'King Arthur' flails, Jackie Chan entertains

By Tom Von Malder | Aug 06, 2017
Photo by: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Charlie Hunnam plays the title character in "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword."

Owls Head — King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (Warner Bros., Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 126 min.). Director/co-writer Guy Ritchie is nothing if not ambitious, and while he was able to work some magic with his two Sherlock Holmes movies, here  his style gets in the way of a coherent story and he probably takes too many liberties with the legend of King Arthur. Of course, the point is that Arthur is a legend, so there is no strict canon to adhere to, as treatments have ranged from T.H. White to Disney. Ritchie's very visual version borrows from the recent "Lord of the Rings/Hobbit" films and uses three "Game of Thrones" cast members.

The film opens with its best set piece, as sorcerer Mordred attacks Camelot and King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana of "Star Trek"), using 300-foot elephants, that swing wrecking balls with their trunks. It makes for quite impressive mayhem. While Uther beheads Mordred, Uther's brother, Vortigern (Jude Law, who played Watson is Ritchie's Sherlock films), who has studied with Mordred, makes a blood sacrifice of a loved one to the syrens (imagine an octopus, with three females bodies entwined -- two lovely, one obese) so that a demon knight kills Uther and his wife, but not before infant Arthur is sent by boat towards Londinium (the Roman precursor of London), to take a page from the story of Moses. Then we see Arthur grow up in a brothel and learn to fight in a montage that takes mere minutes. Soon, Arthur, who likes to wear a leather jacket and calls his friends "mates," is running the brothel as well as an apparent smuggling ring. This version of Arthur is played by Charlie Hunnam of TV's "Sons of Anarchy."

Not long after, Arthur is in trouble with the evil king's Blackleg troops over his mistreatment of King Vertigern's Viking guests. While Arthur's "empire" is destroyed, along with several people he cares deeply for, he is captured as a nobody and forced to try and withdraw Excalibur from the stone as are all the young men of his age. Of course, Arthur draws the sword, which evokes memories of his parents' deaths and courses power through him. Merlin (never shown) has sent sorceress Mage (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) to Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou), Uther's former aide who now lives in a cave with a small band of warriors, to help Arthur gain the throne. Once Bedivere and Arthur are together, and Arthur has traveled to the Darklands to learn to control Excalibur, they pull off some raids, designed to draw Vortigern to Londinium. Vortigern sends a body double instead, which leads to a bloody battle in which dozens are killed.

While some of Ritchie's razzle dazzle works -- there's lots of slow-motion when Arthur wields Excalibur and easily kills dozens in a couple of minutes -- he uses his short-cut, time-jumping style too often, making the film more complicated than it needed to be and incoherent as well. For example, while Arthur explains his dealings with the Vikings to Jack's Eye of the Blacklegs, Ritchie keeps cutting to brief flashbacks, during which more than a handful of characters are introduced too rapidly. Other times during a story, Ritchie will have quick cuts both to the future and the past.

I'm not sure the future knights' many jokes about the under-construction Round Table was a wise way to end the film. It really brings the anachronistic aspects of the film to the fore. The best of the bonus features look at Arthur with swagger (9:41), with Hunnam recalling how he made a wooden Excalibur as a young lad and that John Boorman's "Excalibur" (1981) was one of the films that made him want to become an actor; filming in the Scottish Highlands (5:33); and a 14-minute look at building the past, a tour of the sets with Gemma Jackson (some of what became Camelot Harbor had been used in the film "Tarzan"). There also is a look at fight preparation (5:44), as well as looks at the costumes and the legend (18:49); the stunts and action (6:08); making Camelot in 93 days (10:23); and making the sword (6:05). Grade: film 2 stars; extras 2.5

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Kung Fu Yoga (China/India, Well Go USA, Blu-ray + DVD or standard DVD, NR, 107 min.). This very entertaining action-comedy is the eighth film Jackie Chan has made with director/writer Stanley Tong. The others have included "Rumble in the Bronx" and "Supercop." The weird title is meant to represent China with kung fu and India with yoga. The film features stars from both countries, as well as South Korea.

Chan, who recently starred in "Railroad Tigers," plays archaeology professor Jack Chan, who gets to search for the lost Magadha treasure when Dr. Ashmita (Disha Patani) arrives from the Palace Museum Research Institute in India with a partially damaged, ancient map. Chan has developed a color restoration technique that will help read the map. Prior to this, the film has a five-minute, animated prologue that tells the story of monk Xuanzang traveling west into India during the Tang Dynasty to search for Buddhist sutras, opening the two countries to commerce. Wang Xuance (Chan in a motion-capture performance) was an envoy to India, but in 647 A.D., Arunasva, leader of the Magadha Kingdom's elephant legion, tried to make himself king of India, leading to battles and the lost treasure.

Assisting Professor Chan are teaching assistants Zhu Xiaguang (singer/dancer Lay, aka Zhang Yixing, of the South Korean-Chinese boy band Exo and its sub-unit Exo-M) and Nuomin (Miya Muqi, a model and China's most famous yoga instructor). Dr. Ashmita is assisted by Kyra (Amyra Dastur). Their investigation leads them to a Tibetan ice cave (actually Iceland), where some of the lost expedition's treasure is found, as well as a 212-carat diamond that is supposed to be a key to further treasure. However, Chan and his associates are attacked by the mysterious Randall (Bollywood actor Sonu Sood, who has made 61 films), enabling Chan's treasure hunting nephew Jones (Aarif Rahman of "Young Bruce Lee," aka "Bruce Lee, My Brother," and the two "Cold War" films) to steal the diamond and sell it by auction in Dubai.

Highlights include the slippery fight scene in the ice cave, Chan fighting with a locked box and a stunning Dubai car chase with crashes that included luxury vehicles (Bugatti Veyrons) as pursuing police cars (the cars were worth $30 million) and Chan driving a borrowed SUV with a lion in the backseat. There also is a fight sequence in an Indian outdoor market that uses available items from "magic" acts, that is, a climbing rope, a sword swallower's blade, fire breathing and levitation. There also is a semi-comic battle with hyenas and the film's end magically turns into a Bollywood production dance number that leaves the viewer very, very happy.

Bonus features are a fun look at three "aces" in India (3:41); a making-of feature (21:46), which shows some of the wire and rope work; a review of Tong's previous films with Chan (2:43); a featurette on the on-set generosity of Chan (2:37); bloopers (3:23); and practicing for the Bollywood dance ending (3:16). Grade: film and extras 3 stars

The Exception (A24/Lionsgate, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 107 min.). Having recently reviewed two failed films that set love triangles in Turkey amidst the Armenian genocide at the onset of World War I, here is a film that credibly works in a love story during the early years of World War II -- except that the love story itself is unlikely, as it is between a German captain (Jai Courtney as Stefan Brandt), sent to guard and spy on exiled Kaiser Wilhelm II (a film-stealing performance by Christopher Plummer), and one of Wilhelm's maids (Lily James as Mieke de Jong), who turns out to not only be Jewish, which she confesses to Brandt, but also a spy for Great Britain. The point of the film is that Brandt is an exception, a German soldier who is against the slaughter of innocents, having rebelled against atrocities he saw in Poland.

Their romance also is unlikely because it starts with Brandt, on first seeing Mieke, asking her to strip and he then has sex with her. However, after the formal dinner, Mieke turns the tables and asks Brandt to strip and then has sex with him. Yet, love does eventually blossom from these shocking beginnings. The film is set at an isolated mansion in the Netherlands, where Wilhelm longs for the past and rails against the current Germany run by Adolf Hitler, while his wife (Janet McTeer as Empress Hermine) works back channels to try and get the monarchy reinstated. A visit by Nazi storm trooper leader Heinrich Himmler (Eddie Marsan) sets the film's endplay in motion, and Himmler is indeed odious, as he casually discusses exterminating disabled children with a deadly shot of Fenelon into their hearts during dinner conversation.

The film is directed by five-time Tony Award nominee David Leveaux, who provides audio commentary. There also is a behind-the-scenes piece (19:32), which shows some rehearsals. Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2 stars

The Breaking Point (1950, Criterion Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 97 min.). This was the second film to adapt Ernest Hemingway's "To Have and Have Not," following Howard Hawks' film of that name, which starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, by six years. According to the extras, Hemingway considered "The Breaking Point" to be the best film adaptation of his works. However, the film got buried after star John Garfield was accused of being a Communist during the Red witch hunts of the 1950s. It turned out to be the next-to-last film Garfield made before his death at 39 of a heart attack in 1952.

In the film, Garfield plays Harry Morgan, the operator of the Sea Queen, a fishing boat for hire. Morgan is barely keeping afloat financially. He has a wife (Phyllis Thaxter as Lucy) and two young daughters to support. His best friend and mate on the boat is Wesley Park (Afro-Puerto Rican stage actor Juano Hernandez). Morgan has a solid marriage -- the domestic scenes were added by screenwriter Ranald MacDougall -- but things start to go sour for him when Hannagan (Ralph Dumke), who chartered the boat for a fishing trip to Mexico, stiffs him and flies out of town, leaving Morgan without the $100 needed to clear Mexican customs and get back to California. That is when he meets sleazy lawyer Duncan (Wallace Ford), who sets him up to transport eight Chinese nationals illegally to America. After an altercation leaves one man dead, Morgan returns home without the Chinese, but the Coast Guard impounds his boat due to a Mexican investigation. As the hard times continue, Morgan is drawn into another of Duncan's schemes, which ends up with a well-staged shootout aboard the boat.

Meanwhile, Morgan has several encounters with playgirl Leona Charles (Patricia Neal, later of "The Day the Earth Stood Still") who would like to add him to her conquests. However, except for one fleeting moment, Morgan is firm in his devotion to his wife. One memorable scene has a tipsy Morgan encounter both Leona and his wife at his bar hangout. Morgan's hard times eventually impact his marriage as well, as Lucy would rather have him give up fishing and work on a relative's lettuce farm. The director was Michael Curtiz, noted for making "Casablanca" and "Captain Blood," among his many films.

Bonus features include Curtiz biographer and film historian Alan K. Rode discussing the film (21:16); a video essay by filmmakers Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos analyzing Curtiz's fluid style (9:59); Julie Garfield remembering her father (16:41); and a Dec. 19, 1962 excerpt from NBC's "Today" show that is a visit to Hemingway's Key West home (4:51). The pamphlet has an essay by critic Stephanie Zaxcharek. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 3 stars

Teen Wolf collector's edition (1985, Scream Factory Blu-ray, PG, 92 min.). Now that the long-running MTV series of the same name is in its final 10 episodes, it is fun to take a look back at the original and its sequel. Other than the character names of best friends Scott, the werewolf, and Stiles and the fact that Scott plays a sport (basketball in the movie, lacrosse in the TV series), there are not many similarities. The big thing that film writers Joseph Loeb III and Matthew Weisman did was to take a comedy approach and make the wolf version of Scott the story's hero, accepted by nearly everyone in his town.

Playing Scott is Michael J. Fox, who was available from filming the TV series, "Family Ties," due to co-star Meredith Baxter's maternity leave (she had twins). It was the same year Fox had a gigantic hit with "Back to the Future." As unlikely as it seems for a 5-foot 3-inch actor, Fox's Scott is on the high school basketball team, but it is a very bad basketball team. He also works for his father (James Hampton as Harold Howard) in the family hardware store. Suddenly, in addition to all the normal school and girl problems, Scott starts experiencing symptoms of lycanthropy: a long hair on his chest; pointy ears; and being annoyed by a dog whistle. It turns out he is a werewolf, as is his father -- surprise! When Scott turns into the wolf and proves great at basketball, the school and town go wild for him.

On watching this new 2K scan, I found the first half hour to be rather obnoxious, with the music overly loud a lot of the time. However, the film becomes markedly better as, first, Scott accepts his wolf-ness and then there is the climatic basketball game. One of the better scenes is some physical comedy as Scott runs through wet school hallways.

Bonus features include a lengthy (143 min.) making-of feature that has 10 parts and includes the film's development, production (only 10 weeks to make, including three weeks for writing a script) and legacy; and new interviews with the two writers, co-stars Susan Ursitti (Boof, the girl who likes Scott), Jerry Levine (Stiles), Matt Adler (Lewis) and James MacKrell (Vice Principal Thorne), producers Mark Levinson and Scott Rosenfelt, production designer Chester MacZenski, casting director Paul Ventura, editor Lois Freeman-Fox, wolf make-up artist Jeff Dawn and basketball double Jeff Glosser (who actually was 4 inches taller than Fox). There also is a still gallery (6:14). Grade: film 3 stars; extras 3.25

Teen Wolf Too  collector's edition (1987, Scream Factory Blu-ray, PG, 95 min.). The sequel moves the action to college with a new wolf (Jason Bateman as Todd Howard) and a new sport (boxing), and while four of the characters are carried over as well, only two are played by the same actors. James Hampton returns as Harold Howard, Todd's uncle, who drops him off as college, and Mark Holton as comic foil athlete Chubby. Coach Finstock has moved on to college too, but Paul Sand replaces Jay Tarses, and Stiles is played by Stuart Fratkin (less manic than Jerry Levine was in the first film). While Bateman had been on TV a lot, this was his first film, produced by his father, Kent Bateman. Ironically, Bateman's older sister, Justine, was starring in "Family Ties," with Michael J. Fox, the first "Teen Wolf."

Initially, Todd believes he has avoided the family "problem," but his eyes turn red when he goes to change his class schedule at college, where Stiles is his messy roommate. Then he turns full wolf when aroused by dancing with a beauty. As a full wolf (ridiculous looking costume), Todd becomes a knockout boxer and his popularity soars. Dean Dunn (John Astin) even gives him a convertible to drive. Kim Darby plays biology professor  Connie Brooks and Estee Chandler is Nicki, the coed who is interested in the normal Todd. The climax boxing match is more than a bit unbelievable, but the film had to go that route. Oh yes, there actually is a frog fight in class, and wolf Todd gets to sing a rock 'n' roll song at a house party. Of the two films, I prefer the first, which has more of a sense of fun.

Extras include new interviews with director Christopher Leitch (16 min.), Darby (16 min.), Fratkin (6 min.), Chandler (6 min.) and costume designer Heidi Kaczenski (9:46). There also is a still gallery. Grade: film: 2 stars; extras 2.75 stars

Shooter: Season One (Universal, 2 DVDs, NR, 416 min.). This conspiracy series follows highly decorated war veteran Bob Lee Swagger in an elaboration of the Mark Wahlberg movie of the same name (2007). (Wahlberg is an executive producer here.) The series is based on the novel, "Point of Impact" by Stephen Hunter. Swagger, once one of the Marine's best snipers, is enlisted by his former commanding officer (Omar Epps as Secret Service agent Isaac Johnson) to prevent an assassination attempt of the president by sussing out possible sniper nests -- only it is a set-up, with Swagger swiftly accused of being the would-be assassin. The series delves much more into Swagger's home life with wife Julie (Shantel VanSanten) and young daughter (Lexy Kolker as Mary).

Cynthia Addai-Robinson plays disgraced FBI agent Nadine Memphis, who is hell-bent on recapturing Swagger after he escapes, but they intersect in unexpected ways, with Swagger saving her life a couple of times as they cooperate in uncovering the conspiracy. There are 10 episodes and a making-of bonus featurette. Grade: season 3 stars

The 100: The Complete Fourth Season (Warner Bros., 3 DVDs, NR, 548 min.). In season four of this science fiction series, the survivors on Earth and those from the orbiting Ark have to confront the fact that nuclear plants across the globe are going critical and will unleash deadly radiation on a near extinction level unless a solution is found. Can a suitable underground bunker be found? Is there a mutated blood antidote? Can some reach the Ark as a haven or a place to create a radiation antidote?

Probably the silliest part of the season is Jasper Jordan's (Devin Bostick) efforts to die and to convince others to join him in a partying death cult. Then, when a potential shelter is found, it can only accommodate 1,200, so trial by combat (hello "Hunger Games") is set up to determine which tribe will determine who gets to use the shelter -- except that a faction of the Ark people seize control of the shelter, forcing Clarke Griffin (Eliza Taylor) to act against her own people. Some aspects of the season seemed tired, but the finale was topnotch and ends with a tease for what could be a very interesting fifth season, with a new group to contend with.

Bonus features  include from outcasts to leaders, creating a post-apocalyptic world, Jasper's journey, a look at the stunts, a gag reel, unaired scenes and the always popular Comic-Con panel. Grade: season 2.5 stars; extras 2.75 stars

Big Little Lies (HBO, 3 Blu-ray or standard DVDs, TV-MA, 379 min.). This acclaimed limited series stars Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley. The seven-episode show is based in the tranquil seaside town of Monterey, Calif., where lies maintain the illusion of a perfect world. The story is told through the eyes of three mothers: Madeline (Withersponn), Celeste (Kidman) and Jane (Woodley). the town is divided into the haves and the have-nots. Also in the cast are Alexander Skarsgard, Laura Dern, Adam Scott, Zoe Kravitz, James Tupper and Jeffrey Nording. The show was written and created by David E. Kelly, seven-time Emmy winner for "Picket Fences," "LA Law," "The Practice" and "Ally McBeal." There is a death in the show, but the series is constructed so the viewer does not know who the victim is until the finale.

The show has been nominated for 16 Emmys. There are inside the episode featurettes for six of the seven episodes (episode two is the one without; they average about a minute each), as well as a look at the series with interviews (7:25). Grade: series 3.75 stars; extras 1/2 star

Crashing: The Complete First Season (HBO, 2 Blu-ray or standard DVDs, TV-MA, 240 min.). This show stars creator Pete Holmes, one of today's most popular stand-up comedians. It is a semi-autobiographical comedy that follows a fictional version of Holmes as his suburban life unravels, causing him to lose everything but his sense of humor. The show's Holmes is struggling to find his comedic voice while recovering from the devastating end of his marriage to Jessica (Lauren Lapkus). There is a series of well known stand-up comedians playing themselves (more or less), and some insider humor about what it is like to work the club circuit. Holmes is generally awkward and there is a bit of slapstick.

Extras include Holmes talking about working with guest comedians Artie Lange, T.J. Miller, Hannibal Buress and Sarah Silverman (about 15 min. total); Miller, Aparna Nancheria and Holmes performing scenes; a look at the series with Holmes and producer Judd Apatow (1:48); and a discussion of what it takes to make it in the comedy business (2:38). Grade: season 3.5 stars; extras 2 stars

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