Archive for the ‘action adventure’ Category

DVD blog review ‘X-Men: First Class’ — The name gets it right

September 5, 2011


As a prequel, reboot, preboot, redo, re-imagining, whatever, X-Men: First Class is first-rate. And I say this with some authority, being old enough to have purchased X-Men #1 in the ’60s when it first appeared. (No worries, it’s now tucked safely inside a safe deposit box.) Now First Class makes me proud to be an aging Marvel kid.

Though we’ve seen such pre-X-Men history before (the opening Nazi concentration camp scenes seem downright recycled), I loved the way director Matthew Vaughn then cut to the Cold War chase, with a young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) starting as allies as the U.S. and U.S.S.R. teetered toward nuclear annihilation. Only the mutants can stop this, right?

Action is aplenty, and exceedingly well staged, while the characters grapple with genuine dramatic heft — and add some cheeky humor. The Kennedy-era trappings, now in vogue, also work well, while Kevin Bacon as vile villain Sebastian Shaw (fun German accent, Kevin) steals the show big-time. And that’s in a rare superhero film that feels more character-driven than action-driven — not that First Class skimps on the latter bent.

With the glut of superhero movies it’s hard to stand out, but this one does–and rightfully earned $350 million at the global box office.

Whether you’ve seen previous X-Mens or not, it works, so make a note: On Friday, Sept. 9, X marks the spot with Fox’s Blu-ray and DVD release of the year’s best superhero movie, X-Men: First Class. Face front!

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DVD blog review: ‘Clash of the Titans’ remake is monstrous fun

July 25, 2010

The new remake of 1981’s Clash of the Titans has gotten little respect, which seems quite odd to me. The fact is, the original was one of the worst Ray Harryhausen special effects extravaganzas ever. The stop-motion master was fit to retire back in ’81, and Clash, in fact, was his last effort as creator of special visual effects. But many weren’t so special, including a juvenile mechanical owl character which was so bad it even gets a brief snide put-down in the remake.

Look, I don’t just admire what Harryhausen did. I revere it. I grew up loving Jason and the Argonauts, Mysterious Island and the Sinbad movies. But times change. CG animation now rules, and with it you can do things far beyond the painstaking limitations of stop-motion work.

Others will grouse that this fable about man defying Greek goods amid much monstrous mayhem is as short in the narrative department as are the warriors’ battle-ready skirts. Excuse me, but when did this kind of thing presume to be Shakespeare (even if Hamlet’s Sir Laurence Olivier did play Zeus in the ’81 original)? This is a popcorn movie, purely and simply. So just pop some corn, sit back, savor the spectacle and don’t expect to feed your mind as much as you’re feeding your gut with freshly poppped kernels.

I’m not saying Sam Worthington as the heroic Perseus is the essence of charismatic heroism, but neither was Harry Hamlin in the original. Again, we’re not talking Saving Private Ryan here. We’re talking giant scorpions on the loose! As soon as I saw those in the trailer, I was ready to sign up with Perseus’ band of adventurers and take the fantasy ride. (And now, via Warner Bros.’ Blu-ray release, we can see how they did it, via the elaborate Harnessing the Gods.)

So go ahead and carp if you must about plot points, acting chops and Liam Neeson making a bland Zeus (though I thought Ralph Fiennes made a haunting, almost pitiable Hades). For me the bottom line is fanciful spectacle, and this Clash provides it, big-time. Give me snake-headed Medussa, the Scorpiochs and the Kraken and I’m happy. As in the old days, monsters are what this is all about, and this Clash gets the movie monster mash job done.

DVD blog review: ‘Tales of the Gold Monkey’ nostalgic for ’80s as much as ’30s

June 7, 2010

Shout! Factory’s handsome new box set release of Tales of the Gold Monkey, a one-season series, has as much to say about the state of early ’80s TV as it does about a yen for old-style adventure movies. The 1982-83 series starred Stephen Collins in the kind of role Tom Selleck played in 1983’s High Road to China — and, more aptly, the kind of role Harrison Ford played in 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Stephen Collins in 'Tales of the Gold Monkey'

That huge hit surely propelled both of those creations about an intrepid explorer/flyer in far-flung locales between World War I and World War II. But Monkey’s makers insist their inspiration was more along the lines of ’30s adventure films. Of course, those also were among Raiders’ inspirations, so why quibble?  At any rate, it’s safe to say neither Gold Monkey nor High Road would have gotten financing and existed without the lucrative emergence of Indiana Jones — and if you don’t believe that, I have a slow boat to China to sell you.

In terms of production values, Gold Monkey tries valiantly to sell itself as a period piece in exotic locales, but production values don’t stretch quite that far. Yet that doesn’t mean the cast can’t charm if not captivate, including Collins (formerly of the first Star Trek movie) as the good-guy adventurer, Caitlin O’Heaney as his songstress accomplice and one-eyed Leo the dog as Jack, the one-eyed dog of Collins’ Jake Cutter. (Well, he’d have had two eyes if Jake hadn’t lost his valuable false eye in an unwise poker bet early in the saga).

Along with 21 episodes, including the double-length pilot, the DVDs sport inviting extras. These include a making-of featurette with recent interviews of Collins and O’Heaney; a stills gallery; and several text features such as character bios and cast member bios. These features are grouped on Disc 6. Audio commentaries for five episodes are spread out on three different discs. There’s also a slick 24-page booklet.

Fans should not be disappointed in this loving release of a show that came and went too quickly. Yes, they don’t make ’em like this anymore. But on DVD, it can live forever.

More of ‘Indy 4’ in ‘National Treasure 2’

May 28, 2008

The original National Treasure was an Indiana Jones wannabe, set apart chiefly by the fact that it’s set in present day. So it’s only fitting that National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets hits DVD at the same time that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull dominates theaters.

Somewhat like Indy, Nicolas Cage’s Treasure character, Ben Gates, is a scholar often bent on wild if not violent escapades in search of treasure that’s both informational and valuable. Like Indy, he has a sidekick (Riley, a whiz ably played by Justin Bartha), a love interest (Abigail, played by German beauty Diane Kruger) and a father (Jon Voight) who shares many of his interests but also carries emotional baggage.

Also like Indy 4, National Treasure 2 is a hodgepodge of vaguely defined plot elements clearly geared to provide as many over-the-top action-adventure sequences as possible. This includes brain-numbing car chases, which have been putting me to sleep almost since the landmark one in Bullitt.

So what’s to recommend it? Well, it’s family fare, boldly rated PG instead of PG-13. So kids can watch it with their parents and everyone’s happy (provided neither the children nor the parents expect much characterization and plot development). And much of the action is creatively if not spectacularly staged, though it often leads to so much wanton destruction that it’s painful to watch.

But most pained should be fans of such actors as Cage, Voight, Helen Mirren (as Cage’s momma), Harvey Keitel (as a Fed) and Ed Harris (as a heavy), who all deserve better material but chose to go slumming in an empty-headed adventure. Then again, everyone needs a paycheck. I’ve never slammed actors for taking work — we all must make a living. But when that work is so beneath their talents, as it is here, then the “treasure” of their craft remains largely buried. Then again, the movie made $219 million at the domestic box office, so what do I know?