Thursday, 31 March 2016

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015)




Here we go again, entry number five for Cruise and his James Bond-esque team of super agents. Once again Rhames, Renner and Pegg rejoin Cruise to fight for justice and, this time, the IMF. Things look bleak for the IMF as tough CIA director Huntley (Alec Baldwin) manages to shut them down and basically absorb the IMF into the CIA. The reasons being their destructive methods of getting the job done, misconducts and the fact they don't have a secretary at this point. In the meantime Hunt is still trying to prove the existence of the Syndicate, a large crime consortium, which the CIA does believe exists, another reason why they shut them down. Further on down the line and a few disavowed agents later, Hunt is set up for the death of the Austria Chancellor whilst trying to save him. The CIA are hunting him down whilst Hunt and his old crew are trying to gain proof of the syndicate via some data which they must retrieve from within a highly secure building. Of course the data is not what everyone thinks it is and the syndicate are actually after it themselves. So who can Hunt trust this time around? will he save the IMF? will the CIA believe him? what does the syndicate actually want?

I went into this film reasonably content, happy to see what was to follow in this everlasting franchise. Admittedly I had some reservations, I'm not a avid franchise fan by all means, I think these films are serviceable at best in light-hearted action entertainment. I do however firmly believe they have somewhat turned into a one trick pony, that pony being one big fuck off stunt that Cruise performs. Now again admittedly Cruise performs these stunts admirably, he's got balls that's for sure, but in no way do they constitute an entire movie, you can't just ride these one-off stunts all the way to bank, which they have been doing, amazingly. So yeah, it has boiled down to pretty much...one big stunt is impressive, everything else besides that is serviceable, done. Does this fifth film change that?



Well in all honesty no, it doesn't. The film starts off much in the same vein as your standard Bond movie, with a big stunt, the now expected big Cruise stunt which he does all by himself. This time (as if you didn't know by now) he clings onto the side of a plane as it takes off. Of course he's strapped on there pretty fudging good, so essentially he's simply attached to the side of plane, well near the door. So yeah, it would have been bloody windy, and I doubt he would of seen that much because of the wind and pressure against his face, but I'm sure it was a rush no doubt. Is it the be all and end all? no not really, was it impressive to watch? well I guess, its not like I haven't seen that done before in a certain British spy franchise. Was it as good as his last stunt in M:I4 on the Burj Khalifa? no, not for me, that was certainly death defying and made me sweat through my pants! this on the other hand was simply being attached to a plane and doing nothing (not much you can do).

Now here lies my problem, the big glorious stunt happened right at the start, so now what? what is left? well not much frankly. Everything following is, in my opinion, all the same shit we've seen before countless times. The plot kinda annoyed me at multiple points concerning the characters, mainly Ilsa Faust. Jesus! this character is at first a baddie, then she helps Hunt, so you dunno where she stands exactly, maybe she fancies Hunt. Then at the Opera whilst Hun is trying to stop the assassination of the Austria Chancellor, Faust is seen apparently taking aim as one of the assassins, but then she helps Hunt escape again, but not before apparently trying to kill Benji (Pegg). We discover she is a disavowed MI6 agent, or so it may seem, she speaks of loyalty and gaining Hunt's trust to the main villain Lane whilst in his presence, but speaks of being undercover within the syndicate to Hunt and co. This goes back and forth for quite a portion of the movie and while it might seem like good writing and exciting, I found it frustrating. Even when she meets with her MI6 handler you're still not entirely sure who's side she's on, this being a spy flick you can never tell what character twist might pop up. They also make it so painfully obvious that they're trying to make this female character a sexy femme fatale, but it just doesn't work, not for me anyway. But geez alright we get it, the blatant hints have been picked up.



The movie tries to remain exciting for its runtime but just can't seem to manage it. There isn't really any highlight other than Cruises big stunt, nothing at all that really hit me, maybe the bit when he's under water I guess? yeah like he's gonna die, pfft! I guess the motorbike chase was pretty good, it looked good for sure, fast, thrilling, slick and glossy, usual stuff, it actually had John Woo vibes if you ask me. It was kinda spoilt by the outcome though, yet another serious crash inflicted on hunt, with no body protection, yet he's fine! Then you had the car crash prior to that. Hunt and Benji somehow manage to survive that crash too! and how over the top was that crash sheesh! I'm not even sure if it was real, it looked CGI to me, the bloody car flips and spins over about six times! But no worries Hunt and Benji are just fine, just a scratch, on to the next set piece! Speaking of the next set piece, the scene towards the end at the restaurant with the bomb strapped to Benji. You notice all of Lane's men are there on hand, well had that bomb gone off, wouldn't Lane had killed all his own men too?

It all just feels so run of the mill now, all the bad guys drive around in black cars, or black bikes with black helmets. No one can actually shoot Hunt despite being at point blank range with a machine gun, the strong female agent is of course a martial arts expert because everyone always is in these films, the good guys are always driving around in top of the line cars somehow, the villain Lane mumbles and is hard to understand, oh and there are red phone boxes in London? eh?? As for the ending, blimey talk about drab and uneventful, they just trick Lane into that transparent bulletproof box...and that's it? How the hell did they set that up anyway? how did they know Lane would follow Hunt? what if he didn't jumped down through the manhole following Hunt and just shot him when he saw him through the gap? Also the fact that Lane actually believed Hunt when he said he had memorised that entire readout of data (mainly lot of figures, sums of money in a list) is a joke. I highly doubt many people could memorise all that so quickly, not saying it couldn't be done, but its just unlikely for most. But the fact Lane believes this bluff was lame, he couldn't take that chance you say? sure, but come on! I'm sure there would be another way even if Hunt was telling the truth.

I just don't get it, this had mirror images of the first movie from back in 1996, like I said, clearly trying to recapture the mood and the thrills, but it just doesn't, it just feels all the same but slower and older. I just don't understand how a film like this does so well when its essentially a lax remake of sorts, a very, very wholeheartedly average sequel, its very strange. I don't have a great deal to say here because the movie underwhelmed me, I've literately forgotten most of it, and what even happened. For me this franchise and Cruise's outdated, overacted antics have run their course, this doesn't suit Cruise anymore. Oh and what on earth is going on with Baldwin's hair in this?? looks like he's had an electric shock.

5/10




Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Point Break (2015)


























So back in 1991 there was a relatively small-ish action flick with a smaller than average budget that took cinema audiences by storm (no pun intended). Whilst the film was never a genuine masterpiece, it was undeniably fun with great characters, great action and the odd moment of uniqueness/originality, it struck a cord with adult males of the time. As with everything these days Hollywood thought it wise to remake this now cult action thriller, remake it bigger!, bigger stunts, bigger action, bigger greenscreen and CGI, what could go wrong?

The original premise of this movie saw a small team of young men robbing banks in their unique manner, wearing grotesque rubber masks of ex-American Presidents, and generally acting like fools or clowns. They only steal cash and never hit the vaults, in and out within 90 seconds. They would then use this money to travel from place to place, riding the waves, season to season, the unique hook being the men were all surfers. Each of them were adrenaline junkies that never really bulked at a challenge, they all lived life in the fast lane. Their leader Bodhi, was no different essentially, accept he was more philosophical about it, more spiritual and believed in the human spirit over the daily grind, 'the man', a bit of a hippy dare I say. Enter Johnny Utah, a young straight laced FBI agent who goes undercover to infiltrate the surfing world, to try and weed out the ex-Presidents gang. Does Utah succumb to Bodhi's life of criminal enlightenment? will he fall under his spell? Yeah it all sounds terrible doesn't it, a bunch of surfers that rob banks so they can surf some more, well for this remake they take everything but merely amp it up to eleven.

So that's the plot, well its the plot of the original movie but this remake is virtually the same so, two birds with one stone. Right first off this movie starts out of a ridiculous note, unsurprisingly. These modern age CGI fuelled remakes do not surprise me anymore with their constant lack of coherent structure. Point in case the opening (CGI) stunt, Utah and his mate are zooming across the top of a rocky, desert ridgeline (Caineville, Utah) on motorcross bikes. They both fly towards the edge of a massive cliff that drops away hundreds of feet into a canyon, on the other side is a singular rock structure not connected to anything, its a lone rock surface standing tall in the rocky terrain. Utah makes the jump on his bike, from cliff to cliff and stops just short of the opposite edge, his mate doesn't and falls, but who cares. My point here being, its completely insane, over the top and fake (presumably?), why do we need that? why do we need to see such a stupid stunt? just to prove this character is cool? Its just being big for the sake of being big, its typical of modern movies.



Moving onto the characters, oh boy! OK so to look at this Johnny Utah I can see what they were trying to do here, the guy in question (Luke Bracey) does look a bit like Reeves did in the original movie with the hair, and he does seem just as wooden as Reeves did too (although I'm sure that wasn't done on purpose by the actor). Then he takes off his shirt, yikes! like...what in Belushi's balls has he got all over himself?? The man is covered in random, rather lame looking tribal tattoos, plus he has something across his chest, no clue, the silhouette of a mountain range?? Now don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with a solid piece of art on ya body, I myself have lots of work, but this looks awful and it just seems like another pathetic attempt to appeal to the teen crowd. But wait! oh yeah...they're all covered in tattoos because...modern age hipster style, amazed they weren't all wearing skinny jeans. Yep, all the main characters are covered in shitty looking tattoos and they all (and I mean all) have beards, what the literal fuck! To cement the fact these guys are all roided up, uber tanned and covered in oh so cool ink work, the director kindly provides us with a topless, man on man, sweaty, hairy, illegal street fight scene just to prove there is no possibility these guys are soft, and there is definitely no homosexuality going on...or is there?

I guess one alteration that pissed me off here was the goal of Bodhi and co, they don't have one. In the original film they use the money to travel around and surf, selfish but hey, it worked. They weren't particularly ultra evil of anything (accept for Rosey), just bad, they robber but didn't kill, Bodhi made sure of that as he had a spiritual, fair personality. In this film they are kinda the same but it gets lost fast toward the finale when they have a big shoot out and kill loads of cops. There goal is also very vague frankly, they supposedly use the money for their extreme sports actions, but at the same time we also see them giving their loot away to poor people, they actually end their raids by setting the money free so to speak. So how do they afford what they do?? Also some of the raids they take on are so flippin' technical and dangerous, you'd think they were a team of fecking Navy SEALs or SAS! are these guys just robbers or secret agents? But yeah, essentially the main goal here is for these guys to complete some mysterious extreme sports trial which sees you completing 8 extreme sports feats in different areas. So you have a water based trial, an air based, earth based...you see where they are going with this. Apparently they do this for balance, they think the 8 trials are a gift from the Earth, they are going to give back to the Earth through these trials, give back what was taken, to balance everything out. So in the air they steal money from a plane and skydive to escape, they stop some trucks loaded with gold from a mine and use dirt bikes to escape etc...But then there are some trials they do just because its fun? like the free rock climbing and surfing etc...whatever.



Most of the stunts we see are genuine and very impressive there is no doubting that. The film was shot on location around the world and it is stunning, although it feels more like a tourist video for people interested in doing extreme sports on their holiday. Nevertheless there are scenes that take your breath away such as the free rock climbing which always makes my palms sweat with vertigo fear. The surfing is vivid and in your face with beautiful bright greeny blue seas set against perfect weather conditions (and tight ass shots), although surfing takes a back seat here, its a one scene deal. The wingsuit sequence is most definitely an extreme sports award winner if this were an extreme sports competition, or generally, and the snowboarding, while it looks pointless to me, is impressive to watch. There are also some amazing intro shots of various locations such as mountains in Switzerland, waterfalls (Angel Falls) in Venezuela etc...

Look don't get me wrong, what you see here is impressive stunt wise, kudos to all involved. The problem is that's all this film is about, its literately sequences of extreme sports with an action film plot fitted in around them. You jump from location to location in a heartbeat, one minute they are up in the air, the next they're on bikes, then they're up a mountain...holy BMX! The sequence where they attack a group of trucks leaving a mine is awful! Firstly they are attacking innocent workers, secondly what's the bloody point of this? and thirdly, they trigger a bloody avalanche to destroy the trucks! (a CGI avalanche which they outrun on their bikes...ugh!). If it wasn't for Utah all those truck drivers would have been killed, how does that fit into Bodhi's peaceful hippy ideology? Then at the end they have to rob this bank...which just so happens to be at the top of a mountain with only one route up and down, because of course.

In short this is completely as you would expect (for someone of the right age that is, 30 years plus). Its big, real big, big mammoth balls big...and glossy, don't forget glossy. Everyone has a beard and tattoos, the stunts are so over the top you wonder why these robbers aren't famous sports stars, plus they all act like they're in some sort of weird-ass cult. There are moments of horrendous greenscreen, I mean really obvious greenscreen, the cable car sequence felt more like an old Bond movie, whilst the finale at sea was laughable. The plot is muddled and unsure what route it wants to take, scenes of near death are just inane (Utah running across railway tracks almost getting slammed by an oncoming train which he apparently didn't see or hear), and they actually copy the classic moment from the original where Reeves fires his gun into the air, screaming with frustration and rage (no surprise, it fails to live up to the original there). This film has no purpose or reason to exist, its another dire remake straight from the Hollywood remake factory, and it sucks, plain and simple. If you want to see a movie called 'Point Break' (maybe too young to know any better?) then I highly suggest you stick to (look up) the 1991, Kathryn Bigelow original. On the other hand if you like extreme sports...and that's it, then sure, knock yourself out with this.

3/10


Monday, 28 March 2016

Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)

























Who'd of thought this franchise would get this far? A silly fantasy about a kung fu panda and various other martial arts skilled animals, all guided by the wise old Master Shifu. The wacky adventures of Po and his plucky band of ninja-esque warriors across the wild east. All along his destiny has apparently pointed in one direction, to become the chosen one. He's trained to become a kung fu master, battled a muscular snow Leopard, a powerful Peacock, and now he must defeat a mighty Yak with the help of his new found family.

Yep so in this third instalment Po is given the reins of teacher by Master Shifu as he retires. Rather predictably Po finds his new undertaking harder than expected and begins to question whether or not he is right for the role, or whether he even wants it. This straight away conjures up the rather tired old formula of the underdog scenario, with Po struggling with his requirements at first but slowly gaining momentum as he goes. Of course Shifu completely believes in him and stands by him all the way, a typical Rocky type scenario basically which we saw in the first movie of this franchise. Anyway Po goes home and bumps into another panda called Li Shan who amazingly turns out to be his dad, something that surely must have triggered suspicion in Po considering he hasn't come across another panda before, I think. The whole panda village concept also seemed rather odd because it seems unusual that no other pandas have ever come through Po's region before. I have always kinda got the impression that Po might be the last panda, but all of a sudden there's an entire village! that apparently never travel much because we have never seen any up to this point, well that's how I've always seen it.


Anywho, Po and the panda village must all band together and fight against the evil Kai who happens to be a vicious spirit warrior from the, errr...Chinese spirit world. This large yak has defeated all the other masters in the realm by taking their chi and...umm, absorbing it or something. He is able to turn each master into a statue made of jade and control them in a zombie like state so he can...return to the land of the living? I think. Once back he will presumably take control and rule the land. But before he can do this he must obtain the Dragon Masters chi, the chi of Po, luckily Po has the strength of many panda children, elderly pandas and middle aged pandas to help him. Question is why he would actually need their help seeing as he's the bloody Dragon Master but anyway, don't question it eh.

K, no surprise the movie looks gorgeous, a sumptuous, vividly coloured spectacle of eastern tropes set within the typical Hollywood blockbuster vehicle. The scenery is easily the best element of the visuals with some stunning sprawling landscapes on display, some really lovely fantastical locations that just make you wanna pack up and go there. Naturally all the characters are again visualised well with plenty of detail, including realistic fur and shiny bright eyes. Most have their own distinct look but you can't help but sense a Disney vibe going through them all (or at least I could), nevertheless they all look great with some having the added bonus of some great costume design too, looking at Tigress mainly. My fave character would probably have to be Master Mantis mainly because of his size and cuteness factor, dare I say there's an Ant-Man vibe going on there, lots of vibes folks. I wasn't so sold with the main villain this time though, in all fairness he looked kinda lame and just felt sorta dull. I mean, how can you make a yak look exciting? maybe they should of chosen a different animal? He didn't really seem menacing enough to me, I know its a kids film but still, he could of been a bit more dangerous methinks. I did really like his jade blades and the fact he turned the other Masters into jade statues or jade warriors. The striking green of the jade just looked really nice, it really popped out of the screen and was a nice visual highlight. The same can be said for the saturated colours of the spirit world which were a feast for your eyes, somehow this films colour palette made me hungry.



The weak point of the movie was the plot for me. Lets be honest there is nothing new here, we've seen this type of stuff so many times, even in the earlier movies of this franchise. Once again you have the underdog premise with Po, the self pity and self-loathing aspect of his character which tends to get a bit repetitive. Its not all the same for Po though as here he must use his skills and training to train all the other pandas in the village. So finally we see a more confident Po who is actually utilising the stuff he's been learning over the last two movies, he's a totally loveable doofus of course, but now a doofus with skills. The cheesy, cliched stuff comes in the form of the training of the pandas to fight back against an evil force, something that has been used in so many movies over time. The fact that Po must find each pandas skill or talent and somehow transform that into an effective method of attack against Kai, is sooo dated! So all the kids utilise their juggling/balancing skills, a female panda utilises her dancing skills, some pandas utilise their rolling/tumbling skills and a strong panda enhances his hugging/strength skills. But again, those visuals, oh boy! love the training montage visuals and colour scheme, it looks like a traditional Chinese/Japanese painting come to life.

As expected the visuals are the most impressive aspect as with all animated movies, mainly because they just get better and better. This film doesn't disappoint with that, nor does it disappoint with eastern promise, mythology and ancient Chinese culture, perfectly blended in with American/western nerd culture. In other words traditional Chinese/Asian culture is respected and accentuated in all its forms with great detail and much tender loving care. Every aspect from the native structures, temples and terrain, to the costumes and to aspects such as traditional philosophies and of course martial arts. Now add to that the more traditional American comicbook stylings with a hint of superhero kickassery and you have a wild mix of chopsocky fantasy.

Still I can't deny that this is probably the weakest of the trio mainly because its just unoriginal, like I said already, we've seen it all before. Yeah to a degree they have gone along the lines of, if it ain't broke don't fix it, which is fine and it works, but there's only so far you can take that. How many times do we need to see these stereotypical, Karate Kid-esque, underdog/hero tales? The voice cast are all solid but there's nothing special here, the humour is a bit flat I think, a bit stale now, and the plot is tepid with an uninteresting baddie and a weak finale. Like I say if it wasn't for those jaw-dropping visuals...I dunno. Still this just manages to keep its head above the waves and round off a very good trilogy, just leave it at this though, any more will most definitely spoil from here on.

6/10


Tuesday, 22 March 2016

The Good Dinosaur (2015)






















Holy schnitzels in stew! another animated prehistoric movie for kids! another one! Lets be honest here, there are only so many ways in which a movie like this can pan out, and they've all been exhausted. Despite that this movie does have one redeeming idea, one solitary idea that hasn't yet been used, as far as I'm aware. That idea is simply, the vast asteroid that supposedly wiped out the dinosaurs back in whatever period BC, actually missed the Earth and the dinosaurs continued to thrive. That is the one and only feature of this movie that is seemingly original, everything else is purely cookie cutter crapola which I simply cannot believe they have rolled out yet again.

So guest what happens here, well its all about a young dinosaur getting lost from home and having to find his way back again, familiar huh. A nice family of dinosaurs that seemingly live in America, that's the impression you get with the farm setting anyway. You got the house/farmbound mummy dinosaur, the strong and hard working daddy dinosaur and their three kiddie dinosaurs. Two of which are regular errmm...dinosaur type kids, and the third, Arlo, is the weakling of the litter, smaller and more useless. Over time the kids grow up and reach their pre-teen years, I'm guessing, everything is coming along nicely with the farm and two of the dino kids, whilst Arlo is often too scared and weak to accomplish anything. When a small feral human boy is discovered eating their precious crops the dinosaurs try to capture him, eventually doing so the daddy dinosaur tries to get Arlo to kill the young human, but he can't do it and sets him free instead. Disappointed in Arlo the father takes him off to track down the human and to try and make Arlo grow up a bit, toughen up...by killing an innocent life form, K. During this father, son scenario, a storm comes along creating a flash flood, which kills Arlo's father. This leaves the dinosaur family to fend for themselves without a strong male role model to lead them. Eventually Arlo comes across the feral human eating their crops again, he chases the human away but accidentally falls into the local river and is swept away. Thus begins Arlo's predictable journey back home.


















I still can't believe they were allowed to make a movie with this plot, the most basic and overused plot idea ever, young person/creature must find its way home with the help of another plucky companion. I mean holy shit! how corny, cliche, predictable and stereotypical can you possibly get?! For a start all the characters are cliche as fuck with the stereotypical hard working mummy and daddy dinosaurs that appear to be poor but honest. They both toil on their farm and raise their young dinosaurs well, as best they can, teaching them the ways of farming...what?? Why do these dinosaurs have a farm? why do they have buildings, a garden, equipment etc...they're bloody dinosaurs, they don't have arms, hands or fingers, how did they even make this stuff?? What's so daft is you never see any other dinosaurs with any of this stuff, you don't see any evidence of anything like that anywhere accept with this family. So what's the deal here? do dinosaurs utilise buildings and equipment in general? is this family a bit special? or are we suppose to be in the middle of nowhere with this story? As I already said it does seem like this family are the equivalent of people that would be in the US, somewhere central like Kansas or Nebraska perhaps, maybe even further out west seeing as most dinosaurs have a southern drawl.

Arlo is an annoyingly pathetic character, he's just overly useless frankly, the feral human is naturally more animalistic than human and acts more like a loyal dog eventually, hence he is called Spot. Along the way they come cross various cliched dinosaur characters such as a gang of nasty Pterodactyls that wanna eat Spot, a stoned-like, hippy-ish Styracosaurus, another gang of nasty Velociraptors with heavy southern accents, and a trio of Tyrannosaurus that are apparently herding longhorn dinosaurs? So...are these longhorn dinosaurs like cattle then? do only certain species of dinosaur talk in this alternative universe? the ones that talk are more evolved or something? Not many dinosaurs in this universe either it seems, the land is pretty sparse with both dinosaurs and humans, you'd think there would be loads of them, more so dinosaurs.



The one thing this movie does have in its favour is the visuals. The CGI is astoundingly good here, every scene looks stunning, all the landscapes look perfect in every way. The water effects are some of the best I've ever seen, the weather, trees, crops, plants, clouds...everything looks incredible. So it does make you wonder why the actual characters in the movie look so crap, I mean all the characters, all the dinosaurs, yeah...they all look crap. Honesty this was such a weird decision if you ask me, the backdrops are all literately photo-realistic, the CGI on the landscapes is so good it looks like actual live action footage, in fact its so close I dunno why they didn't just use live action footage. Yet in comparison, all the dinosaurs look like they've been realised in plasticine, and to top that, they don't look like real dinosaurs, they are all designed to look like cartoons. So you have these eye-poppingly gorgeous, realistic landscapes, with these really immature, soppy looking dinosaurs running around in them. Its literately like looking at two completely different movies that have been awkwardly spliced together. I mean the Pterodactyls and the Styracosaurus don't look too bad, but the T-Rex, Raptors and Arlo's family just look ridiculous. The feral human Spot actually looks reasonably OK but still very cartoonish, but for a cartoon he looks decent enough, I guess.

I found this movie to be very confusing really, sure the kids will just enjoy the goofy dinosaurs and vivid colours, but if you look a bit deeper none of this makes any real sense. Yeah I know its a kids flick but still, I have to ask myself how this world works, I was actually curious to see other parts of the world and how dinosaurs live. I'll be honest and say the film did throw me a curve ball originally as I didn't know what the plot was about at first. When the human kid turned up I fully expected another cliched comedy with the wacky antics of a dinosaur family and their new human pet. Something along the lines of the Ice Age franchise but with smarter, more authentic visuals. Maybe that's what they should of done instead of this completely outdated and ancient direction where we follow Arlo trying to find his way home after getting swept away. He must have been unconscious in that river for a long time sheesh! You'd think he would only have to follow the river back in the right direction, after working out which direction of course, and how come he didn't drown?

If you're looking for a new stellar Pixar movie, then you'd best look elsewhere I'm afraid, wait for the next offering. This is clearly aimed squarely at kids more so than anything they have done before, with little here to engage the adults. The entire movie is a cheese fest top loaded with many moments of deus ex machina, along with every cliche in the book. Its very simplistic, very conventional and not particularly challenging in any way.

5/10

Saturday, 19 March 2016

The Revenant (2015)


























Loosely adapted from a novel by Michael Punke which in turn was based on the real life (or certain events) of American frontiersman Hugh Glass. The word loosely being key here as much of what we see in the film is highly fictionalised, I'm unsure if the novel suffers from the same inaccuracies. Alas with little evidence from the era, even from Glass himself, its very probable that this tale grew into legend over the centuries via exaggeration. That's not to say it didn't completely happen, but this is the nature of things from history, over time.

The plot has morphed from survival into revenge in this movie. Whilst fur trapping in the great Northern Plains (modern day Dakotas, 1823), a group of trappers are attacked by native Americans (Arikara) and suffer heavy loses. The trappers retreat back to their base of Fort Kiowa on foot, on the advise of their much experienced guide Glass. The natives take up pursuit because their chief believes his daughter has been abducted by the trappers, or at least they know who has. Whilst scouting ahead Glass is attacked and badly mauled by a fully grown grizzly bear protecting her young. The men find Glass close to death and tend to him as best they can, they are now in a pickle without their guide and obviously bogged down having to carry Glass on a stretcher. Fellow trapped Fitzgerald believes they should kill Glass quickly to end his suffering and enable the rest to make it back to the Fort, but unable to do this their leader, Henry, offers money to those who will stay with Glass until he dies. Fitzgerald, Hawk (Glass's half native son), and the young Bridger agree to wait with Glass. Eventually Fitzgerald grows tired of waiting and tries to kill Glass but is discovered by Hawk, Fitzgerald thusly kills Hawk and lies to Bridger. Fitzgerald then manages to convince Bridger to abandon Glass so they can head back to the Fort before more natives arrive and the weather becomes worse. Of course Glass is still alive and now very much intent on getting his revenge.



















So for starters, yes, much of this story is in fact bullcrap if we are honest about it. For a start in this movie Glass is set up with a native wife and half-native son which is pure Hollywood magic, merely to get the plot nice and tasty with Fitzgerald ultimately killing his son. This is all fiction as there is no evidence whatsoever that Glass had a relationship with a native women and he apparently didn't have a son, there is only mere suggestion that Glass may of had interest in a native woman. So although this entire angle looks and feels good on screen, showing Glass to be a kind, liberal type bloke (because they gotta do that these days), its all made-up which, for me, detracted from the film a little. I had no real investment in the relationship between these people because I knew it was all fictional which generally isn't a problem in movies of course, but when its a historical drama based on real events, that's when made-up stuff can become a problem, for me at least.
This also, unfortunately affects the subplot surrounding his son too. Obviously we are led to believe Glass is close with his son, firm but close, he protects him from the racial attacks that come along with being half native (obviously during this era). So when Fitzgerald kills the boy in cold blood, right in front of Glass's eyes, again I still didn't really feel anything because I knew its fictional, never happened, this young male character doesn't exist, so who cares. This is the problem with this movie as a whole, the entire plot is essentially non-fictional basically, but the whole revenge side of it is just Hollywood and kinda ruins the actual real side to the story. Whilst we watch DiCaprio craw on his face back to civilisation, which is genuine and thrilling, its spoilt because we all know he's doing it mainly for a fictional revenge plot where people are obviously gonna die in a nasty way...which never happened, *groan!*

Now don't get me wrong about DiCaprio's performance, he does a fine fine job here there's no doubt about that, or does he? Well its tricky really, director Inarritu and DiCaprio himself were both quite happy to throw caution to the wind and really push out the boat in terms of endurance and stamina. By that I mean DiCaprio did numerous very real things to really capture the moment, really capture the hardship, pain and torture that the real Glass must have gone through. No Leo wasn't actually half eaten by a real bear, although I'm sure given half the chance...but yes he did actually eat (or bite into) a real Bison's liver which did make him gag (kept in the film). Although, wouldn't a man from that era, especially a frontiersman, probably be somewhat used to eating things like that? I doubt he would of gagged, so maybe a fake liver would have been better there. The bear skin Leo wore, draped across his back, was in fact a real bear skin which when wet weighed over 100 pounds, and real wax was used on the bear fur to help insulate it against the cold, as was custom back in the 19th century. No the dead horse carcass Leo sleeps in overnight was not real I'm afraid and neither were all the innards surprisingly, but it is possible (although not confirmed) that Leo did actually chomp into a real fish. Other than obvious things like the CGI bison, bear, horse off a cliff and lots of very good looking makeup, the one thing that was always very real was the weather and Leo dragging himself through it. Yep this film looks cold, damn cold, its all real, its all bleak and desolate, and in short it all looks superb, natures dangerous beauty. To top that, what we see, everything, every shot, is captured utilising real light, nature, no CGI trickery, sets, lighting etc...its all natural light and you can kinda tell. 



But did DiCaprio really perform that well? did he really deserve an Oscar for this performance? debatable. Putting all the organic torture porn aside what did Leo actually do? Yes he acts well when required, but its nothing outstanding quite frankly, to be honest Tom Hardy put in a much better performance with his southern 'Silence of the Lambs' type drawl. What we got from Leo kinda felt more like reacting rather than acting, he wasn't really doing anything that anyone else wouldn't do in those very tough scenarios, such as acting bloody cold, stumbling around, crawling around, bleeding a lot, grunting a lot when hurt etc...Now I'm not saying actin in this way is a walk in the park, of course not, but for someone of Leo's talents it probably was a walk in the park for the acting side of things, I don't really think it truly showed us anything Oscar worthy. Essentially DiCaprio won an Oscar for doing gross things, challenging things that you could almost describe as dares, go into that freezing river half naked and eat a raw fish, I dare you, I'll film your reactions. On that note stuntmen should get Oscar's for their dangerous roles in movies. On the other hand I truly believe Leo got the Oscar simply because he had been overlooked so many times that the Academy really thought it would be taking the piss if they overlooked him again, hence he got it almost by default of losing so many times with much better performances. But I digress.

So the movie looks terrific, we see the American wilderness in all its natural beauty, yes. The performances are all solid, yet ironically its DiCaprio who does little more than merely grunting, gritting his teeth and looking unwashed for the whole time, and of course the story is an emotional rollercoaster that totally engages you...right? Errmm...kinda, like I already said the plot is messy because they shoved too much made-up crap into the mix which totally destroys the historically accurate element of it. But the other issue I had was what exactly I was suppose to get out of this movie? The strength of the human spirit is tremendous when it wants to be, its very uplifting to a degree, and the survival aspect is astonishing (what little of it is actually truthful), but its all actually very emotionless. That might sound weird but its true, this movie/story is more like a car crash that you can't look away from, you watch it out of morbid curiosity more than anything else, once Leo's fictional son gets killed off there is no real engagement (was there any before? not really). Sure Glass is dragging himself back to civilisation to kill the man that killed his son, but is he? You don't actually ever get that vibe, it just feels like he's dragging his ass back to civilisation because he obviously doesn't wanna die.  I also have to agree with Hardy's character Fitzgerald, in that same situation, in that era, the chances of someone surviving a serious injury or attack would be small, for many obvious reasons. So what would you do? risk many lives for one that is already half dead?? of course not, I think most you have suggested the same thing Fitzgerald did. Its actually surprising that the majority of the men didn't agree with Fitzgerald both in this movie and in reality, apparently. 

All I really got from this film was the achievement of actually making it. The fact they only had certain times during the day they could shoot (to capture the right natural light) so they had to be on their marks every time, they filmed during sub-zero temperatures, all the crap Leo had to do blah blah blah. The shoot was physically demanding for all involved, agreed, the way they shot the film was innovative, daring and original, agreed, and in the end the final result is a beautiful looking picture, agreed. Thing is, this is simply yet another Hollywood fairytale (plot wise) with all the usual stereotypical ticked boxes that have been crowbarred into, and over, a piece of actual history. Its not a bad film by any means, I just didn't get anything out of it other than how good it looked, besides the visual gloss there's nothing really new here.

7/10

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)


























The fictional epic sea yarns of Captain Jack Aubrey during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 1800's. This movie is an adaptation of a series of sea naval novels by Patrick O' Brian. The plot and characters being comprised of various segments from various novels in the Maturin series, the main two being obviously Master and Commander and HMS Surprise (there are 20 novels in the series).

The story starts of seeing Aubrey (Russell Crowe) of the HMS Surprise under attack from the French vessel (Privateer) Acheron, the very vessel Aubrey is under orders to seek and destroy basically. The French ship is stronger and faster leaving the Surprise heavily damaged, nevertheless Aubrey carries on with the hunt. The British follow the ship to hell and back through savage storms and freezing weather conditions trying to stop the French from attacking British whaling ships. Eventually whilst docked within the Galapagos Islands they stumble across the French and see an opportunity for attack, but in order to secure victory Aubrey must come up with something devilishly cunning in order to get in close to the French vessel.

Now admittedly this plot might seem dull if you think about it, blokes on old galleons, old fashioned Euro politics, period costumes, stiff upper lips everywhere etc...but you'd be wrong. The movie starts with a bang as Aubrey must fend off the French frigate that appears out of a thick sea fog like a ghost. The flash of multiple cannons is seen in the fog and the Surprise is hit seconds later in an explosion of timber. Men and boys scurry for their lives as various wooden features across the ships main deck are torn apart by the blast, showering everyone in splinters. The frigate emerges from its advantageous position to the shock and annoyance of Aubrey, hundreds of men toil feverishly to get the ships guns primed and ready before the frigate can come about for another attack. Aubrey remains cool and collected as he prepares himself, 'sharp shooters to the top Mr Howard', 'stand tall on the quarter deck son, all of us', 'Mr Boyle, run up the colours', 'note for the log Mr Watt'...as he is handed his tricorne. The Surprise is hit again and again, men are blown inwards by the shells, cut to pieces by the shrapnel. Those that are still alive are dragged down below for the ships doctor Maturin (Paul Bettany) to try and keep alive in his blood soaked quarters. The two warships are now virtually on top of each other, the Surprise heavily damaged with a smashed rudder. In desperation boats are dropped full of men to tow the lame Surprise as the French Acheron closes in. With luck the Surprise is pulled into another fog bank and manages to evade the French frigate, all is calm.



From this one sequence you can see how much of a rip-roaring epic this movie is gonna be, it also highlights the immense levels of realism and authenticity on display. So lets talk about that, the realism. Well for starters most the of scenes were filmed on a huge full scale replica of the HMS Rose (later renamed Surprise in honour of this film), a ship based on a 17th century 20 gun frigate. Now admittedly you can tell this, or I could, by the way the camera always pans around the hull of the ship and never drops below to actually show the sea, but apart from that this large set on gimbals is amazingly realistic looking from bow to stern. At other times the cast were shot on-board the real HMS Rose to capture some awe-inspiring panoramic shots at sea. Sure I don't exactly know how an 18th century vessel would look, but I have a rough idea like many people would, and what we see here is really impressive right down to the tiniest details. The main deck is a mass of ropes, rope ladders and knots, draped, hanging and looping all over the place. Everything is of course made of wood which naturally seems very fragile but rigid (the fear of splinters plays on ones mind), the doctor uses sand on the blood soaked floor to get a better grip when dealing with injuries, hourglasses are used as a measure of time, and everything is generally very dim because only candles light the way.

Its not all about battles and blood though, much of what we see is simply natural life on-board ship as they sail from point to point. The officers quarters are, as you would expect, spic-and-span with a grand but not overly lavish trim. The ships top gentry may enjoy a fine drink in the Captains quarters whilst discussing their next move, or they dine together whilst surrounded by their lower ranking officers, or the Captain and the doctor might engage in some classical music renditions utilising cello and violin. This one aspect shows their upbringing, their well-rounded, cultural backgrounds, as does their boardroom-esque arguments which often swing from strategy to philosophy again displaying the wealth of knowledge both men have. On the flips side the lower sections of the ship are a much darker, bleaker affair where the grunts sleep in hammocks, space is limited, the air is probably pungent and where sickness most probably spreads very easily, although the top decks wouldn't escape that either. Yet despite this its clear to see that Aubrey is a decent man, a well-rounded, genuine, good Captain who cares for his crew no matter which station. He is of course stern but fair, displaying strength and leadership when needed to keep his men in line and loyal to him, but the crew clearly show they are happy to follow their Captain.



Overall on a visual standpoint this film is damn near perfect as far as I'm concerned. The sets and props are all faultless, the costumes are authentic, every actors hairstyle looks actually genuine, the workings of an old 18th century ship seem spot on, the knowledge of the day medically and universally, and distance shots of the Surprise at sea at various times of the day are breathtaking. The fact they managed to film on the Galapagos Islands was also a notch on the movies belt for sure, the film is chock full of money shots.The film also teaches and informs you along the way too. Its amazing to think so many men managed to all cram on-board a ship like this, that there was actually enough room for them, enough food and water etc...It also shows you how strong men must have been back then, when you see the pitch battle between vessels, wood being blown into millions of deadly splinters, bodies flying, blood, limbs, smoke, the noise etc...How on earth did the Captain manage to keep control?! its incredible how every man knew what to do, each and every one of them all very important cogs and gears in a large machine.
It also gets you thinking about the little things, like what did they do with wet clothes? did they have other spare clothes or were they often wet? Did they really manage to rebuild parts of their damaged ship as we see in the film? At the start the Surprise is hit hard and badly damaged, yet the men toil like worker ants and get it all shipshape again, is that accurate? I did also wonder about the whaling ships too, like why were the French so obsessed with sinking British whaling ships? I'm guessing because they were carrying precious blubber which would later be transformed into oil? Did these ships really have many young, high ranking boys on them? You see a good historical film makes you want to know more.



Director Weir definitely captures the essence of a long period at sea, the loneliness, desperation, boredom etc...But this is alleviated by the addition of subplots which allow us to get to know the various crew members better. This being another of the films plus points, the fact that all the characters are well fleshed out, we see small story arcs , we care about them, from the bottom of the barrel, to the officers. On one hand we have the situation where one of the young officers is having real problems instilling discipline amongst the men, he is weak willed and at times shy, the men do not respond to him and refer to him as a 'Jonah'. Then we have a situation where the good doctor is accidentally shot by the Marine officer (who was trying to shoot an Albatross), and must undergo surgery, performed by his own hand with the help of his friend Aubrey. We also see the doctor performing major surgery on an elderly sailor whom we follow throughout, and we see the conflict between Aubrey and Maturin as one wants to defeat the French, and the other wants to push science. 'I command a King's ship, not a private yacht, we do not have time for your damned hobbies, Sir!'. Finally there is the young officer Blakeney who comes under the tutelage of Maturin and Aubrey but for very different things. The young boy shares a passion for biology which Maturin is happy to encourage, where as Aubrey is slowly instilling a sense of authority and honour into the boy, so he can himself, one day, captain a ship. Both main leads show their true character with this development whilst at the same time showing how they play off each other and the crew.

It may sound a tad boring to just follow this band of men around the seas on-board an old galleon, especially as the movie does have that strong vibe of passing time, but this passage is so thoroughly engaging I fail to see how anyone could not get caught up in the adventure. Especially seeing as the producers even went as far as to change the setting from the 1813 Anglo-American war to the 1805 Napoleonic wars so as not to offend any American audiences (ugh!). Nevertheless this film has pretty much everything you could want, its virtually perfect in every field from visuals to acting to score. A rousing high seas adventure with tense, realistic, heart-pounding action. Grand in scope, and deep on human character.

10/10

Monday, 7 March 2016

Slipstream (UK, 1989)




















Cool title, great poster, but what does it all mean? Well in this dystopian future there has been some sort of global environmental disaster that has somehow made all the Earth's jet streams (or one?) gravitate down to the surface. Basically, although unexplained, the Earth's weather systems have been well and truly fucked up, thusly the surface of the planet is now racked with tremendously fast winds destroying everything, leaving small pockets of human life surviving in extreme ways. Apparently travelling on the ground with vehicles is a no no because of the atmospheric conditions (eh?), so many travel in the skies with small aircraft (such as the Edgley Optica) and ride the slipstream. Basically navigating the intense high velocity winds, which seems more dangerous to me but whatever. There is also an added element of mystical fantasy within the story as the remaining humans speak of a land beyond the slipstream where no man can survive, down to the atmospheric conditions...apparently.

So quite simply, civilisation has been destroyed leaving few behind. Those left alive live in caves, underground or in valleys to presumably escape the high winds and apparent nasty atmospheric conditions. While some people have regressed back to a primitive state (for some reason), others still live as if nothing happened, with technology. Due to these atmospheric conditions on the surface, some skilled people have adopted a life in the air with small aircraft which has also led to some groups living high up on or about cliffs, above the slipstream. Yes I know what you're thinking, this is indeed Mad Max in the air, just as 'Waterworld' was Mad Max on water...only this has some major pesky atmospheric conditions apparently.

K...so this plot has some major, major questions marks hanging over it. For starters what actually happened to the Earth to cause such horrific weather conditions? All the slipstreams have been completely displaced, or is it just one? not sure, but somehow they are now flowing across the Earth's surface and this has destroyed everything? But would it? would it really? sure it would cause massive damage and make life very hard, but end all humanity? hmmm. Yet this has reduced many people to living in caves like prehistoric man, whilst at the other end of the spectrum others still live in luxury and within actual buildings...how does that work out? Then there is the vehicle issue, how exactly is flying safer than using ground transport? Sure you can fly above the winds but surely taking off and landing would be bloody risky. Wouldn't using cars still be effective? oh and is fuel still an issue here? I'm guessing not because the characters never have any issues. And while I'm on the subject, where exactly did these grunts get these aircraft??!! and how come they keep popping up at really convenient moments out of the blue.

The movie starts off on a poor note, literately with the atrocious score, good lord what is going on with that?? Its a full orchestral piece which is fine, but it sounds like something from a cheesy early 80's sword and sandals/barbarian type flick, it instantly felt completely out of place with the imagery. What's even more bizarre is the vast difference in music during the movie, it literately swings from one end of the spectrum to the other. You get many moments of orchestral pieces trying to convey a serious, grand, epic science fiction vibe, then shit outta the blue you get 80's pop group Then Jericho and Big Area! All of sudden it goes from trying to be an intelligent movie, to your typical goofy action-esque popcorn flick for teenagers. Lots of sweeping shots of this tiny light-aircraft as it dips and bobs through this canyon, the pilot (Bill Paxton) trying to be all ice cool as he laughs off his air acrobatics calmly...kinda. There's also a couple of songs from artists in the 60's which I've never heard of but I can see why they were used at certain points, but overall its still a weird collection.

Much like the rest of the film the cast is also off kilter and just plain odd choices, much miscasting methinks. Firstly the main star is obviously Mark Hamill as Will Tasker the lawman or bounty hunter of sorts. Now Hamill was obviously hot off Star Wars success even though he hadn't done shit since RotJ. The opportunity for using Luke Skywalker was too great to turn down, but the producer Gary Kurtz probably had a little bit to do with that, being the producer on the first two Star Wars movies. Now I agree utilising Hamill was a good choice, at least looks wise, he looks uber cool as the rogue lawman Tasker with his bleached blonde, slick backed hair and blonde beard, he even had that cool name...Tasker. His outfit was really decent, it had a WWI flying ace vibe about it with the long dark brown trenchcoat, scarf, dark cargo pants, a cream fisherman's jumper thingy, black boots and some kind of utility belt with cool things attached. Actually he looked a bit like Rik Mayall in 'Blackadder Goes Forth'. Unfortunately his character is a bit pants frankly, he does nothing of note despite looking cool. But he's not alone, the other main lead Owens, the hero, played by Bill Paxton is a shockingly bad piece of miscasting, mainly because Paxton just doesn't fit the role. Hot off the success of 'Aliens' and 'Near Dark' and with clear cameos in 'Commando' and 'The Terminator', Paxton had cemented himself as a badass character actor of action and sci-fi, yet here he plays this goofball with a terrible mane of scruffy hair. The real problem is Paxton just acts badly, real badly, you'd think he was an amateur, how the hell did he get his part in 'Aliens' is what you'd be asking yourself.

The other main cast members don't really add anything to the action...action? Tasker's partner played by Kitty Aldridge is merely the female foil to the manly Tasker. She flirts with men, usually their prey so they can be taken down easier, naturally she falls for the hero in the end, its all very predictable. The other strange casting and subplot is Bob Peck as the android Byron who has superhuman powers such as strength and general invincibility. Now this guy sure does look like an android I'll admit that, he even wears a smart suit just like any android butler would because of course. But again the acting is pretty dire, bordering on amateurish again, I just wasn't sold by...any of these people! it just felt like a cheesy science fiction TV show. I like how the director appears to try and copy or homage 'North by Northwest' at the start of the movie with a long shot of Byron running away from Tasker's Optica plane as it comes up behind him from a distance. Well that's the impression I got anyway.

Basically Tasker and his token female sidekick were after Byron the android because he killed his owner, can't remember why, not even sure if that was disclosed, meh. But at a stereotypical manly bar for pilots (Ricco Ross cameo), Paxton's character kidnaps him in order to avoid getting arrested for selling contraband. Thus kicks off the whole chase element of the movie with the bounty hunters after Owens and the android, and Owens wanting the reward for the android, but of course he ends up befriending him on the adventure. The only problem is I'm genuinely still not sure what the adventure actually was, what it was about, where they were headed or what they were actually trying to do. I kid you not, there doesn't actually seem to be any sort of plot goal here, other than avoid the bounty hunters. The whole thing ends when they reach some fancy pants museum were people live very comfortably having big parties and sex...or something. Where do they get all their fancy clothes, food, drink, heat etc...? All I know is that they must have been important and clever people because Ben Kingsley and F. Murray Abraham had small roles in those scenes.

Seriously I've not come across a film so jumbled and weird for some time, I still don't know what was supposed to have happened! The main duo spend their time simply travelling from one bunch of spiritual, wind worshipping weirdos to the next. Some are friendly, some are a bit aggressive, but most are poor and apparently mainly minorities (white folk are apparently better off in this world...ooOoo, racism). Most of this takes place in cave dwellings or cliffs tops or near caves and cliff tops...ugh! At one point some natives tie Byron to a huge kite and fly him in the night sky because...I really don't know, I had given up by then. This is all interspersed with some bits of flying, bits of the bounty hunters, a Robbie Coltrane cameo, and then they all end up in this swanky museum, the end. Oh and Tasker has a deadly finale face-off with Byron...kinda. Most of the effects are poor bluescreen shots, no action!! the locations are generally drab, the weather is generally poor making it even more depressing and boring, the plot makes no sense, acting is terrible, way too much emphasis on the small aircraft for some reason, yet they aren't thrilling, and freaky religious hokum just to make things that little bit extra worse. Sure I can see how this might have become a cult over the years, I can admit that. Its definitely got that unique, one-off thing going on, its pure crap but...yeah sure, whatever.

2/10

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Attack of the Puppet People (1958)




















Another movie based on tiny miniaturised people, familiar huh, well that's not surprising seeing as this movie was rushed into production riding on the coattails of similar themed movie 'The Incredible Shrinking Man'. Although to be fair, this movie is vastly different in terms of plot to the Jack Arnold feature. Once again the movies poster is completely misleading, much like the movies title. For starters there is no attacking by the shrunken people, and they aren't really puppet people either, they are specifically referred to as dolls throughout. Although there is one scene towards the end where they are forced to take part in a puppet show, but that still doesn't justify the title. As for the poster, well again what you see never happens, they don't fight a large animal like that, they don't utilise any large weapons. Again towards the end two of the tiny people have to fend off a dog, buts that's all.

The plot is quite unusual really, its not really a horror or a sci-fi, its almost more of a fable or fairytale of sorts. The plot follows a lonely old man by the name of Mr. Franz (John Hoyt). Franz is a doll maker, he creates children's doll entirely by himself, he also repairs them and often ventures into the realms of puppets too. He is well known within his field, held in high regard, his dolls are famous for their detail, their overall craftsmanship. The strange thing is, certain people who have worked for him, or have known him, have a tendency to vanish without a trace. The other strange thing is, Franz has a special collection of dolls, in glass containers, that all have eerie similarities to these very people. Franz claims that he models his dolls after people he has known, but his latest secretary Sally (June Kenney) grows highly suspicious after her fiance disappears and a doll turns up looking just like him. As Sally delves deeper, involving the police, Franz takes steps to ensure her silence, and before she knows what's hit her, Sally joins the special collection of dolls. It is then we discover that Franz doesn't want to hurt his special dolls, he merely wants them to be with him forever, his special friends, he wants to look after them and promises them a life of no worries or stress. Despite initial troubles trying to get the other tiny people on their side, Sally and her fiance Bob (John Agar) eventually manage to organise an escape plan.

Now for the most part this film is (as already touched upon) slightly misleading. Film title and poster aside, you could be forgiven for thinking most of this movie revolves around the adventures of shrunken people trying to get back to normal proportions, but you'd be wrong. Most of the movie revolves around Franz trying to keep his secret under wraps from the world whilst he carries on his daily routine of doll manufacturing and maintenance. The whole crux of this movie is Franz and his loneliness, he is a sad elderly character whose wife left him many many years prior which seems to have affected his mental state badly. So badly in fact that he invented a machine purely to shrink people down to doll-size so he can keep them as pets. Strangely enough he is not a bad person though, he's not a cackling, evil villain, hell bend on world domination, no. Neither is he a psychological maniac looking to torture and harm people. This old man merely wants companionship as he grows old, people to talk to and have parties with, nothing wrong with that. Obviously the horror aspect comes in when he captures people and shrinks them with his hand made machine...ironically a machine which would surely bring him much fame, fortune and attention if he shared it with the world.

But again this isn't really a horror, or sci-fi, it has more of a fairytale vibe to it, mainly because Franz looks after the people he shrinks. He doesn't use them for hard labour, or slavery or anything like that, he treats them well, makes them special clothes, food, has parties for them etc...In return the people he has shrunk have actually become slightly brainwashed over time and come to enjoy their small lifestyles, the lack of work related stress, the daily grind of reality. In the end you actually feel sorry for Franz when his little people escape and regain control of the machine, returning back to their regular sizes. He isn't worried about being caught by the police anymore, he's more scared of being left alone, with no companionship, its sad and shows us maybe he is just misunderstood (yet clearly needing help).

So yes there isn't too much tiny action going on until at least the halfway point. Once the main two protagonists are shrunk down things do get a but more interesting, but not overly so. Again this isn't an action sci-fi, we don't get any fighting or giant spiders. What you get is the small team of shrunken people chatting about their tiny lifestyle, how they kinda like it, discussing the pros and cons and eventually discussing escape. Once the escape plan is put into action then we do get some typically predictable miniature sized action of sorts, by that I mean them trying to switch on the machine to enlarge themselves again. These sequences are visually the most striking as they utilise giant sized props (doorknobs, telephones, scissors etc...) to create the shrunken illusion, admittedly nothing amazing if you've seen other similar films of this genre, but nonetheless very effective and they still hold up today. Later on when the tiny people try to escape for the second time we don't get these nice practical effects, its all rear screen projection against live action footage which always looks hokey.

The movie is a fun ride there's no doubting that, its more of a talkie adventure for sure but luckily the amazing performance by John Hoyt as the creepy yet endearing Franz keeps you solidly engaged. Honesty I can't stress enough how perfect Hoyt is here, the man is a legend of B-movie fluff and making that fluff actually semi decent. Whilst this movie is a solid offering its still naturally very cheesy and full of problems. I mean lets be honest here, surely most people would be able to tell a real human being from a doll?? Sure the human might be doll-sized but surely it would be noticeably very human. I do like the fact that the special dolls in their glass containers are clearly just small cardboard photo cut outs. Then you have the quite glaringly obvious plot hole of...why don't the shrunken folk ever run away? I understand they are tiny and thusly at a great risk from many things, and I understand that Franz takes good care of them. But at first they say they were angry with Franz for shrinking them, which is natural, so surely anyone would have simply run off, very easy to disappear at that size. Its very very weird that they all accept their fate as dolls which get put into suspended animation for weeks, possibly months at a time. Oh yes, Franz has also managed to invent hyper sleep basically, this guy is fecking genius and should be working for NASA earning top dollar! Why the hell is he acting like such a loser feeling sorry for himself??

There are plenty of other funny little bits that I noticed also, such as Franz merely throwing in the bin evidence of the fact he knows where certain missing peoples are. I mean come on! no wonder Sally finds it sheesh! I also liked the badly mimed sing song moment towards the end when Franz's pets enact a play with him in his puppet theatre. The fact that when Sally and Bob escape they don't go to the police, they also could have easily enlarged themselves way back in the middle of the film when they first attempt to escape...loads of time, and why Franz thinks he must kill all his living dolls when the police get a bit too close for comfort, just enlarge them again dude. I also liked Bert I. Gordon's blatant nod to his other movie 'The Amazing Colossal Man' during this film, which, I might add, is the second bloody time he's done that! He also stuck a nod to 'The Amazing Colossal Man' in 'Earth vs. the Spider' whilst adding a nod to this movie too! both in 'Earth vs. the Spider', talk about self promotion! But I guess the biggest mystery of this movie is the fact that we don't find out what happens to the other shrunken people. Both Sally and Bob escape and manage to enlarge themselves again, but the other four people just vanish. I guess we are meant to think they eventually get found and enlarged, but who knows, maybe a rat ate them all.

So what can I say about this movie in the end? It doesn't compare to the superior 'The Incredible Shrinking Man', yet it offers a fresh plot which is good. The effects are very similar of course but not as spectacular as said shrinking movie. Hoyt steals the show where as everyone else is passable, where as the plot is really all about a lonely old man who can only relate to people when they are doll-sized, so he can manipulate them and the situation to his liking. Not so much about adventures of tiny shrunken people. Yes its basically very fairytale-esque, an old toy maker with magical powers who thinks he's not harming anyone by trying to bring a little happiness into his glum life. He's like a selfish old wizard or witch that doesn't realise they are being selfish and kinda evil. I guess the moral of the tale could be, always be yourself, don't try to force people into friendships, and errr...don't shrink them down to the size of a doll and keep them as pets either.

7/10


Thursday, 3 March 2016

The Monolith Monsters (1957)


























Probably the stupidest thing I've seen in terms of what humans can fight against, yet at the same time probably the greatest thing I've seen...in terms of what humans can fight against. To be perfectly frank, it really does seem like the writers had run out of ideas back in the late 50's, most every other flick was about either monsters, mutants, giant bugs or supernatural ghoulies, so what could they do? Well how about a horror movie about killer rocks? has anyone done that before? no? alright killer rocks it is. How can we make these things scary and threatening? rocks don't move do they...right? wait let me check...yeah they don't move at all. Hmmm...we'll just make them grow really big somehow, then they can crush people...oh and turn them into stone somehow. Wow this thing writes itself!

So a meteorite touches down in the middle of nowhere, California, like every other time this type of thing happens, deserts are real handy. Some broken bits of rock eventually get taken back into town to be looked at but before anyone can do so, something happens with the rock and one person ends up getting petrified. At first no one has any clue what happened, so the meteorite fragments end up getting passed around by various people, and naturally various people end up getting petrified. After lots of pondering and mystery building the residents finally realise its water that is effecting these space rocks, making them grow into massive monoliths (although I'm still not entirely sure why people got petrified). Once these rocks reach a certain height they break and tumble down destroying whatever lies beneath them, then the process starts all over again. Yep that's it, that's the threat here, sounds pretty daft really doesn't it, but this moving wall of rocks is heading towards town, so the clock is ticking on how to stop them.



The movies formula is very generic here, you've seen it a hundred times before...in every other sci-fi B-movie basically. The creature/alien/monster/object, lands or crashes on Earth, almost always in the desert near some small, American as apple pie, town. Someone usually discovers said creature or object and gets killed in a horrible way only to be discovered by some other folk later on, often a young couple. The couple would then normally take the object, or bit of creature left behind, into town to be examined by the local experts. The small town will usually have one or two experts on a subject that conveniently fits with the evidence, such as space rocks and a geologist in this case. Then we begin the mystery game and watching the protagonists as they travel around gathering information, at the same time there are usually more attacks or deaths that add to the mystery whilst giving the heroes more clues. Eventually you then get the big reveal and understanding of the creature or object, how it works, where it came from, and how it can be stopped or defeated. You then normally get a finale face-off against said creature or object where you get a full view of the horrific clash and antagonist, whatever it may be.



Now I wouldn't blame anyone for thinking the effects in this movie would be horrendous, well prepare for a shock. Yes the effects are actually well crafted believe it or not, although lets be honest here, I'm sure it wasn't a stretch, all they needed was rocks, models of rocks. But later on in the movie when we see the rocks growing into huge towering monoliths, its not too bad, they look like real rocks (actually more like giant quartz crystals), and they look alien-esque being all jagged and black (I'm guessing). All they do is literately grow out of the grow like plants, then eventually they crack under their own weight and come down like trees, so I'd imagine it wasn't a hard thing to pull off with models, but they look fine as does the surrounding model work on the landscapes. Naturally the model work is rear projected against live action footage and water effects tend to give the game away but that's all normal for movies of this era. I guess the most impressive and problematic effect was showing the reaction the rocks had to water, they basically bubble and fizz. Admittedly it looked like a simple chemical reaction you might see in any chemistry class, and I'm sure they probably put some form of chemical on the rock to make it bubble and fizz, but end of the day, it was a nice effect and did the job so kudos.

As I already said the whole petrifying of people plot point didn't sit well with me, it felt like they stuck that in just to ramp up the horror aspect, rocks not being scary enough. Apparently when the space rocks come into contact with people they somehow cause a reaction within the victim causing their body to turn solid, rock hard, almost like a reactionary insect sting. But this only seems to happen if the rock is wet? I think, because at any other time when people are handling the rocks nothing happens to them. The reaction somehow drains the victims body of all its silicon causing the rock-like state, but does that silicon go into the space rock? do these rocks need silicone to 'survive'? are these rocks actually sentient? Not really a problem for the humans though because the local doc whips up a silicon remedy/formula to replenish what gets drained, humans win! They try this formula on the space rocks but it doesn't work, not sure why though, seeing as it stops the petrifying of human bodies. Luckily, and just in time, they discover it was actually the saline solution (salt water) in the formula that can actually stop the rocks multiplying, not sure why though.

So yeah there isn't  great deal to say here to be honest with you. The whole premise is fabulous in terms of uniqueness and originality for the alien menace, but everything else is completely by the numbers and generic (acting, score, plot development etc...). I mean honesty...killer rocks? or should that be, giant black silicone draining quartz crystals from space. The whole preposterousness of this entire angle simply made me wanna see this movie, the excellent poster and its vibrant colour scheme, the catchy title, the killer rocks, finding out how exactly killer rocks would actually kill people, and how the heroes would manage to stop these inanimate objects. Yep killer rocks was most definitely the clincher for me here, hook, line and sinker, anything else would just be dull.

7/10