Death Proof is… not the best flick in Quentin Tarantino’s career so far, but an entertaining little ride through the B movie corn nonetheless. It’s Quentin playing in the sandbox, and although he tends to fling it about too energetically in spots, and dawdle around listlessly in others, one can forgive such pacing issues when you consider how much fun it is for the most part. It also helps that his Grindhouse effort is heaps better than his pal Robert Rodriguez’s painfully lame Planet Terror, but that’s a whole other chestnut. Death Proof works mostly thanks to the bubbly, endlessly sexy performances from an extensive roster of irrisistable cbicks, and one gleefully evil bit of work from genre legend Kurt Russell, having a devilish blast as Stuntman Mike, a psychopath who batters helpless chicks to death as he rattles them around in his specially rigged vintage muscle car, primed for murder and ready to burn rubber straight to the ER. A fair chunk of the film is spent simply observing these girls talking, bickering, socializing and indulging in idiosyncratic pop culture banter that’s a facet of the Q Man himself. He loves to project his own affinities onto the written page and use them as backbones for his characters, and although that may be one of the core elements of screenwriting in itself, it’s always a little more pronounced with QT. Writers are books, but he is a popup book, always a tad more garish than the rest of the kids on the playground. I don’t wanna say that such lenghthy swaths of running time spent on girls chilling out isn’t fun (it’s captivating, especially with this bunch), but it is essential to the Grindhouse vibe they set out to emulate? A minor quibble, but a quibble all the same. To their credit, the girls are simply terrific. The first bunch include Rose McGowan’s angelic and short lived Pam, Sydney Poitier’s spunky radio DJ Jungle Julia, and Vanessa Ferlito’s wiseass Latina. The first act sees them run into Stuntman Mike in a roadhouse bar owned by Tarantino himself, who just can’t resist casting himself in his own shit lol. Oh well, at least he didn’t try an Australian accent this time around. The second time act we meet Rosario Dawson, stuntwoman Zoe Bell and cutesy pie Mary Elizabeth Winstead, all in the crosshairs of Mike’s radar, but this time he may be in way over his greaser hairdoed head. The vehicular mayhem is traditionalist and non CGI, and quite honestly a spectucalr firework show of blood, glass, metal and scorched asphalt. I just wish there was more of it, man. Sure, the character building with the gals is awesome, but it eclipses the action in gross proportion. A little balance between talky talky and vroom vroom would have been appreciated. Russell is a hoot in a role that was originally going to be played by Mickey Rourke. He just has that knowing gleam in his eye and good ol’ boy charm that makes it work so well, especially in a naughty little fourth wall break that shows you just how much Mike enjoys his sick little game of bumper cars. There’s characters that bleed in from Rodriguez’s side of the fence, including Michael Parks as the seemingly immortal Texas Ranger Earl Mcgraw, and Marley Shelton as his daughter. It’s a valiant effort, with plenty of Mad Max style merit and a seriously smoking lineup of luscious ladies. I just feel like he over fed certain ingredients to the pot when cooking this one up, and neglected others in areas. Still though, even average Tarantino is brilliant, and this one glows, if for a few dull spots.
I’ve never really been a trekkie my whole life. Didn’t grow up with the television series and haven’t actively explored it later in life. When the announcement came that wonder-kid JJ Abrams would be taking on the lofty overhaul of a remake, I didn’t freak out or anything. In fact I waited quite a while before seeing it in theatres, dragged along by a buddy who talked it up quite a bit. Well, it was amazing, and still is. Nothing gets you pumped and makes your heart ache quite as much as that epic ten prologue, starring an intrepid Chris Hemsworth who selflessly saves the lives of everyone onboard his ship, including his newborn son, James T. Kirk. When your eyes flood with tears in the first few minutes of a film, it’s always a good sign. Abrams ushered in Star Trek for the new generation, and I imagine strived to keep core elements like friendship, cameraderie and wonder alive as well. Chris Pine makes one hell of a Kirk, but then he’s one of the best in his age group these days. Cocky, belligerent, dysfunctional, impulsive and recklessly brave, he’s the perfect opposing force to Zachary Quinto’s calculated, logical, no nonsense Spock, who goes through quite a wringer when his entire world is decimated by rogue Romulan extremist Nero, played by a sensational Eric Bana. Both Kirk and Spock are no stranger to loss, being affected and reacting to it in different ways. Their initial rivalry tangles into the beginning of a friendship, hinted at by Leonard Nimoy’s Spock Prime, visiting Quinto from far in the future (time travel, baby). The plot and character motivations are in fact mostly about loss and anger; Nero himself is driven by grief which has morphed into poisonous hatred, willing to inflict hurt a thousand fold in return for what happened to his people. Bana finds the wounded areas of Nero, and uses the trademark Romulun leer to cover them up in violent fury. There must always be comic relief too, and when the banter between the two heroes gets too dark, the spotlight shifts to chipper Scotty (Simon Pegg) and a brilliant Karl Urban as Leonard ‘Bones’ Mccoy, the ship’s neurotic doctor. Urban is cast heavily against type in the liveliest role he’s ever been thrown, and clearly loves every antsy second of it. John Cho makes a formidable Sulu, and the sadly departed Anton Yelchin charms the pants off of everyone with his priceless russian accent. Clifton Collins Jr. and Jennifer Morrison are great as well. Abrams loves to cast beloved actors from bygone eras in these things (I peed a little when Peter Weller showed up in the sequel), so keep a look out for terrific work from Ben Cross and Winona Ryder as Spock’s parents. Bruce Greenwood is nobility incarnate as Commander Pike, the kindly captain who sees the potential in Kirk and paternally attempts to clear the wreckage of his personality, dust it off and make something out of him. The special effects and set pieces are a dizzying dream of nonstop adrenaline. The opener I mentioned before, a show stopping fight scene atop a giant chain miles above the surface of a planet, the hair raising arrival of Nero’s ship (it looks like some horrific giant space beetle) and a chase across a snowy tundra pursued by an evil Yeti Muppet thing are highlights that demonstrate how effective and useful CGI can be when implemented properly. For all its razzle dazzle though, Star Trek is ultimately about relationships between different beings (human or other), the ways in which they deal with tragedy, love one another, learn to coexist, help those in need and most importantly, explore the wonders of the universe around them. I admire the fact that in a huge Sci Fi blockbuster such as this, those kind of themes and qualities come first. We are all made of stars, and inward exploration of the ones that reside in us and how they make us what we are is just as essential as the world’s that lie millions of light years away, awaiting our arrival. JJ understands this, and I offer him a well earned Starfleet salute for it.
It’s nearly impossible for me to pick a favourite from the original Bourne trilogy, but I suppose if you held a gun to my head I would have to go for the breathless, breakneck Bourne Supremacy. It’s the first one I ever saw and one of the very first big summer movie experiences of my youth, so I have a burning nostalgia. I wouldn’t base my decision solely on that, though. No, I’ve thought a lot about it, and Supremacy just has every element in pitch perfect place, every second of pacing hurtling by on full throttle and Matt Damon taking names like he never did before. I love the fact that Bourne has something driving him other than a need to know who and what he is this time around. He has revenge for the death of someone he loved, which is never something you want to provoke when you have someone like him gunning for you. Life is quiet for Jason and Marie (Franka Potente 😍) for about five seconds at the beginning of the film, until a highly skilled assassin (a capable, relentless Karl Urban) explodes into their lives, sends their jeep careening off a bridge, resulting in Marie’s death. This pisses Jason off and then some, prompting a global excursion to find out who Urban works for and take them down. Also on his trail is CIA bigwig Pamela Landy (Joan Allen, excellent) and the severely morally misguided Ward Abbott (Brian Cox takes slimy to a whole new level in this outing). There’s also scheming Russian oil magnate Gretkov (a relaxed Karel Roden) with his own reasons for wanting Bourne. As is always the case, Jason is the smartest guy in the room, more so even than those that trained him, and he out thinks, out shoots and outruns them all every step of the way that takes him nearer to his goal. He isn’t simply running scared and confused with no outlet or idea how to use his talents anymore. He’s a lethal asset with emotion and forethought on his side, and he takes no prisoners. Damon is just ridiculously badass, especially in the several furious hand to hand combat scenes he dances through, doling out the smackdown faster than anyone’s reflexes can react. There’s also a humanity to him, burgeoning regret when he learns what Treadstone made him do, and the yearning to set it right, or at least make himself known to the daughter (Oksana Akinshina) of a Russian couple he once murdered. People complain about all the shaky cam, but whatever man, it sure fires up an action sequence and places you right there amid the mayhem of a rattling jeep chase through a Berlin tunnel, a bone splintering man to man with an ex Treadstone operative (Marton Csokas) and more. Julia Stiles is terrifically intense as a girl who used to do the psych evaluations for agents, Chris Cooper briefly returns as Conklin, the devious founder of the program, and watch for Tomas Arana, Corey Johnson, Gabriel Mann and Michelle Monaghan too. Like I said it’s a tricky task to pick a favourite, and on any given day I’d just say I love all three equally. This one just has a bit of an edge on the others in certain spots, and never feels like it bears the curse of the middle chapter. It’s a tightly wound coil of a film that springs into kinetic motion with the force of a piston. I’m curious to see how the new Bourne flick does, but I doubt it’ll come close to the first three, let alone this platinum classic. Cue Moby’s Extreme Ways to play out my review.
Despite not having a whole lot to do with the video games, Doom is still a rush of schlock and awe silliness, getting more fun and ridiculous in equal amounts near it’s nonsensical ending. Karl Urban and The Rock are the tough guys for the job when it comes to scoping out a Martian research base that’s accidentally opened up a portal to hell, unleashing all kinds of lovely things. Rock is Sarge, stoic commander of this unit, and Urban is John Grimm (he lives up to his last name) a battle scarred badass who has personal stake in fighting these monsters. His sister (Rosamund Pike) is a scientist on the base, and is now in a great deal of danger. After a neat Google Earth type zoom in on the Martian surface (ironically the only shot in the film that suggests they’re even on the red planet), it’s off to dank corridors, vast bunkers and beeping control panels, an Aliens-esgue siege on horrors of the dark that quickly goes sideways on them. It’s run of the mill stuff save for one stroke of brilliance: a pulse racing first person shooter sequence that showcases a POV of Urban shooting, slashing and chain-sawing his way through alien flesh. It’s a bold move that pays off immensely and is quite fun. The rest of their team is forgettable except for Richard Brake as Portman, the loudmouth A Hole of the bunch, a refreshingly animated performance in a roomful of muted, grim characters. The monster from the game shows up, a hulking hell pig nicknamed Pinky that tirades it’s way through everything until Urban gives it what for. This ain’t no great flick, but as far as video game movies go, you could do way worse. There’s definitely enough gore for the hounds, and it’s adequately stylish in presentation.
Priest is one of those flashy missed opportunities, a visually stimulating comic book flick that just couldn’t amp the substance metre up enough til it’s flush with style, and ultimately feels somewhat hollow. It’s still a gorgeous Blu Ray that will give your system a workout though, with some neat vampires and a great cast. Sometime in a murky post apocalyptic future, humanity lives in a giant gloomy city on the edge of oblivion, walled in for fear of vampires who have preyed upon them in the past. An order of warrior priests protects citizens and keeps order, until one rogue from their sect (Paul Bettany) discovers that the creatures may be back when an outsider couple (Stephen Moyer and Madchen Amick) have their daughter (Lily Collins) kidnapped from their desert dwelling outside the city. They come to Bettany for help, but the leader of his priesthood (a smug Christopher Plummer) is an obstinate son of a bitch and refuses to act. Bettany goes renegade along with Priestess (Maggie Q) and ventures into the wasteland to rescue Collins and fight these baddies. It’s frustrating because the look and design of this world is brilliant, like a dark opulant jewel that clearly has some thought put into it. But then… the dialogue and story are so numbingly pedestrian, straying not a kilometer into uncharted narrative waters to give us something even a little bit exciting or unpredictable. Quality jumps with Karl Urban’s dapper villain Black Hat, a vampire cowboy outlaw who oddly resembles what I’d imagine Stephen King’s Roland Deschain would look like if the powers that be took their heads out of their ass and recasted Idris Elba. But I digress. Like I said, terrific cast; Brad Dourif has a great cameo as a snide hustler peddling trinkets to superstitious townsfolk, and watch for the great Alan Dale too. Bettany always makes for a solid action hero, he just has a bit of trouble finding the right projects (have you seen that turd Legion? Good lord) that deserve bis talents. This one falls just short. It could have really used a few rounds of defibrillation from another screenwriter, and perhaps a hard R rating to take advantage of the horror aspects. Still, the vampires are creepy enough (echoes of Blade II are always welcome), the actors keep it going and there’s no shortage of style.
Being a huge fan of the two previous Riddick films, I was overjoyed to hear that Vin Diesel would be raiding his own couch for change to save up in order to make this R rated follow up, still helmed by David Twohy. It’s reassuring that in a franchise with more than a few haters, Diesel has the passion and ambition for his character to go out of his way in bringing this to fans. Not to mention what a kick ass, gnarly little space yarn it turned out to be. Pitch Black was a claustrophobic horror fest set on a single harsh world, and The Chronicles Of Riddick opened up into a vast galactic space opera. This one reigns it in closer again (partly because of budget, I would imagine) and gets back to the roots established in Pitch Black. After defeating the Necromongers and becoming their King, Riddick is betrayed and sent into exile by the treacherous Lord Vaako (Karl Urban in a brief but memorable reprisal). Cast out into the stars with a ship running low on fuel, he finds himself marooned on a small, deadly planet that’s more challenging than any other he has found himself on (and if you remember, he has been to some hellish little nooks in the past). This world is a dry, acrid rock where every form of wildlife seems to be incredibly lethal, and out to get him. The first half of the film is pure genius, and consists of Riddick playing Survivorman with his environment, battling aliens and elements and befriending a small hell-pup type doggo that grows up into a teeth and claw ridden killing machine that is at one point referred to as a ‘dingo dango thing’. This is where it’s at for the film, and as soon as the more generic second half arrives, the air gets a bit stale, but it’s still heaps of fun. After mastering the terrain and ingeniously dispatching a snakelike alien that seems to have wandered right in from Wolfgang Petersen’s Enemy Mine (practical effects POWER), he encounters trouble of the human variety, in the form of bounty hunters. Two teams of outlaws have arrived to claim him: the stern Boss Johns (Matt Nable) who has an old bone to pick with Riddick, and the psychotic A-hole Santana (Jordi Molla, who I think of as the Latin Gary Oldman). They bicker a whole bunch on who gets the prize, unknowingly being infiltrated and messed up by the guy before they’ve barely landed. Katee Sackhoff is nutso awesome as Dahl, a lesbo tough chick who legit has the line “I don’t fuck guys, but occasionally I fuck them up.” Soon there’s more charming wildlife, this time in droves of shrieking reptilian predators who intend to see each of them, Riddick included, dead. This forces an amusingly unstable team-up from all forces to battle the uglies and escape this godforsaken place. It’s giddy sci-fi pulp good times, and benefits from its hard R rating, something which the other two films never had on their side. Diesel was born to play Riddick, the growling teddy bear, and I hope he gets to continue wearing the goggles for more of these movies, indefinitely if possible. A hell of a great time.
The hype surrounding comedy troupe Broken Lizard quieted down somewhat after the hullabaloo of both Super Troopers and Beerfest, but that didn’t mean they halted their output. In 2009 they released the insanely funny screwball romp The Slammin Salmon, which nobody seems to have seen and garnered nowhere near as much buzz as their previous films. It’s just as much of a riot, this time landing the gang into a Miami seafood restaurant, after their jaunts in rural law enforcement and extreme competitive alcohol consumption. The restaurant they all ‘work’ at is owned by a hulking bull in a china shop named Cleon ‘Slammin’ Salmon, a gigantic ex pro boxer played by the late great Michael Clarke Duncan in one of his last, and best, appearances. Cleon runs the restaurant with an obnoxious iron fist, a giant petulant brat with a penchant for beating up his staff and the social skills of a grizzly bear. On a busy night he announces to his staff that they must sell enough deceased marine life on plates to come up with a ten grand debt he owes to the Asian mob. This sets off a chain of reliably hilarious shenanigans involving the whole Broken Lizard crew, and a few cameos from salty hollywood veterans, a welcome trend that is commonplace among their films. The pushover manager Rich (Kevin Hefferman) attempts to keep the order. The lunatic head chef (Paul Soter) and his dimbulb busboy brother (also Soter) create trouble for everyone. Douchey waiter Guy (Eric Stolhanske) plays dirty to boost his sales. Ditzy server Mia (April Bowlby) dolls up her smile and smart one Tara (Cobie Smulders) plays it crafty to get ahead. Funniest by far is Jay Chandrasekhar as Nuts, a weirdo whose alter ego Zongo makes insane appearances whenever he forgets to take his meds. Clarke Duncan is the bellowing life of the party though, in an untethered romp through the comedic corn that clearly has been improvised a lot and shows the actor having some of the most fun I’ve ever seen onscreen. It’s a chaotic flick that captures the mania of restaurant life perfectly, with nods to everything from Monty Python to Blake Edward’s The Party, while still retaining a contemporary personality of it’s own. Broken Lizard has a knack for making every joke land in their films, and it’s laugh city all the way through this one. From engagement rings in fecal matter, third degree burns from scalding soup, endless situational fisacos and satirical characters, it’s just wild. Watch for Lance Henriksen, Carla Gallo, Olivia Munn, Jim Gaffigan, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Morgan Fairchild, Vivica A. Fox as a pop star named Nutella (lol) and a priceless Will Forte. On par with Troopers and Beerfest, funny in spades and so damn re-watchable. An essential for comedy fans.