Friday, 23 October 2009

In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2007)

Director: Uwe Boll

In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale or ITNOTK:ADST as I like to refer to it (saves time) is based on a video game, a cut-and-slash RPG that I have not played, and it feels like a two hour collection of interstitial cine-scenes from the video game. So, you feel impatient watching it, like you want to press ‘Skip’ on the controller and start playing, but oh wait, this is not a game, it’s a movie, so that’s both impatience and frustration you will feel watching it. Then Matthew Lillard swings onto the screen like a big leg of ham, spitting all over the scenery as the cowardly Duke Fallow, and then you can add murderous to the feelings stirred inside of you while watching ITNOTK. The film was directed by Uwe Boll who has developed a great reputation as a master of shit-films, which are mostly based on video games. ITNOTK also feels like it was based on the Lord Of The Rings films as every second scene strikes a familiar note to Peter Jackson’s trilogy, but just shot in Vancouver instead of New Zealand, and the CGI is really shit-house, and the armour everyone wears looks plastic. Boll even goes so far as to poach John Rhys-Davies who goes from playing Gimley to playing the Gandalf/Obi Wan of this film, sounding like Sean Connery and looking like he’s wearing a fan-made Darth Vader costume sans mask. ITNOTK makes the recent Star Wars trilogy look like it’s overflowing with sophisticated special effects and intriguing plotting by comparison.

So, yeah, the picture starts off with no exposition, just some scenes of Ray Liotta and Leelee Sobieski sucking face intercut with sweeping shots of the Magic Kingdom that they all live in. Moving on we find Jason Statham ploughing turnips, farming with his son on the farm and then we find out his name is Farmer, which is brilliant. Statham also has a CGI boomerang in a holster that he uses to scare away pesky crows, which he will use later to smite his enemies. Then Ron Perlman shows up and says, “Hey.” Hey, Ron Perlman. Then we cut back to the Kingdom with a bored-looking Burt Reynolds sitting listlessly on a throne, like he’s in a dinner theatre production of King Lear, and then he says one of the film’s best lines, “This is some sort of... sorcery.” You said it, Smokey and the Bandit. Then we cut back to Statham alone in a field, looking menacingly over his shoulder with a trademark glare (basically earning his pay cheque), before some rubbery-looking mud-face monsters jump out of the woods, making the creatures in 1970s era Dr. Who look super scary in comparison; it’s Troll 2 quality basically. The mud-faces are called Krug or Krum or Krud or something like that as it is difficult to tell with all these actors mumbling their lines all the time amidst the overbearing Wagnerian score. These Krud-faces attack Statham’s village, kill his son and kidnap his wife, Claire Forlani, who is costumed in a Victoria Secret’s corset that proves cleavage was an inescapable part of life back in Middle Earth.

Now Ray Liotta is controlling these Krud monsters from a shadowy, smoky room where his eyes go blue and with his Liberace-styled wardrobe he resembles nothing more than a Las Vegas Magician (whoops, sorry, not magician, it’s Magii!). Then LILLARD stinks up a few more scenes, acting like a petulant member of Entourage, and he really should have been wearing a Court Jester’s hat with all his useless manic energy. You really want to see an axe thrown into his face but unfortunately that never happens (in fact, his fate is left a mystery by the end, which is annoying – a character this irritating requires a death scene!). Then we have Statham, Perlman and some blonde-haired Legolas dude hiking together from Stonebridge to Woodtree or wherever and they meet some wood nymph babes who dangle from vines like they are from Cirque de Soleil. Then Ray Liotta poisoned the sliced fruit that Burt Reynolds the King and Matthew Lillard the Stooge were eating, but he gives Lillard the antidote because they are in cahoots. Then there is a super long battle sequence in the woods where some ninjas jump out of nowhere and the Krud bust out of the ground like zombies. Statham runs through another scene like it is Crank: The Middle Ages (this time he has a ticking wooden clock for a heart!), jumping on the shoulders of bad guys, hanging off the side of horses and killing everything he can with the same pissed-off glare. Oh yeah, and Lillard sits on a horse surveying the battle and turns to an underling next to him:

Lillard: “They fight like dogs.”
Extra: [pause, unsure] “Uh... yes, sir.”

More shots of Ray Liotta with his trademark cackle in his Criss Angel room. By this point, you might think the film is ending, but no, only an hour has passed and there’s still another hour of this shit to go, even though it feels like two and a half hours have passed already. Then Liotta says this line, which feels as if it is addressing the audience of ITNOTK, “You’ve lost nothing but time.” Should I also mention that all his dialogue is delivered in a Joe Pesci accent, one of those wizards who emerged from Brooklyn even though it wasn’t even around in this alternative time period of the past? Then we find out Statham is actually the King’s son and he hangs out with Burt Reynolds on his death bed as Burt Reynolds tells him some stuff about farming and seafood. Melodramatic music, a close-up of a horrified look on Statham’s face and then cut to Reynolds looking like he fell asleep on set (oh, the pathos!). The King is dead. Long live our cockney geezer replacement! “Pity,” says Statham, or he should have said as this is what I think his action-hero catch-phrase should be after hearing him say it once in Death Race.

As King, Statham’s first order of duty is to run through the woods again, conscript Sobieski to help (she’s turned into a Joan of Arc again with some sexy armour and some magic powers) and Kirstina Lokken (the leader of the forest babes), and they walk up some snowy mountains just like in Lord of the Rings. Then Liotta and Rhys-Davies have a wizard duel in a tall tower just like in Lord of the Rings. Rhys-Davies bites the dust but downloads his magic into Sobieski and Statham follows Liotta to his magic study and they have a long duel with lots of Matrix Slow-Motion Moves while another army fights more Kruds in the darkness of the rain that Liotta has conjured. Then we have some Harry Potter shit with flying books attacking Statham and then Clare Forlani remembers she is in this piece of shit film, stabs Liotta in the back, but then Statham stabs him again because no woman is going to have the Final Death-Blow in this epic. The Krud are no longer under evil mind control and they wander off in a day that will be remembered for the day when Human Beings and Mud-Faced Krud People were united in solidarity. Statham and Forlani embrace – did I forget to mention she’s pregnant, so don’t worry about their son who died, the circle of life continues – and as they kiss, I wish Statham had winked to the camera, like ‘Ha ha, what a fucking joke this was, eh?’ But no, the credit ‘Director by Uwe Boll’ pops up and then we hears some medieval metal from Hammerfall rocking out over the end credits, which is maybe the best part of this whole film.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Firebirds (1990)

Director: David Green

Starring Nicholas Cage, Sean Young and Tommy Lee Jones, Firebirds is one of those pro-American forces, gung-ho, flag-waving, bullshit movies that feels like it was sponsored on military payroll. What other type of movie opens with a quote from then President George Bush Snr about the war on drugs without any irony and with total sincerity? Bullshit propaganda about cowboy military pilots that rips off Top Gun but trades in the jets for gunship helicopters. The action is well-shot, but the film spends too much time trying to establish character during close-ups in the cockpit rather than on the aerial dogfights audiences came to see, which in their representation arouse absolutely no suspense or even boys-and-their-toys coolness. Like Days of Thunder and other bullshit movies from the 1990s, Firebirds does not contain much substance, only scenes required in the Top Gun regulation hand-book (love interest – check! father figure commander – check!). To illustrate how lame it is, Cage’s Goose, the guy whose death he must avenge happens in the first five minutes before we even get to know the guy (or remember his name for that matter). All the way through, I kept thinking maybe Tommy Lee Jones might be the next Goose, as he gets scenes with his wife and a surprise birthday party, which usually spells certain death in a war film. However, the movie is so lame and pro-army, that Tommy Lee Jones is still alive at the end after a near-fatal injury, still cracking jokes with his legs broken into bits. Even funnier is the bad guy, who supposedly works for the South American drug cartels (a reliable enemy in the post-cold-war context of the film), but looks Russian and is discussed by military superiors with 'menacing' photos that look straight from a promotional agency with their staged, head-shot aesthetic (example, one photo of the villain’s eyes only, looking sinister).

The reason to possibly check out Firebirds is the over-the-top performances by Cage and Jones (forget Young, she’s dull as dishwater). There are no real other characters in the movie, so most of the time is spent with the three leads. The irony is that though Cage’s character is against the drug cartels that threaten the American way of life, Cage the actor was probably high on the best cocaine of his acting career. He’s so over-the-top, acting like a cross between Elvis and Napoleon Dynamite to combine in the portrait of an unlikable, vain, cocky asshole! The most bullshit scene is when Jones puts Cage in a computer simulator (think Project X) to test him, and the movie cuts between a bad helicopter video game and close-ups of Cage, with his helmet and aiming monocle, shouting as he hits each target,

"I am the greatest! I am the greatest! I AM THE GREATEST!"

With all this showboating and over-the-top acting, you expect the no-nonsense Jones to eventually kick Cage’s ass into some fucking humility and respect, but no, except for a brief stumble over his eyesight, Cage remains a cocky asshole from start to finish. On the other hand, you have Tommy Lee Jones. He’s awesomely over-the-top in comparison. I mean he gets handed a role like an over-the-hill gunship commander and plays it right to the fucking tee. The greatest bullshit scene occurs near the climax where the squad has moved from their base in Arizona to South America (which looks remarkably the same in the film). On the morning before battle, Cage wakes up, sees Jones standing in a field and walks over for some male-bonding. They start telling each other how good they are, Cage calling Jones "the best", Jones calling him "better" – you know, usual military ego-stroking. Anyway, Jones starts chewing into a monologue that I still cannot believe he delivered with a straight-face:

"You know, I joined the army for the same reason you did. That’s to kick
ass. Just like in the old war movies. You know, to be a hero [pause] That’s what
I’m looking for in you [pause] First class all-American hero with his heart and brain wired together, cooking full-tilt boogie for freedom and justice… okay?"

Then bombs blow up behind them and the action kicks in, but I was too busy laughing my fucking ass off. “… FULL TILT BOOGIE…???” And the way Jones delivers that classic line in his trademark Southern monotone drawl makes it sound like this, "First-class-all-American-hero-with-his-heart-and-brain-wired-together-cooking-FULL-TILT-BOOGIEfor-freedom-and-justice." In the end, such All-American G.I. Joe Asshole antics enliven an otherwise generic pro-military Top Gun knock-off.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Extreme Ops (2002)

Director: Christian Duguay

Remember those two Bill and Ted type yahoos in the fluoro-coloured jumpsuits from Cliffhanger who loved to base-jump and said stuff like ‘But we like it extreme!’? The movie, Extreme Ops, would seem manufactured for their benefit since it basically replicates the plot of Die Hard for the zillionth time, but sticks some EXTREME snowboarding footage as a shiny clock-radio addition to the well-worn genre. Basically it’s about a team of thrill-seeking adventurers making a commercial in Austria when, what do you know, they stumble upon a Serb-Croat war criminal long thought dead who has the very convincing name of Slobovan Pavlov. Woah, radical, dudes. Time to hit the slopes and snowboard the fuck out of those awesome mountains before that bogus grey-haired foreign dude shoots us from his helicopter! Make sure that The Crystal Method tune ‘Keep Hope Alive’ is playing non-stop as that is the unofficial theme of EXTREME activities! Yes, Extreme Ops is the type of movie where no-one can enter a scene without doing something EXTREME and having some observer provide the time-honoured punch-line, “You guys are crazy!” Y’all, woo-hoo and shit, yeah! Unfortunately, those EXTREME-loving comic-relief dudes from Cliffhanger would find Extreme Ops kind of boring with the plodding two-thirds of narrative it spends on plot and would throw on a DVD of Best of Blizzard Base Jumping Action Vol. 4 instead.

So, our heroes are people who make commercials (advertisers are hip!) and they are over a barrel trying to film an advertisement for a digital camera; their investors are naturally inscrutable Japanese stereotypes. There’s British actor Rufus Sewell as the cool-headed director who knows how to get the right shot of a white water rafting consumer throwing a digital camera in the air. How cool-headed is this guy? He’s trying to converse with an estranged off-screen girlfriend on the phone while he sits in a canoe hanging precariously from a steep waterfall, telling her, “Yeah, I’m just hanging around.” EXTREME. Then there’s his trusty lieutenant played by former teen heartthrob Devon Sawa who looks really bloated and is inflicted with that dreaded disease known as Stephen Baldwin Hair (definition: frosted blonde tips in a short doofus cut). Then finally another British actor Rupert Graves with a fucking awful American accent playing a phoney producer who promises to his investors that their rad ad will be even more EXTREME with a real shot of a consumer racing an avalanche! Graves blurts this out in a boardroom meeting, which pisses off Sewell and so he and Sawa dangle him from a rooftop by his ankles to teach him a lesson. EXTREME and COMICAL. Oh yeah, I forgot there’s a tough-guy German dude played by Heino Ferch (he played Albert Speer in Downfall) and he gets to say the line, “I’m German. I’m never comfortable.”

Skip to them assembling some more EXTREME nitwits to help them film their ad. There’s a hot Beatrice Dalle punk-rocker chick played by the attractive Jana Pallaske whose voice sounds dubbed throughout and is so hot that even her pants break apart during EXTREME scenes of action tension later in the piece, so we can have some skin amidst all the snow (Thanks, Hollywood!). There’s also Bridgette Wilson Sampras (she played Sonja Blade in Mortal Kombat) and she plays a Champion Skier who won a Gold Medal in the World Games and her boring character motivation is that she’s bummed out that she can’t be as EXTREME as everyone else. She has a deep and meaningful conversation later on where she admits this: ‘I thought for once in my life... I could ski for fun.’ The punk-rock chick tells her, ‘Let the mountain tell you what to do.’ Seriously we should have heard the off-screen cry of a distant eagle during that moment of motivational inspiration. But my favourite is Silo (Joe Absolom) who has the most EXTREME introduction shot where we see him skateboarding on top of a moving train... just for fun! Then if that wasn’t enough to make you understand how radical he is, we have another scene where the crew wait around for him in an airport. ‘Where’s Silo?’ There he is skating through the airport like a dick and then cut to a close-up of him with the wisecrack, ‘Wassup, bitches?’ SILO 4 PRESIDENT OF RADITUDE!

I’m spending too much time on these characters, let’s fast forward to the plot where they stay at a half-built mountain-top resort after Silo and the Punk Rock Chick get them all thrown out of their hotels for snowboarding off a roof, down a bar of flaming alcoholic shooters and then through the hotel window. Sawa starts filming things left and right with a video camera, even when he and the girls hit the spa with some beers and some zany Truth and Dare games, providing some lowbrow titillation when he dares the two girls to kiss each other! EXTREME and TASTEFULLY DONE! So, then, they cross paths with this Slobovan Pavlov and Sawa accidentally films him and then Pavlov finds out. He wants that footage proving his alive since the world thinks he died in a plane crash and so he sends his creepy son to kill them, but he fucks it up by being a sleazebag who wants to see the two girls kiss again and he gets killed in a Reservoir Dogs type standoff with his henchman who objects to all this mucking about, “I’m a soldier, dammit!” So, yeah, they shoot each other and Pavlov thinks the American commercial film crew are CIA and then you can cut to the last half hour, which is a long chase scene basically where our heroes snowboard down the mountain while Pavlov tries to shoot them all. THESE GUYS ARE SKIING FOR THEIR LIVES. By this time, I was pretty bored watching Extreme Ops and the only moment of interest was the lame moment when Devon Sawa cracks onto the punk-rock chick while they are hanging off a cliff with the terrorist shooting at them: “Does this mean you’ll go out with me now?” Yes, comedy is still able to scale these high altitudes, particularly with my favourite exchange earlier in the piece:

Graves: ‘Nice Austrian trailerpark.’
Punk Rock Chick: ‘G’day, mate!’
Silo: ‘Put another shrimp on the barbie!’
Bridgette Wilson-Sampras: ‘He said, “Austrian, not AUSTRALIAN”’

Zing! Never forget to underline a joke – people’s minds are too busy being blown by these thrilling stunts, they need reminding of what humour actually is! The tough-guy German throws a cord that twists the helicopter’s motor, killing the terrorists, while Sewell and Wilson-Sampras outrun an avalanche on their skies, finally able to get their advertisement money-shot of her catching a digital video camera. Commercial sold and that’s a wrap. What better way to celebrate than by all skateboarding on top of a moving train! EXTREME... and I don’t mean that band from the 1990s!

Okay, I’m done and now you don’t have to watch this movie.