Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Barb Wire (1996) Review:

Thus far in mainstream comic book related movies, only one female antihero has turned out having very little complaints and that's Black Widow from Marvel's The Avengers (2012). Then again, she also has not had any solo film but she has appeared in several films prior and so far, there really hasn't been an uproar over Scarlett Johansson's portrayal as the deadly assassin. Beyond this character however, movie studios have not been able to pinpoint the proper approach to making a worthy female heroine film. There have been several attempts, but so far none have proven to be lucrative. For Dark Horse Entertainment, which was no stranger to their comic books being adapted to film took more than one wack at making a feminine hero focused film. The year before, they also helped surface British Comic, Tank Girl (1995), which also flopped. Then came this, which by many consider being one of the worst comic book films. As an overall film, it's not even near decent but it isn't the worst.

Don't mess with Pam
The setting takes place in 2018 where (like many other futures are described) the next all out war broke out. This time being called the "second civil war"; there's only one place among the whole land where people can live free without the strong eye of government looking over them. However even there, no one is safe. After learning a deadly secret, Dr. Cora (Victoria Rowell) and her husband Axel (Temuera Morrison) attempt to flee the country to Canada but are met with endless setbacks. It is at this point they look to find the only person who can help them escape, a local bar owner / bounty hunter known as Barb Wire (Pamela Anderson). As a story, not all of it is passe but a good portion of it is overused elements seen from multiple other films about dystopic futures. Plus cutting it off close to 2020 shot itself in the foot looking at it now. The writing for this screenplay was carried by Chuck Pfarrer (Darkman (1990) & Hard Target (1993)) and Ilene Chaiken (as her first work) did take care of properly giving the main characters' their back story but there are other parts that don't work.

A subtle flaw is quick changes in character motivations. At one time in the film a character will have a certain opinion. Then, later on in the film they will declare the opposite opinion with no reasoning. That's a bit frustrating when trying to understand a character. Another matter of contention is convenient contrivances. If something is out of reach for an individual and then later on it is revealed to the viewers that they acquired it (again, with no reason how), it gets frustrating. Almost like the film is saying, "they're just that good, no sense in showing how they did it". The last poorly written component to this film is main villain Colonel Pryzer (Steve Railsback). Besides just being callous to everyone he meets, Pryzer is a very generic antagonist dressed in Nazi garb. It's nothing to point out or even worth remembering about because his character is so two dimensional. Surprisingly, the rest of the cast in some ways makes up for it. Local law enforcement Alexander Willis (Xander Berkeley) tries to add some humor to the situation as well as Charlie (Jack Noseworthy).

There's also guest appearances from character actors Andre Rosey Brown (as a more eccentric villain than Pryzer), Nicholas Worth, Clint Howard, Udo Kier and Nils Allen Stewart. The relationship between Axel, Dr. Cora and Barb Wire isn't the most believable but it isn't unlikable either. Actually, although Pamela Anderson speaks many of her lines in monotone, some of her quips are funny to hear. When she curses though, the viewer will be able to tell she's not acting material. Then again, if there's one thing Anderson nails, it’s her figure of Barb Wire. Of all obvious reasons to pick her, what else? Of course, another curvaceous female could've been cast but let's deal with what's here. Plus, they got the costume down pat and it sure looks good on Anderson. Surprisingly Anderson can even handle the action sequences quite well. Yes, the fact that she also had stunt doubles is understandable but not truly noticeable which is required because viewers should not be able to tell.

Andre Rosey Brown
Cinematography was shot by Rick Bota for this movie. Most of the time the camerawork is acceptable for the action scenes and dialog. The only areas where it fails to feel compelling in the story is in its tracking shots. This was specifically evident either when it was filmed in the bar that Barb Wire owned or outside in garbage dump like settings. Since the story takes place in a chaotic dystopic future, the use of dusty, beige colored, and dune infested backdrops is the ultimate cliche for this setting. At least try to make it look different than what's been normally used. It's just been seen too many times. Lastly the musical score was arranged by French composer Michel Colombier. For this round, his composition sounds a bit like Gary Chang's score from Death Warrant (1990) using occasional steel drums. However, a lot of his music is absent and is replaced by hard rock which I guess is appropriate but the sound gets very cluttered because of it and that doesn't help.

Many people say it’s one of the worst comic books put to film. It certainly doesn't have the most competent of storytelling (which includes the contrivances & cliches) and not every character stands out like they should. Pamela Anderson also isn't acting material but she actually gives the viewing a "so bad it's good" experience. The action does entertain and some of the other supporting cast members do help make it at least average.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Scorpion King (2002) Review:

The ability to win over new fans is not easy when one is shoved into the limelight so quickly. After briefly appearing as The Scorpion King in Stephen Sommers’ anticipated sequel The Mummy Returns (2001), Universal Studios believed that it was time to create their spin-off starring none other than Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Originally only taking part in wrestling, Johnson was bit by the acting bug and agreed to star in this film as his feature debut. As known by many, this spin-off movie was a prequel, to a sequel of a movie that was a remake of an older movie. Sounds confusing, but it can be understood. Once you think about it, it does make sense. As for being a well-written story,..not really. There are a lot of pluses to this film but it has its drawbacks too.

The Rock Vs the Dunc
As a film that tells the background to how Mathayus, The Scorpion King (Dwayne Johnson) got his name, it doesn't really declare itself publicly. Yet somehow, everyone knows by the end. Originally, Mathayus belonged to a group of hired assassins during a time when a ruthless dictator known as Memnon (Steven Brand) was looking to conquer everybody and anybody. Mathayus and his fellow assassins were hired to take out Memnon and a powerful sorceress (Kelly Hu) who sees visions of the future. All the same like other assassins hired to kill, they end up getting caught caring too much. This happens when Mathayus and the sorceress become attached to each other. As an origin story, the narrative is mostly predictable. Also, since it is a prequel, audiences already have an idea of what is going to happen. However, this doesn't make the viewing experience unwatchable. Aside from the story being a touch too cliche, there are a couple of other setbacks.

The first belongs to the sorceress' powers to see into the future. There isn't any logic behind this other than it just being shown that she has these powers. In other words, the audience just has to accept this as a fact and not care about the reasoning. Yet for viewers who have a harder time shutting off their brain or are just more inquisitive, the understanding behind how she acquired her powers would've been appreciated to have. The other issue is the tone of the script, which constantly flip-flops in the midst of goofy and serious. Thus, the end result tends to be an entire cheese fest because you want to take the story seriously but can't because of how certain situations are handled. Having a character give a rather immature nod to the audience because someone went to bed with them, kind of breaks the rules on how serious a viewer can take this story. Another example is pairing up the protagonist with mildly unneeded sidekick named Arpid (Grant Haslov). Most of his comments are just too obvious to be even said.

As for who wrote those moments into the script, it most likely belonged to William Osborne (best known for writing Twins (1988) & everyone's hated Stallone film Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992)). The other writing credits belong to Stephen Sommers (rightfully so) and David Hayter (X-Men (2000), X-Men 2 (2003) & Watchmen (2009)). So it's not like every writer behind this production didn't have the credentials. The directing was also headed competently by the underrated Chuck Russell (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), The Blob (1988) remake & The Mask (1994)). Even with its cheese factor, the main cast is able to perform okay. Dwayne Johnson was no doubt the right choice to be Mathayus because what would a spin-off origin movie be if the actor doesn't return to play the role he made? Steven Brand is a worthy opponent to Johnson but it probably would've been an even better idea if Michael Clarke Duncan (who plays along side Johnson) was the enemy. It just would've been a better showdown.

Steven Brand
Kelly Hu is attractive in her own right and doesn’t give a bland performance either. The rest of the cast (including Grant Haslov) also act okay but nothing that is of much importance. They do help near the end and add to the overall cheese at times but they a necessity. Cinematography was ably contributed by John R. Leonetti who was able to mimic Adrian Biddle's work from Sommers' The Mummy (1999) universe. There are lots of desert shots, while the set pieces appear grand and ancient. The action was also well choreographed and since sword fights aren't exactly the most used types of action sequences; it entertains. For the musical score, John Debney composed behind the film. For this listening experience, Debney uses a blend of organic orchestra with what also sounds like occasional rock/pop beats. This was probably used in order to accommodate Johnson's fans but the beats actually don't mess with the score too much. The action cues sound appropriate with the scene it follows and it's in line with the genre. If the story to this movie was taken a little more seriously, this probably would've entertained more.

Its script is not clear on everything and its unequal tone makes the actors look occasionally cheesy on film. It’s okay in some ways and others not so much. Luckily, the camerawork, action, music and main cast are able to manipulate it in their favor to entertain on very mindless level.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) Review:

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) was one of those rare films that was made all with the right people on board (no pun intended) and managed to become a title worthy of a franchise. The cast was talented, the music was memorable, the action was energetic, the writing was clever and it was filmed beautifully. Wistfully, like every popular franchise that becomes mainstream, there comes a point where the series begins to show its age. Audiences try not to accept it and go in hoping for the best but there always seems to be something out of place when the next chapter is made. Disney's Pirates has been subjected to that unfortunately but noticeably on a slower decline than many of its other counterpart strains. For this passage, the story is continued but shows that its writers are beginning to lose their grip on its mythology.

Blackbeard - Pirates of the Caribbean - On Stranger Tides wallpaper
It's 3D!,....ish,...not really
After Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007), Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) had taken the map that lead to the fountain of youth. While on his way, he learns that he's not the only one. Turns out that the Spanish, the English (currently headed by Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush)) and the infamous Blackbeard (Ian McShane) are all headed to find it as well. Sparrow also runs into an old flame named Angelica (Penélope Cruz) who thinks Jack owes her a debt. The writing is developed once more by Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio (the duo that started it all). Delightfully the story doesn't contain as many confusing character threads as the previous film. However in spite of that, they managed to sloppily write a different aspect and that belongs to the character traits and disappearances. A big question that comes to mind is Blackbeard's ship and the powers that he has, which are controlled by a single sword.

So how exactly did he get these powers? No real reason is given as to why he has these powers other than waving around the magic sword but even that isn't explained. Along side that is Blackbeard's henchmen who are apparently mentioned as being “zombified” (which again isn't explained), can't be killed. In Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), Hector Barbossa and his crew had a reason to why they couldn't be killed. That reason was the curse; yes the logic wasn't factual but the idea was based on fantasy. Here, Elliot and Rossio wrote in Blackbeard and his crew with invulnerability without giving a proper understanding. What would Blackbeard's henchmen need the fountain of youth for if they can get stabbed and still live? Another character trait that isn't elaborated on is the mermaid mythology. When a mermaid touches dry land, why does their tale disappear forming legs and when they touch the ocean their tale returns? Perhaps there's a rule to this but nothing was said in the film and doing a little outside research didn't shed light on much either. So was it just made up?

The other issue the story suffers from is absence of clarity on its previous cast members. The only returning main supporting cast member from the past trilogy is Gibbs (Kevin McNally). There was a clear ending for Elizabeth and Will Turner from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007) but everyone else rather just vanished. What happened to the crew Gibbs worked with? It's not like the writers needed to film a scene explaining what happened but a transparent justification is all. There is a scene which involves the Black Pearl and where it ended up but does that mean the previous crew is there too? Nothing's said about it. Gratefully not much else has changed. Although directed by Rob Marshall this time, he's still able to keep the film moving. The pacing is still even with no lagging in between. The special effects remain well mixed with its live-action counterparts. The only element some audiences may find less of is the action sequences, which still are energetic but is more sparse than usual (it could be me). This could also be because of the toning down in scale prior to the last entry.

Sam Claflin & Astrid Bergès-Frisbey
The main actors to this story also continue to entertain. Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow remains unchanged which is totally fine because he is what made Sparrow. Kevin McNally as Gibbs and Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa also remain the same, which is great. The new additions are acceptable too. The best addition is Ian McShane as Blackbeard. McShane's menacing presence feels very close to that of Davy Jones (not as dangerous personally, but just as threatening). Penélope Cruz as Angelica performed decently too and her chemistry with Johnny Depp was commendable. The last two additions belong to Sam Claflin (a missionary) and Astrid Bergès-Frisbey (a mermaid). The relationship between these two actors is predictable but alright in most regards because with Elizabeth and Will Turner out, there kind of needed to be romance somewhere. The cinematography is again headed by Dariusz Wolski who hasn't disappointed yet in this series; with beautiful wide screen shots of tropical scenery. Enough said. Hans Zimmer also returns to score the music and also retains the main theme for Sparrow while including new themes such that belongs to Angelica, Blackbeard and the mermaids. It's still enjoyable, just slowly losing its grip.

The production quality of special effects, music, action, camerawork and talented main cast all continue to do the work that is required to keep this franchise afloat. Unfortunately, the screenwriters are beginning to get clumsy in their storytelling by not explaining a number of character traits, mythology to certain creatures and leaving out information of what happened to prior characters.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Rhustlers' Rhapsody (1985) Review:

With the enormous financial failure of United Artists' Heaven's Gate (1980), the era of grand epic scale Western films came to an end. Production companies were no longer going to be the victim of shoveling out money to any director unless otherwise stated no matter how talented the film crew was. And rightfully so, the risk was too high. Production companies should only give money to people who really know what they are doing and have a good feeling that the movie they're making will be a critical and financial success. Surprisingly midway through the 1980s, a few western movies were made but only to spoof the genre. In some ways it made fun of the previous films but in other ways paid homage to them because they did have a cultural impact when they were popular. This is one these movies.

Sela Ward, Tom Berenger & Marilu Henner
Written and director by Hugh Wilson (best known for directing Police Academy (1984)), essentially this movie is a giant 4th wall breaker. The story follows the basic formula of how many westerns began in the past, which involved a lone cowboy who goes into town and notices corruption in the authority. There he takes it upon himself to solve the injustice. As a screenplay, it's not exactly a story. The execution is more like a walk through to how various western TV shows and movies were written at the time. This includes all the usual plot points. However, Wilson manages to use the cliches in a way that doesn't make them feel so contrived. But the fact that the movie doesn't have it's own story is it's biggest problem. With that the audience doesn't really get to know the protagonist as a character and instead as more of a callback to previous actors who had roles like the one depicted here. Also, since the playout feels more like run-through than an actual narrative, the film does drag which is odd since it barely has an hour and a half long run time.

The lone cowboy in this movie is named Rex O'Herlihan (Tom Berenger), the "Singing Cowboy". O'Herlihan is a flashy dressing dual handed gunslinger who only shoots his enemies in the hand, has ten of the same 10 gallon hats, eats desert roots and has a dancing horse. For Berenger's role, his acting is fine. Especially for not being an actor with much comedy in his filmography he does okay. The only part that doesn't look right is him singing. Eh,...it wasn't needed. Consequent to arriving at the corrupt town, Rex meets Peter the town drunk (G.W. Bailey) who ends up wanting to join him in his quest. Bailey even blurts out on screen that he is the comedy relief. That is how self-aware Wilson wrote the tone to his feature. Along with Bailey are a number of other decent cast members. Marilu Henner as a local filly, Patrick Wayne (son of John Wayne), Sela Ward as the Colonel's daughter and legendary Andy Griffith as the Colonel. All of which provide funny supporting roles. The best belonging to Griffith because of his experience and how subtle he is with his lines.

G.W. Bailey
As a parody, it doesn't have high hilarity but it is funny at several moments. Besides the various actors chewing up the scenery, there are occasions where the common knowledge to certain tasks seems so obvious and yet the script will trick its audience on that. Also who knew there were so many rules on how a character is determined to be a good guy. Most of the action, which will resort to ridiculous shootouts make no sense but are fun to watch nonetheless. By the way, anyone who owns a dancing horse has skills. That was cool. The look of the film is adequate. For the budget that it had, it didn't appear cheap. Especially for the sets and backdrops. There were enough places to keep the eyes stimulated. José Luis Alcaine's cinematography had spacious scenery to present itself as a western. Alcaine really got some nice shots of the terrain which made this spoof feel as authentic as possible. The music composed by Steve Dorff doesn't offer his listeners a memorable theme but does incorporate other motifs that work well the comedic scenes depicted. An example of this is using men’s choir humming a rather western-like acapella tune. It's a bit underrated and western fans should enjoy it.

It lacks any real compelling story, it drags at times and Tom Berenger actually singing isn't all that convincing. Yet with a self-aware 4th wall breaking script, a number of funny scenes, prudent production quality and a talented cast, the flaws are mostly made up for. For one thing, it'll at least give newer viewers an idea of what westerns were like back in the day.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Friday, March 13, 2015

Friday the 13th Part III (1982) Review:

Like many franchise starters back in the 1980s, most of them always seemed to find a home in the horror genre. The 1980s were a big time for theaters to capitalize on the slasher craze that was going on at the time. The best known being Freddy Krueger, Leatherface, Michael Myers and of course Jason Vorhees. All of which these particularly iconic characters had significant entrances respectively. Yet it seems as if so far they all managed to decrease in quality as their subsequent sequels were put into production. Of course not every entry was the same, but at some point the facts in the story began to either contradict itself or totally deny its previous installment. Why haven't these famous production studios paid attention to their competitions’ mistakes? Of course, the reason is to make money but really?

Dana Kimmel
Like many other third movies to a series, most people end up seeing the flaws and begin to know that the series has run its course. Then again, Part III to this series serves an even more mixed bag than Part II but without being extremely frustrating to watch. The story for this new opening takes place two days after the last movie by showing the aftermath of Part II (interesting how it already contradicts itself by taking place on Sunday the 15th). Here, the audience is introduced to another new set of stock camp characters. Leading the group is Chris (Dana Kimmel) a girl who's trying to confront her fear of returning to the camp (not Crystal Lake) where she had a frightening encounter with Jason. Aside from this particular reason, there isn't much a plot besides this. The writing provided by Martin Kitrosser and Carol Watson obviously did not think that much of a story was needed. Sadly, more is required though. A good question is what was Jason doing when he ran into Chris? Not explained.

Kitrosser and Watson also included two other characters in the group who sounded like they were going to be developed but weren't. These two characters belong to Larry Zerner as Shelly and Catherine Parks as Vera. At the beginning they were supposed to be hitched and do try to get to know each other, but their arc is so short the audience cannot establish an attachment to them. The rest of the characters are the typical bunch seen before. You have the two that are just joining so they can run off and have sex, then there are the drug addicts and even a punk biker gang. It doesn't get more 80s than that. Another gaping issue in the story is the transformation of Jason Vorhees and his newly unexplained powers. In a matter of days, we went to what was a young teen looking for revenge to what is a massive hulking monster (played by Richard Brooker)? How'd he get so large? Also the fact that he is now depicted as a superhuman brings into question how he attained these abilities. Where is that "writing" you guys are credited for?

Even more embarrassing is that director Steve Miner, who directed Part II didn't see a need to do anything differently either. The other two factors that do not work are its cinematography and the point of being a horror film.  The cinematography provided by Gerald Feil is just another repetition of prior DPs' work to the last two films. There are lots of POV shots, perhaps too many. The way Feil tried to get 3D shots was somewhat okay but also looked forced too. Lastly, the film just isn't scary anymore. There were so many false jump scares and the amount of times somebody asked "who's there?" became more obnoxious than creepy. There are only a few areas that work to this film’s credit. The biggest note is the same for every viewer - we all learn where Jason got his mask. Since that is the thing everyone associates him with, that is important.

My have you grown Jason.....
Of all the "protagonists", Dana Kimmel as the main lead is again the only character to really stand out. This reason stands alone because she has a connection (although weak) with Jason. Another good aspect are the kills which run between already used but also new. Like previous films, the kills are gruesome and would surely hurt if it happened to you. However, just the fact that it's Jason as a massive force the impact of each murder feels that much stronger. This doesn't let him get away with the mistakes in continuity. The final aspect to the movie that continues to work in its favor as best as it can be is composer Harry Manfredini's score. For the most of the composition, Manfredini keeps the tone and atmosphere the same with minor alterations. The biggest difference is in the main title which substitute strings for synth keyboard. This is the only subtle change though.

It's not adding any layers of thoughtful writing to its ongoing series of entries and this is where it begins to not make any sense. The writers completely ignored Jason’s backstory and hardly develop its main cast. Instead, a flimsy coincidence is thrown in just to have a reason for Jason to appear. The only components that try to help this mess of an installment are the revealing of Jason's final form, the music and somewhat creative kills. It's slightly worse than Part II.

Point Earned --> 4:10

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Big Hero 6 (2014) Review:

Much like Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) released the same year, this movie is too based on a comic book property that is rather obscure. The title itself is also comparatively vague in its description. However, it seems that Marvel knew what they were doing because for their add campaign all they had to do was stick their soft round mascot as the main attention grabber. The actual story behind these two things is a young boy named Hiro who lives in the future city of San Fransokyo. There, he earns money by competing in illegal robot fights. Upon being rescued by his brother Tadashi time and time again, Hiro didn't want to do anything else. That is until his brother introduces him to the college he attends where robotics and science join hands to improve the way of living for future generations. This immediately catches Hiro's interest and he ends up meeting new friends along the way including Baymax, the white marshmallow looking cuddle balloon. Together, they form a group of six super heroes to stop a mysterious threat.

With writers Jordan Roberts (March of the Penguins (2005)), Daniel Gerson and Robert L. Baird (Cars (2006) & Monsters Inc. (2001)) penning this story, the end result was bound to be something worth while. The overall play out is almost what any viewer would expect but there are a number of traits to it that make it a family movie that stands out from the other generic films. The biggest differences are the characters. Instead of Hiro having a hard time fitting into the college he decides to attend, his brother's friends immediately welcome him with open arms and have quite a distinct personality for each. The supporting human character audiences will probably enjoy the most is Fred; mostly because of his goofy spontaneous nature. Then again, people will obviously fall more for Baymax. The character of Baymax is innocent and harmless and this is pretty much what makes him so likable.

The voice cast behind these characters is noteworthy as well. Baymax (Scott Adsit) and Hiro (Ryan Potter) both display genuine emotion for their roles, it sounds well done. The rest of the cast includes voice work from Daniel Henney, T.J. Miller (Fred), Jaime Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk and even Abraham Benrubi (George of the Jungle (1997)). Also mixing well with that is the animation, which is very fluid in movement, and the coloring of everything is bright and visible. Another satisfying fundamental piece that works with the animation is the action sequences. Hiro and his friends end up making body suits with powers that relate to what they are best at in the school. This leads to some very intriguing and creative fight sequences that aren't normally exploited when it comes to super powers.

That threat though
Henry Jackman who has proven he has enough experience producing music for family friendly genre and action related films provided the music for this movie. The best moments to this movie are when Jackman focuses more on the emotional moments between Baymax and Hiro. The action cues are appropriate but there isn't a main theme for the character(s), so it doesn't stick out as much as one would think. The only issues this animated/superhero film has are the usual things that come to mind. The usual are continuity errors and convenience of plot points. Some of these moments really are just thrown in order to avoid smart writing. And of all things, how does a piece of equipment work by putting it back together if it's not connected to the power source that initially made it run? The only other complaint some people may have is the message of sidelining school for superhero business. It's hard to say if  the main characters really dropped school but they did forget about it for a while. Not a gigantic problem but it is a bit misleading.

For Marvel and Disney's first shared animated feature, it doesn't stray far from its usual formula to attract audiences. Its action, animation, music and characters are developed properly to entertain any audience. However its message of being a superhero over getting an education and the usual animation/story errors are somewhat predictable.

Points Earned --> 7:10