Sunday, February 24, 2008

Highlander: The Source Review

Rich Knight
86 Minutes
No Rate
Starring: Adrian Paul, Thekla Reuten, Peter Wingfield, Jim Byrnes
Directed by: Brett Leonard
Produced by: Peter S. Davis and William Panzer
Written by: Stephen Kelvin Watkins and Mark Bradley
Subtitles: English, Spanish

In yet another sequel to the twisty Highlander franchise, we find out for the umpteenth time that there really can only be one. And that’s the original movie, because this movie is lame with a capital L. With a weak storyline, straight to TV special effects, and action sequences that rival Power Rangers in cheesiness, Highlander: The Source is definitely the weakest in the movie series by far.

The Movie: Two Stars

Highlander has never really been a respectable series, but it’s always been a fun one. With the story of ancient Immortals looking to chop off each other’s heads so they could eventually become “the one”—the last Immortal standing on Earth—the series was just prime to receive an instant cult status, and that it did. But in doing so, much like the immensely better Star Wars franchise, it started a trend of lame sequels and follow-ups, and this latest movie, Highlander: The Source is definitely the worst out of the bunch, by far, this being the fifth in the increasingly worsening film franchise.

The story takes places in the not too distant future. Duncan MacLeod of the Clan Macleod, played by the star of the TV series, Adrian Paul, doubts that there’s any such great power known as The Source, even though many of the few remaining Immortals put faith in it. But he soon gets swept into the whole mess when a pasty white new villain known as The Guardian pops onto the scene and starts offing Immortals just to acquire whatever great power this thing known as The Source is. I say, “whatever great power this thing known as The Source is” because after watching the film in its entirety (and also replaying it in parts just to make sure I got it all), I’m still not really sure if I understand exactly what The Source is. It has something to do with planets aligning, and reaching mortality, as evident in the other movies, but other than that, I’m still pretty confused, which is strange, as you’d think a movie about immortals wanting to become mortal would be pretty straightforward. But with annoying Religion vs. Atheism banter sliced in between, much of the focus gets lost in the terrible dialogue.

Anyway, back to the plot. Duncan MacLeod’s former fiancĂ©, Anna, who ditched him because she couldn’t have children with him as Immortals can’t bear seeds, is somehow a clairvoyant who leads Duncan and his three fellow Immortals on a quest to reach The Source. The thing is, the Guardian, who runs like Sonic the Hedgehog and makes funny faces like Jim Carrey in Liar Liar also wants the power and is hunting the Immortals down one by one, as he can do that since the closer the Immortals get to The Source, the more and more mortal they become. This allows The Guardian to pick them off without having to decapitate them, which is the only way to really eliminate an Immortal—By chopping off their head.

If I lost you back there somewhere, it’s probably because I got lost myself, as that’s how confusing the story can be sometimes. Not only that though, but even if you’re a fan of the ongoing series, you’ll probably end up disliking this straight to Sci-Fi channel movie, as it doesn’t even really feel like Highlander at all, but rather, a bunch of scenes slapped together in the vein of what a story could have been. One such scene in particular, where Duncan and his fellow Immortals battle a bunch of thugs and start the, we’re cool, so let’s walk in slow motion scene, actually breaks into something of a music video. Not only that, but the song is so hair metal 80s that you’d actually think you were watching something that could have been shot an eternity ago. Or, if not that, then at least 1987.

If you’re really jonesing to relive those awesome Christopher Lambert Highlander days, you’d probably be better off just watching the original movie five times over than sitting through this fifth installment of the frequently flagging franchise.

The Disc: 1 Star

All I have to say is thank God there’s no commentary, as I don’t think I could possibly sit through the film a second time. But in a commentary’s stead is something that seems just as long, as “Highlander: The Process”-A Behind-the-Scenes Documentary” pretty much retells the entire story, scene by scene, with cast and the director discussions to accompany it. Honestly, it felt like it was going on and on for at least 45 minutes, and when you have to walk around the room just so you can stay awake, you know you’re not having a good time.

Also on the disc, and too long for its own good, is a tribute to producer, Bill Panzer, who recently just died last year. Much like the movie itself, the tribute to Panzer seems to be all over the place and loses the main focus, which I presume was that the man was a great guy who both handled money well and was also an overall fun guy to be with.

Storyboards and trailers for other bad films round out the rest of the special features, as well as a clip of scenery and blathering from the main character of the new Highlander video game set to come out for the PS3 and 360. Sadly, there’s no hidden Easter egg commentary done by the cast of Mystery Theater 3000 to totally pan the movie as I had hoped for, so don’t even bother looking for it. I know I sure did.

Friday, February 15, 2008

We Own the Night Review

Rich Knight
117 Minutes
No Rate
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg. Eva Mendes, and Robert Duvall
Directed by: James Gray
Produced by: Mark Wahlberg, Joaquin Phoenix
Written by: James Gray
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

In the other Mark Wahlberg cop drama in the past two years, We Own the Night shares very little with the Oscar winning, The Departed other than that both have cops, both have guns, and both have Mark Wahlberg. But if you’re looking for a gritty crime drama with a more disheartening story and less jab you in the ribs humor, than We Own the Night may just be the film you should have seen over Nicholson’s joker-esque turn in Martin Scorsese’s winner.

The Movie—Four Stars

We Own the Night is a good film—a very good film, actually—that was made at the wrong time and in the wrong year. Coming off of the smoky bravado of Scorsese’s epic crime drama, The Departed, We Own the Night didn’t look star studded enough in the trailers, even though it features one Academy Award winner and two nominees in Robert Duvall and Joaquin Phoenix and Wahlberg respectively, to be a major contender in the box office. So it’s little wonder that it failed to generate much interest. But let me tell you, as one who merely “liked” The Departed, I have to say I think We Own the Night has a little bit more going for it than 2006’s big winner. A little something more called depth.

Joaquin Phoenix stars as Bobby Green, a Brooklyn nightclub owner who deals with some seedy characters and also happens to be the son and brother of two of New York’s finest. Bobby could care less what his brother (Mark Wahlberg) or father (Duvall) think of him, as all he cares about is rising to success and the many wet kisses as his girlfriend, played by a surprisingly not as annoying as she usually is, Eva Mendes, can give to him.

But the fhit hits the san when a notorious drug lord takes up stable in Bobby’s club and starts making the kind of deals that make the police curious and raid happy. The cops of course go to Bobby to make the right decision and to cooperate and tell them if he knows anything about what’s going on in his club, but Bobby turns a blind eye and gives a verbal tirade the equivalent of the middle finger to the fuzz, which includes his father and his brother. And this of course leads us to believe that something terrible is going to happen as nobody can be that evil to the good guys in a movie without getting their comeuppance in the end.

What follows is a surprising turn of events that lead to role reversals, but not to the almost comical extent that The Departed does, and that’s why I think I really enjoyed this movie more. Informant movies are nothing new in cinema, but Joaquin Phoenix, brilliant in everything he does, adds a certain gravitas, even if his shift in character near the third act of the film seems a little hokey and predictable. I know I shouldn’t keep comparing The Departed to this movie, but I think it’s unavoidable since the two share so much in common but vary in so many different ways.

First is the Martin Sheen character in The Departed, which adds yet another guffaw to the already laughably comical story. Robert Duvall as the police chief in We Own the Night doesn’t use his acting chops for stressing a phony Boston accent. Instead, he’s mired in his own distressed furrowed brow, which really displays a man torn between hating his crime abetting son, and loving him just because he’s blood.

And then there’s the turning point in the respective films. We actually feel a hint of sadness for what eventually turns Bobby good, but the same doesn’t apply for what turns Leonardo DiCaprio nuts when he witnesses the police captain go hurdling from the rooftop. Other than a cringe inducing groan from seeing Sheen get splattered on the pavement, the emotion isn’t there. It’s just another bit of blood in an already bloody film.

And finally there’s the ending, which is always a direct way to spot if the movie succeeds or not. Marky Mark’s turn as a brash Boston cop out for justice in The Departed pales in comparison with how strong his acting is in the end of We Own the Night, and the morose, dry climax adds almost a Sopranos-esque appeal to it, as it ends with more of a whimper than any ear shattering bang.

Overall, if you’re looking for a sorely overlooked movie, you’d be doing yourself a disservice to not give We Own the Night a try.

The Disc: 3 ½ stars

If you don’t think director, James Gray, isn’t much of a genius after watching his thick with layers movie, then you’d definitely think he was after listening to his overly insightful commentary. Sounding like one of my old college professors, Gray dissects his movie with pinpoint analysis and even goes the length to say that he wanted to make it into sort of a Greek tragedy mixed with a little Shakespeare, saying that Joaquin’s character was supposed to be reminiscent of Prince Hal in Henry IV.

He also explains how he tries to cloud up the notion of what a cop drama can be, citing how the long, wordy parts were what excited him as a director, and how the action packed, rainy car chases and shoot-outs are what he found to be a complete bore when he filmed them, showing that cop dramas can be as deep and wrought with symbolism as any David Lynch movie.

As good as the commentary is, though, the rest of the features pretty much act as filler and recapitulate everything that the director had to espouse in his commentary. “Tension: Creating We Are the Night” is a lame featurette that explains how Gray got the idea for the movie by seeing a picture in The New York Times, and it also features the actors in the film beefing up the director’s reputation, as even Mark Wahlberg goes the extent to call the movie, “Shakespearean.”

“Police Action: Filming Cops, Cars, and Chaos,” shows how some of the awesome action sequences happened, but its sullied by the droning of the director when he talks about how much he hated filming them. And “A Moment in Crime: Creating Late 80s Brooklyn,” merely reiterates the fact that this is actually a period piece (the period being 1989), and not taking place in modern times. As if I couldn’t tell by the garish clothing.

Previews are also featured on the disc, but when they include crap like Revolver and Southland Tales, do they really even matter? Great movie, okay special features.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Movie Tie-In's That Actually Don't Suck

Recently, I did a piece for CinemaBlend on why the new game, Jumper, based off the movie of the same name, will almost definitely blow the big Blimpie sandwich, and I’m probably right, it most likely will. The game, like most movie tie-in games, is being rushed to make sure it comes out around the same time as the movie, meaning we can expect glitches aplenty much like other cinema friendly crap like Enter the Matrix, and the biggest mistake in gaming history, E.T. for the 2600.

But not all movie-licensed games are horrific. In extremely rare cases, a movie tie-in game can actually, dare I say, be good. Below are a few of the games that actually made you want to continue the movie experience at home, and one game in particular that far surpassed the movie. Can we say video game sequel, anyone?

Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Arcade, 1991

Okay, so T2: Judgment Day the game was basically just Operation Wolf with robots, big freaking deal, right? Right! As the awesome gameplay really expanded on the horrors of living in a robot apocalypse in a first person perspective, which is the only perspective that could really sell it in the video game world at the time.

Two players, or just one wielding dual machine guns like I used to do back in the day, would blast robots from Skynet back to robot hell in this really dark, really dim forecast of the future. And the game was only enhanced, not brought down, by the characters from the movie making live, digitized appearances in the game, Mortal Kombat style. You really couldn’t find a better compliment to the already outrageous movie that totally revolutionized what SFX could do to cinema if used creatively in just the right hands.

Bad moments in Arnold’s gaming career: True Lies, The Last Action Hero, and, oh dear God, Total Recall, the game where midgets in pink jumpsuits reign supreme.

The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Playstation 2, 2003

I think hack and slashers totally suck, every last one of ‘em. Except, that is, for The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, which is an exception to the “I slash, you die” genre made popular by the overrated (in my opinion) game Diablo. But while Diablo is more of what many would call a dungeon crawl, which is probably why I never really liked it, Return of the King is actually closer to a game like Dynasty Warriors, but still never really manages to fall into the cycle of being as boring or as repetitive as that series, which is no small feat.

You take on the roles of the primary characters from the book and film, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Sam, Gandalf, and even Frodo once you finally beat the game. The main thing that makes it special though is how wide ranged your attacks are. Instead of just hitting triangle over and over again to unleash nasty and, ultimately boring, combos, you instead have a unique combo system that isn’t really all that far from God of War if you think about it. It also featured a pretty interesting quest that added more to the movie than vice versa. A great game that was sadly overlooked by the masses.

Lame moments in LOTR history: The Lord of the Rings: Vol. 1 for Super Nintendo. Yech.
Die Hard Trilogy
Sega Saturn, 1996

Die Hard Trilogy much like the movie trilogy itself, is a very diverse experience with all three (yes, count ‘em, three!) of its games presented to you in one adorably sweet package. The first Die Hard represented in the game is very average as you take on John McClane in a third person romp that’s actually pretty boring when compared to the rest of the game.

Die Hard 2: Die Harder, arguably the weakest of the films, is actually the best game in the package, working as an awesome on rails shooter where you take on terrorists with a light gun or the controller. And Die Hard 3: Die Hard With a Vengeance has you piloting a taxi around the city, rushing to diffuse bombs. It’s kind of like Crazy Taxi without the passengers. You want a really great compilation game? Then you’ll have a harder time finding one better than Die Hard Trilogy. It’s like The Orange Box of the 1990s!

Not bad, but not great moment for Die Hard: Die Hard Arcade. You could really do a lot worse than pressing the punch button at the right moment to initiate a slow mo sequence in the hallway.

The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher’s Bay
X-Box, 2004

Let’s be honest here. The Chronicles of Riddick sucked. Hard. Its storyline paled in comparison to the mystique of the first movie, Pitch Black and it seemed like a reckless venture into sci-fi territory that no one really cared to enter.

That said, Escape From Butcher’s Bay was, and still is, an excellent game. And I, for one, am actually a virulent hater of anything first person shooter like. The game acts as sort of a prequel to the movie and expands upon the story. But what really makes the game shine is how creepy and cerebral it is. I loved creeping up out of the darkness to deliver a fierce melee attack to an unsuspecting victim who didn’t see me coming. It made for very, Sam Fischer-esque moments that really expanded on the character’s lack of emotions and love of the darkness much more than I felt the movie ever did. And that’s what I want out of my movie-game tie-ins—an idea of how deeper we can get into the character’s psychology by controlling them. Isn’t that what playing video games is all about in the long run, anyway? Bar none, The Chronicles of Riddick is one of my favorite games ever.

Lame Vin Diesel like Tie-in moment: The Fast and the Furious Arcade game. Pass. This game wasn’t quite rolling on diesel fuel, if you catch my drift…My Tokyo Drift! Ohhh! (I’ll stop now).

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Mural, Mural on the wall

An oldy but goody. I remember writing this the day Anna Nicole died.

Mural, Mural on the Wall

On a chilly, wind howling evening in a Starbucks in Denville, 17 year old Boonton Township resident, Brendan McNamara, sticks out in the small, coffee swilling shop for two reasons. One, he’s carrying a giant, overstuffed portfolio that’s so filled with work that it shifts the right side of his body down. And two, he’s not wearing a coat.

But as he strides over to the only available table in the house, passing by a gaggle of girls who crane their necks to see what he’s carrying, the goose bumps brush off his skin almost instantly. As soon as he gets beneath the light and opens up his portfolio, unveiling what he calls, “just simple drawings,” his whole appearance lights up, this is what he obviously loves to do.

But anybody who’s seen Brendan’s work will tell you that these are anything but simple drawings. “Brendan is blessed with outstanding artistic talent; what he adds to that is a wonderful work ethic and a genuine humble demeanor that enhances his innate ability,” says Mountain Lakes Principal, Lewis Ludwig. And humbleness is certainly one of Brendan’s most sterling qualities.

Pulling out a variety of pictures of everything from a brooding self portrait to a smirking Jessica Alba, Brendan just shrugs it off as if it’s just natural to him. “Some of the people in my art class joke about me being an ego killer,” he humbly says as he offers his hand to his drawings, which even prompts one of the Starbucks employees to stop and ask, “Did you draw all this?” Of course he nods yes, what else could he say?

And with the possibility that his artwork might even get him into Governor’s school in TCNJ, a very selective program for talented students in multiple fields, things are definitely looking up for Brendan; not only figuratively, but also literally, as well.

Taking out photographs of murals for some of the people who have paid him to draw, one of Brendan’s earliest creations was on the ceiling of a woman’s nursery. Showcasing three angels poking their heads out of clouds, Brendan did the entire thing just standing on a ladder, staring up towards the ceiling. “The woman almost started to cry when she saw the angels,” says his mother, Debby, of her son’s finished product. “He did the entire thing looking up. He’s crazy, but you can’t deny the end result.

Brendan, personally, has some fond memories of doing that mural as well. “The angel one cost about $750 to do…because it was on the ceiling,” he smiles.

Even with a nice payday like that, though, Brendan still knows that he probably couldn’t make the kind of money he would need to support himself in the future, which is why he invests a great deal of his free time in the film production club at school.

“Yeah, I’m really into film.” Brendan says, putting his pictures back into his portfolio, “I think it’s great for me to get into. I like using the camera.”

And while his mother suggested he start thinking about creating prosthetics for a living, Brendan declined the idea, admitting that while it’d be interesting “making arms, legs, and limbs, I’d like to do cinematography [instead]; setting up lighting, camera angles.”

These are all things he could work on extensively at the University of Rochester in Upstate New York, where he wants to go after high school. And if he does happen to get in, he’s sure to make his other passion—baseball—a part of his curriculum, too, even though the sport almost took him out of drawing forever.

“Back over the summer, I was catching a fly ball my coach hit to me, and it went through my glove and hit my finger,” he says, pointing at the curve that now zig zags in his ring finger bone on his right hand. “My biggest concern was, how am I going to draw now? But it hasn’t affected the way I draw.”

“In fact, in many ways, he says it’s made it better,” says Debby. How his work would be affected in the first place, though, is a mystery once one sees how he holds his pencil. Taking a pen and holding between his index, middle, and ring fingers, he displays how he does his work. “Teachers tried to fight it for years,” Brendan admits.

One thing teachers certainly aren’t fighting now, though, is his talent. And as Brendan stands up and pushes his chair in to leave, Brendan admits that he’s not fighting it either. “I love doing this and I’m grateful that I’m able to have this talent. And I’m not going to take it for granted.”

And with those final words, Brendan stepped outside the Starbucks and jogged to his car without a coat, his portfolio banging against his leg with every step he took.