Thursday, 31 July 2014

Sabotage (2014)



The film previously known as 'Ten' and 'Breacher' both of which make little sense...well 'Breacher' is Arnie's character but 'Ten'? because there are ten members in Arnie's team? nope there are nine. So the film was wisely renamed 'Sabotage' which also makes no real sense but I guess it sounds cool.

Yeah Arnie is back...again, and this time he's R rated! After some dismal post Governor flicks I was hoping for a return to the old days with Arnie and some proper ass kicking action drenched in bloody squibs. Alas this movie certainly has the blood and action (at times) but it feels empty forced and too self indulgent. I really get the impression director Ayer wanted to recreate that classic 'Predator' team of hardasses with Arnie as their leader...mainly because that's what it is. Arnie in charge of a crack team of special Ops DEA agents with more guns, muscles and tattoos than you can shake a stick at.

Oh my does this movie rehash that old hat idea that Mr James Cameron gave us many moons ago, you know what I mean, an elite team of foul mouthed cocky gun totting grunts. I've seen many films with ice cool teams of super mercs/soldiers/warriors, but I haven't seen a film try as hard as this one to force down our throats how butch these guys are. The profanity is constant and really unnecessary, each cast member really over acts in a cringing way, token black guy, token tough semi ugly female, each one has some kind of cliched visual gimmick to distinguish themselves from each other (facial hair, attire, tattoos etc...), each member has a silly code name or nickname ('Pyro' 'Grinder' 'Monster') and they are all pretty unlikable.

Manganiello's character is so extremely over the top and unstable you wonder how on earth he could ever function in a team like this. Did this character really need to wear black spiky leather biker gear, shades and have tattoos plus cornrows in his hair??! Its like the costume folk got over excited and just chucked a whole load of stereotypes into this one character to make him as 'badass' as possible. Instead he looks like a mish mash of ideas and quite idiotic...although not as much as Worthington's laughable facial hair.

This is a real problem in the film because you don't know who to get behind, these guys are suppose to be the main characters or heroes yet they are all shits. Going to strip bars...verbally assaulting the dancing girls, smashing glasses, getting loaded and high followed by attacking the security guys?! They're all very aggressive and don't have much compassion for anybody acting no better than the bad guys they are taking down. Now I realise you could say its showing the temptations, moral dilemmas and realistic possibilities of corruption in certain individuals under such circumstances but it really makes for a nasty sour team of 'heroes'. The only character with any sort of positive outlook or integrity is of course Arnie's leader character unsurprisingly, yet his actions bring about the downfall of his elite team! Its not until the end that you find out why Arnie does what he does and even then you're thinking wow! why didn't you just ask your team to help you instead of screwing them all over.

The other main issue with this film is the violence which, like the characters, is exaggerated and kinda repulsive really. Now lets get one thing straight here...I like my adult action flicks, I much prefer to see Arnie and the classic 80's action men in grown-up fare, but this film just gets it wrong. The whole angle here is realism, the film is trying to be a gritty 'Seven' type thriller with dark twists and turns. The problem is the gore and blood is lingered on far too much as if Ayer is just trying to show it off, they are glorifying it for the sake of it...which is fine if this were a silly graphic novel style action romp like 'Commando' but its not. The film is suppose to be soaked in dark realism yet innocent people are killed willy-nilly as if this were a videogame, Arnie's team get iced one by one very easily all things considered and in general society gets torn up like a Die Hard flick with no consequences. Basically in this type of movie less is more with the violence, but the fact the good guys aren't really too different from the bad guys and they all go around wreaking havoc...kinda leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

I won't deny I was intrigued to find out who did what and what was going on but overall it felt very downbeat and unexciting. Arnie does his best at serious acting (ahem!) but he still seems frosty after his leave of absence. End of the day this is just another larger than life, last man standing ensemble movie where Arnie merely chomps his cigars and attempts to blend in with the younger fitter cast. He looks the part but age has definitely caught up with Arnie I'm afraid. I just wish this special Ops DEA team had been more agreeable and the plot had gone a different more traditional route. May not have been very original sure but at least Arnie would be in familiar territory which is kinda where he works best really.

4/10

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Born to Race: Fast Track (2014)















The hot ass sequel to the completely unknown street racer flick that was actually good fun is here! Yep once again its time to show how rice racers rule, don't believe me? well virtually every main car in this film is Japanese...until the final race of course but the protagonist drives the ever supreme Subaru. Hell they drop the mighty Mustang in favour of the unbeatable Subaru for the final show down (bricks can't race)...oh and no Merc's, BMW's or Audi's required thank you, sheesh!


















So straight away I noticed one thing, the main cast has been completely changed from the original, not really a good sign methinks. It also made it harder to recognise who people were at first...until I got their names. This time our young hero has won some kind of scholarship to a boy racer school where they teach...racing, but not boy racing. This place is called the 'Fast Lane Racing Academy' (indeed) and is run by two hard nosed old boys who don't take no shit from boy racers. All the youngsters in this academy are there to try and get on board a professional racing team but only the top two will make it...for some bizarre reason. Surely they are all good enough to get positions on various teams otherwise they wouldn't be there.

How can I put this...its basically 'Top Gun' with cars. The class are the most stereotypical bunch of lantern jawed young pretty people this side of a Stephenie Meyer's novel. You have the dastardly yet slick haired  Italian duo, the all American Texas cowboy, a British Lewis Hamilton lookalike and at the same time token black guy, a token hot ass blonde female driver (there's always gotta be a hot ass blonde in there somewhere), a German and a Japanese American. As said the two academy teachers are no nonsense gruff old timers whose job it is to whip these rookies into shape in all manner of cliched predictable ways. You can count on Corbin Bernsen for that, amazed they didn't get Skerritt.

As you would expect most of the film consists of lots of training montages accompanied by rockin' soundtracks and lovely sunsets. As you might also expect there are the usual predictable issues along the way. Our protagonist can't get to grips with the course and is having trouble blending in...he's also getting bullied by the two Italians, there are accidents that knock certain students out of the running, girlfriend troubles, strong verbal scoldings from the teachers, rousing verbal speeches from the teachers, flirting, showing off, fighting, striding across the sun baked tarmac against blue skies in natty jumpsuits and the return of an old enemy.

What can I say its all completely unoriginal and amazingly cheesy, we've seen this type of thing a shitzillion times before but it always seems to get rehashed over and over. On the other hand it does exactly what it says on the tin and gives you what you want, fast cars tearing around smooth tracks looking nice and shiny with plenty of throbbing engines and howling tyres. There is a nice selection of cars on show here and there but its mainly a Japanese affair as usual, fine with me being a Jap fan. The camera work is handled well giving all the cars good screen time from various angles, all stunts and driving sequences are real and the racing does get your heart thumping.


















Its a different angle from most other racing flicks these days as its not about street racing with modded cars. This film goes down the more straight laced professional route which is fresh but admittedly a bit dull at the same time. As I already said most of the film is training and its slightly uninteresting because its too predictable. They also use the same cars for all the training sequences (Toyota Celicas) which doesn't help the dullness factor. End of the day its the age old adage...if you like car porn or you're a petrolhead then you'll probably like this. If cars aren't your thing then obviously this isn't for you. Personally I quite liked it but it wasn't as fun as the first film. Both this franchise and 'Need for Speed' are giving 'The Fast and the Furious' a good run for its money in my view.

'If any of you guys pull a Vin Diesel stunt like this again off the track you're outta here!'

6/10



Monday, 28 July 2014

Need for Speed (2014)





















I think it was completely and utterly inevitable that this film would come under close scrutiny because of the near identical concept and execution alongside another certain highly popular street racing franchise. Well...either that or completely shunned, I mean lets be honest here this is a new wannabe racer franchise riding on the coattails of 'The Fast and Furious'...well trying to take its place, so can it?

I needn't really go into the plot much, its all very silly and simple. Basically the main team of characters have gotta get from New York to Cali ASAP so they can enter a secret race there. Behind all this is the standard revenge plot line, the protagonist saw his best friend get killed in a racing accident caused by the films antagonist who sneers like a young moustache twirling 'Dick Dastardly'...without the moustache. Naturally the bad guy (who happens to be rich and own lots of fancy super cars) is in this secret race hence why the good guy wants to enter it and win. Cue lots and lots and lots and lots of super flashy, super slick petrolhead car porn.



Right, I liked this film, yes that's right...I liked it. It started off badly no doubt, there's a hideous looking illegal street racing scene with every fudging unoriginal cliched stereotype under the sun, really got me reaching for the stop button. But my reasons for enjoying this are simply because I like cars and this film feels like an old school car flick. Everything you see in this film is a real time stunt using real cars, no CGI, its all real and it all looks amazingly good. This is what impressed me so much, I mean yeah sure the cars are all filmed beautifully when parked up and when they're on the move but that's expected. The stunts in this film really opened my eyes I can't deny, the Koenigsegg Agera R wreck at the start is fudging awesome! a flipping spinning flaming...errr car on fire! Again you expect hyper glossy interior and exterior shots of the cars in high speed action but damn they got this right! Everything sizzles on screen as the camera pans past from various angles resulting in some excellent traffic dodging moments and of course sexy engine gurgling and roaring.

You can clearly see the people behind this love cars and know how to sell them on screen, add to that the fact they know their way around a good looking real stunt. It all looks quite mature too, in other words it doesn't look like a hammy boy racer flick for 18 year old Vauxhall Corsa owners. Its a different type of street racing to 'The Fast and Furious', that was more modified rice racers and American muscle cars, this is the rich boys league with super cars like Lambo's, Veyron's and Spano's. That doesn't mean its better or worse for that, its just offering another level of racing but still with damage.

This doesn't mean its all good of course, far from it. There are still plenty of stupid scenes which are ridiculous and clearly stuck in to crank up the sex appeal. I still don't get why the main character deliberately gets the attention of the cops when picking up one of the gang, I also don't get why that member quits his job and proceeds to remove all his clothes when leaving. It really felt like they were straining for gimmicks to grabs peoples attention other than the fast cars...seeing as the characters are all so one dimensional lets have one remove all his clothes just because he can.

Despite driving like an absolute maniac across half of the US the cops are nowhere to be seen. The main secret race is a winner take all event, so you win the race you win the cars. Problem with that is all the cars get wrecked and nabbed by the police so in truth you don't get any of them and if you do it will cost a fortune to get them fixed up. Plus why would anyone enter a race with a billion Dollar super car and then proceed to ram your opponent?! Jesus Christ what about that expensive paint job and bodywork??!! It made me wince in pain watching it...no! no! that's a McLaren P1!! don't do that!!! Arrrggghhh!!!



Then you have the race organiser played by Keaton, now this guy sits in front of his computer using Skype or something to talk to people all over the place. The funny thing is everyone seems to be logged into his channel or whatever all the freakin' time! he knows everything and everyone is always watching and or listening...accept the police. Hey police you wanna know what's going on how about watching the mega rich guys computer network channel thingy. The main character just happens to befriend the sexy blonde female who works for some other mega rich guy who owns lots of fast cars...this comes in handy because she is able to loan him a Shelby Mustang to race, lucky huh. Oh and she is also the stereotypical female character who everyone thinks is just a dumb blonde but actually knows tonnes about cars. Yet in reality we all know the actress really knows sod all and is reading a script.

I could go on with more silly bits n pieces but lets be honest here (again), we knew to expect silliness and lame characters plus the token black guy. We knew to expect hammy dialog, a cliched plot and lots of predictable sequences, this film is based on a racing videogame. I think its safe to say if you like cars then you know you'll probably get a kick outta this, if you liked that Vin Diesel/Paul Walker car franchise then you'll probably like this. I thought this would be trash but I have been pleasantly surprised I admit. The visuals are crisp sexy and colourful, the action is exciting and seeing these cars in action make you wanna tear up the tarmac on your way down to your local Tesco. Completely cliched B-movie dross top loaded with car porn, but damn I enjoyed it...plenty of vroom!

6/10

Friday, 25 July 2014

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I also do mini retrospectives for retro games here. Most have been for the Amiga, SNES, Atari and arcade, just use the search box or the sections listed on the left. You know me as Phil Hubbs ;)
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Monday, 21 July 2014

Muppets Most Wanted (2014)

















So at the start of this movie there is a little musical number with some lyrics rhythmically explaining that sequels are never quite as good, a cute self referential/self mocking gag. Well umm...gee, what can I say accept...bingo! Yes this whole movie is almost one big self referential joke crammed full of obligatory pop culture references that just make you groan and slump your head into your hands.

The plot unfolds around a master criminal who happens to look identical to Kermit and is the number one criminal in the world. This amphibian wants to steal the British Crown Jewels with the help of Ricky Gervais who is the second best criminal in the world. So its a crime heist not too far off from 'The Great Muppet Caper'. So the fuzzy gang are trying to rejuvenate their show but are actually being used by the criminal duo who are unravelling a mystery that leads them to the Crown Jewels. Its all very 'Mr Bean-esque'.

First up I didn't like the film title, second up why can't we have Muppet movies based around classic tales/legends/fables again? why am I not seeing a Muppet Robin Hood? Anyway the story putters along in a gentle manner dotted with the odd musical number which on the whole weren't too bad, I quite liked the Gervais and evil Kermit duet. It did seem like there would be a song every other five minutes at one point but thankfully not. I did actually like the character of 'Constantine' (evil Kermit), at first I thought he was merely a cheap Kermit clone (kinda is) but he is voiced really well by Matt Vogel and is quite humerous at times. A Russian accent coming out of Kermit along with some nice evil facial expressions which are simply Kermit's face scrunched up into a snarl...was unexpectedly funny. Gervais wasn't the outright satirical funnyman we all know this time around but he gels well with his mean green accomplice.

The other amusing factor was the the second duo of Sam Eagle and Ty Burrell who plays a French Interpol Inspector. Despite the fact Burrell is clearly doing a hammy 'Inspector Clouseau' impersonation I can't deny that he does it well helped along by the stuffy Sam Eagle. Both bumble around in a predictable way looking for clues, Sam being the more keen by the books man/eagle, where as Burrell is the more laid back lazy not quite so intelligent European.

The movie bounces around from one pretty destination to the next giving us fancy looking set pieces and not much else really. Most of the Muppets don't figure too much this time, nothing from Gonzo, Rizzo, Fozzie etc...or new boy Walter! and naturally there are many pointless needless cameos. I know these Muppet films have always had cameos but they used to be from real legends of the silver screen, these days its the dregs of pop culture like Lady Gaga and Sean Combs *groan*. Still can't work out what the Celine Dion singing cameo was about, she just appears for absolutely no reason what so ever and vanishes again! hope it was worth the money sheesh!

I knew I wasn't gonna like this film much, I am a huge Muppet fan and grew up with the gang but ever since the final Muppet fantasy (Muppet Wizard of Oz) things have just gone down hill for me. Its all become very bland dull and chock full of annoying pop culture references and placements, the lovely fairytale fantasy element has all but gone. While the film wasn't terrible I wasn't overly impressed either. It just ticked along through unoriginal mundane formulaic fodder, no traditional Muppet hysteria present anywhere...until we reached the inevitably plain and predictable ending. What really summed it all up for me was the fact they tried to dodge the glaring problem of little imagination and creativity by going for this all out slightly satirical self referential gag angle like some sort of cover up, hoping no one will notice its all old hat.

I guess it just manages to squeeze over the pass mark because its the Muppets and you can't help but love em. That is still no excuse for a lazy movie relying on familiar faces to bring in the dough, unfortunately they do seem to be doing this, shoving our fave Muppets on the big screen for some easy earnings. I'm happy for more Muppets but lets get back to the fantasy/sci-fi side of things please, it works so well with Jim Henson's creations. I'm waiting for the Muppet version of Dracula please...anyone.

5/10

Saturday, 19 July 2014

The Siege (1998)





















Well back in 1998 this entire premise seemed quite far fetched, virtually in the realms of fantasy by the kind of overly paranoid Yanks that stockpile guns and tinned food. Then unfortunately the unthinkable happened as America was indeed attacked and hit hard on their own turf with the dreadful September 11, 2001 terrorist suicide bombings of the World Trade Center in New York. It is only now that this film really does have a much darker meaning with the events of the movie disturbingly realistic when once thought of as hyper reality.

The story simply sees New York under threat from terrorists in random attacks across the city by an unknown force suspected to be Arabic. Its up to Denzel Washington and Tony Shalhoub to track down and stop the attackers before things get out of hand. Of course things do get way way out of hand as the attacks become more ferocious and the FBI's leads dwindle. In the end the military are drafted in as martial law is declared with Brooklyn locked down around the Arabic community.

Apart from the very real threat of terrorist attacks anywhere at anytime the films main focus is on racial profiling, hardcore stereotyping and prejudice. There is a strong morality tale between good and evil that not only covers the obvious but the use of Nazi-like tactics by American troops on Arabic/Muslim American citizens as they are rounded up and detained in mass makeshift holding areas. I really don't need to go into the obvious concentration camp connections here do I. But there is more as we also get Bruce Willis (badly miscast) as a Major General who is intent on getting information out of suspects in any way possible, illegally of course. Here you see the little twist of the Yanks being no better than the terrorists they are fighting, becoming what they fear and stand against, taking away the right to a court of law, innocent before proven guilty, liberty and justice, human rights go bye bye.

When the shit hits the fan and terror is taking control of the streets, power is granted to various officials, its then that we see the darker side of some people. Willis' character has the orders to basically protect his country and the American way of life by any means necessary, do what needs to be done whilst the upper echelons look the other way. Of course Washington's character stands firm and will not allow this kind of behaviour to carry on, there are still laws and rights. Gotta be honest though at times you do feel he is being too PC considering the circumstances, he's almost too heroic and saintly when in reality someone might buckle. The message is forced even more once Shalhoub's sons is also rounded up and taken away causing him to toss his badge. The message slaps you across the face sure but it works effectively.

This being a Washington movie you know its gonna be decent, you just know...and this doesn't disappoint. Visually its very slick and  effective in getting across its now very realistic message. The only let down for me was probably Bening who didn't really fit her part in my opinion, she comes as someone more concerned about their hair looking right plus her plot setup with the Middle Eastern chap is too obvious really. Tension is reasonable but the film is a little too mainstream for you to actually start sweating over the outcome, its not like Washington is gonna bite the bullet is it, everyone else is fair game but not Denzel. 

The ending is way too God bless America for my liking, although expected. Too neat and tidy as all the citizens are released with schmaltzy hugging scenes and Washington preaching about their forefathers and how they fought and died for the life they have today. He's right sure but it feels too much like an all American Boy Scout speech, you half expect the Star-Spangled Banner to kick off with fireworks in the sky.

As said its funny how back in 1998 this all seemed so unlikely, the notion that the US could be attacked on their own soil in such a devastating way. This whole martial law scenario and the rounding up of specific people was always possible but it still felt more like an old World War II flashback. These days the entire aspect has come true to a certain degree although not as bad as depicted in the film, its a much easier prospect to see becoming a reality within the US these days that's for sure. In the end the story boils down to the terrorists winning on a psychological level simple because the US way of life has been changed dramatically. Justice and democracy have gone out the window, fear and suspicion sits in its place. 

6/10



Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Guest House Paradiso (UK, 1999)




















Right lets get down to it then, this is basically the Bottom movie end of story, yeah sure there are the odd changes and snips around the edges but its quite simply Bottom on the big screen. Rik and Ade have played the same type of characters for their entire careers undoubtedly but these two fellas are clearly 'Richie' and 'Eddie' of Hammersmith, I think all the fans can agree on that despite what the guys say.

This works for and against the movie in my opinion. Basically we see the many of the same gags, pratfalls and violent slapstick from the TV show...and when I say the same I mean pretty much identical. The only difference is of course its been fleshed out on the silver screen with a better budget so everything looks slicker. Again this is not a problem essentially, I am very happy to see Rik and Ade knock seven shades of shit out of each other with the use of bigger and better effects...to a degree. But at times during the film I did find myself thinking they are rehashing too many old classic sight gags, verbal gags and violent gags and somehow it doesn't actually look as good!



How is this possible you might ask, well personally I think its down to the fact the TV show was actually more adult than the film and much more grittier. The constraints of the TV show elevate the material because it feels more anarchic and wild yet at the same time restricted, the stunts and effects are slapped together and seem really dangerous and realistic, plus the lack of any swearing somehow made it feel even ruder and filthier which I can't workout, the tempting hints I guess. In this film everything just seems a bit slow and tired, the guys are obviously not as young anymore but the fights and pratfalls just feel weaker and less inventive.

'Pheeb...One boiled egg'

The sets in the film are nice and have that classic typically dated British seaside B&B visual atmosphere and vibe going on. Watching carefully I loved all the old set decorations strewn around the hotel like the old paintings and historic furniture. The kind of stuff your gran had when you were a kid back in the day, or even your parents back in the late 70's and 80's (if you're around my age). I also really liked all the little nooks, crannies and secret passage ways throughout the hotel which are used by Richie to spy on people and pinch things. It all adds more scope and depth to the setting plus adds inventive ways to create more laughs...which it does nicely in one sequence.

So the films visuals around the hotel do look good n grimy as you'd expect, certain props are used disgustingly well used for various painful moments and the sets are well designed reflecting that classic Bottom feel from the Hammersmith flat. The extra cast members are a solid oddball bunch that back at the time were relatively unknown but have now gone on to bigger things, most notably Bill Nighy and Simon Pegg. Neither of the pair actually have massive parts in the film of course as it all revolves around Richie and Eddie, but they add a much needed boost to the overall quality. Nighy probably gets the best of it with his face-off against Mayall in some classic Fawlty Towers-esque scenes at breakfast. Never really liked the character or performance from Cassel as it just felt way out of place really, other than that I still don't get why they didn't cast all their old school mates from previous shows, we get 'Spudgun' so what about the rest?

'Mmm Lady Diana Princess of Wales...slap me up you bitch'

Despite some great looking bits n pieces and some decent scenes of Mayall madness and campness, at the end of the day I couldn't help but feel slightly underwhelmed by the whole thing. I think like most folk I went into this with really really seriously high expectations from the pairs glittering TV career and basically the film could never live up to that. Don't get me wrong the guys have a bloody good go and the movie definitely delivers what you want from the duo in terms of crude crass vomit inducing toilet humour. I just really think this should of been a much stronger blend of their live stage show and the TV show, it should of been an all out adult comedy really. They try their best but it really feels like the laughs are being forced out after a bad spell of comical constipation. Was never too sure on that film title either.

6/10

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Galaxy of Terror (1981)




















Well judging by the poster for this Corman gem you can expect to see lots of huge freaky monsters attacking scantily clad ladies on some kind of prehistoric looking alien planet. I really don't understand how this poster even exists as the film is completely and utterly the opposite to everything that poster stands for! it looks like a Doug McClure movie poster.

Anywho I had never seen this film until now so I was unaware of what to expect, again judging by that movie poster I was kinda thinking it was an 'Aliens' type affair...oh well. The film certainly looks and feels like 'Aliens' though that's for sure, holy sputum! the visuals virtually throughout the entire film are near identical! This may well be down to the fact James Cameron was the Production Designer and Second Unit Director on this and he clearly took these ideas and recreated them for his now famous Alien sequel masterpiece.

Indeed this film does look very Cameron-ish in some scenes especially at the start where we see the crew leave the mother ship and search the alien surroundings in their very smart yet workman-like looking space suits complete with light generating backpacks. Hell even the alien planet is a cold dark misty wind swept barren land with mountainous jagged rocks that looks like an early LV-426. Then you have the huge alien pyramid type structure that kinda looks like a concept pinched for 'AvP'. So the more I watched the more I found myself comparing this early Corman sci-fi to Cameron's future work, on top of that much visual style has been borrowed from Ridley Scott's 'Alien' with the blue-collar space crew on board their slick yet heavily metallic industrial interior designed craft and its long twisting corridors. Not quite the oil rig in space scenario, there is more of a dark Battlestar Galactica feel to it in my opinion, and lets not forget the character of 'kore' the cook who is similar in plot development to 'Ash'.

So off the crew go into the unknown looking for survivors of a ship that crashed on this mysterious planet. The setup was certainly looking good for a last man standing type thriller and you do get that to a degree. What disappointed me was the fact the plot doesn't revolve around alien creatures killing off the crew but monsters created by the crew themselves, their own worst fears made flesh like some cheesy Red Dwarf episode. What was a little intriguing was the notion that this huge pyramid where everything takes place is some kind of adventure playground for children of an extinct race of beings. Apparently they would test their ability to control fear within the pyramid...for some reason. Notice the 'AvP' similarities here also huh huh!

So this all leads to various creatures and bizarre scenarios that kill off the crew one by one, some being quite cool effects wise and some not so. The silliest and most controversial (at the time) being a scene where a massive maggot rapes one of the female crew to death...yet she kinda enjoys it in the end. Totally stupid and uber cheesy to watch, makes you wonder what the fuss was all about, but there is some nice use of stop motion and a big rubber slime covered puppet. Most of the time you don't fully see the things killing people, you merely get glimpses, which does work but I fear that may be because most of them looked pretty hokey. The main talking point of the film (apart from the horny oversized maggot) must be the gruesome gory effects you get sporadically. Some lovely use of good old fashioned hands on effects with dummies, fake blood and exploding body parts, again it all looks pretty dubious now of course but back in the day it would have been horrific.

I did start out enjoying the film with its 'Aliens' look and feel but as time went on I grew more and more bored with the ever growing 'Hellraiser/Event Horizon-esque' route it took. What I didn't get on with (and still don't really get) is what was the Master character all about exactly?...who? why? how? etc...and how about some more info on this extinct race and their big pyramid playground of death huh. Plus I never really got behind any of the characters either, didn't really bother me if they lived or died and didn't really like any of them. You never find out what happens to Englund's character and what was all that crystal star throwing malarkey with Haig's character? why was he so obsessed with his precious crystal ninja stars?

Everything is a tad rehashed from Ridley Scott's space opus...especially with the discount Nostromo crew and I didn't really like the question raising ending or plot progression (how exactly did 'Cabren' kill the Master??! what was all that lighting stuff? beats me). But yeah on the other hand I did kinda like it mainly for its visual artistry and glorious hands on effects, on that front its brilliant.

6.5/10

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Rio 2 (2014)



Another animated movie based on another species of animal, why? because they can and its another easy money maker. I'm waiting for an animated movie based on dung beetles and elephants...why? I dunno, they haven't milked them yet so game on, we're clearly gonna get an animated movie about every flippin creature on Earth eventually.

So the first film was set in Rio and I'm guessing this film will move into the rain forest? did you see that coming? So I'm guessing as the film is set deep within the Amazonian rain forest the plot will cover the destruction of the rain forest and 'Blu' and co becoming naturalised to jungle life...see that coming? Is any of this film even remotely original in any sense? does it even try?! the answer is no, this is merely the same formulaic albeit gorgeous looking CGI flick we've now seen about a thousand times.

So the film is a formulaic cookie cutter production and like other identical films there are a few positive things I can mention. Firstly the visuals are of course sumptuous, I mean really bright bold glossy colourful and extremely well animated. This is naturally no real surprise as these days CGI movies have reached a point where the skills and computer technology are in their prime, you expect them to look stunning, you know they will, its so routine that you could actually argue that people don't even notice the visuals anymore.



The other thing I like about these films is how they manage to highlight typical traits of the particular species in question, both behavioural and environmentally. This normally covers obvious things we all know about the specific species and their habitat, common knowledge, but also little winks or tit bits that maybe someone with that extra bit of animal knowledge might spot...which is cool. This normally also covers the various other creatures in the film too, for example the dart frog character being pointed out as not actually poisonous and spotting the various tropical birds hidden throughout the foliage.

In all honesty though apart from that most of this film is the same spiel all over again. You have all the same characters from the nerdy yet plucky hero who is utterly useless, the lively kids, the sidekicks voiced by various famous people, usually a rap star of some kind, to the stereotypically British voiced bad guy who sounds like Tim Curry and his own silly sidekick. Yeah sure there are some reasonable visual gags here and there but really the entire film hinges on the likable dastardly vocal performance of Jemaine Clement, everything else is dull. So cliche that 'Eduardo' the gruff father has a buzz cut style tuft on his head, is this Macaw from the 50's USA?
   
















I must also be negative about the use of way too many song sequences, is it possible a new animated film can actually make it through its run time without one dreadful rap/hip-hop tune? no apparently not. It seems either Hollywood or kids these days love this stuff because every CGI animated flick seems to have some hip-hop or rap in it which instantly destroys any self respect or quality the film was aiming for in my opinion. Add to this the now statutory inclusion of rap/hip-hop/pop stars for voice work too, plenty of folk out there but yeah sure, lets use some bland untalented popstars just to lure in more kids.

I still don't get how this particular universe is suppose to even work, they are real birds and squawk or chirp when communicating with humans. They live like birds, eat like birds...do everything like real birds...yet Blu owns his own tiny GPS, electric toothbrush and various other tiny items that seem to have been made...for birds? Yeah I know I'm being extremely picky over a silly kids movie but I just couldn't help but think to myself...where would Blu possibly get this stuff from?? Quite liked how the word 'pet' is a dirty word for the birds though.

Business as usual then, wash rinse and repeat formula, safe but sorry, if it ain't broke?...or was it maybe broke from the start?? *raise eyebrow*. The finale is daft and kinda spoils what little the film had going for itself, its not like the film even mocks itself, it takes itself relatively seriously in terms of the adventure. Grandiose in the eye candy department, wetter than mackerels bumhole, friendlier than a very friendly fat handlebar moustached German in tight leather lederhosen, ecologically sound (and shoved down your throat) and with more cutesy critters than you can wave your gun at. Its the same as everything else but its about birds...and its a sequel.

5/10


Monday, 7 July 2014

3 Days to Kill (FRA/US 2014)




















So what's the deal then, first up Liam Neeson started acting in action flicks and being this aging gruff wrinkled badass, now all of a sudden its Kevin Costner's turn apparently. Just like Neeson...Costner now has a leathery wrinkled face with a nice gentle tan, lots of greying white facial hair and an overall generally scruffy appearance...your average over middle aged man's action man look.

The plots sees a dying former CIA agent (Costner) hired by another top CIA female agent/assassin (Heard) to bring down an arms trafficker. The reason Costner is dying is because he has brain cancer that has spread to his lungs, hence why he has been dropped by the CIA. The reason why Heard wants to use Costner is because he is the only living person to see the bad guys face recently after a botched undercover stakeout.

Whilst watching this I couldn't help but think that I recognised the visual style and uber cooly shot assassin/hitman/espionage theme. I know we have seen this type of stuff many times before but it all seemed very much like a Luc Besson flick to me...low and behold it was a Besson flick! The whole sultry sexy hooker-esque looking femme fatale angle was very familiar and positively wreaks of Besson's brain at work. Amber Heard even looks like 'Nikita' in some scenes towards the finale, that's not a bad thing as she does look hot but its just unbelievably unoriginal as Besson does the same thing EVERY TIME!

Another pretty big issue was the fact the film just doesn't know what it wants to be. The whole thing has that 'Leon' vibe running through it as the main character tries to juggle his hitman/undercover agent life style with his wife and teenage daughter. Naturally his wife hates the fact he works, or did work, for the CIA and his daughter has no clue. Most of the film time is spend with Costner's character trying to be a good dad and make things up with his wife, lots of father daughter moments, heart felt moments, flashbacks to childhood memories etc...its all very schmaltzy in places. Problem is this feels like a mess as its interspersed with sequences of high octane action with a sexual undercurrent whenever Heard is on the scene with her pouting full red lips and tight outfits (yet she does nothing after promising so much).

So what is it? well its an action/assassin/undercover James Bond agent/slick espionage/drama/coming of age/teen thriller/redemption/comedy movie...you get that? Yep its got everything! thing is you don't want half of it and most of it is boring as hell.

I guess its down to the quite frankly laughable performance by a clearly seriously aged Kevin Costner who is obviously way too old for this shit. Yeah Neeson managed to pull off the wrinkled hardman act surprisingly well but unfortunately Costner fails at his first hurdle looking like he's about to collapse under the weight of his own ego. What made me laugh is the fact his character is meant to have this terminal cancer in his brain and lungs yet he looks fine! no problems here folks. On top of that the ridiculous plot notion of the Heard's character having some secret formula that cures cancer (or halts for a time) completely robs you of any suspension of disbelief. I hope Costner's character gets that stuff to the local hospital after all this.

So yes there are some nice plosions, car chases, fisticuffs and general espionage tomfoolery but who cares, we've seen this stuff a gazillion times over in far far better espionage movies...and crap ones. Naturally being set in France (Luc Luc Luc...shake it up a bit for Christ sake?!) all the lead cars are naff Peugeot's that somehow manage to keep up with top spec Audi's and all action sequences are set in stereotypical Besson locations...seedy night club, posh restaurant, posh club, the biggest seediest and most extravagant tattoo parlour I've seen, hotels and French downtown streets (I give you 'Ronin'). But as said this might not be too bad if it wasn't split up by lame ass sequences where Costner teaches his teen daughter to ride a bike, teaching her to dance, talks to her about boys, rescues her from yet another seedy night club, lots of heart to heart chats with the wife and daughter about being a better parent blah blah blah.

I realise the film is all about redemption and the main character becoming a family man again but Jesus...lets make up our minds shall we. Either you want a kick ass body count flick or you want a loving family man flick, while we're here it would be a good idea to decide whether the film is gonna be serious or just a daft light-hearted romp. At one point Costner's character is shooting an innocent bouncer in the foot in clear view of everyone! beating young men half to death in a night club and generally causing much death and destruction around gay Paree yet with no consequences at all...and its not half bad in a semi serious manner. The next minute he's got some bloke taped up in his bathroom ready for some torture and instead gets him to speak to his daughter about a spaghetti sauce recipe over the phone...oh the hilarity!

With the stupid little funny moments this could easily be one of those shitty Bruce Willis vehicles like 'Red' which tries to incorporate expensive big budget violence and laughs with an OAP in the lead. Bottom line we all know damn well this basically should of just been another Neeson vehicle, I guess Besson thought it best to change the lead OAP. Its pretty much Costner's attempt at the genre but unfortunately for him someone forgot to tell Besson to try and actually come up with something original and not constantly dissect and regurgitate his previous work.

4/10

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Snowpiercer (US/KR 2013)



The release of this film has been largely limited in various countries, though I'm not really sure why. I know here in the UK it never really got a proper release and in the US there were issues about trimming the final product, so overall this film has gained a lot of interest for the wrong reasons. Another reason for such interest will be down to the innovative action packed science fiction plot based on a French graphic novel that is set in a post apocalyptic Earth. Although on first impression the films main poster (the dark one with a few of the stars faces) is really unimaginative and unexciting whilst the films name is simply...a bit unusual.

So the plot shows the planet Earth after a failed experiment to try and halt the progress of global warming actually causes a lethal ice age...wow! mega fail huh. All of the remaining humans are packed on board the massive Snowpiercer train...a modern ark on rails, a train going nowhere, a train that continually travels the Earth on a gigantic global track and is powered by a perpetual engine. The clever twist (of sorts) is the train is separated into class divisions by each of its carriages, the bottom of the barrel poor folk at the very rear and the wealthy at the front. Its from the tail of the train the story begins as a group of rebellious scum plan to take the train and its engine. I don't really see what they hope to achieve in that as the train is basically a moving tomb for all of them as the outside world is too cold for human survival.



The story is in essence all about class divide, a mobile police state, a dictatorship within a train where the dregs of society are kept at arms length from the upper classes by armed guards and brutal laws. The bureaucratic leaders that enforce the cold as steel rules treat the trains creator like a religious icon, even the entire train is an thing to be worshipped and of course the privileged young are raised to think and act this way. At the same time the poor are left to their own devises, fed like animals on man made protein bars, herded, abused and kept in check with fear. The children are often taken away to toil as living pieces of equipment keeping the train moving and every now and then the population is trimmed.

When I first heard about this film it sounded ridiculous, hell it is ridiculous! the whole premise is so silly yet quite intriguing. The fact this track has been built to navigate the entire planet is a pretty sky high concept in itself really, how the hell did it get made?! ginormous bridges spanning vast deep canyons, then there's the weather issue, it must have taken many many years to build! How did the class division initially begin? and how would you decide who is good enough for the front of the train in a world that is dying, surely it wouldn't matter who was rich or poor anymore? Also why would the last remaining people on Earth wanna treat each other like this? That is one aspect I find amusing in these apocalyptic scenarios (if you disregard the movie element), why the last survivors always end up killing each other, usually in gangs. Never makes any sense to me, if you and the human race want to survive then you gotta work together.

The group of rebels storm each section of the train, one carriage at a time, fighting and killing all the way. As they progress through the train we see how each carriage gradually becomes more affluent eventually leading into grand luxury. Each carriage is basically a unique set piece of either action, exposition or chills, often architecturally crafted with different time periods but are all consistent within the story. The idea is not without its cliches though. We see the posh little kids getting brainwashed by their nice as pie dictatorial teacher who eventually whips out a big gun in a very cartoonish manner yet the whole scene did feel Orwellian. One carriage is an entire aquarium which begs questions of the ingenuity and engineering involved and then of course there are the typical sex, drugs and all night party carriages.

There is a lot of violence on display but not all that much is actually seen in all honesty...unless the version I saw was cut. In one scene a man is punished by having his arm stuck out in the cold and then its broken off with a large hammer, yet you see nothing and merely hear his screams. Plenty of shootings and stabbings going on throughout but only splattering's of blood are shown with lots of close ups of contorted faces. Although in true Nazi fashion plenty of innocent unarmed people are gunned down to control population levels...so yes it is dark in general, even though the nasty stuff is mainly hinted at. The most visually violent sequence must be when the rebels face off against a whole carriage load of masked soldiers wielding axes. Why they are masked I dunno, how they see out from those masks I dunno and how the rebels manage to beat them is the stuff of miracles. But lets not forget about that awesome amber lit spa room scene which, despite being simple...quite simply looks...epic.

There is a distinct eastern flavour to the proceedings which blends well with the more obvious western signatures...actors aside. You get touches of typical Hollywood action and slices of a more oriental nature as the film shows you scenes of serious social commentary alongside little bits of black humour, over the top slow motion style action and cartoonish villainy. I've never come across such a cocktail of themes and visual styles in one film, its a real fusion of South Korean director Bong Joon-ho's own visual style and flare with touches of Hollywood assistance.

I mean for essentially a B-movie everything looks really good, production values are high and a lot of care and attention has gone into all aspects. I know I keep using the word visuals a lot but seriously I can't help it, it all looks really slick, glossy, cold and quite threatening at times with exquisite use of lighting and camera angles. It really does look like a graphic novel with some scenes (like panels) only using a small colour palette to enhance the striking contrasts between darkness and light, where as others are bold and colourful to highlight the lavish surroundings. Even the train itself appears to have a futuristic retro design from what could be the late 30's onwards, whilst most of the upper class characters seem to be wearing period attire which looks like WWII era.

The overall momentum of this film is indeed like a heavy train tearing along at breakneck speed, ripping through the motions with nothing being able to slow it down. From the moment it starts it escalates scene by scene, heck even the sequence at the start where they break free from their shabby dwellings and block the first few doors is an adrenaline rush. So the stylish eye candy helps but so do the cast, a real oddball bunch. Evans proves he can actually act with his ravaged performance, Swinton is the epitome of a quirky cackling screwy looking villain adding tiny bits of dark humour and Hurt looks so authentic I was worried about his actual health. Although we have seen him in this kind of bedraggled form a few times, easy casting...almost cheating.

The finale showdown and ending was a bit off key in my opinion I must say. Spoiler warning! everybody gets killed apart from a little boy and the daughter of Song Kang-ho's character, a young teenage (?) girl. So what the hell are they suppose to do??!! they are the last remaining humans on Earth apparently (possibly) and they are stranded in the middle of an ice and snow laden wilderness. Why do I get the feeling they should not of caused the train to crash by trying to leave it, they should of taken out the bad guys and controlled the train their way, thus surviving.

Delving deep into possible similarities and problems with our own society, the film is virtually in segments (each carriage) or like levels in a computer game. Each segment is basically almost a different individual social commentary in its own right (I'm sure every reviewer has probably said something like this so I'm trying not to step on anyone's toes here). Its all a very familiar tale but one that has been told well and...errm is set on a train, so that's quite unique. Yes I had my doubts, very much so, but they have been well and truly buried beneath a big pile of snow.

8.5/10