sy-Fy Network has had hits and misses with regards to their Original updates to the classic series of years gone by. But, for me, The Phantom literally came out of nowhere and hit me in the face on Sunday night. I hadn’t seen a single trailer, hadn’t heard any word of mouth, and pretty much came across the two episode miniseries event by complete accident. As a big fan of all things “pulp”, I feel as though my secret decoder ring is no longer valid and someone purposefully left me out of the loop on this decision so I wound up missing the first ten minutes of plot exposition before I managed to tune in.

The last I saw of The Phantom, Billy Zane was wearing skin-tight purple body underwear, a domino mask, and black eye shadow while spouting out lines like a wooden boy who just wasn’t quite real in a rather bland adaptation of the original series. So the Phantom was a popular hero in the early 20th Century, fighting off evil and battling crime around the world. Wielding twin pistols and dressed in purple, “The ghost Who Walks” takes a vow to protect the innocent and uses a vast personal spy network to track the activities of various “Evil forces” (most notably the Singh Brotherhood). SyFy Network took a note on previous failures to adapt the series and decided to update the character for a new generation, bestowing the famed cowl upon the descendant of all previous Phantoms.

What Syfy offers is a fantastic update to a classic series that not only stays true to the roots, but also brings the technology and attitude up to date. The writers either did their research or they really fell in love with the character at some point, hitting all the right key notes in their delivery of a character who could have come across as a cheap Batman clone (despite the Phantom coming first). There is a strong emphasis on “protection” and doing what should be done, rather than what could be done. It defines heroism as more than just putting on a costume, more than just preaching an ideal, but in the actions of a man and what he chooses to do. Bravo to SyFy on this one.

4 out of 5.

Monday, June 14, 2010

4 Reviews<> Prince of Persia, Blood Creek, The Descent 2, and Tokyo Zombie

It's been a long time, hasn't it? I'm sure you've missed me... or something along those lines. Anyway, dear Faceless REader... I present you with a walloping 4 reviews. How do you like that?

Prince of Persia

With his awkward smile and traditional good looks, Jake Gyllenhall seems like a natural for the role of swashbuckling hero. After tackling several dramatic roles in off-beat films, the actor’s recent mainstream plunge have elevated his box office appeal and it was only a matter of time before someone found a vehicle to drive his box office stardom to new heights. The video game adaptation of “Prince of Persia” almost seems like a perfect match, giving Jake a chance to shine as the titular character who swashbuckles his way through the sands of a Persian desert and face off against villainous sorceries in an attempt to save the world. Unfortunately, whether due to poor direction or a lack of seriousness on the part of Gyllenhal, the role doesn’t really deliver all that much and Prince Dustan comes off as a vanilla bland with a hint of Monty Pythonesque silliness as he struggles through a faux English accent.

But this is really the only complaint about a film that, in every other way, delivers the goods. The action is quick and intense, with a lot of “parcour”-inspired chase scenes across the roof tops, through the castles, and built into various fight scenes. The special effects, mostly computer generated, were spot on and tried to avoid looking “silly” for the most part. Costumes were excellent! For fans of the “Arabian Nights” style mythology, the film draws strong inspiration from that genre with a melting pot of various cultures trading goods and services in a barren desert fraught with bandits, monsters, magics, and dangers. Finally, the supporting roles are a hodgepodge of classic “myth” characters with a pair of noble thieves, the skillful Princess, weapon-focused assassins, and an evil mastermind whose betrayal cuts to the heart of our hero.

A good popcorn muncher, but not quite the epic I think Disney might have been hoping for.

3.5 out of 5.

Blood Creek

I finally get this one from Netflix after waiting roughly 2 months. This movie has had a lot of buzz, with significant respect from various websites and a level of cult approval that simply demands the film should be seen by genre fans. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the films’ arrival, though a part of me has also been dreading the possibility that it would be another empty promise unfulfilled.

The film opens in 1936, when the German Government sends a researcher to stay with a family of German immigrants on a secluded farm in America. He’s there to examine some old runes the family found carved on several rocks throughout the property, rocks the family used to help build the foundation for their barn. In short order, we find out there’s much more to this researcher than meets the eye and he reveals his ability to return life to the dead. And with that discovery, we are flung forward into the present and are introduced to a paramedic whose life has somehow been flung out of control. His “War Hero” brother has been missing for two years after a fishing trip to a nearby lake. This young man has shouldered the burden of blame, from himself, his sickly father, and his brothers’ family. He tries to make up for the loss, taking care of his father, his brothers’ wife and children, all while living in a ramshackle camper just outside his family home. He wakes up to a hand on his mouth to find his brother standing above his bed; “Get your gear, some guns and ammunition, and grab the boat…don’t wake up dad. We have work to do.”

That’s how the movie starts… and what has happened over the course of two years is delivered in the course of the next day’s events as both brothers return to the farm house from the start of the film. The family hasn’t aged much and things have been very bad for a very long time. I don’t want to give away much more, because it might enter spoiler territory and you don’t want to know what’s going to happen when things start going down… the pacing of this bad boy keeps you on the edge of your seat with spectacular gore effects upping the ante. The films villain, the monster, is poorly described as a vampire in several reviews… this poor definition ill prepares you for the thing that haunts this farm. This is a traditional Necromancer, a sorcerer whose talents lay with raising and controlling the dead. But event that definition would ill prepare you for the thing and the horrors he unleashes throughout the course of the night.

5 out of 5.

The Descent: Part Two

The Descent part Two picks up shortly after the end of the original film, with Sarah managing to make her way to the surface as a rescue operation is already in affect to rescue her friends. We find out that Juno is the daughter of a State Senator and the county Sheriff is a little overeager. Unable to remember the past several days, Sarah is forced to accompany the small rescue operation back into the caves where they once again come face to face with the snaggle-toothed beasties from the first film. Less focused on the characters this time around, The Descent Part Two still manages to pack a bit of a punch and there’s no shortage of the sticky red stuff as survivors fight back against their ripping, tearing, rending attackers.

There isn’t a lot to be said about the film. It’s good, it follows up on a decent story, and it delivers on the gory guts. This is pretty much a follow-up film that doesn’t do much on it’s own and does absolutely nothing for the first films’ storyline. Everything that needed to be said or done was done so by the climax of the first film. It also doesn’t really stand on it’s own as we’re forced to care, yet again, about the same two characters we had grown to enjoy in the first film. The other characters are fairly two dimensional caricatures of what they represent. All of this with an ending that comes from right out of the blue, and you have what you have… a decent popcorn muncher flick, although fairly well done.

4 out of 5.

Tokyo Zombie:

Hello? My name is Mark. I’ve been watching Zombie movies since the age of around 9 or 10, each film experience building on the next and the next with a constant craving for more. I never seem to fill the void; I never seem to find satisfaction. And so it was with an unholy thirst that I clicked on this selection from Streaming Netflix and sat back to watch what would wind up being one of the oddest bits of zombie cinema. I offer humble thanks to the gawds of zombiedom that this piece of awesomeness actually exists and that someone was goof-nut insane enough to write this script.

Two factory workers, both idiots, living in the shadow of a large volcano accidentally kill their direct supervisor after he catches them practicing jiujitsu on company time. They bury him on the Volcano, where everyone goes to drop their trash and bury various bodies. The dead rise, they infest all of Tokyo, and then the two factory workers use their jiujitsu skills to try and survive. After meeting and rescuing a young woman in distress, their partnership comes to an end when the elder statesman of the two becomes bitten and decides to leave before he turns. Five years later and Fujio is now married to the woman, with a young daughter, and he survives as a professional Zombie fighter in the middle of Tokyo where the rich entertain themselves by making the poor fight zombies in a pit. Look, this movie I insane and I can’t really do it justice… now it’s not a perfect movie, either. But it’s awkward and often flat out stupid, but that’s really the point of the film… it’s just utterly insane.

4 out of 5.