REVIEW: Spartacus: Gods Of The Arena

"Shows just don't get any better than this."

Picking up where the first season ended, in his last moments, Batiatus' life flashes before his eyes taking us back to a time before Spartacus tamed the arena, a time of new champions, former friends and the lust for power and glory we've come to know and love from this beloved series.

I remember catching the first trailer for SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND at Comic Con a couple years back and thinking "that looks cool, but who knows."  The original SPARTACUS film was something I saw in History class back in High School, which like most gladiator/Roman fare at the time, didn't really distinguish itself from the rest.  GLADIATOR was a phenomenal update that ignited a fire inside me I hadn't felt in awhile.  I was hoping HBO's ROME would further fuel this fire but I couldn't really get into it.  SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND not only fuelled this fire, it gave it enough power to scorch the Earth itself as it soon became one of the best shows I've ever seen.

SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA didn't disappoint, but I had my doubts at first.  After Andy Whitfield's stellar performance as Spartacus (not to mention the final episode "Kill them all", the absolute best finale of a series bar none), I couldn't wait for the follow-up, SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE.  The sad news of Andy's fight with cancer (which unfortunately claimed his life a short time ago, may he rest in peace) caused STARZ to put the second season on hold in hopes that Whitfield would recover.  They instead moved forward (or backward if you will) with GODS OF THE ARENA, a prequel that gave all our beloved characters further room to grow and bloom into the restless cast we've come to know and love.  This was a gamble to be sure, but one that paid off in spades.

Like I said, I had my doubts, but they were soon put to rest as I began my journey backward with GODS OF THE ARENA.  The epic blood bath battles are still here and never looked better, closing out with a battle royal between two houses that rivals anything that's come before it.  The women, sex and seduction this series has become known for has certainly not gone modest on us, and why would it after all the praise the first series got as well as that of GAME OF THRONES.  This series carves its own rules into the stone when it comes to sex and violence, but it's my opinion that it does so with a certain class and dignity the Roman empire would be proud of while at the same time not treading too far off the beaten path when it comes to the historical knowledge of the time period in question.  Sure, we embellish here and run with it a bit, but I can hardly blame the good people at STARZ for giving the mob what they want to see.

SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA bridges the gap between BLOOD and VENGEANCE with tact and finesse, never overusing or overshadowing it's characters for the sake of "filler" story telling.  I enjoyed a look at what trials and tribulations brought House Batiatis together, the feud  that pushed Batiatus and Solonius's friendship to the brink, the rise of Crixus as well as the tale of Gannicus and Oenomaus.  I missed seeing Spartacus sure, but I have to admit that Gannicus has become a new favourite of mine and I was happy as hell to see him pop up in the trailer for VENGEANCE as I prayed he would continue to be a part of this series.  This show has had its share of ups, downs, tears and joy, but one thing I'm sure of is that this will go down as one of the best TV series' ever created with me being one of its biggest fans.  Sigh...January feels so very far away right now.

  • Digg
  • Del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS

REVIEW: Killer Elite

"Not sure about the true story end of things, but a good time."

When his last contract goes a bit sideways, Danny decides he wants out of the biz.  A few months later, his friend and mentor, Hunter takes a six million dollar job that ends up being over his head.  The client has their contact reach out to Danny whose enlisted to finish what Hunter couldn't in exchange for the money and his friend's life.

When I see the words "based on a true story" pop up on the screen I tend to take set film with a grain of salt and KILLER ELITE is no different.  This story comes from the novel THE FEATHER MEN, written by Ralph Feinnes' cousin, Ranulph Feinnes, a former SAS officer.  Now I have no doubt that anyone involved with the SAS would find themselves encumbered by enough information to put together a tight work of fiction grounded loosely by a hint of fact, but to take this Hollywood-esque blowout at face value seems a bit presumptuous.  As a good old fashioned action vehicle however, this flick hits its mark.

I'm a big fan of Jason Statham, the guy came out of nowhere and stepped up the action game at a time when we truly needed it.  That said, he's all over the place and a little out of control lately, saturating the genre with an overload of mediocre to decent action flicks but nothing phenomenal.  TRANSPORTER and CRANK were alright but the sequels didn't do him much justice.  I'm still flabbergasted by the fact that Uwe Boll somehow convinced him IN THE NAME OF KING was worthwhile and as much as I loved WAR and THE EXPENDABLES he was sharing the spotlight in both cases.  Statham delivers depth as well as action here and that's the kind of A-game he needs to reach the top.  Of course, what he really needs is to stay away from crappy sequels and direct to DVD fare like BLITZ. 

The biggest surprise here is Dominic Purcell who in my opinion belongs in this kind film (a welcome change from the garbage role he was given in STRAW DOGS).  Purcell can do action and he gets the chance to prove himself here in a substantial role as one of Danny's two crewmembers.  I'm always happy to see Robert De Niro and though he doesn't have a whole lot of screen time, when he's there, he's really there (that scene is the subway was an especially nice touch and a true testament to the fact that De Niro can still bring it).  Clive Owen's presence is also welcome, he's another underrated favourite of mine.  The trailer would have you believe Statham is the hero fighting Owen as the story's villain, but that's not altogether true.  Of course, it's not altogether false either.  In a world of contract killers, mercenaries, spies and secret societies, drawing the line between good and evil is almost an exact science.  Thankfully that's one of the things that makes this story work.

KILLER ELITE could've come off as just another flashy, star studded action piece with no flare or heart but instead it managed to surprise me.  The story isn't hard to follow but it's easy to get confused as to who you should be rooting for at times.  The action sequences are top notch, the characters are dark, gritty and flawed, which makes them come across as real enough, but there was one thing that made me raise an eyebrow.  I don't know about any of you, but for me, walking away from six million dollars seems rather farfetched.  Having a great code of ethics or morals is one thing, but at the end of the day, all players involved here are mercenaries of sorts so I just couldn't get behind this one aspect of the ending (don't worry, it's not ruining anything I promise).  That aside, ELITE was a slick bit of fun (despite some pacing issues during its last act) but I wouldn't rush to the theatres for this one, you can wait for DVD and BLU-RAY.

  • Digg
  • Del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS

TRAILER: The Grey

Lately, just seeing Liam Neeson's name is enough to get me excited, but I also just happen to be a fan of man vs. nature vs. animals creeping around in nature. A healthy dose of FROZEN, THE CANYON and THE EDGE, this flick looks like a hell of a good time for everyone except those poor fools in the trailer.

  • Digg
  • Del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS

GAME TRAILER: Darksiders 2

Now this is what I'm talking about. Darksiders was one of the best and most original games I've played in the past few years, that and Arkham Asylum being the best two, a sequel is something everyone who played the first one wants, especially me and this is a nice glimpse into the future. Of course, I hope we can also still play as War.

  • Digg
  • Del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS

REVIEW: Straw Dogs

"This should have been so much better."

An up and coming LA screenwriter decides to move south to his wife's hometown of Mississippi hoping the peace and quiet of country life will be a better environment for his work.  Some of the locals however, share a much different point of view and start trouble that soon escalates out of control.

Well, here we go again down remake road with STRAW DOGS but thankfully this is a film that most people haven't heard of (myself included).  Before I realized it was a remake my interest level was minimal because it looked and felt like so many other films all jammed into one, but seeing as how the original Sam Peckinpah directed version came out in nineteen seventy-one, long before some of the film I was going to compare this to originally, going in with an open mind became a little easier.  That said it's still a catch twenty-two because for its few good qualities (directing, lush locale, tight cast) it's still a remake at the end of the day and as much as I dig most of the roster, these characters suffer from one bad decision after another making the whole story one big mess.

I had hope for this film because of James Marsden and Alexander Skarsgard.  Marsden is an underrated favourite actor of mine and remake or no, this was still better than seeing him in HOP.  Skarsgard is definitely one of the coolest aspects of TRUE BLOOD.  I was looking forward to seeing what he could do outside of Fangtasia and wasn't disappointed.  Though a villain to be sure, he at least had a couple layers to him so that people wouldn't just label this character as a human version of his vampire counterpart.  I had no idea James Woods was even in this film and although I didn't agree with anything his off the wall hillbilly character was about, his presence was the glue that held this cast together as other than him, we have Kate Bosworth (not impressed with her work whatsoever) and an even less impressive waste of Dominic Purcell and Walton Goggins' time.

The story could've worked and maybe did in the original, but I'm just not buying what these characters are selling.  Bosworth clearly didn't want to go back to her inbred hick town, and after seeing it in full force I can't say I blame her.  As a writer I can see Marsden's character thinking it might be a good place to kick back and soak in his creative juices, but seeing how unimpressed and worried his wife is the entire ride there I just can't bring myself to believe they had a convincing conversation about it.  Add to that how predictable this setup is from minute one, every cliche in the book pops up here at some point, and what's worse is no matter how dire, dangerous and in-your-face this growing problem gets with each passing day, it takes them until the end of the film to actually react to it.

STRAW DOGS is remotely entertaining if you turn off your brain and don't think about it too much.  For one, I know the original came out before THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and COLD CREEK MANOR, but for me the combination of those two films is about in essence what we have here.  I know the film's focal point revolves around them being stuck in that house fighting for their lives (a fact the trailers made no attempt to hide) but I didn't like how they got there, it's weak and unbelievable despite the rise in tension.  I don't want to spoil anything, but I didn't care for how Bosworth handles her part in this either, her character comes off as not just a bad wife but a bad person which ultimately hurts the impact of one of the pivotal scenes before the climax.  Bottom line, I didn't like her so I didn't care and that's a bad thing given the circumstances.  The final bloody battle was far too brief but ended with a bang.  Based on this film, I wouldn't personally go looking for the original and though watchable, this STRAW DOGS is definitely rental territory.   

  • Digg
  • Del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS

TRAILER: Goon

Now as un-canadian as it may sound, I've never had an interest in hockey. I'm more of a football/rugby guy. That said, Hollywood is amazing at making films out of sports that people would never watch on TV, let alone pay to see. I'm one of those people who would never watch hockey, but I would gladly pay to watch this movie because it looks awesome.

  • Digg
  • Del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS

TRAILER: Twilight Breaking Dawn Part One

Sigh. I'll be honest and say that I found the first three films watchable, but certainly not memorable or fantastic. I'm no fan of breaking films into two pieces either, it feels like a cashgrab, and after watching this ridiculous trailer I rest my case. Bella and Edward get married. People get pissed. She gets pregnant and the mutant baby's gonna kill her. How the hell this stretches into three or four hours is beyond me and it saddens me to know that I'll have to find out.

  • Digg
  • Del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS

REVIEW: Contagion

"Scary, in more ways than one."

When fatal virus/disease begins infecting and killing people around the globe, the CDC round up their best team of scientists and doctors to assess and indentify this new threat in hopes of formulating a vaccine to cure this rising epidemic.

Viruses and diseases are scary, something we're all taught at an early age in school.  We learn about old school killers like Cholera and Small Pox and then graduate into modern day fanfare like HIV, but beyond this common scope anyone alive over the past couple decades have come to fear new age strains like Swine Flu, SARS and H1N1.  We read about the first ones and nod our heads, we hear about HIV every day and still go on like "it couldn't happen to me", but those last three have ignited some real fear over the past few years and I'm sure they won't be the last we see in this lifetime.  The fear in CONTAGION's arsenal is clear, they're trying to shock and scare us with "what could happen" and in that regard I'll admit to my skin crawling on more than one occasion, but when it comes right down it, this is no OUTBREAK.

Steven Soderbergh isn't about the faster paced path OUTBREAK went down, rather he's more of a slow burn sort of guy as anyone who enjoyed SOLARIS and TRAFFIC know and that suits me just fine here as the direness of the situation and it's impending doom set the mood far better than guns blazing.  The trailer gives a couple plot points away that don't really affect the film, one being that Gwyneth Paltrow bites the dust and pretty much gets this party started, and two being that pandemonium ensues.  Now I'm not going to blow the lid off anything here and ruin it, instead I'll go on to explain that the only thing scarier than this virus is how the many branches of society react to it.

There are many situations, decision and reactions in this film that will frustrate just about any viewer (I know they got my blood boiling), but they make for some believable watching.  You couldn't pay me enough to be one of those CDC scientists sealed up in one of those inflatable condoms playing around with viral monsters all day long.  There's one scene when two of them are examining one like it's just another day at the office while discussing their weekend endeavours.  I dug that, as it shows us just how vulnerable we are to human error.  Add to that all the government protocol and red tape involved in potentially finding a cure and you really get down to how scary an outbreak can really get!  Amidst all the growing fear and doubt is Jude Law's character who really steals the show as the "end of days" pariah.  Forget Matt Damon's broken home persona, yes he's a tragic character in a tragic situation, but for my money, this was Law's turn to shine.

CONTAGION is a smart thriller that comes to us at an opportune moment, a time when the threat of viral disease is still fresh in our minds and the fear has yet to fully evaporate.  Now Hollywood may indeed be capitalising with one hand, but the other hand is gently caressing a Pandora's box.  The idea and potential possibility of a viral epidemic is probably more real than any of us want to admit, but one thing is for certain, I sincerely doubt I'm the only person who wipes down my shopping cart with one of those disinfectant wipes they now have at the door when you go in.  Now I may not be one of those people who carry around a bottle of anti-bacteria gel in my pocket...but that doesn't mean it's a bad idea.   

  • Digg
  • Del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS

REVIEW: Shark Night 3D

"This poster creeps me the hell out."

A group of college kids round up for the ultimate weekend party at the lake.  There's lots of booze, chicks in bikinis, jet skis and other toys...and oh yeah, sharks.  By the time the crew realize it's not safe to go back in the water, it's too late.  Dinner is served and they're at the top of the menu.

I've been watching horror films since I was a kid, a very young kid and I've never had much problems in the raw fear department.  Now aside from a small (arachno) phobia of spiders (the idea of sitting down to watch ARACHNOPHOBIA will never happen again, the first time there were women present so I had to suck it up) my one single greatest fear in life is being eaten by a shark, more specifically, a great white shark.  If there was no series of films out there to identify the alien hunters known as "Predators" as the supreme definition of the word predator, the great white shark would be next in line.  OPEN WATER had me bone white and terrified to my very core, it was the most electrifying fear I've had with a film in over a decade.  I love the water, but not beyond poolside.  Why?  Because sharks are real ladies and gentlemen, and sure, the boys on shark week like to tell you they're no big deal and then feed us some lottery/lightning odds against being attacked or eaten by one, but I'm not buying it.  It's that down to earth fear that SHARK NIGHT 3D brings to the table, and on some levels pulls it off nicely.

At the core of this subgenre, JAWS has the firmest roots and will never be trumped.  This is simply a well known fact.  DEEP BLUE SEA revisited sharks in a cool way that made science and nature a devastating combo.  I've recently revisited this flick and it's lost none of its potency I assure you.  The aforementioned OPEN WATER sits nicely at number three on the list (the sequel was a brutal letdown FYI) and despite the awe-inspiring number of low budget shark-spliced garbage flicks floating around out there (and trust me, it would sicken you to know how many there truly are), sharks haven't been tackled all that much which is definitely a good thing.  The sharks themselves are good and bad.  Clearly they're the selling point of the 3D angle (a much better attempt than JAWS 3D) and on that note, nothing fills the shorts with a batch of fudge brownies like a three ton smile of razor sharp teeth in your face!  On a sadder note however, yes, one of the coolest things about a great white is that it's prone to popping it's head up to say "hello", but some of things done here with "out of water jumping" felt a little like watching the snakes in the original ANACONDA.

The story here is what really floats the boat, again, on some levels.  I dug the retreat house on an island out in the boons, it was the perfect spot to catch some rays, get loaded and score with the ladies.  That is, until the rednecks from DELIVERANCE show up and spoil the fun.  I get what these boys are doing, and their master plan makes sense to me as well, but they're certainly not being very covert about it and they're demeanour is about as inconspicuous as a great white in your back pool.  Our cast of heroes is alright, I really dug Sara Paxton in LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and Dustin Milligan's a cool cat too (Joel David Moore's equally funny here as he was in HATCHET).  The rest of the crew are pretty much cannon fodder (to be expected) but the fact that one of em takes out a hammer head earned him some street cred in my books as more than just throw away character.  The only real head scratcher is this: situation...sharks in the lake.  Solution...stay out of the lake.  But for some reason, these guys can't wait to dive back in.

SHARK NIGHT 3D is a nice dip back in shark infested waters with a better twist than I expected.  This flick earns points for there being more than one shark, despite there not being much of a visual difference other than the hammer head.  I didn't care for some of the awkward "fast-forward" cam shots used in the first fifteen minutes of the film, but thankfully that was the end of it.  My biggest beef with this flick is the marketing angle.  This film was clearly shot and made to accommodate an R rating, yet any nudity (other than some dude's butt) and access gore were stripped away for the theatrical release to generate more coin and will no doubt find their way back in via an "unrated version" when this baby hits DVD/BLU-RAY.  I can understand this tactic to a point (money does make the world go around), but the overall product feels cheapened by it when you know you'll have to wait (and pay more) to see the intended film in all its glory.  Would I watch SHARK NIGHT 3D again?  Sure, but as for tackling this bad boy in theatres, I think waiting for the true vision is the way to go.  

  • Digg
  • Del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS