Thursday, September 27, 2007

XO (OLPC) - Give one, get one

At one for the price of two, as reported by the BBC. I've written about this particular project several times now, as I think it's pretty cool and worthy of everyone's attention. I think I've also mentioned how I thought it would be a cool idea if they made it available for sale, and now it is in the US with the 'give one, get one' scheme that essentially allows you to buy one laptop and pay the cost of another laptop for a child in a developing country, making it effectively a charitable donation. The cost at present is considerably higher than initially envisaged (2x$100 < $399), but it's expected to come down eventually...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

MST3K - Parts: The Clonus Horror

MST3K - Parts: The Clonus Horror

I wrote about Michael Bay's 'The Island' a while ago, and was referred to Parts: The Clonus Horror, the film that 'The Island' shamelessly cribbed from. A detailed description of the liberal thievery can be found here.

Parts: The Clonus Horror is a truly awful low budget film, but its ideas weren't all that bad despite the ham fisted way in which those ideas were developed. Thankfully I watched the MST3K version of the film, which is an utterly hilarious way to watch it and perhaps the only way to watch it without losing your sanity! It's a riotous ninety minutes that puts 'The Island' in context, and to shame in terms of sheer entertainment value!

Babylon 5 - In the Beginning (1998)

Babylon 5 - In the Beginning (1998)

Ah, Babylon 5... watching it has become such a regular feature in my entertainment diet that entering the B5 universe is like hanging out with old friends. I've now finished all five seasons of the original series (I'll review season 5 soon), and just recently watched this TV movie prequel. It isn't mind blowing, but it stands as a nice companion piece to the series.

'Babylon 5: In the Beginning' tells the story of the Earth-Minbari War and takes place around 10 years before the events of the first season of the series. It is told from the points of view of both the Earth and Minbari and introduces major characters into the B5 timeline while also setting up the Shadow War. Earth forces, seeking to learn more about the Minbari, send out an expedition towards Minbari space. Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik) is involved with Earth affairs as a Centauri liaison, and he tries to warn Earth's government to leave the Minbari alone; but his advice falls on deaf ears and a series of unfortunate events leads to the Earth forces inadvertently killing Minbari leader Dukhat (Reiner Schoene), which causes Delenn (Mira Furlan) and the Gray Council to declare a Holy War against Earth. G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas) becomes involved with Earth when he sells weapons to them to fight the Minbari. Commander John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) plays a major role during the war when he takes command of the Lexington and destroys the Minbari flagship, a key moment of the conflict. Susan Ivanova (Claudia Christian) and Dr. Stephen Franklin (Richard Biggs) make brief appearances as well. The Minbari side of the story focuses on the coming of the Shadow War, the seeds of conflict within the Minbari castes, the role of the Rangers, and the emergence of the Vorlons to help guide the younger races in the battle against the Shadows.

The movie features a lot of characters from the show that would have been around and involved in events at the time, and for the most part their integration into the storyline is believable. Some, like Dr. Franklin's appearance, stretch plausibility and seem to contradict the series somewhat. The story doesn't really add anything new to what is established in the series, but it does flesh it out and fill in all the details and tie it all together very neatly. The integration is, as far as I can tell, spot on plot-wise, and there are even scenes taken from the series that are stitched together seamlessly with the newer footage. This movie is certainly not a standalone, and I find it hard to believe that it'll be enjoyable for those who haven't seen the show - it feels like a patchwork of events that have been alluded to in the show loosely strung together in a narrative framework. Bluntly put, it has very little value on its own and should only be watched after having seen the show even though it chronologically occurs before those events. To a newcomer it would appear interesting and conveys some of the depth of B5, but I imagine that it would also be unsatisfying and more than a little confusing.

The performances are fairly good, but again due to the mishmash nature of the various storylines no one really makes a strong impression, and really it's mostly plot with little in the way of character depth. The production values are pretty much on par with the show (it was filmed between seasons 4 and 5), while being higher budget with some impressive effects set pieces. It also has moments that feel more visually cinematic than anything in the show, but ultimately it feels like a very long episode (the series has multi part mini story arcs that easily trumps this in terms of scale and drama).

'In The Beginning' is one for the fans and a curiosity for everyone else. It may not have been wholly necessary for the B5 Universe, but it is a really cool addition that fleshes out the show's backstory and realizes things that were only hinted at. There are some very cool moments, such as Sheridan's battle with the Minbari in the asteroid field and his first meeting with Delenn, mankind's first encounter with the Minbari, and the final scenes with Londo asking for more alcohol (you have to know the story to understand that comment). An excellent movie for any B5 fan, and as far as prequels go it is rock solid in terms of continuity and far, far better than prequels from certain other sci-fi franchises (hint: their names begin with 'Star').

Monday, September 24, 2007

Sleep the sleep of the dead!

Good news for me, I think! The BBC reports that new research by the University of Warwick and University College London suggests that both increasing or decreasing from seven hours of sleep is bad for one's health. Alright, this kind of research always seems neither here nor there and the conclusions regarding too much sleep are, by the researchers' own admission, not very clear. Too little sleep is always bad -
...the result of sleep curtailment to create more time for leisure and shift-work, has meant that reports of fatigue, tiredness and excessive daytime sleepiness are more common...
I feel that way even though I get seven hours (usually), so my personal sleep requirement must be higher than that! DAMMIT! I barely manage seven as it is! And according to the research, changing from seven could be risky... heh heh, so it looks like it's safest to stick to seven. Which is all I have time for anyway, so I guess in the end it's good news for me. Sort of.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

I've praised the works of Hayao Miyazaki before, and it looks like I'll be doing it again in this review. Last time I was writing about his most recent film, 'Howl's Moving Castle'. This time I'm writing about one of his earliest feature films, one that appears to be the first to have embodied all of the traits that are now hallmarks of his work.

'Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind' takes place in Earth's distant future and tells the story of a girl named Nausicaa. The world was ravaged by a disaster a thousand years ago and has degenerated into an agrarian society with rudimentary technologies. The planet is being covered in a poisonous forest called the 'Sea of Decay' where deadly giant insects and creatures called 'Ohmu' roam, and the growth of the forest is encroaching on the remaining scattered human settlements. Nausicaa is the Princess of a small, peaceful settlement - the Valley of the Wind - which has managed to live in relative harmony along the border of the Sea of Decay.

Trouble hits the Valley when they get caught in the middle of a conflict between two warring nations, Pejite and Tolmekia. Pejite unearths an ancient biological weapon which is stolen by Tolmekia and inadvertently ends up in the Valley; the Valley is then invaded by Tolmekian Princess Kushana and her army and used as a staging point for unleashing the weapon (it becomes too dangerous to move). Both sides seek to use the weapon, first against each other and then against the 'Sea of Decay' to prevent it from covering the whole planet and wiping out mankind. Nausicaa, who is peace loving and who is studying the Sea of Decay to try and understand it, is naturally resistant to their plans and becomes entwined in events as she tries to prevent and violence from taking place.

That's only a broad summary, and the actual events and range of characters is far more complex. There are multiple storylines that occur concurrently and that all come together in a very satisfying and spectacular conclusion. There are other supporting characters in the mix, such as the mentor figure Lord Yupa, a young Pejitean (?) named Asbel, a man from the Valley named Mito, and an ambitious but smart Tolmekian soldier named Kurotowa. The wonderful thing about these supporting characters is that they are all fully realized and memorable in their own right, each with his or her own idiosyncrasies. And then there's Nausicaa herself, who is a headstrong and noble protagonist trying to make sense of a fantastical and dangerous world while being caught in the middle of various factions and their interests. She is an empathetic, charismatic, and inspiring leader with an adventurous spirit, and becoming invested in her story is simply inevitable.

The film is a mix of large scale events and smaller, more intimate ones that are layered with spiritual undertones. As can be gathered from the story description, the Miyazaki themes of environmental destruction and nature's unsympathetic retaliation, supernatural / mutant anthropomorphised creatures, and war and militaristic arrogance are all in there front and centre, and are as compelling as always. Nature is portrayed as being beautiful but also deadly; there's no overly cutesy stuff in here, with even the cute animals being capable of viciousness while, ironically, the hideous and scary beasts are sometimes docile. This sincere approach to depicting a complex world that is less black and white and more shades of gray is another of the film's attributes that raises it head and shoulders above its less accomplished brethren.

While the animation is obviously not as refined as in more recent films, 'Nausicaa' is still a joy to behold and full of the visual splendour you would expect from Miyazaki There's no computer assisted imagery and the details are not as fine, but it's still a spectacular film. The designs are distinctive and wonderful and the vistas are breathtaking, with the flying sequences where Nausicaa rides a glider being particularly captivating and memorable. The film is full of little details and quirks that breathe life into the world and characters on display, with movements and expressions that speak volumes in ways that even many live action films fail to approach. The design on all of Miyazaki's films embraces a stylized reality - the world is full of beauty and wonder, but it can also be unattractive as well and at times horrifying. As I said, there's nothing cutesy, and not all people are good looking idealized paragons of humanity. Again, a more complex and realistic world view. This is also apparent in the action and violence in the film, where people get hurt and die and where there are consequences, which in turn makes those moments far more exciting and involving.

It's longer than the average cartoon, and one could argue that it is very deliberately paced; there are a lot of character moments in the film that break up the action sequences. This in no way means that the film is boring, though, as almost everything that happens is absolutely compelling from start to finish, and when action takes place it is well staged and exciting. Apart from the slightly dated animation, the only real weak spot in this film is the synthesized music, which is fairly good but lacks the grandness and beauty of the orchestral scores heard in newer Miyazaki films. One could also argue that Princess Mononoke is akin to a technically superior remake of this film, though to me they feel like different entities with some plot similarities; in any case, 'Nausicaa' is in no way made obsolete by the existence of 'Mononoke'.

I've now seen yet another amazing film from Hayao Miyazaki. It seems improbable that he has been on a continuous winning streak that has spanned over two decades, but it's true. I still have a handful of his films to see, and will be doing so ASAP, but have little doubt that they'll be brilliant, or at the very least just plain good. 'Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind' is a magnificent epic film that is up there with my favourite Miyazaki films and is well worth watching.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Mummy (1999)

The Mummy (1999)

In the summer of 'The Phantom Menace', there were some other excellent 'event' films playing that managed to dampen the pain of the punch to the solar plexus that was George Lucas' highly anticipated prequel. 'The Matrix', of course, is the obvious one that comes to mind. Stephen Sommers' 'The Mummy' is another that still holds up today as a fun adventure film that hasn't been eclipsed by newer effects extravaganzas or tarnished by its inferior sequels (though I've only seen 'The Mummy Returns' once and remember it being an overblown sequel, I'll be checking it out again soon just to make sure I was right the first time).

'The Mummy' begins with a prologue that introduces us to Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), high priest of the Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Seti I, who has an illicit affair with the Pharaoh's queen Anck Su Namun (naked & painted Patricia Velasquez). The two kill the Pharaoh but are caught, and Imhotep is mummified alive in the most horrific, and hitherto unused, punishment known to the Egyptians. Several millennia later, in the 1930s, Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) discovers the location of the ancient Egyptian city of Hamunaptra, which coincidentally is where Imhotep was entombed. Librarian / archaeologist Evey Carnahan (Rachel Weisz) and her fortune seeking brother Jonathan (John Hannah) hire him as a guide to take them there. The journey is fraught with danger as they are attacked by a mysterious group who are dedicated to keeping people out of Hamunaptra; it seems that Imhotep's punishment was a curse so horrific that if he were ever to be awakened from his tomb he would have unspeakable powers (yeah I know, I'd love to be punished like that too), and so the guardians of Hamunaptra keep strangers out to prevent a catastrophe.

Naturally, after our heroes get to Hamunaptra they awaken Imhotep, aka 'The Mummy', who begins to acquire powers at an alarming rate that will allow him to take over the world if left unchecked! It's left to our heroes to use their wits, courage, and physical prowess to bring the mad mummy priest's grand plans crashing down!

Alright so it's a fairly cheesy film, that goes without saying. But it isn't one that has lofty ambitions for artistic greatness, it's a film that's meant to be a fun adventure, and considering what it's aiming for it succeeds brilliantly. The story itself is not too bad and holds together well in its own sketchy way. It has a very balanced structure that sets up its world and characters well in the first act, builds up to the unleashing of the Mummy (an event that happens around halfway into the film), and continues to raise the stakes until the action filled finale. It's worth noting that this isn't a horror film but more a light adventure, and there are no scares present despite the subject matter. This fact is evident in the visual approach to the Mummy and the other creatures, which are computer generated and are portrayed in a slightly wacky style.

Speaking of the CGI, it hasn't aged all that well, but it isn't bad and sits comfortably with the goofy tone of the film. The overall production values are satisfying even if they are not particularly impressive. There's plenty of action and adventuring throughout and it's all well handled by director Stephen Sommers, with the scenes being a blend of action and comedy where the characters' personalities contribute immensely to the proceedings. And while this is an effects heavy film, compared to his subsequent films Sommers' use of effects here seems downright restrained (which is a good thing, as Van Helsing proved).

The script is basically exposition interspersed with jokes, and while the characterization is pretty sketchy the cast more than makes up for it. These guys know what kind of movie they're in, and they play their roles in the requisite exaggerated manner. They're all stereotypes without depth, and they play it up for all it's worth. Brendan Fraser is hardly one's idea of action man material, but he's convincing in this, goofy grin and all; sure, the fight scenes between him and a bunch of mummies look bizarre and it's obvious that he's just swinging wildly against thin air, but it all adds to the film's charm. And Rachel Weisz is just plain adorable as the effervescent and tenacious Evie. John Hannah rounds out the central trio with his comical turn as the avaricious brother. Arnold Vosloo doesn't do much as the Mummy apart from glaring and smirking, and most of the time he's covered in special effects anyway, but the guy still makes an impression. Oded Fehr makes a memorable appearance as the leader of the protectors of Hamunaptra, and his character is a badass despite being a complete failure in the context of the story (seriously, the character contributes virtually nothing apart from one scene). And then there's Sommers' regular Kevin J O'Connor as the annoying villainous sidekick. He has a few funny moments, but I just can't stand the guy and thus I thoroughly enjoyed his final scene in which he gets his comeuppance!

I love this movie; I've seen it many times now and never grow tired of it. And while I may be a little biased here, I think that objectively it is well made and succeeds as being a modernized old fashioned fun adventure. It has a decent story, an epic scope coupled with a light hearted tone, crowd pleasing and well executed action sequences, and a terrific cast that holds everything together. And the rousing score by Jerry Goldsmith is the icing on the cake! 'The Mummy' is, simply put, a wonderful piece of entertainment.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Miami Vice (2006)

Miami Vice (2006)

I've never seen an episode of the original TV Series on which this film is based, but apparently it's quite far removed from its source material despite being directed by Michael Mann, who was one of the series' original producers.

'Miami Vice' is about a team of undercover police officers, headed by Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx), who infiltrate a drug dealer's (Luis Tosar) organization. Trudy (Naomie Harris) is one of the team and is also Tubbs' girlfriend. Isabella (Gong Li) is the drug dealer's business associate / lover who winds up falling for Crockett. The story basically revolves around how Crockett and Tubbs work their way into the organization and gather intelligence, while also dealing with their personal relationships.

The main thing about this film is its style. It's not a conventional police thriller; it's shot in a pseudo documentary manner and attempts to be ultra realistic. The style is pretty cool and unique for the genre, and most of the time it succeeds in giving off a realistic vibe. The procedural aspects have an air of authenticity, and the grittiness and unflinching depictions of the dangers involved in this sort of work make for some very tense scenes. The problem is that often that adherence to realism seems to occur at the expense of being engaging. The actual storyline is not particularly original or interesting, and given the running time not that much actually happens. And while stylistically realistic some of the events still feel like cliche, resulting in a realistic looking vision of typical Hollywood thrillers as opposed to something that actually reflects reality.

There's also a dourness permeating the film that makes it very hard to like. Apart from the procedural aspects of their work, the feeling of team cohesion amongst the cops is non existent. There's no camaraderie, and the duo of Crockett and Tubbs don't have much of a rapport, with only a few subtle moments in the film even hinting at friendship. The romance between Crockett and Isabella suffers from the same problem - it feels cold and hollow, yet we're meant to believe that they are deeply in love. Ironically, the relationship between Tubbs and Trudy is far more believable but is relegated to playing second fiddle. The performances are all solid but no one really stands out.

Criticisms aside, there are things to appreciate in 'Miami Vice', some of which I've already mentioned. The plot isn't spoon-fed to the audience and it requires a bit of concentration to keep up with all of the details, which results in minimal use of grating exposition and enhanced realism. Thematically the film examines the nature of undercover work and the toll it takes on the people who have to infiltrate criminal organizations while still trying to hold on to their humanity, and I think it does it reasonably well. The action sequences, being steeped in a documentary style, are very tense and exciting affairs. The film is also visually impressive, though Mann's use of HD digital cameras gives the film that annoying cheap look that I find quite distracting.

Ultimately, use of a realistic aesthetic doesn't mean story and character need to be compromised - Mann's own Collateral is a fine example of this - and this is where 'Miami Vice' fails. It's an interesting and original take on the genre, but I think it would have been better if it had been more committed to fully embracing realism in the story OR toned down on the overly serious procedure-heavy aspects and breathed more life into its characters. As it stands it is only partially committed to both, making for a fairly good film that I don't like at all and have no desire to revisit.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Half-Life 2 (2004)

Half-Life 2 (2004)

I wrote about my first impressions of 'Half-Life 2' an eon ago. Sadly the limited amount of time I had available precluded me from playing the game as much as I would have liked, with the end result being a frustratingly drawn out gaming experience. Nevertheless, I finally managed to finish the game and am ready for the world to hear my thoughts!

'Half-Life 2', is the sequel to the legendary, revolutionary 1999 FPS 'Half-Life' (which was revolutionary in the way it used existing technology to craft a uniquely involving gaming experience). HL2 continues the story of Gordon Freeman, who has been in stasis since the events of the first game. It's some time in the future, and the world has been taken over by alien overlords called the Combine. Gordon - i.e. the player surrogate - finds himself in an East European looking city where the people are subjugated in a police state headed by one of the scientists from the Black Mesa Facility, Dr. Breen, who is collaborating with the aliens. Gordon is soon aided by Barney, a security guard from the first game, who gets Gordon up to speed on current events and introduces him to members of the resistance, including Dr. Eli Vance of Black Mesa and his daughter Alyx. It also turns out that, following his heroics in the first game, Gordon is now seen as a messianic figure by the resistance and his return has rekindled their hopes of overthrowing the Combine.

The story that follows is a standard action adventure as Gordon has to run from point A to B to save people and aid the resistance, with further details about the Combine situation being doled out on occasion. In the first game the scope was small - a portal to another world opened up at a research facility, hostile aliens came to Earth, military forces were sent in to clean up the mess, and a shady guy in a suit seemed to know all about what was going on - but this time round it's a much larger story, and Gordon's role in events is relatively minor. This aspect of the game is quite frustrating; by the game's end, you'll learn very little more about the big picture than you learn from the first few levels. Presumably the subsequent 'episodes' provide more details, but it's disappointing from a narrative viewpoint. And while the flow of the game is quite smooth and levels segue well, the first half of the game descends into a repetitive routine where you find yourself running from one resistance base to the next. Fortunately the second half mixes things up and is more involving.

The level design cleverly introduces you to the game engine in the early stages by essentially being 'on rails' and forcing you to complete simple tasks, thereby learning the game mechanics. It also shows off the stunning design and production values (probably aged by now, but to my out of touch self it was good stuff) by letting you experience a detailed city environment right from the get go before sending you off into the comparatively dull levels of canals, deserts, and tunnels. The macabre Ravenholm level, which sits in between some of the less interesting levels, is quite cool however and prevents tedium from setting in. Things get much better when you return to buildings and city landscapes again, and fortunately there are no alien levels with tricky jumping sequences as there were in HL1! The game is, overall, very atmospheric thanks to the level design, graphics, and sound. The voice acting is also of a very high quality throughout. The design of the various units and creatures is also excellent and it all gels together nicely to create a compelling universe.

'Half-Life 2' features a nice balance between different gameplay elements, with exploration, gun battles, narrative elements and the occasional puzzle cropping up regularly and never overstaying their welcome. The physics engine used isn't completely realistic but it adds a lot to the believability of environments, and the incorporation of the gravity gun is terrific, particularly in the awesome last few levels where you get to go crazy with it! The set pieces throughout the game are impressive, with 'scripted' events and thrilling sequences such as ones where you have to defend a position against hordes of baddies or take out giant tripodal alien machines called 'Striders'. The combat, sadly, doesn't seem as fun as I remember HL1 being, with the enemy AI being fairly unimpressive. Maybe it's just nostalgia, but I remember feeling like I was actually taking on intelligent adversaries in part 1, while in HL2 they just seem to stand around or run predictably and get killed (and I wasn't playing on the easiest difficulty setting, either). The same can be said for the new 'team based' combat where you get allies following you around - their inclusion is fun for a while and useful at times, but they don't seem particularly smart, occasionally running into enemy fire without the slightest hint of concern.

Other new gameplay elements introduced into the sequel include vehicles, which are fun for a while but grow tiresome fairly quickly, and a very cool gimmick where you get to control a bunch of alien 'antlions' using 'pheromone pods' and maneuver them into taking out your enemies for you! Not so cool is the inclusion of a few 'infinite enemy' sequences, where the bad guys just keep on coming at you until you move on to another part of the level. Some of the new alien baddies are also very annoying, like the weird skinless howling creature and the guy that throws poisonous face huggers at you. The selection of weapons is very similar to HL1 with the exception of the gravity gun, and this is no bad thing as the weapons in the first part were very cool. As always, the best weapons are the tried and true submachine gun, pistol, and shotgun, though the new pulse rifle is also very effective. And of course, there's Freeman's trademark crowbar, still useful for walloping head crabs and zombies!

Overall, 'Half-Life 2' is an excellent though somewhat flawed game that isn't quite up to the amazing standard of the first part (though, when I replay that it'll probably seem ancient, but hey, it was superior in its time). The storyline in particular is less satisfying, and the ending is a frustrating cliffhanger that doesn't offer the simple and satisfying closure of part 1. I was entertained for the most part, but was occasionally bored and annoyed for stretches as well. Some of my frustrations with the game were undoubtedly the result of the stop start way in which I played the game; coming back to a game after a month away is always a bit difficult! The second half of the game does redeem the missteps of the first and the overall experience is, all things considered, pretty terrific. I'm looking forward to playing the sequel episodes, which I shall hopefully finish before the decade is out!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Entourage - Season 1 (2004)

Entourage - Season 1 (2004)

You know how there are shows that are good - as in objectively well made - that you think you'll like on paper but don't? 'Weeds' is one of those for me. 'Entourage' is another. I don't dislike them, truth be told, but I never really found myself looking forward to an episode of either of the two comedies.

'Entourage' is a 30 minute HBO comedy series about the life of an up and coming Hollywood star, Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier), and his entourage, which comprises his brother Johnny "Drama" (Kevin Dillon), manager / best friend Eric (Kevin Connolly), and friend "Turtle" (Jerry Ferrara). His agent Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) also plays a significant role in events. The show is basically about their interactions and the stuff they get up to, like attending parties, hooking up with other celebrities, and sleeping around. But it also deals heavily with the Hollywood business aspect of their lives, with Vince launching a new movie, dealing with the critical consensus and box office, appearing on talk shows, chasing after promising scripts, and dealing with difficult directors and producers. Other sub-stories involve Vince's entourage - Drama is trying to find acting work while living in his younger brother's shadow, Eric deals with managing Vince's career and his ex and current girlfriends, and Ari does his best to keep Vince happy as his agent.

There's a lot of swearing, drugs, sex and nudity on the show as befits its presence on HBO and its subject matter - lifestyles of filthy rich celebrities. Which is my main problem with the show - I generally abhor this sort of thing, and while its all very fascinating to watch (the show is reputedly based loosely on the experiences of Mark Wahlberg, one of the producers), I find it hard to actually like anyone on the show. I don't really give a damn about any of the characters! I guess I didn't really expect the show to revel so much in its hedonism, but revel it does; these aspects of the show quickly grow tiring. The writing is funny however, with entertaining scenarios and situations being dreamed up by the writers on a regular basis. The performances are terrific across the board as well, particularly Jeremy Piven, who steals the show whenever he appears on screen. There are also plenty of fun cameos to look out for.

Despite my apathy towards it, I guess 'Entourage' still appealed to me more than 'Weeds' did, probably because I enjoy movies so much that the behind the scenes wheelings and dealings depicted here piqued my interest, and it's fun to see the Hollywood battle between art and commerce being played out on screen. I watched one season of 'Weeds 'and thought about watching the second at the time, but don't really feel the desire to do so anymore; I can say with some confidence that I will be watching more of Entourage, though I'm not certain for how long I will continue to find it compelling.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

300 (2006)

300 (2006)

Madness? THIS... IS... SPARTA!

The trailers for '300' were simply amazing, perfectly crafted to be full of rousing spectacle and machismo, and the use of 'Just Like You Imagined' by Nine Inch Nails was inspired. It promised an original, visually spectacular, relentless action spectacular - and the final film delivers pretty much as advertised. Based on the comic by Frank Miller, '300' was directed by 'Dawn of the Dead' (2004 remake) helmer Zack Snyder, whose next project is the anticipated / dreaded adaptation of Alan Moore's Watchmen (haven't read it yet! [bows head in shame]). It is the second ultra stylized film, following 'Sin City', that replicates the visual style of its Frank Miller crafted source material.

The story is based on the historical Battle of Thermopylae that took place in the 5th Century BC between the Greeks led by Spartan King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and the invading Persians led by King Xerxes I (Rodrigo Santoro). The plot is basic - Leonidas is forced to defend Sparta from an invading horde with only a small contingent of his army because the Spartan priests and oracle forbid war during an ongoing sacred festival. The Spartans, together with a few allies, block a narrow mountain pass and battle against the far superior numbers of the Persians, but suffer minimal losses thanks to their superior training and ability. Meanwhile, Leonidas' Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) attempts to convince the Spartan council to send the army to back Leonidas.

It's no surprise how this story ends - it recounts arguably the most famous last stand in history - but the film isn't really too concerned with plot, apart from the stuff involving Queen Gorgo. Instead, its focus is more on theme, style, and visceral impact. The story is told as a flashback narrated by the only Spartan survivor of the battle, Dilios (David Wenham), who was sent away by Leonidas on the last day to spread the word on their heroic defense of Sparta. This narrative device naturally allows the film to take fantastical liberties and to embellish details.

A large part of the film focuses on building up the Spartans as a near mythical fighting force, demonstrating their complete and utter commitment to creating a nation of warriors who embrace combat in every aspect of their lives, both physical and mental. The Spartans are presented as a sort of idealized notion of mankind, being courageous and noble and loving freedom while also embodying physical perfection. The script enhances this mythic effect by having most of their lines be especially grand and stoic.

Once the milieu and characters established, the rest of the film concerns itself with style and action. The visuals are, as I said, highly stylized with a reddish-orange hue to everything and computer generated environments. These elements are very distinctive and memorable, and the film is very visually arresting, like a living painting. These visuals help to create a distorted world featuring fantastical elements - the Persians are depicted as having deformed mutants and massive beasts in their ranks, and Xerxes himself is a veritable giant.

The action on display is stunning and features incredibly violent and dynamic sequences that cut between slow-mo and ultra-fast repeatedly within long continuous takes, stuff that certainly hasn't been seen before. Snyder prevents the action from becoming stale by frequently changing the adversaries that the Persians throw at the embattled Spartans, and although it still does occasionally feel a little repetitive, the brutal impact of the clashes never really diminishes, right up to the Spartans last stand. The secondary story focusing on Gorgo is less gripping and dabbles with a few political elements that attempt to add some substance and weight to the story. These scenes work to give a breather between the battles, but ultimately go nowhere and only serve to send ambiguous political messages.

There's one performance in this film to write home about, and that's Gerard Butler's. His filmography shows nothing impressive before '300' as far as I can tell, so his work in this comes as quite a surprise, though there were certainly signs of a good performance in the trailers. Butler's Leonidas is imposing and commands attention whenever he's on screen, and it's easy to believe that he inspires the devotion of his men. He's fearless, brash and belligerent, but he's also contemplative and burdened by his responsibility to Sparta.

And then there's the physicality. This applies to all of the guys playing the Spartans; their commitment to the roles in terms of their physical appearance is almost worthy of the characters that they're playing. These guys look and move like the greatest warriors on the planet, and are absolutely convincing. David Wenham and Lena Headey are alright in their roles, with Wenham's narration being quite good even if it does intrude on proceedings a little too often. An honourable mention for Rodrigo Santoro, whose Xerxes is menacing and downright creepy.

'300' is a unique cinematic experience, one that probably won't be to everyone's taste thanks to its proclivity for copious bloodletting, nudity, and graphic sex. For those less sensitive souls it represents an entertaining and engrossing action fest, full of visual splendour and thrilling battle sequences (even if they don't always feel as epic as other recent medieval battle scenes). I expected to be entertained, and I was, and doubtless will be again when I revisit the film.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


The Iron Man trailer is now available online, direct links are at Dave's Trailer Page. This looks incredible! I don't know jack about Iron Man, but Jon Favreau's adaptation is going to be good if this trailer is any indication. I mean, the cast is terrific on paper - Robert Downey Jr, Terence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jeff Bridges - and Favreau proved he had the special effects chops with Zathura, but I still didn't expect it to seem so... cool! I was expecting a B-level superhero film like The Punisher, Daredevil, or Fantastic Four, but this looks like being a bona fide well made, well intentioned film!

Robert Downey Jr. seems like genius casting as a cocky, self-centred multi-millionaire arms dealer. I'm glad this isn't going for an overly dark or dour approach and has some humour thrown in. It may be another origin story, but this origin actually seems a little more interesting than most. The glimpses of Iron Man in action, although it was mostly of the first bulky suit that he creates, looks spectacular! And the actual costume... wow, it looks stunning!

It's due for release in May 2008, so there's a long way to go, but I'm already dying to see it.

District B13 (2004)

District B13 (2004)

'District B13', or 'Banlieue 13' in its native French, is one of the most exhilarating and pure action movies I've seen in a long time, probably the best martial arts flick since 'Ong Bak'. I mention 'Ong Bak' simply because this film has the same insane level of incredible, unique, breathtaking action. 'District B13' isn't similar in terms of the type of action on screen, though - this one revolves around the 'parkour' style that has, subsequent to the film's release, found it's way into several Hollywood films.

Set in the near future, it tells the story of Leito (David Belle) and Police Captain Damien (Cyril Raffaelli). Leito is an inhabitant of a cordoned off, lawless ghetto area of Paris called B13. He's a decent guy trying to fight against organized crime, but in the film's opening act we see him betrayed by the police and locked up following an incredible chase sequence in and around an apartment complex. Captain Damien is an undercover cop who, like Leito, has superb fighting skills that he uses to bring down a criminal gang singlehandedly during his introduction sequence. When an armed nuclear warhead is stolen and taken to B13 by the resident crime-lord Taha (Bibi Naceri), Damien teams up with Leito to get into B13 and disarm it before it goes off - which will happen within 24 hours. Their secondary objective? Free Leito's sister Lola (Dany Verissimo) from Taha's clutches.

It's a slight but fun plot that serves to provide a framework for the 85 minute-long action fest. It's not vapid though, being an unsubtle representation of social inequality in France (this came out before the Paris riots) and the indifference shown towards poorer minority groups. The friction between Leito and Damien is also based on this social disparity, with each character representing their particular segment of society. Damien, and by extension the society he represents, is only guilty of naivety and ignorance about the situation in B13, with most of the blame being laid at the feet of an apathetic government that sees the ghetto as an ugly blemish. It's not deep stuff, and the characters are sketchy, but for the type of film it is, it's more than enough.

The real fun stuff is in the action sequences; the film is worth watching even without sound, because that's how visually engaging the action is. It's not the conventional martial arts that you'll see in a typical kung fu movie either, it's parkour. The impact of watching parkour in this film is not diminished at all by the fact that it has found its way to the mainstream. If anything this makes the Hollywood friendly parkour scenes look poor in comparison! There's heaps of dexterous leaping around, bouncing of walls, death defying jumps, and bone crunching kicks and punches to enjoy. David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli don't have much to do in terms of conventional acting, but as with most martial arts actors they make up for it in spades with their physical prowess.

'District B13' is an immensely entertaining action film that is unashamed of its genre. It's a thrill ride from start to finish with a layer of social commentary thrown in to give it that little bit of substance. Plus, it's unique enough in style to stick in your head well after the credits roll. A must see action film.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

After the excellent 'Bourne Identity' introduced lethal assassin Jason Bourne and his amnesia ridden predicament to audiences and received critical acclaim and financial success, a follow up was inevitable. Taking over the reins from Doug Liman for the second outing (and eventually the third) was director Paul Greengrass, who managed to create a film that met expectations by improving on the first one while taking the storyline in an interesting new direction.

'The Bourne Supremacy' begins with a CIA operation to gather evidence on a traitor in the agency being foiled by an unknown individual, who we later learn is a mercenary assassin named Kiril (Karl Urban). A fingerprint planted on the scene points to the culprit being Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), an agent from the Treadstone project who disappeared two years earlier. Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), the agent in charge of the botched operation, sets out to find Bourne and is assigned to work with former Treadstone overseer Ward Abbott (Brian Cox) on the case.

Meanwhile, Bourne and his partner Marie (Franka Potente) are now living in Goa, where he continues to try and piece together his past. Kiril has tracked them down and arrives in Goa to kill Bourne, but fails. An incensed Bourne, believing Kiril to be from Treadstone, sets out to find out why they came after him and to exact revenge. His journey leads him to Berlin, where Landy and her team are set up; it's also where Bourne made his first kill, a hazy memory that has started to haunt his dreams and his conscience. What follows is a tense series of encounters between Bourne , the CIA, and law enforcement agencies as he gathers information and learns more about his past. All of which involves thrilling chases and fights that lead up to a surprising and unconventional conclusion.

The one aspect that I missed from the first film is Franka Potente's Marie. Her relationship with Bourne added a lot of warmth and humour to the first outing, and it is missed here as she only appears briefly at the start of the film. The plus side is that Bourne is now free to unleash his full potential without having to worry about keeping someone else safe - it's not a run away movie, it's one where the protagonist brings the fight to his adversaries, and as such is a different film from its predecessor. 'Supermacy' is a lean film, with every scene being relevant to the plot or to Bourne's character. I say Bourne's character because the stories are truly about him, and he is the only character that has any real depth or development. That's not a criticism, because the journey his character goes through in this, where he's forced to confront his past and decide who he wants to be, is a substantial and well presented one, and one that transcends the standard conventions of the genre. There's a streak of morality in Bourne that makes him more than just a machine, as his choices in the film ably demonstrate.

The mystery thriller aspects of the plot are all fairly tight as well, although in some respects parts of it involve the characters playing catchup with the audience as they become aware of things we're already privy to. It's well constructed and the various threads all tie in together nicely, but I think the ostensible plot of the film actually plays second fiddle to Bourne's personal journey, and the film is all the better for it.

As with the first film, the general approach is very much grounded in reality, with everything from the fights and chases to the technology on display being realistic and only occasionally stretching credulity. It's just fantastic to watch Bourne use pen and paper and old fashioned techniques like tailing someone and getting lost in a crowd, as opposed to the phony 'hacking' and satellite tracking employed by his contemporaries. It's a genuine game of wits, and neither side gets to cheat - they all operate within the type of limitations we see in reality.

Paul Greengrass brings his unique visual style to the film by making it much grittier and at times almost documentary like with a lot of shaky camera work. Some have found it to be distracting, and while I agree that it is perhaps a little overused I think it lends the whole film an air of verisimilitude. The sequel has less sheen than the first film, which itself had very little sheen to begin with! Even the colour palette here is more subdued and murky. The action scenes are once again brutal, but this time are far more chaotic and have a very capricious feel to them. These sequences are well integrated into the story and never really feel like set pieces, and the tension levels are always high because of how organic and uncontrived they are. All in all, Greengrass built upon and improved what was great about the first film.

Matt Damon's performance here is, taken at face value, more mechanical than in 'Identity'. There he started off as a man lost in the wilderness discovering what he was, and it was easy to empathize with him. Here he has embraced his abilities with a steely resolve and is hell bent on letting the agency know that he's not to be messed with. In some respects, Bourne is the guy who's calling the shots and everyone else is struggling to keep up. The character is kept real because he is vulnerable, taking physical punishment and evading captors by the narrowest of margins. While Damon appears clinical, he never seems so superhuman that nothing could stop him, and this is the key that separates Bourne from characters like the new John McClane in Die Hard 4.0. The sordid aspects of his past and the way they affect him, and the weight of the choices he's confronted with throughout the story are perfectly conveyed by Damon, and they are brought to the fore in the excellent final scene in Russia.

There are some strong performances from the supporting cast as well. There's once again a cool and tacit villain in the form of Urban's Kiril, who like Clive Owen's Professor in the first film, embodies the same frightening skills as Bourne without any of the morality. Brian Cox is back in the role of Abbott, and this time is more in command and is far more loathsome. The best supporting performance is Joan Allen's as Landy, the tenacious and intelligent agent who is relentless in her pursuit of the truth. The character could easily have been an annoying thorn in Bourne's side, but the performance makes the character's behaviour and motivations understandable, and you always feel like she genuinely wants to get to the bottom of things and would be a great ally for Bourne if she wasn't busy tracking him down. Julia Stiles also returns as former Treadstone operative Nicky and does a reasonable job in a very minor role.

'The Bourne Supremacy' is the rare sequel that does just about everything right. It takes the trappings that worked in the first part and ramps them up while expounding on the protagonist and his personal story and taking them into brand new territory. It builds on the existing themes of morality, choice, and the cold, bureaucratic, and immoral nature of intelligence / defense agencies (this one isn't really overt, but I think it's definitely in there). Like its predecessor, 'Supremacy' is an action thriller with substance, one that delivers on all fronts. Obviously I think it's worth seeing.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Undeclared (2001-2002)

Undeclared (2001-2002)

Like Freaks and Geeks before it, this Judd Apatow produced series also met an untimely demise following poor ratings. And like that show, 'Undeclared' was also very good and deserved a better fate. You might know Apatow and his crew from their recent successes like 'The 40 Year Old Virgin', 'Knocked Up', and 'Superbad'. They may be vindicated now, but their fans always knew they were the real deal from their earlier efforts. I wouldn't call myself an Apatow fan, but I am appreciative of their work and am definitely a big fan of 'Undeclared'.

'Undeclared' is a 30-minute comedy series about a group of kids (or young 'adults' to the pedantic) during their first year at college, and all of the hijinks they get caught up in. These typically involve alcohol, partying, sex, relationships, eating junk food, and wasting money. Also, occasionally studying. Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. The six protagonists - geeky Stephen, sarcastic Roy, pretty boy Lloyd, slothful Marshall, neurotic Lizzie and perky Rachel - aren't exactly deep but all of them feel like real people.

The show in general feels like it's based on reality, only slightly unhinged! This is attributable to the strong stories and writing (although apparently a lot of the Apatow crew's stuff is improvised) and the quality of acting from the cast (there's a very strong supporting cast as well, and some memorable cameos); everything feels natural and charming, even the improprieties, which seems to be the hallmark of all of Apatow's productions. The show's really funny, sidesplitting laugh out loud funny at times. And it has those moments that only the best comedies have, the moments that are hilarious but tragic at the same time, where you feel terrible about a character's predicament but can't help laughing nonetheless.

There's not much more that needs to be said. Like many sitcoms, the concept is simple and success hinges on the myriad variables that go into making the show; in this case are all pretty terrific and gel together perfectly. I liked 'Freaks and Geeks', but 'Undeclared' resonated with me more and is a show I'm certain to revisit at some point in the future.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Bourne Identity (2002)

The Bourne Identity (2002)

Spy thriller 'The Bourne Identity' came out of seemingly nowhere in 2002 and took everyone by surprise by being very, very good. Before its release, the subject matter seemed fairly generic and the casting of Matt Damon as a super spy assassin type seemed a strange choice. The trailer looked exciting though, and the reviews were positive. When I finally saw it, the film easily exceeded my expectations. Though it wasn't fully apparent to me on first viewing, repeat viewings have solidified in my mind its status as a truly excellent film.

It begins with a man, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), shot and floating in the Mediterranean Sea being rescued by a fishing ship. He is brought back to health on board the ship, but has no recollection of who he is or why he was shot. When he gets to a port, he follows the only clue he has - a Swiss bank account number that was embedded in a device in his hip. Bourne gets to Switzerland and finds that the account number links to a deposit box at the bank that contains various passports, money, and a gun. Before he has time to fully process the ramifications of this discovery, Bourne is hunted down by the police for having (unwittingly) assaulted policemen the night before, an incident that also led him to discover that he had incredible hand to hand combat skills. Seeking refuge in the US Embassy earns him only a minor reprieve, as the embassy staff also try to hunt him down, which leads to an exciting escape and an encounter with a cash strapped woman outside the embassy named Marie (Franka Potente). Bourne pays Marie to drive him to Paris, which is where he believes his home to be based on the information in his 'Jason Bourne' passport.

A parallel storyline follows Bourne's superiors, Alexander Conklin (Chris Cooper) and Ward Abbott (Brian Cox), who become aware of his presence but are unable to account for his bizarre actions in Switzerland. Believing him to have gone rogue and working against the agency, they decide to have him eliminated. Meanwhile Bourne begins to realize and accept that he is in fact a well trained assassin who was probably injured during a mission. As he travels with Marie while trying to piece together his identity, the two become the targets of assassins from the agency and local law enforcement. Embroiled in danger at every turn, they forge a strong friendship, and Bourne's focus shifts to keeping the two of them alive through a series of thrilling chases and action set pieces.

That summary was way too long, but necessary to provide some context for the film. The plot isn't complex but it is certainly full of details that, for the most part, hold up to closer scrutiny. I don't think it's the overall story that sets this film apart though, as it offers nothing particularly clever or original. The script though is very good, efficiently dishing out the details of Bourne's past while also keeping things constantly moving. The characters, in particular Bourne and Marie, are well fleshed out and act and behave in a believable manner to the things they get caught up in, and there is a genuine sense of progression and discovery in Bourne's personal journey as he discovers who he is. While not quite as compelling, the scenes devoted to the actions of the agency are provide a necessary broader context for the viewer. Doug Liman does a great job in balancing the action, character, and intrigue elements. There is plenty of suspense throughout and the character moments feel real and contemplative and provide a perfect counterbalance to the frenetic and thrilling action sequences. The only real let down is the relatively weak climax, which has one ludicrous signature moment that rings false.

The things that really elevate the film are the tone, milieu, and performances. There's a great deal of restraint from everyone involved in this film, and its refreshing. It has an almost old fashioned feel to it. There are no flashy effects, no unnecessarily showy camera-work, no phony tech jargon, no outrageously over the top set pieces, and no cartoon gadgets. The world inhabited by these characters feels much like our world, with real people and real technology. Everything takes place in real locations, and nothing is over designed - offices are set up in ordinary looking office buildings with ordinary looking employees, not futuristic tech zones with hundreds of wall mounted LCD panels. There's no posing and nothing happens for the sake of looking cool; everything happens to further the story and the characters. Even the action sequences, while appearing choreographed, are an exercise in economy, with the all the players in the conflict genuinely trying to bring each other down as quickly as possible.

I guess a lot of the credit for that has to go to the writer, director, production designers and the stunt/action choreographers, and perhaps to Ludlum's original novel (which I will be reading shortly, and which I've heard bears little similarity to the film). They seem to have realized that these stories are far more exciting when they stretch suspension of disbelief only a little and only when necessary. I should also mention that while there is restraint, the film doesn't feel 'cheap' by any means, and you certainly get your money's worth on screen.

Which brings me to the performances. Matt Damon, who knew? Well, actually, everyone's known for the last five years or so, but at the time his Bourne was a revelation. It makes perfect sense, in retrospect, to have a nondescript looking guy as a super assassin. Damon looks like he could blend in and disappear at any time, but he is also absolutely convincing in all the other facets of the role, particularly the physical ones. The guy looks like he could take on a bunch of armed guards the way he does - it's the combination of physical ability and the clinical and ruthless efficiency of movement that makes Bourne believable. Also convincing is the way he conveys the incredible intelligence and analytical powers the character possesses, always sizing up a given situation. At times he seems like a machine, but fortunately Damon also reminds you how human the character is. Besides the physical beatings he takes, his emotional quest to discover who he is and the dawning horror of what he can do are evinced throughout the film.

It helps that Damon is given terrific company in the form of Franka Potente, who was so memorable in 'Run Lola Run'. As with Damon, she's atypical in the role of sidekick and love interest. She comes across as intelligent and quirky and also a little lonely, and Bourne's friendship, life threatening as it is, seems strangely like a welcome interruption to her life. She provides Bourne with emotional support and is strong enough as a personality to avoid being just another damsel in distress. The two actors also play off of each other well and have some funny and sweet moments. The rest of the cast are very good, but the focus is always on the two leads with everyone else being a distant third. Chris Cooper has the next biggest role, and he's solid as the man in charge of the super agent project, 'Treadstone'. Julia Stiles, Brian Cox, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje also do good work in their supporting roles. Very memorable is Clive Owen in a minor, near dialogue-free role as a sinister agent who comes after Bourne and Marie.

So yeah, I'm obviously a big fan of this movie, as I am of its sequel (haven't seen Ultimatum yet, can't wait!). It's one of the best action thrillers out there - it's exciting, intelligent, features compelling characters, and is grounded in minimalism - and is destined to be part of one of the best movie trilogies around. Worth watching for all film fans, and especially for those who feel jaded by the too superficial nature of other recent entries in the genre.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Street Fighter (1994)

Street Fighter (1994)

This movie has an IMDB rating of 3.0 / 10! I wasn't surprised to learn that it had a poor score, but I was surprised that it was that low! 'Street Fighter', based on the hugely popular early nineties Capcom fighting game series, is by any objective measure a terrible film; but it's also one of those 'so bad it's good' films, a genuine guilty pleasure that fans of cheesy action films and perhaps fans of the game will enjoy.

Given the source material, it's hardly surprising that the adaptation is a little thin on substance. The game featured 16 or so fairly diverse characters from all over the world who each had his or her own sketchy little storyline. The movie basically throws much of the backstory from the game away and manages to contrive a scenario where these wacky and disparate characters somehow come together in a single storyline. So the film characters are roughly true to the game in terms of physical appearance, nationality, and arguably personality, but that's about it - their personal histories are different, but given the quality of the stories in the game this isn't such a bad thing. The movie's story revolves around a fictional country called Shadaloo where the evil warlord M Bison (Raul Julia) has taken some aid workers hostage and has given three days for the world to pay a multi billion dollar ransom. The courageous Colonel Guile (Jean Claude Van Damme), who leads the Allied Nations forces stationed in Shadaloo, is charged with rescuing the hostages. Meanwhile, hustlers Ken (Damian Chapa) and Ryu (Byron Mann) are trying to con gun runner and Bison ally Sagat (Wes Studi) in a phony weapons deal, while reporter Chun Li (Ming-Na) has her own grudge against Bison and is doing more than just reporting on the unfolding situation.

There's a whole bunch of other characters, virtually all 16 of 'em show up in some degree or another, but the ones I have listed are the main players. There's actually a surprisingly complex load of hokum going on with all of these characters and their agendas, but it's all superficial and campy, and it all serves but one purpose - to lead up to some entertaining and comical action and fight scenes. The thing that elevates this script from being just another stupid action flick is the tone - it's filled with comical moments and lines throughout which are actually quite funny. The script seems to know that the story and subject matter are cheesy, even if not all of the actors do. I'm not even sure the director does, because it's all played very straight faced, which just enhances the ludicrousness on display!

Jean Claude Van Damme, well he's always funny, and he seems like one of the actors who strangely enough was in on the joke and had a good time. Though there is that one scene where he delivers an 'inspiring' speech to his troopers, one of the (unintentionally) funniest moments in the film. The other actor who really was in tune with the material was Raul Julia, who's performance is just pure genius. His over the top megalomania is hilarious, but also he exudes power and menace at the same time and thus prevents the character from becoming just a joke. The guy easily steals the show, although it helps that he has some of the best lines. Ming-Na and Kylie Minogue take things way too seriously, while Chapa and Mann as Ken and Ryu are fun if a little bland and unmemorable. The rest of the cast just vary between attempting to be serious and having a laugh. The whole movie is like that; it's just bizarrely uneven throughout, and all the more fun for it! If it had been all serious or all jokey, it wouldn't be quite as endearing, truth be told.

The production values are not too shabby - it doesn't look good, but neither does it look bad and the on location shooting and large number of extras lend it a somewhat epic feel that transcends its budgetary limitations. Director Steven de Souza's work is completely nondescript and generic and, as I said, he is not completely in tune with the comical nature of the script - or maybe he is, and this is all a part of the joke, in which case it's a sort of genius (but I doubt it).

So, basically, 'Street Figher' is a terrible but fun film, an action movie without depth or thematic substance or any genuinely good qualities on display. It is still a hoot thanks to some game performances and writing that enhance the craziness of the story, setting, and characters and make the whole thing an entertaining and yes, memorable, 100 minutes of celluloid.