Sunday, October 30, 2011

"The Robber" (2010)

Starring Andreas Lust, Franziska Weisz
Written and directed by Benjamin Heisenberg
Rated R - Violence, nudity/sex
Running Time: 101 minutes

It's always interesting to watch a movie and then find out that it's supposedly 'based on a true story.'  "The Robber," a 2010 film shot in Austria, is apparently based on the real life story of a marathon runner who also happened to rob banks.

Johann Rettenberger (Andreas Lust) is a convict recently released from prison.  While serving his sentence for attempted robbery, he has been training to run, circling the prison grounds and then also working on a treadmill in his cell.  When he gets out, he continues his training and begins running actual marathons.  He quickly becomes a national hero after setting a new record, but while his fame increases, he has to hide a particular secret: his marathon training is actually just a cover for the fact that he robs banks.

Johann puts on a mask, whips out a shotgun and uses his running skills to elude the police.  He eventually moves in with a young social worker named Erika (Franziska Weisz) and the two strike up a romantic relationship.  But when she discovers his double life, she turns him in to the police and Johann must go on the run, evading a massive manhunt.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

"Merantau" (2009)

Starring Iko Uwais, Sisca Jessica and Yusif Aulia
Written and directed by Gareth H. Evans
Rated R - Violence, disturbing images
Running Time: 114 minutes

Seriously, who doesn't like to watch a good ass-whupping?  I could watch martial arts movies all day long (indeed, I have), so I was excited to check out this 2009 Indonesian flick called "Merantau" that I heard mentioned in an interview recently. 

The story concerns a young man named Yuda (Iko Uwais) who must leave his home and family to undergo a sort of coming-of-age ritual.  He must go out into the world to get experience and discover himself for the first time.  Yuda is a master of a martial art known as Silat, and he plans to go to Jakarta to open a school and teach Silat. 

But when he reaches the city, he finds that the place he was supposed to live has been torn down, and he finds himself jobless and homeless.  Before he can consider what to do, his wallet is stolen by a young boy named Adit (Yusif Aulia).  Chasing down the boy, Yuda encounters Astri, Adit's older sister.  Astri is in a fight with her boss Johnny (Alex Abbad) over some money.  Yuda intervenes, rescuing Astri and embarrassing Johnny.  Unfortunately, Johnny was supposed to deliver Astri to a powerful business man named Ratger (Mads Koudai) to be sold as a sex slave. 

Johnny's goons kidnap Astri, forcing Yuda to get involved once more, track down Astri and save her and her brother from a life of misery.  But to do that, he's gonna have to beat up a whole lot of dudes.

'Star Trek: Enterprise' Season One (2001)

Starring Scott Bakula, Jolene Blalock and Connor Trinneer
Created by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga
Based on 'Star Trek' created by Gene Roddenberry

Jonathan Archer facial expression 1 of 2
Oh, jeez. 

I'm not even sure where to start, here.  I've already reviewed seasons three and four of this series, because I own them on DVD.  Recently the show became available to stream via Netflix, in HD no less, which prompted me to go "well what the hell" and give it another go.  Since I've been steadily watching through the entire franchise this year, I felt it appropriate.

Set one hundred years before the events of the original "Star Trek," "Enterprise" chronicles the adventures of Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula), captain of the first starship Enterprise before the founding of the Federation.  The show opens as a Klingon courier is wounded on Earth while running from alien assassins known as the Suliban.  Captain Archer, against the recommendation of Vulcan ambassador Soval (Gary Graham), decides to transport the Klingon back to his homeworld.  He gathers his crew, including Subcommander T'Pol (Jolene Blalock), chief engineer Charles Tucker (Connor Trinneer), linguist Hoshi Sato (Linda Park), pilot Travis Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery), Doctor Phlox (John Billingsley) and weapons officer Malcolm Reed (Dominic Keating). 

Their ship is the NX-01, the first starship constructed by Earth capable of traveling at warp five.  Archer sets out into the galaxy on Earth's first deep-space mission to make contact with the Klingons.  Along the way, however, the Klingon courier is kidnapped by the Suliban, and Archer vows to rescue him.  This introduces Archer to the Temporal Cold War, a conflict raging across not just space, but time.  The Suliban take their orders from a mysterious benefactor in the future that delivers them technology and information to best their foes. 

After making an enemy of the Suliban, Archer is ordered to explore the galaxy.  He vows to make contact with new worlds and new civilizations. But the galaxy is a more dangerous place than he thought, and Archer will find out just what kind of commander he is, and what his crew is capable of.

Y'know, just like a baby gazelle.   ...or something.

'Star Trek: Voyager' Season Seven (2000)

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

Here it is; the end of another seven-year 'Star Trek' saga.  The starship Voyager, after seven years lost in the Delta Quadrant, finds itself closer and closer to home.

As the season opens, Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew), Commander Tuvok (Tim Russ) and Lt. B'Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) have infiltrated a Borg cube by allowing themselves to be assimilated into the Borg Collective to help spur a rebellion.  The Borg Queen (Susanna Thompson) is getting closer to discovering the secrets of Unimatrix Zero, putting Janeway and her crew in danger, as well as the lives of countless drones that could be freed from the Queen's oppression.  Meanwhile, Commander Chakotay discovers that the key to stopping the Queen may involve destroying Unimatrix Zero itself, allowing the rebellion to live but cutting off its ability to connect over long distances.

Throughout the year, the crew of Voyager will face more adventures in the depths of unknown space.  Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) will confront her inability to feel the full breadth of human emotion.  Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) participates in an alien race to prove his ability and giving him a chance to propose to Torres.  The Doctor (Robert Picardo) will press forward a campaign for the rights of holograms as artificial life forms.  Commander Chakotay will take a tour of Voyager's past, present and future when the ship is torn into different time periods.

And all along, Lieutenant Reginald Barclay (Dwight Schulz) will come closer and closer to devising a strategy for Voyager to return home to Earth.  But doing so may bring Voyager into conflict once again with Starfleet's greatest enemy, the Borg, and a final confrontation between Janeway and the Borg Queen (Alice Krige, this time).

'Nikita' Season One (2010)

Starring Maggie Q, Lyndsy Fonseca and Shane West
Developed by Craig Silverstein
Based on the film "Nikita" by Luc Besson

I don't watch much of the shows offered by the CW network; "Smallville" had long-since become a mere joke, leaving only the hilarious and fun "Supernatural" to make the whole enterprise worthwhile.  But when the CW shows began streaming on Netflix, I found myself with the opportunity to try out "Nikita," the network's new attempt at a straight action-adventure show.

Based on the French film of the same name, "Nikita" is actually a mish-mash of sequel and reboot.  Set six years after the events of the film (also meshed with an earlier TV series called 'La Femme Nikita' that aired on the USA Network in the 1990s), this new series follows former secret agent Nikita (Maggie Q) as she attempts to destroy the organization known as Division.  Division, a government black-ops agency that has gone rogue, is headed by the vicious and conniving Percy (Xander Berkeley), who keeps a series of "black box" hard drives at secret locations around the globe.  On these hard drives are the secrets of five presidential administrations, to be used as blackmail for Percy to continue getting the funding and equipment he needs to use Division as his own personal hit-squad.

Nikita used to be part of Division, their star agent.  But now she uses her knowledge, resources and former contacts to bring them down.  Aiding her is a young mole within Division, discovered and trained by Nikita herself: Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca), heir to a former Russian empire, her family destroyed by Division years earlier.  Nikita often faces off against Percy's right hand man, Michael (Shane West), Nikita's former handler.  Alex faces threats from Amanda (Melinda Clarke), Division's lead psychologist, who takes pleasure in manipulating recruits and has terrible methods for divining the truth. 

Nikita and Alex tread carefully, trying to foil Division's missions without raising suspicion about Alex's true allegiances.  Over the course of the season, Nikita will gather new allies in her battle, and discover that Percy is planning a terrible attack on the United States government in order to cement his power.  Nikita and Alex must find the black boxes and stop Percy and Division from plunging the world into war.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"Batman: Year One" (2011)

Starring Benjamin McKenzie, Brian Cranston and Eliza Dushku
Written by Tab Murphy
Directed by Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery
Rated PG-13 - Language and violence
Running Time: 65 minutes

The latest DC Animated Universe venture adapts Frank Miller's classic "Year One" storyline, which redefined the origin of Batman in the 1980s.

The film opens as young Bruce Wayne (Benjamin McKenzie) returns to Gotham City after years abroad, training his mind and his body to fight crime.  At the same time, Lt. James Gordon (Brian Cranston) is also coming to Gotham.  But while Wayne is returning on a mission to reclaim Gotham from the scum, Gordon is there has a punishment - transferred after a flap at his previous precinct that branded him as an Internal Affairs rat.

The two find the city a pit of hopelessness and despair.  The Gotham PD is rife with corruption, all the way to the top, with Commissioner Gil Loeb (Jon Polito) in cahoots with local crime lord Carmine "The Roman" Falcone (Alex Rocco).  Gordon's partner, Detective Flass (Fred Tatasciore), is a thug who likes to shake down other thugs for cash and moonlights as an enforcer for Falcone's drug operations.

While Gordon struggles to bring some semblance of ethics to the GPD, he's also trying to come to grips with the concept that his wife is pregnant with their child, and how he can possibly raise a family in such a terrible city.  Meanwhile, Bruce tries to figure out how to make the criminals of Gotham fear him, and ultimately comes across the image of a bat, creating the alternate persona of Batman.

As the year drags on and Batman becomes a real threat to Falcone's criminal empire, Loeb tasks gordon with bringing him in.  At first, Gordon is fine with this mission; he sees Batman as a public threat, a nutjob who goes out at night and beats people up, even if they are criminals.  But as Gordon and new partner Detective Sarah Essen (Katee Sackhoff) witness Batman in action, he begins to realize that the Batman really is a hero, and strives to keep the conflict between Falcone, the GPD and the Batman from turning the city into a warzone. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

'Star Trek: Voyager' Season Six (1999)

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

When we last left our heroes, the crew of the starship Voyager had encountered another Federation ship, the Equinox, whose crew we discover have been torturing and killing strange aliens in order to use their energy to get home faster.  As season six opens, Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) is at odds with her first officer Commander Chakotay (Robert Beltran) on how to deal with the aliens attacking Voyager and finding and stopping the Equinox. 

Chakotay wants to seek out another race of aliens that may be able to help them, while Janeway is dead-set upon destroying the Equinox and getting revenge against Captain Ransom (John Savage).  Meanwhile, Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) and the Doctor (Robert Picardo) have been kidnapped by the Equinox crew. It will all lead to a final showdown between the two Starfleet crews, ones who have kept up their morals and standards, and others who are willing to trade the lives of others in order to get home.

Throughout the rest of the season, the starship Voyager will again encounter a variety of strange new cultures and bizarre anomalies.  Seven of Nine will come face to face with her past as she encounters former Borg drones she used to be connected to.  B'Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) will reexamine her feelings toward Klingon religious beliefs after a strange near-death experience.  Harry Kim (Garret Wang) will (again) fall in love with the wrong woman - this time, the reanimated corpse of a former shipmate.  Kes (Jennifer Lien) returns, older and resentful of her former friends.

And, ultimately, Janeway will come face to face once again with the Borg Collective. This time, Janeway sees an opportunity to bring the Collective crashing down on itself when Seven of Nine discovers a hidden community of rebels hiding inside a Borg virtual reality.  But getting inside will require a dangerous and unorthodox plan.

"Marley & Me" (2008)

Starring Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston and Eric Dane
Written by Scott Frank and Don Roos
Directed by David Frankel
Running Time: 121 Minutes
Rated PG - Language, dramatic themes

I know a lovely young woman who I call "Smalls" and she and I disagree on one pretty particular topic: dogs.  I don't really care for them.  They make me uncomfortable.  Smalls, on the other hand, I don't think could live without her puppy.  When I initially rented "Marley and Me" I mentioned it to her, thinking she'd have one reaction, but got another: she told me it was one of the most painful movies she'd ever experienced.

Of course, I didn't understand this, since it was labeled as a comedy.

"Marley & Me," based on the book of the same name, is the story of John Grogan (Owen Wilson) and his wife Jenny (Jennifer Aniston).  They are newlyweds who move to the south of Florida, and both get jobs at newspapers.  Jenny wants to have a child, but John is reluctant, and instead surprises Jenny with a puppy named Marley.  They soon discover that Marley is trouble on four legs.

John begins to write a column about daily life for the paper, most of which seems to revolve around Marley's misadventures, which becomes extremely popular.  Jenny, meanwhile, still yearns to have a child, even as the two of them grow closer to the ever more destructive Marley. 

As the years pass, John and Jenny eventually do have children, outgrow their home, struggle to make ends meet, and more.  Through it all, they deal with their untrainable but lovable dog, Marley, who becomes as integral a part of the family as their own children.