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.

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