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Garp's Franchise Film reviews

Garp

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BONUS: 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen' [2003]

Taking a break from mummies for a moment, I'm revisiting some Dracula-themed films with 2003's steampunk-ish 'League of Extraordinary Gentlemen'. Admittedly, the Dracula connection is indirect, featuring Mina Harker in an ensemble role, but still. The film is based on Alan Moore's graphic novel and a number of literary figures brought to life. CGI mayhem ensues.

I don't think I ever read the entire novel, but I can't believe it's anything like this. Plotwise, this film is a disaster. The heroes and the villain meet far too early and the motivation for his actions are ridiculous at best. There are two twists that happen almost simultaneously, lessening the impact for both. There are long stretches put there to add some meat to these characters, but it doesn't work. In fairness, the writers were struggling to find their audience, I think. Jekyll & Hyde need no introduction for most people, but Dorian Gray? Mina Harker? Allan Quartermain? The writers gamely try to add their backstory but it's as hamfisted as the rest of the script.

The dialogue is appalling here. Even Connery - no stranger to the out-of-place bon mot after an action scene - must have wrinkled his nose at some of the quips. "Where are we going, Australia?" he says as he is led down a seemingly never-ending staircase. When one character declares, "Pack for an English summer," you know damn well the next scene will be a rainy London landscape. And Connery all but winks at the camera when he is introduced to his superior by the name of M...

The CGI is acceptable, although they couldn't portray fire or water convincingly in 2003, apparently. The invisible man is visible more than not, and in the cheapest, worst looking way possible. Also, note to the director: explosions are no substitute for story. When characters aren't fighting each other, something is blowing up somewhere. If whizz-bang is your thing, you've found your holy grail. The film ends with yet another literary reference, but by this stage I can't see many people caring.

There's usually something enjoyable to be had in a big, dumb movie sometimes, but I struggled to find it in this one. The concept is a good one (and done so well in, say, 'Penny Dreadful') but it fails here. There's no doubt a better story to be told with these characters, and I expect I would find it between the covers of a book.
 

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'Scorpion King 3' [2012]

Victor Webster dons Dwayne Johnson's sandals to play Mathayus in this rags-to-riches tale. In a part-animated narrated prologue, we discover that Mathayus is down on his luck, having lost his bride and kingdom. He's back being a lone mercenary and is hired to kill a king's brother, as well as a variety of other video game-like quests.

Victor Webster, looking like a bearded Henry Cavill on steroids, is even worse an actor than Dwayne Johnson in the role. He has zero charisma and growls his lines as if English is a second language. Billy Zane obviously missed his calling playing pantomime villains, being so over the top that he might as well be standing on Brian Blessed's shoulders wearing a Abraham Lincoln hat.

The story involves a Book of the Dead and a mysterious ninja leader named Cobra. If you don't figure out who Cobra is within the first 20 minutes or so, you obviously haven't watched as many badly-scripted films as I have. I watched this film a few nights ago and had to check Wikipedia for the synopsis as I have completely forgotten what the hell happened. Apparently there are a few nods and winks to The Mummy series later to come, and Webster returns for the sequel - which is both a blessing or a curse, depending on whether you value continuity over acting. On the whole, a snooze.
 

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BONUS: 'Dracula' [2006]

This made for TV film takes some liberties with the novel (I assume - I still haven't read it), injecting some interesting subplots but ultimately gets too caught up in its own style.

Due to US politics taking over my usual viewing habits recently, I actually watched this many nights ago. My overwhelming memory is 'missed opportunity'. The film has a lot going for it, not least the acting skills of Dan Stevens, Sophia Miles & Tom Burke who are all excellent. Miles and Stephens as the lustful-yet-chaste couple are especially good, and the reason for their chastity (and subsequent arrival of the Count) is cleverly outlined. Marc Warren plays Dracula and is substandard against a stellar cast. He looks like a cross between Malcolm McDowell and Eddie Izzard, and decided that 'odd' is the same as 'brooding and charismatic'. It isn't; despite her unconsummated marriage, I can't see Lucy seriously interested in this creepy weirdo.

David Suchet takes on the Van Helsing role, but it is little more than an extended cameo. He goes for the eccentric old man interpretation when I would have hoped for something different from him. The film also looks sumptuous in sets and costumes, although they scrimped somewhat on the effects. But it is the erratic and choppy nature of the direction and editing that, for me, is its downfall. We are thrown all over the place, rushing from one scene and location to another within the first 15 minutes or so. Nothing is allowed to linger, so nothing resonates. Not every film needs a slow burn, of course, but establishing a time and place consistently isn't too much to ask either. The film does settle a little, but that is more due to the acting of the cast as we begin to care for them than anything the director/editor is doing.

Even so, this is an adaptation worth checking out and one I would watch again sometime. It's an interesting stab (excuse the pun) at something different without going full on Coppola.
 

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'The Scorpion King 4' [2015]

Victor Webster returns as Mathayus, Scorpion King and mercenary, in this light-hearted sequel. Here we have Mathayus sent on another quest by another King to steal an urn with a key to a mythical place... you get the gist.

Is it possible someone made a decent Scorpion King sequel? Well, sort of. They've ditched the earnest solemnity and have taken the tongue-in-cheek route instead. It's certainly a better option, and it does make for a more entertaining film because of it, but considering its competition, that's not saying much. Webster's acting skills haven't gotten any better but at least he seems to be having more fun. He's assisted by an adequate ensemble, including some very well-known faces, but let down by a cliched script (example: "I come in peace" - "You'll leave in pieces"). There are more quips, more action scenes and more nods/homages/rip-offs of other films, notably anything starring Harrison Ford as either Indiana Jones or Han Solo.

Lou Ferrigno plays a prominent part on the blu-ray cover but is a mere cameo in the film, appearing in the first scene and not brought back until the mid-credits scene at the end. Similarly, Rutger Hauer, looking dazed and confused, is cameoed in, but M. Emmet Walsh at least has an interesting role for his walk-on.

Nothing is particularly funny - unless you find the thought of Victor Webster dressed as a woman with a high-pitched voice hilarious - but it's not offensively unfunny either. It seems to know what it wants to be - a mindless direct-to-blu-ray sequel with no delusions of grandeur. The action might be good, but it's so swift and choppy that I couldn't quite tell.

OK, I admit it, I had fun, but my expectations were very low going in. If you absolutely must watch a Scorpion King sequel, this is probably the one you'd want to see so far.
 

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BONUS: 'The Mummy Lives' [1993]

Tony Curtis stars in this horror/thriller in which the mummy does indeed live. After a brief dalliance with the wrong woman, Curtis is buried alive in ancient Egypt, forced to guard the pharaoh's treasures. When he is resurrected 3,000 years later, he still takes his job very seriously & starts offing the archeological team. Meanwhile, a hapless tourist begins having dreams of times gone by, as she becomes entangled in Curtis' obsession of her as his former lover...

This is an interesting film inasmuch as the reason it got made is the reason it fails so spectacularly. Having Tony Curtis in the lead role probably helped bankroll this production, but he is woefully miscast. He is too old to play a romantic lead, alas, and his broad Bronx accent does not immediately bring to mind an ancient Egyptian mystic. At times, it sounds like he's recreating his Cary Grant impersonation from 'Some like it hot'.

Leslie Hardy is 'introduced' in this film as his lover and fails to make much of an impression. The film is supposedly suggested by a Poe story, but it has hints of Stoker's 'Jewel of Seven Stars' too. And so the film lumbers on, coming up with some scares and effects (some good, most not) until the fiery climax.

With a younger cast, this might have worked as an adequate slasher. As it is, 'The Mummy Lives' doesn't have much going for it which, considering Curtis' star power, is a shame.
 

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'The Scorpion King: Book of Souls' [2018]

Is it over yet? Not just the film but the 'Scorpion King' franchise. It's been two years since one has elbowed its way into a Walmart rack. Maybe we're safe now.

I didn't think it was possible that I would miss Victor Webster, but here we are. Webster hung up his sandals after the playful 'Scorpion King 4' and he is replaced here by Zach McGowan. Perhaps Webster thought the 4th instalment was the highlight of his career (it's certainly the best of the sequels) and decided to pass after reading this dire, dull excuse for a film.

Mathayus is lost again. For reasons unspoken, he has become an anonymous blacksmith in a nameless town somewhere exotic looking. In a callback to the first film, the daughter of Balthazar seeks him out to defeat yet another bad guy with world domination issues. It involves a sword known as the Fang of Anubis (I admit, I like that title) which magically inscribes the names of all it slays into the Book of the Souls.

I'm not sure why this film exists. It adds nothing to the franchise or to cinema in general. McGowan growls a lot and can't turn up anywhere without getting into a fight. His sidekick, Pearl Thusi, is underused and the script is unnecessarily po-faced.  Comic relief is provided by a character made of clay who is afraid of fire, but the writers forgot to give him anything funny to say or do. The one bright spark is Katy Louise Saunders who plays a character whose origins are a spoiler, in a welcome twist. She is gorgeous here and the film earns its PG13 rating by outfitting her in as little as possible.

The film ends with Mathayus riding off alone into the distance. Have we finally seen the back of him? One can but hope.
 

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BONUS: 'The Tale of the Mummy' AKA 'Talos the Mummy' [1998]

And so, Russell Mulacahy, my old nemesis, we meet again... Here he is, directing Christopher Lee and a bevy of famous faces in a horror-esque film set in my old hometown.

Like every good mummy movie should, the film opens with the opening of a previously undisturbed tomb. Bad things happen immediately, of course, showcasing the only good effects in the film. Fast-forward to contemporary times, and we have Lee's granddaughter back in the land of the pharaohs, re-opening the very same tomb. Unsurprisingly, bad things continue to happen, only worse. Not only is the evil spirit released, it intends to do Very Bad Things when the planets align in a few days...

What a curious film this is. For starters, Mulcahy (who also wrote this) packs the film with arguably more characters than it needs. The reason for this becomes clearer almost at the very end. This is not Mulcahy's homage to the Universal mummy movies, nor even Hammer (although a better argument could be made for the latter). No, this is his love letter to Agatha Christie. 'The Tale of the Mummy', unbeknownst to us previously, is actually a murder mystery.

Well-known actors are shuffled on and, more often than not, shuffled off again. Lee is the biggest name, of course, and has his own connection with mummy films, but he is but a cameo. Similarly, Honor Blackman serves no purpose other than to have her name in the credits, and Shelley Duvall's character could have been left on the cutting room floor without troubling the story too much. Some known Brit figures also emerge and do the old country proud. Sean Pertwee is superb as a delusional former archaeologist, and Jack Davenport plays a lugubrious cop to perfection. Louise Lombard deserves special mention for adding depth and verisimilitude to an otherwise flaccid role as the granddaughter.

With the London setting and British actors, Jason Scott Lee seems out of place as the lead. Perhaps the producers insisted on an American lead, but he's far too bland here to make much of an impression. Similarly lacklustre are the special effects. For the majority of the film, the antagonist consists of free-floating bandages. Whether rendered digitally or practically, they look terrible and are not in the least bit threatening or scary. I suppose not having the fully-wrapped mummy show up until later is an interesting twist, but it just doesn't work in the way Mulcahy obviously thinks it does.

The film gets decidedly sillier around the time of a weird séance-like scene and doesn't let up much after that. Even so, this is not a terrible film, but perhaps it's only a bandage length away from it. I was mildly entertained, if only by Sean Pertwee, and the ending was a legitimate surprise (the final shot is the worst kind of horror cliché, alas). After watching 'Scorpion King 5' prior to this, I can honestly say it wasn't the worst mummy-inspired film I watched this week.
 

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BONUS: 'The Curse of King Tut's Tomb' [2006]

How could I pass up an opportunity to spend a couple more nights with Russell Mulcahy? Here we have a two-part TV movie/mini-series based on the 1920's excavation of King Tutankhamen's tomb.

Any review of this film (or pair of films) is going to mention one thing right off the bat, and mine is no different. 'The Curse of King Tut's Tomb' may take Howard Carter's expedition as its premise, but it 'borrows' everything else from another famous franchise. Casper Van Dien plays Danny Fremont, a school teacher-cum-archaeologist who is out to discover the mystical treasure before the bad guy steals it and uses it to take over the world. He's dressed in earth tones with a fedora hat, gets in a bit of whip action and even the Ark of the Covenant gets a namecheck. How they didn't get sued by Lucas-Spielberg is extraordinary.

This is very much a film of two parts, with two very different styles. The first part felt slow when I was watching it, but in hindsight was probably the better section. We are introduced to Indy... sorry, Danny and his motives, sidekicks and the like. There is some light action stuff and the tomb isn't discovered until towards the end. Part two, in contrast, seems to be in a major hurry to get to the climax. Scenes rush past without any regard for why they are there or what they mean to accomplish. Danny discovers one of his friends is missing, has died and attends his funeral in three consecutive scenes that take less than 30 seconds total. It's all rather odd.

Acting-wise, Casper looks the part but he's no Harrison Ford, although it was interesting to watch for scenes in Part Two where he seems to have been struck with pinkeye. Jonathan Hyde fares better as the villain; sure, there's a certain amount of scenery-chewing but the role requires it. Leonor Varela is the colleague and love interest and was quite good, but the rest of the cast are wasted. Malcolm McDowell is understated, unusually, and underused, never once (as I recall) leaving the same indoor set for the entire two films.

The CGI is bad. The demons are unconvincing, and so a plot device allows them to be figments of people's imagination. Hence, for some of the time, we watch the cast fight off beings that are not there, seeming to struggle with air. It looks odd, but honestly it's better than the digital recreations.

Still, this is not a complete waste of time. The first part was watchable enough - the locations are great, although they are shown over and over again in the same places - and overall it has that Indy feel. If you were being charitable, you could see this as a prequel to the Indiana Jones trilogy, and possibly better than that thing that happened after it.
 

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'The Mummy' [1999]

Universal reboots their franchise with this blockbusting special effects hit. The plot fits seamlessly into the 1930s mold - archaeologists accidentally awaken a mummy in a hitherto undiscovered tomb. The mummy goes on a rampage as he attempts to achieve his goal - resurrecting his lost love.

Brendan Fraser is the unlikely hero, having the stature at least of an action movie star. Perhaps his casting led the script more towards tongue-in-cheek, or maybe that was the plan all along. It's not a bad idea, and it mostly works, although we're then subjected to a plethora of comic characters - Fraser, Rachel Weisz, his klutzy love interest, and her cowardly brother played by John Hannah.

I didn't feel the competing race-to-the-tomb expeditions worked particularly well, except as a plot device to kill off anyone other than the leads. Still, the motives behind their killings - each bringing another bodily part of the mummy back to life - was a new and interesting twist. The CGI holds up reasonably well in places - the mummy is good on the whole - although the sandstorm effects look dated now.

Overall, I'm not sure why I didn't enjoy this more, but it felt decidedly less than the sum of its parts. Or maybe I was just tired and not in the right mood, who knows. I'm pretty sure I've had a better time with this film before.
 

TM2YC

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^ Oh god you've mildly criticised The Mummy and Rachel Weisz.  Quick nobody tell @"Gaith"  :D
 

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Well, Weisz's character is a bit klutzy in the film. The above isn't the sort of unvarnished praise we consider ideal, but it's sufficiently apologetic about that to be fairly inoffensive. :p
 

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'The Mummy Returns' [2001]

The gang is back! 'The Mummy Returns' reunites all the main players from the 1999 original, plus the O'Connell's young offspring. Two old nemeses are threatening to return and cause the requisite chaos.

'The Mummy Returns' does almost everything right in a sequel. The original actors are coaxed back, with only a slight shift in characterization (Rachel Weisz is more assured here - no bad thing), the stakes are as big, if not bigger, and the graphics have (mostly) improved. The set pieces are good, including an early scene in a collapsing tomb (which includes a callback to the library scene in the original). We have not one but two reincarnated princesses, giving the stunning Patricia Velasquez a much larger role, and the film blends scenes from 'The Mummy' well. The Rock as the Scorpion King has a smaller part in this film than I remembered, certainly not enough to spawn a whole franchise in itself, you would think, and the CGI when he reappears is famously subpar.

Not everything is a slam-dunk, though. The film gets sluggish when they reach the oasis, and the scene where Imhotep conjures up a wall of water mimics the sandstorm scene from the original and shows good CGI, but do we need two floods in one film? Young O'Connell isn't too annoying - he could have been a lot worse, let's face it - and John Hannah is bearable as the main comic relief. Oded Fehr as Ardeth Bay is excellent in a much expanded role, but his resemblance to early 1970s George Harrison was distracting.

Overall, I had much more fun with this one. I remember the final part of the trilogy being, let's say, less good, so I imagine we've peaked here.
 

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Garp said:
The Rock as the Scorpion King has a smaller part in this film than I remembered, certainly not enough to spawn a whole franchise in itself, you would think, and the CGI when he reappears is famously subpar.

Derpfakes has an improved version of this scene
 

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'The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor' [2008]

To really delve into the Mummy franchise, I watched 'The Quest for the Lost Scrolls' prior to this and read the graphic novel 'The Rise and Fall of Xango's Ax'. 'The Quest..' is a 'movie' made from 3 episodes from the Mummy animated series stitched together to form a sort-of arc. There is no attempt to make the characters look like the actors, and young Alex O'Connell has acquired an American accent suddenly (which is in line with 'Tomb of the Dragon Emperor' at least, if not 'The Mummy Returns'). Alex still has his magic bracelet and gets into scrapes with a half-risen Mummy; beyond that, it doesn't add much to the franchise. The book is even more confusing, featuring the two male O'Connells (Evy's face is not shown, foreshadowing the change of personnel in the subsequent film) in an adventure I've forgotten but remember I didn't enjoy.

And so to the Mummy 3. Whenever I think of mummies, China does not immediately spring to mind. And yet here we are. Possibly due to the lucrative Chinese market, and the number of Chinese producers willing to throw their hats (and wallets) into the ring, we have a wildly concocted story about a cursed emperor and his buried army.

The terracotta army aspect is perhaps the only realistic piece in this fantastic puzzle. All the sets are lush and stunning; post-war China probably never looked this good. The special effects, on the whole, are impressive too. Visually, there's not much to sneeze at.

So what went wrong? Maria Bello does admirably as Evy, sounding enough alike Rachel Weisz that I thought she was putting in a cameo appearance at the beginning. Luke Ford is bland as the grown-up Alex, and Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh are mostly wasted. John Hannah grows more annoying in each of these films, and even Brendan Fraser seems bored. To me, the stakes didn't seem high enough to make me care whether the Emperor was defeated or not, and the comedic aspects were misplaced. The whole mini-sub-plot at the beginning about the O'Connell couple being bored with their current lives was, well, boring and not funny, and the frequent quips during the action sequences fell flat. By the time some legendary beasts turned up, I was tuning out.

As a CGI movie, it's fine. The money is up there on the screen and it looks good. As a mummy movie, it fails, borrowing too many well-known bits from various Indiana Jones movies to feel confident enough to stand on its own. You know, what we really need is Tom Cruise in a mummy movie to come and redeem this franchise...
 

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BONUS: 'Sherlock Holmes' [1916]

Backtracking again as I recently purchased this previously-assumed lost film of William Gillette as the titular detective, based on a play Gillette starred in and wrote. It was remade in 1922 with John Barrymore taking the lead.

I'd often read about Gillette's performances as Holmes, so it was extraordinary to watch him on film. Here he is, playing a role so well known to audiences from the hugely successful serializations, that he had played over a 1,000 times on stage. To those in the cinemas in the early 1900s, Gillette was Holmes. And he doesn't disappoint. Despite how ingrained Basil Rathbone is in my mind as Holmes, Gillette seems to embody the part from the start. We see him mixing chemicals, producing bursts of flames, and noting the results with curiosity. It has no further bearing on the film, but it's a wonderful introduction.

The plot itself is slim and provides no opportunity to show off his legendary deductive skills. Holmes is cunning and demanding, but that's about it. Dr. Watson is sidelined on the whole, but Moriarty pops up as the main villain. He's played by Ernest Maupain, with wild eyebrows and grotesque eyes. Over-the-top, of course, but not too off-putting.

The sets are good and there are some attempts to move the camera, although most of the shots are static. Location work is fair - there are even brief shots filmed from a moving hackney cab. The restoration work is superb. There are some blemishes and certain shots are too dark to see much detail, but it's amazing for a film over 100 years old. Day scenes are tinted orange and night scenes blue, as they would have been. I'm not a fan of tinting, but this wasn't too jarring.

As a film, it is too long (this restoration was of the French version four years later, which was split into a serialization of four episodes) but as a piece of cinematic history it is glorious. I won't rewatch this for many years, I'm sure, but I will rewatch it.
 

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'The Mummy' [2017]

The film begins with the Universal logo morphing into the Dark Universe one, unaware that the Dark Universe would soon become Very Dark Indeed. It's difficult to view this film detached from the Marvel-like franchise they hoped it would become, but even as a stand-alone, it fails.

Tom Cruise is Nick Morton, an army guy more interested in liberating artifacts he can hock on the black market than liberating countries. He stumbles upon - of course - a previously undiscovered tomb and unwittingly resurrects an ancient princess. She quickly sets her sights on him as the key to unleashing Evil on the world...

I can imagine the producers thinking the had hit the big time, securing Cruise for the lead role in the movie that would kickstart a multi-film franchise. Cruise is box office, no doubt. We love him in those action-packed Mission Impossible films. What could go wrong? Well, Cruise is completely wrong for this film. He is supposed to be a loveable rogue, but comes across as an obnoxious arsehole. He puts his usual 110% into the role, but we don't care. We don't like your character, Cruise. It just doesn't work. I can imagine Chris Pratt getting the character right, and adding some necessary levity into the proceedings.

'The Mummy' not only has a lead actor problem, but a director that is more interested in making a zombie movie than a mummy movie. It's interesting, I suppose, that the mummy is a princess here, but apart from some flashbacks (which look like bad perfume commercials), Egypt is largely absent here. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy seeing my old hometown of London on the big screen, but it makes the film feel even less expansive. The sound sets look good, on the most part, which is just as well as we spend a lot of time with them.

There are some nods to the Brendan Fraser days, with the sandstorm scene and even a quick glimpse of the Book of the Dead. Cruise's sidekick is supposed to be the comic relief (I think) in an 'American Werewolf in London' kind of way, and Sofia Boutella looks the part as the princess. The film gets bogged down with the Russell Crowe exposition scenes - setting him up for a backstory movie that we'll never see - which come across as a dull episode of 'Warehouse 13'.

There are some good set pieces - the plane crash is well executed - but too many lazy jump scares. And, oh boy, does it take itself seriously! The produces must have missed the fact that Marvel films are actually, you know, fun. The franchise could work - the many Universal sequels to the Dracula & Frankenstein movies prove that - and no doubt someone else will have a bash at this again in the future. Just skip Cruise and see whether Pratt is available next time.
 

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So, I'm finished with the Mummy franchise, although I have a backlog of other mummy films (and Dracula - I'm well behind) to review as bonuses, when I get the time.

I've decided to go in a different direction for my next set of films and will be delving into cinematic portrayals of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe:
 
  1. (BONUS: The Falcon takes over)
  2. Murder, my Sweet
  3. Farewell my Lovely
  4. The Big Sleep [1946]
  5. The Big Sleep [1978]
  6. Lady in the Lake
  7. (BONUS: Time to Kill)
  8. The Brasher Doubloon
  9. Marlowe
  10. The Long Goodbye
  11. Poodle Springs
The bonus films here don't actually feature Marlowe, but are apparently based on Chandler's work. If I've missed any, please comment below.
 

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Garp said:
'The Mummy' [2017]

It's difficult to view this film detached from the Marvel-like franchise they hoped it would become, but even as a stand-alone, it fails. ... The film gets bogged down with the Russell Crowe exposition scenes - setting him up for a backstory movie that we'll never see - which come across as a dull episode of 'Warehouse 13'.

If the Russell Crowe stuff could be removed from the movie, it would almost be an ok stand-alone. They wasted a lot of time and effort failing to set up this franchise.
 
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