Saturday, September 19, 2009

REVIEW: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Extended edition? That's okay. I'll watch the movie on fast-forward to compensate.

Let’s see if this sounds familiar:

  • ‘90s historical action-adventure movie.
  • Based on iconic medieval English heroes who might or might not have been real, but almost certainly bore little resemblance to the legends they inspired.
  • Stars an A-list American actor who can’t for the life of him figure out a British accent, and undermines him further by surrounding him with authentic Brits.
  • Also stars Sean Connery as an English king with a Scottish accent, which is the kind of thing that probably starts soccer riots.
  • Features a good actor playing the villain as a wild-eyed madman that even the United Nations would decide is probably not someone to lead a human rights conference.
  • Godawful soundtrack written under the false belief that a trumpet fanfare actually stirs emotions in people outside a college football game.

"Excuse me. I need to find a manger and I wish to get it over with."

That’s right. If King Arthur had his First Knight, then I guess Robin Hood was the First Thief. It’s really uncanny how similar these movies are. For the most part, you could just read my review of that film, just replacing ‘Richard Gere‘ with ‘Kevin Costner.’ But if I had to watch this mess, then you at least have to read about it.

"Dude, I'm doing Shakespeare now! Loth lo hark onward yea yonder Denmark! This is awesome!"

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves starts in Jerusalem of all places, with Robin of Locksley (Costner, playing a British knight as convincingly as he played a web-fingered, urine-swilling aqua-man) imprisoned during the Third Crusade by Saladin’s forces. Trapped in a dungeon where his fellow crusaders are being tortured and executed, Robin overpowers the guards, but in order to escape alive, he’ll need to release and accept the help of a Moorish prisoner, Azeem (Morgan Freeman). Together, they ditch the dungeon and flee to England; Azeem goes along because he apparently has no better place to be than a land full of dudes at war with his people, and Robin decides that heading home during a war definitely does not constitute desertion.

"Who art thou, stranger, who can squish flies with such heroic accuracy and vigor?"

Before we go on, a short digression about accents. I think Americans are to be commended for their acceptance of Brits, Scots, Irishmen, and Australians playing classic American characters like a Revolutionary war hero (Mel Gibson in The Patriot); Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and the Joker (Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, and Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight); and that most distinctly American of roles: a crazy and evil oil baron (Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood). We’re fine with that because we like good, charismatic actors, because we’re a nation of immigrants, and because they do the damned accents. But with the shoe on the other foot, Kevin Costner attempts a British accent mainly by speaking all his lines about 10% more deliberately than he would for any of his baseball player/surfer dude/mailman/gill-man characters. I wouldn’t think he’s attempting an accent at all, except that every once in a while, he seems to mute an ’r’ or use a soft ’a.’ It’s very strange, although with Christian Slater and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (and Sean Connery, eventually, for that matter) also in the cast, it wouldn’t be right to completely single out Costner for unconvincing British accents, and maybe the clash of accents is even semi-intentional, to vilify those who are clearly British. Whatever. Suffice to say that Costner should never be allowed to play Brits or New Englanders ever again. I should also mention the great Morgan Freeman, who despite his obvious talents, plays a Moor by imitating the voice of an Egyptian professor in a 1930s Mummy movie, who warns the heroes of the terrible curse they’ve fallen under.

So this is the Lady Gaga I've heard the kids talk about so much lately.

Returning to England, they find that Robin’s father, Lord Locksley (Brian Blessed) has been deposed and murdered by the Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman), who’s collaborated with the Bishop of Hereford (Harold Innocent; “innocent,” “blessed,” and “freeman”?; is there some kind of uber-irony going on with the names here?) and the witch Mortianna (Geraldine McEwan). Yes, this movie has a witch secretly guiding the twitchy usurper. That’s right, suck it Shakespeare; you lifted all your plot devices from an earlier story, even if it took 800 years and a couple of bonehead screenwriters to properly explore that aspect of the Robin Hood legend. Rickman plays the Sheriff as the typical ’90s white guy villain: a dude who amasses influence and loyalty from his lackeys through sheer sleaziness, but who possesses no charisma, intelligence, or courage that you might think would be required for even foot soldiers to put their lives on the line for him.

"Hey, stranger."

As Robin and Azeem bumble around the English countryside and make simple work of the Sheriff’s minions, they find help from Maid Marian (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). It’s clear why Mastrantonio was cast as Marian: she’s not British and marginally attractive at best. She fits in with her co-stars quite well. And they might as well have just hired Michelle Yeoh for all it matters, since her first appearance is as a ninja. Yes, a ninja. When Robin enters her home, checking whether his childhood friend is all right, she’s all ready to go in a full-body ninja costume, before our brave hero outduels her and the two realize who each other are. But then the Sheriff’s men ride in, and we get a wacky scene where Azeem hands Robin a telescope and sighs as Robin gets confused and thinks that the horses are right in his face. Is it highly improbable that Robin would be quite so stupid as to think that the telescope was magically warping time and space? Yes, but it gives Azeem another opportunity to urinate all over Western European culture, so it’s apparently a worthy joke before the two of them (plus an old blind guy whom I’ve exorcised from the story for the sake of keeping this review a tolerable length) scuttle off into the woods.

"I find thee enchanting, my dear. Thou art almost as feminine as I."

There, they get ambushed by a group of rogues including Little John (Nick Brimble), his young son Wulf (Daniel Newman), and Will Scarlet (that most smashingly British of all the Queen Mum’s jolly right subjects, Christian Slater). While the rogues are initially hostile, this is a great opportunity for Robin, since he has nearly all the Merry Men--save Friar Tuck, who will be introduced later so that we have enough time to properly introduce his lovable traits of constant drunkenness and hatred of Muslims--readily assembled for him. Nope, no real recruitment process or anything. He just has to beat Little John in a stick fight in the river, and all of a sudden he’s the Prince of Frickin’ Thieves.

"Hark, Wendy! Johnny doth approach, verily!"

With all the familiar characters and plot elements in place (to go along with all the new ones the screenwriters made up), the movie shows a few scenes of Robin and his men performing random derring-do against the Sheriff’s men while generic “triumphant ’90s music” swells. The one hijacked caravan that successfully fights back is Maid Marian’s (she‘s fortunate enough to get the Laurel and Hardy of Sherwood Forest), and she convinces the attackers to lead her back to Robin’s tree house village in the woods. Yes, Robin Hood and his merry men live in Sherwood Forest in tree houses, just like the Swiss Frickin’ Family Robinson. You’d think that the advantage for thieves of living in the forest is that you’re kind of mobile, not anchored to a mess of rope bridges and unnecessarily elaborate water-hauling pulley systems. Hey, back in the middle ages, it would have been nice enough to bring back paved roads and working aqueducts, but they’re about half a step away from having monkey butlers and cocoanut radios. Although apparently, for all their treehouse technology, the Europeans had not yet invented the “No Girls Allowed” rule.

"Oh, Aunt Bertha, thy ashen remains possesseth a most pleasant and smoky flavor!"

Marian hangs around with Robin for a while, suddenly getting all googly-eyed at him, realizing that she’s in love with the charming rebel. For us, this means we get about 10 or 15 minutes of Robin and his men doing nothing: they dance, they deliver a baby, they dance again. And then she’s off again back to the real world, where the Sheriff is trying to marry her, because he cannot bear to live without marrying one among the 52% most beautiful women in England. But when the blind old man tries to ride a horse into the forest to warn Robin, he inadvertently gets his ass tracked. Duh. Maybe there’s a reason we don’t generally advise blind people to ride horses in dangerous situations. In any event, this allows the Sheriff and his terrifying new Celtic mercenaries--they fight just as incompetently as anyone, but they wear antlers and crap, so they’re scary--assault the treehouses. This is truly the nadir for the heroes, as hundreds… well, dozens… well, ones of characters who we don’t know fall courageously in battle. But even amidst the carnage, Gimli, er, Little John manages to rescue his wife as the Sheriff’s men start setting the trees ablaze. Atop the trees, they run off down a rope ladder, and it makes one wonder just how extensive a network of treehouses these people have if a man and his wife, carrying their infant son, can escape across a bridge at the treeline from swarms of enemies on the ground. They must be some kinda elven Vietcong or something’.

"Nope, sorry, you're too late. We did Dungeons and Dragons a few reviews ago."

I’m sorry, but I’m running out of gas here. This movie certainly has a lot of action, but it’s so generic that it’s hard to describe. Suffice to say that after Christian Slater pulls his, “I’m your friend! I’m a traitor! I’m your long-lost-half-brother!” schtick on Robin Hood, the gang all gets back together for one last big bash. They enter the castle courtyard disguised in long robes and hoods, and fortunately, the guards don’t notice the increased population of cautiously-moving Gregorian monks and plague victims. Suffice to say that the final battle--to rescue several of Robin’s captured men from hanging, and more importantly, Maid Marian from a sham marriage--involves several diverse elements:

  • Alan Rickman reciting lines like he’s playing a drunk Hans Gruber at 4 in the morning (for both Hans and Alan).
  • Robin waiting until his people are actually hanging until he shoots out the rope with an arrow… on the second try. Hey Robin, your people are calling. The parts of their bodies that are not a completely broken neck thank you for saving them.
  • People continuing to light their arrowheads on fire, thus guaranteeing another hundred or so years of historical action movies making a big deal of this practice.
  • Beer barrels exploding like Sears washing machines after being struck by said flaming arrows. The likelihood of this happening? Low enough that I doubt even the Mythbusters would humor the possibility for the sake of filling up 20 minutes of show time.

That thar solar eclipse is kinda close this year.

Of course, once we have the big battle with all the good guys against all the bad guys, we need to scale down to a fight involving the hero and lead villain while the heroine watches on. In this case, Robin races against time to stop the Sheriff from marrying Marian. It’s very important to the Sheriff that he marry Marian, because according to the witch, legends say that “he who marries the gaunt American maiden shall be invincible against the unstoppable peasant revolt.” Or something like that. You’ve got to admire someone who takes marriage so seriously. Naturally, Robin manages to burst in through the tower window just in time to interrupt the ceremony, and we get a rousing swordfight between Robin and the Sheriff. And apparently Robin is as good with a sword in this version of the story as he is with a bow, because he struggles against the Sheriff, who’s spent the duration of the movie bickering with an old hag and muttering vague orders. But let me end the suspense: this is not Arlington Road. The good guys win. But with great sacrifice. Oh, wait. No, there really wasn’t. I think the blind guy might have died, but I wasn’t really paying attention. The Sheriff really sucked at his job.

"See? THIS is why we had the 'No Girls Allowed' rule for so long! Damn ACLU!"

And since this movie can only be classified as a comedy, there’s only one way to end it: with a wedding. Robin and Marian tie the knot, destined to produce many early-’90s children. But wait, we have a surprise guest, arriving just before the ceremony is sealed! Why, it’s none other than King Richard the Lionheart (Sean Connery), returning from war! He’s apparently not at all ticked at Robin for abandoning the Crusades once he escaped the prison in Jerusalem. No, he’s rather happy that Robin has stopped the Sheriff from rising further and taking control of England. Dude, I think Perez Hilton would have been more convincing as a man capable of conquering England. Maybe the Sheriff would have gotten traction by pointing out that the king was a Scot and the populist hero was a Californian.

If somebody says, "There can be only one!" I quit.

And with the credits rolling, we’ve got one more arrowhead to the balls for the audience: the debut of the song “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” by Bryan Adams. Yes, Bryan Adams was assigned to write a theme song for an adventure movie about one of England’s greatest legendary heroes, and this was the song he came up with. At least when Aerosmith did the theme song for Armageddon, the band had the word “Aero” in its name, which was vaguely fitting. And that Celine Dion song fittingly made me want to drown after hearing it 800 times in one year of high school. But this… Ugh.

See, I told you that Sean Connery shows up at the end.

After watching this movie, I have two conclusions: I’m relatively poor, and Kevin Costner is very rich. I’ll let you judge who robbed whom.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

REVIEW: Fantastic Four

I think the marketing department decided that this movie's key demographic was more interested in the Terrific Two.

I never read comic books very much, but I’ve definitely always been aware of the major superheroes, and even if I didn’t pay much attention to them, I’m always kind of excited to see iconic characters brought to the big screen. As a comics outsider, the Fantastic Four didn’t excite me all that much because I didn’t know as much about them as Batman, Spider-Man, or the X-Men, but still…

Oh, who are we kidding. Screw the self-indulgent introduction. This movie sucks. Its sequel sucks even more, and maybe I’ll cover it later, but for now, I’ll just deal with the first movie.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's cousin, Denny Ahmadinejad

From what I can gather, most of the background story has been severely truncated from the comics to have it make more sense in a 90-minute movie. Dr. Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffud) is a brilliant, but timid scientist who wants to organize a space expedition to study cosmic rays. Apparently he’s not so brilliant that NASA wants to work with him (or does that mean he’s too brilliant?), so his pilot friend Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis, the object of Eagle Eye’s affection) gets him to pitch his little expedition to the CEO of Von Doom Industries, Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon). Now, I know this is based on a tongue-in-cheek comic book, so I’m not going to rip the movie for having a character a with the unfortunate surname of “Von Doom” not naming his company “Optimax” or “DynaTech” or something. As you might expect, Von Doom’s a bit of a snob, rubbing it in Richards’ face that he’s boinking his ex-girlfriend, geneticist Susan Storm (Jessica Alba, who prepared for her role by learning to pronounce a handful of really big words, like “microscope“). But still, he agrees to finance the study, organizing a jaunt up to his own private space station (as he calls it, the Me-r; oh, do I crack myself up) with himself, Reed, Ben, Susan, and Susan’s hotshot pilot brother, Johnny (Chris Evans).

And now, the one scene in the movie where it's not Jessica Alba with the stiff acting.

Up at the space station, the Fabulous Five are waiting for the cloud of cosmic radiation to come by so they can… study it. Which would be really boring to watch. So instead, the focus is on Johnny irritating grumpy Ben by being a brash smartass (definitely a quality you want in an astronaut), and on Von Doom asking Susan for her hand in holy doomship, which she answers with a confidence-inspiring, “Eh, we’ll give you a call if anything opens up.” Reed, meanwhile, is the only one who gives a rat’s ass about space exploration or scientific discovery, and is therefore too boring to pay attention to.

These Scientology weddings are weird.

Until it turns out he forgot to carry the one in his calculations or something, and the cloud of cosmic radiation comes up on them faster than expected! Damn those rays taking gaseous form in a vacuum! They’re so unpredictable! Suffice to say they’re royally screwed. The cloud comes upon them before they can get their shields up or get Ben in from his spacewalk, so the whole station gets blasted with glowing orange light stuff, penetrating the station’s hull and frying the astronauts directly. This is very traumatic, but fortunately, a violent attack by cosmic energy doesn’t damage anything whatsoever except to knock everybody out for a little while. That’s a relief. I’ve heard that space is generally considered a bad place in which to have mechanical problems.

Introducing Revlon's Fury of Hell collection

The team is rescued, and they’re taken to some kind of spa in the mountains to recuperate. Hey, Von Doom’s so rich that a devastating space accident is just another excuse for a ski holiday. But as they’re recovering, the quintet discovers that the radiation had a strange effect on them. No, not cancer, silly. Rather, as you’d expect from the same energy hitting five people at the same time, their DNA is mutated in five utterly unrelated ways:

Reed Richards, AKA Mr. Fantastic
POWER: Can stretch out his body like rubber, much like that woman from The Incredibles.
TEAM ROLE: Leader. Brilliant scientist who spends the entire movie working on a device to undo all the characters’ powers, a mission that we know will end with great success.
REJECTED SUPERHERO NAMES: Stretch Armslong, Condoman, Mr. Epic-Fail-at-Calculating-Cosmic-Thingy-Velocity.

Um, I'm hoping I didn't just accidentally rent the gay porn parody (Fantastic Fornication?) by mistake.

Susan Storm, AKA The Invisible Woman
POWER: Can turn invisible and generate force fields, much like that girl from The Incredibles. Hey, wait a minute! Somebody’s clearly ripping somebody off here! I can just hear the Fantastic Four fanboys claiming that their precious comic book preceded the Pixar movie by several decades, but I fail to see the logic of that argument.
TEAM ROLE: Naughty bits, which turn invisible just as they’re about to face the camera. Stealth (she’s detectable only by the diminishing box office potential of any film she comes near).
REJECTED SUPERHEROINE NAMES: The Unnatural Blonde, The “Talent.”

"Oh. Sorry, ma'am. It's just part of the mutation. That wasn't a reaction to you or anything."

Ben Grimm, AKA The Thing
POWER: Is a big friggin’ rock. But he’s the only one of the group who wasn’t too good looking to begin with, so not a big deal.
TEAM ROLE: Representative of “Before” on the Revlon commercials in which Jessica Alba plays, “After.”
REJECTED SUPERHERO NAMES: Inhuman Horror, Putridman, Worthless Mutant Garbage, Abomination (major contender, but taken).

Johnny Storm, AKA The Human Torch
POWER: Can surround himself in flame and fly like a rocket. Curiously enough, this means he’ll have scenes on a snowboard and a motorcycle, because flying while on fire is not eXtReMe!!! enough.
TEAM ROLE: Good-natured tormenter of the man whose accident has destroyed any chance he’ll ever have of intimate human contact.
REJECTED SUPERHERO NAMES: Hindenburg, Crusader Rabbit (you’d have to have been there), The Torch (deemed potentially confusing after test audiences remarked, “I needed a frame of reference for his original species.”).

"Incredibly hot? Obnoxious? Appeals only to brain-dead high-school dropouts? I've just become the perfect spokesman for Taco Bell!"

Doom also gets some powers, but he initially seems fine, and keeps his transformation a secret for the time being.

As you might expect, the reactions to these superpowers are mixed. Reed and Susan are moderately alarmed. Ben declares “I am not an animal! I am… more of a mineral! Nineteen questions left!”, sneaks off in the night under the brilliant disguise of a hat and long coat, and has his heart broken when his fiancee decides she can’t make her relationship with a walking hunk of limestone work. Racist! Johnny, meanwhile, is in seventh heaven*. He’s incredibly confident in his abilities, and apparently all the ladies are equally confident that he won’t lose control for a split second and incinerate them. To be honest, though, it’s nice to have a character who immediately recognizes that having superpowers is AWESOME, rather than immediately getting all hissy about it. Although naming his hideous, loveless co-pilot The Thing might be in slightly poor taste.

This really is a science fiction movie if A-Rod isn't on the cover of the Post.

The four of them bicker over the fact that they’re now publicly outed as freaks until, about six hours into the movie, we finally get a superhero action scene. Ben’s getting all emo, sitting like a gargoyle on the Brooklyn Bridge (because all the best bridges have gargoyles) when he inadvertently frightens a would-be jumper back onto the street. Which means he has to smash a truck to keep it from running him over, which causes more traffic accidents, and before you know it, fire trucks are teetering over the East River. But all four fantastic people rally and they all save the day in their own super-special ways! Johnny shields someone from a fireball, Susan contains an explosion with a force field, Ben uses his super-strength to pull the firetruck back on the bridge, and Reed stretches to catch some people mid-fall. It’s a scene ripped straight out of Spider-Man. By which, I of course mean the ‘70s live-action TV show.

I hope you enjoyed that action scene, because it’s going to have to tide you over for a while. In fact, it’s going to be a while before we have an actual villain interacting with our heroes in any threatening way. Most of the movie’s remainder focuses on Reed and Susan building a machine that can reverse the effects of the cosmic radiation and strip themselves of their powers. And he actually succeeds, sort of. His task is made easier by the conspicuous absence of any predatory military-industrial complex representative trying to replicate their powers and create an army of super-soldiers. But although Ben has spent his time getting to know the lovely Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington)--a blind artist, which of course means she is wise and accepting of the ugly freak--he still wants to go back to his old life as an only moderately-ugly, profoundly weaker man.

Yes, I definitely rented the wrong movie.

While all of this is happening, Vic is having his own transformation, despite initially appearing to have been unaffected by the cosmic radiation. His skin starts peeling away to reveal metal, and he can shoot electricity from his hands. With his board of executives punting him from his company after the space mission fiasco, Doom consults with the Green Goblin, who had the exact same friggin’ thing happen in his movie, and decides the only rational thing to do is start killing off the people who wronged him. When electrocuting generic executives in parking garages can’t fill the void in his heart, he decides one night to get revenge on the Fantastic Four.

"Damn the risks! I will get my bagel out if it's the last thing I do!"

His plan is kind of all over the place. He starts by tricking Ben into using Reed’s machine to de-power himself, taking all of Ben’s cosmic radioactive goodness for himself and making him stronger than ever. Tossing aside the now-human Ben, he immediately takes Reed prisoner and freezes him, preventing him from stretching to escape. Doom then fires a heat-seeking missile at the F4’s base, the Baxter Building, and Johnny of course saves the day by covering himself in flame and flying away, drawing the missile away from the nearly-empty building and through the densely-populated city streets. What a guy! While Johnny’s out there spending the movie’s scant special effects budget like it’s bailout money, Susan confronts Doom--now clad in a robe and metallic mask for no particular reason except to look like the “Dr. Doom” character from the comics this one’s extremely vaguely based on--at his office. And let me tell you, the interrogation room scene between Batman and the Joker in The Dark Knight just wishes it could match the gravitas of Jessica Alba trading harsh words with Julian McMahon. If it were in black and white, I would think this were a cologne ad; it’s that intense.

Well, there's definitely four of them. The movie gets that much right.

When Doom overpowers Susan, it’s none other than a newly re-rockified Ben who smashes through the wall to save the day. I guess that despite Doom having supposedly absorbed Ben’s powers into himself, that hasn’t prevented Ben from doing the heroic thing and flipping the “Reverse” switch to give himself his powers back. When he announces, “It’s clobbering time!” my response is, “It’s almost credits time, jerk!” He rassles with Doom and their fight spills out onto the streets below, where Doom’s too much for old Ben, who’s clearly led too much of a sedentary lifestyle. Hardy-har-har. I’ve been waiting all review to make that joke, and let me tell you, it was worth it.

"Aw, man. We're going to need a LOT of carbon offsets after this."

But a recovered Susan, thawed Reed, and maybe-sorta-more mature Johnny join him in the fight, and a whole ten minutes before the movie’s end, we finally have the Fantastic Four fighting together against their iconic arch-nemesis. The four have to work together to disable him. Susan creates a force field around Doom. Johnny gets inside the force field and heats it up. Ben knocks over a fire hydrant, and Reed shapes himself to direct the rushing water at Doom, which rapidly cools him after Johnny breaks off, hardening his metal body into a statue. And that’s that. And I’m glad it’s over, because I hate all those other superhero movies that have multiple scenes of superheroes fighting super villains. This one gets back to basics, alternating wacky sitcom humor and scientific study/experimentation straight out of Family Matters. Which is, uh, a sitcom.

This is JESSICA ALBA, people. They should have made her into the Unhearable Woman instead.

In the epilogue, the Fantastic Four all decide to keep their powers and continue living as super-powered celebrities. Reed and Susan get engaged, Ben and Alicia continue to be cozy (remember, if you can’t see him, you can’t be repulsed by the rock-skinned monster man with the, ahem, gravelly voice), and Johnny continues to flirt with hot babes. I think his character learned responsibility or something. Which amounts to him continuing to show off and pull crazy stunts, but with a more determined expression on his face as he does it. For the big finish, he closes the film by flying into the sky and forming the ‘4’ logo with his fire trail, apparently relying on the high concentration of extremely still nitrogen in the atmosphere to keep the burning air visible long enough before the whole thing is just a smoky ’#’ and everyone on the ground wonders what the hell he’s trying to do.

Obviously, this isn’t supposed to be a particularly serious film. It’s trying to be schlocky, but stylish and funny the way Spider-Man is. But really, it feels like a mega-budget pilot for a Fantastic Four TV series, not a complete movie that’s supposed to work all by itself. I’ll give it some credit: for all my joking, Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis are pretty good in their roles, and their banter would be decent comic relief if there was more of a villainous plot they needed to relieve us from. The rest of the cast and characters? Not so great. Ioan Gruffud is capable of being better than this, but playing the brilliant scientist leader of the group as the guy with the perpetual deer-in-the-headlights look was not a good showing. Jessica Alba’s a good enough actress to play someone who dances or strips and has no lines; if she really studies the role, maybe she could pull off Nova in any future Planet of the Apes remake. Julian McMahon should work as an Armani model, not an oppressive lord of evil. And finally, director Tim Story has obviously demonstrated that his surname was a cruel mistake of fate, and he’s better off applying his technical skills at making really nice wedding videos, or perhaps being the guy who films people on roller coasters and then sells them $10 tapes as souvenirs.


Be Four-warned: the sequel doesn’t get any better. After its failure, it looks like the Fantastic Four series is going to go where all failed superhero franchises do: straight into a reboot with a different director and cast. What a world.

*Speaking of which, it must be good to be an actor where the one movie he makes without Jessica Biel stars Jessica Alba.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

COMING SOON: Fantastic Four

I think Fantastic III: Elton John's Revenge was the pinnacle of this series. Afterwards, it went straight downhill.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


It's too small to see here, but I love how the actors' names on the poster are in alphabetical order, except that Michael Pena is last. Because it's not like he's an A-list Hollywood force in the vein of Jennifer Esposito or Larenz Tate.

Wait, you’re telling me this isn’t the movie with Jason Statham trying to keep this adrenaline up or else he dies? Damn you Netflix and your completion match searching!

I heard a rumor that after Lions Gate releases Saw XVIII, they're finally going to go ahead with the long-awaited "Saw vs. Crash."

Instead, this is movie that inspired Babel, the film that would have truly lived up to its name if it were spelled slightly differently. To its benefit--or not--writer/director Paul Haggis’s movie won the Best Picture Oscar in 2005, beating out popular favorite Brokeback Mountain. I guess racism beats out homophobia when Hollywood can only make one statement per award. Of course, it’s also possible that Crash was just a good movie, but we'll see to that.

Knowing that this movie was going to have even more barely-related parallel stories going on than Babel, I decided to watch this movie for the first time with a notepad so I could semi-live blog it. Uh, don’t get the impression, though, that I was watching this movie with the expectation that it would rile me up enough to put a negative review online. Nah, just a precaution.

"...but the evil alien Xenu detonated hydrogen bombs in a volcano. And what does that mean for our thetans? Hey, wait, I haven't finished!"

I’ll say this up-front: racism, the subject of this movie, is no joke. Don’t confuse my disrespect for a preachy, stilted, cloying film for dismissal of the basic underlying topic. But then, who knows? Maybe this movie deserves all the praise it got. Let’s begin.

0:01: Opening credits. Sandra Bullock? Brendan Fraser? Wow, I didn’t know this was going to be a cute romantic comedy. With Ludacris as Fraser’s jive-talkin’ best bud.

They've taken a few liberties with this "It's a Wonderful Life" remake.

0:04: Don Cheadle and Jennifer Esposito are detectives who rear-end a Korean woman. In a CAR, you sick freak. Jennifer Esposito gets out to berate the woman for her driving. Cuz Asians are bad drivers, you know.

It’s amazing how much Jennifer looks like Mariska Hargitay of Law & Order SVU “fame” here. She’s got the same “furrow your eyebrows really hard to make it look like you’re intense” look to her.

By the way, are we really going to have to listen to this new agey music the whole movie?

0:05: An Iranian immigrant (Shaun Toub) and his daughter buy a gun from a racist, fat slob of a shopkeeper who calls him “Osama.” Congratulations, Crash: you’ve just won your Oscar. You could introduce John Travolta in Battlefield Earth garb as your next character and you’d still win it on the strength of this scene. Racist fat white guy gun shop owner who calls the Iranian Osama? Check. A guy buying a gun to defend himself in a tough city being depicted as a hothead? Check. Daughter level-headed while the father’s freaking out? Check. She winds up buying the gun and ammo for him when he’s ejected from the store. Oh, and you’ll love where this subplot goes. More later.

Though a top seller after the film's surprise Oscar win, the XBox Crash first-person shooter game was most popular for one mission--"Assassinate the Monkeybone guy."

0:09: Yes, Ludacris is actually in this movie, as a low-life criminal who wanders the streets with his friend, Larenz Tate, discussing the subtle and unsubtle ways that racism reveals itself in everyday life. You need to hear these guys to believe them. It’s like Paul Haggis was using passages from his Sociology textbook for their dialogue, but tossed in the word “dawg” once in a while to get an urban vibe going. The two of them, but in particular Luda, provide the running ironic commentary throughout the movie. Now, as some of the later scenes will attest, this movie isn’t going for total realism, but did we really need Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in here?

0:12: Don and Jen arrive at the scene of a shooting, where a white cop who looks like a shipwrecked Nick Nolte has just shot a black cop. This guy’s already shot two other black guys before, so is he a murderous bigot, or was the black cop corrupt as he claims?

"...and if you do that, and he calls you that, the president will inevitably say something unpopular and have no choice but to invite us over to the White House for beers. And that will give us the perfect opportunity to steal the Lincoln gold! It's a perfect plan!"

0:14: Fraser is the district attorney, Bullock is his wife, and they’d earlier gotten carjacked by Luda and Larenz. She’s a bitchy racist, and he’s equally insensitive, but he’s got a political career to keep in mind. So he tries to figure out how to spin this to the press, afraid that whether he’s too verbally tough or too verbally soft on the thieves, he’ll catch hell from one half of the city or the other.

“What we need is a picture of me pinning a medal on a black man,” he says to his campaign staff. How much longer is this movie? It won the Best Short Film category, right?

0:16: Matt Dillon is a racist cop with a sick father who has crappy health insurance or something (Michael Moore just looked up from his sandwich long enough to yell, “You go, girl!”). His noobie partner is Ryan Phillipe, and he soon after pulls over affluent, black married couple Terrence Howard and Thandie Newton because she was giving him a BJ while driving. Dillon takes the opportunity to force her out of the car and molest her in a pretty disturbing scene. Ryan Phillipe is sickened by his partner’s actions.

"...and it's 'yap, yap, yap' 24/7 about how they gave your role to Don Cheadle in the Iron Man sequel. Well, you don't hear me crying about how there's never going to be a Chroncles of Riddick sequel, do you?"

0:27: Michael Pena is a locksmith who was berated by an agitated Sandra Bullock earlier because she thought he was going to rob her house after he changed her locks. But here we see that he’s just a sweet family guy who tucks his adorable daughter in. The daughter’s still afraid of gunfire, because they used to live in a bad neighborhood, but Michael gives her a “magic invisible cloak” that deflects bullets. And it also gives +4 Dexterity, +18 Hit Points, and can cast Magic Missile 3x/day.

This little father/daughter scene is so sweet, I’m sure there’s no chance the movie will eventually threaten these two with violence. It just wouldn’t be appropriate.

"Newt, I think we're in trouble."

0:32: Luda and Larenz are driving the van they stole from Brendan and Sandra, and they run over a Korean guy (whom they think is Chinese; ‘cause they’re racially insensitive, get it?) and drag him halfway down the block before they realize what’s going on. When they stop, they fully realize that they could get arrested for reckless driving or manslaughter if the guy dies, but still discuss whether or not to take him to the hospital, using the tone of voice usually reserved for discussing whether to get the roast beef or chicken at Arby’s. I’m really not sure these two were supposed to be in this movie. I think they acted in a wacky urban pothead comedy and got digitally spliced into this “serious” movie. Anyway, they dump the Korean guy at the hospital, proving that despite all the carjacking, they’re pretty decent people.

0:33: Keith David! That guy’s awesome! And he’s awesome here! For one whole scene! Now if they just throw in Kurt Russell and a shape-shifting alien, we’ll have an awesome movie going here! Hell, I’d even take Roddy Piper and some sunglasses! Anyway, David’s the police captain, and despite a long speech about racial politics, he agrees to let Ryan Phillipe drive a patrol car by himself, while Dillon gets a new partner.

0:37: “Why do you keep everyone a certain distance away?” Actual dialogue from an actual motion picture. Oh, and Don and Jen are having sex. He calls her a Mexican, but she reminds him that she’s actually Puerto Rican. Which means that in the course of a single evening (yes, that’s how far we’ve gotten so far), the only characters who haven’t said or done anything racist are Michael Pena and Guy on Street #3.

"Hey, yoo! Turn arownd! Leesten to meee! On da wahl! Cahleefohrnya's all outta monee! Get to da choppa! Runnn!"

0:44: Next morning. Holy crap, Tony Danza is in the movie! And he’s a racist too! Now, if they introduce Regis Philbin as Hitler's bastard child, Skip, this might be the greatest movie ever.

Turns out Terrence Howard not only wears the kinds of sweaters you see on guys selling Time Life books, but he’s a TV director, which is a great way to make him sympathetic. Thandie’s still pissed at him for not standing up to Matt Dillon the other night. Terrence decides he’s got to be more of a man. Dude, here’s a tip. Stop wearing those damn sweaters.

"There's a wild Fandango... loose... in the theater! Rowr!"

0:51: Don talks to his mother. Wow, another depressing talk between a cop and his decrepit widowed parent. Haven’t seen one of those since Matt Dillon had one about… oh, a minute ago.

0:52: Really, what’s wrong with this music? They should call the soundtrack, “Music to Start Up Windows By.” It’s like they hired a new age band to perform Keyboard Demo #5. It’s like this is the arty side project of the guy who does the crappy synthesizer music from dirt-cheap early-‘90s horror movies.

0:56: Michael Pena had earlier refused to install a lock in Shaun Toub’s shop because he really needed to get an entirely new door. Now, Toub’s store has been robbed, and he’s frakking mad. Insurance won’t pay up because Michael was right and he should have gotten his door replaced entirely. So Toub prepares to do the only thing that a man who owns a gun will do in a movie like this: use it to get bloody, bloody, irrational revenge.

1:02: And now that we’ve gone through our utterly depressing phase of the movie, we’ve reached our inspirational/reconciliatory phase of the movie! Hooray! And it starts with Thandie Newton getting in a horrible car accident on the highway, while Matt Dillon just happens to be the one to show up to try to pull her out of the car before the gas tank explodes. Yeah, Los Angeles is a pretty small city. Since he’d molested her about 12 hours earlier, it’s a bit awkward when he has to reach into a confined space and wrestle her body from the car just ahead of the explosion, but the giddily chanting music ensures us that this is supposed to be inspirational. Come on, let‘s sing the Crash theme music together! Ah -ah -ah -ah -ah -ah -ah -ah -ah -ah -ah -ah -ah!

"Want to hear the most annoying sound in the world? AHHHHHHHH!"

1:06: Fraser sends one of his underlings (William Fichtner) to convince Don to say he believes that the white cop from earlier in the movie murdered his black cop partner, even though Don has evidence to suggest that the black cop really was crooked and the white cop might have been acting in self-defense. The underling wants the white cop framed so that his boss can prosecute him and look good in the eyes of the black voters. Don wants to hear nothing of it until the underling mentions that there’s a warrant out for Don’s brother’s arrest. If Don forgets about the evidence exonerating the white cop, DA Fraser will forget about the evidence.

You know, this movie takes place over 24 hours and its plot involves widespread political corruption and cover-ups. You know what TV show this reminds me of? That’s right. C-SPAN.

1:14: Meanwhile, Terrence gets carjacked by Luda, who’s split up with Larenz, but he refuses to give up his car, because he’s got to prove himself to be macho (Dude, you might want to get a surgical voice deepening to start with; no offense.). Much reckless driving ensues. Terrence goes so berzerk that Phillipe has to talk him down to keep the other cops on the scene from blowing him away. Phillipe recognizes that the driver is the guy his partner did a number on the other night, so he helps Terrence get away by calling in a favor from a couple of cops who owe him nothing (I think they just wanted to avoid the paperwork), and Terrence helps Luda get away. Action scene narrowly averted.

Mexican standoff. You're doing it wrong.

1:20: Toub confronts Michael at his house, ready to blow the guy away for refusing to fix his door lock. Adorable daughter jumps in front of her dad just ahead of the gunshot. “NOOOOOOOO!!!” But wait… she’s okay! There’s no bullet wound on here. Damn, that magic cloak is effective. Michael and daughter run inside their house. Toub wanders away confused. Action scene narrowly averted. Toub thinks it’s an angel that saved him from killing that kid. But his daughter knows better; she bought him blanks for ammunition at the shop, and he apparently knows enough written English to run a store, but not to read a six-letter word on a box. Oh, and thanks movie for reminding us that there’s absolutely no reason for a guy who runs a small shop in a bad part of LA to have a pistol, and that it’s better off for everyone if he’s actually defenseless. I mean, he’s not black, so all he has to do is blow a whistle and the LAPD will ride in like the Rohirrim and save him. Right?

Oh, and since there’s just such a general air of goodwill going around, Michael Pena’s presumably going to forgive and forget the murder attempted upon him, even though he knows Toub and where he works. And I completely support an dramatic license taken to end the movie faster.

1:24: Sandra Bullock slips and falls down the stairs in her home. Which is a more entertaining three seconds than all of Speed 2.

1:26: Ryan Phillipe picks up Larenz hitchhiking on a lonely road at night. They start to bicker for some odd reason, and Phillipe shoots him when he thinks he’s pulling a gun on him. So while bigot Matt Dillon found redemption earlier on, knight in shining armor Ryan Phillipe dumps the body on the side of the highway and drives off. So the idea is that Ryan Phillipe is holier-than-thou, but really no better than anyone else deep down, while Matt Dillon is an asshole on the outside, but his racism doesn’t extend so far as to leave women he’s abused to die a fiery death.

Furthermore, it turns out that Larenz was actually Don Cheadle’s ne’r-do-well brother. Which is sad and ironic, because there’s flashback to when the two were boys, and Young Larenz told Young Don that he thinks Don is going to grow up to get shot by Ryan Phillipe while reaching for a St. Christopher figurine. Furthermore, his mother blames him for this death, reminding him that he was too busy with his career to go out and help his brother. Fortunately for Don, Jennifer Esposito is still hot.

"Batman will pay for this!"

1:34: Luda discovers that the van he just carjacked (vanjacked?) is full of slave laborers smuggled in from Asia. Although he’s offered $500 apiece for them by the chop shop owner he deals with, he’s such an awesome guy that he instead lets them loose in the middle of Los Angeles and gives them a few bucks each. They’re free to make new lives for themselves in opportunity-ridden LA, where car chases and car crashes go on left and right, where the politicians frame innocent people for racially-tinged photo ops, and where bad cops molest women and good cops murder people. Fortunately for us, the movie ends before we can see the immigrants gunned down by cracked-up gangsters who harvest their organs on the spot, because the movie would probably have to put a halt to the easy listening soundtrack if something dark like that happened.

1:40: Sandra Bullock calls Brendan Fraser to tell him that she fell down the stairs. He promises to drive there immediately, never slowing below 55 miles an hour, but she’s okay because their Hispanic maid drove her to the emergency room. This despite all of Sandra’s friends turning her down when she called them on her cell phone for help. Only Maria cared enough to help.

Congratulations, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. You just gave the Best Picture award to a live-action version of The Little Engine That Could.

1:42: It’s snowing, in Los Angeles! And that makes Terrence Howard feel good. He’s just generally in a good mood, knowing that he lives in a world where everybody does something idiotic and illegal, and nobody gets punished for it. He calls his wife and tells her he loves her. AND THAT MATT DILLON’S GOING TO F***ING DIE!!! Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s going to be the sequel.

Major Tom probably has an AWESOME ringtone.

1:47: As Luda smirks with self-adulation about his good deed and rides off into the sunset in his stolen van, two nearby cars get in a fender bender. The people who get out and argue about it are of different races. The camera pans away. What follows is not so much a crash as it is a STOP and an EJECT.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


(The one without James Spader, thank god.)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

REVIEW: Dungeons and Dragons

Incidentally, the guy on YouTube who posts 19-minute videos of himself giving Nickelback album reviews into a webcam also has a Platinum Series line.

Dungeon Master: Welcome, mortals, to my epic fantasy adventure. Prepare for an evening of adventure. Of danger! Of tricks and traps and magic and heroism!

Bugmar the Half-Orc: Yes! Let’s get read to pound some skulls!

Titania the Elf: Our wisdom shall guide us to victory.

Me: (looks at character sheet) What exactly is the difference between the ‘Spot’ skill and the ‘Search’ skill? How is it possible that I can build a character who is incredibly talented in one and not the other?

From the people who will really hope you forget all about this movie by the time Lord of the Rings comes out...

DM: Silence! We must make final preparations for our journey. Tonight’s adventure is based on the epic 2000 film, Dungeons & Dragons, starring Jeremy Irons, Thora Birch, Justin Whalin, Zoe McLellan, and Marlon Wayans.

Me: Wait, I missed some of that. Can you repeat the parts between Jeremy Irons and Marlon Wayans?

DM: The film was an epic fantasy adventure based on the epic pen-and-paper roleplaying game that we are playing right now. And now, we are honoring that glorious and revered film by translating its epic story back to the tabletop, so that we might experience the same journey that captivated audiences and made Justin Whalin a household name. First, players, you must create your characters!

"Friends, Romans, countrymen... PREPARE TO DIE, PATHETIC MORTALS!"

Titania: I am Titania, elven druid of the Neverwinter Forest. With my dire wolf companion, Barkenheart, I journey the forests, hunting those who would disrupt the balance of nature. With my magic, I can empower my allies, humanoid and animal alike, and when I must fight hand-to-hand, I can transform into a great bear and maul those who underestimate my dedication.

Bugmar: And I am Bugmar, a half-orc barbarian. My father was an orcish marauder who impregnated my mother forcibly. She abandoned me to die in the land of Rashemen, but I thrived as a nomad and savage. Now, I bear my great axe and seek to redeem my horrid life by slashing the throats of evildoers, but my dream is to one day take down my own father, who is responsible for agony I suffer every day!

Me: Wow, you guys are really into this. Sounds like a really fun game, but I’m used to playing MMORPGs, so I think I’m going to play this game that way. I am 50 Cent the… (browses through Player‘s Handbook to find the race that gives the most plusses) … Drow! And my profession is… (scours printed-out web pages to find which class most gamers think is overpowered)… cleric! Yes, I am a Drow cleric. And I’m a female Drow so that I can have boobs. Now, before we start out on our quest to find me a +12 war hammer, just give me about three hours so I can plan out the best way to level up my character. I want to make a character who has level 9 divine and arcane spells without sacrificing any attack power or defense whatsoever.

DM: Silence! This is not how Dungeons & Dragons the movie was played out! No, I will choose your characters for you. Titania, you are Marina Pretense, the human wizardess played in the film by Zoe McLellan. You are naïve and quirky, but a very promising young spell caster. Your most powerful spell is to cast a magical rope that can lasso your enemies.

Marina: Uh…

DM: Bugmar, you are Elwood Gutworthy the cantankerous, neon orange-bearded dwarven warrior, played by Lee Arenberg.

Elwood: Who?

DM: Pft! Silly question. You reveal your ignorance!

Elwood: Oh, I’m sorry. Whom?

DM: Gah! And Matt, you are Ridley Freeborn, the wise-cracking, but good-hearted thief played by Justin Whalin, who is forever accompanied by his wacky, fast-talking friend, Snails, played by Marlon Wayans.

Me: That’s wonderful. (rolls 20-sided die) Oh, look. I just failed a ‘Breathe’ skill check, and my character died. Well, I might as well head home.

DM: Sit thy ass down! I shall control the other characters, such as Snails the rogue and Norda the elven ranger. Now, the journey begins in the nation of Izmer, where Mages rule over the commoners. There, a wizard named Profion is secretly plotting to overthrow the progressive Empress Savina. How, you might ask? Why, he only needs to find a lost wand that will allow him to control red dragons. By controlling all the world’s red dragons, he can conquer all of Izmer!

Me: Well, then why don’t the red dragons just do that on their own?

Acting or Photoshop? You be the judge.

DM: Silence! Fortunately, a wizard faithful to the Empress is aware of this plot and believes that a scroll in the Mages’ library can lead them to it. He and Marina, a beautiful and promising young wizard, search for it. Marina, roll a Spellcraft check to find the scroll!

Marina: (rolls d20) 5!

DM: Oh, you failed your skill check, and were unable to find the scroll! (Waits 30 seconds) All right, try again.

Marina: (rolls d20) 7! Did I pass?

DM: Er, no, not quite. (Waits) All right, try again.

Marina: (rolls d20) 2!

DM: Excellent! You found the scroll!

Elwood: Wait a minute! I’m no master of numbers, but…

Me: Shut the hell up, Dwarf.

DM: Excellent suggestion! But while the wizards are at work, so are the thieves. Ridley gets the idea to rob the Magic School, imagining the incredible treasures that the Mages have in the high tower. Remember the film, and imagine the incredible beauty and majesty of the Magic School’s high spires!

"Yes, prepare the age-reversing potion now. Together, we shall rule the world, Governor Palin!"

Me: Yeah, I remember it. And it definitely puts me in the mood for a role-playing game, because the whole thing looked like a Quicktime cut-scene in a mid-’90s computer game. This movie clearly couldn’t afford great computer-generated special effects, but they must have at least saved money by buying in bulk, because there’s certainly a lot of them. The water looks like it’s from Lawnmower Man, the buildings look like they’re still under development in AutoCAD, and the dragons make the one in Shrek look photorealistic.

DM: Are you done?

Me: Temporarily.

DM: Good. Your friend Snails is very nervous about a daring heist like this, but he is a man of complex motivations: he is often torn between his love of money, his love of hot women that match his racial complexion (as in being black, not necessarily being human), and his love of not dying. But he is also incredibly loyal to you, Ridley, so long as he can loudly complain about everything you do with him. Now, you scale the walls of the 20-plus story building…

Elwood: Wait a minute, shouldn’t he have to roll a skill check for something like that?

DM: Well, it was treated as something very easy in the movie, so I guess I can just assume it would be easy for you to do. You begin robbing the place, but Marina hears you, and comes in to catch you with a Rope spell! However, this happens just as Profion’s chief thug, Damodar, arrives with the Crimon Guards and kills the head wizard just after he throws the scroll to Marina in a desperate attempt to keep it from Profion’s hands!

Me: Ah yes, Damodar. That terrifying minion who projects fear with the help of his blue lip gloss and a speaking pace that’s so slow, it’s easier to just read the DVD subtitle and skip forward a few seconds until the next one comes up.

"Tell me, where is Tobias Funke? He and I have some unfinished business."

DM: Marina, you are confronted by Damodar! What do you do?

Marina: I throw a Fireball spell at him! Because I’m a magic-user and Damodar and his soldiers aren’t!

DM: Perhaps, but I think you should consider just throwing a purple stunning spell at him instead, then teleporting out of there, because Damodar is much too terrifying. You escape with Ridley and Snails in tow, but Damodar and his men follow you through the portal, into the city! There, you run into the vagrant Dwarf named Elwood…

Elwood: Yarrr! I’m a Dwarf!

DM: …and escape into the sewers. But Profion has framed you for the murder of the old wizard, and accused you of stealing the scroll for your own ends, so it now rests on you alone to find the wand that controls red dragons! But beware, for Profion has given his minion, Damodar, extra incentive to find you: he has placed a magical parasite between Damodar’s ears, one that will continue to corrupt him until he retrieves the scroll!

Me: Well, based on the last few scenes, there was definitely a vacancy up there. So now that his brain has been overrun by a monster, does this mean he’s going to talk even more slowly now?

(sniff, sniff) "Wizard needs hugs badly!"

DM: Ridley, you prove yourself to have surprising magical aptitude by scrying the scroll and determining that to open the vault that contains the red dragon wand, you need a gigantic ruby that is being held by a powerful thieves’ guild. Eager to complete the mission, because of both your attraction to Marina and the promise of a gigantic ruby, you journey there, only to find that the guild master won’t give up the enormous ruby just because you ask for it!

Me: I’d like to go on record that you were the one who told me that my character expected that the guild master would give it to us for free. Can I just roll a ‘Bluff’ check for it?

DM: No, he will give you the ruby, but only if you complete an enormous, trap-filled maze!

Me: Well, Takeshi’s Castle would be a huge upgrade over this movie/game, so why not.

DM: You must pass three deadly trap rooms in order to reach the ruby! I hope you’re up for it, Ridley! Now, roll a Climb check to see if you can climb atop the swinging pendulums and cross them without being sliced apart!

Me: (rolls d20) It’s a 1! Critical failure! I’m dead, story over, anyone for Smash Bros?

DM: Dammit! Well, fortunately, there’s a cleric in the audience who’s sympathetic to your cause. He casts Raise Dead, letting you try again.

Me: Dammit! All right, here goes…

Rising young leading man in Hollywood, or a young Jennifer Coolidge?

(20 minutes later)

DM: Congratulations! You have passed all the tests and retrieved the ruby, Ridley! However, the fiend Damodar arrives! Caught in the middle of a battle between his men and the thieves, Ridley, Snails, and Elwood escape with the ruby, but Marina is taken prisoner!

Me: Isn’t she supposed to be able to cast spells and stuff?

Marina: Indeed! I cast Sleep on my captors, then Expeditious Retreat to get out of there and return to my party!

DM: Well… Profion has cast… (skims through rulebook) Spell Mantle! Yes, he cast Spell Mantle on all of his henchmen, so they’re immune. And anyways, they take her away to a fortress, and the rest of you are ambushed and taken prisoner by the elven ranger Norda. However, she’s working for Empress Savina, so you’re all on the same side. Snails in particular is very eager to get close to Norda, who enchants him by sheer virtue of being female, attractive, and African-Izmerian. However, being an elf, Norda rebukes Snails’ advances by appearing bored and irritated.

Elwood: ‘Tis a quality not limited to elf-kind, I can assure you.

"Come on, Mr. Director. Forget the PG-13 rating just for one scene! We'll make a Special Unrated DVD out of it!"

DM: Now, you decide that it’s essential to rescue Marina, so you head off to the fortress…

Me: After hiding the ruby somewhere so that Profion won’t find it if we get caught.

DM: Er, well, no. There’s no time for that! You must rescue the… um… cute wizard who almost never is able to cast valuable spells. It’s, er, essential. So you head to the keep and find that it’s heavily guarded by soldiers and Beholders, massive one-eyed, classic D&D monsters that command powerful magic.

Me: All right! We get to fight Beholders! It’s about time!

DM: Well, I wouldn’t say you’re going to fight them, or even interact with them, but you will very briefly see them. Pretty cool, huh? Now, Norda decides that it’s very important for Ridley and Snails to complete this mission on their own, so she waits outside with you, Elwood, while the thieves sneak into the fortress.

Elwood: Damn it all! Why in the hells would half our people just wait behind? And may I remind you that I am a Dwarf carrying an enormous ax, yet I haven’t killed a damn thing yet? And if we’re in a fantasy movie, why haven’t we fought anyone except generic human soldiers and a bald guy with blue lip gloss? Now we’ve finally got monsters lurking about, and we’re not even going to fight them?

DM: No, you ungrateful oaf! Ridley and Snails are going to sneak around them. (rolls d20) 18! There, you’ve passed your Hide skill check, congratulations. (rolls d20) 14! And there, Elwood, you’ve passed your Spot skill check, so you’ll be able to see what happens in the fortress. Satisfied?

Elwood: Ooh, I passed a skill check!

"Capital One??? That's what's in your wallet???"

DM: Now, while Ridley is busy freeing Marina, Snails gets to work stealing back the scroll, which is still valuable for a reason I’m not 100% sure of considering that they already have the ruby. However, Snails’ foolishness--which I believe 21st century mortals refer to as “mugging for the camera”--results in his getting captured by Damodar. Atop the keep, Damodar threatens to kill Snails if Ridley does not relinquish the ruby…

Me: I vote that we let Snails die.

Elwood: Second!

Marina: I quit if we don’t.

DM: D’oh! Well, yes he’s going to die, but it’s a very sad moment in the story, because he bravely tosses them the scroll just before he is stabbed. Marina, you pick up a fallen bag of magic powder and cast a spell to stun Damodar before you teleport yourself and Ridley away.

Me: You know, with all the times we’ve stunned Damodar, maybe we should try sometime to stab him while he’s down. I think that even Barbara Boxer would approve of that at this point.

"I like Turkish baths, but I think this will be my last visit to an Afghani bath."

DM: Recovering at an elven village, your party manages to put aside its grief, and decides to continue with the mission. But while you are resting, Profion has led the Council of Mages into open rebellion against the Empress, fortifying themselves in a tower in the center of Izmer while the Empress dispatches her gold dragons to defeat them. It is truly a massive battle, with wizards hurling fireballs at the dragons and dragons breathing fireballs upon the tower!

Me: Yeah, I liked this movie better when it was a video game called Panzer Dragoon and had better graphics.

DM: But your party, meanwhile, must retrieve the red dragon-controlling wand to prevent Profion from getting it…

Me: Or, if I’ve learned anything from all the movies I’ve ever watched, to inadvertently assure that he does get it.

Ol' Blue Lips is back.

DM: You journey to an underground dungeon, protected by a magical barrier that only Ridley can pass through for a reason that is probably in a deleted scene or something. In there, he finds incredible riches, but being a great hero now, he leaves all of that in favor of retrieving the wand, which a mural reveals as having incredible powers. Exiting the dungeon, Ridley, you find that your friends have been captured by Damodar and his men, and if you don’t give up the wand, he will kill them! He promises, however, that if you hand him the wand, he will let them all go.

Me: I don’t suppose that any number of points I have in the ‘Sense Motive’ skill will convince you to let me act with the knowledge that he’s obviously lying.

DM: Whatever your ‘Sense Motive’ skill is, I’m sure his ‘Bluff’ skill is higher. You give him the wand, and he disappears through a portal he creates, but the soldiers he leaves behind threaten to kill your friends anyway, although admittedly, they do not do so the moment Damodar gives the irrefutable order, “Kill them all,” even though the soldiers have swords at your friends’ throats. Norda and Elwood break free, and they start beating up on the soldiers! See, Elwood! You’re fighting people! With an ax! Aren’t you excited?

"Sorry Thora, but the nerdy wizard chick is much fairer than you."

Elwood: No, not really. We’re going to lose. After all this time, we must be fighting enemies of at least level 14 or 15. But we’ve done so little fighting that we can’t be more than level 2 right now. It’s over.

DM: Ah, but be not troubled, for I can assure you that the soldiers are every bit as incompetent as they have been for the past ninety minutes! This allows you, Ridley, to chase Damodar through the portal, and confront him and Profion at the wizards’ tower. Profion has summoned a swarm of red dragons and they are battling the gold dragons for the fate of the kingdom! Now, you have the initiative, Ridley, so what’s your first move? Do you attack Damodar directly, or do you use a special attack?

Me: Really? You mean you’re actually inviting me to engage in combat with a somewhat challenging enemy?

DM: Indeed I am.

"Hey, Bob. I think Sparky wants to play fetch with his auxiliary eyeball."

Me: Wow. I’m beside myself. This game based on the movie based on the game is actually involving something that sometimes happens in a real Dungeons & Dragons game! Or a real movie for that matter! All right, let’s do this! (rolls d20) I rolled an 11! Pretty good! Now, let’s see. My base attack bonus is 4, my bonus from my Strength attribute is 1, I have proficiency with a long sword, my sword has a +2 bonus, I’m smaller than Damodar so I get a +1 size bonus to hit, I’m using Power Attack +3, I’m facing west, it’s a Tuesday, humidity’s at 52%, and so my final attack bonus is… wait a minute, I have proficiency with short swords, not long swords. I have to start all over again.

DM: D’oh! All right, I’ll get the calculator. Marina, start work on figuring out Damodar’s armor class.

Marina: I’ll be done in a flash!

"Damn you, Damodar! You probably killed my father! Or you are my father! Either way, I'm going to get you!"

(80 minutes later)

DM: Congratulations! After three rounds of combat, you have defeated Damodar and thrown him off the tower! But Profion himself is much too powerful for you to defeat. However, Ridley amazes him by snatching the red dragon wand and appearing to be able to wield it. But you only overcome Profion when the Empress arrives and defeats Profion in battle, summoning a gold dragon to eat him.

Me: I know I want my epic fantasy movie to end with the villain vanquished by the emo girl from American Beauty.

Although Jennifer Connelly pulled out from the role of the elf at the last minute, there was no time to get the costume refitted for Kristen Wilson.

DM: Your party has completed its quest. You have defeated Profion and his rebellion, and the Empress can now complete her sweeping reforms and make everyone in Izmer equal, in a completely ambiguous way. You, Ridley, are made a knight, and say goodbye to your friend Snails at his grave, where you place the ruby in order to finally give Snails his “big score.”

Me: Which is really just about the most insulting thing I could have possibly done as I seek to define what he meant to me. That’s like going to Michael Jackson’s grave and resting a naked Ken doll atop it.

DM: And as for the rest of you, you’re… happy, I guess.

Marina: All right, then.

Elwood: I guess so.

"Trust me, guys. There's definitely no way that dragons are resistant to fire."

DM: So, to wrap up our story…

Me: Allow me. Dungeons & Dragons is just about the most embarrassing movie I’ve ever seen. Jeremy Irons’ performance is so ludicrous and over-the-top that I get the feeling he gave it out of sheer contempt for the production, something born out by the behind-the-scenes footage on the DVD. Marlon Wayans just does his hood version of Jar-Jar Binks the whole movie, Thora Birch looks perpetually shellshocked by her awareness of the movie she’s in, and the rest of the actors just don’t know what the hell’s going on. The special effects would have looked ridiculous in Ghostbusters. And except for the fleeting shot of Beholders, fearsome and iconic enemies from the game who are now interpreted as mere watchdogs, this film could have been nearly identical without the game license and no one would have known any better. It’s just a completely generic family fantasy movie. Ironically, this thing somehow got a sequel, Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God. And despite being a Sci-Fi Channel movie of all things, it was actually a vast improvement, both as an interpretation of the game and as an exciting movie, not that I’m saying much there.

Irons froze, realizing what was behind him. It was Oscar himself, and he had come to reclaim his award.

DM: You know, I think I’ve had enough of your callous disdain for this fine film! It was a story of courage and valor, and if you disparage it one more time, you’ve got a fight coming to ya!

Me: Hey, I think it was every bit what I’d expect from an action movie directed by a man named Courtney.

DM: That’s it! Let’s fight!

Me: You got it! (rolls d20)

DM: Ha! A lowly 6! That’s probably a pitiful blow, but I’ll know for sure once I consult several chapters of the Player’s Handbook and finish compiling this spreadsheet!