Friday, 28 February 2014

Team America: World Police (2004)




















The films title says it all really, a sharp satirical play on the fact that the rest of the globe kinda thinks the US wants to police the world. Business as usual for the South Park creators as they present this biting mockery of a comedy that does one of two things...homage the use of marionettes whilst also taking the piss, and literately taking the piss out of American foreign policy.

The whole film is a complete send up of your bog standard action flick porn, all the obligatory cliches and stereotypes packed into a smart satire of American politics that naturally revolves around the Middle East. Its all very straight forward, a team of super anti-terrorist soldiers (ala Tom Cruise in 'Mission: Impossible') do battle with terrorist threats on a daily basis. During one mission they get captured and must be rescued by the newbie of the team who is unsure of himself, that's virtually it.
















The first thing that is so funny about this film is the fact its all been created with puppets, yes puppets, just like Thunderbirds. Puppet action heroes doing everything your regular cookie cutter Hollywood action flick does. The film has the visual style of a cool kids show combined with a kids toy line. All the main vehicles of Team America are slick hi-tech super awesome looking power models emblazoned with a red white and blue paint job to nail the Stars n Stripes motif home. The team are decked out in natty SWAT-like uniforms with shades headsets and of course lots of big guns, whilst their base is a typical Bond-esque setup within Mount Rushmore with lots of flashy tech stuff, a big intelligent talking computer and their very own Nick Fury/Professor X type leader. All the bad guys look exactly as you would expect from a satirizing angle of Middle Eastern terrorists, lots of facial hair and rags. Oh and you can see the strings attached to the puppets too further enhancing the laughs.

Despite the film looking like a toy merchandise wet dream it is of course a full on adult adventure. This is the amazingly amusing thing about it all, its children's puppets swearing, having rampant sex and being killed in gruesome ways. Just as South Park is funny because its a naughty cartoon this works on the same level. The violence and visual obscenities are created at a puppet level so its never really shocking because its all being done with puppets and its simply more acceptable. A puppet being blown apart or eaten alive by sharks doesn't really shock because we all know its a children's toy, had it been live action it would be pretty horrific.

The other main funny bone tickler is the quite brutal mockery of famous stars, Middle Eastern folk, world leaders and of course the action genre. In between all the hyper action flick mockery various real actors get ripped on pretty well along with the Screen Actors Guild which has been hilariously renamed the Film Actors Guild. I loved the ultra liberal portrayal of this celebrity group, the way they are all made out to be enemies of Team America because they want peace and unity with the Middle East. They blame Team America for unnecessary killings, destruction, racism etc...and are blind to Kim Jong-il's plans...oh and the fact almost all of them get killed horribly. Talking of Kim Jong, what a way to go down in movie history! via Trey Parker's gut busting rendition (piss taking) in that completely racist voice he does so well, fantastic!

It is completely brilliant how Team America go into missions destroying anything and everything in their path to take down one or two terrorists. The way they blow up half of Cairo and its ancient treasures, Paris with its landmarks and are completely oblivious to the ruin because in the end they got their intended targets, so its all good. Collateral damage at its finest Hooray!!!

Even though the film can't escape its South Park routes, because its all Trey and Stone, that doesn't hinder it. Yeah all the voices are familiar, the satire isn't exactly new, 'Derkaderkastan' or the term 'Derka' has popped up in various South Park episodes I believe as speech for Africans and Middle Eastern folk, all foreign people simply speak the same kind of gibberish much like they do in certain South Park episodes, there are the odd risque musical numbers etc...At the same time there are some really edgy moments that seem truly un-PC but its so funny. When Gary infiltrates the terrorist headquarters at the start the puppet has a simple bath towel on his head! then inside the terrorist bar its all made out like the Mos Eisley cantina from 'A New Hope', simple but totally effective.

This film is so darn accurate in its analysis of US foreign policies and left wing activism I'm amazed it managed to surface. It virtually mocks everything about America and it all holds up to this day, I imagine it must make some Americans cringe. Next to that the action genre is an easy target but its still skewed perfectly here, right down to the last cheesy cliche. Funny thing is the film also looks terrific and really is a genuine homage to the use of marionettes. Everything looks so rich in detail its actually a shame the content will inevitably upset many in Hollywood, meaning the craftsman involved probably won't get the recognition they deserve, that's irony for you.

8/10

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The Man with Two Brains (1983)




















Easily the best collaboration between Martin and Reiner in their long movie errm...collaborations. Its Martin's second zany wacky off the wall movie after 'The Jerk' which wasn't as madcap as this. In this work of genius Martin is set free to basically come up with as much lunacy as he possibly can and boy does he.

The plot is somewhat sensible I guess, a brain surgeon falls for the sexy Kathleen Turner only to eventually discover she is a gold digger and doesn't give a shit about anyone really. In the mean time Martin falls in love with a disembodied brain (in a jar) and decides to try and rescue it with a new fresh sexy body.

The whole idea is basically a B-movie homage to various ridiculous horror concepts and at the same time an influence for many future raunchy trashy 80's teen comedies, it serves dual purpose. Its not exactly a full spoof but it comes close at times, its just an insane comedy with surreal touches of outlandish humour that borders on spoof.

Most of the funny moments tend to be sexual innuendo or sight gags, some childish some clever and witty, whilst others are clearly in there just for the hell of it, probably created on the spot. Take Martin's character name for instance...'Dr Hfuhruhurr', we here Martin say his name properly right at the start but from then on almost everybody pronounces it differently as they struggle to say it, most just give up. This is such a stupid gag ,its infantile, but it works so brilliantly every time yet you don't really know why. You know its stupid but seeing all the various characters pronounce it so randomly is just so fudging funny. The joke is even extended to a few other characters also, you'd think it would get old but it still manages to make you smile.

What hit me was how old the film looked, it was released in 83 but it looks like a 70's flick to me. Everything really looks so dated nowadays but I think some of it is deliberate, made to look cheap like an old fashioned mad scientist movie. Naturally the fake castle laboratory within the apartment (nice switch) is the cheesy stereotypical mad scientist vibe for this kind of thing. I like how they include that simply for that reason and actually say that in the film hehe could almost be a Leslie Nielsen vehicle.

Its also easy to forget how hot Turner was back in the day, she smoulders here as the evil temptress or black widow. I also like the various bits of ass on display too (yeah sue me). I do recall watching this as a kid and thinking it was a dirty film, to a kid the material shown is quite kinky and revealing for sure, the dialog is also pretty smutty and only now as an adult do I appreciate it, much like all the humour.

This has to be Martin's best film or close to, its such a shame he never really did anymore off the wall flicks like this. There is so much that works here, so many little gags and visual nuggets that are admittedly so daft (the very quick human pinball scene) you just can't help but like it (unless you dislike Steve Martin's style of course). Its rude crazy and predictable (with a brief bit of in your face racism!) but for me its probably one of the best comedies made.

'The only time we doctors should accept death is when it's caused by our own incompetence'

10/10

Monday, 24 February 2014

Knights of Badassdom (2013)

























Well well what have we here? a horror comedy in the same league as the cult Evil Dead franchise or American Werewolf in London?. In all honesty I had no clue this was a horror comedy, I thought it was a silly frat pack type comedy about D&D role playing which would include tits n ass.

The plot is totally wafer thin. A group of dudes who play Dungeons & Dragons-esque real time scenarios with lots of other similar fanboys accidentally conjure up a real demon from hell whilst in the woods. This demon then goes on the rampage killing everyone in gory fashion. Its up to the small band of role playing dweebs to actually use their fantasy skills for real to take down the beast...kinda.



The film is kinda in three acts if you ask me. Firstly it does start off as expected with the main three guys acting like fools, talking shit to each other in stereotypical fashion and eventually dragging one of the trio along to this D&D style real time role play in the woods. The second act is out in the open with all these people playing out their various D&D roles clad in full costumes. This was probably the best part of the film as its quite funny watching these grown adults act and dress like children (to a degree) and literately playing cowboys n indians with plastic weapons. The dialog is witty and sharp and its amusing when the characters break from their role playing to discuss real things, then snap back into their fantasy characters. Jimmi Simpson as the weedy slightly snivelling gamemaster was the most amusing character for me.

The film respects the niche they are messing around with but they do of course mock it at the same time. Its kinda like the fantasy role playing sequences in Role Models. The real twist is the third act when the demon pops up and it does turn into an actual blood fest. At first I didn't really like this turn of events because the film lost its funny adult fantasy role play direction and it turned into a cheesy monster slasher splatter flick.

Its the finale that turned it around for me, the main characters decide to be brave and face the demon. They have been playing fantasy role play games all their lives and now its time to actually do it for real. There is a lot of cool gore flying around and the demon (that gets transformed from human form to something more exciting) is a really nice large man in a rubber suit affair which wouldn't look outta place in a Hellboy flick.


Much of the plot isn't really explained too well though, not overly sure why the demon came to Earth in the form of the main characters girlfriend. The mysterious book that conjures the demon up is a bit haphazard, the explanation is again weak plus the idea is clearly copied from the Evil Dead franchise. Again not too sure how they manage to beat the demon with the musical chants and what that magical gemstone has got to do with anything but...And Dinklage's character comes back from the dead at the end as a spirit? is that what that was?.

The more I thought about it the more I quite liked this quirky horror. Its not as brilliant as the films title suggests but it certainly is a curious little gem, most definitely destined to become a cult methinks.

6/10

Friday, 21 February 2014

Elf (2003)




















'Buddy the Elf, what's your favorite color?'

So a baby 'Buddy' climbs into Santa's sack and is whisked away to the North Pole by accident. Upon this discovery Santa decides to allow 'Papa Elf' to raise and look after him. Not too sure why they just didn't take him back to the orphanage where he crawled into the sack, seeing as they know he came from there. I guess him being an orphan it didn't matter?.

From here on Buddy grows up at the North Pole as a worker in Santa's workshop. He soon discovers by mistake that he is in fact human and not an elf (elfling?), so off he goes to New York to find his dad. Turns out Papa Elf knew all about his mum and dad and what happened to them...somehow, handy huh. Is that elf magic or Christmas magic that enabled Papa Elf to know everything? or am I missing something here.

So lets switch off the cynical part of my brain for a moment. The start of this film is a typical Xmas setting and scenario yes...but its so damn charming cozy and delightful you can't not love it. I mean sure you can't really go wrong with Santa's workshop at the North Pole really, but the added gem of seeing the odd bit of classic stop motion animation on one or two cheerful little characters really added another dimension to the whole sequence. It all looked like a whimsical children's story book, a snowy happy world with cutesy fantasy characters plodding around. Arctic Puffin and snowberries? adorable!!.



Once we reach New York and the real world the tone shifts to that classic American Xmas movie magic type scenario which we all know and love from various other movies. And what better setting for a cold wintry Xmas tale than New York. Yeah you know straight away all the famous landmarks and stores you'll be seeing, we know how this goes...but does it get old? no, never. New York is probably one of the most atmospheric places in the world at Xmas.

'I passed through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and then I walked through the Lincoln Tunnel'

This is basically a pure unadulterated Ferrell show, the whole thing is all about him as the innocent sweet childlike elf completely out of place in a dark sinister world. You have the obligatory love/hate issues with his real father played grumpily by Caan to great effect (you can feel the sense of shame and disdain he gives off for Buddy), all this of course plays out exactly how you think it will right from the start. Then you have all the visual tomfoolery that Buddy serves up as he comes to terms with reality and not the candy cotton world he's used to.

At no point did I actually get tired or bored of Ferrell and his cherub-like virginal antics. It is utterly predictable hokey Xmas pantomime guff of course but its just so enchanting and visually pleasing you can't look away. Everywhere he goes he elaborately decorates with Christmas cheer, baubles and shiny trinkets, he's like the Xmas monster. Some of the scenes where he learns about 'human' ways and everyday things/objects are highly amusing despite being so simple and kinda cheesy.

The board meeting where Buddy comes across the rather small elf-like Mr Finch (who is actually a little person) is hilarious. The way Buddy talks to the guy as if he were a very young child is easily a laugh out loud moment (must have been a South pole elf). I must also mention the brilliantly done forced perspective we see here and there. It looks like CGI but apparently its not, very clever and nice usage of an old trick.

This is probably one of Ferrell's best films and best performances...strange as it may seem. The whole idea is completely not original and is stuffed to the gills with every Xmas cliche you can think of. The only reason this film works is because of the infantile character that is Buddy the elf...errr human. The ending is totally sappy and cringeworthy but it still doesn't stop this Christmas juggernaut of yuletide spirit.

'Oh, I forgot to give you a hug!'

8/10

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Bad Santa (2003)





















No this isn't a National Lampoon movie although you could easily be fooled into thinking that with this title. As you might have expected this is a Christmas set film and its about a naughty Santa character. Again you could easily be fooled into thinking this is a silly kids movie with lots of fart gags...but no, its actually a black comedy and most definitely for the grown ups.

The whole point of this film is the ever so slight redemption of the main character played by Thornton. This guy is a low down permanently drunk criminal who drags his way through life whilst robbing department stores with his dwarf partner. The dubious duo take yearly jobs as a department store Santa and his elf worker, this way they get to know the ins and outs of the store so they can easily rob it. Things change for Thornton's character 'Stokes' when he meets a tubby little boy who he kinda befriends and takes a shine to...eventually.

This film is kinda unique in the sense that the main character has many flaws and issues which you tend to think he will sort out at some point by the end of the film. The twist and funny part is he doesn't really change at all, he does a little bit with the help of his little fat young friend, but not too much really, he still ends up as the same bum. The amusing things about the film are the constant little moments where Thornton's character gets angry or frustrated with the fat kid and swears at him. The little fat kid (eerily played by Kelly) seems to be a bit slow and just takes the abuse, in one ear and out the other. At times it can be very funny to watch these outbursts yet at other times you do feel sorry for the kid or Stokes because you know he sometimes doesn't mean it.

The heist aspect of the film is quite good and offers some reasonably tense moments, especially near the end. The various Santa sequences are probably the films highlights as we see Thornton getting sneezed and coughed on by lots of pant wetting scroats. Of course his reactions and the way he treats the kids are the best bits, he basically sneers growls and scowls at them, finally nudging them off his knee and virtually kicking them to the curb. Watching the reactions of the parents is great, as a man pushing 40 and with no kids I love it, if I was a parent I might feel differently I guess who knows.

The darkest sequence must be when a severely pissed Stokes crawls up the escalator towards his Santa grotto. His beard and clothes now filthy stained and damaged, he looks like shit, can hardly walk and promptly falls into a reindeer display. This whole sequence starts out funny but descends into a more cringeworthy incident as he freaks out and starts to smash up the Xmas display in front of everyone in the store, its still amusing but also poignant and depressing...much like the plot as a whole really.

The finale was a tad of a let down for me, it does seem like you're gonna get the predictable ending where Stokes will die trying to achieve a small slice of decency in his life, the right ending. A bit like the finale in 'The Wrestler' where Rourke's character goes out doing what he loves but also reclaiming a small part of his dignity right at the end. Even though this ending is predictable as I said, I think it would have been stronger for obvious reasons. Instead Stokes lives on and we get some mumbo jumbo about how he survived and what he plans to do after he heals up. This simply feels like an open ending so they can roll out a sequel which this film really doesn't need in my opinion, if it happens that is. I think it should have wrapped up there and then.

All in all I like how this is basically an anti-Christmas flick which sticks two fingers up at the sweet yuletide greetings side of it and embraces the Scrooge side with extreme profanity. Its not exactly original in idea, the drunk rude Santa schtick has been done before but you can't deny its amusing. Crude rude edgy and drenched in cynicism...but there is a soft warm heart buried deep in there and it just about manages to shine through in the end.

7/10

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Jingle All the Way (1996)



















A film all about buying your child's love? hmmm. Well its not all as bad as it sounds, the film does manage to turn that on its head by the end, just about, close call though.

Yep so Arnie is a bad dad who only thinks about his work and misses his whiny kids karate class awards ceremony stuff. So to make it up to his little brat he offers him the choice of anything he wants for Xmas, bad idea. The little darling wants a Turbo-Man action figure which is massively popular with kids. So Arnie must now find this toy which would have been easy if he hadn't forgotten about it and was left with only Xmas Eve to find one.

So the hectic day begins as Arnie strives to find a Turbo-Man figure. The plot is simply but pretty effective methinks, right away you know there is gonna be lots of mayhem and madness as parents scramble to get hold of this elusive toy. Even without seeing a trailer you can tell there is potential for some classic Chevy Chase-esque holiday hijinx. The fact its the Austrian oak adds to the fun because you can take advantage of his size by making him Hulk out in amusing places.

I like the toy design in this film, they really managed to capture the type of toy and its universe perfectly. A kind of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers scenario with a 'Buzz Lightyear' looking hero. His adversaries were very much a visual blend of the MMPR's bad guys with that Japanese flavour and a hint of Marvel with Turbo-Man's arch-nemesis. The TV show we see in the film is a typical MMPR approach, virtually a parody of it, or homage.

Apart from the loony pratfalls and childish visuals the film works because people can relate to it. I'm sure many parents know the horror of Xmas shopping for their kids and trying to get a hold of a particular toy. Hell even if you don't have kids you can relate to the nightmare of Xmas shopping and trying to get a hold of anything specific. So its fun to see Arnie as a regular everyday man trying to achieve something which would seem relatively simple. We can all sit back and watch someone else go through the hell we all know too well, much like travel ('Planes Trains and Automobiles').

I think the best scene in the film for me is the warehouse full of seedy Santa's and mischievous little helpers which are led by an unsavoury Santa in the form of Jim Belushi. The whole underground Santa's grotto idea is really good and quite funny when you think about it. Belushi really really fits this role like a glove and the fight that ensues is brilliant, only for seeing Arnie beat up a bunch of Santa's. The whole idea of a bad, grouchy, sleazy, disreputable Santa that is mean or rude to kids is just funny, the fact there is an entire organisation of them churning out duff toys is hilarious.

This is definitely one of Arnie's better comedies for me as it has a nice slightly dark side for adults as well as the soft marshmallowy side for kids. Adults have Sinbad vs Arnie, Sinbad threatening to blow up things because he's a disgruntled postal worker, seedy Santa's, a brilliantly slimy Hartman and the whole angry parents trying to kill each other at the shops thing. The kids of course have the actual toys in the film, silly pratfalls, Xmas and a nice mushy happy ending where Arnie proves himself to be a great dad after all.

In the end its very enjoyable and Arnie proves he can still do comedy films almost as well as action...after his previous attempt with 'Junior'. The film holds up well today too, the Xmas setting will always work at the right time, effects towards the end are a bit crappy, bit too silly, but in general its quite a good holiday romp. The very final scene with the two happy parents leads to a neat and amusing little twist.

7/10

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Welcome to the Jungle (2013)





















Well here it is, the long awaited comedy starring both JCVD and his son Kris Van Varenberg, can you feel it? The plot is all about a group of office workers who are taken on a weekend island survival course to boost their leadership and teamwork skills, a wilderness seminar. The group are lead by a tough military expert in the form of...you guessed it JCVD. Low and behold things go tits up and the group must fend for themselves for real.

I kinda got an 'Office Space' vibe from this film within the first 20 minutes or so (that vibe quickly died though), the group of characters that we see are a typical bunch of desk jockeys, suits and the obligatory one or two hot females. Unfortunately we only get to know a few of these characters throughout the film, most are just background fodder and some just pop up outta nowhere as far as I could see. Not good considering its all about a group of people trapped on an island, you'd think we would have to know them all so we could get behind the story, problem is there are too many really, around 20.

Straight away the film has gaping plot holes, where exactly in the US do these people live and work? They hop on this cargo plane and take what seems like a half hour flight and like magic they arrive on some uninhabited tropical island! Then for some unknown reason the pilot dies? yet this never really causes any concern for anyone accept for the fact they appear to be trapped on the island. On and this island also has wild tigers on it? well one, maybe that was for the comedy element but sheesh come on!

Most of the film is a Lord of the Flies style romp as half the group go crazy on the hallucinogenic drugs that the slimy backstabbing office team leader spikes the coffee with. He then proclaims himself God of the island, the alpha male of his alpha male tribe, and basically eats drinks sleeps and has orgies all night whilst keeping his tribe in order with an iron fist...of comedy...of sorts. The other few office workers led by the weak skinny office nerd, try to find a way off the island and are basically the boyscouts of the story.

You can imagine the kind of humorous dialog your gonna find here, lots of primitive sexist, alpha male orgy based quips. Most tiny giggles come from the drugged up tribe but don't get your hopes up for all out hilarity.

The entire cast are complete unknowns to me which isn't a bad thing but none of them are particularly interesting to watch, and none of them are exactly funny either. The only guy that has any sort of decent amusing dialog is the baddie leader Rob Huebel, but its sparse. JCVD only proves he is no good in a comedy (plus he's hardly in it), you could say he's mocking himself but really its just poor humour. His son's only stand out moment is getting a boner watching the two male leaders fight half naked.

The film is odd really, its advertised as a comedy, not a dark comedy even, just a comedy, and its not really funny. It has its few moments that make you smile but then it swings wildly into a semi serious state that is just dark, kinda confusing. Admittedly the films plot didn't pan out as I expected it too, I kinda thought it would go a certain way with a twist but no! they actually stick to their guns with the original stupid plot route. That's the films only positive note really, you're not entirely sure which route the plot will go and you're never entirely sure if JCVD's character is actually playing it for real. It could all go only two ways, the whole setup is real, or the whole setup is fake, so small kudos there I guess.

Other than that the whole film is a bit of a miss frankly, nothing much happens, its not a good comedy and its not even visually enticing I'm afraid. I think the fact that half the group are drugged up all the time takes away the comedy aspect because they are all acting zombified. It turns the film into a slightly more sinister game rather than a dumb cheeky witty comedy which is what they were aiming for.

4.5/10

Enemies Closer (2013)















Van Damme is back in action and this time he's the bad guy...again. This Peter Hyams directed action fest is a throw back to the 80's and early 90's but not in a good way unfortunately, its literately like going back in time and watching a straight to the videoshop Seagal flick.

There are some drugs at the bottom of a lake and JCVD and his bad guys want it. Little do they know there is a park ranger who stands in there way...Tom Everett Scott? errr yeah that guy. But wait! little do they know that before they turned up to try and grab these drugs Orlando Jones came along to try and kill Scott for not saving his brother in a war torn scenario years earlier (Scott is an ex-SEAL you see).

Both of these loose cannons, that's Everett and Jones, are now tangled up in this mess and must fight for their lives against JCVD, his son (again) and his henchmen. They gotta stop these bad guys taking off with the drugs and they gotta work together even though they don't like each other, plus one of them is white and the other is black...just to spice things up.

What can I say? this has to be the most cliched flick I've seen for some time. Every action flick cliche they could muster is shown here in all its glory. The bad guys are French Canadian so this gives the excuse for JCVD to have some wild eccentric Euro-esque blonde bouffant quiff that makes him look like a cultured down n out artist. All the action is set within a national park type setting at night so expect lots of Indy style booby traps, darkness and generally not being able to see what's going on. The only thing they left out was the obligatory snake bite moment.

Everytime one bad guy gets the chance to kill someone point blank they pause and talk endlessly until the moment has passed. JCVD does this over and over it becomes annoying...just shoot the guy!!! then you win!!! ugh!!!. People manage to miss each other point blank when it just seems impossible to do so, weapons are available for use to make things easier at times but they are conveniently forgotten about to ensure a good fight.

Towards the end there is a big assault rifle that gets dropped...but hey lets just knife fight and grapple instead. One bad guy gets his leg spiked by a wooden stake but carries on never the less. There's the crazy old man in the woods bit who tries to fend off the bad guys ('Hard Target') and of course the standard double cross at the end by the person you least expect. Oh and at the very end...I don't wanna give it away but Jesus Van Damme you could of just jumped over the side, you had plenty of time if you hadn't come out with that unnecessary last quip.

There is so much I could mention its hilarious, of course the film isn't meant to be an accurate flick but its definitely meant to be a serious action flick. The two hero leads play it damn straight despite being utterly useless, Scott is a bad actor and not a convincing action man. Jones just does stuff any old sidekick would do in this scenario...generally turning up at the last second to bail Scott out.

Really the whole thing is so ridiculous, the best thing about it is watching JCVD spew out all his cheesy one liners and dialog with that hairdo. Had this come out about 15 years ago it probably would have gone down well. These days its just hokey as hell and its meant to be a serious action flick!. Funny thing is you can tell they really tried hard to give it this kind of stylised night vision-esque survival quality visually.

I love the unintentionally funny final moment right at the climax of the films final action sequence. As the music swells to its peak and the camera quickly closes in on Scott's face so he can calmly say his final action man quip...'almost'.

3.5/10

Hard Rush (aka Ambushed 2013)



No idea what the title for this cheap drug dealer action drama is, supposedly 'Hard Rush' but comes up as 'Ambushed' on IMDb. Not that it really matters though, the first of a trilogy of films starring Lundgren and Vinnie Jones that have been rolled out in 2013 from some tacky straight to DVD company. The casting in these films is pretty good amazingly, its like a collection of mini expendables with Davi, Cung Le, Billy Zane and Couture all popping up. Easy quick work and money for these guys obviously, Jones has been in tonnes of these flicks! literately tonnes! and he plays the same character every time!

The plot is errr...sorta about some drug dealers trying to strike it big and errrmm...Jones is the big boss on the block...oh geez I dunno. Its an epic muddle of characters none of which I cared about at all and I couldn't follow who was trying to double cross who. The predictable finale shoot out is so confusing I gave up, everyone shoots everyone, police, undercover agents, dealers etc...No idea what happened to Jones in all this, his character just vanishes despite lots of threatening threats to the main characters.

Its not all terrible though, some of the visuals are well shot and its all been pieced together in a rather slick way. That's it though, the fights are awful, Dolph looks tired and slow whilst Jones is the boring sadistic unbeatable bad guy. The main two characters are wholly unlikeable, one is a smartass who I really wanted to see get beaten, the other is a cheap Scottish budget version of David Schwimmer! I kid you not, his name is Gianni Capaldi, Google him, the dude is a dead ringer for Schwimmer.

I know these cheap action flicks are suppose to be guilty pleasure type stuff with lots of gratuitous violence and gun porn...but what went wrong here?! This film offers nothing of what I just said, maybe a bit of ass and that's it, Dolph isn't even in it much for Pete's sake! What a complete waste of time.

2/10

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

























Solid title, lets hope it really is dark...yeah right. Its only been two years and we have another Thor adventure. The first film wasn't too bad considering the source material is a tough cookie to film, so I went into this sequel with a relatively positive outlook. So far Marvel has done us proud so why worry.

Oh dear, now I would mention the plot outline briefly, as normal, but put simply...I can't. The reason being I genuinely don't really understand what I just saw. I haven't been this confused in a film since I don't know. The bad guys in this film are called Dark Elves which sounds pretty sweet admittedly...and kinda Warhammer-ish. They all look quite cool with their creepy gaunt expression-less masks on and their leader Malekith also looks really good and evil...and kinda 'Hellboy 2-ish'. You could also say they all feel a tad like Stormtroopers especially with all the lasers being fired everywhere, was that laser fire? looked like it.



The Star Wars similarities became even worse when the elves started attacking Asgard in rather familiar looking spacecraft. Asgard itself also looking suspiciously like the capital city of Naboo, Theed. So even though these Dark Elves look quite cool they simply end up as masses of faceless hammer fodder for Thor and his buddies. There is also an uber Dark Elf monster thing that Malekith created with some of the Aether? again visually great with a nice body suit but why didn't Malekith just do this with all his elves or as many as possible?. Oh and one minute he's with Malekith after being changed/infected, and the next scene he's captured and in Asgard?! wut?!.

The script is a complete mess, the film jumps around just like the characters do in the final half of the film. What exactly do the Dark Elves want?? they just wanna errr...destroy the universe? shroud it in darkness?...why exactly?. At the start when Portman is sucked into another dimension or something I had no clue what was going on or why she was sucked in. Then there's this Aether stuff...what the hell is that suppose to be? is it a living being? what's its purpose? where does it come from? did anyone make it?. Damn unlucky how Portman's character got zapped straight to where this lethal universe destroying stuff was though huh, wow what are the odds!.

The action is generic and boring throughout, sorry but it is. The escape from Asgard is typically absurd as Thor manages to pilot a craft he's never stepped foot in before. OK that aspect is joked on by Loki but he still manages to pilot it skillfully evading lots of laser fire and treacherous tight spaces. None of the elves pose any threat to Thor or his mates whatsoever, including a big stone creature. This could quite easily be a lightweight 'Lord of the Rings' spin off frankly, replace elves with orcs, they're both useless against good guys. Most of the fights are pointless as Thor's mates are all invincible yet at the same time Asgardian soldiers seem to be just as useless as the bad guys.

You can tell things weren't going as well as hoped because they have stuck Loki back into the fray to try and boost the film. Easily the best character for sure but Jesus Christ you can't rely on this guy every time, I'm amazed the characters are still dumb enough to even trust him sheesh! They actually closed the book with Loki really well in this film but nooooo....couldn't leave it at that, had to have that last twist to spoil it. Continuity wise the film is great no doubt, everyone is back and the story follows on well from the first film. I hope this is the last we see of Portman though as I simply cannot stand her, she has a small range of facial expressions and she uses them over and over. Plus she looked really bored here. Bad guy Eccleston (Hollywood loves a Brit bad guy don't they) had nothing to do and very little to say, great makeup but wasted badly.

Sure the film looks delicious with lovely CGI but did you expect it not to?. Well I say that but everything falls apart in the London finale, yep the end of the world happens in...Greenwich. The last long long action sequence is the biggest flapping muddle ever, there are characters jumping and falling through portals like no ones business. Weapons and debris flying all over the place and popping up here there and everywhere, the elves look like tacky extras from Doctor Who as they run around the London streets, its all ridiculous.

The entire plot is utterly preposterous, it makes no sense half the time and the other half is virtually unexplained. It all hinges on this Aether stuff and the alignment of the nine worlds...aaaand as I type this I'm boring myself. This whole film just feels like filler until the next Avengers outing, nothing more. The action is tepid and bland, half the characters didn't even need to be here as they have little screen time, the Earth based human characters were annoying, the plot is something else and the end of credits scene with Del Toro looked absolutely awful!! Sorely disappointed with this generic effort.

4/10

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Watchmen: Ultimate Cut (2009)
















Fresh off his major slow motion success with '300' Mr Snyder undertook this dark epic comicbook adaptation. The comics are set within an alternative history (1985) where Nixon is the President and has his hands full with the Cold War against the Soviet Union.

In a world where masked superheroes have been outlawed and are feared by the masses, many have retired, quit or just gone further undercover into the depths of the cities. The main plot surrounds the murder of one masked vigilante called 'The Comedian' and the following investigation by his former ally 'Rorschach'.

Even though the main plot is about the murder of one masked crime fighter the secondary plot about the alternative 1985 is also really intriguing and brilliant. Due to the presence of 'superheroes' in this 1985, history has been altered. The US had Dr Manhattan (due to an obligatory freak accident that usually creates these types of heroes) to help them win the Vietnam War which in turn kept Nixon in the White House and in turn gave the US a massive advantage over the USSR. All this leads to a much heightened Cold War and the background for the rest of the film. Admittedly in the end the twist isn't as clever as you'd think, its merely a case of one guy playing everyone off against each other to reach a situation where the US and USSR join together to fight another closer to home enemy.

Now I can't really compare this to the original material as I had never read it or even see it before this film was released. The main structure behind this comic is a look at the flip side of masked superheroes, very familiar looking characters and scenarios but in a very real world where actions have real consequences and where the heroes themselves could be just as bad as they are good. In fact all the characters in the 'Watchmen' team are not super powered heroes, only 'Dr Manhattan' actually has any real super powers.

This film really is the epitome of a dark comicbook flick, the main characters are suppose to be heroes but only two of them actually turn out that way. The rest tend to be sadistic ruthless merciless cynical and power crazy. We see many examples of these traits from the various characters throughout the film including attempted rape of a fellow team member!. It does actually make you feel dirty watching them at times. Of course this does lead to some quite chilling action sequences...or violent sequences I should say. This is not a comicbook flick for the younger viewers, there is plenty of blood, edgy hard hitting fights, gangs, killings and limb amputations all in the now glorious trademark Snyder slow motion.

To look at the film you'd think it was just another Batman flick, you really would. Its the classic comicbook look, dark skylines, dark seedy alleys set between towering skyscrapers, grime, grit, some very nice yet familiar looking hero outfits, a nifty flying superhero craft, a cool secret underground hideout etc...Visually its everything you'd expect to see but it does come across as an alternative universe very well. Take 'Nite Owl II' for instance, he's basically an alternative Batman really. Where as Dr Manhattan could be any number of classic characters, ditto Silk Spectre II.

The most intriguing character has to be the sadomasochistic Comedian, he has the design of an all American hero much like 'Nick Fury' but he's a bad apple. A loose cannon, a real vigilante who dislikes society and basically hurts anyone he comes into contact with, and this includes his team mates. The fact he works as a government agent after masked heroes are banned says it all really, a perfect excuse and reason to enact more violence. You wonder why he was ever allowed to continue within 'The Minutemen'.

The best character for me was easily Rorschach, a tough pint sized scruffy looking character who dresses like a 1950's detective and wears an unusual mask that has constantly changing inkblot patterns on it, hence his name. Not too sure how his mask is suppose to work as it looks like a simple balaclava, is it magic or something?. I think the fact this small scrawny guy can handle himself in a fight makes him appealing, plus the fact he looks like a regular street bum when unmasked (unlike the cheesy Nite Owl), perfectly played by Haley, the modern day Joe Pesci.

The other characters felt too common to me, just regular looking superhero types, why do female superhero characters always dress in fetish gear? why would a woman do that? running around in high heels, really?. I also don't get why Dr Manhattan would turn out like some invincible super powered alien after getting killed in some big radioactive thingy. Yeah I know its a comic but this guy is too powerful, it pushes suspension of disbelief to the limit with all that Mars crap. I did like the angle about him possibly giving everyone else cancer, another solid example of how grounded and dark the film/comic can be.


















I'll be honest I can't recall the theatrical cut of this film and how it differs to this new cut. The main obvious difference is the inclusion of Tales of the Black Freighter which is in small segments throughout. I like the idea of a comic within a comic and I like the idea that in this alternative 85 people dislike superheroes so comicbooks contain other material. As an animated series of shorts I like that its again dark gritty and gory but the actual tale didn't really hit me. The pirate angle is fine but the twist and closure for the character in the tale just seems kinda bland, like it tries to be clever and eerie but it just doesn't feel it...I didn't feel it. I also felt this little tale did disrupt the flow of the film in all honesty, its better left out despite the fact it counterpoints many events and character arcs during the film.

I guess the film can be confusing to the sense that it comes across as a very real take on masked crime fighters. All these characters, whether super or not, have real problems, real issues and it doesn't beat around the bush showing us. But then when the action does kick in we are given silly childish slow motion nonsense. OK these characters can fight but we know they are just people, these are real people not supermen...yet at one point Nite Owl and Spectre take out streams of bad guys without breaking sweat!. Lots of slow motion martial arts jiggery pokery, its at this point I knew Snyder was catering for the wider audience, or should I say pandering. Had these fights been more down to earth with harsh realism the film would be perfect.

Rich lavish highly stylised and crammed full of small details that literately cover the walls of certain scenes. It has been argued that the film is too detailed, too close with the original comicbook source material and suffers. I disagree, I think the film is a great example of what can be done when you are totally faithful to the source. Yes I'll admit it can get a bit heavy in places but the good story and good characters kept me going fine. What annoyed me as said was the inclusion of modern over the top cookie cutter fight sequences which ruined the realism, yet obviously some people wanted more of that!.

I just wish many other films were as faithful to their sources as this was, if the material needs to be adult material then do it! don't water it down. This is the perfect anti-superhero flick, so many layers, such a solid story that requires some actual attention rather than constant aimless CGI action. A cerebral affair for sure, I was quite worn out by the end.

9/10

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Metropolis (GER 1927)


First time seeing this epic and I will be honest as I usually am, I found most of this very boring!. I knew it was a silent black and white film of course (even better! I enjoy black and white films), but the plot is totally not what I expected. I always thought this was a kind of [i]Frankenstein[/i] story, the creation of a robot, life, its actually partly that but mainly based around a religious theme of a woman (almost akin to Moses and being worshipped as a saviour) leading the lowly workers to revolt against the high and mighty city planners. In turn it then proceeds to turn into a disaster movie and then finally ends with a Gothic horror type finale in the same visual realms as 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame'.

Its hard to take the whole film in as its very complicated with all its messages, themes and metaphors which are both obvious and hidden. The characters are all very well portrayed and much deeper than you'd expect as the film progresses, although the lack of wording/text (any missing or taken out?) makes it hard to follow and pick up all the information you need. Its a basic premise used over and over these days, the rich elite living high above the earth in towering buildings of power whilst the poor grunts toil in the bowels below powering the fantastic city above them which they cannot hope to live in.

Of course the film being made by a German in 1927 with the Nazi regime starting to linger in the background the film does have that oppressive vibe and heavy set biblical undercurrent. Lang was anti-fascist and he tries to show that with the squalid peasants that live beneath the mighty city. Its funny because this film feels very much like a fascist film with its certain clear cut visuals, especially in this era, you do get mixed signals I think.

The real reason to watch this film is of course the visuals, stunts and musical score (it is really), its a masterclass in movie making. The score is an opera, its first rate, top class, its as good as any known Hollywood musical and practically tells the story on its own...which its suppose to do I might add (no speech remember). Every person and every event is recorded with the perfect tune/note/theme which guides you along the way as if you were holding hands with the composer.

The visuals, imagination and design of the film are the real stand out spectacles with absolutely incredible special effects ranging from simple model work to matte paintings that create a blend of craftsmanship that truly puts some modern films to shame. This was in 1927 remember!. The now familiar harsh stark black and white contrast adds to the stylish German expressionism to give it that Gothic, gloomy yet quite realistic feel which I really believe would be lost in colour. The camera angles and forced perspective used to create the towering Art Deco skyscrapers, flashing neon signs and sprawling urban jungle of buildings is simply perfect, you just can't fault it, and its so very easy to see where many top directors of the biggest sci-fi and Gothic films in history have gotten their inspiration, but I don't blame them for one minute. The skylines on view in this film are awe-inspiring with immense depth and tiny movement everywhere, its a model train set on an epic scale and it still looks awe-inspiring today.



The costumes worn by the city planners and their leader 'Fredersen' don't appear dated too much...just smart basic and believable whilst the set designs and futuristic creations on show are pretty accurate of our age and do look really nice (video phone). The offices and building layouts just look quite practical, livable, clean and well thought out, much like first impressions of 'Blade Runner', everything does seem to be functional. Lang and co do appear to be very stable futurists.

All this without even mentioning the near perfect body suit used to create the robot 'Maria'. The sculpture work is iconic and begs to be worshipped!. Not only does it look like a real working robot (for the time) and the influence behind god knows how many sci-fi characters, but the actress inside gives a beautifully silent (obviously) slow performance with hardly any effort used. Merely standing and walking but using the suit to her advantage to make it work on every level. The scientists dark  50's looking lab where Maria is resurrected is gorgeous looking too and those now memorable ascending/descending glowing halo's that surround Maria where she sits are the icing on the sci-fi cake (now of course the stuff of B-movie legend).






Not only are the effects amazing but the stunt work during the second half of the film is quite risky and daring to say the least, as the machines crumble after the workers revolt the sets come crashing down in eye widening sequences. The huge props fall apart and puff out smoke whilst the flooding scenes mix neat model shots with quite large sets and huge amounts of extras used (there are some quite stunning scenes with masses of extras used during the film all without the use of CGI making them very special indeed). Some of the sets must have been vast or at least give that impression, the cathedral steps and ginormous doors are a sight to behold trust me. Many sequences do look like stage sets in a theatre with props taking up almost all the space with their realistic scale, most are obvious of course. But there is vast contrast in detail between some of the huge greasy mechanical sets, religious Gothic sets, decaying earthy catacomb, Nazi-esque power sets and cold blank sterile black and white dystopian technological sets. Religion and fascism/anti-fascism set in a thick expressionist future. The film touches on various genres in a way.

A historic film that defies belief, everything is so well done, such precision yet so old you just wonder how film makers can make such trash these days. The story is boring and a little hard to follow I have to admit, lots of odd almost surreal images, ideas and character arch's going on, which isn't surprising seeing as its getting close to a hundred years old. But you watch for the craftsmanship on display, the effects, lighting, camera angles, set designs, models, costumes...all these must be seen to be believed. You can easily look past the religious/fascist connotations and enjoy the fantasy, this is the true art of proper film making.


10/10



Ender's Game (2013)




















Yep its another film adaptation of a book, and this one sounds weird doesn't it...Ender's Game, what kind of name is Ender? No I haven't read the book so I can't compare obviously, but I will say straight off the bat that this film did sound very much like a swish version of the old movie 'WarGames'.

So in the year 2086 aliens attack the Earth, ravage it but get beaten by the heroics of a bunch of jet fighter pilots (no doubt US ones) and one specific pilot called Ben Kingsley. We see this at the start in a lovely 'Independence Day' rip off which really really does look and feel like a complete rip off right down to how one human manages to bring down the alien mothership. He flies his jet into the ship...yep that's it, he crashes his jet into the underside of it and that somehow manages to completely tear it apart. Wow, after all that time fighting all they had to do was smash a jet into it.

Fifty years later and the human race now depends on young children to defend the world against further alien attacks. Yes the powers that be have decided that the worlds smartest scroats, that have been raised on...errr videogames, are the best chance for human survival in the future. So all those hours playing Grand Theft Auto will finally pay off for you it this universe. So all these super gaming kids get sent to a strict military space camp where they are trained a whole lot of military crap that doesn't seem to have any remote use for what they are gonna be doing at the end of the day which is commanding massive fleets like a videogame.

Yes this film had me thinking, why are all these kids being taught how to shoot each other in big zero G war games? why are they being run into the ground like a common grunt? why are they being taught martial arts and self defense? At the end of the day none of that, in my view, will be of any use when it comes to commanding these fleets...like videogames. The whole thing just felt so bizarre, the fact the world relies on prepubescent kids in the first place, kids that seem to crack easily quite understandably and all that film time based on those pointless zero G war games. Yeah so the training gets them tough OK, but end of the day they're still only using a large touch screen monitor.



Essentially this entire film is all about watching this one sulky kid getting trained because Harrison Ford thinks he's 'the one' (haven't seen that before). That's it! that's all it is! just glossy looking videogaming and training with lots of pomp and emotional musical scores which fail to evoke any emotion because he's only playing flippin' videogames and training! Oh and can't forget about the obligatory bullying of the new kid, gotta have that training camp bullying. It all looks fantastically slick and shiny no doubt, can't fault the visuals at all just like all modern films, it looks superb. But the film is so utterly dull and pointless and it doesn't even explain anything like why do these aliens attack Earth in the first place. Also these aliens are actually large bugs, overgrown locust looking bugs (Starship Troopers novel much?), they don't have hands fingers or thumbs of any kind. So how in the hell do they manage to even build spacecraft let alone fly them like some kind of divine air Gods. These ships actually manoeuvre like small flying bugs, zipping around in massive cloud-like swarms, its insane! Daft thing is the human ships do the same thing too! they perform moves that would render Han Solo and Pete Mitchell lost for words.

What made me laugh was the fact that when Ender fudges up his training missions both Ford and Kingsley's characters berate him like no ones business! yeah that will help him sheesh! I dunno what think of this film I really don't, the acting by the adults is limp with Ford merely growling all the time and Kingsley slipping in and out of his Kiwi accent. The Maori tattoos on his face are pretty much just there to give him a more interesting look, otherwise he'd just be another grumpy officer. The kids do all act pretty well I can't deny, although Butterfield as Ender does grate with his pouting face and whining.

I can't say much about the finale without giving it away but it did catch me out I'll admit, didn't see that twist. So I must give kudos for that, after which the plot does get more interesting as Ender does kinda go native with the bugs, but then it ends so that sucked. Seems to me that the next chapter is more interesting than the stuff we just had to sit through. So don't go expecting lots of futuristic space battles and bug zapping cos you ain't gonna get it folks. No bug hunts here I'm afraid, just lots of tedious military war games explained to you via lots of fast talking incomprehensible futuristic military space jargon.

5/10

Sunday, 9 February 2014

The Lego Movie (2014)

























Well when I first heard about this a long time ago I pretty much assumed it would be a shameless cash grab with a rehashed plot trying to copy any number of big hit animated movies. Looks like I got bitch slapped pretty hard here!












Holy stickle bricks Batman! even the opening logos before the film are made out of Lego...CGI Lego. Yes everything in this film is made out of Lego, everything! explosions, water, steam, soap suds, rocks, clouds etc...this is most definitely a world of Lego. Within this world everybody is happy and lives in harmony doing what they do for the good of the Lego community, that is until 'Lord Business' rears his ugly head and threatens everything with his evil secret weapon of mass destruction. Well sticky destruction...right up until the plot reveal towards the end I didn't really get why the bad guy wanted to encase everyone in glue.

The plot is basically your everyday action flick hocus pocus about a chosen one who will lead the rebels to victory against an evil force. Now you may think that sounds boring and indeed it is, difference here is the plot is mocked and spoofed hard, it uses all the regular action cliches in the book and basically rips on them to its hearts content. For this to work as well as it does many many different types of characters from various genres and franchises are used to enhance the lunacy. Of course being a film about Lego you can do virtually anything you want using any form shape or character for maximum results...this cleverly feeds into the plot twist premise too.

I won't lie, for me this was all about seeing the huge range of Legos from all the generations stuck together and I wasn't disappointed. In this crazy ass world there are different regions...medieval, pirate, space, wild west, civvy etc...so this naturally allows plenty of retro visuals much to my joy. I absolutely loved seeing all the individual Lego themes and figures popping up, the best of these must be '1980-something space guy'. I loved how this guys chest logo was faded, how he was hyper about building retro spaceships with retro Lego and how he even had the little crack on his helmet which did used to happen with those spacemen helmets...detail much!!! awesome!!! The only downside to this was the fact we didn't see enough of these lands, alas I really wanted to see more medieval involvement.

As for the other characters well its a mega Easter egg hunt if you ask me. Aside from regular characters Batman, our plucky hero Emmet, not too sure what the hell 'Uni-Kitty' was suppose to be exactly but I did like her Manga-esque facial design, and 'Good cop/bad cop', there were loads of blink and you'll miss em guys. Talk about a Justice League flick oh my, some great camaraderie between Supes and The Green Lantern who is hilariously voiced by Jonah Hill (I like that guy). Also look out for Wonder Woman and a quick appearance of The Flash (quick..get it? hehehehe). We also see Gandalf, Dumbledore, Robin Hood, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Mikey, Shaq O'Neal, Gillman (swamp creature) and how about THAT short Star Wars sequence huh!!! didn't see that coming and it was ace! top banana! Actual voice work by Billy Dee and Anthony Daniels, shame no Ford though, still...I think I got a little sexually excited.



So all the franchise characters and retro Lego figures was enough fun for me but how about everything else? Well the visuals are amazing, talk about a 100% beautifully realised dreamlike fantasy world with so much colour and imagination bursting from the screen. The detail is incredible, everything is built from Lego so you can imagine how much small detail there must be, every little block, every little plastic piece you remember from your childhood, its all here in one form or another. Even all those odd bits which looked weird that you would have left over, every single Lego piece ever made is used here and you can see it...even the sharks.

Next to that you then have the stunningly simple looking animation which blends CGI (can't escape that) and stop motion...or so it seems. Its like watching an episode of South Park in Lego form, you know, all that jerky movement that looks cheap and tacky but at the same time kinda cool. Some of the sequences though are mind blowing, an animated ocean of Lego and Bayplosions in Lego (not far from reality there). The plot is also really fresh and takes a turn you don't quite expect towards the end. Not sure I completely agreed with going down that specific route as it did kinda take me out of the moment, risky decision. But its purpose is the moral of the story, a lovely message that imagination and freedom to express yourself is important, be creative, don't box up your ideas and thoughts, run with them. This is why the plot is so wildly exhausting, explosively manic and never seems to stay on one course for very long. Always going off on a spontaneously surreal fantasy tangent just like a young persons imagination.

The only thing I would say overall is I didn't quite find it as funny as I expected. I know its essentially a kids movie but its also in the realms of 'Toy Story' where adults have their own touches to enjoy. I loved how the Lego people live their lives by those little instruction manuals we all know and love. To be brutally honest some of the humour tended to miss more than hit in my opinion. If it wasn't for Batman (always upside down) and Emmet the film may not have won me over as easily.

The film is top heavy with pop culture references as you will probably have guessed by now but that is by no means an issue. It never feels like an ad campaign for anything or anyone. One thing is for damn sure, even though the film has proved it wasn't a lazy cash grab (but still a very big promotion), Lego sales will definitely be going through the roof from this point on. I can see myself needing a '1980-something space guy' figure...and maybe a 'Metal beard'.

8/10














'I only work in black...and sometimes very very dark grey'