The Things You Find On Netflix: The Scorpion King 4: Quest For Power (dir by Mike Elliott)


Believe it or not, The Scorpion King 4: Quest For Power is a historical footnote.  It is the first 2015 release to be available for viewing on Netflix streaming!  That’s because The Scorpion King 4 was a straight-to-video release and Universal Pictures doesn’t seem to have much faith in the film’s commercial prospects.  In fact, if not for my love of historical footnotes, I probably would never have even watched the film.

But I did watch it, mostly because I didn’t like the idea of The Woman In Black 2 being the only 2015 films that I had seen up to that point.

And you know what?

The Scorpion King 4 is cheap, silly, and often times impossible to follow.  But, when taken on its own terms, it’s also a lot of fun.  At the very least, it’s more entertaining than The Woman In Black 2.

Scorpion-King-4

As for what the film is about … well, that’s a good question.  To be honest, I’ve never seen any of the previous Scorpion King films.  I know from Wikipedia that the character was spun-off from Brendan Fraser’s old Mummy film and, while I’ve seen bits and pieces of it on cable over the years, I’ve never actually sat through that entire movie.  However, I do know that the Mummy was Egyptian and apparently, so was the Scorpion King.

So, you would assume that Scorpion King 4 would take place in ancient Egypt.  And indeed, the opening scene is set in the desert and involves the Scorpion King, also known as Mathayus (Victor Webster), and his partner Drazen (Will Kemp) storming a fortress that feels vaguely Egyptian.  After a lengthy battle, Mathayus and Drazen steal an urn that is covered with hieroglyphics.  However, Drazen double crosses Mathayus and takes the urn for himself.

Okay, I thought, we’re obviously in Egypt.

Except, of course, in the very next scene, Mathayus meets with his employer, King Zakour (Rutger Hauer).  King Zakour explains that Drazen is the son of a rival king (played by Michael Biehn, who makes little effort to hide his Southern accent).  Zakour also explains that the urn hides mystical secrets that, if deciphered, could allow Drazen to conquer the world.  Zakour sends Mathays to the rival kingdom, ordering him to deliver a peace treaty.

And, while Zakour delivers all of this exposition, it’s hard not to notice that he appears to live in an ancient Roman villa and he has a rather cheap-looking crown perched on his head.

Okay, I thought, the film has moved to the Roman Empire but at least I know we’re still in ancient times…

Except then Mathayus rides his camel into the rival kingdom and it turns out to look a like the set from a community theater production of Spamalot.  As soon as Mathayus arrives, he is captured by Drazen’s men and ends up in a jail cell next to Valina (Ellen Holman), a revolutionary who is wearing a green, prison bikini top.  After Mathays is framed for the king’s death, he and Valina escape from the prison and run into the wilderness, where Valina changes into a battle-worthy bikini top.

They reach the house of Valina’s father (Barry Bostwick) and it turns out to be a Dutch windmill!  So, within the first 30 minutes of the film, we’ve gone from ancient Egypt to the Roman Empire to a medieval village in England to Renaissance Netherlands.  Eventually, our characters will end up in another village, one that happens to feature a temple that looks a lot like a left over set from Hercules in the Haunted World…

What’s surprising is that the film’s refusal to settle on a definite setting or time period is actually oddly charming.  As soon as that windmill showed up and a feather-covered Barry Bostwick flew across screen (Bostwick is an inventor who has filled the windmill with blueprints for cars and airplanes), I knew that this was a film that was at peace with being a mess.  And you had to respect the film’s no apologies attitude towards being incoherent.

Trying to keep up with the plot is exhausting so I suggest that, if you should find yourself watching The Scorpion King 4, you ignore the plot.  The best thing about The Scorpion King 4 is that it doesn’t take itself all that seriously.  All of the dialogue is either intentionally melodramatic or anachronistically humorous and all of the actors seem to be having fun going over the top.  Some of the fight scenes are exciting, some of the scenery is pretty, and some parts of the film are better than others.

In the end, The Scorpion King 4 is pretty forgettable.  But it’s still better than The Woman In Black 2.

Scorpion King, The Lost Throne

Review: Game of Thrones S2E08 “The Prince of Winterfell”


“One game at a time my good friend.” — Tyrion Lannister

The second season of HBO’s Game of Thrones has been quite similar to the first season in that for every great episode we get one not so great, but still one that’s needed to help further the season’s narrative to it’s conclusion. This season it’s the effect that the War of the Five Kings has had one everyone from those vying for the Iron Throne to the lowly peasant who must endure the war that has engulfed Westeros. Even the lands of Essos across the Narrow Sea has felt the ripple effect of this war as we see Daenerys Targaryen struggle in her attempts to gain allies in a land content to see the kingdoms of Westeros fight each other into disunity.

Tonight’s eight episode of the season, “The Prince of Winterfell”, was not a great episode but it was crucial in further fleshing out some of the main characters who continues to have an effect on the war. The title itself as meaning one of the Stark sons, but in this episode this label could mean so many characters.

It could mean Theon Greyjoy who has made himself the new Lord of Winterfell as he and his score of Ironborn have forcibly taken the capital of the North a couple episodes back. We’ve seen him play the role of lord, or more like play-act the role, since taking Winterfell, but his decisions since then has made him even more petty than we’ve ever seen him through all of season 1. His behavior is a constant reminder that while he spent most of his life amongst the Starks — as part of his father’s punishment for rebelling against Robert Baratheon — he never picked up the concept of honor fom Ned Stark or through the actions of Ned’s boys. He’s like a spoiled young boy trying to please everyone and show them that he’s worthy of praise when what he’s done just makes him look more and more pathetic to those he’s trying to impress.

The scene between Theon and his sister Yara was quite illuminating in how the former went against his father’s orders and his people’s method of warfare because he envies the sort of respect and influence his sister has over the Ironborn men. Influence that goes against everything Theon thinks how a woman should be and that’s naked and subservient to him, or at least to men. Yara doesn’t resent her brother and actually cares for him in her own fashion. She even understands why he does what he does and how their shared experiences with their father, Balon Greyjoy, binds them closer than Theon would like to think.

Theon has been given chances and opportunities to think things more logically and with a keen mind, but he has squandered all these chances (one even coming from the sister he thinks doesn’t respect him) and just continues to dig the proverbial grave he might just find himself in. He may be the Lord and Prince of Winterfell now, but only he seems to believe that to be true.

On the other hand, we have Robb Stark down south, King of the North by his bannermen’s acclaim, but still just a Prince of Winterfell who would like nothing but to return to his birthplace and take up the duties now given onto him by the death of his father. He would rather return to guarding the North and supporting the Night’s Watch aat the Wall than continue to fight a war that he has lost much desire to fight. But he knows he must continue his campaign against King Joffrey and the Lannisters. Too much blood has been spilt by men under his banner and the honor and duty he learned from his father means he must set aside sentimental things (like running back North to retake Winterfell and free his younger brothers). The fact that he understands the damage Catelyn’s actions in regards to the Kingslayer and his orders to have her guarded like a prisoner means he has learned to set aside familial feelings for the greater good.

Robb Stark has learned much to be like his father and while much of it has been to his advantage in prosecuting the war and keeping his alliance of bannermen together he has also picked up his father’s flaw of allowing his heart to dictate an action that may just jeopardize everything he has gained since the war began. Even knowing that he’s arranged to marry one of the Frey daughters as price to move his army down south his feelings for Talisa (the camp chirurgeon and a lady of Volantis herself) finally overrides his reason and duty. For those who have read the book this scene was both touching and maddening. For those who have never read the book this scene will still be touching in that Robb followed his heart, but also maddening in that he puts in danger the alliances with the important House of Frey to satisfy his heart.

The rest of “The Prince of Winterfell” was more about moving the pieces on the board closer to that inevitable clash between the armies of Joffrey at King’s Landing and Stannis Baratheon with his fleet bearing down on the capital. All these build-up scenes added to subplots that has grown since the beginning of the season. If there was one sequence that seemed very out of place and felt like just spinning wheels in place it would be with Daenerys at Qarth as she once again agonizes about her kidnapped “babies” and how she must get them back. Now that she knows that the warocks of Qarth have the dragonlings sequestered in the Tower of the Undying one would think she would have tried to get them back, but instead we get more scenes of her and Jorah debating on the need to have the dragon’s back. While this part of the season doesn’t come close to being the “Sophia in the Barn” frustrating it’s getting close.

We now have two more episodes left in the season and it looks like the Battle of Blackwater Pass from the novels may just arrive with the next episode. Will Tyrion be able to beat back Stannis’ siege of King’s Landing? Will Theon survive the season as Lord of Winterfell? Will Robb’s actions with Talisa destroy everything he has built since the war began? There’s so much questions and with two episodes left it will be quite the juggling act for the show’s writers to answer them all without having them seemed rushed.

Review: Game of Thrones S2E07 “A Man Without Honor”


“It’s hard to put a leash on a dog once you put a crown on it’s head.” — Tyrion Lannister

“A Man Without Honor” is the name of tonight’s episode which also happens to be the season’s seventh. How time flies when one is enjoying a series, but this is amplified when it’s a series that only runs ten episodes a season. Considering that HBO’s other hit series in True Blood gets twelve episodes a season makes giving the channel’s biggest hit and moneymaker only ten a season an interesting choice. Having ten episodes a season definitely allows for the series to not dawdle on too many subplots, but it also means certain characters and events in the book source either got dropped (some for the better and others not so well-handled) or amalgamated with others to create something wholly different. Tonight we got some great examples of how changes from book-to-screen made for a better narrative.

Tonight’s episode moved from place to place. We get to spend some time with Jon Snow north of the Wall with his wildling prisoner Ygritte. There’s some definite sexual tension between these two young people as Ygritte constantly baits Jon about their night spent close together (only for warmth as Jon kept trying to tell the young lass) and how Snow and his brother Crows must either be having congress with each other (something Jon denies very loudly) or with the local goat population (for some reason his denials about this weren’t as loud). Throughout their exchanges Jon continues to act the honorable man he was brought up to be by his father Ned Stark and he even tells Ygritte this though something he wishes he kept to himself if her reaction to the information was any indication.

Jon’s honorable behavior during his time with Ygritte and the consequence of it at the end of their part in tonight’s episode was a constant reminder about how Ned Stark’s brand of honor and intractable principles really has no place in the world created by George R.R. Martin. It’s idealism that masks the truth of the reality around them and Jon Snow, like his father before him, might be too late in learning the true costs of his idealism.

The same could be said about Daenerys over at Qarth as she has to deal with more of her followers dead because they decided to trust and follow her. Then there’s the little thing about her dragonlings still missing and taken by one of the Thirteen. It’s easy enough to surmise that the warlocks of Qarth had taken her dragons, but as to the reason other than wanting them still eludes the young Targaryen Queen-to-be. It’s left to her guardian knight and close adviser Ser Jorah Mormont to try and talk some sense into her, but as her experiences in Essos has clearly been teaching her it’s trust that she can’t afford to have anymore. Whether it’s others offering their trust or her being asked to trust in others. Here we see Ser Jorah testing the boundaries of Daenerys’ trust towards him and we see even more clearly that he has had and continues to have some very strong feelings towards his khaleesi that even Daenerys begins to suspect.

Unlike Jon up North, at least Daenerys has begun to shed some of the idealism she started this series with and looking towards learning how to truly become a ruler of people. Once again idealism was the casualty in this part of the episode but one that might help Daenerys survive a little longer in this deadly game of thrones.

Tonight’s episode also sees the return of the Kingslayer. He still remains a captive of the Starks, but now has a jailhouse companion in a distant relative the young Alton Lannister who once squired for him in years past. This section of the episode was really one extended exposition done well as we get a deeper look into the backstory of Jaime Lannister. He’s much more than the male half of the twincest pairing of the show, but unlike Cersei he seems to have accepted his lot in life and the sort of figurative bastard he has turned out. His reminiscing to Alton about his own time as a young squire was quite honorable in putting the young man at ease, but once again Jaime continues to be this show’s rare survivor in that he uses everyone he thinks could be of use to help him survive one day longer even if it means killing several young men in less than a night and throwing the hypocrisy of the Stark honor back at Catelyn’s face.

Jaime might be a villain, but he’s one who doesn’t blame his lot in life for turning him so and sees clearly how those who try to look down on him might be just as sullied and dishonorable as he is. He just happens to admit to it.

The best part of tonight’s episode once again come from one of the major changes from book-to-tv. It’s an extended scene between Tywin Lannister and Arya as the two sit down for a meal and talk. It never happened in the novel, but the fact that the showrunners thought this peculiar relationship between the elder Lannister and the young Stark daughter would make for some strong scenes and dialogue was a change that I fully accept. The back and forth between Charles Dance as Tywin and Maisie Williams as the young Arya was great. Whenever Tywin makes mention of how observant and learned his cupbearer seem to be Arya would have a ready-made reply. Even when Tywin makes it known that he believes her to be more than a local peasant girl but more akin to a noble-born Arya doesn’t break stride and continues her charade.

What’s great about this scene is how we’re able to believe Arya’s deft ability to stay in character even when she knows she might have been found out. She’s learned to play the part to help her survive and even gotten better to hide her true feelings from her face. Even Tywin seem to be quite impressed by Arya and even though he might have some suspicions about her true upbringing he’s still not fully sure about the truth of it so he bides his time. The two characters really look like they would’ve made the perfect father and daughter if not for their present situation.

Finally, we see just how low a man without honor can go. Back in Winterfell we see “Prince” Theon blaming everyone but himself for allowing the two young Stark boys to escape the castle. We see how he’s turned to violence as a way to court respect from his men when all it does is just show just how much a child playing at ruler he truly looks. What’s worst is how the episode ends with what looked like two young figures burnt beyond recognition and hanged above the castle gates and Theon looking like he had a hand in it. If people had any sort of sympathy for the Greyjoy son tonight’s episode did much in burning those bridges.

Tonight’s episode did much to grow some of the characters in the show, but also show how the war between the five kings have shown particular characters faults and virtues. With just three more episodes remaining in the season we’re getting close to the culmination of the war or, at the very least, narrowing down even more pretenders to the rule of Westeros before we look towards season 3 of HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Review: Game of Thrones S2E05 “The Ghost of Harrenhal”


“Anyone can be killed.” — Arya Stark

The first four episodes of the second season of Game of Thrones has been consistently good to great despite the addition of a large number of new characters to a cast already considered massive by tv standards. Last week’s “Garden of Bones” was the weakest of the four and worked more like a set-up episode for the rest of the season. With tonight’s fifth episode in “The Ghost of Harrenhal” we get another set-up episode that looks to be the weakest entry in this new season.

The episode’s title comes from the novel and what Arya calls herself during her stay in Harrenhal. She becomes the ghost of the title as she takes the offer made to her by the engimatic Jaqen H’ghar. But before we get to Arya and her adventures within the cursed halls of Harrenhal we start the episode back at the Renly Baratheon camp where the younger Barantheon entertains Catelyn Stark with an offer to take back to her son Robb in the North. Before the armies of Renly and Robb could come together to fight against their common enemy that the shadowy thing from the end of last week’s episode finally make it’s appearance to end the fight between the Baratheon brothers once and for all.

As Arya comments to Tywin in Harrenhal thus Renly’s fate early in the episode prove her words correct. Anyone can be killed and it would seem anywhere.

The rest of the episode from then on is all about setting up what I can only guess would be the two set piece events for the season. There’s the planned amphibious invasion of King’s landing being planned by Stannis Baratheon with his reinforced army now that Renly’s bannermen has flocked to him after their former liege’s assassination. Then there’s the stuff brewing up north of the Wall with the entire Night’s Watch searching for and preparing for the massive wildling army being formed by former Night’s Watch brother and self-proclaimed “King Beyond the Wall”.

Most of the dynamic writing for tonight’s episode occur down at King’s Landing and Harrenhal where we see both Tyrion and Arya adjusting to the ever-shifting status in both places. With Tyrion he must now contend with an older sister in Cersei who seem to be waking up to the fact that she cannot bully the current Hand of the King and realizes that she too can play the manipulative game as her deformed younger sibling. The fact that a weapon of mass destruction has been in production for quite sometime without his knowing and put into motion by his sister has put the usually cocky and confident Tyrion on his heels. But as we’ve seen since this show began airing the dwarf Lannister is very quick to adjust his footing. It’s going to be interesting how the writers will keep the personal battles between Tyrion and Cersei for control of King’s Landing to not feel like wheel’s spinning in place. Sooner or later one of them will find the chink in the other’s personal armor and make the “killing” stroke.

Further up north we see Arya do her own dance around the shifting circumstance she finds herself in as the personal cupbearer for the man who heads the house she despises and blames for the death of her father. The back and forth between her and Tywin was one of the highlight’s of tonight’s episode even though it didn’t move the story forward, but did add another layer of character growth on the youngest Stark daughter. Maisie Williams as Arya continues to impress in the role. She looked like she belonged in the scene with the older veteran actor in Charles Dance. It’s a small wonder that she’s become one of the show’s favorite characters.

With tonight’s episode we hit the halfway mark of the season and even though there’s still another half to go so much stuff occurred with tonight’s episode that it’ll be a surprise if the season finale gives all of them a satisfying resolution. I haven’t even mentioned the scenes with Theon trying to find his footing with his crew before setting off to raid the coastline near Winterfell as his father has ordered him to do.

If there was ever a weak point in this season it’s that we seem to get a new subplot introduced with each new episode and tonight’s episode was a perfect example. Not saying that tonight was poorly written and acted. Everyone seemed to be in top form, but instead of streamlining what is already turning out to be a season with an ever-growing number of storylines we get more. It’s going to be a wonder how the show’s writers will be able to juggle everything as the season enters it’s second half. Maybe they won’t find a resolution for every thread introduced this season and I’m betting that is how it’s going to pan out, but that could also mean delaying some of these threads for next season.

If there’s one thing people should know about George R.R. Martin’s novels it’s that plots, subplots and side stories only continue to pile on each other even when some past ones get a resolution. Sooner or later the showrunners will have to make a tough decision to abandon certain storylines from the novel even if it means angering and alienating the fans of the books who are already grumbling about some of the changes the show has already made in adapting the series to television.

I’m all for fidelity to the source material, but as Arya said in tonight’s episode, “Anyone can be killed”, and I say the same thing should go in how the show moves on into the second half and beyond. Any storyline can be cut and I’m all for it if it keeps the series from becoming a narrative bloated mess.

Notes

  • Looks like Renly Baratheon will not be able to play at war again.
  • Brienne is not a woman that any man should anger if what she did in Renly’s tent was any indication.
  • Littlefinger and Margaery Tyrell would make for quite a formidable couple if these two manipulative kids ever decide to get together.
  • We don’t see it happen often but Tyrion definitely looks like he’s not in control of the situation during his conversation with Cersei and then later on with Lancel and his talk of wildfire.
  • For all his work to try and protect the people from Joffrey’s madness Tyrion still ends up on the short end of the stick.
  • Stannis is turning out to be quite a conundrum. One second he’s willing to use underhanded tactics to win over his younger brother’s bannermen to his army, then turns around and becomes his rigid self once again. It’s a wonder that he still has Ser Davos’ loyalty.
  • Tywin at Harrenhal with his war council is a major change from the novel, but it makes sense now that we get a sort of confrontation between the Lannister patriarch and Arya Stark.
  • Highlight of the episode has to be Jaqen and Arya making an arrangement where the former shall repay his life-debt to the latter with the deaths of three names Arya will give the enigmatic soldier.
  • Tyrion finally gets his footing on solid ground again as he takes control of the wildfire production from his sister. I’m thinking King’s Landing would be better served to have the volatile wildfire in the hands of Tyrion than his more equally volatile sister and her insane son.
  • Daenerys gets another lesson in the cutthroat world of diplomacy as she gets a tempting offer from Xaro Xhoan Daxos.
  • Her next lesson on how to be a capable ruler comes from her trusted knight and advisor Ser Jorah who thinks Daxos’ offer will contain strings that she may not be able to cut once accepted.
  • Bran’s dreams seem to portent the coming Ironborns and the former ward and friend in Theon leading them.
  • Rickon Stark looks like he’s becoming wilder and wilder with each appearance.
  • A surprise for the lack of any sort of sexposition or even nudity. Might be a first for this show.
  • One down and two to go.