Friday, 16 March 2018

Geostorm (2017)

Oh my what do we have here?? Did we suddenly quantum leap back to the mid 90's???

So, its 2022 and technology has apparently advanced quite a bit. The Earth is now surrounded by a man made net of satellites which can basically control the weather. Up in orbit there is also an international space station that controls said net of satellites. Bottom line, its a global effort by mankind to try and protect the planet (of course when I say global that doesn't include every country, ahem). There's just one tiny problem, not all humans are nice, not all humans are on the same page. And so the net (called 'Dutch Boy' in reference to an 1865 fictional story) is hacked and used to cause natural disasters around the world. Enter the net designer Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler), who is tasked to solve the problem and essentially save the world. The end.

Some of you might think this is just a silly disaster flick, and you'd be right to a degree. But this movie is in fact more of a political thriller mixed with a disaster flick element. The natural disasters we see are in fact triggered and created by the man made satellites, which are in turn started by the evil saboteurs. So its not really man vs mother nature, its man vs man using mother nature as a weapon. To be truthful the idea isn't actually that bad, its just a bit dated. A Pierce Brosnan Bond plot type of dated.

Luckily everyone in the movie acts so seriously, so butch and stoic with their grimaces and steely eyed stares, you can rest assure that everything will work out just fine. Obviously our tough hero Jake Lawson won't die, you think he might (and really he should have, multiple times), but he doesn't. But its really quite amusing and so very 90's how the actors deliver their lines which such ridiculous levels of attitude; trying their best to look and sound as cool as possible as they glare into the camera. I think Jim Sturgess (Max Lawson) is the most guilty of this. He really shows-off all the cliched action movie facial expressions and poses. Its like everyone watched 'Armageddon' before they started filming.

That being said what do you get? Well pretty much everything really, the full gamut of disaster porn. Huge tidal waves, electrical storms, massive hailstones, a firenado, a freezing ice storm, the ground being torn open to reveal what I presume was lava etc...There are lots of sequences which show innocent people getting killed in lots of various ways; including massive carnage to buildings and property.

The action is of course all CGI which ranges from good to average. Whilst the sequences in space look totally fine but nothing amazing, they are by far the best looking parts of the movie. Almost all of the disaster action on Earth looks like CGI. To top that the sequences all look like they've been copied and pasted from other movies such as 'Deep Impact'. You wanna see city skylines get washed away (or frozen, or knocked over) by giant tidal waves? Its all here folks...again. The actual action is simply predictable as feck. Again from seeing other disaster movies you can pretty much guess what's gonna happen.

But one of the main issues with the action, like other disaster movies, is the fact its all so utterly stupid. Whilst trying to obtain a piece of data lodged in the space stations structure via a spacewalk, Jake's spacesuit goes out of control. He is flung all over the place crashing into the space station causing massive amounts of damage...yet he and his suit remain perfectly intact. On Earth whilst natural disasters are occurring specific characters are able to avoid the carnage around them and outrun pending doom in a car. How many times have we seen that? Then in the finale Jake and his new fellow scientist lady friend are both able to avoid masses of space debris flying around as the space station blows up around them. They both make it to a remaining intact satellite (via spacewalking I might add) which also manages to avoid all the deadly debris.

Then to top if all of nicely the last intact satellite pod (why would a satellite be able to house two adult humans inside?) is picked up by a space shuttle...that just happened to be flying by? Seriously was this shuttle just off to the side waiting for the explosion to happen and subside so it could search for potential survivors inside satellite pods?? And while we're at it, why couldn't the self destruct be turned off?? The reason for having one was valid enough, but what about an abort option people?? I also found it quite cute how the person in charge of a countries satellite seemed to be from that country. Like, would NASA (or whoever) go to the trouble of finding a Japanese person to put in charge of the satellite that controls Japans weather?? So the Peru satellite is controlled by a Peruvian person, and the Nepal satellite is controlled by a Nepalese person etc...I mean I know political correctness is hyperbolic these days but Jesus Christ come on!

Despite all that nonsense I gotta be honest and say I actually quite enjoyed this movie. It did exactly what it said on the tin. I was engaged and I found it quite exciting even though it was highly predictable. Yes its not a great movie, but its nowhere near as bad as people are making it out to be. I've said this before about certain movies, had this been released around 1995 or 1996, I think it would have been a reasonable hit. It would have fit in perfectly for the era, although it might have suffered from genre overload. These days of course this type of movie is practically dead, milked dry (almost solely by Devlin and Emmerich). But if disaster porn is your thing don't let that put you off because this really isn't all that bad, for what it is.


Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie (2017)

So after a very very long hiatus (15 years) Arnold and his friends are back to tie everything up in a nice bow. We last saw Arnold back in 2002 with his first feature length movie. That was more of a stand alone story that simply gave Arnold and co a one off challenge to overcome. It was simply a feature length episode of the cartoon series. This time around the movie is actually a sequel to one of the episodes in the series (series five) called 'The Journal'.

Now here's where the main problem comes in, it does kinda make a big difference if you've seen that series five episode. In general I'm pretty sure that most people watching this will be Hey Arnold! fans and will know what's going on. But for anyone else who's thinking of showing it to their kids simply because its a kids movie, well there's a good chance they won't follow everything. Yeah sure the plot isn't super hard to follow but obviously there are loads of things that hark back to that specific episode and the entire series in general. To be brutally honest this is really one for the fans methinks.

The plot: Arnold's parents had traveled to San Lorenzo in South America to deliver medicine to a mysterious lost tribe of green eyed people, they never returned. Luckily Arnold's class manage to win a competition to travel to San Lorenzo which gives the football shaped headed boy a chance to find his folks. Naturally there are dangers ahead for the class with a mercenary named Lasombra who needs Arnold so he can discover the lost city and its treasures for himself.

So lets look at one of the main thing that breeds life into this cartoon, the unique visuals. How are they in this new modern movie? Well I'm pleased to say they are actually (still) on par with the original series. OK but lets be completely brutally honest here, they aren't as gorgeous as the original series with its clear cut hand drawn/pencil shaded style. Oh no, alas that beautiful look is too rough looking for kids these days. So everything is computer assisted and very sharp; which is nice and its still faithful to the original material but its never gonna be as good. I also have to mention the odd unfortunate cut into complete CGI for some scenes which does stick out like a sore thumb and look terrible. Why do they do that???

As for the characters again I'm pleased to say almost everyone gets a small (visual) cameo at least, some with dialog some not. Heck they even brought back old Lockjaw the turtle from series one, episode six. Not quite sure why seeing as Arnold released him into the sea at the end of that episode. So the turtle came back because...its friends with Arnold now? Anyway pretty much everyone can be seen including Dino, coach Wittenberg, Torvald, stoop kid etc...(where's the sewer King?). Alas not every character is voiced by the same original people. I'm sure there are decent reasons for this but I was annoyed to read that both Lane Toran and Jamil Walker Smith were not used for both Arnold and Gerald (they were the original voice actors for the characters), instead being given background characters. Why did they do that??? It is off putting when certain characters simply sound wrong (Mr. Hyunh for example).

I was slightly disappointed with the plot of the story though. I knew what to expect of course (following on from the TV episode) but it all felt a bit too generic and unoriginal really. What we essentially get is simply another Indiana Jones type clone, because of course. I mean really? Couldn't they do something a bit more unique instead of the same old tired tropes and cliches that have been done a gazillion times over. I don't even have to explain anything to you because you should know exactly what I mean and what to expect.

I was quite stunned to see such a large amount of death on display though. Of course you don't see anything but a lot is implied and its quite amazing. A load of Lasombra's henchmen all get killed by stereotypical booby traps, to which he shows no remorse, in fact he allows them to get killed. And (spoiler alert) Lasombra himself gets shot in the forehead with a poisoned dart which sees him, eventually, fall into a ravine!

Naturally there are massive plot conveniences because its a kids cartoon movie, I can't really complain about that. But I have to point out that the plot and its main mcguffins don't really make any sense. All the adults in the green eyed tribe (including Arnold's folks) have been struck down with a sleeping illness (why Arnold's folks never came back). Apparently they have all been asleep for around the last ten years or so (yet not aged a day it seems). So to reverse this they need to activate this ancient machine which they miraculously manage with Helga's heart locket (the one with Arnold's pic in). When this ancient device is activated it shoots the antidote (I think) into the atmosphere which causes green rain. Which in turn causes a whole load of butterflies to awaken. Which in turn causes all the sleeping adults of the green eyed tribe to awaken, because why?? They couldn't administer this antidote any other way?

So the plot is kinda stupid, it makes no real sense, the ending is also kinda lame, oh and the way Abner gets back to the US on his own is ludicrous. But we do find out Arnold's last name, its Shortman! A clever little play on words there because Grandpa Phil has always called Arnold 'shortman', but it now turns out its not just a cute little nickname after all. Anyway overall I find myself in the same position when I saw the first movie outing for Arnold and co. This isn't a bad kids movie but its not exactly a great one either. Once again the plot is really thin on the ground and feels really padded out. Sure it was nice to see all the little snippets harking back the various TV episodes and all the various characters (in the background). But this show really works best with little short stand alone stories that revolve around simple relatable issues.

If anything they should do a new TV series, but if that means we would see Arnold going off with his new found parents on lots of dramatic adventures all over the world, then maybe not. I think Rugrats suffered the same issue in my view. The bigger and more extravagant the stories become, the less relatable they become. Obviously grand stories are fine but shows like Hey Arnold! (and Rugrats and Doug) worked because their stories and characters were simple and (most probably) based off real life experiences and people. That is why so many are able to connect with the original material and why they are so popular (well that's how I have always seen these shows). So whilst I'm happy to see Arnold back, I just wish it was like the good old days.


Saturday, 3 March 2018

Roxanne (1987)

A wacky Steve Martin comedy set in the pacific northwest of America that is based upon the 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand?? You certainly don't get movies like this anymore.

So in a nutshell the 1897 play revolves around a cadet in the French army, de Bergerac. A strong willed, passionate and confident man who is, amongst other things, a gifted poet, musician and duelist. There is just one problem, he has a rather large nose which causes him much angst. It is this one feature of himself that prevents him from expressing his true love for Roxane, his cousin...ahem (twas a different time).

Long story short, a good looking young man named Christian enters de Bergerac's company of guards. Roxane loves Christian and asks de Bergerac to protect the young soldier, he agrees but is angry. After being told that Roxane loves him, Christian is upset because Roxane is an intelligent woman whilst he is basically a dumb soldier, how can he compare? de Bergerac seizes the opportunity and offers to write to Roxane for Christian, pretending to be him. Christian agrees and de Bergerac is able to spill his love for Roxane through Christian.

Eventually of course Christian tires of de Bergerac's help and tries to woo Roxane himself, failing. Over time Christian works out de Bergerac's true feelings for Roxane and wants Roxane to choose between them. But before this can happen Christian is killed by gunshot (twas during a siege with Spain) leading to Roxane living in a convent. Again long story short Roxane eventually discovers that de Bergerac wrote all the love letters to her and realises that she loves him. Alas de Bergerac also dies in the end but not before knowing Roxane loves him. Happy ending?

Naturally this 1987 comedy doesn't exactly follow along these lines. There is no war with Spain and nobody dies. Martin plays the fiery fire chief C.D. Bales (note the initials) who has an incredibly long narrow nose. As with the original plays character of de Bergerac, Bales is confident, skilled in the arts, athletic, and most definitely a charmer with the ladies. And also like the play the residents of the small town Bales lives in know not to mock him for his nose because he will usually get his own back. Unlike the play this does not involve duels of course, but often cruel biting attacks of sarcastic humour, or even the odd scuffle if needs be. His athleticism and dry mocking wit are definitely his main weapons and the main comic tools in this movie.

In the play de Bergerac does tend to hate himself and can be very spiteful. Here Martin (obviously) plays the character of Bales in an upbeat way, he embraces his nose mostly, but at times he does dream of a more regular look. Martin really shows how he can do more than just act silly, which at the time was what he was most known for. There are plenty of great little scenes which showcase Martin's range such as Bales fighting with a couple hecklers in the street. The 20 nose joke sequence where Bales destroys a drunkard insulting his nose. And of course the key scene which is taken from the classic play where Bales assists Chris (Rick Rossovich) under Roxanne's (Daryl Hannah) balcony.

The other key characters Chris and Roxanne are both solidly performed by Rossovich and Hannah. Can't deny Rossovich has a tough job dealing with a character that's just a big lunk yet lovable and likeable. Chris is totally the hunky dumb stereotype that is loosely based around Christian. Admittedly Rossovich's acting isn't stunning or anything but he conveys his character well. As for Hannah (the beautiful Roxanne), she's exactly as you would expect her to be at the height of her sexy phase. Light, fluffy, smart, a beaming smile, golden flowing locks, a great body, a nice house etc...Pretty much every male dream at the time and she doesn't disappoint on that note. Alas despite a good performance its basically nothing out of the ordinary when it comes to soppy rom-coms.

To anyone who is completely oblivious to the original source material of 1897 this movie will probably come across as a very safe schmaltzy romantic comedy. You don't need to know about the 1897 play as everything presented to you works on its own. What you have is a sentimental rom-com about a nice guy with a big nose who's in love with a beautiful young woman; but must somehow get around the fact she loves the good looking hunk who's just turned up on the scene. Most would probably know if the movie was for them simply by watching the trailer with its gooey pleasantville visuals, good looking stars, cheeky comedy, and Martin on a full charm offensive.

To anyone who knows of the original 1897 source material, I think they would appreciate director Fred Schepisi's attempt at updating the play for the modern (at the time) era. Not an easy task all things considered, but I think Schepisi and Martin did an admiral job here in terms of emotion, story and light-hearted comedy. Obviously there are big changes such as the finale which had to be done I guess. Others are more questionable such as the whole firefighter aspect, why did Bales need to be a chief firefighter? This doesn't really add anything to the plot. And why are the other firemen so utterly useless at their job? They are obviously there for pure comedic relief but it just makes no real sense, they are literally bumbling idiots.

But yeah, this is a Steve Martin romantic comedy from the 80's, it does exactly what it says on the tin, so to speak. Dare I say that maybe the ladies would like this movie more so than the gents? I mean it is wacky Martin being wacky, but its also Martin being a bit more restrained and maturing at the same time. No surprise that there is more lovey-dovey stuff in here than laugh-out-loud moments (no toilet humour here folks). Despite that the comedy does work in general. It ranges from clever wit to being somewhat dated, a bit childish at times, a bit cringy. But at no point does the movie outstay its welcome, if anything the gorgeous sleepy little town setting makes you wanna live there. Its certainly a unique movie with plenty of heart and a good overall message about being yourself.


Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Dunkirk (2017)

Christopher Nolan's latest offering is an accurate representation of an event that occurred in 1940 during WWII. British, Belgian and French troops were cut off within Dunkirk, surrounded by advancing German troops. The allies were literally fish in a barrel to the German forces. They were stranded, being attacked from both land and air with the sea to their backs, nowhere to run.

Situated in Northern France, Dunkirk was the location of the massive evac operation which saw large numbers of British civilians man their own vessels in order to assist with the rescue. Up to 400 various manned craft were voluntarily used and braved the English Channel along with various military vessels. Despite the fact that German forces had halted their crushing advance on Dunkirk (giving the Allies some time to organise the evac), the Luftwaffe were still hitting the port and its beaches and enemy troops were still on the ground.

Nolan's film tells the story of Dunkirk from separate angles, land sea and air. The first angle is from a young British private called Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) who has survived a recent German ambush and has made his way to the beaches. We follow Tommy as he tries to get on-board a couple ships only for them to be sunk by German attacks. Tommy eventually ends up back on the beaches with some Scottish soldiers and a French soldier. The second angle is from RAF pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy) and two other Spitfire pilots who are part of the British airborne resistance against the German bombers. And the third angle is from a Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son Peter and his sons best friend George. All of whom have volunteered to help in the rescue with the aid of Mr. Dawson's yacht.

First off Nolan's film is not like most traditional films. There is very little dialog throughout the entire runtime; instead Nolan relies on pure visuals and the musical score to convey the films atmosphere. That is where the film may be problematic for many people, this isn't a war movie filled with blood, guts, gun battles and explosions. Obviously if you know about the actual historical event then you would know to expect this. The most dialog comes from the story surrounding Mr. Dawson and his son Peter, second to that would probably be Tommy's story, then lastly and most obviously is Farrier's story which is almost entirely conveyed through Tom Hardy's facial expressions.

Now whilst I did fully appreciate Nolan's vision here, I have to admit to finding it somewhat odd watching a movie like this with little dialog. Looking at Farrier's story (the air section), it was indeed very impressive to watch these old Spitfires dogfight with German Messerschmitt's. Naturally it wasn't shot in the typical Hollywood action sequence type way. What you get are highly realistic air sequences which show the planes trying to manoeuvre into position to be able to attack each other. When the attacks come they are short bursts with very little fanfare. When a plane gets hit nothing much happens at first. The pilots communications are brief and not filled with silly quips. Basically overall it kinda feels like you're watching some kind of airshow display or training video, the fact everything is shot in natural light kinda adds to that.

The story surrounding Tommy is probably the most Hollywood-esque part of the movie, but it still may not please some. Once again this is a highly realistic vision, there are no 'Saving Private Ryan' sequences on this beach. The plot is straight forward, Tommy and another soldier try to board ships by using an injured soldier as their ticket essentially. That seems almost wrong but in the grand scheme of things who wouldn't do that? The fact that they try to get away twice and both times the ships are sunk did seem almost too unlucky to me. The fact that later on they reach another ship and yet again it gets sunk, kinda felt a bit overly dramatic perhaps. Did that many ships get sunk in the real event?

Tommy's tale certainly has the most cinematic visuals of the film, the numerous shots of the troops lined up on the beach are incredibly haunting, yet beautiful. Its easily the most intriguing of the three main plots but at the same time its also a bit too 'Spielbergian' methinks. When Tommy meets up with the Scottish soldiers things get a tad by the numbers and a little dull. I also felt the death of the French soldier (who was thought to be a Brit) was again a little touch of Hollywood which maybe wasn't required. It was too predictable, the minute he is exposed as French you kinda knew his number was up. I should add that whilst all this is going on we get little snippets of Kenneth Branagh as a Commander overseeing the operation from the beach. Again like Hardy he tends to emote through facial expressions more than dialog.

For me the weakest of the stories was following Mr. Dawson and his son. Call me shallow but this was simply because it wasn't really that interesting. I found myself yearning for the plot to get back to the beaches, or in the air with Farrier. Don't get me wrong, Mark Rylance puts in a great performance as the calm and steadfast Dawson, and its important to see the civilian angle of this story. The thing is it just wasn't really that intriguing watching this trio sale slowly towards Dunkirk.

The subplot of them rescuing a stranded officer (Cillian Murphy) from a shipwreck was also something of an odd addition. Murphy's officer is shell-shocked, he argues about going to Dunkirk and tries to stop Dawson. This leads to George (Peter's best friend) falling and badly injuring his head...which leads to his eventual death! I really didn't see the point in all this because it goes nowhere. Dawson and Peter lie to the shell-shocked officer about it and that's kinda that. Neither Dawson or Peter came across as upset when the incident occurred or when George dies. You're left wondering what happens with that. Does the officer get done for murder upon return to England? Would he be let off because of the fact he was shell-shocked?

Would I say this is one of the greatest war films ever made? In terms of realism yes. In terms of score, cinematography and craftsmanship yes. In terms of engagement (for me the viewer) I'd say its up there, but maybe not the best. I totally and utterly shower praise on Nolan and co for their vision and what they have achieved here, the authenticity being the number one factor of course (score not far behind). But I cannot deny the film is a little slow at times. I hate myself for saying this but I did find myself yearning for just a touch of romanticised heroism or emotion just to get those waterworks going.

The final sequence showing Farrier taking out one last German bomber before he is forced to land in enemy territory from lack of fuel, was so fecking awesome. Seeing the Spitfire land in one shot on the Dunkirk beach was fantastic, as was seeing a stoic Farrier stare into the camera as he is captured and led away. But dagnabbit Chris, I just needed a hint, a mere drop of glossy sentimentality. The film was so realistic that it didn't really feel like a film at times (again I hate myself for saying this). But bottom line, this film is a tour de force that ignores manufactured heroics and stereotypical Hollywood-isms.


Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Justice League (2017)

So this was it, the main event, the big one to rival Marvels 'The Avengers'. Only five movies in and DC (along with Warner Bros.) felt it would be a shrewd decision to whack out their superhero team-up flick, hmmm.

This was always gonna be a hard sell with the performance of previous DC movies. Superman hadn't really set the world alight and the Suicide Squad was a nice idea that was badly executed. Wonder Woman of course did well (boosted by a political agenda) but that now seems like a flute more than anything. We hadn't had any stand alone movies for Flash, Cyborg or Aquaman up to this point, something that just felt totally wrong. So not only was this a sequel of sorts to the previous Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman offerings, it was also a slight origins kick off for Cyborg, Flash and Aquaman (despite previous cameos).

Alas the plot is anything but fresh (its a superhero flick). A long long long long time ago on Earth, the evil supervillain Steppenwolf (stupid name) tried to take over the planet using three gizmos called Mother Boxes. He was beaten back by a whole team of other superhero types and said Boxes were hidden on Earth (if you wanna protect Earth, why not hide them elsewhere? Like in the far flung reaches of the universe). Much later in the present day the Boxes are triggered by the death of Superman? Or the presence of Superman? Are these things sentient beings? I have no friggin' clue but they activate and this gets Steppenwolf's attention. So he comes back to find the Boxes and try to take over the Earth to please his master Darkseid. Why he didn't just do this before I dunno, don't delve too deeply into this plot.

Enter our team of heroes, the Justice League. First up its good old Batman (Ben Affleck), the leader who's super power is being very rich (his own words). Alas this comment really hits home because his presence is really kinda stupid. Why would you need a regular human dressed in bat armour in a fight with super powered aliens and metahumans? He provides them with some cool vehicles...which they don't need, umm...he also lets them kip at his place? Unfortunately Affleck also seemed to not care about this movie seeing as he clearly didn't wanna be there, and he looked tubby. When he takes off his batsuit the shirt he has on underneath also has a muscle structure built into it. Methinks they had to cover his actual physique.

Then we have Supes (Henry Cavill) who is basically the same as before. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) who essentially struts around making smartass comments all the time. Apparently the success of Gadot's only movie has gone to her head because my God does she act smug for the whole time. The Flash (Erza Miller) is the obligatory comic relief which is enjoyable for what its worth but is at odds with the movies tone. Also where did he get that Nasa material to build his suit? Next up is Cyborg (Ray Fisher) who is another character that doesn't really fit here. Like what does this guy do? He's basically an agile Terminator, but it seems like he could be easily destroyed at any point. And lastly there is Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the final pointless character here unless you're fighting underwater. But wait, Aquaman seems to have powers on land in this movie too because plot necessities.

One problem I had with this movie were the effects and general look of everything. Firstly its that same old drab, metallic, dark, shadowy atmosphere that DC (via Zack Snyder) has been pushing this whole time. The movie looks awful, the colour palette is terrible, and it all looks the same. Naturally there is abundance of CGI which is to be expected but again its poor and obvious looking, whilst having that strange DC/WB videogame-esque look to it. Did I mention the greenscreen? Oh my God it was horrendous and so very very obvious. The battle between Steppenwolf's army and the Earth defenders at the start was horribly dated looking. Almost all underwater sequences looked bad plus you couldn't really make much out. Steppenwolf himself looked like a character out of a Mortal Kombat movie. And Cyborg was quite jokey looking at times, he looked like he was made out of tinfoil with a bad face job.

I think the epitome of dross in this movie came when Aquaman surfed on a parademon whilst falling from a great height. He then crashes into a high-rise building, smashes all the way through it from top to bottom, and comes out surfing at the bottom with a grin on his face. This was literally cringeworthy cartoon garbage that also looked shit.

The other main problem here was the entire movie simply being cheap. As in using dated tropes and cliches whilst being just plain stupid. Thing is this was somewhat expected with the characters you're dealing with. Aquaman, he's useless, he merely pops up to do stuff that involves water because he's the water guy. Oh everyone's about to be drowned by a huge tidal wave!! Enter Aquaman...hurray! Oh we need someone to hack into this computer control panel thingy and do some hi-tech computer type stuff? Enter Cyborg because he's the robot guy. Oh we need someone to get somewhere really quickly or rescue some people in the nick of time? Enter Flash because he's the fast guy. Batman turns up to every battle in some yuge mechanical battle vehicle (because otherwise he's useless)...and it gets wrecked instantly. Batman loses a lot of gear in this flick. Wonder Woman strolls out of every battle without her lipstick even being smudged, ugh!

The acting was pretty dreadful across the board (except for Gal Gadot of course, because you can't say anything negative about her now). As said Affleck was clearly uninterested, Fisher swaggered as much as he could but was still awful, Momoa had big muscles and lots of hair, whilst the character of Steppenwolf was basically a live action pantomime. Of course there were numerous other characters throughout offering other actors a crack but its all cameo stuff really. A too many cooks situation basically, heck whilst the big finale battle was going down humanity was represented by one small family, probably because they literally couldn't fit anymore people in.

All in all I really struggled to find anything positive in this movie. The small sequence where the team brings Supes back from the dead was quite enjoyable. It was fun watching Superman knock the team around; I especially liked the eerie moment Supes spies Flash whilst he's zooming in his superhuman speed zone. Although, I'm not really sure why Supes would fight the team after his resurrection. OK he's understandably disorientated but why does he see the others as threats? The opening Batman sequence was also nice and harked back to earlier Batman movies in tone and visuals. Twas also lovely to hear a very short burst of Danny Elfman's Batman 89 score in one scene. It was literally a few seconds but even that was enough to really swell the scene in terms of awesomeness and nostalgia.

That's virtually it! That's pretty much the only bits in the movie that I genuinely liked. The rest of this effort felt very much like (ironically) a Joel Schumacher movie. Yes it is indeed that bad. The entire movie generally looks poor, the effects are very suspect at times (Cyborg), the greenscreen is some of the worst I've seen for some time, and the plot is generic as fuck. Add to that the even more generic villain Steppenwolf with his hordes of flying goggle wearing goblins, and a finale that was possibly the biggest anticlimax in years (considering the content we're dealing with here). And even now I still can't help but think Superman could of done this all on his own. Why is Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg and Aquaman even here?? Flash was probably the only other genuinely useful person. This really felt like bad a movie from the mid 90's. The bottom line, its ugly, dull and unbelievably uninspired.


Friday, 2 February 2018

Innocent Blood (1992)

So in some regions (dunno where) this movie is referred to as 'A French Vampire in America'. Are we seeing the connection yet? Yes this is a horror comedy directed by John Landis, but no this is not a sequel or prequel to his classic 'An American Werewolf in London'. But lets be honest here, that 'French Vampire' title is way better than 'Innocent Blood'. That doesn't really tell you anything, very bland. Personally I like 'A Vampire in Pittsburgh'.

Marie (Anne Parillaud) is a vampire in the (then) present day of the early 90's. We know little of her background, how she became a vampire, where she comes from etc...All we know is she only feeds on criminals. She is currently in Pittsburgh where there just so happens to be a very strong mafia presence, she's in luck. Marie begins to feed on a random Italian American gangster which causes a stir. The aftermath of which results in undercover cop Joe Gennaro (Anthony LaPaglia) being put into the witness protection program. Eventually Marie feeds on mafioso boss Salvatore 'Sal the Shark' Macelli (Robert Loggia), but she is unable to kill him completely. This leads to bigger problems with Sal becoming a vampire himself and then starting to turn all his men. Marie must find and kill Sal but needs the assistance of Joe, apparently.

So the plot is thin on the ground, its pretty weak. Basically Marie fudges up whilst feeding and causes a shitstorm. Remarkable really considering she's supposedly a very old and experienced vampire, you'd think she would be able to do this kind of thing blindfolded. But I guess everyone makes mistakes, even the undead. From there on out its simply about Sal trying to cope with being a vampire, and then realising he can turn all his men. In the meantime Marie must find Sal and stop this. But with all her supernatural powers you'd think that would be relatively easy. It begs the question, why do we need LaPaglia's character? OK he's a love interest, I get it, but she essentially doesn't really need the guy. What can he offer her?

Interestingly this movie isn't set in New York, even though it clearly really really really wants to be. I mean lets be real here, this movie is so rammed full of cliched Italian American mafia themes its unreal. Almost every cliche in the stereotype book is used here from the black limo's, the sharp suits, slick back hair, mullets, the chewing of toothpicks, the silly mafia names nicknames, the black leather coats, and the freezing cold looking city streets filled with plumes of smoke from the drain grates. Heck they even go as far as using Frank Sinatra tunes in initial scenes. Not only that, I think Landis cast almost every actor around at the time with either an Italian American last name, heritage or simply looks like a mobster (you know what I mean). Indeed many of these actors have gone on to become household names in mafia/gangster roles.

Worth noting, cameos for Sam Raimi, Dario Argento, Frank Oz, Angela Bassett, Chazz Palminteri, and Tom Savini. Although it also worth noting that Savini did not do the special effects here, that honour goes to Steve Johnson ('Ghostbusters' and 'The Abyss').

Lets talk about those special effects, how do they compare to Landis' classic lycanthrope movie. Well there is much less emphasis on the vampires and their fangs in this, but a lot of emphasis on the blood. There is a lot of claret on show in this movie, mainly gushing from victims necks as they get torn open. Indeed the effects on neck wounds are really quite grisly and wonderful. Nice big chunks missing with ripped flesh dangling. Often the victims clothes are drenched in wet blood, sodden and dirty. Loggia spends most of the movie virtually head to toe in wet and dried blood. In fact I'd go as far as to say Landis goes a tad overboard with the blood because it becomes less shocking the more you see.

As for the vampires, we never see any fangs believe it or not. The entire emphasis is on the eyes of these supernatural killers. Johnson used special highly reflective contact lenses that change colour. It really is a startling look that really grabs your attention. Some of the vampires have red eyes, yellow eyes, sky blue eyes; whilst Marie seems to have eyes that change colour, not sure why though. The only issue I had with this is the fact they are obviously contacts (clearly very thick) and on most of the actors the pupil was slightly off-centre in one eye. It kinda made all the vampires look a bit simple looking, or like they had strabismus.

Other early effects were a point-of-view flyby effect where the camera simply moves around a space to simulate the vampire flying. Quite a bit of wire work to simulate the strength of the vampires, lifting people up high etc...The vampires roar or scream sounded very familiar to me, I'm sure its the same sound effect used for the werewolf howl in 'American Werewolf in London'. Again its used very effectively, a quick cut to the vampires face with a loud blast of the howl, really makes you jump.

The best effects sequence in the movie has to be the death of recently bitten Manny Bergman (Don Rickles). Whilst in hospital this character is accidentally exposed to sunlight...and you all know what happens next. Well this is the money shot here folks. A slow painful looking death as Bergman's body cracks and breaks up in front of the doctors. The medical staff try to help him but his body crumbles and deteriorates in their hands. One shot of a nurse accidentally pulling off his crispy smouldering arm, only to then drop it and watch it break apart into a mess of black glowing ash, is incredible (for the time).

To be utterly honest not a great deal of interest happens for the most part in this movie (effects aside). Once Joe realises what Marie is he goes after her (ignoring his boss of course). Marie has all manner of powers but somehow Joe is still able to find and catch her. But did she want to be caught huh? This eventually leads to the inevitable sex scene betwixt man and vampire. By this time you will have realised that Anne Parillaud is not shy about showing off her entire self (very European, very French). Although the sex scene shows us how Marie must control herself (something Joe is always concerned about), its of little importance really. A little spice for the movie, gratuitous nudity.

Landis goes for broke with this one, he loves to throw out old beloved conventions. Like I said no fangs here, but lots glowing eyes (although no explanation as to why different vampires have different colour eyes). Vampires do have reflections in this movie, but still garlic makes them sick. A bullet to the head is enough to kill a vampire, as is snapping its neck. No mention of stakes through the heart or crosses though. They can still climb up walls, fly and have incredible strength. Lastly and most interestingly no one actually uses the word vampire in the movie (I think).

Loggia is clearly enjoying himself here as he chews up the scenery big time. He may not have the physique of a vampire but he certainly has the bark and snarl that's for sure. Loggia makes Frank Langella in 'Masters of the Universe' look positively bland in comparison. In the scene where Sal had to rape and abuse Marie, he really fecking went for it! As for the other main leads, Parillaud is definitely very cute and adorable as Marie. Like I said she's not shy about getting it all out for the camera and she's very fit looking to boot. Bit of an issue trying to understand her accent at times but she does convey the shy quiet vampire nicely. You do truly believe she is a centuries old Gallic beauty; a siren that has been seducing immoral men over the ages. On the other hand LaPaglia is...fine. You could literally stick any guy with that Italian American look in that role, the character is kinda pointless.

Ultimately I do think Landis went too far with the blood factor in this one and loses a real sense of dread and spookiness. His werewolf movie had blood but nowhere near as much as this, plus 'Werewolf in London' was eerie as fuck; it was genuinely scary. This movie loses any real sense of scare factor with all these stereotypical mafia bozos running around shooting at everything. Yes there are some good shocks and thrills but the comedy spoils it, its too hammy, too dumb basically. The movie is a horror comedy and Landis does hit his targets well, it is a fun flick for horror fans to enjoy. I just feel this is too much of a homage to other things, too many cameos maybe, too many winks and nods, not gritty and dark enough. Its a hard one to call because the cast is great and the old school effects are superb .

I do heartily recommend this as I'm pretty sure many will not have even heard of it (it is a forgotten gem). Bottom line, it doesn't quite satisfy your vampire needs/requirements, it ticks some boxes but misses others. But overall its still a top John Landis horror comedy and easily better than what you get these days. Shame about the end credits song, totally out of place methinks.


Saturday, 27 January 2018

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

The fifteen movie in the Marvel cinematic universe, the Guardians travel all over the universe trying to unravel the mystery behind Peter Quill's parentage. That's the plot right there, that's it.

So the start of this movie shows us the origins of Quill's parents with a de-aged CGI Kurt Russell, something we've seen before and is becoming more popular. Gotta be honest, this looked very impressive. Twas impressive with Michael Douglas in 'Ant-Man' and its impressive here with Russell. From there we zip straight over to the opening credits which roll whilst the Guardians are fighting a big alien monster. Amidst the chaos Groot plays and jigs to 'Mr Blue Sky' by ELO via Star-Lord's walkman. Its a quirky intro and certainly enjoyable...except for the choice of song, but that's just me.

So as I said the basic plot involves Quill finding his father who turns out to be a God-like celestial called Ego (Kurt Russell). Naturally Ego would like to rule the universe with his son at his side, and Quill is curious, but sharply declines after discovering Ego's dark secrets (he killed Quill's mum). Of course whilst all this is going on the other characters have their own little subplots. Gamora is fighting off her sister Nebula once again. Yondu has been hired to capture the Guardians by the Sovereign race because Rocket nicked some precious batteries from them. This causes Yondu internal conflict which results in a mutiny by some of his men. Groot is still slowly growing up, and Drax starts a slow burning romance with Ego's assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Oh and Rocket is still a wise-ass.

I think the main thing I noticed with this sequel was the increase in comedy...silly comedy. Its a little bit too obvious that Gunn is trying a little bit too hard with the gags, but anyway. In the first major space battle Quill and Rocket are arguing about who is the better pilot. Rocket remarks that later later on he will put a turd in Quill's bed. But not one of his turds, one of Drax's turds. Drax immediately laughs out loud and proclaims 'I have famously large turds'. Its at this point that I asked myself, are they actually throwing out dialog about poo? Putting poo in each others school kids would say? By jove they are! I also noted a few other scenes that did make me smile such as Drax ripping on Quill's secret crush on Gamora (unceremoniously revealed by Mantis who can read people's feelings).

There is a great little sequence where Groot must find Yondu's head fin so both he and Rocket can escape from his traitorous men. Groot takes about six attempts to find said item as he doesn't really understand and keeps coming back with all manner of things. A tad predictable but nicely done. Quill calling Rocket a trash panda was a good one although the following dialog was a bit laboured. Rocket trying to explain to Groot about which button (the death button that needed to be covered with tape) to press on the bomb to kill Ego etc...OK lets just say that most of the good stuff comes from Rocket when he verbally clashes with the others.

As for the main crux of the story which was Peter and his father Ego, was fine but nothing special in my opinion. In all honesty I don't really think they could of done anything drastically original here and what they did was perfectly fine. But the main problem simply was it was all completely predictable fluff that's been done before. Each step of the way, each beat was wholly formulaic frankly. Peter and Ego get along fine at first as Peter wants to learn more out of curiosity. Ego teaches Peter the basics of his God-like powers. As the subplots all start to come together Ego finally reveals what he's been up to (again its no real surprise) and Peter understands what he and the Guardians must do. Then after a long finale battle with the good guys on the brink of losing, unsurprisingly Peter suddenly conquers his own internal God-like powers and uses them to hold off Ego just long enough for the others to do their bit.

That's not to say there is anything wrong with all this per say, it works here, but I can't not mention how utterly corny and conventional it all is. Again in all honesty I also thought the ending was so so very soppy that it almost spoilt the movie. Sure the Guardians have now become a proper family so to speak (ugh! the whole family thing again?) and all the various plots are tied together nicely, but boy do they pile on the schmaltz. I did also found it quite bizarre how the Sovereign are so obsessed with wanting to kill the Guardians because Rocket stole their batteries, Especially as it looks like we'll be seeing more of the same in the next movie from these guys. Its also kinda funny how the makeup for this alien race consists entirely of gold body paint, literally just painting all the actors gold and that's it. Just seems so...made for TV-ish. Odd for such a big blockbuster.

Anyway, despite this essentially being more of the same from the first movie, I did enjoy this. I personally found the entire movie to be much tighter with better dialog, better action and a better array of characters. Ego being a surprise decent villain...clearly helped along by casting Russell. Also the combination of Drax and Mantis being a decent surprise double act. Whilst both movies do still feel very cliched and unoriginal, borrowing many elements from many sci-fi movies, for me its the quirky roster of heroes that sells the flick. I can't deny that Rocket is fast becoming a firm favourite of mine. Naturally everything looked slick and shiny, plenty of comicbook nods dotted around, and another retro soundtrack which I didn't really like this time truth be told. I actually thought many of the songs were completely out of place with some of the scenes, but that's just me (dunno what the kids think of these old tunes, do they even know what a walkman is?).

Yes I found this movie more enjoyable than the first (which I think was somewhat overhyped). Even though they are clearly trying a bit too hard with the goofy comedy and visual retro love letters to the 80's (although I do appreciate the retro goodness), generally I think Gunn and co have perfected this particular team of space cowboys. What they must not do now is push it too far and spoil it. But I will finish by asking, why am I not seeing a (preferably adult) Howard the Duck reboot yet? Surely I can't be the only one who thinks a Rocket and Howard team up needs to happen?