Lara Croft saves YouTube

Venetian Princess is the owner of one of the most renowned channels on YouTube, with her videos skewering various aspects of pop culture, and showcasing impressive levels of production for something she basically films in her living-room! Here is her take on Lara Croft: it’s rather more entertaining than The Cradle of Life, for my money…

Tank Girl

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I now understand why this…ah, “tanked”

The creators of the Tank Girl comic once said: “It’d be cool if a bunch of tinseltown producers could get hold of her, totally misunderstand what they’re dealing with, ignore our advice, and bring out a movie that would bomb, alienate our fan-base, destroy the comic, and bankrupt the pair of us in the process.” Mission accomplished. I never really liked the original comic, but the anarchic appeal of a minor cult classic is almost entirely removed, in favor of a lead character who never gets beyond irritating. The setting is the same: a post-apocalyptic wasteland where water is almost entirely under the control of the evil Water & Power, headed by Malcolm McDowell. When his minions destroy the compound where ‘Becca (Petty) and her pals live, she is enslaved, but escapes with the help of Jet Girl (the then-unknown Watts) and teams up with the shadowy, feared Rippers to take on W&P.

It’s clear what the aim is here: one of those feisty, “riot grrls”, who takes no shit and kicks ass, right alongside men. Very cool. However, whether due to bad scripting, poor casting or rampant studio interference – most likely, a combination of all three – the results are dire. Without wishing, in any way, to promote violence towards women: ‘Becca would benefit from a good slapping, and is less an anarchic anti-heroine, than a badly-behaved nine-year old. Outside of McDowell, who could perform this kind of evil overlord role with his eyes shut, the supporting cast are forgettable, outside of Ice T, who simply looks embarrassed to be there, in his role as a mutant kangaroo warrior. I imagine his agent had some explaining to do after that.

There are only a couple of moments where the necessary surrealness peeks though, such as the perky musical number; more of this kind of delirious insanity, could have been a suitable replacement for the ‘drink beer, smoke tabs’ sensibility that characterizes the comic. Instead, this is neither one thing nor another, a self-conscious attempt to create a cult movie, that implodes in its own timidness. Bizarrely, Devo covered their own song, Girl U Want, for the opening titles, because the Soundgarden version was too expensive – and managed to completely screw it up, with a dirgeful rendition which sucks all the energy out. That largely sums up the disaster which is to follow.

Dir: Rachel Tallalay
Star: Lori Petty, Naomi Watts, Malcolm McDowell, Ice T.

DOA: Dead or Alive

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“Fists of Fury”

I think it’s safe to say that I came into this with low expectations. That’s despite the presence behind the camera of Corey Yuen, who has made some great films in the past; he’s best known in the West for The Transporter, but Savior of the Soul is a personal favorite, and Yuen is no strange to the action-heroine genre, having also directed Yes, Madam and She Shoots Straight. Still, this was utterly buried on its theatrical release – it lasted a whole week at the cinema – and then consigned to ‘Exclusive to Blockbuster’ DVD oblivion. Almost two years after its originally-scheduled US release of August 2006, and 13 months after finally escaping, the movie finally made it onto the screens at GWG Towers.

And…it’s not as bad as we feared it might be. Admittedly, I am not the best person to judge its merits in comparison to the video-game from which it was adapted. While I’ve mashed buttons on it and got my ass kicked by our son occasionally (and, somewhat oddly, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, despite being a jiggle-fest of epic proportions, was a great favourite of our daughter), I don’t care one whit for how accurate the movie is to the game. The fact that Character X does not have the right colour hair, or Character Y’s kung-fu is from a different school, does not bother me in the slightest.

No-one is ever going to mistake any of the supermodel participants as great, unsung martial-arts talents, but between the editing, wirework, doubling and occasionally impressive moments from the actresses themselves, Yuen does a credible job of putting things together. There are certainly no shortage of action scenes, and while the editing is, of necessity, from the rapid-fire school, it does manage to retain coherence – thereby putting it above many action films, which really ought to know better. Particularly memorable is the introduction of jewel-thief Helena (Valance), who beats up a few of Interpol’s finest, unencumbered by clothing. It’s sufficiently tongue-in-cheek to come across as fun, rather than sleazy, and captures the spirit of the original nicely.

It remains, however, a movie based on a video-game, and almost inevitably this means the storyline is absolute pants. Yet another martial-arts tournament, sponsored by a rich ne’er-do-well; has nobody ever seen Enter the Dragon? [Actually, there are a couple of nods to suggest the writers have indeed done so] In this case, the particularly ludicrous Donovan (Roberts) intends to capture the skills of the participants using nanobots, and turn them into a pair of nifty sunglasses which give him all their fighting abilities. As you do. However, Kasumi (Aoki) is seeking her brother, who vanished at the same tournament last year – but because she left her clan, an assassin (Natassia Malthe) is on her trail. And so on, and so on.

The weakest link in the film is likely Roberts. Not only does he sport an embarrassing pony-tail, he may also be the least convincing martial-arts star since Julian Sands in The Tuxedo, and even Yuen is hard-pushed to make him look even slightly-convincing. When Jamie Pressly has got better moves than you, it may be time to rethink your choice of roles. One yearns for someone with genuine skill to show up as an adversary for our heroines: about the closest we get to it, outside the stunt doubles, are Robin Shou, star of Mortal Kombat, who bookends the film as a pirate. Another issue is it is often difficult to tell Tina, Christie and Helena apart, especially when they are playing beach-volleyball in bikinis. That is my excuse, anyway, for why I was playing particularly close attention during those scenes. :-)

Characterization is about as deep as you’d imagine: not very. Helena is the only one who comes over as having more personality than could be scrawled on the back of a console cartridge. This really isn’t much of a problem, since no-one involved with the project is under any illusions about why the viewer is watching this, and it isn’t for subtle character studies – any more than that’s why we play the game. That’s really the key to getting the most out of the sugary confection, thinly disguised as a cinematic experience, to be found here. If the film is eminently forgettable, that will just make it all the more entertaining the next time you watch it.

Dir: Corey Yuen
Star: Jamie Pressly, Devon Aoki, Eric Roberts, Holly Valance

Wanted

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“Girls just wanna have guns.”

This is probably a borderline Girls With Guns flick, but Angelina Jolie is the nearest thing we have to a legitimated action-heroine superstar: Lara Croft, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and now this, where her character, the uber-assassin Fox, is certainly the most interesting in the film. Office drone Wesley (McAvoy) discovers his true heritage is in The Fraternity, a group of killers who surgically remove bad elements from society, as their names come up encoded in a cloth woven by a mystical loom. However, one of their number has gone rogue, and Cross (Kretschmann) is now taking out his former colleagues, one by one. Recruiting, training and using Wesley, is the only hope they have to stop the renegade.

Based on a comic-book. That phrase covers a whole spectrum of results, good and bad. Here, this means hyperkinetic action scenes with only a tenuous connection to reality. If you’ve seen the director’s previous work – such as Night Watch and its sequel Day Watch – you’ll know what to expect, and he gets to crank it up here, with a significantly-bigger budget, and a better cast. There are some brilliant set-pieces, not least the sequence where Fox rescues Wesley, and also a fabulous sequence on a high-speed train. It plays like a high-octane remix of Office Space and The Matrix: not, perhaps, up to the brilliant levels of either, yet an interesting hybrid that is still a great deal of fun, in a highly-caffeinated way.

Less well known, this is not Tikmanbetov’s first piece of Girls With Guns cinema, as before coming to Hollywood’s attention with Night Watch, he also did The Arena, a remake of a Roger Corman movie. The original had Pam Grier – the remake, didn’t, and let’s leave it at that. Fox is rather different from the incarnation in the comic [closer there to Halle Berry than anything], yet still has more backstory than Wesley, on her tattooed arms alone; while a sequel seems likely, it looks unlikely to involve her, and that’s a shame. Still, when you see Jolie climbing out on the bonnet of her high-performance sports-car, and blazing away like a heavily-armed hood ornament, you’ll understand exactly why it qualifies here.

Dir: Timur Bekmambetov
Star: James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Thomas Kretschmann, Morgan Freeman