There’s no reason to expect much of a plotline when it comes to a videogame-turned-movie and in that sense DOA: Dead or Alive truly delivers. The journey begins with three women. First we meet Princess Kasumi (Devon Aoki) who lives in the mountains of Japan. She is told that her brother is gone but is warned that if she leaves to look for him she will become an outcast aka Shinobi. Nonetheless she wards off rows of ninjas and literally jumps off an entire mountain range to escape. Next up is Tina (Jaime Pressly) a female wrestler who’s sick of the superficiality that apparently goes along with her fame. Tina warns her father (Kevin Nash) to stop trying to coerce her back into the game but that’s before a boatful of thugs try to overtake her luxury yacht in the South China Sea. Tina makes quick work of the amateur thieves. Finally there’s girly girl Christie (Holly Valance) a burgling multitasker who can simultaneously throw on a bra and throw down in a fight. What do these three femme fatales have in common? Their skills have earned them an invite to the all-exclusive DOA tournament which crowns the world’s best martial artist. Even a dream-team action trio of say Angelina Jolie (circa the Tomb Raiders) Uma Thurman (circa the Kill Bills) and Ziyi Zhang (circa Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) couldn’t lend credibility to DOA; playing in this movie is simply a losing battle even if they win the whole damn DOA tournament. At least Pressly Aoki and Valance (and Sarah Carter if you count her as the hostess/competitor amongst the lead chicks) look pretty while looking bad. Pressly it should be said probably wouldn’t have even thought of accepting such a role had she known My Name Is Earl would be such a hit. But here she is kicking butt while looking freakishly toned enough to become a gaming-geek goddess. As for her acting Pressly basically replicates her backwoods Earl sensibilities and makes it work as best she can. Aoki (Sin City) continuing her trend of solid acting in mostly terrible movies actually looks the most “videogame ” while Valance (Pledge This!) makes her sultry fighter hot enough to distract from her ho-hum acting. But it’s Eric Roberts--he of approximately half the movies and TV shows made over the last three decades--who adds the occasional funny-bad vibe as DOA’s eventual bad guy. Nobody else could’ve played his role partly because nobody else would’ve wanted to. Oh videogame movies when will you learn that crossovers never work—especially in your “genre?" As sure as Russell Crowe’s 30 Odd Foot of Grunts will never make a blip on the Billboard charts and wrestlers will never be able to act a videogame will never amount to a good movie. At least DOA unapologetically plays out like a videogame: When a fight ends for example a “K.O.” (knockout) appears on the screen. It is one of the more ludicrous moments ever committed to celluloid but it’s director Corey Yuen’s way of staying faithful to the game version as well as his target audience. Having been a longtime choreographer—on everything from Lethal Weapon 4 to Transporter 2 and some non-sequels in between—Yuen has the chops to create a great fight scene but he is clearly not a director. Positively everything outside of the fight sequences is cringe-inducing for its lameness and insignificance. The fact there is even an attempt to build a story—by no less than four writers mind you—around what is a very literal translation of a pure fighting videogame is gratuitous in itself. Besides an hour and a half of mostly fight scenes would’ve been more appreciated by the bleary-eyed gamer audience anyway.
Creating a scent on screen has long been thought to be impossible—but Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is an above-average effort triggering the raw emotions from smell without the gimmicks of 1950's Smell-O-Vision. Based on the best-selling novel by Patrick Suskind Perfume focuses on Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) a weird dude who was born into filth and poverty amid the guts and vomit of an open-air French fish market. Although he has no human scent of his own Grenouille’s world-class sense of smell is able to penetrate people's skin—and he’s attracted to the female scent. Not in a sexual way mind you; he wants only to bottle it. When Grenouille meets fallen (but still legendary) perfumer Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman) the younger sets out to titrate the most elusive perfume known to man: A woman's pheromones. Problem is women won't stay long enough so Grenoiulle can capture their scent and the young man ends up killing them. When Grenoiulle kills a powerful merchant's (Alan Rickman) daughter his execution is planned for a public square. Whishaw is the real star here but playing Grenouille may have proven a challenge for the young British actor since the character is beloved by fans of the best-selling novel. Whishaw is forced to go mute and inert as Grenoiulle his intensity focused inward with quiet gazes and mysterious intensity arousing doubt and fear. Grenouille is a man handsome in his youth but ultimately one we despise--or at least someone we wouldn’t want to hang out with. And for a change of pace a powdered rosy-cheeked Hoffman comes up smelling roses in this period thriller. As Baldini in costume flair the two-time Oscar winner does something quite different no longer just the colorful supporting player he’s been playing in light dramas such as Finding Neverland and Stranger Than Fiction. Baldini isn't one of Hoffman's best roles as Whishaw owns this film but it's a fun performance which pays attention to the actor’s pronounced proboscis. Rickman of Harry Potter fame is an enraged vengeful father. Natch. Perfume is director Tom Tykwer's first major commercial film since his 1998's go-go thriller Run Lola Run--and as a thriller Perfume is built around solid dialogue-driven scenes notably between Grenouille and Baldini. Apparently 57-year-old German writer Patrick Suskind refused for years to give up the rights to his book but producer Bernd Eichinger—the guy behind The Neverending Story's precocious 1980's futurism—finally won out. Nuggets of Suskind’s literary wisdom only enhance the movie's continuity and realism scattered incrementally to remind us we're watching an intelligently conceived film. Perfume is unwieldy at 147 minutes however a bit fatty and unnecessary at the film's cost. Sometimes that happens with novel adaptations especially one as popular as Perfume. In fact the film ends with an unusually bizarre orgy with hundreds of naked people writhing in hormone-driven ecstasy. What smells so lovely Mr. Tykwer?
Idi Amin was the ruthless dictator of the African nation of Uganda throughout much of the 1970s. He was ultimately blamed for thousands upon thousands of deaths (some estimates place the death toll in the hundreds of thousands) during his tenure. The Last King of Scotland is a fictionalized version of Amin’s (Forest Whitaker) reign of terror. Giddy after graduating from med school in Scotland Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) randomly picks Uganda to be his first post-college destination. When he gets there the locals are abuzz after the new leader has been sworn in and vows to right all that is wrong with the country. After a chance encounter with Amin Garrigan bears witness to his dichotomous personalities as the ruler goes from threatening to charming on a whim. Amin is so taken with the young doctor--and vice versa--that he invites Garrigan to become his personal physician. A doctor-patient relationship leads to close friendship and before long Garrigan is the very center of the dictator’s inner circle. And not long thereafter he learns that there is no worse place to be. For over 20 years now we’ve all bore witness to Whitaker’s mastery of acting. His choices have been eclectic and his performances consistently great but it’s always been a case of “And oh Forest Whitaker’s great too.” Until now. Whitaker makes what can only be described as an earthquake of an entrance. It’s clear in the movie when Amin will first appear and yet the actor still manages to catch us off-guard. Amin’s manic personalities are child’s play for Whitaker but he never has fun with it which is where other actors might have gone overboard. He is now leading the race for the Best Actor Oscar too. Not that the supporting players are too shabby though. McAvoy's (The Chronicles of Narnia) Garrigan is actually the heart of the story allowing for more screen time than Whitaker and the Scotsman soaks up every second. He sticks out like a sore thumb in the film but not only because he’s from the opposite side of the earth; it’s because McAvoy the actor makes sure to react differently to everything. In addition former X-File-r Gillian Anderson turns in a solid if short apperance--and you’ll be surprised how amazingly hot she is! Kerry Washington (Mr. and Mrs. Smith) as one of Amin’s countless neglected ex-wives is superb as well.
The contrast between Last King's first and second half is as night-and-day as Amin's personalities. In the first half director Kevin MacDonald (Touching the Void) allows the story to simmer to the point of perfection; in the second half he gets sloppy as though in a rush to finish a different movie than the one he started. The ending also a mix of truth and fable (plucked from the highly acclaimed book by Giles Foden) quickly spirals towards its conclusion which is tough to watch for very different reasons. But prior to that--even at some points in the uneven second half--MacDonald paints a beautiful monster out of Amin. Maybe more importantly he paints a beautiful picture of African ambiance an indirect thank you to the Ugandan people that allowed unprecedented access to their country for the sake of Last King. Even with MacDonald's occasional blunders it's hard to deny the power of his film.