Archive for November 20, 2010

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome

Posted in Action/Adventure, Classics, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2010 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

Riding a camel-drawn wagon across the Australian desert, Max (Mel Gibson) is attacked by a pilot flying a Transavia PL-12 Airtruk, who manages to steal his belongings and his vehicle. Max continues on foot and finally stumbles upon the only nearby human outpost in the wasteland that remains—the seedy community of Bartertown, founded and nominally run by the ruthless Aunty Entity (Tina Turner).

In Bartertown, electricity, vehicles, functioning industrial age technology—all almost unheard of in this post-apocalyptic world—are made possible by a crude methane refinery, fueled by pigs’ feces, using a weathered semi tractor as the electricity generator. The refinery is located under Bartertown and is operated by the smart, diminutive Master (Angelo Rossitto), who is harnessed to his enormously strong, but dim-witted bodyguard known as Blaster (Paul Larsson). Together, “Master Blaster” hold an uneasy power-truce with Aunty for control of Bartertown. Master, however, is beginning to exploit his position with energy “embargoes,” challenging Aunty’s leadership. She is furious with him but cannot challenge him publicly, as Master is the only one with the technical know-how to operate the machinery that powers Bartertown. The controlled chaos of Bartertown is maintained by a set of inflexible laws, including one that states that no contract can be broken, for any reason. The punishment for breaking this law is equally inflexible and invoked with the simple phrase, “bust a deal, face the wheel.”

Entity recognizes Max as a resourceful (if disposable) fighter, and strikes a deal with him to provoke a duel with and kill Blaster in the “Thunderdome,” a gladiatorial arena where conflicts are resolved by a duel to the death, turning what is arguably a political assassination into a lawful act. Max goes to Underworld, where he befriends a convict who was imprisoned for killing a pig in order to feed his children, and thus nicknamed Pig Killer (Robert Grubb). Max then finds his vehicle in Master Blaster’s possession, and confronts them, resulting in the necessary challenge to enter Thunderdome. The rules of Thunderdome, as chanted by onlookers crowding the arena, are simple and singular—”two men enter, one man leaves.” After a difficult match, Max defeats Blaster, but refuses to kill him when he discovers that Blaster is a man with a developmental disability. An enraged Aunty has Blaster executed and invokes the law since Max broke his deal with her. The wheel turns out to be a large, spinning metal disc (similar to a Wheel of Fortune) with an arrow pointing to one of several consequences. Possible consequences include Death, Hard Labour, Acquittal, Gulag, Aunty’s Choice, Spin Again, Forfeit Goods, Underworld, Amputation, and Life Imprisonment. When spun for Max, it lands on “Gulag.” He is cast out of Bartertown and exiled to the desert wasteland, strapped to the back of a horse. The horse runs with an initial whipping & chases a bottle of water strapped in front of its face.

The story radically shifts gears at this point. Some time later, Max, who has gotten beyond Thunderdome but is near death due to exposure to the hostile conditions, is saved by a group of children led by Savannah Nix (Helen Buday). The children, hardened to the desert environment, are survivors (or the children of survivors) of a nearby Qantas Boeing 747 plane crash, and have formed a sort of tribal community in the sheltered desert oasis in which they live. Clinging to their hopes of rescue, they keep their fading memories of the past civilization alive in the form of ritualistic spoken “tells” which hinge on the return of a messianic “Captain Walker” who will repair their shattered aircraft and return them to civilization. The “tell” explains that Flight Captain G.L. Walker at one point took most of the surviving adults to seek help, promising they would be back to rescue the rest, but never returned. Max’s age and physical resemblance to Walker make the children believe that he has indeed returned to take them to “Tomorrow-morrow Land,” or back to civilization as it once was. After nursing him back to health, they are shocked to hear Max’s account of the dystopic state of the world and become angry at his insistence that they all remain living in the relative safety of the oasis, knowing that the only “civilization” within reach is the rough and hellish Bartertown.

Some of the children decide to leave anyway, determined to find “Tomorrow-morrow land,” the mythic place they believe their parents left them to find. Max goes after them.

The third act begins as Max catches up with them at the outskirts of Bartertown. They sneak in, intent on finding Master. Without Blaster to protect him, the dwarfish Master is little more than Aunty’s slave. Max and the children free him (with the assistance of Pig Killer, who also escapes), but alert the guards, and a frenetic chase ensues, resulting in Bartertown’s methane factory becoming damaged and causing explosions, ending at the hideout of the same pilot that attacked Max in the beginning of the movie (played by Bruce Spence, who played the autogyro captain in Mad Max 2). Max coerces him to help them escape in the Transavia PL-12 Airtruk, but there is too much weight and not enough runway between them and the attackers’ vehicles, so Max takes a truck and drives it in front of the airplane, smashing a hole in the roadblock enabling the children to escape. Max is found by Aunty, and, having earned her respect, has his life spared.

The story shifts to many years later, when the much older children are seen in the ruins of a destroyed Sydney, lit up by thousands of fires and lights. Savannah, the leader of the children, recites a nightly “tell” of their journey.

This movie provides additional back story to the original Mad Max and Mad Max 2, showing a nuclear war following the energy crisis referenced in the beginning of Mad Max 2.

REVIEW:

 The final entry in the Mad Max saga (though there is supposed to be a 4th film in production). Some have argues this is the weakest entry in the franchise, while others have said it is the best.

Depending on how you look at it, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome can go either way. For me, I think it is the best of the 3. It is the most exciting, action packed, and drama-less of the bunch, which is really what I wanted from the first two.

On the other hand, the lack of road battles took a bit out of it for me, but that’s not something I can’t get over.

The action here is what really moves the picture along. In the first two films, there was some action, but this time around the action is center stage with the drama taking a backseat. Isn’t that what you really want out of an action movie?

The cast is all Australian, except for Tina Turner. Don’t get me wrong, Turner does a great job as the villainous Aunty Enitty, she just sort of sticks out as the 1 American in this cast. Of course, in most of Gibson’s films, he’s usually the only Australian, so I guess it really isn’t that big of a deal.

Mel Gibson had strong performances in the first films, but this one he seems as if he just phoned it in. I can’t tell you how much I hate it when it appears as if actors just show up for th paycheck. Have some pride in your craft, for goodness sakes, or don’t show up to work!

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome is best known for the Thunderdome scene, but the fact is it is only seen on that one scene. I would have liked for there to be more Thunderdome, especially since it is in the freakin’ title, but that isn’t anything that can’t be looked over. 

My final verdict on this film is that it is the best entry in this franchise, but it does have its issues. Does that mean you should avoid it like the plague? Far from it. This is the most entertaining of the franchise and fully worth a viewing, so go check it out!

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

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Splice

Posted in Horror, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy with tags , , , , on November 20, 2010 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

Genetic engineers Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley) achieve fame by successfully splicing together the DNA of different animals to create incredible new hybrid animals. Now they want to use human DNA in a hybrid that could revolutionize science and medicine. But the pharmaceutical company that funds their research, N.E.R.D. (Nucleic Exchange Research and Development), forbids it, instead mandating that their department be reorganized to focus on finding and extracting certain proteins from the creatures they have already created. Not wishing to spend all their time engaged in what they consider mundane research for the next 5-10 years, Clive and Elsa secretly conduct their own experiments, blending human DNA with that of other animals.

Though they disagree about actually bringing the hybrid to term, Elsa pushes the issue and she persuades Clive to go along with it, in continued secrecy. They name their creature Dren (nerd backwards), who exceeds their wildest dreams; she begins to grow and learn at an accelerated rate. As their lab becomes exceedingly crowded, and the risk of Dren being discovered increases, they move Dren to Elsa’s late mother’s farm.

Their work at the company suffers as their attention is focused on Dren. One of the original hybrid animals that they had created, which was originally female, had changed sex unbeknownst to Clive and Elsa since they were distracted. This led to a disastrous presentation during a company shareholders’ meeting, when the two original hybrids, previously one male and one female very much in love with each other, became both male, killed each other in front of shareholders and potential investors. Following this meeting, N.E.R.D., found itself in danger of going out of business unless they could find a profitable discovery.

Meanwhile, Dren has become amphibious and omnivorous with a toxic sting and retractable wings coming out of parts of her arm and back. Elsa, who had formed a maternal bond with Dren, changes her mind after Dren shows violent behavior, killing her own pet cat out of spite and assaulting her. She cuts off her stinger and uses organic tissue from it to finally isolate and synthesize a protein they had been searching for.

Soon after, Clive is seduced by Dren and has sex with her, much to Elsa’s disgust; during her sexual encounter with Clive, Dren reveals that she had regenerated her stinger. Elsa and Clive have a heated argument about Clive having cheated, when he confronts her, having figured out that she used samples of her own DNA in the creation of Dren. Deciding to deal with Dren, they go back to the farm, only to discover her body in the water tank, apparently sick. Within a short amount of time Dren seems to die.

They bury Dren near the farmhouse but before they leave, their boss from the pharmaceutical company arrives, having figured out that there was some sort of human hybrid because of the DNA present in the protein they had finally synthesized. Elsa tells her boss he can dig up Dren’s body if he really wants to see it. Suddenly, they are attacked by Dren, who was not dead, but apparently in some sort of coma as her body underwent changes that turned her into a male. After killing her boss and Clive’s brother, Dren drags Clive into a freezing pond. Elsa pulls him out, but he is unconscious, so Elsa flees. Dren finds her and rapes her. As Dren is raping Elsa, Clive comes to the rescue, impaling Dren with a large sharp branch. Dren kills Clive with a toxic sting, but is dealt a fatal blow by Elsa when she smashes his head with a rock.

Later on, Elsa is seen in the office of the pharmaceutical company’s head and is given a massive amount of money in exchange for her silence and taking the experiment to the “next stage”. The head of the company then thanks Elsa for the personal risk that she is undergoing. Elsa stands up and is revealed to be pregnant, but it is left ambiguous to whether it is Dren or Clive’s child, presumably Dren’s

REVIEW:

I’ve been asked by more than a few people to check this flick out. When I first saw the trailers for it, it reminded me a little bit of Species. However, after watching it this afternoon, there really aren’t too many similarities, but at the same time, there are.

Splice can best be appreciated by those in the science community. The reason I say that is they use a lot of scientific terminology which can easily fly over the heads of us non-scientific folks. Having said that, I do appreciate the fact they didn’t try to dumb it down.

The drama aspect of the story works, but I kind of felt as if they were trying to force the whole couple issues between Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley’s characters down out throats a bit. Maybe that was just me, though.

The special effects throughout here are ok, but I wasn’t impressed. They seem to be very run of the mill. Nothing impressive about them…to me anyway.

The action scenes that are in here are fairly pedestrian, but the climactic battle at the end is pretty good. I guess they did save the best for last.

The acting here was very humdrum. Adrien Brody seemed a bit more wooded and lifeless than he normally does in his films, while Sarha Polley appeared lost in most of her scenes.

Splice isn’t a bad film, it just isn’t that great. I think this could have been a much better, more enjoyable film, but that didn’t happen. Do I recommend this to you? Eh…sure, but don’t expect too much from it. I mean, this was an ok flick to watch on a whim, but if you have something better you want to watch, go with that.

3 out of 5 stars

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part I

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2010 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

The film opens with Severus Snape arriving at the estate of Lucius Malfoy to deliver his intelligence about when Harry Potter will be moved from Privet Drive. The Death Eaters are gathered at a table, with Voldemort at the head. They argue about tactics, and Voldemort feeds a Hogwarts professor to Nagini.

After the title card, the camera reveals Hermione Granger in her room. After packing her things, she casts an “obliviate” spell on her parents to make them forget her. At Privet Drive, Harry’s foster family packs up their things and leave the house because it has become unsafe. The Order of the Phoenix arrive, and Mad-Eye Moody unveils the plan to move Harry. The team splits into groups of twos, with one member of each pair drinking Polyjuice Potion in order to look like Harry. As the decoys fly off, Harry leaves in Hagrid’s sidecar, just as he arrived at Privet Drive 17 years ago. The Death Eaters immediately attack, resulting in a mid-air battle in which Harry’s owl is killed. Voldemort attacks Harry with Lucius’ wand, but Harry shatters it. The Order rendezvous at The Burrow, the home of the Weasleys. They realize that Mundungus Fletcher is the traitor in their group, and that Mad-Eye did not survive.

During the night, Harry tries to slink off during the night, unwilling to risk anyone else’s life on his behalf. Ron stops him and explains that the Order’s work is about more than just him. The next day, Rufus Scrimgeour executes Dumbledore’s will, bequeathing a deluminator to Ron, a copy of The Tales of Beelde the Bard to Hermione, and the Snitch that Harry caught in his first Quidditch match. He also bequeaths to Harry the sword of Gryffindor, but Scrimgeour says it is not Dumbledore’s to give and also the sword is missing. Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour are married in a tent at The Burrow. Harry learns of Dumbledore’s dark past at Godric’s Hollow during the reception and meets Luna Lovegood’s father, Xenophilius, who is wearing a pendant with a mysterious symbol. The reception is attacked by Death Eaters. Harry, Ron and Hermione apparate to London, and they are attacked again in a coffee shop. They take refuge at 12, Grimmauld Place where they find Kreacher, who reluctantly helps them deduce that the locket of Salazar Slytherin, which is a horcrux, is in the possession of Dolores Umbridge.

The trio infiltrate the Ministry of Magic using Polyjuice Potion. Harry stupefies Dolores and Hermione snatches the locket from around her neck. During their escape, Ron is grievously wounded. Since Ron is too ill to apparate, the trio have to move on foot during the day. Unfortunately, Dumbledore never told Harry how to destroy a Horcrux, and all their attempts to destroy the locket fail. They take turns wearing the locket, as it makes its wearer brood on negative thoughts. As they walk through the countryside, Ron listens to the radio for the names of missing wizards, hoping not to hear the names of his family. He grows suspicious of Harry and Hermione, especially as they conference with each other. Eventually, Hermione realizes that the sword of Gryffindor will destroy the horcrux since it has been dipped in basilisk blood. Feeling useless and unwanted, Ron decides to leave. Frightened even more by his departure, Harry and Hermione listen to Ron’s radio and do a silly dance to “O Children” by Nick Cave in an effort to relieve the unbearable tension.

Harry convinces Hermione to travel to Godric’s Hollow, where they find the grave of his parents. They are followed by Bathilda Bagshot who takes them to her home. As Harry peppers her with questions, Hermione explores the house. When Bathilda finally speaks, she does so in parseltongue, just as Hermione discovers the body of the real Bathilda. The pair fight with Nagini, whose Polyjuice Potion has worn off, and barely escape. During the fight, Hermione accidentally breaks Harry’s wand.

As he keeps watch one night, Harry follows a patronus in the shape of a deer onto a frozen pond. The patronus disappears under the ice, revealing the sword of Gryffindor at the bottom of the pond. While trying to retrieve it, Harry is almost drowned by Slytherin’s locket, which takes on a life of its own, nearly strangling him. He is saved by Ron, who has returned. Harry insists that Ron destroy the locket with the sword. After Harry opens the locket, Voldemort’s voice taunts Ron about his insecurity. He creates an illusion of Harry and Hermione having sex, and a terrified Ron manages to smash the locket with the sword.

Together again, the trio decide to investigate the pendant that Xenophilius Lovegood was wearing, because the symbol keeps appearing in books Hermione is reading. At his home, Xenophilius tells them the story of the Deathly Hallows, and reveals that the elder wand will make its bearer the most powerful wizard in the world. As they try to leave, Xenophilius blocks their exit, explaining that the Death Eaters have kidnapped Luna and Harry is his only ransom. The Death Eaters descend on the house, and during the attack, the trio apparates to a forrest.

They are immediately set upon by a group of snatchers, who eventually catch them. During the chase, Hermione disfigures Harry to protect his identity. They all lie about who they really are, and the snatchers take them to Lucius’ estate, suspecting that they might actually have captured Harry Potter. At Malfoy Manor, Bellatrix imprisons Harry and Ron in the cellar, where she has also imprisoned Luna, the wandmaker Ollivander, and the goblin Griphook; meanwhile, Bellatrix tortures Hermione to try to find out how they acquired the Sword of Gryffindor, which she had believed to be safe in her bank vault.

Dobby apparates into the dungeon, and Harry formulates an escape plan. As they rescue Hermione from Bellatrix, Dobby is killed. The trio bury him on the top of a sand dune. The film closes with Voldemort opening Dumbledore’s tomb and removing the elder wand from the dead wizard’s grasp.

REVIEW:

 Continuing, or rather, concluding the Harry Potter franchise is a challenge, which is probably why the filmmakers decided to split the final book into two parts (combined with making more money). However, after watching this film this afternoon, I’m not so sure that was a good idea.

Before you all start jumping down my throat for that statement, let me explain. This is not a bad film. It is beautifully shot and very faithful, from what I recall, to the book. However, there was no real climax at the end. It just ended.

Now, there are films that are split that end on a down notes, The Empire Strikes Back, comes to mind, but the plot just doesn’t allow itself to be split into two parts this way. The whole time I was watching this film, I was hoping that something would happen to really catch my attention. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

The special effects here are on par with the rest of the franchise, which isn’t bad, but seeing as how this is part of the finale, I was kind of wishing they would up the ante. Maybe in part II, they will.

As I said, the plot is about a close as you can get to the source material. If you’re an avid reader of this blog, then you are more than aware of how much I detest those that stray too far from said material, so this was a breath of fresh air.

This is a dark film. Some of you out there are going to love this kind of thing. Personally, I prefer lighter faire, such as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Having said that, the darkness that each film has garnered is reflective of the books, so I won’t jump on them for making this flick so dark, however, I can still say that I miss the, for lak of a better term, magic and whimsy from the first couple of films.

Harry, Ron, and Hermoine are the focal point of this film. Occasionally we see Voldemort and a couple of other characters, but the trio is the entire film (as they pretty much have been the entire franchise). It is obvious the actors have grown, not only in terms of aging, but as actors and the chemistry between them is amazing.

Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort is just itching for a final showdown with Harry. It’s coming…just hang in there.

Helena Bonham Carter returns as the psychotic Bellatrix Lestrange, as proven with her torture of Hermoine near the film’s end.

This entry into the franchise contains more action than all the other’s combined. While I love my action, I just sort of felt like some of this was just stuck in there for the hell of it. Of course, when I was reading the book, I said that it felt like it was written with the intent of being a movie, so I guess this is the result.

I have to mention this random animated scene that explains what the deathly hallows are. While Hermoine is telling the tale, we get an animated sequence to her words. Not to take anything away from it, but the animation was show pointed that the characters reminded me of the Primes from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. It didn’t work for me. Not that there was anything wrong with it, but this was just so random and they didn’t bother to put oddly animated sequences in the previous films, so why start now?

Final verdict on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part I? Well, it is a pretty good film. I’m sure many will go so far as to call it great and put it on their best of and favorite lists of the year. Chances are it may make one of those lists of my own, but to be honest with you, I didn’t love it. It just felt like something was missing. It plods along and you sort of feel like they’re pushing towards something. If that something is the epic confrontation that will happen in the second film, that’s fine, but there should have been something more in this one. If you can get past leaving the theater unfulfilled, then I highly recommend this, otherwise, I suggest wait until the summer, rent it before part II comes out and watch it then.

4 out of 5 stars