Thursday, August 25, 2011

"Drive Angry" (2011)

Starring Nicolas Cage, Amber Heard and William Fichtner
Written by Todd Farmer and Patrick Lussier
Directed by Patrick Lussier
Rated R - Violence, gore, language, nudity, sex
Running Time: 105 Minutes

I don't even know where to begin with this one.  Uh... the plot.......?

Milton (Nicolas Cage) has broken out of Hell itself to track down a Satanic cult leader named Jonah King (Billy Burke).  King killed Milton's daughter, and stole his infant granddaughter, whom he plans to sacrifice to Satan in order to unleash Hell on Earth.

The Accountant (William Fichtner) has come from Hell to retrieve Milton.  He can only be killed by a mystical weapon with magic bullets, of which Milton happens to be in possession.
Milton, on his way to find Jonah's compound, asks a beautiful young waitress named Piper (Amber Heard) for a ride in her muscular Dodge Charger.  When he witnesses Piper's fiance beating her, he intercedes and nearly kills the man, taking Piper with him on his quest for revenge.  Ultimately, the two will form a bond of friendship as they attempt to rescue the infant from King and his evil hick minions.

"You Again" (2010)

Starring Kristen Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis and Odette Justman
Written by Moe Jelline
Directed by Andy Fickman
Rated PG - Mild language, rude behavior
Running Time: 105 Minutes

Sometimes, you just need to watch an innocuous, harmless little comedy, right?  "You Again" fits that bill perfectly.  It's PG-rated humor is mildly entertaining, and the film makes no attempts to really push any comedic or dramatic boundaries. 

Marni Olivia Olsen (Kristen Bell, yum) is a put-upon teenager constantly under attack from the vicious head cheerleader, Joanna Clark (Odette Justman).  After Joanna causes Marni to inadvertently ruin an important basketball game for Marni's older brother, Will (James Wolk), he imparts some brotherly advice on her that sticks.  In the years since high school, Marni gains confidence and (of course) smashing good looks.  Eventually, she becomes a high-ranking executive at a powerful public relations firm, and heads home when she hears that her brother is getting married.

To her horror, however, she discovers that Will's bride-to-be is none other than Joanna, who in the intervening years has also turned her life around.  Now a nurse, she dedicates herself to helping others through volunteer and charity work.  Marni is first fearful, and then infuriated when Joanna claims to not remember Marni from high school.  Marni suspects that Joanna's "nice girl routine" is all a big act, and sets out to show her brother exactly who he's about to marry.

At the same time, Marni's mother Gail (Jamie Lee Curtis) discovers that Joanna's Aunt Mona (Sigourney Weaver) is her former best friend Ramona from high school, now a fantastically successful owner of a chain of hotels  Just as Marni and Joanna strike back up their rivalry, so do Gail and Mona.  At each event coming up before the wedding, the rivalries escalate.  Despite some sage advice from her grandmother, Bunny (Betty White), Marni continues trying to expose Joanna's past evil ways. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

"Conan the Barbarian" (2011)

Starring Jason Momoa, Rachel Nichols and Stephen Lang
Written by Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer and Sean Hood
Directed by Marcus Nispel
Rated R - Violence, language, sex, nudity
Running Time: 112 Minutes

"Conan... What is the best in life?"

"To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women."

The original "Conan the Barbarian" film was no great classic. Rather, it's a camp classic; a cheesy, but fun, sword and sorcery romp that launched the career of action legend Arnold Schwarzenegger.  So it is rather appropriate, then, that the 2011 version is thoroughly absurd, ridiculous and over the top.

Conan (Jason Momoa, of 'Stargate Atlantis' fame) was "born of battle."  Like, literally - his pregnant mother was run through during a battle, and his father Corin (Ron Perlman, of 'Hellboy' fame) just cuts open her stomach and pulls out the baby.  Conan grows to be a fierce warrior, not backing down from battle and thriving where others turn tail and run.  But one day, an army, led by Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang, of 'Avatar' fame), invades his village, seeking the final piece of the legendary Mask of Acheron.  His army slaughters Conan's people, eventually leaving only Conan and his father alive.  Corin sacrifices himself to save Conan, who sets off into the wilds to get revenge for his father's death.

Years later, Khalar has built an empire and even though he has the complete mask, still needs a "pureblood" in order to complete the ritual that will turn him into a god and give him ultimate power over the Earth.  His witch daughter Marique (Rose McGowan, nearly unrecognizable) uses her powers to locate a young woman named Tamara (Rachel Nichols, looking hot) and Khalar's army goes to retrieve her.

Meanwhile, Conan runs across one of Khalar's goons and recognizes him from years earlier, discovers what Khalar's next move will be, and sets off to complete his revenge.  He happens upon Tamara as she's being attacked by Khalar's men, and rescues her.  Conan relentlessly tracks down Khalar, cutting a bloody path through his armies and henchmen while also trying to protect Tamara from a horrific death at Khalar's hands.

"Due Date" (2010)

Starring Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis
Written by Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, Adam Sztykiel and Todd Phillips
Directed by Todd Phillips
Rated R - Language, drug use, violence
Running Time: 95 Minutes

While I thought the repetitive, mean-spirited "Hangover, Part II" wasn't much to write home about, I quite enjoyed "Due Date," made by many of the people behind "The Hangover," including director Todd Phillips and star Zach Galifianakis.

Peter (Robert Downey Jr.) is an architect trying to get home to see his wife, who is about to deliver their first child via C-section.  Unfortunately, that plan is thrown out of whack when Peter meets one Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis) and the two accidentally switch bags at the airport entrance.  First, Peter is delayed and Ethan's bag confiscated when security discovers drug paraphernalia in it.  Worse, Ethan eventually causes both of them to be put off their plane just before takeoff, and their names placed on the No-Fly List.

Soon after, Peter discovers that his luggage took off with the flight, including his wallet, ID, money and credit cards.  Without any money or ID, he can't rent a car.  Fortunately, Ethan was able to rent one, and offers to take Peter with him on his cross-country journey to Los Angeles to become an actor on "Two and a Half Men."

But can Peter put up with Ethan's strange ways and ideas long enough to stick with him and get to the birth of his child on time?

"The Thing" (1982)

Starring Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley and Keith David
Written by Bill Lancaster
Directed by John Carpenter
Rated R - Gore, frightening images, language, violence
Running Time: 109 Minutes

In the remote wilderness of Antarctica, a United States research team is shocked when a member of a Norwegian research team chases and tries to kill a dog into their camp.  The Norwegian blows up his own helicopter, and even shoots one of the Americans before the leader of the group, Garry (Donald Moffat).  Unable to raise the Norwegians, or anyone else for that matter, on the radio, the station's pilot, MacReady (Kurt Russell) along with Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart) head to the Norwegian encampment and find the place utterly destroyed.

They also find the remains of some kind of inhuman creature that the doctor can't identify.  They bring it back to their own camp for dissection, and soon they begin to learn the horrible truth: the creature comes from another world, and it is a parasite that kills and replaces its host.  With the ability to mimic any animal or person, it could be anyone or anything in the camp.

As the researchers' numbers dwindle, they become more paranoid and suspicious of each other.  All the while the creature is desperate to leave the camp and get to civilization, but MacReady begins to believe that in order to stop it, none of them may make it out alive.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

'Star Trek: Voyager' Season Three (1996)

Starring Kate Mulgrew, Robert Beltran and Robert Picardo
Created by Rick Berman, Jeri Taylor and Michael Piller
Based upon 'Star Trek' created by Gene Roddenberry

The third season of "Star Trek: Voyager" opens with the crew marooned on a barren alien world, forced to live without the precious advanced technology they had refused to share with the vicious Kazon-Nistrim.  Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) tries to lead her crew to find food and shelter, contending not only with a primitive people who appear to be hostile, but also the planet's geological instabilities and giant man-eating, cave-dwelling snake creatures.

Meanwhile, back on the ship, the Doctor (Robert Picardo) finds that he and former murderous crewman Lon Suder (Brad Dourif) are the only two Starfleet officers left aboard, and must devise a plan to retake the ship from Maje Culluh (Anthony de Longis) and the traitorous Seska (Martha Hackett).  Elsewhere, Lt. Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) has formed an alliance with a group of Tallaxians to aid the Doctor in retaking the ship and saving the rest of the crew.

As the season progresses, Voyager will once again come into contact with strange aliens, bizarre space anomalies, evil villains, and ultimately the dreaded Borg Collective.

Monday, August 15, 2011

'The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes' Season One (2010)

Starring Eric Loomis, Chris Cox and Phil LaMarr
Developed by Ciro Nieli, Joshua Fine and Christopher Yost
Based on Marvel Comics characters created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Y'know, I've rarely dug deep into the pantheon of Marvel Comics characters... or really even DC.  For the most part, my interests are fairly mainstream, and fairly limited.  I find the decades of dense continuity to be intimidating and the shared universes have gotten so interwoven that at times its impossible to simply read a good Spider-Man story or a good Batman story without it being related to some huge, company-wide crossover that's going on.

So, I tend to find film and animated versions of these characters far easier to digest and enjoy. 

After a massive break-out of supervillains from the various prison complexes created by SHIELD, superheroes Iron Man (Eric Loomis), Ant-Man/Giant Man (Wally Wingert), Wasp (Colleen O'Shaughnessy), Hulk (Fred Tatiascore), Thor (Rick D. Wasserman) and the legendary Captain America (Brian Bloom) team up to create a vigilante team to track them all down.  They're soon joined by the Wakandan king, Black Panther (James C. Mathis III) and the archer Hawkeye (Chris Cox).

The Avengers, as they are called, are based out of a mansion in New York City provided by Iron Man's alter ego, Tony Stark.  They are called upon to save the city and the world from various super-powered threats, including alien conquerors from the future, the terrorist forces AIM and Hydra, Frost Giants of Jotunheim and evil Asgardian gods, and their own inabilities to work together as a team.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

"True Grit" (2010)

Starring Haylee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon
Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Cohen
Rated R - Language, violence
Running Time: 111 Minutes

As I mentioned in my review of "Cowboys & Aliens," I'm pretty particular about the Westerns that I enjoy.  Occasionally, one comes along that acquires a good amount of accolades, and that makes it an attractive prospect.  2010's "True Grit," based on the 1968 novel, earned some impressive Oscar nominations, from popular and highly lauded filmmakers Joel and Ethan Cohen.

Mattie Ross (Haylee Steinfeld) is a 14-year-old girl who travels to a small town on the edge of the frontier to collect the body of her father, who was murdered by a man named Tom Cheney (Josh Brolin).  While there, she acquires some money and attempts to hire a Federal Marshall to track down Cheney, who has ridden off into Indian territory. 

The man she sets her sights on is Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a drunk with a mean streak, described to Mattie as being without pity.  At the same time, she's contacted by Texas Ranger LaBeouf (Matt Damon) who has been on Cheney's trail since Cheney apparently murdered a Texas state senator.  At first, the three of them attempt to track down Cheney together, but their personality clashes lead to a rift between Cogburn and LaBeouf and the group goes its separate ways. 

Mattie wants to find Cheney first so that she can watch him hanged for her father's murder.  She knows that if LaBeouf finds him, he'll be taken back to Texas, and Mattie is determined to be the one who brings Cheney to justice for his crimes.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

"13 Assassins" (2010)

Starring Koji Yakusho, Hiroki Matsukata and Takayuki Yamada
Written by Daisuke Tengan
Directed by Takashi Miike
Rated R - Violence, gore, nudity
Running Time: 126 Minutes

I thought the trailer for Takashi Miike's "13 Assassins" looked pretty cool, but the limited time it was playing near me, I wasn't able to get out to the theatre to see it.  Thankfully, Netflix comes through in a pinch and delivers it via their 'Watch Instantly' streaming service.

In 1830s Japan, a young lord adopted by the family of the ruling Shogun is revealed to be a deeply corrupt individual.  Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki) rapes and kills without any regard for others, seeing his servants as property he need not respect in any fashion.  Another member of the Shogunate, Doi (Mikijiro Hira) orders a decorated Samura named Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho) to assassinate Naritsugu in order to save the people from his tyranny.

Shinzaemon begins to gather his friends and students together, including his nephew Shinroku (Takayuki Yamada), his student Hirayama Kujuro (Tsuyoshi Ihara), his friend Kuranaga (Hiroki Matsukata), Kuranaga's students, enemies of Naritsugu, and more.  Soon he has gathered a group of 13 warriors who are prepared to give their lives for honor to save the people from the wrath of Naritsugu.

They set out their plan to intercept Naritsugu on his journey from city of Edo to the territory of the Akashi clan.  Thinking that Naritsugu has a mere 70 warriors as an entourage, Shinzaemon and his men prepare a trap in the town of Ochiai, ready to turn the entire town into a vicious set of booby traps to ensnare and destroy Naritsugu.  But when Naritsugu arrives, Shinzaemon and his men make a startling discovery: instead of 70 men, the 13 assassins face an army of 200 troops.  But the men have pledged their lives to this mission, and quitting is not an option.

Monday, August 8, 2011

'Star Trek: Voyager' Season Two (1995)

Starring Kate Mulgrew, Robert Beltran and Robert Picardo
Created by Rick Berman, Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor
Based upon 'Star Trek' created by Gene Roddenberry

The captain and helmsman of Voyager.  SERIOUSLY.
The second season of "Star Trek: Voyager", and the show's first full season (the first was truncated due to a January launch for UPN), is damn near a disaster.  While the first season was decent but slight entertainment, the second season features some truly atrocious episodes that drag the whole thing down, even if the majority of them are still fairly decent.

In the series premiere, "The 37s," Voyager comes across a human colony in the Delta Quadrant populated by the descendants of people abducted from Earth in the late 1930s.  Frozen in stasis they find a number of those 20th century abductees including... Amelia Earhart (Sharon Lawrence), the legendary female pilot who disappeared on her flight around the world.  Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) offers her crew the opportunity to stay on the planet with the human colony, but in the end, the entire crew decides to stay on board Voyager for the journey home.

Throughout the course of the season, Voyager will deal with the fallout of Seska's (Martha Hackett) defection to the Kazon.  Seska has allied herself with Maje Culluh (Anthony de Longis) of the Kazon Nistrim, and devised a plan to rob Voyager of its advanced technologies.  To this end, another traitor aboard Voyager, Michael Jonas (Raphael Sbarge) begins feeding the Kazon information, and even helps to sabotage Voyager's systems.  Ultimately, this will lead to a showdown between the Voyager crew and the Kazon, one that could cost the crew everything.

'Star Trek: Voyager' Season One (1995)

Starring Kate Mulgrew, Robert Beltran and Robert Picardo
Created by Rick Berman, Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor
Based upon 'Star Trek' created by Gene Roddenberry

The seeds for "Star Trek: Voyager" were laid throughout the last season of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and the first two seasons of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine."  The introduction of the Cardassian border struggles and the Maquis resistance group laid the foundations for a new 'Star Trek' series to launch the United Paramount Network, or UPN.

A Maquis vessel commanded by a man named Chakotay (Robert Beltran) is lost in the Badlands near Deep Space Nine after an attack on a Cardassian ship under the command of Gul Evek (Richard Poe).  Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) of the Federation starship Voyager is assigned to enter the Badlands to find them, since her security chief, Lt. Tuvok (Tim Russ) was undercover aboard Chakotay's ship when it disappeared.

To do so, she enlists the help of a former Starfleet officer now incarcerated in a penal settlement, Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeil) who once served with Chakotay as a Maquis before being arrested.  Voyager enters the Badlands in search of the Maquis, but finds itself suddenly transported 75,000 light years across the galaxy to the unknown regions of the Delta Quadrant by an alien entity known as the Caretaker.  The Caretaker kidnaps members of the crew and conducts medical experiments on them, and then transports Ensign Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) and Maquis engineer B'Elanna Torres (Roxanne Dawson) to the nearby world populated by the Ocampa.

In her attempts to rescue them, Janeway forms an alliance with Chakotay and an alien junk dealer named Neelix (Ethan Phillips).  But doing so, they rescue a young Ocampa named Kes (Jennifer Lien) and run afoul of an alien race known as the Kazon.  To protect the Ocampa from the jealous Kazon, Janeway is forced to destroy the Caretaker's space station rather than let the advanced technology aboard fall into the hands of the Kazon.  Now, stranded 75,000 years from home, the Maquis and Starfleet crews must band together for their long, dangerous journey.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

"Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen" (2010)

Starring Donnie Yen, Shu Qi and Anthony Wong
Written by Cheung Chi-shing and Gordon Chan
Directed by Andrew Lau
Rated R - Martial arts, war violence, language, brief nudity
Running Time: 106 Minutes

Martial arts are so awesome.  There are few things I enjoy in a movie more than a good fight scene, and martial arts flicks usually manage to provide those in spades.

Chen Zhen (Donnie Yen) is among a group of Chinese sent to the front lines of France in World War I.  There, he tries to defend his men to the best of his abilities, but in the heat of battle, his best friend is killed.  Later, he returns to China having assumed the identity of his friend, Qi. 

There, he finds that China has fallen prey to the invasion plans of the Japanese.  In the city of Shanghai, Chen becomes manager of a popular nightclub called Casablanca, where many Japanese go to socialize.  Chen is also involved in the resistance movement against the Japanese, using his position at the club to gather information on them.  One night, he happens upon an assassination attempt against the son of a local warlord.  Donning a costume he sees on display at a nearby clothing store, he intercedes and saves the man's life.  In the process, he becomes a sort of local legend known as the Masked Warrior. 

Not long after, word is intercepted that the Japanese have put out a hit list on a number of powerful local Chinese, and the Masked Warrior takes it on himself to protect as many of them as possible.  One of these men is Chen's good friend, the editor of a local newspaper.  Unfortunately, Chen is unable to save him, and vows revenge. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

"The Last Airbender" (2010)

Starring Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz and Dev Patel
Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Rated PG - Fantasy violence
Running Time: 103 Minutes

So what happens when you want to adapt a beloved animated series into a live-action feature film?  I tell you how it shouldn't go: don't try to compress an entire season of television into less than two hours unless you're willing to make a lot of sacrifices.

The setup of "The Last Airbender" is taken straight from the series: a young airbender named Aang (Noah Ringer) is found frozen in the ice by Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone).  Not long after, their Water Nation village is invaded by exiled Prince Zuko (Dev Patel) of the Fire Nation, who is seeking the Avatar - a legendary being capable of commanding the four elements, Earth, Fire, Air and Water, who is said to bring balance to the world.

Aang escapes from Zuko and his uncle, General Iroh (Shaun Toub), and along with Katara and Sokka decide to make their way to the northern Water city so that Aang can learn to bend water.  Along the way, they stop to free a few towns among the Earth nation, attempting to inspire a resistance against the conquering Fire Nation.  Meanwhile, Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis) commands Commander Zhao (Aasif Mandvi) to locate and kill the Moon and Ocean spirits, which will deprive the Water benders of their powers. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

'Star Trek: The Next Generation' Season Seven (1994)

Starring Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, and Brent Spiner
Created by Gene Roddenberry

Seven seasons.  "Star Trek: The Next Generation" lasted seven seasons.  A massive hit, breaking records for syndication, it rightly cemented its place amongst the greatest television shows in history.  By the time it ended, it had spawned a spinoff, "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," with another, "Star Trek: Voyager" on the way... dozens of tie-in novels, comic books, action figures, and production had begun on a feature film continuation.

As the seventh season opens, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart), Geordi La Forge (Levar Burton), and Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) have been captured by the android doppelganger Lore (Brent Spiner), who has manipulated his twin brother Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner) into joining him on a quest to eliminate organic life in the galaxy along with a gang of vicious former Borg drones.  Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn) are stranded on the surface of the planet, searching for their comrades.  In orbit above, Doctor Crusher (Gates McFadden) commands the starship Enterprise with an inexperienced crew of junior officers against the Borg ship.

That is only the beginning of this last batch of television adventures of the Enterprise-D.  This year, the crew will face a host of new dangers.  Captain Picard and Commander Riker will find themselves in a race against time to find an ancient Vulcan weapon before a group of vicious space pirates.  Geordi faces the loss of his mother, and the incredible hope that he may have found her on the surface of an inhospitable world.  Data will learn how to dream.  Worf will find himself thrust into parallel worlds, each more different and farther from home than the last.  Counselor Troi learns about a tragedy buried deep in her mother's past that could kill her.  Picard and Crusher must finally face their long-buried feelings for each other while trying to survive on an alien world at war.

And at the end of it all, the series finale will throw the crew into an adventure spanning decades that could mean the end of mankind before it even has a chance to exist. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

"Cowboys & Aliens" (2011)

Starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde
Written by Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Mark Fergus, and Hawk Ostby
Directed by Jon Favreau
Rated PG-13 - Sci-fi violence, language
Running Time: 118 Minutes

I have to admit that much of my taste in movies and TV is based upon the interests of my father, who was very keen about introducing me to the things that he enjoyed when I was younger.  One of the things that I've never really managed to get, however, was his love of westerns.  While I've been able to enjoy the rare western ("The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" FTW), mostly it's a genre that I'm simply not fond of.

Of course, I am quite fond of things involving aliens from outer space.

Mixing these two genres is, in my opinion, a truly inspired premise.  It's too bad, then, that the film adaptation of "Cowboys & Aliens" doesn't seem to reach the full potential of that premise.

The story concerns Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) who wakes up one day in the middle of the desert with no memory of who he is, how he got there, or what the strange metal bracelet on his wrist is.  He makes his way to the small town of Absolution, where he runs afoul of local bully Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano).  Afterward, he's recognized by Sheriff Taggert (Keith Carridine) who places him under arrest.  Percy's father, former military colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) arrives, accusing Lonergan of robbing one of his stage coaches.

Just then, something truly strange occurs: Flying machines buzz the town, kidnapping a number of the residents.  Lonergan manages to shoot down one of the machines with his bracelet.  Afterward, Lonergan and Dolarhyde, along with a mysterious woman named Ella (Olivia Wilde) who seems to know more than she's saying, Meacham (Clancy Brown) the town preacher, Doc (Sam Rockwell) owner of the saloon, Colorado (Adam Beach) Dolarhyde's right-hand man and an Indian, and other members of Dolarhyde's gang set off into the desert in search of their missing people - including Percy, the sheriff, and Doc's wife.