Monday, 24 July 2017

The War of the Worlds (1953)




















H. G. Wells The War of the Worlds is probably one of the most famous and influential science fiction stories in literature. The story has spawned films, radio dramas, TV adaptations, comic adaptations, videogames and even a record album. One of the lesser known works highly influenced by Wells work would be 'The Tripods' by John Christopher. This itself was adapted into a BBC TV series in 1984 which has since developed a strong cult following.

Of course the most infamous adaptation was a live radio broadcast narrated by Orson Wells in 1938. The story was presented in a news broadcast fashion which in turn led to many many listeners actually thinking it was real. Can't blame them really, if you think about it back then the radio was all people had. No internet, very little television, and what was on TV would have been extremely limited. So if a serious sounding news bulletin comes on informing you about destruction from unidentified objects, chances are you'd believe it.

But its this 1953 movie that is probably the most well known adaptation of Wells story the world over. Not only was this a loose but solid adaptation of the book, it was also an excellent science fiction film in its own right. For the time this movie was groundbreaking with its special effects, effects that earned the team an Academy Award in 1954. What is incredible is looking back you'd think the effects would be pretty hokey these days (much like many sci-fi movies of the era), but surprisingly they still hold up relatively well.

Of course the film is adorably cheesy and quaint, can't avoid that. The feature begins with the typically standard 1950's sci-fi narration accompanied with black and white stock footage. This footage shows us military technology as it progresses through the years, mainly through both world wars. It then cuts to colour with the movies title and then to a series of matte paintings of every known planet in our solar system. The narrator (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) informs us about each planet and its hostile environment, basically why the martian invaders would want Earth (but how would the narrator know this? Is the movie a story being told to someone by the narrator? Is the whole ordeal a flashback?). Anyway my point being the film unfortunately still relies on stock footage but also includes some lovely matte paintings.

The meat of the effects comes with the alien invaders themselves, although there were issues. Obviously for starters we all know the classic look of the Martian machines, huge towering tripods. Well at the time the effects crew had problems trying to create the three-legged machines so it was decided to alter the design. I have never really been happy with this look though, I realise there were technical limitations at the time so I'm not angry or anything, but the Martian machines just looked awful in my opinion. They essentially looked like a hovering, crescent shaped platform with a long periscope sticking out on top. They never really looked intimidating to me, more flimsy and fragile, and the green colour scheme was just ugly.

To make matters worse (in my humble opinion) the effects team did actually include the tripod legs...only they were force field legs and invisible. If you strain hard enough you can actually see the imprints (with a small pyrotechnic touch) in the ground as the machines move. Alas these look more like small explosions from shells or whatever than imprints from tripod legs. You can also see the wires holding the machines up in some scenes, which was amusing.

Indeed the chaos and destruction seen on the movies posters are well imagined in the film. The model Martian machines slowly hover down city streets (some live action, some models), their wires quivering. At every opportunity they unleash their devastating heat-rays from their cobra shaped periscopic eyes. Brilliant flashes of white heat that reduce damn near everything to rubble. Oddly though, at first the heat-rays reduce military equipment, vehicles and men to either piles of white or black charred ash (or just nothing at all). Yet when they take to the city streets the same doesn't seem to happen to buildings, they just crumble and catch fire. Theoretically there should be nothing left standing other than mounds of charred ash. Everything you see is a frantic blur of various effects such as superimposing, models, stock footage, matte paintings etc...That along with the terrific sounds effects for the alien weaponry (think Star Trek: TOS photon torpedoes) and you have some great sequences of action.

The actual aliens themselves were a real achievement also. The level of detail on the rubber puppet was incredible for the time. It had veins, skin texture, skin folds, and it was moist which gave it a more realistic 'living' look. Sure they look silly now but considering this was all done in 53 its extremely impressive for the time. I think the one main visual flaw for me was the ridiculous looking, large three-hued (red, green and blue) eye they had. The actual shape of the aliens body, their short stocky torsos with long thin arms and three thin suction cup fingers, was all perfect, quite scary for the time. The sequence where Dr. Forrester (Gene Barry) and Sylvia van Buren (Ann Robinson) are holed up in an abandoned house, only to be met by one of the little aliens during the night, was executed excellently. I'm very sure that had viewers screaming back in the day. But alas that big colourful bug eye looked like a kids toy from the 80's. It was neat to give the aliens this unique vision, but the three coloured lens sections looked a bit daft to me.

Of course this being 50's America you know it wouldn't take long before the Yanks would break out their Atomic weaponry. Although lets be fair here, the humans get their asses handed to them on a plate. But there is a really effective build in tension as the Americans blast the aliens with everything they have, including nukes. But still the Martian machines keep coming, protected by their amusing bell jar shaped force fields. Eventually the military leaders realise they cannot stop the invaders, the fate of the human race lies in Gods hands (not literally). Its actually quite a haunting solemn moment.

This again leads to another element of the film I don't really like. After getting separated the main duo (Forrester and Buren) meet up again in a church (now in LA). The Martian machines loom down on the church as they tear through the streets, nothing can stand in their way, not even the house of God. But low and behold just before they are about to destroy the church, the alien crafts falter and come crashing down. Of course I'm sure everyone knows why now, but the fact that its implied there may have been divine intervention from up above that saved the Earth (and that church) is somewhat off-putting. The idea that bacteria infected and killed the Martians was always a brilliant move, genius. Its also perfectly normal to accept that if something like this did happen in reality, there would of course be a lot of religious rhetoric flying around no doubt. But to end this exceptional sci-fi on the notion that mankind was kinda saved by God just sours the fun.

Whilst I recognise the brilliance of this film in everything it achieves, I can't quite bring myself to say its a perfect movie. Yes it is one of the greatest science fiction movies ever made and it does still hold up today, but the few issues I have with this adaptation I cannot ignore. I think the main peeve for me will always be the look of the Martian machines, I just can't stand the fact they don't have tripod legs. Any imagery you see of towering alien tripods is just so instantly recognisable and evocative, it pains me that they are absent in this film. Nevertheless there is a good balance between the action and exposition scenes. Its not bogged down and boring, its actually a really tense and eerie affair, and you do genuinely care about the main cast (all of which do sterling work I might add). End of the day despite its small flaws, this is an absolute must see for all ages.

8.5/10

Friday, 21 July 2017

The Ice Pirates (1984)

























Oh George Lucas, what did you bring upon us with your earth-shattering movie of 1977. The answer to that is of course an absolute multitude of knock-off's, clones, wannabes and homages. This long forgotten oddity is what you might call a very light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek Star Wars knock-off.

The plot takes place in the distant future, presumably in a galaxy far far away, where water has become an extremely scarce and valuable resource (not too original eh). In fact H20 is so valuable that its actually used as a form of currency in ice cube form. Naturally only one planet is not affected by this, Mithra, home of the evil Templars. And of course they want to keep it this way ensuring their dominance over the galaxy. But as expected there are space pirates that battle the Templars for their control of the water. One such band of pirates (led by Jason, Robert Urich) stumble across a Princess whilst trying to pinch the watery cargo from one Templar ship. In turn they also discover that this Princesses father is thought to have discovered a planet with water, thing is he has also disappeared. So the Princess hires the pirates to find her father and hopefully the watery planet. On their tail are the Templars who do not want this secret being discovered.

OK so the first thing I have to point out is, this is quite literally a film about pirates in space. The movies title isn't just there to look and sound cool. The heroes literally steal ice, and they are all literally pirates complete with cutlasses, wide belts with big fat belt buckles, cavalier type boots, and poet shirts with lacing down the front. This whole pirate look is blended in with the more typically cliched futuristic sci-fi look. On one hand a shabby, used and weather beaten universe. On the other hand shiny uniforms and ships (basically Mad Max and Star Wars). Interestingly they also throw in some medieval fashions in there too. Yep the Templar foot soldiers (on-board ships) appear to wear medieval knight attire such as full body chain mail etc...



Now despite how the movie may come across with its obvious similarities to other space set fantasies in its poster and trailer, this movie isn't really for kids. OK sure there are lots of childish elements like the various silly robots, the slapstick etc...But this movie does have some moments of violence, gore, sex and umm...castration. Let me be clear, this isn't an R/18 rated type movie, but it has fun bits for the adults. There is a very wet and somewhat in depth softcore sex scene.There are a few scenes of people losing limbs complete with blood. One of the pirates (Zeno, Ron Perlman) loses his hand early on. In one of the more shocking sequences the sexy female pirate (Maida, Anjelica Houston) gets into a sword fight with some bounty hunter fellow and cuts his head off! Its actually quite unexpected and there are no cuts, you see it come right off. And yes in one sequence it is shown that the Templars turn prisoners into slaves by cutting of their balls with a set of robotic steel jaws.

I didn't really get the whole eunuch slave thing. They go through the process of having their balls cut off (and a lobotomy as well apparently), and come out afterwards with white hair and eyebrows? I guess the shock of having your balls bitten off by a steel trap could be the reason why your hair turns white; but when they are all lined up to be inspected (in white lycra catsuits) its quite clear that these eunuchs still have a lunchbox. One potential buyer even comments on a slaves lunchbox, but surely they shouldn't have lunchboxes?

Anyway what space fantasy is complete without a generic desert planet or desert scene. Well don't fret because of course this movie has one of those. Its actually one of the more interesting looking locations, just a shame we don't spend much time there. For some reason desert terrain always looks good on camera, it always looks authentic and suits fantasy films perfectly. I always liked this part when I was a kid, I think it was that Mad Max-esque battering ram with huge wheels. This little action sequence is probably the best in the movie despite being very brief. Some nice explosions, a few stunts, a bad guy getting run over and crushed under one of the huge wheels, cool stuff.



Anyway what space fantasy is complete without generic scantily clad, female amazonian warriors. Well don't fret because of course this movie has some of them too. They are all highly sexy, they are all very scantily clad, they are all seemingly submissive to their male leader (phew!), and they all seemingly hate outsiders...men and women (indeed). Yes you guessed it, it isn't long before our hero gets restrained in a very hot and steamy situation after the amazonians wrestle him to ground. Oh no! please don't straddle me and wrap your legs around my face, scantily clad sexy ladies! This movie seems to have an obsession with body parts too because the male character we meet in this location (Wendon, Bruce Vilanch) appears to be just a head. Presumably another robot but I'm not actually sure, but its another opportunity for a head to roll around.

Anyway what space fantasy is complete without a sequence set in a smokey, scummy space bar complete with aliens, space mercs, bounty hunters, space whores, ruffians...you get the idea.

The movie is a bit jumbled overall in hindsight, there are many many ideas being thrown around from many sources. Its like the director was overwhelmed and couldn't decide which ideas to rip-off, so he did them all. Hell there's even an 'Alien' rip-off (homage?) subplot with this little worm thing that hatches out of an egg and slithers amok on the ship. At one point this thing bursts out of the crews turkey dinner. Turns out its space herpes, which I'm guessing was suppose to be a crude joke at the time, but now falls totally flat. This subplot simply goes nowhere despite it running for most of the movie. Its just there as a joke.



The effects are also a very mixed bag. There are one or two matte painting shots with live action foregrounds that look really good (and familiar). Some of the sets and props are well designed and built; some look reasonably authentic as if they could actually work. The spaceship/space effects are pretty poor though, considering this came along way after 'Star Wars' its a bit shameful really. Then you have the various robots which include actual real robots of the era that do fit in quite well, but were limited in movement. The bulk of the robots are men in suits and very hokey. Rudimentary robotic movements, you can see the suits bending and creasing, plus the God awful slapstick and fights they get into are extremely stupid and infantile. I complain but I don't really think the effects were ever meant to be taken seriously. Sure they tried but its clear to see this feature was more of a cheeky comedy, hence the effects were never supposed to be groundbreaking (think 'Spaceballs').

When I was a kid I loved this movie because I obviously enjoyed it, and it felt like I was watching a movie for adults. It felt like I was being a bit naughty, I felt like I was more grown up...even though my folks were fine with me watching it. Looking back this movie has faded somewhat and lost its excitement factor for me. Robert Urich is certainly an underrated hero with his looks and might have been a better Lone Starr than Bill Pullman, who knows. The rest of the cast is definitely a curiosity and quite star studded these days but none of them really added much to the proceedings. It just doesn't really feel like a movie, more like a made for TV movie, the style of the end credits kinda reinforce that vibe. A product of its time for sure.

5.5/10

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Little Giants (1994)

























Ah the old cliched sports movie, a veritable treasure trove of...cliches. I mean what can I possibly say here that everyone doesn't already know about? It doesn't matter that this is a kids movie, in fact that makes it even worse for the cringeworthy cliches.

So the little all American town of Urbania (sounds like a small eastern European country) has a pee-wee football team called the Cowboys. Said team is coached by the local hero Kevin O'Shea (Ed O'Niell). After try outs for the team various useless kids are cut including local girl Becky who is daughter of Kevin's brother Danny (Rick Moranis). Upset by being cut Becky convinces her dad to create another team for all the kids who didn't make the grade for the Cowboys. Unfortunately this goes against the rules of one town, one team which is pointed out with much glee from Kevin. So Danny and his ragtag team of inept kids challenge Kevin and his well oiled machine of kids, to a playoff. Which team will represent the town Valkenvania...Castlevania...Transylvania...Urbania!!

Yeah so you should know what to expect here, we've seen this type of thing a million times in various movies for kids. The bumbling cack-handed kids of the Little Giants team are a stereotypical bunch. You've got the fat kid who's funny because he's fat, clearly very unfit and unhealthy...funny huh! The scrawny weedy kid who's half the size of everyone else, wears glasses, has a basin haircut and is a mummy's boy. The token black kid...who also can't catch. The token Asian kid...who's also mega fat and wears glasses. One kid who cries all the time, one kid who gets injured all the time, and of course the one good looking blonde kid who's kinda good.

On the other hand the fitter and better trained kids of the Cowboys team are also a stereotypical bunch. Stereotypical in the sense that they all look pretty uniform in appearance from physique to haircuts. One team is an uncouth messy mishmash of nerds; the other a highly organised, well trained team of young jocks. Each teams coach also represents those stereotypes in the sense that Danny (Moranis) is more of a laid back, spectacle wearing academic type who wants the kids to just have fun. Where as Kevin (O'Niell) is more of a no nonsense coach with a slick haircut, fancy sports car and likes (has) to win big. Danny coaches his unruly Giants with creative methods that involve no funds. Kevin has his own assistant, the team have expensive proper kits and equipment, and they use pro training methods within proper facilities.

The movie certainly does seem to push the old negative stereotype that anyone who wears spectacles must be some sort of weedy nerd who is more academic than sporty. Vice versa it also pushes the daft stereotype that anyone who is sporty must be large, muscular and have a buzz cut. The thing is the movie never really addresses those stereotypes. I mean yeah sure the Giants win in the end (unsurprising spoiler alert!) and the Cowboys do recognise and applaud their opponents, but the stereotypes are still there, the movie doesn't really attempt to rectify them.

Being a sports movie about American (pee-wee) football mixed with elements from 'Home Alone' does offer up some nice ideas, but its still a by the numbers movie really. Lots of silly training montages from both teams, lots of silliness from the kids, heartfelt moments from the adults yadda yadda yadda. There is a painfully slow car chase sequence in the movie which was so obviously staged I dunno why they kept it in. I do like Ed O'Niell but yet again he's basically giving us Al Bundy with his performance, he seems completely unable to break away from that persona. Where as Rick Moranis just does what he's always done really, play a spectacle wearing geek with a heart. As for the kid actors, well they do OK. They all do a good job in playing disgusting or wimpy nerds that's for sure, they all looked their parts.

Obviously this movie is the typical underdog tale, unashamedly so, and that's not a bad thing because it is supposed to be for young kids. And while the movie is a feel good flick which kids I'm sure will enjoy, I can't help but feel the overall message is somewhat mixed (if you wear glasses you're a nerd!). Its definitely a well made movie, very colourful, cheerful and chock full of cheekiness, just don't expect anything original. But I think we all know and expect this.

7/10

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Kevin & Perry Go Large (UK, 2000)

OK so I guess I should explain the background for this movie, for the non British folk. This movie is based on a silly comedy character created by British comedian Harry Enfield. Enfield had a comedy show on BBC2 way back during the 90's which featured a variety of his wacky outrageous characters. Enfield himself being a staple part of the alternative British comedy scene during the 80's and 90's.

In the show the Kevin character originally started out as a feisty young boy under the age of 13. He was kinda spoilt, annoying, hyperactive and always wanted the latest toys, but essentially a fun-loving kid . Then in one episode its Kevin Birthday, he finally reaches his teens and morphs into a thoroughly obnoxious and rude teenage who screams at his parents and sulks a lot. Its at this point we meet the character of Perry (Kathy Burke), Kevin's best friend. Perry is a short chubby fellow with greasy hair, a pale complexion and what seems like a limited intelligence. During the series we follow Kevin and Perry and their various teenage escapades in small episodic bites of comedy gold.

Much like any other TV character brought to the big screen the plot naturally has to be bigger, more flash in order to survive. With that the basic concept of Kevin the teen and his poor parents had to be expanded tenfold. So in a brilliantly ingenious bit of writing, Kevin, his parents and Perry (but not Perry's parents) all go off to Ibiza, Spain for a holiday after Kevin and Perry accidentally stop a bank robber and get a monetary reward. But the boys have an alternative plan in Ibiza, they plan on becoming famous DJ's in order to get loads of money and have lots of sex with hot birds. Yes it really is that simplistic, its almost like something from The Beano, but for adults.

So apart from the fact this movie was based on a popular Harry Enfield character, something else was needed to lure in the crowds. And that something was hard hitting house & dance club music. Again for anyone not in the know, Ibiza was the mecca of clubbing back in the day (probably still is, unsure). A small island off the east coast of Spain that is somehow almost entirely devoted to clubbing.

I think its pretty obvious what you can expect from this movie given everything I have told you thus far. Plenty of in-house footage from various famous clubs in the heart of Ibiza. Loads of scantily clad females dancing in cages and on the dance floor. Loads of beefy blokes dancing, and plenty of boozing and sexual innuendo from the main two lead characters. That's pretty much it really, Kev and Perry trying their best to get off with hot women who are out of their league. Whilst at the same time they both try to avoid Kev's crushingly boring and embarrassing middle aged parents.

Easily some of the best scenes involve Rhys Ifans outrageously c*ntish Mancunian character Eyeball Paul (he's called 'eyeball' because he takes in alcohol through his eye) . Ifans is absolutely spot on with this performance, he captures that Mancunian vibe with his accent, clothes and that hair perfectly, its almost annoying. The way he shamelessly abuses Kev and Perry whilst being a total misogynistic prick is a joy to behold. Ifans is clearly having a ball with this devilish character as he chews up the scenery beautifully. Shout out to James Fleet and Louisa Rix who play Kevin's poor parents (Rix being Kevin's mum in the TV series). These two capture the pain and suffering of a middle aged parental couple nicely. Those moments we can all relate to when your sad old parents would embarrass you; and now being middle aged myself, those moments when you cringe at the way teenagers show-off and behave around the opposite sex.

Looking back its actually possible this movie could of inspired the now classic vulgar British teenager comedy show 'The Inbetweeners'. Its very clear how similar the two are by watching this now, Kev and Perry could easily be a part of the Inbetweeners gang. There are quite a few familiar elements such as almost every character being a cockney, strangely (apart from Eyeball Paul). The spot squeezing sequence with the girls is both utterly revolting and a typical Inbetweeners-esque type scene. The language used infuses both modern and classic British profanity such as 'shag'. And for some reason Kevin has a Union Jack bedcover, who has that??

Yes the comedy is somewhat deliberately sexist and chauvinistic, dated, highly childish and in places quite disgusting. Yes much of what you see is highly predictable, stereotypical and cliched. And yes we've seen it all before many many times. But at the end of the day this movie is essentially a time capsule from the late 90's. The clubbing, the music, the clothes, the hairstyles, the comedy and general attitude towards British middle class life etc...Its actually more of a trip down memory lane combined with morbid curiosity rather than a riot of comedy. That's not a bad thing though as I did find myself kinda enjoying the trip.

6/10

Monday, 10 July 2017

Rugrats Go Wild (2003)

























The third movie in the trilogy and we get a big crossover of franchises. From the minds of Arlene Klasky and Gábor Csupó (the same people who brought you Rugrats) came The Wild Thornberrys, yet another popular 90's Nickelodeon cartoon. This wacky kids adventure series focused on a kooky, environmentally friendly family that traveled around the world making wildlife documentaries. An admirable notion to be sure but I always felt the whole thing was a little too on the nose in all honesty. Trying to tick all the politically correct boxes so to speak.

The family consisted of the young Eliza who could talk to animals. Elder sister Debbie who is more of a regular teen in the sense that she likes more teenage girlie things like fashion, music etc...Marianne the mother, camera woman and editor of the family documentaries. Nigel the father, a zoologist, naturalist and the David Attenborough-esque host of the documentaries. Donnie, a feral boy raised by orangutans in a typical Tarzan manner, who is eventually discovered by the Thornberrys. And lastly Darwin the chimpanzee, the pet of the family with whom Eliza communicates with.

Now I never really watched the Thornberrys, I saw bits of it here and there but it just didn't click with me. Its hard to pinpoint why as I'm not overly sure why other cartoons of the era did click with me. Whilst the whole cartoon did look very lush and exciting with its wild exotic locations, I think it was hard to relate with. None of the characters ever really grabbed me. I never really related to either of the young female characters as they were obviously aimed more at a female audience (which is fine). Donnie the feral boy was just stupid and annoying, Darwin was off putting simply because he was a chimpanzee and the mother character, again, wasn't really relatable. The only character that I did kinda like was Nigel mainly because he was goofy and amusing (being voiced by Tim Curry also helped greatly).



But another reason the characters didn't grab me was simply down to their horrible look/artistic design. Whilst much of the cartoon is nice to watch most characters were just bland or bizarre looking. The female characters were just generic looking frankly, apart from Eliza who was a bit different with red hair and braces. Darwin was an ugly chimpanzee, nuff said, and Donnie was just a slightly different version of Chuckie from Rugrats. Whilst Nigel was the best character for me he was also the oddest looking character. This is fine but for some reason he was designed really oddly with a body that was completely out of proportions.

Anyway if you never saw the Thornberrys then this would instantly present a problem going into this movie. You didn't necessarily need to know the backstory to the Thornberrys to enjoy this movie, but it did help. This is mainly down to simple things like, why is this girl talking to animals? Why is this Donnie kid acting like an animal? How come the chimp can talk...and only to one person? etc...

As for the movie and plot well its reasonable but not stunning. They don't hang around trying to explain the backstory to everything as I already said, they do expect the bulk of people that watch this will be fans and know the score. So on one hand that's bold, brave and kinda good. The plot is a bit too straight forward really though. The Thornberrys are working on a tropical island, the whole Rugrats clan go on a cruise vacation but end up in a rickety old boat instead. Naturally they hit a storm and get marooned on this tropical island where, once again, the babies get lost and end up meeting some of the Thornberrys. Yet again the parents have to find and save the babies with the help of the remaining Thornberrys.



In all honesty there are some quite harrowing moments for kids in this movie. When the Pickles, Finster's, Carmichael's and Deville's get hit by a tropical storm at sea things do get a tad dark at one point. Obviously nothing bad happens but blimey it gets a bit edgy. Then again later on when the babies are all stuck within the Thornberrys minisub at the bottom of the ocean and running out of oxygen, things get really edgy. At this point its made quite clear that they're all gonna die! Nigel starts reading stories to the babies to take their minds off the fact the oxygen is about to run out and they will all snuff it!

Most of the characters do the type of things they normally do, as you would expect. Chuckie is the comic relief and has plenty of duo time with Donnie. Tommy is brave, Phil and Lil bicker and argue, Angelica is greedy and bullies whilst Susie is a goody goody. All the parents do their usual parenting stuff, Stu being the best of the bunch as usual. The Thornberrys don't really do all that much seeing as it is a Rugrats flick but Debbie's valley girl persona is holey annoying and Nigel gets wasted with a case of amnesia which induces a child-like state...which is also kinda annoying. One big deal with this movie was the fact they got Bruce Willis to voice Spike the dog (yes they bring Spike everywhere). I mean sure Willis was and still is a huge star but I don't see why they needed him just to voice the dog. Didn't make much difference to anything, obviously just for the buzz.

Third times a charm? well not really unfortunately. Just like the previous two movies this isn't a bad film, its just underwhelming, too formulaic. Don't get me wrong it is a bit more off the beaten track which is good, the plot and what we see is more detached from basic reality which falls in line with the TV series (unlike the last two which were very grounded). We still aren't getting any story based around the babies imagination but at least this plot feels more fanciful, not so straight laced. There are still annoying songs in here but luckily they are brief, shame about the awful cover of Police classic 'Message in a Bottle'. Everything looks lovely and highly colourful but as usual there is much CGI. In the end it all feels a little bit standard with little effort put in to distinguish itself from the previous two films in terms of basic structure. The crossover was the only neat twist but I just wish they had used a better cartoon franchise like Hey Arnold!

6/10

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Rugrats in Paris: The Movie (2000)



And here we are again with the inevitable sequel to the first average Rugrats movie. This movie would see a dramatic shift in the series as new major characters were added that would carry on with further new series on TV. The main question yet again was, could this movie give us a better plot? Umm...well kinda, I guess, sorta.

So what is the most tried and trusted plot line for a kids movie (adaptation)? Well we saw that in the first movie. Through a set of unusual circumstances the kids get lost in the wilderness and have to fend for themselves while the parents have to find them.  So whats the second most tried and trusted plot for a kids movie (adaptation)? Usually its the old change of location gimmick, in other words stick all the regular characters in another country and voila! An Instant flood of safe and easy ideas suddenly present themselves with the obvious cultural differences and of course a brand new look.

So for this new adventure the whole Pickles family (with the Finster's and DeVille's) are off to Euro Reptarland in Paris, France because Stu Pickles must fix the giant Reptar robot he built for the Yamaguchi company (parent company of the Reptar franchise). The head of Reptarland (a cold-hearted 'Cruella De Vil' type woman called Coco LaBouche) learns that Yamaguchi Industries president Mr. Yamaguchi is retiring and wants his replacement to be good with children as well as good at the job. So with some inside info from the naughty Angelica LaBouche sets her sights on Chas Finster.



The movie follows a few mini plots as LaBouche tries to seduce Chas in order to gain Mr. Yamaguchi's favour and his job. Spike the dog gets lost (because of course) and ends up running into a French poodle and falling in doggie love. Chas accidentally meets LaBouche's assistant Kira who has orders to help LaBouche win over Chas, but ultimately falls for him. And Tommy, Chuckie, Phil, Lil and Kimi (Kira's daughter) attempt to reach a Princess who, according to the Japanese Reptar origins, tamed Reptar. Said Princess is in fact an animatronic robot in the Reptarland amusement park. Chuckie believes the Princess would make an excellent mother for himself (in the Rugrats world Chuckie's mother died of cancer just after he was born).

Right so lets get stuck in here. Its unfortunate that this movie hasn't really cleaned up its act from the previous movie. Instead of going back to the franchises roots so to speak, they have doubled down on everything they did wrong (in my opinion). For starters we have numerous hideous songs again, again with the cringeworthy songs...ugh! Why oh why did they do this?? The cartoon didn't have songs, it didn't need songs...why??? Secondly, yet again we have more forced modern pop culture references aplenty along with the obligatory R&B/hip-hop song over the end credits, because of course we do. Apparently every single damn kids movie needs an R&B/hip-hop song on the end credits.

Admittedly this movie does look quite sumptuous I'll give it that. Clearly a mark up on the original movie in terms of scope, detail and big bold vivid colours. Reptarland certainly does look wonderful with its blend of a typical amusement park (obviously a Disneyland Paris rip-off) with traditional Japanese stylings. That sounds odd I know but believe me its quite beautiful with all the pagodas, people in traditional Japanese attire, famous woodblock print art, giant Reptars etc...It really does make you wanna go to this park. Alas being a modern movie they couldn't help using CGI...a lot. Again its better and less obvious than the first movie but it still wrecks the whole artistic vibe if you ask me, it just doesn't fit in with these cartoons.



Things take a turn for worst again though unfortunately with the pointless and god awful Lady and the Tramp rip-off subplot with Spike. Spike gets lost and roams the streets of Paris eventually coming across a French poodle...that just happens to be female of course. Naturally they fall in love and venture off together through Paris sampling its delights which eventually cumulates in the predictable eating of pizza in an alley. Oh and yes they do rip-off that very famous moment where to duo accidentally kiss whilst eating, oy! In the meantime because Kira and Kimi are Japanese, and Reptarland is in partnership with a Japanese company, everything the families do in Paris is Japanese influenced despite actually being in France. Nothing against Japanese culture, bloody love it! but it just felt kinda weird ya know. But I suppose that did mean we didn't have to suffer a tonne of stereotypical French cliches and tropes. Although the entire Reptar thing is of course a Godzilla rip-off and you just know they had to include a kaiju face-off (Reptar vs Robosnail).

So in the end once again this movie is much like the first movie and gives us little imagination from the babies. Instead we get another reality driven plot which is merely in place to further the franchise for a new TV series, basically a lot of padding. In all honesty this could have been done in the cartoon series over an extended episode, something they have done many times before, there was really no need for a movie. So instead of something a bit more fanciful from the babies perspective (the whole original premise), its just a humdrum love story with too many mini plots and characters. Its definitely a bit more exciting than the first movie, definitely more gorgeous to look at and definitely has more movie star voice work, but its still lacking and just can't compete with the cartoon series.

6/10

Monday, 3 July 2017

The Rugrats Movie (1998)

























For anyone not in the know, Rugrats was a highly popular cartoon series which aired on Nickelodeon in 1991 and ran through until 2004. The basic plot behind the series was seeing the world through a babies perspective, from a babies point of view. The main baby in question was Tommy Pickles, along with his small gang of baby friends, Chuckie, Phil and Lil. We follow this little group of babies as they get into all sorts of imaginary adventures and mischief born out of sheer curiosity and wonder.

Like other cartoons on Nickelodeon at the time one aspect of the series that stuck out was the artistic style or look of the cartoon. Most of the characters were generally human in shape and form but over exaggerated, almost like caricatures based on real people. The babies had quite big heads with large eyes and mouths, whilst the grown ups had very distinctive features that were simply overemphasized for a more comical look. The whole cartoon was always from the babies point of view which meant very low angles with everything looking more intimidating and obviously larger. Much like Hey Arnold! or Doug this world was presented semi realistically but obviously in a more simplified manner. The cartoon was generally big bold and colourful but with a more sensible vibe and tone; where as say Hey Arnold! tended to be much more vivid and cartoony looking.

Of course it wasn't all just pretty visuals, the characters were the main selling point and they certainly hit a home run with these lill fellas. The wholesome, brave, bold, heroic, diaper wearing Tommy Pickles. The quivering ginger scaredy-cat Chuckie, who also happens to be one of the eldest. The cheeky twins Phil and Lil who like to eat bugs and play in the mud. Angelica the spoilt, bossy, blonde brat that is always out for number one. And newbie character Dil the baby, who drools a lot. All the other regular favourites are also present and correct from Spike the dog, Susie the girl from next door, Dr. Lipschitz, Grandpa Lou and all the other parents.



So as said all of the little plots in the series surround everyday life and events for the babies as they go through life. Naturally this being the first big movie outing for the series the plot has to reflect that and be...bigger, makes sense. This movie sees the introduction of baby Dil which naturally makes Tommy unhappy in time as Dil gets all the attention. Not that Tommy is a selfish character, no,he just feels left out and forgotten. Unfortunately over time Dil pushes Tommy and the other babies too far with his umm...babyish antics, so the gang decide to take him back to the hospital. This leads the babies on an accidental collision course with fate as they get more than they bargained for getting lost in the wilderness.

So essentially this is in fact a very generic plot involving the babies getting lost, the parents finding out and having to go search for them. Along the way we get various cameos from old and new characters and mini side plots including the bratty Angelica searching for her precious doll Cynthia which Dil picked up before hand. So alas its all very routine stuff that doesn't really push the barrier of originality. Its a real shame since many of the TV episodes have some fantastic little plots utilising the babies imagination and some unique locations. This movie just didn't use any of that apart from a small (again generic Indiana Jones-esque) intro sequence. For the rest of the time its just too sensible and grounded if I can say that. I didn't really wanna see the babies out in the wilderness for real, lost, cold and genuinely in danger. None of that felt right, Rugrats should be a much lighter affair.

Did we really need to see the babies getting stuck on a rickety bridge almost falling to their deaths? Did we need lots of eerie circus monkeys running around like evil goblins attacking the babies? When the babies get trapped in a van which crashes of the side of a mountainous road!! Jesus!! Getting tracked and attacked  by a wild wolf. Almost drowning in rapids. Lost, cold and hungry in the forest at night with the parents in pieces trying to find them?? It all just felt a bit too much really.



Unfortunately this being a modern update of the cartoon, so to speak, this also meant other new features which had never cropped up before. Whilst the animation was very nice all round, it just didn't have the same colourful vibe that the TV series had. Again the more realistic plot lead to a more realistic artistic look with muted colours or more authentic effects. Of course it still looked like Rugrats, but like other famous cartoon TV series (The Simpsons) the earlier series will always stand out as the classic look, the epitome of the franchise. When the animation was a bit ropy but (clearly) packed with lots of tender loving care for each frame. This movie just looks too glossy, sharp and clean. It utilises CGI which stands out a mile and ruins the whole hand drawn look and vibe.

To make mattes even worse they actually added songs into the mix, songs! Let me be clear, there has never been any songs in the TV series...except for the odd plot related occasion. This whole angle just felt like a cheesy tacky way of muscling in on Disney and padding out the movies runtime (to me anyway). There was just no need for crappy songs. But wait there's more! They even add horrendous R&B/hip hop (whatever they were) tracks to the end credits for flips sake. If anything is the absolute epitome of modern day kids flicks trying to embrace and suck up to 'new modern culture' its the use of ghastly hip hop songs in the credits. I wouldn't mind but at least use these songs for movies that fit them, Rugrats does not require that type of music. Anyone who has seen the TV series will know that.

So as a fan of the series I was ultimately disappointed with this initial outing simply because I know it could of been so much more. Yes there are plenty of little humorous moments, cutesy delightful touches and lots of heartfelt schmaltz, but that's to be expected. What I really wanted to see was a great big imaginative adventure utilising the babies creativity and hijinks around the house, garden or various local buildings (much like the series episodes). I realise its a hard ball to juggle when making a movie but this just felt way too safe, corny and easy, much like the Doug movie plot. The influx of modern pop culture references, songs, CGI and the scary factor in the plot just takes you out of the movie because its nothing like the TV show basically. This just felt like a misfire to me.

5/10