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Darkman Trilogy – Review

4 Sep

The super hero genre is more alive than ever before nowadays, and that’s both good and bad. It’s good because most of them are very entertaining, and bad because it’s flooding the market. A name that goes hand in hand with super hero films in my opinion is Sam Raimi. Raimi successfully brought the webslinger to life in Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 (not so much Spider-Man 3). Before any of this, however, Raimi created a character named Darkman, a dark super hero based on characters like Batman and The Shadow, but also inspired by the old Universal monster movies. This idea spawned a trilogy of movies called the Darkman Trilogy. While two of these movies are direct-to-video with differing qualities, it can’t be denied the first film has become a cult classic.

Let’s start in 1990 with the original film, Darkman.

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Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is a brilliant, but completely underfunded scientist who is on the verge of developing a new synthetic skin. Even with the hidden variables making this project difficult, Peyton still has the support and love of his long time girlfriend Julie (Frances McDormand). Julie is a district attorney who is close to uncovering illegal business dealings by a major developer named Louis Strack (Colin Friels). Another party is interested in this incriminating evidence, a violent gangster named Robert Durant (Larry Drake). Durant breaks into Westlake’s lab to look for the evidence, and in the process destroys his work and severely burns and disfigures Westlake. Now thought to be dead, Peyton hides himself in a condemned factory where he rebuilds his machines that can construct any face he needs to disguise himself with, and soon begins to take revenge on Durant and his henchmen as the face changing vigilante Darkman.

Since it was first released in 1990, Darkman has become something of a cult classic. It’s over the top style and direct influences from Universal monster movies of the 1930s mixed with dark superhero action is a fantastic combination. In many ways, Sam Raimi hit the mark with Darkman, and in some ways it doesn’t quite stick. Where the movie slips up is the pacing of the story. This is an origin story, and origin stories can be tricky, especially when they aren’t based off of any real established lore. The character of Darkman came right from the head of Sam Raimi into the form a short story, so the film makers had to create a way to start the tale of Darkman. The first half hour of this movie goes frightfully quick, and it didn’t give me a chance to really care about the characters or their situations before Peyton’s transformation happens. The rest of the film goes on pretty good, with some odd speed bumps along the way, but the ridiculously fast pace of the beginning makes the character development suffer.

The movie really gets good whenever the action picks up or Sam Raimi does what he does best and goes crazy with the camera and the stylistic editing. This is a really cool movie to look at with the camera jumping all over the place and colors really popping in certain scenes. Raimi also knows how to direct action with his use of outstanding practical effects, stop motion, and blue screen to create a unique looking movie that only early-90s movies could do. Neeson also gives a pretty expressive performance as Peyton/Darkman, and it’s equally impressive given the huge amount of makeup and bandages on his face throughout most of the movie.

Darkman is a really cool, yet minor movie in the superhero genre. It’s not going to be a classic like Raimi’s later Spider-Man entries (excluding the third), but it does have a following of people that will defend it to their last breaths. While I definitely enjoyed the movie, the flaws that crop up throughout the film are very noticeable, and it’s clear that the production of this movie was pretty bumpy. Still for fans of oddball filmmaking and dark superhero tales, Darkman is a movie that deserves another look.

In 1995, Universal Studios released their first ever live action direct-to-video movie. That honor(?) goes to Darkman II: The Return of Durant.

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Years after being horribly burned and disfigured, Peyton Westlake (now played by Arnold Vosloo) still dons the title of Darkman and is still working hard to perfect his formula for synthetic skin and make it last longer than 99 minutes. What Westlake doesn’t know is that while he’s been working, Durant (again played by Larry Drake) has been alive in a coma, and he has just recently gotten out of it with plans to take over the city’s crime scene using a new super weapon designed by a mad scientist named Hathaway (Lawrence Dane). After Durant is responsible for killing the one man that may have had the secret to the synthetic skin problem, Darkman once again begins a mission of revenge against the sadistic crime lord, and this time he means to end things once and for all.

Whenever something’s released direct-to-video, I have some measure of fear that I’m about to watch a really awful movie and throw an hour and a half of my life out the window. That being said, Darkman II: The Return of Durant certainly feels like a direct-to-video movie, but it also was still a pretty entertaining film. Let’s get the garbage out of the way first. For one thing, Durant’s plan of using a super weapon designed with plutonium is way out of left field. His main goal is for a group of gun happy vigilantes to get rid of the competition so Durant will reign supreme. What? There’s so many plot holes there that it hurts to think about. The side characters in this movie are also completely useless and almost don’t even need to be in the movie at all. Most of them are just a testament to awful B-grade acting. Of course the cheesy screenplay adds a lot to that, as their characters and dialogue weren’t written well in the first place.

That being said, Darkman II is not a complete waste of time, in fact it felt like a pretty good sequel in terms of style and action. It still has this pulpy kind of fun that relishes at being way over the top. Believe it or not, I think Arnold Vosloo is a great replacement for Liam Neeson. Unfortunately, his performance is a little stifled by make up that doesn’t quite match the make up done on Neeson in the original. The only returning member from the first film is Larry Drake as Durant, and he hasn’t missed a beat in his performance. It’s still fun and easy to hate his character and he gives Darkman a villain worth defeating.

While this is definitely a step down from the original, Darkman II: The Return of Durant is not an awful movie. In fact, it’s a pretty entertaining movie that kept me watching for it’s entire run time. There are some really ridiculous plot holes and the acting is less than acceptable, but it’s B-grade minor entertainment that would be interesting to see for fans of the first Darkman. Just don’t expect anything great.

One thing these movies didn’t need was a third entry, but alas, we now have a trilogy. In 1996, the third film was released direct-to-video titled Darkman III: Die Darkman Die.

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Still trying to find the secret to permanent synthetic skin, Peyton Westlake accepts to offer of Dr. Bridget Thorne’ (Darlanne Fluegel) help to not only fix his destroyed nerve endings, but also allow him to use her laboratory. During his time there, Westlake finds the secret, but is betrayed by Thorne, who is actually working for a crime lord named Rooker (Jeff Jahey). Rooker wants to extract whatever it is that makes Westlake so strong, so that he can synthesize it and inject it into his henchmen. These super soldiers of Rooker’s will then go on to assassinate the district attorney and give Rooker unlimited power over the city. Feeling vengeful towards both Thorne and Rooker, and feeling an overwhelming desire to protect Rooker’s innocent family, Westlake becomes Darkman again to now save the city, a task more important than saving himself.

So here we have the second direct-to-video release of this trilogy, and boy have we really gone downhill. Darkman II: The Return of Durant was a pretty ok, pretty standard B-movie that had some problems, but was ultimately entertaining. Darkman III: Die Darkman Die is a complete train wreck of a movie. There is such little action, hardly any humor, and a story that is so boring and out of place that I lost interest before the halfway mark was even close to hitting. The whole plot of Rooker not spending enough time with his family, and Westlake disguising himself to take care of them is so stupid I almost can’t even handle it. There’s so much bland family drama with cringe worthy lines said by a terrible child actor that I was almost embarrassed watching it. How can a cool superhero action movie turn into this?

Arnold Vosloo is back playing Peyton Westlake/Darkman and he’s still a good substitution for Liam Neeson, but his role is written really poorly in this entry. He’s either grunting with pain, screaming with anger, or being overly sentimental with Rooker’s family. Darkman’s entire story of trying to fix his skin is also too played out by this point and the amount of stock footage from the second film just goes to show how repetitive this whole movie feels. The only positive I can think of is Jeff Fahey’s performance as Rooker. He’s an over the top, smug villain with a face that you just wanna hit. He seems to be having a good time oozing evil, so the entertainment I did have with this movie came from him.

Darkman III: Die Darkman Die is an insult to the first film and a disappointment to its ok sequel. It walks a fine line of being way too familiar while also straying uncomfortably far from the source material. The story could have easily ended after the second film, which makes this third movie feel like someone just thumbtacked it on to the canon that was already present. Do yourself a favor and do something better with your time. Spend an hour and a half tying and untying your shoes. It’s more fun than watching this mess.

So there you have it. The Darkman Trilogy is a pretty uneven group of movies. Nevertheless, the first film is a super cool dark super hero film and the sequel really isn’t all that bad considering the casting changes and its direct-to-video status. The only one to stay away from is the third film. Stay far away from that. If you haven’t exposed yourself to the dark anti-hero that is Darkman, I suggest you give it a try.

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Star Trek Beyond – Review

26 Jul

Let me just say this right off the bat. I love Star Trek, and by “love it,” I mean to say it’s one of my favorite things in the entire United Federation of Planets. That being said, I’m completely fine with admitting that it is certainly not a perfect franchise. A perfect case and point would be the 1989 stinker, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. But that was a long time ago, and now we have movies in this continuing series made with a much bigger budget and newer, younger actors playing the iconic roles. The reboot of Star Trek was pretty good and Star Trek Into Darkness was great. So where does that leave Star Trek Beyond? To put it simply, this is not a perfect movie, but it’s a more than adequate summer blockbuster and a nice fit with the previous lore that was established in the original series.

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After passing the two and a half year mark of their five year mission, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is starting to lose sight of this mission’s purpose. While the USS Enterprise is docked at the Federation’s most technologically advanced starbase, Yorktown, a distress transmission and escape pod is received which prompts Kirk, Spock (Zacahry Quinto), McCoy (Karl Urban) and the rest of the team to travel to the source of the distress call. While en route, the Enterprise is attacked and destroyed by Krall (Idris Elba), a vengeful being looking for something of high importance on board Kirk’s ship. Now stranded on the planet’s surface and on the run from Krall and his army, the crew of the now destroyed Enterprise must band back together after being separated and stop Krall from unleashing his master plan upon the Federation.

The first thing I noticed after the movie was over and I began thinking about it was that it felt like a really long Star Trek episode, and isn’t that really what it’s all about? If the formula of something is so good and malleable that it has lasted 50 years, why change it now? There have been countless episodes with people stuck on a planet with some sort of antagonist, and it usually ends up with their clashing and Kirk’s shirt ripping. This takes that premise and ups the ante by a lot. The budget for Star Trek Beyond was obviously huge and it shows in some of the more impressive action set pieces. One scene in particular involving a Beastie Boys song on full blast kind of stole the show for me. This is a very exciting movie, and might be the most action packed of the rebooted movies thus far. That being said, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Star Trek Into Darkness because of some key reasons that bothered me a little.

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Right from the trailer, I knew that most of this movie would not take place on the Enterprise, and it turns out that I was correct. This is a little disappointing for me because a lot of the joy I get from Star Trek is watching these incredibly skilled characters work and operate as a team on their starship. The team work is still there in this movie, of course, but most of it happens on the planet’s surface instead of on the bridge of a ship. This is quickly rectified in the last third of the movie, which is stunning to say the least, but I would’ve like to see more on the Enterprise. Also, I feel like some of the characters were underutilized. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Sulu (John Cho) are pretty much held hostage for a large chunk of the movie while McCoy and Spock are just walking around trying to find people. The characters that get to see most of the action are Kirk and Chekov (Anton Yelchin), who really seem to be at the center of the action for most of the film, and Scotty (Simon Pegg) who meets a really cool character named Jayla (Sofia Boutella) and helps her repair her ship. Krall doesn’t even have much to do until the very end, but like I said, that third act is a real wild ride.

It’s surprising that it wasn’t very widespread that year marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and that this film was pushed back so it could be kind of a celebration for the franchise. Star Trek Beyond, and really all of the movies in the rebooted series, pay a lot of respect to the original television show and movies. For one thing, Leonard Nimoy has been in them, and even is given plenty of recognition in this film, which was great to see since Nimoy passed away early last year. I already mentioned that this film felt like a long episode of the original series, and in a way that’s the perfect homage to a show that changed t.v. and get people talking. There’s one scene in particular near the end that recognizes the original show and pays tribute so well, it plastered a great big smile on my face.

Despite some mild disappointment with certain aspects of the story and characters, it’s impossible for me to say that Star Trek Beyond was a bad movie. In fact, it was a very good movie, and I liked it way more than I thought I would. All of the actors really know who their characters are and play them really well, while also interacting with each other very well. The passing of both Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin does add some sadness to the experience, but nothing is lost because of it. Star Trek Beyond provides fans and newcomers alike with some great action, entertainment, and drama while the franchise keeps succeeding at its mission of boldly taking audiences where no one has gone before.

Daimajin Trilogy – Review

26 Jun

In 1954, Toho released a movie called Gojira that would completely reinvent an entire genre. Since then, Godzilla has become King of the Monsters and also a household name. In 1965, to keep up with what Toho was putting out, Daiei Films put another monster on the market, Gamera, which has become a respected kaiju, but is nothing compared to Godzilla. So while Daiei was known for its monster Gamera, it was also known as the production company that put Akira Kurosawa on the map with his 1950 samurai film Rashomon. Now, what if you take Daiei’s monster movies and COMBINE them with samurai movies. What would be the result. Well, that almost unthinkable result would be the Daimajin trilogy.

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The first film, Daimajin, tells the story of a Japanese village that is taken over by an evil chamberlain, Samanosuke (Yutaro Gomi), who forces the villagers into slave labor. After years of turmoil, the mountain god Daimjin is called upon to bring Samanosuke to justice and restore order in the land. In Return of Daimajin (or Daimjin Ikaru), Daimajin must once again be restored to life to stop a war between a violent warlord and the surrounding villages, before any more loss of life is had. In Daimajin Strikes Again (or Daimajin Gyakushu) Daimajin is brought to life by three young boys who witness their family being forced into labor camps to construct rifles for a warring faction, a problem that Daimajin can surely fix in one afternoon.

For any fan of Japanese film, there’s quite literally nothing to dislike here. It seems like a weird combination of genres, but it works out for the best. There’s so much cool stuff in all three of these movies, it’s hard to just pinpoint a few instances. The scene where a group of soldiers try to dismantle the statue before it comes to life ends with such a bang when the statue begins to bleed and a wild storm comes blowing through. That’s just the first time I laughed with excitement at the events that were to unfold. There’s also a lot of excellent religious symbolism that can be recognized no matter what faith you are, kind of like the bleeding statue. It adds a cool layer of the supernatural amongst everything else.

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All three movies have pretty much the same basic structure. There are a group of good and religious villagers just trying to live their lives and respect their mountain god (Daimajin). Of course, that would make for a boring movie, so there is always an evil samurai or lord that shows up that either wants to kill or capture the villagers. While it can get a little repetitive, there is no outstanding reason to have to watch all of these movies in a row in order. There’s no continuing plot and everything is always set up like it is in the first film. This allows you to watch whatever film you want in whatever order you want, and appreciate them as stand alone movies.

So after all of the drama of the story plays out and we really grow to hate the villain, the films switch gears and it all suddenly turns into a giant monster movie. That’s like…the best thing that could happen to any movie. Daimajin is a great giant monster, even though he’s technically a mountain god in the form of a statue. He’s a kaiju that thinks and recognizes good and evil. The actor’s eyes are seen, which never really happens in a monster movie. This gives Daimajin a healthy dose of personality and makes him stand out amongst all of the other hard hitters like Godzilla, Gamera, and Mothra.

Daimajin and its two sequels are all very solid and impressive examples of Japanese film in the mid 1960s. Between Toho and Daiei, there was just a huge flow of monster after monster, and I don’t think Daimajin gets the credit that he deserves. He’s a damn cool monster, and these movies also work great as period dramas. Anyone who is a fan of these kinds of kaiju movies, or even movies like Seven SamuraiRashomon, and the Lone Wolf and Cub film series should definitely check this trilogy out. It’s almost too much fun.

The Expendables 3 – Review

2 Jan

When The Expendables came out in 2010, I was thrilled to see all of the legendary action stars coming together to be in one movie, even if it didn’t reach the high expectations that I set for it. I was even more pleased with The Expendables 2 in 2012, which was a superior sequel that added Chuck Norris to the mix and gave Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis more to do. These were two fun films that hearkened back to action movies from the late 1970 and 1980s, but Stallone wasn’t ready to stop there. The Expendables 3, which I can now say was released in 2014 (just for the sake of saying it), completes the trilogy and actually offered me with more entertainment than I was expecting, which is a nice surprise.

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Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), the leader of his team of mercenaries called The Expendables, start their mission by breaking an old member of the team, Doc (Wesley Snipes), out of prison and than rush to Somalia to stop the delivery of bombs by a mysterious arms dealer. The mission goes awry when it is revealed the arms dealer is an ex-Expendable and personal enemy of Barney’s, Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson). One of the team members is severely injured and Stonebanks escapes, forcing Barney to assemble a new crew to go in and bring Stonbanks back on the orders of his new boss, CIA officer Max Drummer (Harrison Ford). When the new team gets captured by Stonebanks during the mission, the old Expendables crew comes back in to save the new recruits, defeat Stonebanks’ personal army, and bring him in personally to be charged as a war criminal.

I don’t think I even need to say this, but just look at this cast. Just look at it. On top of Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren and the rest of the original cast we now have Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes, and Antonio Banderas added just to name a few. Not only that, but Schwarzenegger and Jet Li are back to join in to the action and join it they do. Obviously, there are also a bunch of fresher faces there like UFC figher Ronda Rousey, Kellan Lutz, boxer Victor Ortiz, and Glen Powell. While it must have been cool for these fighters and actors to join in with the legends, they don’t add anything really special to the movie, and their acting can often be subpar, which shouldn’t even bother me in an Expendables movie. I was worried that these newcomers would push the others to the side, but it was great to see everyone get their chance in the spotlight, my personal favorite being Banderas. I just would have rather seen Gina Carano instead of Ronda Rousey, but that’s just me. There’s also a real big lack of Terry Crews in this movie, which was a little disappointing as well.

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Of course one of the biggest draws to see an Expendables movie is the action, and there’s plenty of it to go around. One of the things that concerned me along with the new cast was the fact that The Expendables 3 was PG-13, which made me think that this movie was going to be completely toned down. It really didn’t feel that way though. In fact, I’d say it may even be superior to the original movie. Another thing that is necessary in action films of this kind is a strong villain, and we get one with Stonebanks. It is obvious that Mel Gibson is having the time of his life, hamming it up as Barney’s arch-enemy and delivering his lines like he’s back in the role of Martin Riggs in the Lethal Weapon movies. Looking back on these movies, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Mel Gibson were two of the best parts of the entire series, which is cool because cool villains are just plain awesome.

It’s clear that this is also a pretty personal project to all of the older actors in this movie, especially that there are now younger actors in the movie kicking ass with them. There’s been a few of these kinds of movies recently where the people we loved for years begin to talk about their age in a positive light. Stallone and the rest of them is reminding us once again that they are quite capable of high octane action scenes and still have fun shooting them. That being said, I don’t think we need another Expendables movie, and I’m hoping and praying that we don’t get one, because as much as I like what they’re doing, they’ve been doing it on repeat since 2010. I will say that some of this movie felt like it was getting a little stale (and I’m including the wonky special effects with this), which means it’s time to pack this series in.

The Expendables movies are simply nostalgic guilty pleasures that no one should really feel guilty about, in my opinion. These movies, the third movie included, are not pieces of work that need to be criticized to quickly. Maybe I liked this movie as much as I did because it exceeded my low expectations, but maybe it’s just because I like seeing these actors do what they do best. It’s not high art and it doesn’t have anything particularly interesting to say, but we’ve known these actors for a long time and it’s cool to see them in a loud, violent, and often funny action film.

 

Mad Max Trilogy – Review

17 Jun

Despite having major controversies surrounding him recently, everyone and their mothers know who Mel Gibson is. Nowadays he’s a major movie star, producer, and director but he had to start somewhere. Enter the cult classic dystopian sci-fi trilogy of Mad Max. Spanning from 1979 to 1985, this trilogy was a new and unusual re-imagining of what dystopian science fiction should look like, and has spawned many film makers and designers to mimic what George Miller had originally created. Obviously, to any who have seen these films, this trilogy isn’t perfect, but you really can’t deny how influential and fun these movies are.

In 1979, George Miller directed and released the first film, Mad Max, on a budget of just $400,000, which is extraordinarily cheap for a movie like this. Somehow, Miller was able to make this movie work and work very well.

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In a bleak future due to a worldwide energy crisis, Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) is the last chance for law and order in the violent Australian highways. Working for the MFP (Main Force Patrol) has become a major driving force for Max’s life, along with his relationships with his wife (Joanne Samuel) and his best friend Goose (Steve Bisley), who is also a member of MFP. When a vicious motorcycle gang led by the Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) rides into town with the plan on getting revenge on Max, who is responsible for the death of one of the gang members. When the Toecutter and his gang finally catch up to what Max loves he most, he wages a one man war on the motorcycle gang, and won’t rest until they’ve all got what’s coming to them.

The plot for Mad Max is anything but difficult and complex. You don’t have to do a whole lot of thinking during this movie as long as you know the basic plot that runs through every revenge movie ever. What the biggest draw is to this movie is the completely ridiculous and awesome vehicular action scenes and stunts. Cars, motorcycles, and trucks get completely demolished in what can only be described as vehicular mayhem. If you’re expecting anything else from this movie, you may be sorely disappointed. The narrative of this movie doesn’t feel very good with a very exciting first act and third act, but a second act that drags on way longer than it should. This would be a perfect, mindless action movie if the second act was shortened and the third act was longer.

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Still, for what it’s worth, Mad Max is a very entertaining movie and was the start of a trilogy that became an influential sci-fi hit. This film didn’t make it into the US for major distribution until after the second film, which isn’t only an excellent film but also one of the best sequels ever made.

In 1981, George Miller released the second installment in the trilogy, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. People, including me, who complained about some of the lackluster qualities in the narrative of the first film, but praised the high octane action will fall head over heels for this movie. Not only is it the best of the trilogy, it very well may be one of the best action films ever made.

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Five years after the events of the first film, society has fallen into even worse conditions after a global war has wiped out most of the oil supplies that was keeping civilization moving. Max is still wandering the wasteland and, like everyone else, is left to fend for himself in search of oil. Max soon comes across a compound that is acting as an oil refinery that is under constant siege by a gang of leather clad savages led by the Humungus (Kjell Nilsson). Max strikes a reluctant deal with the leaders of the oil refinery that consists of him bringing them a Mack semi-truck to transport the oil in return for as much oil as he can carry. As expected, the Humungus and his gang are waiting for them and begins one of the most epic chases ever to be captured for the silver screen.

This is how an action movie should be made and this is also the film that pretty much defines what the Mad Max trilogy is all about. The over the top punk, savage gang members have become the iconic image for these movies and is what a lot of people think of when these movies are mentioned. The action and chase sequences in this movie are choreographed and shot so well that it almost seems unbelievable. Now a days, with a few examples, CGI is used for a lot of special effects in the industry, but in The Road Warrior, all of the destruction you see is genuine. Of course, people aren’t really getting decimated by these vehicles, but it sure looks like it! The story also follows a narrative arc that is seen in some Akira Kurosawa samurai films and westerns like The Magnificent Seven and A Fistful of Dollars.

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Mad Max 2 is an achievement of the action genre that inspired many people, including the Wachowskies and their epic car chase in The Matrix Reloaded, which was done with very little CGI. Not only does it fix all of the flaws of the first film, it enhances everything that was awesome about it. Even if you’ve never seen any of the other films in this trilogy, you can’t miss out on this one.

Finally, in 1985, Miller and his co-director George Ogilvie released the final film in the trilogy, that being Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. A title like that is certainly intriguing, but as anyone who even knows a little about these movie knows that this is not only the weakest entry in the series, but also a major disappointment as a whole.

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It’s been twenty years since Max first started wandering the wastelands. His adventures finally bring him to a place called Bartertown where he comes searching for the camels that were stolen from him. Upon arriving, he meets Aunty Entity (Tina Turner), who is the self proclaimed ruler of Bartertown. She  makes it clear that she is willing to give Max his property back as long as he challenges the head of the Bartertown underworld, Master Blaster (Angelo Rossitto and Paul Larsson), to a battle in the Thunderdome where the rule is that two men enter and one man leaves. After refusing to kill Blaster, Max is banished to the desert where he meets a tribe of children that he vows to protect and enlist their help to free Master from Bartertown and start a new life of their own.

To be fair, the first forty five minutes to an hour of this movie are awesome. The whole idea of the Thunderdome and Master Blaster being two people acting as one is awesome. Tina Turner also gives a gleefully over the top performance as the queen of Bartertown. At first, I was confused as to why this movie was so disliked. That’s when Max met the kids and it turned into Mad Max Meets the Goonies. Of course, that’s not true, but it felt like Steven Spielberg took over and decided to make this a family adventure film. Well, it’s not supposed to be! It’s a Mad Max movie! The chase looks eerily similar, and a thousand times more goofy, to the one from The Road Warrior and lots of the intensity is sacrificed for a more Hollywood film.

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Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is too long, too uneven, and too goofy for my tastes. It did build on Max’s character in some cool ways and the first half was really awesome. It’s just unfortunate that the second half is damn near unwatchable. This film is solely for die hard Mad Max fans that would feel incomplete without this film. It’s a mess.

So the Mad Max trilogy isn’t perfect. It has one shitty movie, one good movie, and one excellent movie. That’s pretty good in my opinion, and the whole mythology surrounding the story is really cool. George Miller is planning on releasing another film featuring Tom Hardy as Max in 2015 called Mad Max: Fury Road. I’m definitely impressed by these movies and am ready for another one, so I can honestly recommend these movies to anyone who likes to turn their brains off and just have a good time watching a movie.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance – Review

13 Jan

This is going to be the start of a review for a trilogy. Chan-Wook Park’s Vengeance Trilogy to be more specific. Park has established himself as one of the most creative and innovative film makers to come out of Asia, and has even inspired American film makers and film makers from around the globe in terms of style and story. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance started off this thematic trilogy in 2003, and while it is a good start to the three movies that share common themes, it is a relatively weak entry in his filmography.

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Ryu (Ha-kyun Shin) is a deaf-mute who is working in a factory so his sister (Ji-eun Lim) can get a kidney transplant. After getting fired and hearing no good news from the hospital, Ryu takes his life savings and turns to the black market to get a kidney. The sellers don’t make good on their deal and end up stealing his kidney without selling him one for his sister. In order to get the money Ryu’s girlfriend, Yeong-mi (Doona Bae) suggest kidnapping his ex-boss’ daughter (Bo-bae Han) and collecting the ransom money. After tragedy strikes, his ex-boss Dong-jin (Kang-ho Song) wants revenge and will stop at nothing to kill the people responsible for ruining his life.

To start off with, I feel let down by this movie. There are a lot of good things about it that I will get to, but as a whole it is clearly inferior to Park’s other work. First of all, there are a lot of things in the beginning of the movie that are glazed over so fast I wasn’t even aware that I was getting any plot information. Because of that, I would get confused further down the line at what was going on and who was who. It wasn’t until about a third of the way into the movie that I was aware of who everyone was and what exactly their motivations were. This is not exactly a fun way to watch a movie.

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The story, itself, of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is pretty awesome. The whole deal with organs, the black market, abductions, and revenge just blend together really well, despite the shortcomings in how the story is told. It’s a grim, dark, and almost depressing story, even though it still shows signs of dark humor that Park is so good at doing. Amidst the violence and suspense, I found myself laughing at certain parts just out of how strange things were. In some cases, right after laughing, I’d find myself cringing or in a state of bewilderment. The violence in this movie can be extreme, but it’s never so graphic or insane that it becomes gratuitous. Still, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is not for the feint of heart.

This  is also a beautiful movie to look at. Chan-wook Park has an unbelievable eye when it comes to creating beauty amongst ugliness. The surroundings in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance are very gray and dreary, completely lacking any set or location that is beautiful. What is beautiful is how Park shows these sets and locations. His blocking and camera techniques are spot on and make every scene interesting. I found myself thinking about how he thought to angle some of the more interesting shots and if I would ever be able to think of something like that.

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Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is not Chan-wook Park’s best film. The plot, which is excellent, is not told in the most sensible way and a lot of important points may be missed your first time through. Park said he was going more for theme and style over plot, which shows, but it doesn’t help the movie that much. That being said, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance looks great and fits well in this thematic trilogy. It has memorable scenes, but I still say that it could have been a lot better considering how cool the story is.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Review

30 Dec

Last year, I was thrilled beyond belief to return to Middle Earth in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Upon leaving the theater, I was pleased with the film, but was kind of disappointed with some of the pacing issues. It felt way too long and dragged in too many scenes. The Desolation of Smaug, however, is a huge improvement over its predecessor and is packed to the brim with excitement, action, adventure, and a dragon that will go down as one of the best villains in the history of cinema.

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Picking up directly after the events of An Unexpected Journey, Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Thorin (Richard Armitage), and the brave band of dwarves are being chased by a group of orcs led by Azog (Manu Bennett). Sensing a dark trouble, Gandalf separates from the group and moves to investigate Dol Guldor which may house the evil spirit of the Necromancer (Benedict Cumberbatch). Meanwhile, the dwarves encounter the Elves of Mirkwood, two of them being Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), both of whom begin hunting the orcs who are hunting the dwarves. Finally reaching the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo and the dwarves meet Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch again!) the dragon who has been sleeping on an immense pile of gold for many years, and the fight is on to kill Smaug and win back the kingdom of Erebor.

So much happens in this movie, it’s almost ridiculous. This film is dense with characters, action set pieces, battle sequences, villains, returning characters, references to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, etc., etc. This makes for a lot of awesome moments in The Desolation of Smaug, but it also is the cause of a run time that made me fidget a lot more than it should. I remember when I saw Return of the King when it first came out. I was still in grade school when I saw it, which is hard enough to believe, but I also never got fidgety. That’s because that movie, for as long as it was, was covering the content of an entire book. The Desolation of Smaug is covering about five chapters. I never read Tolkien’s book, but I know that a lot was added in, and despite all of the awesome adventure, there are a lot of really boring scenes that didn’t need to exist, thereby trimming the movie down a great deal.

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And that is where the problems with The Desolation of Smaug end. The rest is an outstanding adventure through Middle Earth that Peter Jackson has brought to life in such vivid detail. Jackson and his entire team have brought a fantasy world to life in a way that no one has ever done before. Mirkwood Forest, Erebor, and Lake-Town all have very distinct personalities and are a marvel to look at with so much happening on screen at one time. Even the all of the Middle Earth creatures look fantastic. The CGI created orcs, wargs, and, of course, Smaug look better than ever. Still though, Smaug steals the show in this department as well. He is huge and moves like you would expect a psychotic dragon to. Cumberbatch studied the movements of different kinds of lizards in order to perform the motion capture as well as he can.

As if just being in Middle Earth again wasn’t enough, seeing Bilbo and the rest of them all again feels like a great, big reunion. We’ve come to care about these characters, especially the ones that we already know from the Lord of the Rings. Jackson couldn’t have found a better young Bilbo Baggins than Martin Freeman, but I think I said that in my review for An Unexpected Journey. Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage play their roles great as always, and I was surprised with how much I enjoyed Lee Pace’s performance, even though he wasn’t in the movie all that much. My two favorite characters, however, were Smaug (obviously) and Legolas! Orlando Bloom is back again and even though he’s pretty shoehorned into the movie, he provided some of the coolest parts of the movie that made the whole auditorium give “oohs” and “ahs” of appreciation.

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I feel like The Hobbit movies are never going to live up to the excellence of the Lord of the Rings, but The Desolation of Smaug sure has come close. I stick by my opinion that these films might have worked better if there were only two of them. The fact that this is meant to be a trilogy based off of a book that really isn’t all that long makes for some really bad pacing problems that hurt this movie in ways that I wish didn’t. Still, despite some fidgeting, The Desolation of Smaug is a major improvement over An Unexpected Journey, complete with an ending that robbed me of any breath and makes me demand a quick 2014 so I can return to the theater once again for the final installment of this trilogy.