Tuesday, March 26, 2013

You're so tense

Transporter 3 (2008)
As much as I really loved the first Transporter and as cool a character as I think Frank is, after the abuse that was Transporter 2, I can't say I'm looking forward to this one very much.  Turns out that I was correct that this is a completely forgettable movie, but I was mistaken that I'd watched this before as proven by the unopened DVD.  At least I've seen it now is about the best that I can say about this one.  This is one of those times where the take an established character and formula and try to mix it up a bit.  Political intrigue is very much not a storyline we need to have.  Even that would have been okay if we stuck to the formula like the first one where the overall plot is really irrelevant to the entertainment value of the movie.  No such luck here.  By trying to go all political thriller on us, all they managed to do was confuse the plot and take valuable time away from what Frank does best:  Kick people in the face while trying to run them off the road. 

It's not a complete loss of a movie and there were a few amusing moments and some decent action, but it says something about the staying power of the movie that I can't remember a specific one of those moments and it's only been a couple of hours since I finished watching the movie.  About all that stands out are the completely stupid moments like the inept high speed chase by Group of Bad Guys #83 where we later learn they were working for Generic Russian Chick's dad and apparently were trying to "rescue" her.  By "rescue", I of course mean taking extreme risks to her well being in an attempt to stop Statham from doing whatever the hell it is he was supposed to be doing with her.  Apparently that boils down to swerving all over a road while going 140+ kph, which was at least somewhat plausible in hindsight and pumping 1000+ rounds of ammo into the car she's riding in, which is a somewhat less effective method of ensuring her safety.  Can't find good help these days, I guess.

Statham was apparently only slightly more interested in what was going on than I was.  Sure, he's got a couple of generic fight sequences and, as always, he looks good behind the wheel, but I haven't seen him with this little intensity in a role since Ghosts of Mars.  Perhaps he was just confused by what his character's motivation was supposed to be.  I sure as hell was.  He does at least get to run around with his shirt off a decent bit, so my sister will hopefully be amused, but that time would really be better spent watching pretty much any other Statham movie where he takes his shirt off.  Quite a few to choose from. 

As to the supporting cast, the best I can really say about any of them is that they didn't openly flub their lines.  Good job everyone.

Badassery Quotient - 7
There's no denying that there is plenty of explosions and gunplay to be had, but I have to knock a few points off for the uninspired fight and chase sequences.  Take away any sense of menace or control by Statham and it's not really what that character should be capable of. 

Rewatchability - No thanks
I imagine this is going to continue to be a theme with Jason's recent movies, but there's really no point in rewatching this when you can effectively watch the same movie in any number of other better acted and directed ones.  Perhaps it would be fun to rewatch to see if I could actually keep track of which bad guys are who and which of the two nearly identical black cars in the chase scene were which.  Can't say I recommend this to anyone, not even someone who is a big Transporter fan.  I guess if you managed to enjoy Transporter 2 at all, then you might as well give this one a try since it's at least a little less insulting to your intelligence. 

Up next - Crank: High Voltage.  More than a little leery of this and it strikes me as one of those movies that really shouldn't have been made.  The first Crank really captured lightning in a bottle with an outrageous plot device cleverly pulled off and wonderful performances by Statham and the supporting casts.  Surely pressing their luck to go there again, but we'll see how it turns out.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Somebody's mad right now

Death Race (2008)
Remakes/reboots/reimaginings...  All just other words for "we can't be bothered to think up an original idea" and a large part of the reason I gave this a miss the first time around.  It's like The Wizard of Oz, Horton Hears a Who, or any other beloved children's classic that just doesn't need to be remade.  It's been done, and done correctly, now leave it alone.  Oddly enough, other than the title, a few character names, and weaponized cars, this has exactly squat to do with the original.  All things considered, that's actually a plus for me and if the original trailers had done a better job conveying that, I might have forked over some cash to see it in the theater. 

An unfortunate victim of this reimagining is all sense of whimsy and imagination the original had.  Dark humor to be sure, but the original was a pretty entertaining and biting satire on society in a similar vein to The Running Man.  Here we have a fairly standard Fugitive framejob, a yawner of a prison story, and one of the more implausibly motivated villains I've seen this side of Uma's Poison Ivy.  While the plot is a bet of a letdown and the sci-fi angle is confined to the opening title sequence, the execution was surprisingly adequate.  Nothing to write home about, but Statham and McShane are quite good here and Token Objectified Female navigator was at least easy on the eyes. 

Statham was in top form again and they did a really nice job setting up his character's motivations and playing up the family man side of things.  Unfortunately that's completely out of place and unwanted in a movie of this type, but props for the effort.  Man, I'd thought Statham was in good physical shape before this, but goodness gracious.  My sister would definitely appreciate the bod and how much time he spends shirtless.  He really leaned himself down something fierce and is just completely ripped.  That actually works pretty well within the bounds of the narrative and it's not flagrant, just adds to the fun.

I was going to skip tearing on the plausibility of this because obviously it's not supposed to be plausible, but they had to go to the trouble of trying to explain too much that I have to call them on it.  Firstly, the warden's motivation to improve ratings for the show that brings her parent corporation all the money is all well and fine, but goodness gracious she was completely inept in trying to accomplish that.  Stepped right over the character motivation line into being an obvious writing issue and more's the pity because without that, we lose any chance at an underlying tension or drama behind the action.  Secondly, where exactly do they fit a couple million rounds of ammunition in each of these cars?  I'd have been okay if anyone ever ran out of ammo, but Machine Gun Joe pretty much drives all 3 stages of the race with the trigger depressed.  Sure that's his name, but let's at least pretend there are some limitations at work here.  IMDB's trivia mentions four tons of blank ammunition were expended during filming and I can't help but wonder if that estimate is low by a factor of ten.

Special nod of appreciation to David Carradine.  He was completely awesome in the original and it was a very nice touch to have him do Frank's voice at the beginning.  Had to look him up to be sure, but yep, that's him.  Also interesting that he's been continuing to release a decent number of movie roles after dying.  Usually that puts a kink in someone's career, but he's apparently still going strong.  Thanks very much for the memories, David.  I'm glad we'll always have your mostly excellent body of work to enjoy.  Plus whatever new movies you put out in the future.

Badassery Quotient - 9
Pretty nice amount of shooting, brawling, and of course shooting while driving going on here.  Couple that with Statham being just crazy-ripped and this is one of his more badass roles to be sure.  Nice touch that they didn't have him use martial arts of any sort in his brawl.  It's good to not overuse that in every movie.

Rewatchability - Rarely
It was reasonably entertaining for what it was and it does have me wanting to go back and watch the original again soon.  I wouldn't avoid seeing this again and could see enjoying it with a like minded friend, but it's not quite solid enough to merit regular viewing.  I'd be hesitant to recommend it to anyone who was a fan of the original.

Up next - Transporter 3!  It's a testament to how strong a movie this is that I've seen it and thought I enjoyed it, but can't for the life of me remember a single thing about it.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Mummy! Daddy's on the radio!

The Bank Job (2008)
A Statham period piece!  Oh noes!  Can he hack it?  Will he seem out of place?  Good news is that he fits really well into the 70s in the comfortable pattern of a hustler and was part of a pretty decent ensemble cast.  I started off pretty lukewarm for the first half of the movie and, while I enjoyed the heist setup, I wasn't really connecting with it much.  I decided to stop and start over at the beginning again and that helped a little more, but have to say that the first half is still pretty flat for me and I enjoyed the ending police/government thriller stuff much more.  All in all a very well-crafted movie and there was obviously a lot of work put in to recreate the environment as much as possible.  I didn't for a moment question the period recreation or the plausibility and knowing it was at least loosely based on a true life story definitely helped quite a bit.  They managed to very convincingly portray a group of guys getting in way over their head and the mayhem when things go off the rails later on made for some great tension and drama.

Statham was back on form as a cool and collected underworld type here, with plenty of "are you fucking kidding me" type moments that always bring a smile to my face.  The family man angle was a nice touch and helped to give a little more depth to his character.  Overall, this is role has more in common with his early Ritchie movie characters than his badass ones.  While I do really like him in his over-the-top roles, he was really good here, had great charisma, and really fit the part well. 

Otherwise I must say that I'm beginning to notice a bit of a pattern with Mr Statham: He's not really growing as an actor much, if at all.  That in no way detracts from my enjoyment of watching him, but it's a really interesting contrast to Arnold.  I still maintain that Arnold came out of the gate as a reasonably strong actor (certainly much better than most critics would give credit for) as demonstrated with his work in Stay Hungry and Conan, but he had several major expansions of his acting range and screen presence throughout his career.  He established his own genre with Commando and Predator, turned that on its side with Twins and Kindergarten Cop, and even went full Bond in True Lies.  There are many moments in there were he seemed like a fundamentally different actor and it was very fun to watch his growth through his career.  Statham on the other hand hit the scene at a high level of ability in the first two Ritchie movies and turned the amp to 11 with The Transporter, but otherwise I can't say that I see much progression or growth from him.  Sure, he had a nice spittle-flying emotional outburst in London, but on the whole he's the same guy he was in Lock, Stock.  While Arnold may have started out as a 5 or 6 out of 10 and progressed to a 7 or 8 in his best roles, Statham started out as a 6 or 7 and is pretty much still there. 

Badassery Quotient - 3
Given that Statham's crew are supposed to be newbs who get in over their head, can't really expect a lot of that and there's no gunplay, fisticuffs, or chase sequences to be had.  Still, Statham's got that charisma thing going again and he's fun being back in the role as the only level-headed guy in the midst of a bunch of reactionary types as friends.

Rewatchability - Sure
Probably one of the more well rounded Statham movies that I've seen thus far and certainly the most mainstream after The Italian Job.  I'd be happy to sit down and watch it with someone else, but don't think this will be high in the rotation of personal favorites.  Very fun on first watch, but would lose something knowing how it plays out.  I'd happily recommend it to any fans of Statham, 70s London, or caper movies.  Good stuff.

Up next - Death Race.  Ooooooh....  Aaaahhhhh....  I intentionally avoided this when it hit the theaters out of respect for the original, which is a personal favorite.  Very much one of those movies that I don't see the point in remaking, but I'm glad to have an excuse to give it a try.  It can't very well be worse than the damn Dungeon Siege movie, now can it?  (Fingers nervously crossed)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Will somebody get me a salad!?

War (2007)
Another one I'm not quite sure what to make of.  Statham plays another cop/agent/authority figure and it was a pretty by-the-numbers Yakuza/Triad/cops/assassins story until The Twist hit.  I ragged on The Twist quite a bit in Chaos because it was complete crap, but for whatever reason I really liked it here.  It's nothing more complex than you would find in your average Law & Blue Hawaii CSI Order-FiveO episode, but I thought it was competently executed with even a smidge of emotional punch behind it.  So while I was snoozing through the first half, the last half salvaged the experience and overall I was at least entertained.

Statham was again serviceable if uninspired.  Some really great action sequences and his work during the Yakuza/Who Cares/Triad shootout was excellent and a blast to watch.  So he's great to watch, but without an over-the-top or larger-than-life character to play, he just doesn't seem as into it as you'd like to see.  I think I'm starting to hit the Generic Statham Movie Zone here and it's going to get increasingly hard to say something clever or point out some new subtlety in his performance as he basically plays the same character over and over again.  Hopefully there will be some more gems to be found, but certainly have hit a fair number of throw-away roles thus far.

It's interesting that Jet Li again fell really flat for me here.  I like him quite a lot, but this is two Statham movies where he's pretty much phoning it in with very little charisma.  Normally he oozes charisma with the best of them, but until The Twist, he's a bit too reserved and standoff-ish to be much fun.  I did at least get that awesome fight sequence between Jet and Statham that I'd hoped for.  Their showdown is immensely more satisfying that it was in The One and it's fantastic watching two accomplished action stars spar off against each other.  Excellent choreography and really well executed.

Badassery Quotient - 8
Statham doesn't really have the commanding screen presence that I normally enjoy out of him here, but at least we offset that with some complete silliness and mayhem during the major shootout sequence in the middle of the film.

Rewatchability - Rarely
Knowing what The Twist is will likely diminish much of the enjoyment of a rewatch, but there's ample violence and craziness to be had here.  While I wouldn't go out of my way to watch it again, I wouldn't refuse it if someone else were interested in giving it a try.  I wouldn't strongly recommend it to anyone because it's quite likely The Twist wouldn't work out for them and without that, there isn't much memorable here.

Up next - The Bank Job.  A Statham period piece!  Who wouldda thunk it?

Monday, March 4, 2013

My boyfriend kills people

Crank (2006)
Now that was a hell of a lot of fun.  Yet another Statham movie I have no idea why I hadn't seen yet, but very glad I did.  Full of energy, completely silly, way over-the-top, and a totally fun ride.  I've seen some pretty goofy premises in movies, and this one is pretty out there, but they don't take it too seriously and surprisingly enough, it actually works really well.  The director's style threw me off a little bit at first, but by the time Statham knows what's going on, it wasn't bothering me anymore and suited the material just fine.  They really nail the proper sense of humor:  Not Jackass-style insulting to your intelligence, not Jim Carey-style wait-for-the-laugh, just and endless series of increasingly silly predicaments Statham gets himself into.  The pace only really lags when the plot gets in the way of the mayhem near the end, but I'll happily let that slide.  Certainly more than washed the foul stench of the Dungeon Siege movie off me.

Statham himself is the best I've seen him outside of his early Ritchie movies or The Transporter.  He really sells the plotline through his expressions and reactions and this is an excellent example of a role that's perfectly suited to the actor.  It's Statham's Harry Tasker or Indiana Jones.  With anyone else, this ludicrous a premise would have been a real groaner, but Statham is completely believable in an unbelievable role.  I'm not sure what that says about him, but it's an awful lot of fun to watch. 

Special nod of appreciation to Amy Smart and Dwight Yokum.  Amy is perfectly cast as the bewildered girlfriend and her scenes when she's in her apartment and her throwdown in Chinatown with Statham are really memorable.  I didn't even recognize Dwight at first and he brings just the right touch of calm and wacky to play off of Statham's increasingly frenzied performance.  Still laughing thinking about Statham sprinting down the street in his hospital gown while Dwight goes over the symptoms of an epi overdose. 

Badassery Quotient - 10
Pretty much has it all from some great driving sequences to fisticuffs to menacing glares.  Add to that Statham chopping off a heavy's gun hand to start off the fight and a great sequence stealing and riding a cop's motorcycle in his hospital gown and you have pretty much everything you could hope for.

Rewatchability - Yes please
Found another personal favorite.  This one keeps tumbling around in my head more than most and in writing this, I'm tempted to sit down and watch it again right now.  A little leery of which audience I'd recommend this to, but anyone who enjoys a good Statham or action movie and isn't put off by a pretty high level of violence and general naughtiness would likely get a kick out of this.  Good, good stuff.

Up next - War.  It's remarkable how many of Statham's movies I wasn't even aware existed until I looked through his whole filmography.  This one has Jet Li in it again and I'll just have to hope it's more satisfying than The One.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Anybody have a plan?

In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2006)
I've never watched an Uwe Boll film before this.  I've not actively avoided him or anything, he's just never made anything I've had any interest in watching.  I've even played the games he's made films about, and it's therein that his most important contribution to cinema lies:  He has decisively and comprehensively proven that, as a rule, video games don't translate to movies at all well.  I'm not talking about excellent video game homage movies like Wreck-it Ralph, but crap like like Dungeon Siege, House of the Dead, Far Cry, or BloodRayne.  So rather than dump on him, we should be thankful that he's repeatedly gone to such great lengths to make that point.  Well played, Mr Boll.

Director reputation aside, I knew I was in for a rough one when I saw this was rated nearly as low on IMDB as Batman & Robin.  That feeling did not improve when freaking Ray Liotta makes an early appearance, shortly followed by a very confused-looking Burt Reynolds.  Shit.  Shitshitshit.  Made it 7 minutes in before I quit for the day.  Made it a further hour in the next day, paused to get a snack at what I presumed was the ending climatic battle sequence, only to discover there was another entire hour left!  You have got to be joking.  So, in a moment of despair, I quit for the day and again seriously questioned whether I really need to watch all of these movies or not.  Can't I just skip ahead to Crank, which I'm fairly sure I'll enjoy?  No, no, let's press on.  I can still do this.  I at least get to stare into Claire Forlani's eyes a fair bit.

It's hard to fully encompass all the things that don't work well in this.  Let's just highlight a few "memorable" moments:  The wire work was some of the worst I've seen in any movie.  So bad that the Amazon chicks swinging through the forest made the damn monkey scene in Crystal Skull seem well-made and plausible by comparison.  At worst bad movie scores, are generally forgettable or occasionally distracting.  If only that were the case here.  No, this score leaps out and musically yells "Boo!" or "Fuck you!" at you again and again.  It's very much as if the musical score is intended to distract you from the crap quality of the movie by being noticeably worse.  We finish things off with a very Freudian moment in the final showdown where the hero is attacked by that which Uwe Boll undoubtedly fears most:  Books.

Okay, so the movie sucks.  Quite badly at that.  Moving on...  How was Statham?  His combat sequences are excellent.  His sword work is so fast and powerful, I'd be amazed if there weren't nearly as many injured stuntmen on this as on Conan.  Unfortunately, there isn't enough going on story-wise to make you actually care about any of the combat sequences, so aside from a brief moment of "cool!", they're completely forgettable.  Other than that, Statham seems largely bored and going through the motions.  He's still got excellent screen presence, but his director obviously couldn't keep him involved enough for it to matter.

Baddassery Quotient - 6
Statham's actually quite menacing through most of this and the combat sequences are generally well-executed, but not a lot of variety to be had.  Also not much in the way of clever dialogue and the unassuming farmer bit really doesn't play to his strengths.  Had to knock a few points off for silly use of a boomerang as a viable combat weapon.  It's all well and fine when he uses it to scare crows away, but when he bounces it off 4 different baddies, it's just distracting.

Rewatchability - No thanks
It's sort of tossup which is less rewatchable between this and Batman & Robin.  Batman & Robin's certainly over-the-top offensive, but this one fails to execute on pretty much every level.  So let's just call that a tie.  If you've not seen this, there is absolutely no point in watching it.  I don't care what reasons you tried to concoct, just don't.

Next up - Crank!  Hopefully a breath of fresh air to clear out the foul stench of this sucker.  I remember hearing about it and another one I have no idea why I didn't see.  Seems like it will be one that's back to playing to Statham's strengths by going over-the-top and keeping tongue planted firmly in cheek.