Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Darkman (1990)
















This is probably one of the best comicbook characters that didn't actually start out as a comicbook character, he was in fact created by director Sam Raimi. Thinking about that its actually pretty impressive really, Raimi wanted to make a comicbook movie adaptation of one of the more well known existing characters but couldn't, so he just made up his own...kudos. What's even more impressive is the fact this character has gone on to become a popular cult comicbook  franchise alongside Raimi's other famous creation Ash.

The whole premise behind Darkman in my opinion is a humble beauty and the beast tale really. Obviously Liam Neeson's character gets horribly mutilated but what follows is very similar to that French fairytale. On the other hand you could also say the character is very similar to The Phantom of the Opera both in plot terms and visualisation. I think its fairly easy to see how Darkman is visually similar to The Phantom with his face mask of bandages and black sweeping attire. His appearance also harks back to other classic dashing heroes of the 30's such as The Shadow and more so The Spirit in the 40's, the age old dark coloured fedora always looking the business. Yet another influence (in my opinion) for Darkman's look could be Universal's sci-fi horror icon The Invisible Man who literately wears the same outfit with bandages of course.

The plot does kinda run along the same lines as Beauty and the Beast or The Phantom. A disfigured man who hides in the shadows existing away from civilisation but watching them from a far at the same time. He has strong feelings for a woman whom he tries to protect and at the same time attempt to open up to her, but of course he cannot, he is conflicted inside over his hideous appearance. He is haunted by inner demons, how he is now treated and looked upon, and of course In this movie there is the added revenge and rage element against the mobsters that destroyed his life and face. Its the old winning formula of a hero (or anti-hero) who is scary for whatever reasons...but that fear draws you in, it intrigues you and makes you cheer for him.

I remember when I first saw this movie back in my teen years I wrote it off as a blatant Batman-esque wannabe (foolishly). Back then I wasn't totally aware of Raimi's work and hadn't seen his Evil Dead movies so I thought the effects were crude and poorly done. Watching now, being wiser and more experienced with movies, its easy to spot those typical Raimi effects and sequences, his way of directing that had become his signature. Yes the effects are still crude looking (carnival mans obvious rubber fingers getting twisted by Westlake), much of the movie showcases really bad bluescreen and some of the movie just looks cheap, but it all has that glorious Raimi style that peaked with 'Army of Darkness'. The most expensive looking aspect of the movie to me seems to be the use of a helicopter towards the end.

Did anyone notice that Darkman's burnt up face looks remarkably similar to Evil Ash's undead face in 'Army of Darkness'? The bottom of the jaw especially looks to be an almost identical design, still great looking though, the makeup and prosthetics are really effective in this film. I also really liked the tiny scene where Westlake's hands get fried in a wicked little stop-motion sequence. Its little touches like that that are pure Raimi and they look marvelous, plus its always nice to see the old methods being used. Looking back now the rage sequences in Westlake's mind are quite amusing too, its all very basic.

On the whole this movie is in all honesty a bit poor visually and not exactly an original concept. The acting is passable throughout but clearly hokey, its a good job Larry Drake is so fantastically cool, evil and distinctive looking as the main bad guy Durant otherwise this may have sunk without a trace. I think the film could of done with some more action sequences at night, hence Dark...man. I realise this title isn't suppose to simply mean a dark brooding gothic type character, its more to do with his damaged psyche and where it leads him. But if ever a character did need some murky menacing action set amongst neon lit skyscrapers its this. Still, you gotta give big kudos to Raimi for thinking this colourful character up out of thin air, to look at this film you could easily be mistaken for thinking it was an adaptation of an already established comicbook character. That is a pretty solid achievement right there.

7/10

Saturday, 27 December 2014

What We Do in the Shadows (NZ, 2014)


When you think of New Zealand there are certain things that spring to mind, unfortunately most of those things now tend revolve around Hobbits. Despite New Zealand being used as the backdrop for Tolkien's fantasy world its still not really the first place you'd associate with vampires, especially vampires living in the suburbs of Wellington. So it was admittedly  kinda surprising to see a vampire movie emerge from the island of Kiwis, but not just a vampire movie...a vampire comedy mockumentary.

Put basically this film takes the popular reality TV concept and blends it with the popular slightly romantic vision of vampires (Anne Rice type vampires) whilst also adding other ghouls and mythical creatures in a bare bones hyperbole of blood. A camera crew stays in a decrepit house with four vampires and follows their daily routines trying to exist in the present day. The film crew have been given special permission to film these ancient creatures of the night as they prepare for a special event, a special ball...the crew were also given assurance they wouldn't be eaten.



The four vampires are a mixed bunch from the distant pages of time. Viago (379 years old) is the main vampire who talks to us most of the time, he was an 18th century dandy, a wealthy man who is prim proper and pedantic and likes the house clean and tidy (the Lestat de Lioncourt of the bunch). Deacon is the bad boy of the group...or so he likes to think (183 years old). He's the young rebellious rock n roll leather pant wearing vampire who thinks he's hot stuff, the irony being he clearly isn't.

'If you were a Nazi after the war...uh-uh'
'If you were a vampire'...*shakes head*
'If you were a Nazi vampire! no way!! I was outta there!'

Vladislav is the second eldest vampire (862 years old) who grew up during the medieval ages and was a tyrant. He's the most dated and out of touch vampire, he is the sexual deviant of the bunch, the ladies man. His appearance is more in line with the traditional romantic vampiric appearance (the Gary Oldman/Coppola vampire of the bunch). Then lastly there is Petyr who is the eldest vampire at 8000 years of age. This guy is obviously a homage to the Count Orlok character in the F.W. Murnau film 'Nosferatu'. He doesn't say anything but merely nods or hisses and is virtually more animalistic or creature-like than the others.

So apart from the usual vampire-esque things you'd expect to see what is different about this movie? Well for one its all filmed with hand held cameras because its a reality show, not exactly a new idea but it makes the whole film look very realistic in terms of a reality show that is. They have clearly gone out and about in Wellington and filmed on the fly with real unknowing people which makes things more intriguing and fun. In fact its hard to tell at times if the people we see are in the movie or simply real folk unaware they are being filmed.

Some of the main things that really stand out are the extremely humorous little chats the vamps have with the cam crew (ala Big Brother) as they bicker about each other and whine about life in general. It is absolutely hilarious to watch these guys moan and take the piss out of traditional vampire lore turning it into annoying everyday situations. A really clever aspect is the fact vampires don't cast a reflection...so how do they know what they look like? This is clever simply because you've probably never even thought about that. Vampires tend to look very glamorous in certain movies yet how do they know they look glamorous, they might look like shit. So we are presented with a brilliantly funny sequence where these vamps must draw each other in certain attire and make dummies to put the clothes on, so they have an idea of how they will look when they cruise the town at night.

'I think we drink virgin blood because...it sounds cool'
'I think of it like this...if you're going to eat a sandwich...you would just enjoy it more if you knew no one had fucked it'

Then there is the issue of how to kill and drain a victim without making a mess on the carpet and furniture. How do they get all their clothes cleaned, washing up all the blood stained cutlery and dishes, how to find victims/virgins, keeping their vampire skills honed, general entertainment, coping with modern technology, flying through windows, trying to hypnotise victims when they're glued to the TV or a laptop and getting to grips with a new vampire and his human friend. The answer to many of these things being a female human slave who acts like a personal secretary with a shopping list of victims which is a fantastic twist.

You wouldn't think a film like this would have many special effects and if they did they'd be crappy, but you'd be wrong. OK there aren't lots of effects everywhere, they are sparse, but what we do see is cleverly done and highly effective in a tacky kind of way. We see the vamps flying around and hovering, Viago rises from his bed in that classic vertical manner, the guys change into bats, there are of course classic practical blood effects and most impressively we see the guys able to walk (and fight) up the walls and across the ceiling. One scene in particular shows two of the guys fighting up the walls and across the ceiling in one shot and it really does look fab (a rotating set I'm guessing). I must also add that the sets are really atmospheric too, again clearly basic but they work so well.

The only thing I didn't quite like about this movie was the adding of other creatures of the night such as werewolves and zombies especially. I guess the werewolves I can accept but the way they are presented and acted out by the cast just doesn't quite work as well I think. The vampires have a clear distinction between themselves, you can send up different variations of vampires and there is so much you can do. With the werewolves its not really the same, one werewolf doesn't really differ from another, the jokes tend to be childish toilet/animal gags and they don't have any kind of distinctive look, they just look like regular boring humans. Of course once they turn things get a bit more exciting but then you lose the comedy aspect and it obviously becomes more of a genuine horror which you don't really want here. As for other monsters such as zombies that was a step too far for me, that felt like they were pushing it too much.

I loved the cast in this film I really did, each of the three main vampires are really well portrayed and highly amusing throughout. In fact I can't even say which vampire was my favourite because they were all tops. Each actor had some very funny dialog and they are all gifted with amusing rubbery faces which helps. I won't lie and say its a perfect film that is full of laugh out loud moments from start to finish...but its damn close. Considering this came out of nowhere, the cast is unknown (to me), its a New Zealand made film (no disrespect) and the budget appears to be small...its a fine comedy that deserves much kudos. Its like...'Spinal Tap' but with vampires.

'When you get four vampires in a flat obviously there's going to be a lot of tension, there's tension in any flatting situation'

8/10

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Vamp (1986)


So I guess many of you have heard of the Tarantino/Rodriguez action horror flick 'From Dusk Till Dawn'? Sure you have, well let me introduce you to the movie that I'm pretty sure inspired that whole franchise...inspired copied...however you wanna look at it. So sit back and allow me to introduce how this trashy 80's vampire thriller is easily one of the best horror comedies made, up alongside greats such as 'An American Werewolf in London'.

This story idea now seems pretty dated with the whole idea of having two plot lines. Starting out in one direction and then having a fork in the road (so to speak) that leads down another direction. Admittedly this movie isn't entirely like that as we know its gonna be about vampires, but the general genre here is an old frat house type affair which spirals into a gruesome undead horror flick. Its also interesting to note that the classic Arnie vehicle 'Predator' came out a year after this movie and as we all know that film has a famous familiar two plot line affair. So its entirely possible that this horror kick started the double plot line concept.

The story is, as I said already, exactly the same as the Tarantino/Rodriguez flick there abouts. A duo of college students are wanting to get into their kickass campus fraternity, for this they want a kickass stripper so its off to the seedy side of town to hire one. Of course the lads are out of their depth and soon begin to notice odd things about the stripper club. One thing leads to another as the more reserved of the duo (Makepeace) ends up having to team up with an old flame who works at the club (somehow unaware of its secret) to battle the neck biting horde and try to survive until dawn.



So lets look at the cast, its a little known group by today's standards but back in the day both leads, Rusler and Makepeace, were almost household names. Now I say household names but I mean with teenagers of the time, Rusler was already an 80's cult trash star with 'Weird Science' and 'A Nightmare on Elm Street 2'. Here he plays the cool stylish cocky Fonzie-esque ladies man who basically gets the group in the situation they find themselves through his arrogance. The visage of this guy is the epitome of young brash 80's males in the movies with the curly coiffed mullet hairdo and the obsession with his odd choice of mixed attire (a young Robert Downey Jr. if you will). At the same time Makepeace is also the typical poster boy of the 80's with his college jacket, chequred shirt, curly hair, blue jeans and white sneakers (a young Mel Gibson if you will). The duo are easily the pure personification of the 80's which obviously isn't much of a surprise but looking back its so damn cool.

'I'm in the mood for love...simply because they're naked'

Alongside the main duo is the rich perverted single and spoilt Duncan played by Gedde Watanabe, the comic relief. Although this character is truly cliched to the hilt with his prepubescent lusting he is undeniably amusing at times. In fact his character is so lovable with his bug eyes at anything in a thong and typical college dialog that you're sad to see him go. Can't not mention the uber cult star Billy Drago now can I, here he plays a gang leader with snow white hair hence his name is...wait for it...Snow. Drago doesn't have a huge part, in fact its a bit of a nondescript part really as it wouldn't make any difference if his character was taken out. But Drago emits such an air of utter coolness that I can fully understand why Wenk would cast him even for a bit part.



The shock casting (even for the time) was Grace Jones as the head (ancient Egyptian) vampiress. Although she had starred in a couple big movies prior to this film she was still seen as more of a model/dancer/singer rather than an out and out actress. I do think Wenk cast her as more of an attraction for the audience, a quirky hook or lure to get more bums on seats. Despite that she does do a really good job even though she hardly says a thing, her role is virtually mute accept for grunts, scowls, stares and howling laughter...right up Jones alley then. But in the looks department Jones appears every bit the sultry sexy lethal vampire with that strange red wig of hair and bizarre body jewelry that gives off a very sensual vibe which is kinda hard to explain why its sensual...it just is.

I simply can't not talk about the musical score in this movie. Wow! does this score really add another level to the film, it really lifts everything. For starters Grace Jones uses a track of her own for the stripper sequence where she is covered in white body paint. This sequence is an iconic moment in the movie not only for Jones extraordinary performance which is both highly erotic and mesmerizing, but the musical score which plays at the same time is truly unique and also hypnotically beautiful.

Click here for the music tracks...
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lSFyvbDdhp4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXA1hZSAcWE

Back in the day I remember this movie being a bit of video nasty or simply a naughty adult movie merely down to the fact there is plenty of stripper ass on show. The girls walk around in bondage gear and thongs bearing all which is...I guess realistic, obviously sexy and yet it also adds to the general unease in the atmosphere (kinda). Of course the other iconic moment (yes there is actually two) is when Grace Jones seduces and attacks Rusler in her dingy room which had all us kids wetting our pants with excitement, fear and simple intrigue (those that were lucky enough to see the movie behind our parents back). I think this scene is easily one of the most erotic sequences in modern cinema, even when Jones vampiress finally drains Rusler out its still very erotic.



The scene also displayed some of the well created hands-on makeup effects and prosthetics. By today's standards of course its nothing special as we've all seen this type of thing a billion times before now. But back in the day it was quite terrifying to see Grace Jones change from this sexy metal spiral bra clad stripper to a hideous bald monster with these huge fangs and teeth (not to mention her long ugly finger and toe nails). The other female vamps are all made up in similar fashion and they are all quite horrific looking with their glaring contact lenses and mutated faces. So yes despite the fact all the vampires are clad in tight thongs with firm bodies you don't really want one transforming and sucking on your throat...or maybe you do, I had to think hard.

Wenk and his crew really do a great job in making the stripper club look incredibly grimy, dark, dirty and utterly unwholesome overall (seedy is the best word but I can't keep using it). What is really impressive is a lot of this is purely down to the excellent use of lighting. You can see the set wasn't huge and neither was the budget but they manage to make the club look bigger and better than it clearly was, strategic shadows everywhere. At the same time the world outside the club is also brilliantly realised again through the use of obscure lighting (mainly using greens and pinks), and the cliched stereotypical visuals you'd expect like dark alleys, trashcans everywhere, rundown stores, rubbish blowing around, graffiti, bums hanging around etc...I know the lighting colour palette sounds really peculiar but it does work wonders giving this dead end part of town a really sinister ambience. Add to this some wonderful camera work with low angles, Dutch angles, off kilter angles etc...every trick in the book to give this little world a freakish unearthly appearance.

Admittedly the finale does get a bit overblown if you can even say that. The movie does slightly turn from a comedy horror into more of a comedy action horror as Makepeace and Pfeiffer (Michelle's unknown sister) run around shooting vamps with arrows. But again I can't deny the final moment for Jones vampiress is a classic moment of good old fashioned traditional practical effects. The movie offers everything an 80's horror fan could ever want, its jam packed with all the conventional tricks of the trade and visual moments that we have all come to expect from the vampire genre. The blend of utter cheesiness, adult humour, gallows humour, blood, gore and lots of tits n ass all combine to give you a rip-roaring adventure through the underbelly of this vampire world. People say that 'Fright Night' 'An American Werewolf' and 'The Lost Boys' are the best 80's horror flicks...and they are very good yes, but for me Richard Wenk's sordid sleazy tawdry vampire thriller is by far the best 80's trashfest to come along.



10/10



Sunday, 21 December 2014

Vampires: Los Muertos (2002)





















John Carpenter is back, sorta...hurray!! A sequel to 'Vampires'? yeah OK I can go with this, starring Jon Bon Jovi...hurray!...wait what?? Yes so Carpenter produced this movie, a sequel to his quirky gory original that doesn't have anything to do with the first movie (accept for one item), has none of the original cast but exists within the same universe...apparently. Yes this did go straight to DVD.

I guess the main thing that bothers me about this movie is the fact its just a complete rehash of the first movie albeit with a new vampire hunting team. The main vampire here is also after the same black crucifix from the first movie...so its the same. But what in the name of Aztec buggery is Bon Jovi doing in this movie? your guess is as good as mine because other than attracting a young audience it makes no sense. Wait did I just answer my own question? funny thing is I don't actually think anyone knows this movie exists.

So Bon Jovi is the team leader (I'm rolling my eyes right now...as you should be too). There is a priest who in a big faux pas is actually better looking, has a nice tan, has better hair and bigger muscles than Bon Jovi making the aging rocker look kinda pathetic. Add to this there is the token female character who is actually a vampire but holds it back with some miracle drugs, a 14 year old lad and the obligatory token black guy so everybody is happy. I might also add that none of these characters actually end up doing anything of much interest throughout the movie because its so utterly boring and bland.

Nothing really happens in this movie, all we see is this group trudging around grimy Mexican locations looking for vampires in ruined abandoned churches (always religious places). All the visuals are totally cliched and have come straight outta the Robert Rodriguez book of filming in Mexico. The main vampire is a skinny white woman who doesn't really come across as threatening at all. She's after the black crucifix that will enable vampires to walk in the daylight somehow, but she seemingly works alone as we don't really get much other bloodsucker action from anyone else...or at all.

What really chafes my nipples is the fact director Wallace has the nerve to reuse the tow cable method they used in the first movie for dragging vamps out of buildings into the daylight. In the first flick this was a new quirky angle that kinda worked, here its just blatantly abused simply so it runs along the same lines as the original. There is no need for it at all and it doesn't even make any sense! dragging a thrashing vampire outside through a building? surely the vampire can just grab a hold of anything to stop it. What's so daft about it is in this movie they are so deep inside a building when they use it, so many corners and corridors, its ends up a pointless endeavour as anything could hinder the dragging. I never really understood the point of it anyway, just cut of the head and stake em'.

The action feels muted and dull when it does show up, I kinda got the impression Bon Jovi didn't wanna get too sweaty otherwise it might curl up his clearly straightened hairdo. What is more amusing is watching him trying act macho and moving around a vampires nest holding a very obvious fake stake handgun...oh and lets not forget all the silly macho one liners and quips that any action thriller requires. The plot also involves a method of bringing a person back from being a vampire, a blood transfusion removing all the vampire blood and replacing it with human? is that even possible? Surely you would have to drain every last drop of infected blood from the vampire and then you'd die. Did they pinch this idea from 'Near Dark'? I didn't like it there either.

The original Carpenter flick wasn't exactly great, it was a cliched western with killers for hire which was kinda different. This movie simple uses the first films name and delivers a much weaker product. Yes there is still blood and gore, yes its about a hired killer...but who cares. All the characters are terribly weak and uninteresting and Bon Jovi in no way comes across as a hardened vampire killer. I could forgive if the vampire hunting team was at least cool with an interesting cast but they couldn't even deliver on that. The fact the main vampire was also pretty awful and dismal is pretty much the final nail in the coffin.

3/10

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Guyver: Dark Hero (aka The Guyver 2 1994)

Steve Wang's second outing with The Guyver accept this time there was a change in casting for the lead role, no big star names, a low budget...but an all new adult rating! Now don't get too over excited as this isn't like the Japanese manga series with blood and gore galore, yes there is blood but only the odd splattering. On the whole I was looking forward to this sequel as I read it had been enjoyed more by the target audience and received generally better reviews.

Much to my utter amazement I am again disappointed with the outcome! So OK...yes there is blood but its sporadic, there is still no sign of any decent brutal kickass action or gory mutant mutations as seen in the manga series (I have since checked this out). Basically this movie is still very much like a children's movie and still runs along the same lines as the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, albeit with a slightly adult twist.
Admittedly Wang stays closer to the source material this time and includes the fact that the Guyver suit is virtually corrupting Barker by wanting (and making) him kill. The suit lives inside him and haunts him on a daily basis giving him 'Hellraiser-esque' dreams and visions, its nothing really disturbing and scary but these little snippets do add a depth to the character missed previously. Naturally Barker ends up fighting crime as you might expect but he does end up killing the criminals instead of making taking them in. Unfortunately there are no scenes where he kills an innocent which would really screw him up...its not that dark.

Alas once again the fights are chock full of martial arts that don't have any kind of bite or punch to them, the choreographed sequences are well executed but its all so damn fake looking. You can clearly see the strikes are still not really connecting with their intended targets and when they do the monster suits show up how rubbery and foamy they are (once again). The slow motion jiggery-pokery might look cool but in fact it makes things look worse when Guyver and Zoanoid suits clash in real time. And once again the deadly elbow blades are hardly ever used despite the fact they would take out a bad guy very easily and very quickly.

This leads me to the Zoanoid monster suits and as I have just mentioned we still have the same issues...they look great with lots of detail but they also look like rubber monster suits. There aren't as many of the Zoanoids this time but what we see are similar in design to the previous ones. There is a decent rhino type monster, another couple big bug types and another Gill-man type creature. What I don't quite get is it seems the Zoanoid from the last movie played by Berryman is back, I'm unsure if it was the same monster or a similar one or maybe the same monster respawned, no clue. The other odd thing is the main Chronos bad guy (the corporation president) seems to back too...or that's what it looked like to me. The Zoanoids contact the Chronos corporation and speak to an elderly man who looks and dresses very similar to David Gale's character in the first movie.

As for the plot well this is where I again get confused. I know the manga series differs to the first movie, but this sequel differs to the first movie also. Apparently in this movie Barker learns from the unearthed alien ship (the same aliens that created the Guyver suits, mankind and Zoanoids...I think??) that the Zoanoids are a failed experiment by the aliens. The aliens then equipped humans with Guyver suits to battle the Zoanoids (this is in the past). This contradicts the first movies story which says humans are Zoanoids and created by the mysterious aliens.
The Zoanoids then try to take over the Earth and mankind (mankind not spliced with the Zoanoid gene) by creating the Chronos corporation (for some reason a company was required?). At no point did it mention the aliens equipping humans with the Guyver suits to battle the Zoanoids. The Guyver suit was said to be a relic left behind by the aliens...whether on purpose or not I don't know, I thought by mistake, it was never mentioned to have been done deliberately. Of course I could be grasping the wrong end of the stick but I'm not sure, the movie isn't exact to the source.

The Guyver suit looks much better in this sequel even though it looked great in the first movie. This time the colour is more bluer, detail is greater, lights are brighter and the suits shape is much more akin to the manga series looking more evil. The main Zoanoid bad guy actually gets a Guyver suit this time which gives us a chance to see a more badass version (in black naturally). Despite being bigger, badder errr...blacker, it doesn't look anywhere near as good as the main Guyver suit.

All in all this movie is yet another let down and really frustrating. I don't quite get how it is seen to be better than the first movie when there is little difference between the two. Yeah sure this sequel has some blood in the fights (but less fights) and its a tad darker in places but its still very silly and could be way way better. Heck the locations are worse in this sequel I think, at least the first movie was generally in dark settings, kinda grimy and seedy which added to the atmosphere. I don't think this movie is worse overall, its probably on equal terms methinks, I liked both at times but both could of been so much more awesomer...its such a shame. Again kudos for visuals in general but its lacks some serious guts n spunk.

5/10

Monday, 15 December 2014

The Guyver (aka Mutronics, 1991)

Ah that common phrase...loosely based on, yep this is loosely based on the Japanese manga series. I'm not overly sure how this compares to the original source material but from what I've read on wiki about the two there are differences in plot which isn't overly surprising. Not sure why Mark Hamill has top billing on the movies poster fused with the Guyver mask though. He isn't the Guyver and has a smallish role, using his name to sell the film methinks.

In this movie it is said that aliens came to Earth at the beginning of time and created man as their ultimate organic weapon. They implanted a special gene into man that allowed them to change into super monsters called Zoanoids, although not every human it seems. The leader, the Zoalord, awakens from some sort deep sleep at some point in time (eh?) and creates the Chronos corporation with plans to take over the Earth for some reason. It also seems the aliens that created mankind and the Zoanoids left behind a piece of technology called 'the unit', a suit of armour that attaches itself to a host by literately implanting itself inside the hosts body. Once inside a human the suit gives the host a shit tonne of power, strength, speed etc...all the good stuff.

So basically the bad guys in the movie are the Zoanoids from the dastardly Chronos corporation who want the unit (the Guyver suit). Of course the suit attaches itself to an innocent good looking young all American martial arts apprentice who then uses it to stop the Zoanoids from trying to gain complete control. If a Zoanoid uses the suit they become even more powerful than a regular human. Still unsure why these aliens didn't implant the special Zoanoid gene into every human including women, seeing as humans were their weapons experiment. The manga series does seem to be different of course with three Guyver suits on the loose, a different take on the origins and there is way more detail and info over the US movie.

It does seem (to me) that the character of Spawn has possibly been influenced by this Japanese Guyver suit. The Guyver is a really cool creation, a symbiotic bio-mechanism that fuses with the host and lives inside its body like a parasite. The suit is nigh on invulnerable accept for the circular 'control metal' on the forehead of the suit/host. This seems to be the suits brain that gives it its power, it also stores information about its host (DNA data possibly) and it is the only weak spot. In the manga series the suit does a lot more and apparently alters the host both inside and out to improve it! Also apart from giving the host special super powers it also has built in weapons such as its chest cannon, elbow blades and the control metal can fire lasers too. These are seen in the movie but there is more in the manga series, the movie also shows what happens when the control metal is damaged badly. Basically the suit disintegrates and kills the host along with it, in the comic it is said the suit eats the host! But the control metal will respawn or regenerate the host from the stored data it holds (somehow), seemingly making the host invincible and unable to die. So my point is Spawn is almost a hellbound version of the Guyver to a degree, the concept of the living suit is very similar.



This movie really gives you the impression its gonna be badass, it looks dark and broody, the suit looks excellent and there are plenty of big monster suits...what could be better?! Now when I first saw the monster (Zoanoid) suits I loved them, they look like your typical 80's rubber horror monster suits with a bloke inside. If you think of Gill-man in 'The Monster Squad' then you have an idea of what I mean. All the monsters have a certain look to them, one is kinda like a werewolf, one looks like a big Gremlin from the Joe Dante movie (shame about the cliched stereotypical personality it has), one has elephantine features, one looks like a bug etc...so the visual side of things is positive. The Guyver suit also looks great with a lot of detail, some brilliant LED-esque (were LED's available back then?) lit up eyes, nice suit colouring, steam coming out of the vent things on his mask, moving parts and most importantly it actually looks like the Japanese source material.



The problems occur when the action kicks in, yes the Guyver looks awesome standing still in the shadows but oh dear...the disappointment. First up the action is generally very weak with no blood, no profanity and no violence really, all the martial arts you see is clearly fake stunt work. Secondly the action is martial arts!! why?! doesn't this suit have all manner of cool stuff it can do other than enable the host to perform decent martial arts! that's so 80's. We know the suit has these big deadly blades on the elbow section...yet he never uses them! only for final moves does he seem to use them. This just seems utterly pointless when its obvious he could end the fight whenever he wanted with these deadly blades, instead we get lots of aimless martial arts that goes nowhere. And yes the martial arts is totally aimless, lots of jumping around in big cumbersome suits that makes for very crappy fight sequences (when he should be slicing and dicing). All these guys seem to do is throw each other against walls and rubble yet nothing ever affects them ever. The final nail in the coffin is the fact every suit in battle looks incredibly like what it actually is...pure rubber. These suits flop bounce and squish all over the place, the Guyver blades bend, you can see the suits are padded when a strike makes contact etc...its terrible.

The bottom line is this movie is a dark version of The Power Rangers, yep that's right. The action is identical in every way down to the hammy music, the way the creatures just keep getting up and carrying on fighting, the body movement of the Guyver in hero and taunt stances, the way the Guyver speaks though his suit and of course everything looks fake. Although it does feel and look kinda manga-ish/Japanese-ish, kinda. Don't get me wrong there is a lot of nice visual work going on here, some good sets, great prosthetic work, creature effects, mutation effects, basic cinematography etc...But it all falls apart whenever the action rolls in, that's when everything is revealed to be rubber. The finale battle between the Guyver and the Zoalord is hilariously bad, the creature design is intriguing and well made but the sequence is awful. The creature is way too big, too slow, jerky and clearly doesn't do what the designers intended, what they were going for. Its a shame because the fantasy element is great and I love how its all hands-on craftsmanship but it just doesn't work.

I think the cast do well in the movie with certain people boosting the silliness. Michael Berryman is always good for a bad guy isn't he, can't go wrong there, as said Hamill has a small part and pumps a bit of cult class into the proceedings but its David Gale as the Chronos president who steals the show with his Peter Cushing-esque looks. I thought this character played out a lot like Dick Jones in 'Robocop', I dunno I just got that feeling when he first comes onto the scene, he looks like a combination of Dick Jones and the OCP president with the added bonus of classic Hammer Horror looks.

In the end I really wanted to like this and I kinda do...but ultimately it just feels too childish and too silly. I don't know if the Japanese manga series was dark or not but this tongue-in-cheek approach really feels misplaced here if you ask me. It pains me because there is so much here, so much brilliant material both from the source and in this US adaptation. This really is a rich universe that is desperate for a kickass action flick, its ripe and ready. This was a bold attempt and there are some things here that are great, some lovely visuals and live action work which I give full kudos too, but you can't look past how badly it fails at the same time. If ever a movie/original idea needed a fresh reboot with up to date special effects and full frontal kickassery...this is most definitely it.

5/10


Thursday, 11 December 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)


Ah...at last we have the mighty Guardians of the Galaxy superhero space adventure flick with a talking tree stump and a gun wielding raccoon. As we all know (so I dunno why I'm saying it) this movie came right outta left field, no one really expected it, no one really wanted it even (truth be told), no one really knew who these guys were and almost everyone was unsure as to whether it was a good move or not. Yet with a dizzying level of confidence, tenacity and the sheer size of Marvels balls (massaged tenderly by Disney) the company went ahead with this virtually unknown property which was a chuffing big gamble lets face it. Proof that almost everyone at the moment will watch anything with the Marvel logo slapped across it.

I'm not gonna pretend to know the plot intricacies with this movie as I have no knowledge of these characters or their origin backgrounds, thusly I went in blind and merely going on previous tit bits from other character movies. Basically a group of space pirates come together as a team for various reasons. Quill the human is initially tracking down this magical orb for currency but gets tied up in this dastardly plot by an alien supervillain to destroy planets with it. Gamora is working for Thanos and Ronan as an assassin yet changes her ways and betrays them both after she realises what the orb can do. Drax wants to kill Ronan for killing his family so he's on board at first to merely get to Ronan...but later joins the fight for the orb too. Rocket the raccoon is another bounty hunter who was after Quill initially and simply ended up getting tossed into space jail with the group and eventually ends up helping them escape, he then continues with their fight. Lastly Groot is a tree...errm...and he's the sidekick of Rocket...he just follows Rocket around and protects the little guy. Think of him as a wooden magical Chewbacca that just says 'I AM GROOT' which apparently is an entire vocabulary.

That is the basics for the main characters, there are many many more throughout which all slip in and out of the plot. I won't lie it was a little confusing for me to get to grips with, there are lots of odd space names for characters, ships and places flying around and lots of nods to other things within the Marvel comicbook universe (with weird names). You don't have to be a comicbook nerd to get along with the plot...but it helps, that's all I'm gonna say. Like...why did the mercs steal Quill away from Earth as a baby in the first place? I'm sure stuff like that is in the comics. Never the less anyone can still just about enjoy this movie I'm sure, I think...maybe...mkay.



The overall look of the movie was a mixed bag for me honesty. First thing I noticed was an abundance of body paint and makeup being used with little to no rubber mask/prosthetic type effects. There's nothing wrong with that of course but it did feel a tad basic, unadventurous and dare I say Star Trek-ish with all these aliens simply being actors with different coloured face paint on. I'm sure its probably because many of the background comicbook characters from the original source material were drawn like that...I presume. Otherwise I can't quite work out why so many characters merely had face paint on with alien contact lenses in, the makeup on Ronan and Korath was almost childish looking! This also had me wondering about other background characters, like in the prison for example. Many of them seemed to be regular looking blokes...so would they be humans? I kinda though everybody would aliens, also why were the prison guards all so utterly useless?? Its a prison for violent creatures and folk from all over the universe yet the guards appear to be human and are as useful as a chocolate teapot.

This was but a small quibble admittedly as the visual effects and CGI throughout the movie was pretty pleasing to the eye. Putting it simply...I haven't seen such decent space battle/dog fight sequences since the original Star Wars trilogy...I think. I believe it was the cockpit shots of various pilots and heroes that swayed me as they looked very realistic with tiny details and didn't stand out with obvious CGI. Honesty though its not like most of the other stuff you see hasn't been done before or hasn't looked as good in other Marvel movies recently. All the magical space sorcery jiggery-pokery, deep space vistas, cityscapes, masses of spaceships, planetary landscapes etc...all looked sharp and slick as you would expect. But none of this is anything special now though is it, we've seen this type of thing so many times, its merely the staple diet of these superhero flicks. Yes it all looked very good, but I expect that, I expect nothing less, anything less than very good and I would be taken aback.




















So yes everything looked shiny and polished but as I said that didn't wow me because its standard stuff these days. Basically the movie revolved around the surprisingly entertaining crew of space pirates. When I say that I naturally mean Star-Lord played by Pratt and the two CGI bounty hunters Groot and Rocket. I didn't really know anything of Pratt before this movie so to that affect I (like everybody else I'm sure) was pretty stunned at his likeable roguish persona that blurred the lines between Han Solo, Indiana Jones and maybe a hint of Marty McFly...in a bumbling manner.
I think the only aspect I didn't like was the fact he was all buffed up, is it just me or does anyone else think he would have been more amusing with a regular Joe's physique? A bit more of a space bum perhaps, the rippling muscles visage kinda played against his charming doofus of a hero if you ask me. All of sudden he isn't a regular guy trying to get along in the wild universe...he's a superstud superhero with big abs...meh...bit cliche. Plus he seemed to switch from a ham-fisted accidental hero to a raging ass-kicking machine too easily, its like Gunn couldn't quite decide what angle he wanted from this guy.

Then of course there's his love of 80's music which all ties in with the plot about his mother dying. This aspect actually got me thinking, its strange how this movie is almost like a retro fantasy for adults. I don't know but I'm pretty sure most youngsters won't have a clue about the soundtrack, hell I'm willing to bet they won't even like it. Then there's the use of a walkman and cassette tapes which again many youngsters will be totally oblivious too just as much as VHS tapes. It all adds up to a movie of three halves really, you have the fantastic other-worldly visual space elements for the kids, the comicbook element for the fanboys and a main character who is basically for the 30 year old plus age range who grew up in the 80's.






















As for the CGI duo well what can I say...bizarre and highly amusing to say the least. Rocket was the perfect anti-hero who despite his obvious limitations is an expert in weapons and battle tactics with a sharp mouth, the perfect combination. The only thing I would have loved even more would be hearing Rocket swear as he would have clearly worked better as an adult character, the Joe Pesci of the group. As for Groot well I'm amazed at how popular living trees seem to be in movies recently and yet there is only so much you can do with them looks wise really. This guy worked best with Rocket in the prison break sequence for sure, seeing the gun totting raccoon blazing away on top of his wooden pal was mightily badass I can't deny. Other than that Groot offers some nice chuckle moments and an emotional ending but I did find myself thinking this character was too powerful. He lacks brains but he's uber strong and seemingly unable to die, plus he also has magical powers...so as long as Rocket is around he's kinda unstoppable, or even without Rocket.



The other characters were good but just kinda there. Drax is the obligatory token lump of muscle that beats down many enemies, doesn't understand human customs/sayings/speech (slightly laboured humour there) and is also covered in detailed body paint that doesn't quite show up too well. Where as Gamora is the obligatory token female character to add a bit of sexy spice to the proceedings in her tight outfits (Black Widow much?)...how about that black mini skirt ensemble at the very end folks! I liked that. Again was it just me or did Glenn Close's character kinda look exactly like the Mom character from Futurama?

So...looking back what do I think overall? Its definitely a visual feast heavily relying on CGI of course which on one hand is fine on the other is way too generic these days, it would have been nice to see some practical hands-on work. The humour and action is again spot on and enjoyable but at the same time it also felt kinda old, a bit cliche, too eager to please and of course too similar to other recent superhero movies. The risk of superhero saturation is never far away and even though this movie is a fresh angle (of sorts) its still very familiar. Although not a practical move I get the impression this movie could of been even better with an adult spin. Gunn obviously has notions of that with little snippets here and there such as the black light joke and as I said Rocket would have been tremendous with profanity.

I won't say its the best Marvel flick so far as that accolade still goes to the first Iron Man movie in my opinion. I enjoyed the movie, it is a good fun space escapade with solid characters that both amuse and kickass. It could virtually be an adaptation of many 80's Saturday morning cartoon favourites which in itself is fecking top banana. This flick makes me think a movie adaptation of 'Captain N: The Game Master' could work.

8/10

Monday, 8 December 2014

Another Stakeout (1993)




















So you made a film back in the day and it was a success both at the cinema and videoshop. The two stars of the movie are still big and can still pull in an audience, you yourself now have some swing within Hollywood and lets be honest...you need a new project to keep your career on a high-ish. What better way to do that than completely rehashing your successful movie by...errr completely remaking it all over again but in a different location and with a new star (for the time) to the roster.

Yep so the plot is virtually the same as the first movie, no shame here folks. The dynamic duo are back again and instructed to go on another stakeout in a nice woody lakeside well to do area. They are watching out for a witness against the mafia (after a botched assassination) who may or may not be coming to this lovely house. But the funny thing is...wait for it...this time they have a female DA officer along with them to play husband and wife with Dreyfuss. That's not all, she's brought her huge rottweiler along too...ey up we're in for some mighty big laughs now! Did I mention the new DA officer is Rosie O'Donnell? well there you go. I ask you...can you think of anything better than this? really...how can this not be funny?















Oh wait...its not funny in the slightest. Everything here has been dumbed down and made more family friendly basically, not that the original movie was an adult movie but this is just childish. Most of the plot now revolves around how silly this family unit can be with Estevez as the son, Dreyfuss as the dad and O'Donnell as the mum. Every scene is pretty much an embarrassing bumbling slapstick comedy routine with infantile dialog and cliched predictable visual gags...some of which naturally revolve around the big dog. Literately nothing happens for the majority of the movie until the final long dinner sequence where there is lots more awful dialog. Heck even the action (if you can even call it that...which you can't) is weak as fuck, its virtually a children's movie at times.

Dreyfuss character seems to have been somewhat neutered this time around and doesn't have the same zest as before. Yes he is obviously an older character but the plot doesn't allow him to do anything. The same goes for Estevez, in the first movie he was pretty much a sidekick, here he has a little more to do admittedly but again its very lame and uninteresting really. Its nice to see Ferrer playing a bad guy again, haven't seen that for awhile, blast from the past. The only problem being like everything else its a very tame watered down role which has absolutely no bite about it. The bad guys in this movie are so uneventful I can hardly bring myself to call them bad guys, they're just a bit naughty and they wear black. As for O'Donnell well this was another time wasn't it, a different ear where O'Donnell was actually kinda big (in both senses...zing!). I guess she adds to the humour at times but her character just comes across like this sequel...not required, horseshoed in, crowbarred in, forced and pointless.

I really don't know what Badham was trying to do here, you could have a sequel to this but going down this route was a huge error. Basically remaking it with one extra cop for comedy relief...oh and a big dog...pfft! I mean really, who wants to see Dreyfuss' character have relationship issues (again) with Stowe (from the first movie, must have needed rent money) whilst staking out Dennis Farina who does nothing. Then in the background Estevez is constantly moaning about having to shave his moustache off which appears to be the movies main gag. This literately is like watching an actual stakeout where nothing actually happens, I'm boring myself writing this!

2/10

Friday, 5 December 2014

Stakeout (1987)





















The same year as the greatest buddy cop action flick of all time 'Lethal Weapon' and at times you can see a similarity to be honest. The opening credits definitely have a similar tone and font/colour to the Donner movies opening, but this movie is obviously more of a comedy than thriller. Who'd of thought you'd see Dreyfuss in a cop based action flick though huh, what's even more unusual is Dreyfuss is actually way more believable as the ass-kicking cop than baby-faced Estevez.

So a dangerous criminal has broken out of jail and is coming after his ex-squeeze because she has a load of his money hidden away in her home (she doesn't know). The police are drafted in to stakeout the place (hence the movies title...huh huh) and watch over the woman whilst waiting for the crook so they can nick him. Its up to old man Dreyfuss and his younger partner Estevez to stake out this woman's home by night whilst two other cops (Lauria and Whitaker) stake it out by day.

As you can imagine much pissing around and slapstick ensues as the main mustachioed duo of Dreyfuss and Estevez play pranks on the other two cops, snooping around the woman's house without permission and eventually interacting with her (without permission). As already said its surprising to see Dreyfuss being the cocky arrogant ladies man who basically gets Estevez into hot water with his unprofessional antics. You really really expect the wild card to be Estevez, instead he tends to sit on the sidelines being the uppity by the book cop in the duo. In fact this movie is mainly a vehicle for Dreyfuss truth be told, he's the man, he gets all the action and he gets the girl.



This movie really took me back though, I remember seeing it on the shelves at my local videostore when I was a kid...hell I remember it coming out in the videostore. Its such a dated movie and so so very 80's (naturally), all the action is well shot and directed but its completely overblown in places, hyped up with a typical action movie score ad chock full of those typical action movie type sequences and closeups with witty quickfire quips. The only surprise the movie has going is the fact the bad guy doesn't die in a big way...he merely dies...oh spoiler warning...well not really its bloody obvious, this is an 80's action movie for heavens sake.

The finale I'm talking of is quite an anti climax actually. The whole chase sequence is filled with guns firing, bullets pinging off metal just missing every bodies heads and both antagonist and protagonist are leaping around like gazelles on too much coffee. This all takes place in a logging factory with lots of big dangerous machines so you'd bet your bottom dollar the bad guy will get cut in half or squashed...or whatever. Well you'd think that but no! not in this action movie, nope it looks great, its tense but in the end it limps to a weak conclusion and of course soppy ending.

I'm not saying the movie is poor...but I found it average, a poor man's watered down 'Lethal Weapon' really. Estevez and Dreyfuss are a good combination (oddly enough) and they do spark well off each other at times. The start of the movie is the most entertaining with the duo messing around and...ermm staking out. But as things progress and a love story blossoms it gets a little drab and cheesy, of course its predictable and really the main villain isn't that bad, or not bad enough. I know its not meant to be an overly violent action fest but its not overly funny either...just a standard cop flick with a standard wise-ass duo who like to break their bosses balls being rebellious (twas the thing back then).

There isn't an abundance of action either to be honest, the odd car chase and gunfight routines. Being one of the earlier action movies in the genre it gets a pass as the concept is a little more original than other cop flicks and the duo are an unexpected quirky double team. Up against other big hitters like 'Lethal Weapon' '48 Hours' 'Beverly Hills Cop' etc...it can't quite compete but it holds its own just about. It does the job but it won't have you thinking about it much after the credits have rolled. Its a fast food action movie and its...well ya know...very 80's (get ya Boglins out).

6/10

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Disorganized Crime (1989)



Quite the ensemble cast in this late 80's romp. A real list of dated 80's stars, the kind of list you just don't see anymore. Corbin Bernsen, Ruben Blades, Fred Gwynne, Ed O'Neill, Lou Diamond Phillips, Daniel Roebuck and Hoyt Axton. A silly crime/heist caper comedy that is pleasing and well presented in the stunning Montana wilderness.

I liked the plot because its not just a simple throwaway idea. A small team of crooks (Gwynne, Phillips, Blades and Russ) are hired by Bernsen to meet in a cabin in the middle of nowhere to plan a bank robbery. En route to the cabin Bernsen gets nabbed by the cops (O' Neill and Roebuck) but eventually escapes into the wilds of Montana. In the meantime the four crooks carry on with the plan to rob the bank without Bernsen. What follows is a genuinely amusing little comedy where the fours crooks manage to carry out their complicated impossible looking robbery whilst all the while Bernsen is struggling to find his back to civilisation. At the same time the bumbling cop duo are desperately trying to track Bernsen down and are mistaking everything the four crooks are doing as Bernsen's actions. This eventually leads to a nice little twist at the end for the poor beleaguered Bernsen.

So the plot is fun and funny, nothing outrageously funny but it makes you smile. But its the cast that make this movie work, you'd think it might be a case of too many cooks but no it actually works well. The four crooks are a genuinely amusing odd bunch both visually and personality wise. The leader of this surprisingly skilled little team is Fred Gywnne in all of his towering glory. His huge square frame and big block-like head really allows him to perform some great physical comedy with facial expressions which we all know and loved from his Munster days. Gwynne plays it straight here as the stern sensible stoic aging leader dressed smartly in a suit and fedora, that classic attire really suits him(no pun intended) giving him both a dashing and dangerous look.

He is joined by a very rugged manly looking Bernsen who has this golden sunkist visage throughout, he really does look too good. Thing is he doesn't have many lines in the movie, he almost plays a silent comedic role with lots of slapstick tomfoolery...its a good angle actually, quite unique. Lou Diamond Phillips plays the young carjacker and mechanic, Ruben Blades has more of a stereotypical role admittedly as the Latino gangster type but damn if he doesn't do it well with those vibrant tones of his. The less known William Russ can't be overlooked here either with a solid performance as the nervous jittery safecracker who's always at odds with Blades. Some great bickering between them.

On the other hand we also get some great performances from Ed 'Al Bundy' O'Neill and Daniel Roebuck as the bumbling but persistent cops on Bernsen's trail. Not only do we get a slapstick tour de force from Bernsen we also get a showcase in slapstick from these two. I can't deny that O'Neill does tend to give us all the regular facial/physical expressions and emotions we've seen in his long running TV sitcom. Its all very familiar and does kinda make you feel you're watching Al Bundy the movie, you can see his limited range really. But I also can't deny I love his routine and it always makes me smile. Roebuck is a good foil and sidekick to O'Neill's desperation and frustration but he does feel like a poor man's John Candy...sorry but I had to say it.

Honesty this really is such a feel good comedy betwix action movie...more comedy, its like 'Planes Trains and Automobiles' for some criminals sorta. The locations are stunning as I've already said, some shots really showing the expansive mountainous panorama's whilst actually making you feel the chill of raw nature. The plot is fun with tense moments...especially whilst they rob the bank and take out the cop cars, it does feel like they've genuinely put a lot of effort in and you want them to succeed. I always find it funny with these capers how they just happen to have all this expensive looking heist gear which they then proceed to dump after the heist.

All the characters are very likable, you wanna see the bad guys ride off into the sunset but at the same time you don't wanna see the cop duo get into trouble. Its so heartwarming and charming in the end with Gwynne grinning through his teeth whilst chomping on a fat cigar just like George Peppard. Don't get why they go back for Bernsen though, that kinda overrides the clever little twist at the end but hey ho. A totally overlooked and under appreciated comedy methinks, a great selection of character actors with some good solid old fashioned wholesome entertainment for all.

8/10

Friday, 28 November 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)




 A quirky little tale that was inspired by the writings of Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig. I have never heard of this guy and I don't know of his work (as far as I'm aware), so unfortunately I cannot comment any further on this movies accuracy adapting or being influenced by Zweig's work. What I do know is to expect all the trademark Wes Anderson quirks from plot themes visual style and of course casting that we have all become accustomed too. Now I will admit this does kinda bother me somewhat as I find this sort of repetition, mainly in his casting, a tad mundane and unadventurous, or at least it can lead to that (Tim Burton).

Luckily this movies theme and visual direction grabbed my attention...well mainly the visuals. The story begins with flashbacks within flashbacks as a young girl starts to read from a memoir written by the 'author' (Tom Wilkinson). The memoir recounts a tale about a trip he made to the Grand Budapest Hotel back in 1968, the younger version of the author played by Jude Law. The young author meets up with the aging hotel owner played by F. Murray Abraham and they discuss how he became the owner. This in turn leads to another flashback to 1932 as we see the young hotel owner as a lobby boy under the tutelage of the hotel concierge played by Ralph Fiennes.

The movie is basically a Germanic/eastern European wartime murder mystery split into five chapters. An wealthy elderly hotel guest dies and leaves Fiennes character (Gustave) a valuable painting much to the anger of her odious money grabbing relatives. It is then discovered the old woman has been murdered and Fiennes is a prime suspect. What follows from there is a madcap vintage slapstick of a black comedy as we tag along with Gustave and his lobby boy Zero as they attempt to evade dangerous relatives, soldiers and prison (long story short).

So as I said for me this movie grabbed my attention through its unique visual style which kinda reminded me of classic murder mysteries but in a very Germanic sense. You could maybe drawn comparisons to the comedy 'Clue'? visually at least...kinda. The actual hotel surrounding background and the funicular are a highly detailed models which are based on real locations in the Czech Republic (the hotel anyway). I adored these models because they simply looked fantastic, admittedly obvious models but that's the appeal...it looks like a model railway set. The cold snowy terrain and weather really gives this movie a warm cozy atmosphere, the cutesy models, highly decorative traditional interior sets (very continental) and characters that look like your old relations all combine to give this almost Christmas glow to the proceedings...or it could just be me.

This sumptuous visual flair is helped along by the colour scheme of certain sequences such as the hotel being a light shade of pink making it look like a large cake. The interiors are also bright and colourful as are the staff uniforms in that classic 30's style. The fact that young Zero's girlfriend also works at the local bakery making fluffy mouth-watering pastel coloured baked treats almost feels like Anderson is teasing us. On top of that the bakery van is also a deliciously looking light shade of pink making you literately think of nothing but pink icing marshmallows and cakes! Its tantamount to torture I tells ya!

On the flip side the fictional war aspect of the tale which is set in between the two great wars (1932) clearly looks and feels like WWI but it isn't...I don't think. Despite the whimsical vibe there are still beatings murder and oppression in some forms in the latter half of the movie, nothing hideous but enough to jolt you out of your cozy spot. I guess the real problem for me was the casting...yes that's right the casting. The movie is based around European aristocracy, puffed up rich continental types with fat moustaches that you'd normally see living currently in certain areas of north London. The issue is they are all played by very American actors and it doesn't really gel half the time.

Fiennes is easily the best thing going here and he fits his role perfectly with his own upper crust upbringing. His performance is both charming and amusing with his suave debonair persona as he greets and sucks up to the guests...then all of a sudden blammo!...he'll drop an F-bomb outta nowhere...brilliant! Kudos also to his sidekick played by Tony Revolori who looks just the ticket as the young alert lobby boy, dude looks like Penfold (Danger Mouse). There are various other decent performances throughout (too many cast members to mention) but its the odd characters played by Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson (basically the entire American cast) that just don't work. The only American that does slot in well is Dafoe as the assassin who basically looks like Count Orlok once again...so yes that fits into this era and region perfectly.


These characters are meant to be Europeans in a small landlocked alpine country...yet they have American accents! plus some of these stars don't really do a great job performance wise either. You do get the impression Anderson revels in collecting a large glittering ensemble cast that looks stunning on paper and the movie posters but don't necessarily fit the bill. Plus I also get the impression Anderson kinda likes to play dress up with these big stars and not worrying so much about their characters, after all this whole movie does tend to look like an illustrated children's book or an explosion from within a toy box (with layers of pink icing on top).

Essentially the story is about greed I guess, on the surface everything seems sweet and pleasant but dig down and really everybody is a bit of a shit and not to be trusted...including Gustave to a degree. I'm not even sure if I liked any of the characters really, I suppose the lobby boy is our (the viewers) most trusted ally. In the end the movie ends on a happy note or so you think, Anderson finally slaps you across the face as the very ending is actually quite sad and grim like some kind of children's fairytale. Its an odd one for sure, starts off like as a feel good flick...visually looking like everything is taking place within a snow globe, but slowly grinds you down until you feel like sobbing at the finale. I still can't really decide if I actually liked it or not, its certainly well made directed and crafted but its not what I thought it would be. I must give kudos to Anderson for his creation and storytelling (even though it all feels a tad ostentatious) but I still can't help but feel somewhat empty and emotionless towards it even though I really really wanted to love it.

6.5/10






Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Doctor Dolittle (1967)





















Yes that's right kids, that hideous Eddie Murphy movie is actually based on a very famous set of children's novels by Hugh Lofting and before the modern revamp came this far far superior children's movie. This film is actually based on three of the Dolittle novels, all fused together, but you'd never have guessed that.

The film feels like its set in stages, first off we meet Matthew Mugg and Tommy Stubbins in the whimsical little English port town of Puddleby-on-the-marsh. Once we the audience are acquainted with this cute couple its off to see the doctor in his typically traditionally beautiful little English cottage on the hill. From there on we watch the trio get stuck in various ordeals involving various animals as they try to raise money to go on a voyage to find the Giant Great Pink Sea-Snail. Eventually the second leg of the movie kicks in as the trio and the obligatory beautiful female set sail into the unknown. The third part of movie would involve the crew getting shipwrecked but finding land, land that conveniently happens to harbour the Pink Sea-Snail.

Where to begin?! I was virtually raised with this film (amongst other classics), as a kid I hated it truth be told, probably down to forced repeat viewings but as I have matured I can see what a fantastic picture it really is. The movie didn't perform too well upon release which really amazed me frankly as I personally think this is way better than say...'Mary bloody Poppins'. It didn't help that Disney's 'Jungle Book' came out around the same time of course.

The village scenes filmed in Wiltshire, UK are absolutely gorgeous to look at they really are, if ever you wanted to see the perfect little olde worlde English hamlet then voila. Unfortunately they had to use sets eventually down to the locals not liking what was happening to their little home but I don't see the issue really. The fishing port mockup with farm animals, cats and period dressed locals is so quaint and lovely looking, probably lots of droppings everywhere but hey come on! different times they were.



There really isn't a scene in the entire movie which isn't bright bold and colourful with excellent detailed props and costumes. The locations were magnificently chosen and really brought the picture to life. You can easily tell the sets of Sea-Star Island compared to the real locations shoots of St Lucia, had it all been sets it clearly would not have been half as spectacular visually. Personally (apart from Puddleby at the start) I think the circus sequences and sets were the most impressive and enjoyable. Being a simple circus tent scenario it wouldn't have been too hard to pull off but you gotta remember everything is period set within the Victorian era. This setting is what makes the movie so attractive to look at with the lavish Victorian decorations sets props costumes etc...Even more so within the circus scenes with classic clowns, strong men, bearded ladies, big butch bald guys...and many with thick waxed moustaches.

Its the circus scenes where I think we see the best performance which is from Attenborough as Albert Blossom the ringmaster. His physical appearance was perfect for the role and the added makeup with obligatory fat tash really nailed this character. His cheerful loud brash ringmaster with a northern accent is a sheer joy to behold as he prances around in that classic top hat and red tails attire, along with his funny little tweed looking suit with breast pocket watch. Its also here we come across the most memorable song 'I've never seen anything like it' sung merrily by Attenborough with all his circus folk in their various colourful patchwork clothes. If your kids don't enjoy these sequences then by thunder I'll...errm be surprised.

Yes the film is a musical much like many of these old classic family films and admittedly no the songs aren't overly memorable (apart from the one I mentioned), but for their scenes they work. The cast in general are good but do pail in comparison to the epic Rex Harrison. Its not all about Harrison though, Anthony Newley is very enjoyable to watch as Irishman Matthew Mugg, the Irish always fit into olde worlde eras well. Samantha Eggar is extremely beautiful and dreamy despite her character being a spoilt pain in the arse and I also liked Geoff Holder as Willie Shakespeare the Sea-Star Island tribal leader...very well spoken. Finally I can't not mention Peter Bull as the fat rich and highly aristocratic General Bellowes who is still quite the intimidating character even after all these years (used to worry me as a kid).

What is also surprising is the amount of practical effects and real animals used (well not really seeing as there was no CGI). They really did have tonnes of various animals all over the place for certain scenes throughout. Many seem to have just been shoved into the scene but obviously some were trained and its quite impressive really. Naturally the larger effects do look hokey as hell nowadays, when I was a kid the Giant Great Pink Sea-Snail always amazed me, now its a bit shitty really. Hey I'm not having a go but its very rigid, it clearly moves awkwardly if at all and it has a weird almost human expression for a face. The Giant Lunar Moth also looks pretty bad these days but the scene hides much of it with darkness so it does work better. Again the overly massive whale that somehow manages to push an entire island looks pretty darn scary in all honesty, its also massively massive...and fake. Despite that they all work in the context of the film, that being a fairytale of wonders...plus it would be so cool if they were real.

Honourable mention to the Tibetan Pushmi-pullyu which I always thought was a real animal when I was very young. As I got older I thought it was a real animal with some kind of effect stuck on it, now I realise its two blokes in a suit...isn't it?! Gotta hand it to them...it looks pretty good, quite realistic...apart from when it starts to dance. Hey its a kids fantasy film people!

The movie is long and crammed packed with story which is both overwhelming but (I think) acceptable. Even though there is lots going on, various sub plots that must be completed before the main plot kicks in like some kind of videogame and quite a few flashbacks and montages...at no point did I ever get confused. The whole premise is so simple and fun personally I don't notice the run time. It all feels like a more in depth version of Disney's 'Bedknobs and Broomsticks' what with all the fanciful objectives and dialog flying about the place.

So if you can ignore the fact that the original novels were supposedly full of racism (take into account when they were written though), and ignore the horrendous 1998 remake and its following direct to DVD sequels (easy to forget this crap trust me), I think this is a great film for all the family. I think Fleischer did a great job directing and Bricusse did a tremendous job of adapting all three novels into the one film. A delightfully charming captivating timeless ride alongside the good doctor and his menagerie of animals.

9/10

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Initial D (HK, 2005)

























Based on the highly popular Japanese manga/anime series this Hong Kong made movie clearly took some ideas from the earlier American smash hit movie 'The Fast and the Furious'. Despite the whole concept of illegal street racing generally being a word wide thing its always been a popular icon in American and Japanese pop culture/culture. The concept of drifting (drift racing) is originally an entirely Japanese form of illegal racing which involves racing down and through tight mountain passes or simple tight narrow winding roads. This movie is centred on drift racing (as was the source material) and will feel very similar to 'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift', so if you enjoyed that you'll like this.

The plot is obvious and the usual thing for this type of movie. A young tofu delivering teen is the undisputed king of the mountain when it comes to drifting, he learnt everything he knows from his racing guru of a father...who for comedic purposes is a drunk. His fame for drifting gets noticed by various other racer gangs/teams and he is challenged at various points throughout until he must face some stiff competition at the end. During all this racing drama there is of course the drama of reality with a girlfriend, his best mate who also wants to race, the car breaking down, his father etc...the usual boyracer issues.

Lets be brutally honest here...this movie is basically a Fast and Furious movie set in Japan, its virtually an extension to Tokyo Drift. Everything plays out as you'd expect, the characters are all cliched and cheesy (I love the Japanese black leather wearing gang racers with bandanas and dreads), the races are of course predictable and you know what's gonna happen at every turn (pun intended). What makes it a bit unique is the simple fact its set in Japan, a very picturesque prefecture, it feels more realistic being in Japanese (subs) and the race sequences are gritty looking.

In that sense the movie is better than its US counterparts (just like Tokyo Drift is the best of the FnF franchise). The racing is very impressive and very realistic with genuine drifting stunts on genuine tight twisty roads in Japan. Again I must stress its nothing you haven't seen before of course, not anymore, but it looks really solid. There is little fanfare here either, the races are merely two average looking modded ricers, a few drably dressed onlookers, the hero is also pretty drab himself and there are little to no special effects bar the odd zooming through the car interior and a hint of internal engine tomfoolery. Expect lots of slow motion replays, tight camera angles on the cars, flybys, close-ups on pedals and speedometers, grimacing facial close-ups etc...all regular racing cliches.

There are no semi-naked females in ultra tight skimpy attire, no boom boxes blaring out rap tunage, no heavily blinged up chavy patrons, no heavily pimped up stupid looking cars, no muscles covered in tattoos blah blah blah. This is very down to earth and grounded, Japanese teens are incredibly sensible and well dressed compared to teens elsewhere. Its actually amusing to see them try and be rebellious because they just end up looking like preppy school kids dressed badly.

As I already said the cars are not luminous monstrosities scraping the tarmac polluting the air with hip hop and with the kind of body kits you'd see being used for a glider. Nope...what I loved about this movie was the use of straight up ricers with little gloss but plenty of real muscle. Naturally we see the glorious GT-R, a lovely Mazda RX-7, a stunning Evo IV and the plucky little Toyota Sprinter Trueno that is taken faithfully from the manga series. In the manga series the Toyota is apparently unmodified but in this movie it does seem to be somewhat with suspension and the odd bits n bobs. There are quite a few inevitable changes from the source material to this movie and one appears to be the absence of how Takumi's father does a Mr Miyagi and slowly teaches him how to become a top drifter/racer without him even realising whilst he delivers his tofu. In this movie you do get a hint of that but it seems as though Takumi knows he's being taught which takes away the sparkle.



Watching this now it feels very very very hokey I won't deny, its cringeworthy in places its so damn corny. Plus the rush in street racing flicks has flooded the market so the originality is long gone. Like I said the locations work nicely and will really get Jap super saloon fanboys excited and the cast is solid despite a weak performance from lead star Jay Chou as Takumi...he's hardly much to look at either. Chapman To is easily the best thing cast wise with his chubby bumbling over the top comedic display combined with that odd haircut, he does boost the movie which would of been too dull in places without him. The movie ends on a bit of a flat note I think but other than that its a decent street racer flick which should satisfy anyone who likes this sort of thing. Still not too sure why the franchise is called 'Initial D'.

6/10