Monthly Archives: July 2003

Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life (2003)

As I type this I feel a slight twinge of guilt about what I feel I have to do. After all, I did interview Angelina Jolie for my college newspaper in the spring. But if I hold back it would be doing a disservice to all those faithful theater patrons that pay upwards of ten dollars for cinematic entertainment. So, just to start off, I’’d like to give just a few examples on the idiocy and ribald stupidity of ‘Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life’.

SHARK: In the opening sequence our voluptuous adventurer Lara Croft (Jolie) has discovered an underwater temple. Rival raiders kill her crew and damage her underwater equipment. The temple starts to flood and Croft is trapped. So what does she do? She cuts her leg to let the exposed blood draw a shark we had seen previously. She punches the advancing shark in its nose and then rides its dorsal fin as the shark speeds to the surface. What? How can anyone know the direction a shark is going to go? Is it like a friggin’ elevator; press for up?

HIDE OUT: So the nefarious villain in this sequel is actually a guy who looks a whole lot like Alfred Molina (‘Frida’). This bad guy (his name is Jonathon Reiss if you’re inclined, but the name, like the character, are instantly forgettable) is the foremost chef in the field of cooking up new bio-terrorism threats. Put some Ebola with some flu and BAM! That’s one spicy meatball. So he runs this bio-terror outfit in Hong Kong. But he runs it, and I am so not kidding with this, he runs it on the second floor of a shopping mall. Yes, that’’s right, a shopping mall. You know, for customer convenience when they want to get something from the Gap, stop by an Orange Julius and then, if they’’re up to it, maybe purchase a horrible biological weapon.

SHOOT OUT: What’’s even worse than the location of Mr. Bad Guy’s lair is that Croft and her shady partner Terry Sheridan (Gerald Butler), who also happens to be a dangerous old flame, infiltrate the lab. And what do they and the bad guys proceed to do? Why they have a shoot out – in a biological weapons lab! Gee Ms. Croft, hope none of those horribly debilitating biological weapons are airborne. It’s like an extreme and humorless update of the bull-in-china-shop metaphor.

WALL: Croft and Sheridan are discussing possible routes to Mr. Bad Guy’s Hong Kong Bio Lab. Sheridan says the bad guys will be watching all the roads. Croft smirks and says, “All but one.” Cut to Croft riding a motorcycle on the Great Wall of China. Yes. The Great Wall. It’d be like, “Well there’s one place the bad guys will never expect us!” and then they bungee jump off the Sphinx.

AFRICA: When Mr. Bad Guy finally decodes the map to the location of a desired artifact they witness scenes of an African prairie. “Good,” he says,” It’’s in Africa.” And then he trots off. Because, you know, it’’s not like Africa is a continent or anything. Apparently these people need no more specification.

‘Tomb Raider 2’ is a deeply flawed film. To compare this film, or its predecessor, to any of the Indiana Jones films (even the lowly second one) is just sheer lunacy. Pity Jolie, because this woman just can’t get a good script sent her way so she, Croft, and yet again the audience, are saddled with a dumb adventure story that ratchets few thrills. The premise is on Jonathon Reiss (see, I bet you’’re ALREADY saying “who?”) trying to find the location of Pandora’’s Box so he can encapsulate the “evil” inside it and sell it to the highest bidder. Uh, sure, whatever. Did anyone fail to mention that the whole myth of Pandora’’s Box centered on the things … being released? So that the only thing remaining in the box was hope? I don’’t think hope will go well on the auction block among world terrorists.

An action movie is forgiven its plot trespasses if it can deliver when it comes to the action. Sadly, even the addition of Jan de Bont (Speed, Twister) as the director doesn’’t seem to squeeze too much juice. ‘Tomb Raider 2’ visits lovely locales like Hong Kong, Greece, Africa, but what does it say when the locations are often the most exciting parts of your action film? Excluding one terrific death-defying stunt off a skyscraper, the action for ‘Tomb Raider 2’ is just mundane and a little too tidy.

Not everything is bad with the flick. It is better than the first one, but that’’s like saying cholera is better than tuberculosis. When the bar is set so low by the first movie it’s easier to trip over it than ascend it. Butler adds a nice character for Croft to play off of. Sheridan is a fun character because he’’s genuinely mysterious and we don’’t know which side he’’ll eventually turn. Having his character needling Croft about her darker past with him gives the film its best scenes. He does have smoking chemistry with Jolie too. She herself has always seemed a natural with the character. I like Jolie as an actress, I do, but I just wish someone would craft a decent script.

Nate’s Grade: C

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)

This movie is certifiably insane. While a very literary X-Men seems like a great idea, what exactly does Tom Sawyer bring to the table? What, is he going to convince the bad guys to white wash a fence? And yet, this highly operatic bombast almost succeeds on its sheer level of lunacy, like when you realize you’re watching Sawyer get a crush on a vampire on a giant underwater submarine that’s so big it has end tables and vases in its hallways. Still, the handling of Jekyll/Hyde here is what Hulk should have been like. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen almost works, but its falls apart amidst shabby special effects, outlandish plotting, and very wooden dialogue. The director doesn’t make it any easier to follow, trumping his action sequences with rapid fire edits. Ah well, my bafflement was more entertaining.

Nate’s Grade: C

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

terminator_three_rise_of_the_machines_ver2Arnold is indeed back and it appears that the 55-year-old action star and seven-time Mr. Olympia has saved our summer with the refreshingly retro retread, ‘Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines’. Twelve years have passed since the ending of ‘Terminator 2’. John Conner (Nick Stahl, replacing Edward Furlong) battles paranoia that at any second the machines of the future could send yet another android assassin back in time (And he’s right, because if I was a machine and interested in proficiency, I would just keep doing this every year and eventually one would get it right). So because of these fears, the future hero of the human race is living his life right now like a drifter. He has no phones, no paper trails, and works from place to place never getting too comfortable.

John acting like a bum actually works. The machines cannot find him so they send a slinky new model, the T-X (Kristanna Loken), back in time to off his eventual lieutenants. This new version of the Terminator has the same silvery shape-shifting’ finish of Robert Patrick’s T-1000 (as well as the vacant emotionless staring) but now can turn her limbs into an arsenal of weapons at no extra cost. T-X, or Terminatirx, even appears in the window display of a posh clothing store. She appears alongside other manikins and struts her naked stuff along the night streets. So the killing machine of ‘T3’ is a blonde woman in red leather so tight it could have been painted on. She looks to be 115 lbs. soaking wet and made of metal. Nevertheless, the T-X is a suitable villain.

One of the names on the T-X list is Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), a vet with a dad in very secretive military projects. Which projects? Well only the creation and operation of sentient computer program SKYNET. Kate meets up with John at her vet office. They also meet the T-X, though why this killing machine would check the vet office and not Kate’s home is an oddity. But wait, another Terminator (Schwarzenegger) is sent back in time to protect the Conner clan for the third time (It’’s becoming so familiar that the Conner family might as well have a “T-100” stocking on their fireplace for Christmas). And like that Arnold rescues Kate and John from the evil robotic runway model and the chase is on. Meanwhile a computer virus is crippling the nation’s electronics and the military is pushing Kate’s father into making SKYNET operational. But to do so would give full control over the nation’’s nuclear instruments to a machine. Can you see some things brewing on the horizon?

T3’ is basically a retread of the story of ‘T2’ with Arnold’’s obsolete model trying to save John on the run from a faster and deadlier Terminator. And you know what? So what I say. ‘T2’ was an incredible film brimming with great action sequences beautifully captured. So what better action film to emulate than quite possibly the best action film ever? And ‘T3’ fills in quite well. It is so marvelously refreshing to see an action film that doesn’’t involve wires, kung-fu, and extensively obvious CGI. CGI should be used to enhance an action sequence, but when it becomes the sole reason an action sequence exists it’s harder to be drawn in. So when I see Arnold and the T-X rumble in a bathroom, knocking heads through doors and broken porcelain, it’’s a total blast because of the sense of realism.

I think part of me would have had a slightly different reaction to ‘T3’ if I had not seen the humorless pretension of ‘The Matrix: Reloaded’ and  Hulk’. And unlike the earlier summer fare, ‘T3’ is an action movie that -–are you listening Ang Lee?- ENTERTAINS the audience without boring them. Since when did we enter some parallel realm where our action films were trying to deconstruct the works of Nietzsche and use words like ““concordantly”” and ““ergo””? Where was the turning point when the “action” fell out of the action film? These statements are not to say that action films would be better brainless (see ‘The Mummy’ films, go on) but they would certainly be better if they had some humor and a lack of heady posturing. And for all of these reasons, and more, ‘T3’ is a solid action film, the kind we need to remind us what action films are and the fun they can bring. Did anyone, and I mean ANYONE have any fun with ‘Hulk’? I think a trip to the dentist would have been more exhilarating. Especially if he gassed you and touched your nipples like mine did. This is pure speculation though.

The Terminator franchise took a hit with departing director, and all around King of the World, James Cameron (the only director this franchise has ever known) and stars Linda Hamilton and Furlong opting out. Stahl and Danes are great choices and provide credible weight to their roles and suitable heroics. It’’s personally wonderful to see Danes growing up into a confidant and lovely adult actress. I swear she looks older and more mature in this than ‘The Hours ‘even though that art crap was filmed later. Stahl seems to have a habit of getting killed in his films (In the Bedroom, Bully), so that might keep a few more film savvy people on their guard.

The biggest addition is from director Jonathon Mostow (Breakdown, U-571). One of the things Mostow does so effectively is play up humor like no previous ‘Terminator’ film. The naked entrance of Arnold is a great example of Mostow acknowledging the iconic nature of the films. Mostow also stages incredible action scenes. That’s good too.

What does it say that Arnold is at his best when acting like a machine? I didn’’t realize until seeing ‘T3’ how welcome it is to watch Arnold strut around in his familiar leather jacket and sunglasses. We might not have known we could use another ‘Terminator’ flick but while you’ll watching you may think, “”Man it’’s been too long, welcome back.”” T3’ isn’’t going to be the benchmark of action like its predecessor is, but the film is a good time.

Nate’s Grade: B-

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Johnny Depp is THE MAN. But then, we already knew this. Can’t wait to see more.

Nate’s Grade: A

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