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Posts Tagged ‘Jason Flemyng’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published October 30th 2003:

For some reason, some writers meet more than their fair share of bad luck when it comes to adaptations of their work. Stephen King is legendarily unlucky in this department (although Shawshank Redemption‘s legion of admirers will point out than when one of his films works, it really works). And, to judge from the critical reception accorded to last year’s From Hell and this summer’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, comics scribe Alan Moore seems to be acquiring a similar jinx.

I’m honestly not exaggerating much when I say that Alan Moore has a fair claim to the title of the greatest comic-book writer in history. The League (co-created with Kevin O’Neill) is one of his minor, more playful works, but still streets ahead of virtually everything else on the market, a winning mixture of superhero staples, steampunk imagery, black comedy and genuine erudition.

On the face of it, Stephen Norrington’s adaptation sticks pretty close to the spirit of the original. In 1899, beastliness is afoot as a tank ram-raids the Bank of England, the German Zeppelin fleet is destroyed in its hangars, and all sorts of other caddish behaviour generally occurs. It soon becomes clear – an evil mastermind known as the Fantom is trying to start the First World War fifteen years early!

In Kenya, ageing adventurer Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery) is recruited by a mysterious spymaster known only as M (Richard Roxburgh) to lead his new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and stop the Fantom – said League being a motley group comprising Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), Dr Jekyll (Jason Flemyng), Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), Dorian Grey (Stuart Townsend), Tom Sawyer (Shane West) and an Invisible Man (Tony Curran). If you don’t know who all of these characters are, stop reading the review now and join a library. If you don’t know who any of them are, just stop reading the review.

This is, to put it mildly, an incredibly goofy premise for any fictional work and it’s to the credit of Norrington and screenwriter David Goyer (a comics writer of considerable skill himself) that it works as well as it does for the big screen (this kind of unlikely teaming-up happens all the time in comics – anyone remember the time Daredevil met Uri Geller? – which made it slightly easier for the book). The art direction is terrific, getting the balance between historical realism and steampunk excess just about right. The special effects are also never less than acceptable, and occasionally very impressive – one CGI brawl easily outpunches the closing battle in the rather bigger-budget Hulk.

Sean Connery’s rather fraught relationship with the director has been well documented, and it’s clear why the great man has virtually disowned the movie – for once Connery’s presence doesn’t swamp proceedings and everyone in the ensemble gets a chance to shine and do their thing. This is a bit of a mixed blessing, to be honest, as the script is nowhere near as subtle or as truthful to the source works as the comic (rather than the book’s courteous and noble psychopath, the film’s Nemo is a polite pirate/martial artist whose death-worship is rather glossed over), but it is exactly what the film needs and infinitely preferable to another film cruelly sacrificed on the altar of Connery’s ego.

But the lack of subtlety and wit in the script is generally reflected in the quality of the performances. As usual, Stuart Townsend is a particular offender and Richard Roxburgh (soon to be seen embodying another iconic character from Victorian literature in next summer’s Van Helsing) goes inexplicably and ridiculously Cockney near the end. Shane West makes zero impression as the parachuted-in Tom Sawyer, and were he appearing alongside any other actor than Sean Connery, their scenes together (which aspire to depict a warm, paternal relationship) would actually come across as slightly homo-erotic.

And, to be fair, there’s a horrendous second act sag – once the League has been assembled, things grind to an utter standstill while characters are laboriously developed and crushingly unsubtle clues as to the identity of the villains are planted all over the place. And when things do get going again, they take the form of a rather dull and half-baked Venetian action sequence which very nearly scuttles the film for good. But it rallies strongly, with some good gags and a carefully constructed climax, and I came out feeling generally well-disposed towards the movie.

The Year of the Superhero has turned out to be a bit of a damp squib as far as our spandex-clad friends are concerned, with Daredevil and Hulk both proving disappointments and only X2 really delivering on all levels. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is inevitably a bit of a disappointment, given its pedigree, but, freed from the demands of summer-blockbusterdom by its delayed release, it’s entertaining enough in its own way. Flawed, but fun.

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As a study in contrasts, and because it’s a guilty pleasure, let us examine the middle child of the mighty Transporter franchise, not entirely unexpectedly entitled Transporter 2. All the key personnel that made the first film so very special return for this 2005 sequel: Luc Besson writes and produces, Louis Leterrier directs, Cory Yuen choreographs the martial arts, and Jason Statham sweats a lot and battles to produce a convincing American accent. 

As the film opens, main man Frank Martin (Statham) has taken a break from his usual line as a getaway driver and underworld courier and is working as a chaffeur for a wealthy family in Miami, Florida (man of principle Frank may be, but he must have faked his references or something). All is not well as the husband (Matthew Modine, slumming it just a tiny bit) is a workaholic knob (but still a basically decent guy, as he works in drug enforcement) and his wife (Amber Valletta) is struggling with feelings for Frank (which, quite properly, he refuses to take advantage of, although this is possibly because he is – look, just keep reading). Frank is left to look after their young son.

Luckily enough, carnage ensues when suave mercenary Cellini (Alessandro Gassman) kidnaps the lad as part of a fiendish plot to undermine the international war on drugs, very nearly framing Frank for the deed in the process. With the FBI, local cops, and US Marshals all basically having their heads up their own bottoms, it falls to our hero to uncover the evil scheme and sort it all out. And if that means driving everywhere very fast, taking off his shirt, and kicking in crowds of stuntmen, well, a transporter’s gotta do what a transporter’s gotta do…

On one level this is a smart, slick, and confident sequel that knows its audience’s expectations well enough to play with them just a little. The movie opens with a reprise of the beginning of the original, with a neat twist and a fight sequence included just to make it clear that it’s business as usual here. There are some objectionably sentimental scenes between Statham and the kid but before very long the movie slams into top gear and stays there for the duration. Fashionable and a nuanced performer he is not, but Jason Statham is simply very good at this kind of thing: endlessly watchable, quietly charismatic, and almost always convincing in the martial arts sequences.

And yet, and yet. Transporter 2 is a perfectly efficient and confident action movie, but for me it doesn’t quite have the magic of the original film. At first I put this down to the fact that while the first film did a very good job of appearing to have been made ‘for real’ as far as most of its stunts were concerned, this instalment is stuffed with fairly indifferent CGI shots, and as a result the atmosphere created is much less involving.

I suppose you can say something similar about the story. The extraordinary thing for me about the first movie, particularly on first seeing it, was the way it basically consisted of a series of immaculately choreographed action sequences held together by one of the thinnest and least thought-through storylines I’d ever seen. It’s not that The Transporter‘s plot is silly: it’s just practically non-existent.

In contrast, Transporter 2‘s plot is rather complicated, but also utterly absurd, comic-book stuff about magic viruses and things like that. The tone is set by a sequence in which Frank has no end of bother trying to get away from a submachinegun-toting supermodel in lingerie (Kate Nauta) who later transforms into the pole dancer from Hell. It’s just very, very silly, obsessed with image rather than any kind of substance or plausibility (then again, as I’ve already mentioned this is a Luc Besson script, you could probably have taken that as read) and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t even make sense on its own terms. As an action movie, of course, this by no means makes it any less enjoyable.

One should probably mention the is-he-or-isn’t-he issue of Frank’s sexuality at some point in a review of this movie: director Leterrier is fond of going on about how Frank is actually gay, as demonstrated by his refusal to get it on with his employer’s wife – ‘it’s not who you are, it’s who I am,’ he growls by way of (rather vague) explanation. Certainly Frank’s legendary prissiness about his personal grooming and car support this idea, but (needless to say) Statham insists Leterrier never mentioned it to him, and it’s sort of undermined by the enthusiastically hetero pursuits Frank indulges in in the other two movies. Nice idea though.

Also nice is the presence in this movie of Jason Flemyng, who cheerfully overacts as a Russian germ warfare boffin in Cellini’s employ – just a shame he doesn’t get more to do, especially as he and Jason Statham appear to be having a private ‘who can do the silliest accent’ contest. Popping up from the first movie – and seemingly here mainly to establish some kind of connection with the original film beyond simply the presence of Statham in it – is Francois Berleand as Frank’s dodgy French mate Tarconi. He is basically just a comic relief Frenchman. I’m not sure any film has actually needed a comic relief Frenchman, but Transporter 2 departs so thoroughly from reality that you don’t really mind.

Am I coming across as at all ambivalent about this movie? If so, I think that reflects my feelings towards it quite well. On its own terms this is a fun, well-made, completely ludicrous action movie starring one of my favourite performers – it’s only as the sequel to one of my favourite, and most-watched films of the past decade that Transporter 2 is a little disappointing.

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I’ve resisted the temptation to post week-by-week reviews of the series of Primeval that’s just wrapped up on ITV. This is partly because, while it’s a good show, it’s not quite in the first rank, and partly because I’d probably have ended up saying the same things every time. My impression after the first episode, as you may recall, was that the series was showing ominous signs of having jumped the shark during its unplanned hiatus from our screens. Did the rest of the run do anything to shake this?
 
Well, a little. It was somewhat obvious that a budget cut had occurred, although the production’s move to Ireland was by no means obvious. Occasionally, short-cuts in the special effects budget were a little blatant – fight sequences where the human performer and the beastie were both filmed in close up, and never in the same shot – but this was more than compensated for later in the run. I wasn’t quite sure of what to make of the fact that the creature focus this series was on prehistoric reptiles more than ever before (and no future-creatures at all). Possibly this was a marketing decision and this is now A Show About Dinosaurs.

This series’s main problem was the one I outlined in my thoughts on the first episode, however: the loss of several major characters and the need to replace them in a hurry. Recipient of the rawest deal here was Ruth Kearney, who worked wonders with a character who was little more than a cipher, her most noticeable characteristic being a crush on Boring Old Becker. Most regrettable was the absence of Jason Flemyng, who always brought a lovely spiky energy to the show – in comparison, Ciaran McMenamin always seemed a little too restrained. And while both Cutter and Quinn were given a strong character background on their first appearances, Anderson wasn’t – and the revelation of his real agenda was arguably left too late in the run. (Apparently some background on Matt Anderson and something approaching an introduction was provided via webisode. If so, I am not impressed.)

 

From left to right: underestimated, undervalued, underwritten, unbearably dull and underused.

With the ongoing storyline with Helen Cutter concluded, the whole series seemed at times to be hunting around for a new direction, with various ongoing elements appearing from episode to episode, none of them in a particularly arresting manner. The truth – that, for the most part, they were either connected to each other or to previous storylines – was kept back for an extremely busy final episode with almost too much going on in it. A little more drip-feeding of clues and connections wouldn’t have gone amiss – characters whose secrets we know, or who are trying to solve particular mysteries, can be engaging. Characters we don’t know that well wandering around being enigmatic is just a bit tedious.

The good things about this series were mainly holdovers from earlier ones: as I’ve said before, Andrew-Lee Potts and Hannah Spearitt are now the core of this show and were consistently engaging throughout, as was Ben Miller (who seemed to get rather less screen-time than usual this year). Some sort of mention, if only for being so very easy on the eye, must go to Ruth Bradley – hopefully we haven’t seen the last of her or her character.

The individual episodes were on the whole okay, although the lack of variety in this year’s creatures didn’t help to make them stand out from one another. Episode four managed to confound my expectations by having a teenage girl not rescued by the team and horribly slaughtered by a beastie – a bold move, but rather incongruous given the mainstream audience this show’s still theoretically pitching for.

I say ‘theoretically’ – in addition to apparently doing some key storytelling via supplementary internet material, this series also seemed to be pitching to its fanbase with the return of a few old characters, some more prominent than others. It was obviously nice to see Lucy Brown again, but she was hardly vital to the plot of episode six (inevitably memories of the Torchwood episode Something Borrowed crowded my brain, given the premise). Jason Flemyng’s eventual reappearance was the making of the series finale in all sorts of ways. The ongoing storylines genuinely seemed to be progressing for the first time all series, there was a definite sense of closure to a couple of them, and Boring Old Becker got repeatedly tasered: it was the best of a fairly indifferent bunch.

Hopefully it bodes well for the upcoming final series, because everything now seems a bit clearer. We know what Matt Anderson’s agenda is, we know what’s happened to all the other main characters (well, the fate of Sarah Page remains a little vague, but we know enough to make a guess), and above all we know who the new main villain of the series really is. With the decks thus cleared, hopefully the final set of episodes can display some of the wit and deftness and invention which distinguished the earlier seasons.

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