Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Three Amigos (1986)

























By simply reading this premise on paper it could well come across as utterly ludicrous, just a totally off the wall mess. Three of the 80's best and wackiest (white) comedians as gunslinging, Mexican/Hispanic inspired cowboys that do battle against Mexican bandits. I mean...my God! Can you imagine the outrage if this was released today! Holy spitballs!

The plot: This idea has been around for a long long time. Its been used a good many times and still pops up from time to time. The Three Amigos are famous movie stars of the silent, non talkie pictures era (1916). They generally make heroic pictures that involve stopping dastardly, moustache twirling bandits that threaten small villages. Meanwhile in Mexico a real village is being controlled and extorted by a local gang led by the infamous El Guapo. One of the villagers sees a movie of the Amigos and believes they are real, so she sends a telegram calling for their help. The Amigos, thinking the whole thing is just another gig for them, decide to take the job and head down south. Eventually, after a warm reception from the locals, its time for the Three Amigos to face El Guapo and his men. Could this end up being the Amigos greatest performance? Or their last?

I gotta be honest here but for a generally average to small sized movie (I think), just a silly spoofy comedy, this movie looks fantastic! The opening sequence showcasing a small black and white reel of an Amigo movie, really does look terrific. They really capture that early 1900's vibe with the heavy makeup on the actors, the film being slightly sped up, the snappy random editing, and of course the dialog intertitles with the fancy decoration. This short little intro for the main protagonists sets up the entire movie, and the characters, perfectly. We then move onto the studio back lot (somewhere in Hollywood) and again it all looks really authentic with those very old wagon-esque automobiles dotted around, the sandy dusty ground, the large billboards, the costumes etc...



Overall the movie is highly effective in conveying the various locations from early Hollywood, the deserts of Mexico, and El Guapo's Mexican fortress. Well, for me at least, being a Brit. Maybe for an American who knows California it might all look a bit familiar, seeing as scenes in Mexico weren't actually filmed in Mexico, but in California.

But its of no surprise that this movie is all about the cast, the main trio. And what can I say? Its damn near perfect comedy casting, three of the greatest comedians in movie history, Chase, Martin and Short (Short the lesser of the three). But the funny thing is, back in the 80's we were spoilt for choice with these now classic comedians. Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, John Belushi, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Gene Wilder, Eddie Murphy etc...Just think about it for a minute, you could of easily teamed up any one of these legends and this premise would have still worked flawlessly. The era was perfect, the talent was perfect, the story was perfect, the writing was perfect, and overall it was perfectly directed by John Landis. Pure unadulterated lightning in a bottle.

'We have a plan. First we break into El Guapo's fortress...'

'...and then??'

'Well, we really didn't expect the first part to work so we have no further plan'

Quick shout out to the added bonus of Joe Mantegna as the studio boss Harry Flugleman. With Phil Hartman and Jon Lovitz as his personal lackeys. Again amazing casting, even in the small cameo roles. Its actually such a shame we don't see more of these characters because they looked great; you can see the potential for more great scenes from these guys.

Naturally the cast indicates the type of humour to expect (folks over a certain age will know), and that would be pure lunacy epically delivered. In general the comedy includes slapstick, clever camera trickery, stunts, wordplay and simple spoofing of the genre. Each cast member clearly had their own schtick based around their own individual style which they incorporated into their character. Lucky Day (Steve Martin) is the more intelligent, well-rounded leader of the Amigos. He's somewhat brave and does all the talking/negotiating. Dusty Bottoms (Chevy Chase) is probably the least intelligent Amigo, a bit simple perhaps, easily led astray. He's a bit of a ladies man, a bit flashy and brash, but also a bit of a sycophant and creep. He's also the most cowardly. Ned Nederlander (Martin Short) is probably the bravest of the trio and the dark horse; he often manages to surprise his compadres with hidden talents.



There are so many small nuggets of comedy gold throughout this movie its impossible to do it justice right here. But take it from me, aside from the more outrageously obvious laughs, there are plenty of tiny facial expressions, poses, quips, and winks that will make you grin from ear to ear. The moment the trio are breaking into El Guapo's fortress by scaling the walls. They reach the other side just as two guards walk by. The trio literally freeze where they stand despite being in full view; the guards just walk by without noticing a thing. The way the trio act towards El Guapo thinking its all an act, then start to cry when they realise its real. Then at one point a plane flies overhead, Dusty asks 'what's it doing here?'. Ned replies 'I think its a mail plane', Dusty replies 'How can you tell??'. Ned responds 'well didn't you notice its little balls?'.

Aside from the outlandish comedy on display the movie isn't perfect, you still find yourself asking questions. Like why is there an invisible swordsman? What's his story?? Where exactly did the trio get the instructions that led them to the singing bush and the invisible swordsman? Why is there a singing bush? The singing bush is terribly fake looking, doesn't even match the scenery. Why do the Mexican bandits constantly fire their guns in the air?? Doesn't that waste bullets?? Lucky got shot...what happened to that??! Where did they get all the correct material from to make so many Amigo outfits in the finale? What exactly does El Guapo get out of this tiny village?? Him and his men never seem to do anything. Lucky gets shot in the foot...what happened to that?? On the very (presumably deliberate) obvious desert night time set, why does the tortoise speak? In the end, after saving the village, the Amigos refuse the monetary reward and ride off into the sunset. But where to? they have no money, just like at the start of their adventure, so what exactly are they gonna do?

Of course many of these questions just don't matter because the movie isn't supposed to be looked at in such depth, its just a very light-hearted spoof-esque comedy. The overall balance between the characters is absolutely perfect. Each cast member gets their time to shine with gags they may well have thought up themselves, but often feature all three. The villains and village folk appear to be actually played by real Mexican actors, or at least look like or come from Hispanic countries. Something which is actually quite surprising (the SJW's would approve I'm sure, maybe). The movie is very bright, breezy and colourful with moments for both youngsters and adults alike, but its the cheeky wit that is so alluring. The real mystery is how this movie continually seems to be overlooked and forgotten.

9/10

Sunday, 15 October 2017

The Longest Yard (2005)
















So as you can tell from the title this is a modern (for the time) remake of the Burt Reynolds vehicle of the same name. And when I say its a remake I mean its literally a scene for scene remake, but now a vehicle for Adam Sandler. The plot is identical to the original movie which sees Paul Crewe (Sandler) going to jail after assaulting his rich girlfriend and then going off on a joyride in her expensive car.

Upon arrival in the big house Crewe is pressured/blackmailed into coaching the jail football team by the warden; but eventually ends up organising a training game between the convicts and guards. Crewe must battle his inner demons, pride and dignity versus cowing down to the warden for a safe but cowardly existence. Of course not much of that is translated across into this because its an Adam Sandler movie. Cue lots of immature toilet humour and sexual innuendos.

The first thing that really doesn't work in this movie is the plot opener. We find Crewe with his rich girlfriend, living in her luxurious pad. Said girlfriend is an uncredited cameo by Courtney Cox who looks unbelievable gorgeous I kid you not. She basically explains to Crewe that she owns him, he is her toy, as long as he obeys...his life will be very comfortable. Who in their right mind would say no to this??!! And before you think about it, you all need to see Cox and the outfit she's in. No bloke would walk away from this scenario, I'd be on my knees begging to be leashed and collared! So straight away I'm thinking this character is an idiot for throwing this away (the hot girl and her assets).

The next problem I had with this is Sandler and the fact he's just not believable as an ex-pro footballer. Admittedly Reynolds wasn't overly convincing to look at either but at least he looked relatively fit. But that's just a minor issue really, the real issue (as mentioned above) is the fact that this movie loses all the heart, soul and grit of the original. The 1974 movie was three things: an acceptable comedy, a hard and surprisingly dark prison drama, and a reasonably gritty sports flick. This new movie is a cheap slapstick riddled spoof, chock full of profanity and cameos mugging for the camera. The prison setting is merely an excuse for lots of cliched predictable prison related sight gags and nothing more. There is no real tension or drama, that aspect has been totally jettisoned. And despite the sports side of things being much glossier and slickly shot, it doesn't hold a candle to the original movie.



Its actually incredible to see the difference between the two movies when it comes down to the football side of things. In the original movie the game was very down to earth, nothing fancy. A brutal game of football in a very basic looking arena with no frills, it was believable. In this remake the game looks like something from the flippin' NFL! The arena is huge with all the modern perks, the pitch is perfect, massive crowds, sexy cheerleaders, all very glamorous. Clearly this prison has some money apparently. I admit I don't know much about American football being British, I do know American universities and colleges do have amazing sports facilities that far outstrip anything similar in the UK. But would a US prison have such sports facilities?

As for the cast, well naturally you have double the big name cameos of the original, both sports and entertainment wise. Sports wise there are quite a few big football names in here, never heard of them myself so I'll just leave it there. Entertainment wise there are some cool additions such as one time action man (and footballer) Brian Bosworth. David Patrick Kelly is perfect as the weaselly snitch Unger, but criminally underused. Quentin Tarantino collaborator Eddie Bunker just about manages his role (he looked pretty old). And Crewe's right-hand man 'Caretaker' is played by Chris Rock; who spends most of his screen time making jokes about white boys because apparently that's all he can do.

Cloris Leachman, Steve Austin, Terry Crews, William Fichtner, Dalip Singh (dude his HUGE), Rob Schneider makes his usual pointless Sandler movie cameo, and James Cromwell adds gravitas as warden Hazen. Lastly Reynolds plays Nate Scarborough in a cringeworthy performance that isn't helped by the fact his ancient character steps in to play as a replacement and manages to score a touchdown. Because of course he does. I can't single out any one cast member though seeing as they were all pretty terrible. Twas like watching amateur dramatics half the time.

All in all this entire venture just seemed pointless. A chance for Sandler to mess around with his mates and call it work, and Reynolds needing work. What makes it so painful is the fact they've totally missed the point of the original movie by cutting the actual drama. Yeah there is some funny visual stuff sure, but you balance that with gritty tension of the prison setting. The only part they kinda got right was the death of Caretaker, but cutting back into infantile humour so quickly just destroys any emotional impact. Maybe if they hadn't aimed this at the moronic teenage MTV crowd (obligatory rap soundtrack...ugh!) it could of been half decent. But even then what's the point when the original captured it all so perfectly. And that's where I'm gonna end this, stick to the original.

4.5/10

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

The Longest Yard (1974)





















This is one of the originals people, a movie that influenced a whole host of other sports movies and has seen a fair few remakes to boot. This movie really had everything, a (now) stereotypical sophomoric sports yarn and a grim and brutal prison drama. Add to that the rapidly rising Hollywood star Burt Reynolds who actually shaves off his famous moustache.

We all know the story here I'm sure, but just in case. Paul 'Wrecking' Crewe (Reynolds) is an ex-football star living with a wealthy woman who uses the him for sex (he's a gigolo). One day they have a bit of a tiff and Paul storms off. He nicks her fast car and goes on a drink influenced joyride. Once the police catch up with him he insults them and gets into a scuffle which results in him being arrested. This whole ordeal winds Paul up in the clink for 18 months. Once in jail Paul soon realises that all the cons dislike him because he had it all and blew it (referring to his wealth and the fact he was dismissed from the National Football League for pints shaving). At the same time Paul is forced into agreeing to coach the prison warden's semi-pro football team. But first Warden Hazen (Eddie Albert) suggests that Paul create a team of convicts to give his prison guard team a warm up game. Without knowing it, this becomes Paul's lifeline and the warden's eventual downfall.

There is most definitely a dated quality to this movie (key word being dated), but at the same time its an uneven movie. There are so many elements here you never really know what to think or how to feel. Take the start of the movie where we see Crewe in bed with his wealthy bird. She wants sex, hot steamy sex and she wants it yesterday. Alas Crewe isn't in the mood for hot steamy sex (the bloody fool) and he gets frustrated with her advances. This leads to the pair having a fight which is actually quite rough; at one point Crewe grabs the woman's face and throws her to the ground. I was like, Jesus dude!



After that Crewe takes off in her car, a rather shitty looking Citroën SM (apparently high performance). The police take chase and now we have a typical Burt Reynolds car chase sequence choreographed by none other than Hal Needham. So essentially what you have is a fast, slick sequence with plenty of neat stunts that wouldn't look outta place in all of the other Reynolds/Needham collaborations. Its by no means the best car chase in the world (especially with that Citroën) but it does the job. We then have a short scene where Reynolds does his Bandit thing in insulting some cops, followed by a dust up. So from a very awkward and nasty fight with a female to a light-hearted car chase and comedy routine; from one extreme to the other.

The extremes continue once our protagonist reaches his final destination within a Florida prison. Being a 70's movie and shot within the grounds of a real prison, things come across as pretty bleak for the most part. On the visual side of things it looks like a blaxploitation movie inside the joint. All the cons are self-segregated into gangs, the white guys not looking very intimidating with regular physiques (apart from the odd one or two). Whilst the black guys range from very intimidating with large physiques to super-fly looking with large sideburns and fro's. There's a lot of tension between the inmate gangs and guards at all times, you're never sure when a scene will break out into a full blown riot. This atmosphere is handled very well by director Robert Aldrich. He manages to balance the sadistic killing of one inmate, along with outright torture and racism; with silly moments of raucous comedy (bordering on slapstick).

The guards are of course a mean racist bunch that don't hesitate to use the 'n' word against the African American cons. Whilst on the other hand they are perfectly happy screwing over the white cons. Naturally the obvious difference between the white and black cons are overcome when the guards go too far verbally abusing one lone black inmate. Its all a bit predictable and cliched but it needed to be there. This is just the first of a number of scenes where the cons come together as one.

But amongst all this hard-hitting racial tension, grisly murder and conflict against the brutal guards, comedy shines through. As Crewe recruits inmates for his team we meet all the various stereotypical characters in the jail. You've got the hulking Richard Kiel as the aptly named Samson (who acts like a child). James Hampton as Caretaker, the brains behind everything Crewe wants to do. Pop (John Steadman) is the really old inmate who's been in jail almost all his life. Robert Tessier plays the one solitary inmate everyone is terrified of. A prisoner called 'The Indian', no guesses for what his hook is. Harry Caesar as Granville, the strong sensible black inmate leader who is the first to join with Crewe. Michael Conrad as Nate Scarboro, one of the older sensible inmates. And Charles Tyner as the highly effective and deeply creepy Unger, the sniveling and dangerous snitch. Plus various other stereotypical inmate and guard characters.

Naturally the inmates are all terrible at first but after a good training montage and various humorous scenes they get better. Before you know it, its game day and the big finale. Being British I can't really comment on how accurate this part of the movie is as I have no knowledge of American football. But its clearly very well done, very effective and pretty realistic looking if you ask me. Again I don't know for sure but the use of split screen by Aldrich might be a first (?). It looks a bit hokey now but it sure does keep the action flowing. And of course you can't not have slow motion in a sports flick for those last minute deus ex machina moments of glory.

Much like the rest of the movie everything you see in the game is now rather cliched and predictable (I use these words too much). Its not bad but you know what's gonna happen here, lots of inmates stomping the feck outta the guards for cheap gags. The guards getting off to a winning start, the cons losing faith...then coming back. The warden blackmailing Crewe to lose, Crewe then fighting his inner demons as he fakes an injury. The cons looking like they're about to lose, but then Crewe comes back in and saves the day. Hurray!!

What's just so surprising is the fact that despite all the silly hijinks, all the moments of juvenile lunacy, Aldrich still manages to cram in amazing levels of gritty drama. The final sequence where hardened guard Captain Knauer (Ed Lauter) is put under immense pressure to shoot Crewe because Hazen thinks he's trying to escape (and he's pissed at the fact Crewe ignored him and won the game), is a fantastic last moment of high tension. The reason being you could quite easily see it going either way as the movie isn't all smiles and rainbows.

Overall this still can't hide the fact this movie is a very mixed bag with parts that are well done but ultimately kinda mismatched. It really does feel like there are two movies here, a stupid sports comedy that borders on a spoof, and a gritty emotional prison drama. Don't get me wrong I think Aldrich does well and makes the two ideas work, but it never feels quite right. Bottom line its essentially a (good) Reynolds vehicle that pretty much summed up his career. Both the steely eyed, serious tough guy; and the goofball mugging for the camera.

7/10

Sunday, 1 October 2017

White Lightning (1973)


























Willie Mayes Hayes is Black Hammer! Jesse 'The Body' Ventura is White Lightning! Together they're taking on the mob...oh shit wrong film! Wait, its not even an actual film.

Back in his early days of acting good old boy Burt Reynolds was definitely more of a serious actor. Yes much of his work was still based around comedies but they still had drama included. 'White Lightning' was one of Reynolds last movies to showcase him as a more serious character actor before he started to slip into more frivolous roles which seemed like spoofs more than anything. Essentially this was a Burt Reynolds movie where we didn't see him mugging for the camera or messing around with his other A-list star buddies.

I'm honesty not really sure how Reynolds became this icon of the south (being born in Michigan), but yet again his character here is a typical good ol' boy criminal type serving time for running moonshine. His name is Bobby 'Gator' McKlusky...because that's a really cool southern sounding name obviously. Whilst serving time (for runnin' moonshine) Gator's brother is murdered by a corrupt local sheriff. Knowing that this sheriff is taking money from other illegal moonshiners, Gator agrees to go undercover for the Department of Justice to bring him in. Of course Gator isn't interested in bringing the sheriff in, he wants revenge. Anywho that's it, that's the plot, you can guess how it unfolds I'm sure.



Being a movie genuinely filmed in the south during the early 70's everything does look generally grim. Many of the cars we see are rust buckets, the local towns look a bit squalid in places, the locals look quite poor, building interiors are plain and basic, and the prison looks like something outta 'Papillon' (I exaggerate somewhat of course). But next to that you also have the more upbeat side to the south we recall from the movies, such as pool halls, bars, muscle cars, big rigs, stetsons and young easy women in cut-off jeans.

In an Arkansas prison is where we find Gator as he is informed his brother has been killed. Right there and then Gator decides to escape...and does just that! No seriously, he literally walks off and simply climbs a few fences and runs off! What the hell kind of prison is this?? He does of course get captured quite quickly, luckily he's friends with the warden so its kinda overlooked. They basically blackmail him into going undercover, but in a friendly way.

From here we follow Gator as he slowly makes his rounds gathering information. This essentially means visiting many local establishments and trying to charm the hicks into dishing the dirt. Gator must also try and sneak himself into the moonshine runnin' game, a difficult task to be sure. This in itself offers up a wide array of stereotypical southern hillbilly types that generally look unwashed in their grubby sweat stained attire. Eventually Gator does manage to hook up with Roy (Bo Hopkins) to run moonshine; and at the same time get involved in a curious love triangle between Bo and his girlfriend Lou (Jennifer Billingsley). Not really sure why this is, I'm guessing to simply give Reynolds a love interest.



Naturally being an early Reynolds movie you can expect car chases. Yep before he was runnin' with beer as the Bandit he was runnin' with moonshine as the Gator. Unfortunately these car chases are nowhere near as good as the Bandit's wheel spinnin' antics. One car chase sees Gator confusing, shaking and avoiding the cops through the town in his very brown 1971 Ford Custom 500. This is a reasonable car chase that will kinda satisfy you. It ends with Hal Needham ('Smokey and the Bandit' and 'The Cannonball Run') jumping the car onto a moving barge which almost failed (but they kept it in). There are plenty of other vehicular tidbits throughout including the obligatory track event but nothing to wow you.

Although the cars are a major part of this movie, characters in their own right and of historical interest, if you're a petrolhead this movie isn't gonna do it for you methinks. It merely offers a glimpse of what was to come with Reynolds and co. Overall this movie is generally pretty dull truth be told, nothing much really happens as you watch Gator plod through the sweltering heat of the south. Ned Beatty is definitely a solid villain as the corrupt Sheriff J.C. Connors and almost makes up for a lack of engagement. He is certainly intimidating with his large appearance, bad teeth and receding hairline (deliberately shaved that way). He almost looks like a Nazi Officer with those round spectacles, but alas he does little. On the flip side, there is a decent sequence where Gator visits his parents. There he must face his fathers disapproval of him handing over names of folk involved in illegal liquor to the Feds.

The opening sequence of the movie shows Sheriff Connors slowly rowing out into the middle of an isolated swamp, either at dusk or early dawn. Behind him is Gator's brother bound and gagged in another small boat. They reach a point and stop. The sheriff then shoots the bottom of the boat with a shotgun and rows away leaving the restrained young man to slowly drown as the boat sinks. This sequence is dark, sinister, brutal and most definitely has a 'Deliverance' vibe about it (the landscapes are definitely another form of character in this movie). The thing is its in complete contrast to the rest of the movie which at times feels like a slightly adult version of The Dukes of Hazzard or 'Smokey and the Bandit'. A strange blend of tones in this movie for sure, a bit hit and miss.

4.5/10

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Honey, I Blew Up the Kid (1992)

























After the first (successful) movie surrounding shrinkage, and being heavily influenced by some classic sci-fi flicks of the 50's, it was inevitable that we'd see this. Again heavily influenced by some classic black and white sci-fi movies of the 50's, we now find the Szalinskis' with a bigger problem. Yep its basically 'Attack of the 50 Foot Baby' or another 'King Kong' clone/homage.

The plot: Well the title says it all really. Oh OK, set five years after the tiny events of the first movie, the Szalinskis' now live in Nevada. They have a new two year old son called Adam, Nick is now a teenager and Amy has gone to college. Funnily enough Wayne (Rick Moranis) is now working on a ray gun that will increase the size of objects. On a routine trip to his work space at Sterling Labs, little Adam is accidentally zapped with the ray but nothing seems to happen. Later on at home Adam is exposed to electrical waves from the microwave which appear to trigger the enlargement process. Slowly Adam begins to gradually grow bigger and bigger; Wayne and Nick must now try to reverse the process before Adam becomes a danger to himself and others.

So again the main draw here are the effects, the big breezy colourful effects. How do they stand up? Well not too well really. OK lets start positive, there are numerous sequences where it appears that they used someone in a large bodysuit. In some scenes we see live action shots Moranis with a live action giant toddler, but if you look closely this does appear to be a very good bodysuit on an obviously tall person. These shots are always from behind the large toddler so as not to give the game away but they are very effective. This showcases the innovation of the effects crew which unfortunately could only go so far. Other than the usual oversized and undersized props, which are always highly effective if sometimes a bit rubbery looking, much of this movie has to rely on bluescreen and rear projection.



And this is where the movie really falls down, the terrible terrible bluescreen/rear projection effects. The bulk of the effects are unfortunately reliant on these techniques and alas it all stands out like a sore thumb. There are clear brightness differences between the live action in the foreground and projected background. Thick black lines outline much of the effects and the colours are faded throughout. Overall the effect is just way too obvious and really takes you out of the movie. Heck even some of the large sets are bad looking, when Nick and his young female counterpart are riding in Adams oversized pocket, it just looks poor. There are some nice touches of forced perspective in a few shots but again you can see right through them. Don't get me wrong I give them an A for effort but clearly the effects team needed more money or skills, many movies came out before this and looked way better.

Other than the effects there isn't a great deal on offer here frankly. The plot sees a cliched company villain (John Shea) going after the oversized Adam for his own nefarious dastardly deeds (still not entirely sure why he gets fired by Sterling, for being mean?). This inevitably brings about the inevitable 'King Kong' homages as they use helicopters to try and tranquilise Adam. Lloyd Bridges pops up as Clifford Sterling, president of the Sterling company, a company that does...scientific type stuff. Obviously Bridges brings his own brand of spoof-esque humour which is fine but a bit childish, yeah I know its a kids flick but still. Moranis brings home his lovable nerdy Louis Tulley-esque character again; complete with more outrageous inventions which are admittedly pleasing to the eye. Nothing new really, they reverse or mirror some scenes and dialog from the first movie.



The movie ends in Vegas which generally looks horrendous from start to finish effects wise. The movie also becomes very stupid as they apparently evacuate the Las Vegas strip in around five minutes. They also manage to coordinate getting all the lights switched off down the strip in five minutes, like all of them! No one gets hurt, nothing gets damaged, and the way they placate Adam is vomit inducing. I guess its all understandable seeing as its essentially a kids movie but its still very lame, lazy and dull.

Doesn't help that the kid they use for the role of Adam is just kinda annoying, but that's just me. I think the problem here is the over use of an idea, the Kong sized threat. Add to that the fact its a giant toddler which isn't particularly interesting or threatening, and of course the fact the first movie used a less common theme which was executed way better. Overall its all adds up to a relatively fun movie with the odd decent moment. Its just fails to capture the magic of the first movie; in this case miniature things are more fun I think.

5/10

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)

























Could there be anything more cliched and corny than the idea of a weedy, crazy haired, spectacled, crazy inventor type nerd who's wacky creation gets out of hand? Probably not, but that didn't stop this idea becoming something of a monster hit back in the late 80's. I remember the time well, this movie was almost like the Jurassic Park of the day with everyone going nuts over the special effects and innovation of the story (despite the fact the idea had been explored thoroughly during the 50's). And who better to portray this lovable geeky inventor than Rick Moranis, the man who made a career out of playing lovable geeks.

The plot: Its pretty simple really. Eccentric inventor Wayne Szalinski (Moranis) manages to construct a large ray gun that is capable of shrinking objects in size. Unfortunately he is unable to perfect his machine resulting in much frustration and him being mocked at a conference. Its during said conference that Wayne's kids (and the neighbours kids) are accidentally shrunk by the ray gun which had previously been accidentally switched on by a lone baseball. Eventually Wayne and his wife Diane realise what happened and start to hunt for the shrunken kids. In the meantime the kids are in a life and death situation after being ejected into the garden and are trying to reach the safety of the house (whilst trying to grab the adults attention).



The movie does start off slow as we get introduced to all the various characters; indicators for the pending adventure. Nick Szalinski is obviously much like his father, looks a bit of a nerd, scrawny, spectacles, but has brains. Amy Szalinski is the attractive, older level-headed sister of Nick. Ron is one of the Thompson kids from next door, he is a bit chunky and a bit of bully. And lastly there is Russ Thompson, older brother of Ron and again like Amy he is more level-headed and has some looks. In fact he has a crush on Amy that flourishes over the course of the movie. And of course both sets of kid have issues with their folks that cause friction at early points; which of course get addressed and ironed out during the adventure. So overall its a stereotypical little gang, no real surprises.

As with many other fantasy movies the real core interest was in the adventure and how the special effects came across. I remember at the time it was hard to escape the media attention this movie got for its shrinking effects, there was a lot of hype. Looking back now its very amusing how quaint these effects look, I'm not being negative but you can't help but smirk when harking back. In general this movie was definitely a case of, certain shots and sequences would look really great...even now. But then on the other hand certain shots and sequences would look really bad...even worse now.

The best moments are easily when we see the kids on oversized sets against large props; these are the classic shots that obviously hark back to certain golden oldies of the 50's. Its these shots that really sell the idea that the kids are truly microscopic. Just simple things like the texture of the wooden floor in the attic, giant toys, Cheerios, nails, screws, dust, cookies (which served as a food source) etc...Its also other small details such as a little trickle of water in the garden being a gushing river, and the odd dead insect floating around. The fact that the garden becomes a dense dangerous jungle for of all manner of hazards. It doesn't sound overly amazing or anything but its these tiny details that really sell it. I also liked how they didn't shy away from gross things like dead and scary bugs.

Not all the bugs were scary though. At one point Nick accidentally rides a very obvious rubbery bumblebee after falling into a very rubbery looking nectar patch on a flower. The kids also befriend a very rubbery and limited animatronic puppet baby ant (which to them was a giant rideable creature). The ant doesn't really do much for the kids until it is called on to defend them from a scorpion (would there be scorpions in this type of garden environment?). Alas the baby ant is easily killed by the scorpion and we are presented with one of the most tear jerking moments for kids since Optimus Prime died, maybe. Yes the ant was blatantly fake looking and could hardly move...but God damn it hits you hard when the little blighter dies (sniff!).

Indeed I mention rubbery items there, that is one factor that stands out a lot when looking back (probably even at the time). There are a lot of things that do look terribly rubbery or plastic. Some things look great, some things do not. The giant insects do suffer in this way I'm afraid, the giants plants also suffer in the same way. It doesn't ruin the movie but I'm just saying it does stand out. Unfortunately it doesn't help when rubbery things are accompanied with horribly dated bluescreen effects (greenscreen now). Again the bumblebee ride really suffers here as does various shots/sequences of the kids against live action actors or pets. The now famous sequence of the kids running off the dogs snout onto a table is a terrific idea but boy does it look fake in motion. When Wayne is about to eat Nick in his bowl of Cheerios, great idea, looks pretty awful now. Although the close up shots of Nick in an actual bowl of milk with giant Cheerios looks sweet.

Its kinda ironic that this movie actually feels way more like a Disney theme park experience than an actual movie. The whole visual escapade seems so perfect for their theme parks it makes you wonder how no one thought of it earlier. The array of big chunky colourful props and sets, and the brilliantly geeky inventions of Szalinski such as the shrink ray gun or the 'keep off the grass' robot, all marvellously visualised by Joe Johnston and his crew. So yes this is clearly a very visual movie experience (perfect for 3D). On the flip side if we're honest, the plot is pretty shallow and the characters are simplistic and cliched. This isn't a big problem here but I think Rick Moranis saves the rather drab casting. This is just one of those roles where you can't really picture anyone else in it, hmmm...maybe Christopher Lloyd. Anyway to sum up, not quite as epic as you might recall, but certainly a good all round family romp.

7/10

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Adventures in Babysitting (1987)

Or, curiously, as it was known in the UK 'A Night on the Town'. Funnily enough I can't seem to find out why this change was implemented in the UK. I know the UK version was cut by about 8 seconds for profanity and since then the movie was released with those cuts back in and the original title restored. I guess the title change could have been down to possible confusion with some other movie, I guess. That being said, the plot is essentially a kids version of Martin Scorsese's 1985 movie 'After Hours'.

Not only that, this movie always seemed like a bit of an oddity to me. Its most definitely a classic 80's movie yet somehow...I always felt like it should of had a more classic cast. Its the strangest thing, every time I think about this movie I keep putting other classic actors of the era in it, knowing full well they weren't in it. I guess what I'm saying is this movie really needed some A-list talent in it. The movie really does yearn for a standout comedic performance to add some punch, the best bet being the villains ('Home Alone' being a good example). To me this always felt like a huge missed opportunity.

The other main issue I had with this movie is the plot. Basically Chris Parker (Elizabeth Shue) has taken on a babysitting gig after her boyfriend blows her off. Her job for the evening now is to look after teenager Brad (Keith Coogan), 8 year old Sara (Maia Brewton) and next door neighbour Daryl who gate crashes the situation. Now the entire backbone of the story hinges on one thing, Chris Parker's friend Brenda running away from home and getting stuck at the city bus station. Brenda uses up all her money to run away to the bus station, changes her mind and wants Chris to come pick her up. To me this was always really weak and really annoying too, I'd be like...not my problem, ring your parents. So Chris feels obliged to help her idiotic friend, but to make matters worse the kids blackmail her into taking them along, cue the nightmare.

The movie moves from one set piece to another introducing more and more problems for Chris as her night becomes more and more convoluted. The whole scenario is one long chain reaction of events intertwined. Its also one of those scenarios in a film where you sit there, at times feeling uncomfortable because you just know the characters shouldn't be doing this that or the other. You find yourself saying things out loud because you know what's gonna happen. One of the first major setbacks for Chris and co is when their car gets a flat and after a string of events they end up losing it. This is something that I found to be a constant worry while watching the kids get deeper and deeper. Will they find the car? Where is the car? Is it in one piece? Obviously you know everything will be OK; but you know the movie is working when you're thinking about it.

Of course everything that does happen is pretty cliched, kids being trapped in the city (Chicago) at night you know what to expect. Nothing horrendous obviously as the movie was for kids but the usual stereotypical 80's stuff. Lots of bums, hookers, weirdos, criminals that are generally black or mafia-like, some classic 80's street gangs in some attire to die for, and of course frat boys. Because what 80's flick is complete without frat boys, required or not. But the main crux surrounds the kids being continuously chased by some criminals because they accidentally picked up a Playboy magazine with some important criminal details written inside.



Chris and co manage to stumble into a jazz club where they are forced to sing the blues. This whole sequence was certainly silly and embarrassing that's for sure. I know this is a movie but who would have time for a sing song in this situation?? But this sequence did also remind me very much of 'The Blues Brothers' especially with Albert Collins on show. Later on in the movie the kids wind up at a frat boy party (because...80's) where we see the usual beer chugging tomfoolery along with high school sluts. But we also see another musical cameo from Southside Johnny Lyon which again gave me those Blues Brothers vibes. The soundtrack for the movie is very good overall, some nice soul and blues going down.

As the adventure progresses the kids meet up with various folk who either help them or don't quite simply. All the while annoying Brenda is having a nervous breakdown in the bus station over not very much really. The whole deal with Brenda felt really out of place, just too stupid. I understand she's a teen but Jesus Christ get a fucking grip girl! Gotta say, Maia Brewton who plays little Sara was annoying too with her Thor obsession (yes Thor). This all plays into the sequence where the kids meet up with Dawson (Vincent D'Onofrio), the mechanic who has their car towards the end. This guy has long blonde hair (a terrible wig on D'Onofrio) and carries a sledgehammer that looks like Thor's hammer, so Sara thinks its Thor (ugh!). They owe Dawson $50 for a tyre (only 50! how times have changed), but only have 45, so Dawson refuses. But then little Sara offers him her kids Thor helmet (cos she's dressed as Thor the entire movie), and Dawson suddenly changes his mind, just like that. Deus ex machina Thor helmet moment.

Hell in the finale the kids end up at the top of a skyscraper and Sara flippin' climbs out of the window and shimmies down the glass onto a ledge! She's being chased by one of the bad guys yes but my God! Its at this point I started to question director Chris Columbus's motives. Clearly he did this just to raise the stakes, make things more thrilling, but its essentially really stupid because no kid would do that. Also the carjacker that initially helps the kids, knocks out his criminal boss to help them finally escape. But what happens to him? Does he wind up getting whacked for punching his boss? Or does he give up his life of crime and start over? Who knows.

Naturally everything works out in the end with a Ferris Bueller-esque finish that is reasonably enjoyable. Even though I was engaged in the unfolding events I was never worried about things not working out, obviously. Even though (as I've said) this is a classic 80's flick, in all honesty there are better ones out there in my humble little opinion. This movie is fun but lacks some real talent of the time. There are so many characters that could have easily been cameos for big name comedians of the era. The movie tries to be funny, witty and at times edgy but it tends to fall a bit flat. The music is a highlight as are the glorious retro inner city visuals; but the main characters are kinda irritating and can't hold a candle to other 80's movie casts. In the end its still hard to believe that this entire chain of events happened simply because of one ditzy girlfriend and her own foolishness.

6/10

Friday, 22 September 2017

Supernova (2000)





















Back in the day there was a time when you'd walk into your local videoshop (VHS) looking for a specific movie. Whilst scanning the shelves for your desired evenings entertainment, chances are you'd come across a movie that you'd never seen or heard of before. Yet despite that, the cast, the cover and the genre would get you all excited to see it asap. This is how 'Supernova' came into my life. Just one of those 'out of the blue' movies that sat there begging to be rented. The lure was too great and for me the internet was not yet a regular source of entertainment and info (I don't think the net became widely mainstream until around 1999; and even then it will have taken time for many to get fully on board). So I had no way of judging the product without paying for it. Of course you would pay for it, taking the risk, and more often than not the movie sucked. But at times there were exceptions.

The plot is quite simple and unoriginal really. It sees the crew of the Nightingale 229 responding to an emergency call some 3000 light years from their position on the moon Titan 37. To get to this far off point they use the dimension jump drive on-board their ship. Unfortunately this results in the death of their Captain/pilot A.J. Marley (Robert Forster). When arrived they pick up one survivor from the moon (Karl Larson played by Peter Facinelli) and his cargo, an alien artifact. After much discussion it is decided by co-pilot Vanzant (James Spader) to jettison the artifact because it may be dangerous. This makes Larson unhappy and he decides to kill everyone on-board. It seems this alien artifact has made him younger, given him super strength and superhuman healing abilities (handy). Eventually only Vanzant and Dr. Evers (Angela Bassett) are left alive, can they stop Larson?

The first little issue with this plot is the fact that when the ship arrives close to Titan 37, they enter a debris cloud which damages their ship causing loss of fuel. At the same time Titan 37 orbits a blue giant that's gravitational pull will suck in the stranded ship within about 17 hours. This means their only means of escape is using the dimension drive again, but that will take almost the same amount of time, so their exit window is tight. Now this all sounds pretty formulaic and admittedly reasonably cool. Thing is, the volatile alien artifact they find (now known as a bomb), does actually get ejected into space towards the finale. This causes a pending supernova as the artifact gets hotter the closer it gets to the blue giant. So in the end the risk of gravitational pull goes out the window; it all suddenly becomes escaping a supernova.



The other oddity if you will is the alien artifact. At first it seems to be some kind of energy releasing thing that empowers anything that it comes into contact with. This resulting in the rather bland superhero power angle. But later on we discover its actually a bomb made by aliens. Its purpose being to literally wipe out an entire galaxy (or even universe apparently) whilst at the same time release new seeds of life to start everything over, or something like that. Its a unique concept for sure but so many questions. The main one being, why would an intelligent alien race want to wipe out other intelligent life? Why make a bomb so powerful it can potentially destroy an entire galaxy? And how does this thing actually trigger? In the movie it only goes off because it flies into a blue giant. Had that not happened I guess everything would have been fine?

On the whole I did quite like the plot about finding this alien artifact, hardly original stuff I know but still. The side effect of Larson acquiring various super powers was a bit shitty though; I really didn't like that as it just felt way too generic. That of course led to various generic superhuman fight and healing sequences  which we've all seen before. Its a shame really because for the first half of the movie the story is intriguing. Come the midway point it just degenerates into a common psycho on a killing spree routine...albeit a short one.

Luckily the visuals in this film are surprisingly decent. No doubt this will have come down to the talent by behind the directors chair (long story but Walter Hill and Francis Ford Coppola of all people). Like many sci-fi flicks you can see the 'Aliens' influence throughout, unfortunate...predictable, but they are still effective. Many shots do look very sleek and familiar, and many sets do have a familiar style (mainly the dimensional stabilisation chambers/pods). But they do also have a very polished, shiny, silver finish too them which is a shame because the used appearance is more authentic I think. Oddly at times the whole feature does look a tad like a made for TV movie, the sets look a bit plastic, too clean and Star Trek-esque if you get me. But its amazing what a bit of moisture and steam can do huh.



Space effects are of course a mixed bag being an old movie with early CGI in use. The exterior shots of outer space, star fields, planets, moons, debris clouds, mining facilities etc...all look very nice in a documentary standard type of way. Nothing mind blowing but pretty to look at ya know. Alas the greenscreen effects are pretty horrendous and really give the game away. The zero-G sex scene was especially bad in more ways than one. Oh and speaking of sex, there are like...three sex scenes within the first twenty odd minutes! Obviously going for that gritty adult space thriller, sex being of central importance it seems. The rather goofy ships robot (man in a rubber suit) kinda lets down the gritty adult visage though.

The B-list cast is also amusing with their over the top performances. James Spader is really going for it with his butch space hero. His voice is so sternly soft and serious you can hardly make out what he's saying. Where as Angela Bassett is really going for it with her bad tempered and overly serious medic. Really wanted her character to smile! Lou Diamond Phillips seems to be there because...actually I don't know why. Where as Robin Tunney seems to be there mainly because she was relatively hot at the time after a few biggish movies. Although the cast is likeable in the movie, its some of the most offbeat casting decisions I've come across for awhile. These old slapdash straight to video movies did tend to simply cast anyone they could with a known name; it didn't matter if they fit the bill or not (hence Robert Forster for like...less than ten minutes film time).



Anyway it turns out this movie does in fact have a long long turbulent backstory. Going as far back as 1990 when this idea was originally pitched as a thriller involving an alien artifact releasing evil forces on Earth, with artwork by H.R. Giger to help sell it. Long long story short, the story changed over time with many different writers, directors and actors attached. Originally Walter Hill was at the helm but left after major disagreements. Then came Jack Sholder who virtually reshot the movie cutting most of Hill's work. This led to a successful test screening but it still wasn't enough to please the new studio bosses. Said bosses then went back to Hill, who wanted more money and time for more reshoots. The bosses refused so Hill walked again. Then eventually Coppola (odd choice) was brought in to re-edit again, which got a negative test screening, so MGM gave up and sold the film.

Yet despite all that, this mish mash of concepts isn't all that bad I think. It is disjointed for sure and you tell there was a clash of ideas going on with the way the plot changes directions. It isn't really explained all that well and it doesn't really make much sense but I still found it engaging. It is definitely saved by some classy effects and sets. As I said, not too original but still effective. They do compliment the plot well which is genuinely remarkable all things considered. The ending is also quite bold and left open, which kinda gets you thinking but not too much as its also a bit cheap. Personally I think its still more recognisable as a Walter Hill movie, but with a tonne of deleted scenes and alternate cuts its anyone's game really.

6/10

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

The Net (1995)

























Now this was a blast from the past, my teenage years (I was 17 at the time). It might seem crazy these days but I distinctly remember watching this in the cinema with a friend, and both of us scoffing at how ridiculous the movies premise was. The whole idea of the internet (something that was more of a joke back then) being able to bring down someone's entire life. The idea of people actually having portable computers and being able to use them, online! everywhere! The idea of someone's life revolving around a computer...or more specifically the net, was at the time almost inconceivable (unless you were rich).

Yes these were simpler times my friends, back before the internet was an integral part of people's lives, or before the internet was even taken seriously. Hell back then movies like this were the only introduction some people had to the, so called, information highway. This and movies like 'The Lawnmower Man' were pretty much the only things most common people saw of the internet, hence why we all thought it was a gimmicky flash in the pan. Even British videogames TV show GamesMaster would mock the internet with its limited abilities at the time. We were told one day we'd all be surfing the net, we all ridiculed the notion, how wrong we were.

Anyway the movie. Systems analyst Angela Bennett (Sandra Bullock) is accidentally drawn into the dark world of cyber terrorism when her work college sends her sensitive information on a floppy disk (remember those?!). The information revolves around the death of the US Secretary of Defense and a large software company CEO, Jeff Gregg. Whilst on holiday Bennett gets wined and dined by mysterious British gent Jack Devlin whom she starts to have feelings for. But before she knows it this British gent is trying to kill her so he can get his hands on this disk. Following a nasty accident where Bennett tries to escape Devlin, she awakes in hospital to discover her life has been deleted. Bennett must now try and find help to recover her life, evade Devlin, and uncover the truth on the disk.

Yeah so the plot is your typical computer hacking/expert, on the run type affair which is now a dated concept. This idea was quite new at the time but director Irwin Winkler really tapped into the public's interest by utilising the newfangled internet contraption. The internet wasn't unheard of at the time of course, but it was intriguing to the masses and was used a lot to present an exciting new angle to movies. It was almost like an unexplored universe and Hollywood wasn't gonna let it slip by without milking its every potential.

The other main draw for this movie was actress Sandra Bullock who was literally the biggest thing in Hollywood between 1993 - 1995. Hot off a trilogy of blockbusting hits that were 'Demolition Man', 'Speed' and 'While You Were Sleeping', Bullock could do no wrong. She was America's sweetheart with her adorable, girl next door looks and squeaky clean image. People just went to movies starring Bullock, no questions asked, she was huge.

This movie also used the highly unpopular nerd image which was still something to mock at the time. Nowadays nerds are all the rage but back in the day oh no, being a nerd was not cool. But what baffled people even more was the introduction to a sexy female nerd, this was virtually unheard of at the time. This did present a problem for the movie simply because no one believed a sexy female could be a whizz-kid on computers or a nerd. Especially Bullock who was Hollywood's new darling leading lady. And admittedly it is hard to believe Bullock in this role because she simply doesn't look like she understands what shes talking about half the time. She also looks surprisingly unathletic considering her previous action movies, she kinda sleepwalks through this looking bored.

Looking back now this movie is fun simply to see all the retro hardware and early programs in action. All these chunky laptops, very basic net page layouts, disk swapping and loading etc...it does bring back many memories. The action is kinda sparse but reasonably thrilling I suppose, it was never gonna be a violent movie with Bullock in the lead. Bullock was the queen of PG-13/12 rated movies. So the movie cuts away for any violence and there is little profanity, if any. Jeremy Northam is easily the best thing about the film with his devilishly charming contract killer, probably why his character is called Devlin.

In the end this is a very safe and harmless action thriller that didn't want to rock the boat for its leading lady. Bullock is still cute and cuddly while under the stress of being hunted down by a hitman. Being a movie about computers director Winkler obviously couldn't pass up a chance to film at the Macworld/iWorld trade show in San Francisco. So naturally the tense unrealistic finale is shot there. It is hilarious to watch Bennett downloading/uploading such large chunks of data onto floppy disks just in the nick of time. I'm just gonna assume that the trade show would have had the best of the best computers on show so that made it possible. Its all very silly, cutesy and charming these days, so amusing to think this was a big serious release back in the day.

5.5/10

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Spies Like Us (1985)

























There was a time when certain movies could be rolled out into the cinemas solely depending on a handful of Saturday Night Live performers. These movies didn't necessarily have to be overly interesting, the plot could be thin on the ground, and the characters could be one dimensional. All that was needed was to see these guys doing their thing, their shtick. The studios knew that was enough to generate ticket sales.

In this comic caper Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase play somewhat mis-matched, yet strangely well matched, low key government workers that both undertake a foreign service exam to better themselves. After being caught cheating in a highly embarrassing display of lunacy, the pair are amazingly promoted to foreign service operatives. Turns out that some underhanded DIA folk need decoy agents to protect their real agents out in the field (the field being Soviet Asia). So in thinking they have a real mission to carry out, the bumbling duo are dropped behind enemy lines to basically lead the Soviets on a wild goose chase.

So the plot revolves around the old enemy, the dastardly USSR, arch nemesis to the good old US of A. Going into Russian territory, arming an intercontinental ballistic missile, launching it and then testing a missile defence system. What could possibly go wrong? Turns out the predictable does in fact happen but luckily our inept heroes save the day. Does anything happen much in between this? Well not really truth be told, the entire movie is very much stringed together with a series of skits, or so it seems. This isn't a bad thing but just don't go expecting anything amazing plot wise that's all, this is a bare bones tale.

So lets look at our heroes. Dan Aykroyd is Austin Millbarge (great name), a very clever and innovative codebreaker who works at the Pentagon. Bottom line this is the type of character you've come to expect from Aykroyd because its clearly his own persona. He's clearly very smart, a fast thinker and fast talker who can reel off large chunks of dialog in a robotic fashion. Likewise Chevy Chase plays Emmett Fitz-Hume, an easy going, loveable rogue who's a bit of a coward, a bit slow at times and a ladies man. Now I wouldn't say Chase is all this in reality but he certainly comes across like an easy going, loveable rogue and ladies man. Overall both characters show promise but also display remarkable ineptitude.

I love both characters introductions, Millbarge working in this rather curious factory-like part of the Pentagon surrounded by his work. To look at he comes across as nothing more than a messy, going nowhere, slob. But we quickly learn this guy is a technical whizkid. On the other hand we find Fitz-Hume lounging at his desk, headphones on, watching a movie. When asked about his upcoming exam he merely brushes it off as a forgone conclusion. When we get to the actual exam we are offered the first glimpses of how fecking hilarious this movie will be. Aykroyd and Chase work off each other flawlessly in this sequence, its fantastic. I adore how Fitz-Hume has all these little compartments where he's hiding answers (an eyepatch and arm cast). 'What does K.G.B. stand for?' is written on a bit of paper he slips to Millbarge. Then when he eventually play acts a nervous breakdown merely to grab other people's answer sheets, gloriously cheesy Chase.

The next classic segment would be the training montage where both men are put through their paces double time. Apart from how adorably dated everything looks this is also an opportunity for some quick visual gags. The obligatory obstacle course, being shot at above and below water, radical vertical impact simulation, high-G training in a centrifuge, staying afloat, extreme heat tests etc...Customary military training type stuff. What is kinda amusing is the way they both got to the training facility. Thrown out of a plane (with parachute), only to both land in the exact same spot which just happens to be the training grounds.

The movie does move fast and before you know it we are in the deserts of Pakistan for more hijinks. Naturally the duo get captured by the locals but are saved by two other westerners who conveniently turn out to be the real DIA agents. Of course one of them is a hot blonde (Donna Dixon) so you know what comes next with Chase's character. The duo end up impersonating doctors for the most part at this stage and its a hoot. A very amusing operation sequence, some sexual innuendo, topped off with a small chase sequence and its off to Russia by camel. This is where the movie does start to falter somewhat, it slows right down and loses its comedic impetus. This is probably because the plot has to focus more on the whole missile launching angle from the military types in their US bunker.



It does seem pretty reckless doesn't it, sending agents into the USSR to launch one of their ballistic missiles only to test your own missile defence system. And the fact that this missile is targeted at the USA! Why not just launch one of your own missiles which isn't pointed at your own country? Any way its very dumb and does kinda spoil the whole ham-fisted spies side of things. This is where many of the plot holes become more apparent also. At the end the US Army Rangers eventually burst into the rogue bunker, but how did they know where it was? Plus how did these DIA folk manage to pull of such a feat as this without anyone finding out?? They knew there was a risk of global thermonuclear war if their missile defence system missed its target...but they went ahead anyway?? All to preserve the 'American way of life'?! Surely there wouldn't be much life left after a nuclear war, and all the military personnel in this bunker agreed to this??

The ending is also rather poor and a letdown. After all the missile has been safely sent off into space via Millbarge's technical reprogramming and the DIA bunker stormed, we later find Millbarge and Fitz-Hume now promoted as nuclear disarmament negotiators. But the weird thing is, the Russian soldiers they fought off to launch the missile back in Russia, are somehow representing the USSR in these talks? So...were the Russians promoted too? If so...why would they have been promoted? Or were they originally nuclear negotiators? Also they all seem to be playing some kind of Risk board game to negotiate? Like...huh??!! Apparently this was a reshot happy ending, clearly the wrong choice methinks.

The location work is terrific it has to be said. Apparently they filmed in Morocco and Norway for Pakistan and Russia but in all honesty it all looks authentic enough to me. This movie is surprisingly good looking considering what it is. With that in mind, even though you might think this was a run-of-the-mill comedy top heavy with slapstick (which it is), its also quite a clever little movie. Director John Landis has injected some nice wit into the proceedings along with nice visuals, nice effects (for the time) and a whole host of cameos that you might not even realise on a first viewing. Aykroyd and Chase are also on winning form with some cracking quick-fire one-liners that can't fail to make you smile. This isn't a perfect comedy and its not a thrilling adventure, but it has a good energy to it. If anyone is looking for the epitome of a classic 80's screwball comedy, you can't go wrong here.

7.5/10

Friday, 15 September 2017

Savage Dog (2017)


















What's this? Another martial arts movie starring Scott Adkins and a few of his mates? Well OK, I guess...as long as its a little bit differ...oh.

Martin Tillman (Adkins) is an Irishman serving time in Indochina 1959 (for whatever). He is also wanted by the British for his links to the IRA and a terrorist attack. So straight away, am I supposed to be rooting for this guy? Anyway old Martin is a good brawler (who'd of guessed it huh) and makes corrupt prison warden Steiner and his other corrupt mates plenty of money. But unfortunately the British are after Martin and are snooping around Steiner, so he releases Martin. Martin gets himself a little job in a small bar run by Valentine (Keith David). There he falls in love with a girl and starts to feel at home.

Alas Martin quickly lands himself in trouble when he ejects a troublemaker from the bar (beating him up in the process). This troublemaker turns out to be a top fighter for Steiner and his cronies. So Martin is offered the chance to come fight for Steiner, again, to make up for it. Naturally he declines, but Valentine talks him into it for the money. So Martin fights, the money is good and everyone is happy. Eventually Martin is instructed to lose a fight because he's simply too good and no one is betting against him. At the same time Valentine unknowingly bets his bar on Martin to win. So Martin loses the fight and Valentine loses his bar. In his frustration Valentine attacks Steiner's henchmen and gets himself killed. In turn Martin is also taken out despite Steiner not really wanting that. But luckily Martin is only wounded and comes back to exact his revenge.

Yes the plot is initially a different spin on the usual proceedings, they have actually tried to build the characters and give the movie some purpose. But this merely becomes a little convoluted with bits of the plot not really going anywhere and then everything just being reduced to the usual vengeance scenario. The whole 'underground fighting for the bad guys' aspect is so incredibly unoriginal now its not even remotely entertaining. Of course you know Martin will be betrayed eventually, that is a no-brainer. He comes back from the dead, has his little training montage and voila! You couldn't get more cliched if you tried.

The curious thing about the story is the fact its narrated by Valentine, the movies token black character. Its odd because this character narrates it as though he's telling someone a story from his past, yet he dies. The really odd part is he carries on narrating after his character has been killed! Martin's love interest is in the movie purely for him to have a love interest and sex scene, she is of no real consequence. I think she is actually the daughter of Steiner, I think, but that also went nowhere.

The main henchmen are the real hook for the movie as they are played by other martial arts superstars. Cung Le plays an ex-Vietnamese paratrooper who doesn't really do or say much. Unfortunately this character could be taken out of the movie very easily and you wouldn't notice. He is literally there just for a good fight scene. The second in command henchman apparently fought for the Nazi's and is played by Marko Zaror. This guy actually does have some input into the plot in the sense that he does much of the bad stuff. Both are merely cast for one thing though, and they do deliver when it counts. Each has their own main fight sequence and they are of course very good, well choreographed. But again we are shown another reason not to like the protagonist Martin as he kills Cung Le's character cheaply with a gun after getting beaten in the fight. The movie also has other known fighters dotted throughout who you may or may not recognise.

I think the problem with this Adkins movie, and others, is Adkins himself. This guy just isn't a leading man type guy. He doesn't really have the looks for a leading man, in fact he looks more like a bad guy. And more crucially he can't really act too well, his range is limited. The same can also be said for most of these guys, they work well in the background as stuntmen or minor henchmen with little dialog, but that's it. Give these guys actual acting roles and things tend to fall apart, Zaror being particularly bad in this movie. I know you could say the same about JCVD but he gets a pass because he was the first, he was one of the original 80's action men. So yeah Adkins character in this movie is an IRA terrorist who gets away with his dubious past basically, kinda shitty.

Obviously this is a movie made for a specific fanbase and that fanbase I'm sure will enjoy this. If I was back in my teens I reckon I would love this too, but I'm not. With that I can't say that I loved the movie, but its not terrible. You want some solid fights then you will be pleased with this. Nothing spectacular but just solid fight sequences and gun battles with plenty of blood that do look good. Other than that its just business as usual really, the only quirk being who they can match up in these movies. Problem is there is only so much you can do and you can't keep regurgitating the same spiel over and over.

5.5/10

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Alien: Covenant (2017)

After the somewhat convoluted disappointment that was Ridley Scott's lavish A L I E N prequel 'Prometheus', I was never really sure how his inevitable sequel would go. After seemingly setting up even more story lines with even more questions, the main question for me was simply, how in the hell was Scott gonna rein all this crap in?? So this time I decided to go into this sequel/prequel relatively blind, not paying too much attention to all the mass debating online.

That being said, it was still hard not to get tied up in all the hype. And with that my initial disappointment came with the plot. Set 11 years after the events in 'Prometheus', the colonisation ship Covenant is en route to the distant planet of Origae-6. Onboard we also find Walter, a newer model of android series that resemble David from the first movie. His job is again to monitor the ships functions and crew whilst they are in cryo-chambers. A random space event damages the ship and kills some of the sleeping colonists which forces Walter to awaken the main crew. Whilst repairs are underway the ship picks up a distant transmission from an unknown, but habitable planet that is almost identical to Earth (yet the crew are not amazed by this). Despite some concerns the ships Captain decides to divert and check out the transmission. So put simply, its the same damn plot we've now seen twice before. Really Ridley?

OK so I will try not to make this read like a huge list of questions regarding the massively convoluted plot, but no promises. The movie opens with the exact same title sequence as the original 1979 movie. You know what I mean, the main title slowly appearing bit by bit against a backdrop of space. Yep this is an Alien movie alright, and we're redoing everything you fondly remember...but this definitely isn't another soft reboot.

K so when the crew are awakened from hypersleep in an emergency, one of the pods malfunctions or something. This leads to the death of the ship's original captain played by James Franco, who we never actually see in the movie apart from a photo. For some reason he gets incinerated inside his own hypersleep pod, really not too sure why his pod did this. Maybe as a way to contain any possible unknown dangerous space bacteria and whatnot? Also a convenient way to dispose of the body? It does seem to be a rather worrying design flaw. Its also around this time we meet the stereotypical crew consisting of many faceless alien fodder characters that you will never care about (keywords being faceless and fodder). Some strong Ripley rip-off characters, a Lambert rip-off character (you'll find out later), and the obligatory white female with black male partner (never any other race, always black). Oh and Danny McBride plays a cool, bearded stetson wearing character called 'Tennessee'. You know because in the origin film there was a cool bearded character called 'Dallas'. See what he did there?



As with the previous film we also see that the technology on-board the ship is way better than anything we saw in the original 79 movie. At the time this was crudely passed off with an explanation about how different ships would have different technology on-board. This has always bothered me simply because its bullshit. Why would anyone make a large spaceship and not fit it with the best technology going? Even if said ship was a basic mining ship and costs were taken into account, its a bloody spaceship! not a Ford Escort. It will require good technology all round surely. So with that I still find it hard to swallow the fact that these ships are so ridiculously better looking all round than anything we saw in the original movies. Lets be honest here, its because movie effects are obviously way better today and Scott and co simply couldn't help themselves. They just wanted kewl looking spaceships.

Quick question about the ship. When they arrive at the mystery planet there is a large plasma storm over the area with the transmission. This storm prevents the Covenant from landing or going in closer when things start to get messy on the surface for the scout party. But why? OK its a storm over an alien planet but lets not forget the planet is supposedly very similar to Earth. Secondly if this ship can fly billions of light years through the universe contending with all manner of spacey things, why can't it make it through a storm cloud? Thirdly, couldn't they just go around the cloud? I realise that might have taken time but that leads me to ask why they didn't just approach the transmission area from a different angle in the first place. Surely they could of descended into orbit elsewhere and gone under the cloud or slightly around it? Its not like the storm was a surprise, they knew it was there, plus they used a drop scout ship anyway so distance clearly wasn't that much of an issue.

Again as with the previous film we have issues surrounding the intelligence of the crew and how they operate. One main factor last time was poking and putting your face up close to an unknown alien organism. This time...yup we have that again, ugh!!! But not only that, this time the entire crew wanders off the safety of their ship onto an alien planet (the one with the mystery transmission which just happens to look like where it was filmed...New Zealand) without any form of protection! No space helmets, no real protective suits, no planetary scans or scouts to check the surface, zippo. They merely stroll onto the planet and start off on a cross-country ramble. Jesus Christ some even start talking about setting up the colony there! Yeah this unknown, unchecked mystery planet will do nicely. You can get lost or killed first? First prize...errr...you die!



This unknown planet turns out to be the Engineer homeworld which is also home to David, a now dead Shaw and the black goo. If you thought 'Prometheus' was bad, you ain't seen nothing yet. So David supposedly wiped out all the Engineers with the black goo when he arrived. Why? presumably because he wanted to create his own lifeforms and needed a clean slate, although I don't know for sure. All the Engineers were standing around and cheering the ship as it arrived, not sure why, was this a special ship or mission? All the Engineers also looked really different to the main chap in 'Prometheus', not as muscular or marble-like. Different in a bad makeup job type way that is. We are also led to believe that this entire planet only consisted of one major Engineer city?? No other cities or anything nearby or further away??

So David released the black goo and it wipes everything out, fine. When the humans go walkabout one male gets infected by a plant or fungus releasing a black goo spore. In turn this very quickly takes affect causing an alien to gestate and burst from within (his back this time because...changing it up a bit). So, if the black goo infected everything in this way, wouldn't there be lots of little aliens running the planets surface? And clearly those spores are WAY more lethal and effective than the alien creatures. They are literally particles in the air that can enter the human body through any small orifice. The main aliens are actually less threatening! ha! Also, how fucking quickly did that new alien go through its gestation period from a mere spore??!! And speaking of gestation periods, the main alien again goes from chestburster (which looked like a children's toy) to full grown alien in no time! What has happened to the slow build up and tension?? And how exactly did David create the original alien eggs? I still don't get how he managed that. Did he somehow get to the eggs from experimenting on Shaw?



As for the finale its in three parts essentially, all of which are totally cheap cop outs (with dreadful CGI on the alien amazingly). The first revolves around a pitch battle and various large powerloader-esque pieces of equipment. As Tennessee tries to take off from the planet with Janet Daniels (Katherine Waterston) in tow, the alien tries to take her down. This involves Daniels outside the ship, trying to shoot or knock the alien off, whilst attached by a cable. For some reason Tennessee just flies around in circles whilst Daniels swings around aimlessly doing a bad job of defeating the alien. At no point did either just think to fly into space and fry the alien? Anyway, eventually Daniels operates a large crane claw, which the alien very conveniently jumps straight into, and they crush it.

You think that is the end but its not, oh no. We then get the second cheap schlocky finale. Low and behold there is another alien...because of course there is! This one decides to attack some of the remaining crew members while they have sex in the shower, in true 80's slasher flick style (just to cover all the bases). Tennessee and Daniels (who is now in full Ripley mode complete with vest) must now lure the creature into one of the ships cargo bays so they can flush it into space. Yes that's right, flush it into space, cheap ending number three. Because Scott just wants to rehash every damn thing from his glorious original. Oh and this alien seems to mature in around five bloody minutes after hatching, certainly appears that way.



What can I say about this movie?? Really what can I say??? Its so so obvious that Scott was somewhat crushed by the reaction to 'Prometheus' and was literally forced into going in a new direction for this sequel. Its abundantly clear that he's added the entire alien aspect simply to appease the fanbase that demanded more alien action. But Ridley being Ridley, was never gonna completely eject his original plans. Thus we have this complete clash of ideas, two concepts rolled into one resulting in a higgledy-piggledy mess. On one hand you have this epic spiritual space adventure into the unknown; focusing on life, our place in the universe, creation, Gods and monsters so to speak. Then on the other hand you have this terribly cheesy and cliched monster movie that degenerates into a tacky slasher flick with horribly obvious twists (David and Walter switcheroo and David creating the xenomorph). You can quite easily tell from reading the films title. The film should have simply been called 'Covenant' or 'Prometheus II: Covenant'. The addition of 'ALIEN' was clearly to draw in the fanboys of the original movies in the promise of a more familiar story.

Yes Ridley provides us with top notch visuals, a masterclass in true spectacle...again. Yes the attention to detail from costumes to technology to the score, is astoundingly good. Its a sheer pleasure to simply view a Ridley Scott sci-fi movie, it really is. But the more he dabbles in this franchise the more he screws it up. From a pretty looking convoluted mess in 'Prometheus', to another pretty looking convoluted mess in 'Alien: Covenant'. The real downside is this movie is not its own film, its merely a collection of highlights that we've all seen before in previous movies. At least 'Prometheus' displayed a lot of originality, it still made a mess of everything but at least it was a brave move (much like the Star Wars prequels). I do find it quite bizarre how these new Alien prequels do seem to be going down hill in the same way the Star Wars prequels did. Is the flute scene with David and Walter the new sand scene?

5.5/10