26 May 2009

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

The ancient feud between Werewolves (aka Lycans) and Vampires had a beginning. The first two Underworld movies were set in modern day as Vampires and Lycans blasted away at each other with machine guns and high-tech toys. In the modern day, Viktor (Bill Nighy) meets his end, there comes a hybrid of the Lycans and Vampires. Centuries earlier, Viktor was a king-- he held sway over lesser Vampires as well as the lords of the nearby human lands. He and his undead held court. Humans accept Viktor's reign in exchange for his promise of relief from the onslaught of Werewolves. Past their supernatural origins, Werewolves were polar opposite of Vampires: feral, cursed, once men but doomed to live our their lives as vicious predators in animal form. Viktor found a Werewolf that gave birth to a human-appearing child. He killed the Werewolf, but took her baby, named it Lucian, and raised him in his castle. When Werewolves bite humans, they transfer the curse to their victims. Lucian was different: he could transform into Lycan form and back into human form. As a Lycan, his bite would infect victims with his variation of lycanthropy-- they could go to and from human form. The Vampires ruled the night but could not survive the day-- they needed the Lycans as servants and daytime protectors-- slaves. As we all know, slaves rebel. Viktor's daughter, Sonja, eventually joins the Vampire ranks after spending her childhood growing up sharing the castle with Lucian as he too grew up. Sonja is in love with Lucian. When Viktor discovers their secret love and the unborn Vampire/Lycan baby she bears, he puts her to death. Open revolts breaks out between the Lycans and the Vampires. In this medieval battle, the stage is set for the latter events of the first two movies.

The first two movies were written and directed by Len Wiseman. This time, Patrick Tatopolous directs the movie. Most of his movie credits involve technical world as a creature designer or costumer. Being a designer doesn't preclude someone from being good as a director (eg. Len Wiseman's art production background as well as Guillermo del Toro's origins), but Tatopolous may be stronger in the workshop than behind the camera. Tatopolous is stuck on one palette in this movie: blue. Dark, light, dull blue. Blue! The piercing blue eyes of Bill Nighy was very impressive; but there is a scene where Werewolves are lying await in the night in some foilage and there is almost no way to tell what is what. It was like an extra layer of macrovision copy protection at points, where you have guess with dark blue is connected to someone with a sword or a set of fangs.

This movie has a couple unenviable stumbling blocks. Preclude can be claustrophobic-- you know characters who appear in earliers movies will make it out alive of the latter prequel. This movie definitely goes down that road. Also, it feels like there is some franchise fatigue. The first two movies has Scott Speedman and Kate Beckinsale in front of the camera; with Len Wiseman behind the lens and scripting. The signifigant players (Bill Nighy, Michael Sheen with Kevin Grevioux) do return to color in the start of this feud. Beckinsale's role of Selena is replaced by lookalike Rhona Mitra playing Sonja-- this was set-up in the first movie and paid off here. Danny McBride (stuntman and contributor to all three movies) and Dirk Blackman (who's credits are this movie and the Viking-Alien epic, Outlander) penned this movie in Wiseman's place.

This movie is just what the title implies: it's the origin story of the Lycans and much of the movie centers around those creatures and characters. You don't see the Vampires in all their glory (almost done of the "Dracula" bag of tricks come into play-- no turning into bats, rats or wolves, nada). Nor is there the angry villager bent. Humans are backdrop: they express displeasure with Viktor like they were townspeople lipping off to the city comptroller. There is some much great potential from this concept and much of it boils down to cool sword battles, some great CGI of Werewolves and Lycans laying seige to a castle; and some naked side-hip action from Mitra and Sheen. As way to close off the franchise, this movie does accomplish that, but it falls well short of surprising you or giving you something new.

DVD Extras: The special featurettes talk about the production of the movie and the inner workings of the feud between Lycans and their former masters. There is a filmmakers's commentary where he details the production from his perspective.


Terminator: Salvation

The film opens on death row. A condemned prisoner, Martin Wright (Sam Worthington) is giving a chance to donate his body to science. The scientist is from Cyberdyne Systems. In Terminator 3, John Connor is locked away safely when Skynet launches Judgment Day to emerge as the salvation of mankind-- pre-armed with the foreknowledge of how to fight the machines. Tune in 15 years later: Christian Bale plays John Connor-- the rebel leader / soldier. Humans are well organized against the robots: jets, subs and armed troops. They seem much better equipped than the ragtag fighters seen in the first movie. Michael Ironside commands the resistance from a secret location along with what looks to be remnants of an international force of senior officers. They have developed a way to shut off the machines and John Connor demands to test their new weapon. It also turns out that Skynet publishes a hit list of human targets: John Connor is #2 of the list; Kyle Reese is #1. Kyle Reese as Termintor followers will know is destined to be John Connor's father. Right now he's an anonymous resistance fighter and half of the force fighting in Los Angeles. After the raid on a research lab by Connor and the resistance, Martin Wright comes back from the dead. Confused, he stumbles through the wasteland (think of a super-duper version of the Fallout 3 environment). The wanders into LA defended by Reese and a plucky mute girl-- two people are left in Los Angeles. Outside of town Reese, Wright and the girl find an abandonned 7-11 teaming with survivors: easily 10 times the population of post-nuclear LA. The machines attack in some great action sequences-- scenes coupled with deep audio that rumbles like no home theatre could ever accomplish: it'll really bubble your soda. Reese is targetted for termination, but is taken captive. Wright does not get captured, but instead gets rescued by the sexy fighter pilot, Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood). After the obligatory fighting-off-the-rapists scene, the two bond. She takes them back to the secret base when Connor is located. Then the big shocker-- the dead guy bought by Cyberdyne at the start of the movie who is impervious to harm and hunger, is.. a robot! Eventually he escapes and goes back to Skynet headquarters to find Reese. Connor follows to bust Reese and other captives out of Skynet headquarters. The big action unfolds and in a poorly guarded secret, Arnie makes a comback. What is majorly cool: it's an all digital Arnie. If your harken back to Mummy II and the sadly plastic Rock, then progress through the technical leaps you get to this movie. He looks freakish like the same Schwarzenegger that busted up a police station in the early 1980s. If this is the face of cinema, I think we'll get to see an all-digital Humphrey Bogart / Harrison Ford movie in five years. It's really impressive. By the wrap-up, the loose ends are tied and up the door is open for many sequences with young Kyle Reese and his son, John Connor fighting the machines.

The action is impressive. There is some terrific tension built into the scenes. McG has a stupid name but a real talent for putting together great action sequences. Christan Bale and the rest of the cast are good in their respective roles. If park your brain at the door, you're in for a great ride. If you think you sink in this movie. The plot holes abound. Connor keeps jumping up and down the Resistance org chart: one minute he's a soldier taking orders; next minute, he just short of being in charge of the whole movement. The robots control this massive sum of technology, but they can't zero in on the pirate broadcast from Connor yet they can tune in on the command headquarters. The robots wanted Reese and Connor dead-- but when given the chance they resort to stupid Bond-villian style exploits including revealing their plans to the only hero who can make a difference. Maybe someone jammed a Roger Moore Bond DVD into Skynet before it went online. Connor is obsessed with saving his eventual father because if he doesn't he won't be born. When WHEN WHEN will Hollywood figure out how time travels works? If someone changes "a" past it doesn't change all pasts-- it just changes the relative past. Besides that-- the crux of the Terminator franchise is that people travel through time to change the past. The resistance has a super weapon that will simple shut off the machines-- when they have the chance to deploy, they do not. Why? Likely because of Terminator Salvation II. Worst of all-- when they find Wright and discover that he's all fleshy on the outside and geary on the inside, Connor goes back to his mother's tapes. He was was never prepared for this. WTF? Didn't Connor hitch a ride with Arnie in Terminator II and III ? How could he not know that Terminator impersonate people? At the end of the movie, there is a stupid plot point introduced and then resolved. It's all sentimental and ridiculous. Go for the thrills, the explosions and super cool robots-- but put your brain in offline mode before seeing Terminator: Salvation.


Anacondas 4: Trail of Blood

This movie picks up from the events of Anacondas III. A scientist has perfected a hybrid of a Black Orchid that is capable of delivering total regeneration. Unfortunately, his anaconda test subject gains the ability to regenerate and grow to massive size. Three groups land in the same locale in the Carpathian Mountains of Eastern Europe: Amanda, a botanist (Crystal Allen) returns to happen upon a student walking in the woods; an archaeology team digging into the mountains; and mercenaries, dispatched by a dying billionaire, Murdoch, played by John Rhys-Davies (oh, Gimli... you'll do anything for money). No one is here for the snakes, but that's what they get-- plenty of poorly animated sequences with the giant Anaconda-- it's so bad it's cartoonish. The behavior of the snake is amusing-- it knows not to kill people except when killing them creates the best ironic justice. Don't even ask how a cold-blooded killing machine can thrive in the chilly mountains of Eastern Europe; or how the snake keeps popping back from total destruction like a video game character.
This movie was made back-to-back with Anacondas III, but it lacks the star power of David Hasselhoff. This movie saw its first life on the Sci-Fi Channel like its last installment. The franchise started in the late in the 1990s with some heavy star power and has sunk to this point. Basically, the movie amounts to lots of running around, some gun play, one or two clever moments, shots of bad CGI snakes and some shots set in snako-vision. By having three groups with competing agendas and throwing some guns into the mix, there is some manufactured drama and action. Shot in daylight with telegraphed moves its direction saps almost all of the suspense out of this topic. It doesn't need to be this mediocre, but it is. The best way to survive this movie is at 1.5 times speed. It then takes on a comical, Keystone Coppers / Benny Hill quality that makes it much more enjoyable. (Recommended audio track: Yakety Sax.).
When you're reaching for Anacondas 4 on the DVD shelf, veer left and grab the much better first in the series from 1997.


Star Trek (2009)

Prequels are so hot-- that 15 minutes at the start of the first Lord of the Rings movie where the armies of Orcs battled Elves and Men could have last for an hour and nobody would have cared. Star Trek began even before the career of its iconic leader, Capt. James T. Kirk, but you missed those first meetings: Kirk meeting Spock, McCoy and the others. Now you can see the genesis of Kirk from his birth through to his ascent to the Captain's chair. This is a story of the Romulan, Nero (Eric Bana), out for vengeance vs. Federation. But Kirk's nemesis is actually Spock. Spock is a sticklier for order and logic-- Kirk is a bad boy and rebel. Can the two bond? They're the ultimate odd couple.

In the original series, Kirk is a super student, "a pile of books with legs" who rises quickly through the ranks with Kirk-like style. JJ's Kirk is a lucky-- falling ass backwards into the First Officer job on Enterprise after being smuggled aboard. Just in time for the climax of the movie, Kirk is maneuvered into the Captain's seat. Along the way, Kirk hits on Uhura, meets the helmsman and navigator, Chekov and Sulu, and finds Scotty languishing on remote Delta Vega. Delta Vega-- an icy planet in the interstellar hinterland but close to the hot arid Vulcan. There is no big secret to the big surprise element: Leonard Nimoy reprises his role as Spock. Future Spock comes back into the past in a key plot device that also allows the book of Star Trek to be rewritten from the start without getting lots of fan's underroos in a knot. The cast ranges from modest to strong: Captain Pike was in command of the ship in the original pilot. He is brought back as the captain of this Enterprise and is well played by Bruce Greenwood. Karl Urban is eerie as Doctor McCoy played by the late DeForrest Kelly. Yelchin delivers as good a performance as he can manage though weighed down with most of the bad lines in the movie. Cho does his own incarnation of Sulu-- different from his predecessor but still maintaining that spark. The two big roles: Zachary Quinto as Spock delivers a good performance but it's not the same. Chris Pine as Kirk really doesn't do it for me. Shatner has this careful talent for being an a-hole. He showed it off in his portrayal of Kirk. It carries a tenacity and daring that makes you root for his character. Chris Pine doesn't have it. Can he develop it? I don't know.

Plot holes, incongruities and bad science abound-- just like regular Trek. The look of JJ's Trek is good but where before everything looked sterile and cardboard, this Trek has a smooth ethereal bridge but the engineering section looks like a pipe factory and showroom. That mix of messy and smooth keeps taking you in and out of the esthetics of the future. Star Trek is low Q but high thrills. If you can surive the lapses and nitpicking elements, the story is captivating-- a roller coaster ride that almost makes you get up at the end and say, "Again! Again!"


09 May 2009

X-Men Origins : Wolverine

You can't know about how terrible Wolverine is without getting the spoilers.
Wolverine is mediocre from an action movie perspective. From a comic fan perspective it's a nightmare. From a storytelling perspective, this is the worst movie I've seen in a long time. There are plot holes you could fit the Blackbird through. Some "highlights": Wolverine was born in the Northwest Territories in the 1830s. We see him in a large home from the era-- after he kills his father with his bone claws, he escapes into the nearby forest (Forests in the tundra? Really?). From there, James Logan and his brother, Sabretooth fight in every war-- every American war: the Civil War, World War I, WWII, Vietnam. At one point his brother goes nuts in a Vietnamese village, Logan defends him and the two end up in front of the firing squad. After that, Col. William Stryker give them the chance to serve their country. So is Stryker Canadian and Canada is fighting in Vietnam? Or did two bloodthirsty mutants get their green cards? They join an elite force that goes on their first mission to Nigeria (a sprawling Lagos that looks more like LA) in search of a mystery metal from an meteorite-- an ore that contributes to adamantium. They find some of the metal, then go to a small village and demand more of the meteorite. The villagers refuse, the strike force starts to kill them and Logan refuses to take part. He walks out on them and heads into the jungle. Six years later, Logan has a good woman and a job as a lumberjack (very Canadian), living in the Rockies. Stryker finds him and tell him that his brother has gone crazy, killing members of their elite force. Eventually Sabretooth gets to Logan's woman and apparently kills her. Logan goes crazy, they duke it out, Sabretooth buries Logan under a bunch of logs and leaves him for dead. Logan is brought in for medical treatment and Stryker's offers Logan "more pain than he'll ever endure" and he will become indestructible. Logan agrees. They sink him in a tank of water, then they inject a dozen hypodermic things into Logan. They pump adamantium into him in what is obviously a liquid metal state (ouch! hot!) and plumes of smoke and steam rise from the tank. So, the human body has over 200 bones. This liquid metal is pumped in and it automatically finds all of the little bones (except the teeth). It also bonds to the Logan's claws. In their bony state they look like sharp finger bones-- these adamantium claws come out looking like sharpened knives which is a good thing since adamantium is indestructible and cannot be sharpened. That's one of those great comic book moments where reality doesn't enter into the equation. Within moments, Wolverine escapes and runs naked to a nearby farm. The elderly couple (I think they may be the Kents) befriend the naked superhero-- wait, it's that another movie? Wolverine picks up his signature jacket, some clothes and a sweet motorcycle. No sooner than does he pick this up, then one of his former team mates, Agent Zero, blows apart the farmstead, with Wolverines bursting from the fireball on his new hog. He leads the helicopter on a chase in some of these ridiculous situations: the helicopter gives the sharpshooter a literal birds-eye view of Wolverine and still he can't mow him down. Wolverine tricks a hummer into crashing and taking out the helicopter. It's nice to know that there were hummers in the late 1970s/early 1980s. The chopper is a flaming twisted wreck but Wolverine can still deliver some choice words to his would-be assassin before it's all over. The very next scene, Stryker opens up a box with a special pistol and eight adamantium bullets-- the only thing that can penetrate Wolverine's new metallic skull. Do you think he could have handed over that box to the sharpshooter, Agent Zero? Does Stryker think he can kill Wolverine? No-- his plan is to shoot Wolverine in the head and give him amnesia. That's actually his plan.
Wolverine teams up with Wraith (Will I Am) and they go to New Orleans to find the only man who ever escaped Stryker's clutches: a super lucky superhero, Gambit (Taylor Kitsch). In the meantime, Sabretooth has tracked down Scott Summers (Cyclops) and he is taken into custody. Then Sabretooth gets to New Orleans just in time to kill of Wraith leaving his loner brother, Wolverine to go to "The Island" with the help of Gambit. The Island is Three Mile Island. I thought, "Sweet! Tie the meltdown into the events of the movie." Nope.Stryker is holding a bevvy of mutants in storage and in cells. He's also holding Wolverine's woman who faked her death to trick Wolverine into doing his life changing procedure. He is doing experiments to create a super mutant by fueling Ryan Reynolds' character with all of the best superheroes (why not just find Sylar?). The end result is Deadpool. Wolverine mounts a breakout of the mutants-- luckily Cyclops' eyes are still covered so he never breaks the continuity. When the escapees get to the surfaceProfessor X is standing there with a helicopter ready to scoop up the mutants. Back to Wolverine, he's planning on blowing up the facility, so he gets to the top of one of the cooling towers.Sabretooth comes after him. When he's done beating Sabretooth, Deadpool teleports in (he had that power in his bag of tricks). Sabretooth decides that blood is thicker than water and teams up with Wolverine to try to beat Deadpool. They eventually win by cutting his head off. In a visually stunning but stupid moment, decapitated Deadpool falls into the cooling tower his eyes beaming out Cyclops' optic blasts from his eyes cutting the tower apart and raining down destruction.Stryker has a showdown with Wolverine, shoots him with in the head and has the desired amnesia effect (swell how that works). Wolverine emerges from this with two holes in his otherwiseimpenetrable skull and a couple bullets rattling around in there. He doesn't know who he is. Wolverine has to walk the Earth in search of his carefully excised memories.
At points this movie is exciting. Any two minute period of this movie is awesome. Put a couple of those segments together and a pattern emerges: this is a bad movie with great visuals. Almost everyone iscompetent in their roles: good acting, great production values and decent direction. The problem is the script: it's peppered with logic holes, bad decisions and dialogue too lousy to put into a comic book. Writers David Benioff and Skip Woods who wrote such contenders as Hitman, Troy and similar are key to the action packed train wreck of X-Men Origins: Wolverine.