Sunday, 29 January 2017

Pete's Dragon (2016)

























Oh boy! another live action remake/reboot type scenario from Disney, because that's what we want and need (ugh!). Well at least they took an old forgotten movie which wasn't really too good, because at least that makes some sense (glances at the movies in the queue awaiting their turn...I feel your pain, I really do).

So the original 1977 movie was a musical with a classic cast and is commonly known to be Disney's attempt at riding on the coattails of its earlier success 'Mary Poppins'. Its at this point I will admit that I have never actually seen the 1977 movie of Peter and his dragon, so I cannot compare. Essentially I'm going into this franchise remake/reboot blind which makes a change, primarily because I can't rip this new version apart compared to the original (bugger).

So the story goes like this. A young boy is orphaned when his family are involved in a car crash whilst driving though the forest, somewhere in the pacific north west I believe. Its at this point that the young Peter accidentally meets a mysterious dragon who decides to take Peter in and care for him, for some reason. Six years later and Peter is found by Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), a park ranger, her boyfriend Jack (Wes Bentley), Natalie (Oona Laurence), Jack's daughter, and Gavin (Karl Urban), Jack's brother. They take Peter in and try to care for him but naturally Peter has difficulties coping without Elliot (Peter named the dragon Elliot after a character in his favourite book). Eventually Elliot the dragon is discovered and captured by Gavin and his work colleges (after tricking Grace). So Grace, Natalie and Pete must help Elliot escape the authorities, long story short.



So this movie isn't an original premise, in fact you could look at it as a complete rip-off of a few other genres and ideas. Firstly, this could so easily have been a Steven Spielberg movie, its basically 'E.T.' for Pete's sake (ahem). A young boy finds a mysterious creature, they make friends, they get discovered and the boy must help the creature evade the authorities. Not only that but this movie is set in the 80's, coincidence? The entire set up of this movie is your standard emotional ride with all the familiar beats that we've seen a million times before (usually with animals, aliens or whatever). Kid finds a family, unique friend is an added extra.

Then you have the Tarzan aspect of the film, yes that's right, Tarzan. The young Pete lives in the forest with Elliot the dragon. He runs around in just some ripped pants, no top, no socks, no shoes, long hair, barefoot, very grubby. Both he and Elliot leap, bound and fly around the forest without a care in the world. At no point do either of them ever get seen, even when flying through the skies in broad daylight and the fact there's a lumberjack work crew not so far away, but whatever. When young Pete comes across a young Natalie it might as well be a young Tarzan meeting a young Jane, literally. Its also weird how Pete has seemingly never ever thought about finding help after the car accident. Just ran off into the woods with a large mythical creature, who cares about my folks right.

The funny thing is Elliot the dragon isn't really in the film all that much. He's there at the start when we get the Tarzan sequences and he's there for the climatic finale of course. But for much of the middle section Elliot is not around because we are dealing with Pete and his new family (Grace and Jack who find him). Is that a problem? no, it shouldn't be, but alas here I do think we needed to see more hijinks with Pete and Elliot. More actual fun happy moments of tomfoolery perhaps.



The film looks great with its woody setting, small American as apple pie town (with 80's visage), and the cast act well, but again there are problems. There are too many big names here methinks. Bryce Dallas Howard is perfect as Grace the caring mother type. Wes Bentley is fine as the bearded outdoors father type. Oona Laurence is maybe too good as the daughter who befriends Pete because she simply doesn't act like a child. Dunno if Laurence is like this is reality but its like a mature woman trapped in a child's body, weird. Then you have Karl Urban as the brother who initially seems fine, then becomes the bad guy, but is then forgiven for everything it seems. Urban is too bigger name for this role if you ask me. Maybe they should have swapped Bentley and Urban around, have Urban as the father and Bentley as the brother/baddie (he has that look). But then on top of all that you have Robert Redford shoehorned in as Grace's father, the old man who knows about the dragon but no one believes (couldn't get more cliched if you tried).

Bottom line there are too many characters and the movie can't decide which character you should be following. Considering the movies title is 'Pete's Dragon' you'd think it would focus completely on Pete, well no, no it doesn't. But that might be a good thing because the kid playing Pete (Oakes Fegley...Oakes??) isn't that good. His performance just isn't very compelling. He's always looking miserable, always pulling a scowling face and looks stupid with the wig. I never really got any kind of fun vibes from him.

Elliot the dragon isn't the best looking dragon I've ever seen to be frank, but it does the job. Obviously the movie is supposed to be a serious take but at times it doesn't look that way with a daft looking, big green furry dragon that can become invisible. The plot is as old as the hills, its not exactly a fun filled film, its a tad dull, not enough dragon action and there are too many protagonists. OK OK look, this film is fine, its your standard emotional, heart-string tugger with lashings of your standard CGI fluff. Its completely and utterly as safe as houses for the family to watch, no doubt about that. I just think its too safe, literally paint by numbers.

5.5/10

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

The BFG (2016)
















Now to a British person around my age (30 +), Roald Dahl will mean a great deal. Back in the UK during the 80's Roald Dahl was huge, probably the most well known and loved children's story teller around at the time. His stories were virtually legendary for all kids. We read them in school, we read them at home (no internet or much on the home videogame front back then) and we saw them read on TV courtesy of Jackanory on CBBC.  'The BFG' was arguably Dahl's most glorious achievement in this field, but to be blunt, they were all fantastic.

The story is all about a little 10 year old orphan girl (named Sophie) living in London. One night she accidentally sees a giant as he goes about his business. The giant notices the girl and basically kidnaps her, bundling her away to giant country (to protect his existence). In giant country Sophie learns that the BFG catches dreams (in dream country) which allows him to control children's dreams, making them nice or nightmares. This why the BFG goes into the human realm every night, to give children dreams. Sophie also learns about the bad giants that eat people, a real threat to all humans. The main crux revolves around Sophie and the BFG convincing the Queen to help them capture all the bad giants before they can eat anymore people.

So here we have the big screen adaptation of the beloved classic. The big Hollywood adaptation with flashy effects and A-list stars. We have already been blessed with the Jackanory reading of the story back in 1983 by Bill Oddie which blended narration with still hand drawn imagery perfectly. So did we really need a movie? More to the point, was a live action approach the right approach?



The first thing that hit me with this movie was how weak the CGI was, at least at first. Its a strange thing but the movie looks like something made for TV for quite some time. Now baring in mind this IS a Steven Spielberg flick I did find that really quite surprising. For around the first 30 minutes or so there is nothing of interest going on both story wise or effects wise, in fact the greenscreen effects are bad in my humble opinion. Its only when you start to see the BFG's face up close do you fully appreciate the CGI quality on display. So yes as things progress the effects do start to look much better, oddly, although don't go expecting a visual treat of colour and wonder.

What was impressive, as said, was the detail on the BFG's face, and other giants. I think they really captured the look of the BFG from the original drawings by Quentin Blake, perfectly. They have nailed the giants scrawny, ragged, wrinkly physical appearance whilst also getting his country bumpkin-esque face right too. That might sound odd but it could of been very easy to get the face wrong, the wrong type of face. It seems they actually modelled the giants face on the actor who voices the BFG, Mark Rylance, I think. You can clearly see a resemblance if you ask me and this shows both good casting and decision making. Using Rylance's actual face will have clearly helped tremendously in giving the giants face such a realistic, original and quirky appearance, more like a caricature. I noticed they also got the mouth movements/speech pattern of the BFG spot on too. The CGI creation actually looked like it was speaking the dialog whilst Rylance's vocal tones and accent were also spot on too.

So the visual effects were a mixed bag really, stunning close up details on giant faces but overall its a rather glum looking flick. Not even the sequences in dream country look overly marvellous, but I suppose it does all fit in with the book. Had everything been set in a vomit inducing CGI world much like the recent 'Alice in Wonderland' flicks...well that would have been very bad.



Of course the story is now dated so it kinda seems a bit shallow really, at least compared to some kids stuff these days. The bad giants eat people, but do they do this a lot? often? We don't actually get much insight into why Sophie decides to try and capture all the giants, other than they are bad and are rumoured to eat people. Sure they ate a previous child that the BFG was friends with but there isn't really any evidence of much else. Its also very cutesy how the duo are able to get close to Buckingham Palace and the Queens window (a giant not getting seen??). All the typical British character stereotypes such as the stuffy military officers, the cliched British kinks and quirks such as what they eat with the Queen, attire and accents. But again its all part of the book, the time it was written is obviously a big part of the story thusly things are out of time.

I think the movie is pretty faithful to the original book and it does well in bringing everything across to be fair. Although overall the movie has clearly been lightened up somewhat because believe it or not but Dahl's stories are actually pretty dark. This is why they were always so popular with kids, the fact that his stories were a bit gruesome and twisted (a modern equivalent of the Grimm fairy tales perhaps). Interestingly Spielberg did feel the need to include the tragic backstory for the BFG which surrounded the previous child that got eaten. This is not in the book but is actually just as dark as other bits of content, so it does question why some things were lightened up whilst this was added. The entire notion of different humans from different parts of the world tasting differently is totally gone. I can see how that might have triggered some types in this modern age (groan!!). Also the ending has been changed quite a bit from the book, although, I do actually feel the movies conclusion for the bad giants is actually better than the book. Quite frankly the books ending for the giants is ridiculous.



So despite this being an all American affair I do believe they did capture the olde worlde, whimsical British atmosphere to a tee. I think the casting was very good (Ruby Barnhill as the chirpy Sophie especially), the voice work was very good and the effects were good in part. I think the general problem here was the stories lack of bite because they watered it down, plus the fact it generally didn't really feel all that thrilling. Maybe its because I know the tale and I'm an adult, I'm sure kids will enjoy this...I would think, but I could be wrong. In all honesty when watching this classic Dahl story as a full movie you do notice how light on plot the story actually is. Its very basic (obviously as it was for kids) and relies heavily on the quaintness of merry old England (in the 80's), the movie that is not the book.

All in all I was kinda expecting a timeless journey of wonder and excitement...but it just felt lacklustre, a bit drab. I'm not a fan of all things being CGI even though it might look very good (in part). I dunno, I just get the feeling this could of looked and felt so much more fantabulous had it been created with stop motion animation (think 'James and the Giant Peach'), or maybe hand drawn animation. You really can lose that special magical spark with something like this and CGI if you ask me, not always of course. Anyway, 'tis a fine family adventure for sure, but I think it could/should of been better.

6.5/10

Friday, 20 January 2017

David Brent: Life on the Road (UK, 2016)




















The man, the legend, is back! Yes for all 'The Office' fans (possibly both from the US as well as the UK) this could be the greatest news ever, maybe the greatest film ev...no no going too far. Good old controversial Ricky Gervais is back doing what he does best in his monumental creation...being controversial. For those in the know (should be everyone) that will be music to your ears, for those not in the know or simply not a fan, you probably should just pass this by, unless intrigued.

So as I'm sure most will know (ahem! see what I said above), this movie is based on the smash hit satirical UK comedy series 'The Office'. The show is a mockumentary that focuses on the employees of a small fictitious paper company based in Slough, UK. The idea is quite simply, a TV camera crew is making a documentary about this small firm, filming the day to day goings on and how the company operates. What is captured is actually the cringeworthy, embarrassing, facepalming shenanigans of the companies general manager of this particular branch, Mr David Brent. While most of the companies employees try to do their work, Brent mugs, shows-off and generally attempts to make himself look good or cool for the cameras. What we see is a hideous display of generally offensive behaviour that Brent regularly doles out to all, but for the most part, blissfully unaware of what he's actually doing (and the damage).

This fantastic TV show was short lived with two series (go out on a high, take note America) and an hour long Christmas special. The show was also taken on and remade in the US (no shit). After a rocky start the US equivalent finally got going and ended up being pretty good too, if completely milked dry of laughs and ideas by the end. This movie follows on from where the UK series and Xmas special left off. Following Brent after he was sacked from Wernham Hogg, his short lived career as a travelling sales rep, and his even shorter lived career attempt at fame and fortune.



Brent is now a sales rep for a bathroom company called Lavichem. He is desperate to try his hand at a music career again so he decides to take a month unpaid leave to follow his dream. The movie kicks off on familiar ground with a similar set up that we saw from the original series. Brent is back in an office and acting the tit, generally unawares. Most of his fellow work colleges find him obnoxious, one or two seem to like him but keep it to themselves, and Brent has yet another sidekick to play off. So essentially its back to what you know, basically recreating it, a remake of sorts. Does it work? hmmm no not really. When the film starts and you see these familiar sights it does excite you no doubt (if you'r a fan). But as quick as it excites you, it disappoints you with flat unfunny dialog. Most of the office characters are pretty much the same types we got in the original show and Brent's sidekick is really quite annoying, but for real this time.

So the film doesn't really start off well if you ask me, but luckily we're not spending too much time in this office as Brent is off rampaging with his quest. We meet his so called rapper friend, a mixed race man...who raps, and watch as he hires a crew of musicians and tech guys. Basically none of them are really interested but Brent foolishly offers them good money thinking his success is a foregone conclusion, ironically the name of new band. And thus the tour begins! A tour of venues across Berkshire.

For the most part we follow the band as they travel from gig to gig, obviously. We see them at their hotels, practising, setting up for gigs, after gigs, talkin' bout money deals, having drinks in the hotel bars, jammin' and generally having a bit of a laugh. Then we see Brent tagging along behind (see what I did there? huh? huh??), trying to get in with the guys, trying to be liked, trying to be accepted, trying to be the cool lead singer of a band and generally playing up and showing off to the camera. So nothing to new then to be honest. The amusing part of all this, is the fact that Brent's the person who set up this whole series of events, he created the band, he's paying the wages, its his baby. But he's treated like a fifth wheel, as if he's part of the clean up crew or something. The other band members are only there for the money and to bum around while Brent sees this as a genuine push for glory. Heck Brent even ends up paying them to sit and have a drink with him after gigs!



To make matters even worse for Brent is the fact that his 'best friend' the rapper is actually a very gifted rapper. The guy has skills and could go places, maybe Brent could manage his career? Maybe they could work on a double act? But naturally when Brent discovers this his jealousy gets the better of him. Cue an obvious scene where Brent is looking pissed into the camera as he finds out his best mate is really good, better than him, and is going down a storm at a gig just after he's performed.

As the disastrous tour continues Brent ends up shelling out more and more to promote his band. It all comes to a point where even his crew see his floundering into ruination and tell him to stop. Spoiler alert but everything doesn't really work out for poor old David and he ends up going back to his sales rep job without a record deal. But luckily one of the staff members that kinda secretly liked him comes out and shows it (a lady). So once again David manages to end up with a shoulder to cry on and possibly (this time?) a long term partner.



So in the end is this any good or as good as the classic original series? Its a firm no from me I'm afraid, not even close. The main brutally obvious, slapping you in the face problem here is the simple fact that this movie just isn't very funny. Sure there are tonnes of gags, visual gags, the usual crushing satire, innuendos etc...but most of it falls flat every time. Obviously there are some good chuckles in there, Brent trying to get a tattoo is good (probably the best), seeing him hook up with some middle aged ladies out on the razz is another...I'm straining here. You can see what they're going for but its just not very funny, extremely basic humour at best. What's worse is you can see it all coming a mile off, there are no real belly laughs, no surprises, no cringeworthy shocks, or any shocks, and no real emotions to get you going. Sure you feel sorry for Brent towards the end, I really felt myself wanting this guy to win for once, but its all so tame and predictable. The ending is so painfully soft and forgettable.

I guess in the end I have to ask, why exactly would a film crew still be following David Brent around? In what world would any production company think that it would bring in good viewing figures to show this universally unlikable guy doing more of what everyone seems to hate him for. I guess you could say morbid curiosity, but at this point in this fictitious world Brent is literally someone who had fifteen minutes of fame, over fifteen years ago on a documentary, and now he's a complete nobody. The original production was a moment in time that worked, but now the whole idea would seem  an odd decision. A bit out of time or too late in the day. A bit like this movie really.

5.5/10

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Clue (1985)



Obviously this movie is based on the famous original Parker Brothers/Waddingtons board game which is in fact called Cluedo, a play on the words Ludo (Latin for I play) and Clue. The basis of the game is a period set murder mystery within a mansion or large old house. The murder in question is of the mansion owner, the suspects are an array of six respected people from various backgrounds. The murder could have taken place anywhere within the mansions nine rooms, and the murder weapon could be one of six items.

Amazingly the basis of the movie does actually follow along with the board games rules, in a way. Set in 1954, New England, USA (keeping in tune with the original games artistic look and era of creation, except not being set in the UK), a group of six relatively wealthy/influential/high profile people are invited to a remote mansion for a small gathering, the reason being unknown to all of them. The organiser of the evenings event is Wadsworth the butler. What do all six people have in common with each other? Mr Boddy is apparently blackmailing each of them over various dodgy things. Why have they all been gathered together? Because they are all unaware Mr Boddy is blackmailing each of them and Wadsworth wants to reveal this to the guests. Why does Wadsworth want to do this? Because he too is being blackmailed by Mr Boddy. The plan? to hand over Mr Boddy to the police with all the evidence from each guest.

Alas things go awry when Mr Boddy says he will simply reveal all of the guests deep secrets (some incriminating) to the police (why he's blackmailing them). To further complicate things, he then hands each guest a lethal weapon and offers them the opportunity to murder Wadsworth and destroy the evidence. There by keeping their secrets safe with him and pretending the evenings events had never occurred. Next thing we know Boddy is dead and everyone is suspect. Stupid really because they could of just killed Mr Boddy outright, no mystery required, and gone about their daily lives with no more blackmailing. You do wonder why they all just didn't decide to do that seeing as they were all on the same team and it was bloody obvious.



Its from this point onwards that the movie takes up the mantle of the classic board game where by any one of the guests could of killed Mr Boddy, with any weapon, in any room (well actually we know the room). So yes essentially its a 'whodunnit?', period piece murder mystery. Admittedly that should always be the obvious route for this idea but it could of been so easy to mess this up by adding action set pieces, outside locations, extra characters or general over the top padding. So I do really respect the fact they stuck close to the board games roots and kept the story contained within the mansion, with all the classic characters, no pointless alterations, no needless filling and no unnecessary sub plots. Basically if they remade this now you just know they'd change everything and add lots of shit involving CGI...somehow.

That's not to say there aren't any other characters or mini plots in the film, because there are, but they fit into the story. In fact this entire film is a cobweb of lies, deceit, backstabbing, double dealings, underhandedness and mini sub plots all over the damn show. Basically, as the film progresses nothing is what it seems, no one is who you thought they were and you're constantly guessing who did what, with who, why? and did they kill Mr Boddy? There are so many links between all the characters, both main characters and the background/extra characters. The characters stories fly to and fro, you never know what will crop up next or what will be twisted around. Every character has a purpose in the film no matter how small, the trick is trying to guess that purpose (you won't). This is all handled with much speedy dialog, double entendres aplenty, slapstick and gallows humour. The whole movie starts off with a wry, dry, sarcastic tone but eventually breaks out into full farcical lunacy and tomfoolery that, somehow, does manage to entertain you. In fact the lunacy becomes the butt of the joke as the tension is cranked up from the midway point.

The characters are all present and correct from the board game too which is nice to see, as I said no pointless changes here (although in the film their classic 'game names' are actually pseudonyms to protect their real identities, because of the blackmail plot). Admittedly the board games colour scheme for each character hasn't been upheld. In other words Colonel Mustard isn't wearing a yellow suit or whatever and Miss Scarlet isn't wearing a scarlet dress etc...you get my drift. But all the characters are here being the correct gender and race, and all the weapons are here too. There are some small differences though which is down to the American and British versions of the game. Mr Boddy is in the American version of the game, Dr Black in the UK. Its Mr Green in the US where as its Reverend Green in the UK. And a wrench is used in the US where as in the UK its a spanner. All of these minor changes are in this film seeing as its an American production.



As for the cast well its a mixed bunch of retro stars that many I'm sure have never heard of. This was actually one factor that I never liked about the movie, the cast seemed weak to me, maybe they could of used some bigger names? Straight off the bat with the more recognised stars you've got Tim Curry as Wadsworth the butler (presumably a nice little play on the company name of Waddingtons). I don't wanna say any one of these actors held this film together because they all contributed equally well, but Curry has to be the most fun. Curry's performance is one of the main factors in the movie getting more crazy as it progresses. His wild eyed craziness is infectious and surprisingly amusing, I say surprising because you'd think it would grow tiresome or come across as childish. Also this character is an addition to the board games roster so it could of failed miserably.

Professor Plum is played by the legendary Christopher Lloyd. Lloyd plays a slightly shifty character in Plum, not the more crazy eccentric you might have expected. A member of the World Health Organisation who had his medical license revoked for having relations with a female patient. Mrs Peacock is played by Eileen Brennan; a brilliantly neurotic performance as a US Senators wife whose been taking bribes. Miss Scarlet is played by Lesley Ann Warren. The flirty floozy of the bunch who owns an illegal escort service in Washington DC. Martin Mull is Colonel Mustard, a war profiteer whose working for the Pentagon on a fusion bomb and had relations with a girl from Miss Scarlet's escort service.

Mr Green's big secret is that he's a homosexual, something that would cost him his job in the State Department. Green is played in a charmingly submissive, jumpy, clumsy and cowardly fashion by Micheal McKean. Lastly we have Mrs White played by Madeline Kahn; the black widow whose husbands die under mysterious circumstances. White is drawn into this twisted little game to avoid a scandal surrounding the death of her latest husband. In extra roles, Mr Boddy is played in a sightly unconvincing fashion by Lee Ving. Obviously this guy doesn't last too long and this is probably for the best as Ving's greasy cad is pretty terrible. Clearly Ving can't act too well, possibly he can't deliver his lines either as much of his dialog is clearly dubbed for some reason. Then we also have Yvette the maid played by Colleen Camp. Dressed in sexy French maid attire complete with fishnets and horrendous accent, poor old Camp/Yvette seems to be in the plot purely to be killed off adding to the mystery (oh and some much needed sex appeal).



Lets be clear here, all these characters are meant to be devious, dirty, sleazy and completely untrustworthy. At no point throughout the movie are you ever completely sure if any of these people are telling the truth. This is the sheer brilliance of the film (and to be expected). You truly don't know who to root for, who to like or who to feel for, everything is up in the air. Heck! half the time you're not even sure if people who have died will remain dead. But watching all these smartly dressed folk dash around this mansion, from room to room, in pure pandemonium, trying to stay alive and keep other arrivals from smelling a rat, is a guilty pleasure. Its at these points you're not really bothered about who gets bumped off next, you're just curious as to where the film will go next. Nonetheless its still easy to pick a favourite from the madcap group of slimeballs. For me (and I'm sure most everyone) Curry steals the show with his rambunctious, googly eyed, well spoken antics. McKean as the strait-laced homosexual Green comes in second, followed closely by Brennan as Peacock.

The entire film is clearly shot on studio sets but what sets! The mansion interior may be easy to call out as a set but its incredibly detailed with period dressings and design. You've got all the rooms that feature in the board game of course, each looking very regal and quite impressive (the mansion is supposed to be a posh pad after all). Admittedly things do seem to get a bit cramped for the scenes upstairs, clearly not as much room for expansive rooms, but overall the whole film looks really nice and sets the mood perfectly. Naturally all the cast are dressed in period attire which looks lovely, those darling 50's styles where everyone looks so smart and picture perfect. But yeah, its all obvious sets (except for literally one or two exterior shots at the start), and there's a nice but obvious matte painting shot of the mansion at the start too. Other than that its all pretty much like a theatre-esque production with dialog and actual acting, no action, CGI or chase sequences to be found here folks.



The film has since picked up a cult following since it disappointing release, and I can see why. As said before its definitely a film that requires a few viewings. It does grow on you over time and you do find yourself coming back to it (its a great little Halloween flick). The fact they filmed multiple endings also adds a bit of extra life to the movie. Sure you get them all as extras now but at the time this was a really bold fresh move. Depending where you saw the film depended on what finale you would see, genius money spinner (had people liked it).

Overall I would say 'Clue' is a curious little gem. Its not actually a funny film in my opinion, not hilarious, yes its a comedy but still...its not that funny. Much of the comedy seems a bit childish at times or just misses the mark. Its a highly enjoyable ride with some great performances (that tend to have air of improvisation about them), zippy quickfire dialog, great theatrical-like visuals and some great twists. But at the same time it just feels like it could of been even better, wittier, maybe some better slapstick? Alas the movie is now dated and was even back in 1985 with its McCarthy hearing references and heavy dialog, Poirot-esque, drawing-room set murder mystery style. So there you have it, good fun in that classic golden age of Hollywood style. A brave stab (hehe) at a movie based on a board game, but I just think it could have been much better.

7/10