Friday, 22 June 2018

Ready Player One (2018)

























This movie has been on the books for quite some time, quite some time indeed. Hell rights to the novel (by Ernest Cline) had been won via auction before the novel had even been released! (novel released in 2010). Its another novel which I had heard of in part here and there, mainly due to its nostalgic content, but I've never felt inclined to read it or look into it. But this project really started to gather steam when Spielberg got onboard to direct; that's when most people sat up and took notice.

The Plot: Yeah its generic, its you're typical 80's fantasy type plot line, but that is the whole point. Its the future of 2045 and almost everyone spends much of their time in a virtual world known as the Oasis. Its creator, the late James Halliday (Mark Rylance) put a contest inside his virtual world before he died. You must find three keys which will in turn unlock an easter egg. Whoever finds this easter egg will win ownership of the Oasis. With that we follow a teenager called Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) and his various virtual friends as they try to discover the keys to unlock the easter egg whilst trying to avoid the clutches of the evil Innovative Online Industries (IOI) company with the same objective.

OK so the absolute unadulterated lure or hook with this movie is of course the expansive collection of nostalgic characters, objects, vehicles, songs, toys, comics etc; all from a vast range of movies, books, anime, comics, and videogames. In short this movie uses and pays homage to popular pop culture from various decades spanning the 70's right through to the early 00's. This alone was enough to secure the interest of many people (myself included) who may have not been up to speed on the original novel. The mere thought of seeing so many classic characters crossover in one movie was enough to make any nerdy geek cum in his pants.



But is that all this movie has?? It that the only shiny trinket that Spielberg can muster and dangle before you like some...shiny trinket, slathered in retro sauce. Well kinda...Essentially this movie sorta plays out like a Where's Wally? for decades worth of pop culture. I constantly found myself merely looking out for various characters that I'd heard were in the film, characters that were rumoured to be in the film, or simply scouring each frame for hidden easter eggs. So much so that I pretty much forgot to pay much attention to the actual plot of the fecking movie. Now is this my fault? Well yes it is but alas the plot is so mundane and generic you really shouldn't worry about it. And that's the main problem here.

In between looking for all your fave heroes and heroines from various franchises, in the background there is a rather boring plot revolving Wade Watts trying to find these three keys by decoding and deciphering various clues hidden within the Oasis. Yeah it is kinda dull to be honest, its even worse with the live action scenes that are not in the Oasis. But I do understand that aspect of it. The Oasis is supposed to be this realm people escape to for fun. The real world is obviously depressing, boring, difficult etc...So yeah I get that but it still didn't help me in liking this overall. Also didn't help that the real world in this movie looked weird. Like everyone was living in a giant junkyard or something, eh? Yeah poor I get it, but giant junkyards? What is this a tacky 90's videogame adaptation?

Anyway Watts is assisted by some other players which all have their own avatars just as Watts does. These generally look like your standard videogame type creations. Big muscles, bionic body parts, tight outfits, and huge weapons. Said clues seemed almost impossible to fathom out in my opinion as all were personal to Halliday; and even with dipping into his personal files it still came across as utterly unbelievable that the protagonists managed to work them out. At the same time the entire notion that no one has ever managed to work anything out until Watts comes along is just too convenient for me. I know I just said they seemed hard to work out but surely someone could of done at least one. Its almost feels like Watts and his mates are the only people actually looking properly and even when they do uncover secrets still no one else manages it.



This also leads me to some parts of the movie such as Watts winning the vehicle race after discovering a cheat. A cheat?? That kinda felt...well like cheating. I know its a hidden secret but again it also came across as so flippin' hard to uncover (because the clues seemed so obscure, to me at least) I still can't believe Watts even managed to find it. He got it from watching that archive video of Halliday...which apparently no one else has ever thought of ever doing. Kind of like 'The Shining' sequences (in the book it was 'Blade Runner') where yet again absolutely no one has apparently ventured or tried to uncover anything despite how suspiciously key laden that area might appear.

Now whilst all this is going on there is the rather predictable and cliched evil company that is chasing after Watts and co, after the same prize. These guys generally exist to give the good guys something to eliminate in the videogame world during the movies set pieces. A never ending stream of avatars to take out at various stages. They are led by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) who is (along with IOI) the most stereotypical corporate slimeball villain ever. He looks devious and untrustworthy and by golly he is devious and untrustworthy, in case you don't pick it up in the first five minutes.

I also didn't get how IOI are able to imprison people and use them as virtual slaves in this reality; because it doesn't come across as particularly backwards in that sense outside of their walls. There are police and they do arrest Sorrento at the end so...how come IOI had this massive slavery thing going on? And I did have to giggle at the moment where Watts finally meets Halliday (dead?) and almost accidentally erases the entire Oasis because of a large red uncovered button. Like what the hell was that about? Was that supposed to be a joke because it came across as simply dumb.



The first action sequence we get is the Wacky Racers type event with all sorts of classic motors on display. Its a wickedly cool idea I'm sure many people have played out in their minds before but here is merely came across to me as a mass of indecipherable CGI. Again I was mainly too focused on trying to see what easter eggs lay in the background as the DeLorean DMC-12 thundered around the urban track (why didn't he just use the fly mode?). Twas certainly cool to see all these vehicles charging around (who remembers the Bigfoot monster truck??) but it was also so chaotic it was hard to follow. Naturally things got even more chaotic and CGI laden when we reached the big final showdown between IOI and a legion of Oasis gamers. Holly Spectrum talk about a retro clash of the titans. If you ever wanted to see The Iron Giant take on various other franchise characters such as MechaGodzilla or Gundam, well I guess its your birthday.

But in all honesty, is that all this is??? Just a middle aged retro collectors wet dream of seeing all his shelf 'collectables' (toys) fighting each other in a massive cinematic version of a sprawling videogame beat 'em up (Marvel vs. Capcom). Yes it all looks great and yes it is very cool to see all these different characters and franchises clash and mix but I just can't get past that aspect of it. That is literally all there is to this movie because the rest is boring as hell. And are you telling me that this virtual world would have a power-up/pick-up weapon that could effectively kill every single player in the entire virtual world wiping their records?? Why would that be included?? Why??!! Surely that just screams problems.

Essentially this is a love letter of sorts to various decades gone by, but mainly the 80's. Its probably the closest I will ever come to one movie encompassing everything I have grown up with to this point. A cinematic archive of pop culture I (and many others) have slowly grown old with since my birth back in 1978. I appreciate it, I appreciate everything about this movie and I must thank all involved for bringing it to the big screen. But nevertheless the film was ultimately a bit of an anti-climax for me. It seemed to promise so much but in my eyes failed to deliver overall. What is there left for me to say? Well at least, thanks for the memories.

(The Zemeckis Cube: Essentially a Rubix Cube allowing time travel. When activated a few musical notes from 'Back to the Future' play. A mishap of retro knowledge in 2045, but oh so cool)

5.5/10

Monday, 18 June 2018

Pacific Rim Uprising (2018)

























Giant robots vs giant monsters, part 2. Giant robots merely punching giant monsters, part 2. Godzilla rip-off/clone/homage (however you wanna look at it) vs giant robots, part 2. 'Rampage 2' without Dwayne Johnson. Yet another giant monster destroying a city, part 2. CGI onslaught, part 2. Transformers vs giant monsters. There are many ways to describe this movie; but the one way you cannot describe this movie...is it actually being a good movie.

The Plot: Giant monsters (Kaiju, whatever) from dimension X came from the depths of the ocean to destroy mankind in the original, mankind fought back with giant robots (Jaegers, whatever) and won. This time more giant monsters from dimension X come back from the depths of the ocean to destroy mankind again. Spoiler alert, mankind fights back and wins again. Moving on...oh wait this movie also tees up a possible third sequel because of course it does.

So its illegal for people to build their own Jaegers, something I didn't quite understand really because you'd think in this universe it could be useful. Lets think about this, you have the possibility of giant monsters returning to wipe out mankind. The only way to (reasonably) stop them is with giant robots. So if clever innovative people are able to build Jaegers on their own with random bits and pieces, isn't that maybe a good thing? Use that to your advantage. Sure I can understand the issue of rogue Jaegers or 'unlicensed' Jaegers running around, but if that's your only concern in a world where giant monsters could rise from the depths and take a massive dump on your city, well maybe change your priorities.



Anyway its ten years later and the story now focuses on the son of one of the lead characters in the original movie (note, not actually the lead character). Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) is the stereotypically wild card son of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) who steals Jaeger parts and sells them on the black market. Naturally Jake used to be a hot young top gun in the Pan-Pacific Defence Corps but quit because of the burden of expectations of his fathers reputation...blah blah blah. But guess what! Now he's back in the PPDC after getting caught stealing some Jaeger shit and given the choice of that or prison. Luckily his old co-pilot Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) is still around to help him out and generally look and act all grizzled and tough. Because that's what all military trainers are like, apparently.

Not only do we have those incredibly bland and predictable cliches, we also have the usual team of good looking young recruits for Jake to mould in his own image. Of course this being 2018 the recruits are a hand picked and completely unrealistic diverse bunch of kids; you know just to appease everyone just in case. Its whilst watching all this cringeworthy macho bullshit in the PPDC that you fully understand the influence China has on Hollywood these days (in case you hadn't noticed before). Of course you can't really blame Hollywood seeing as they owe it to China for saving the first movie; so its really no surprise that this movie is virtually dedicated to the East.

Looking at the battles (the entire main crux of this movie), yeah they're mighty impressive with all that glossy CGI, but what did you expect?? But lets be real for a minute here, take the first battle in Melbourne, Australia. Yeah the whole city is pretty much obliterated with, I can only assume, hundreds of thousands of deaths, but this is not touched upon. Then you have the big finale battle in Tokyo which takes up most of the damn movie. Once again the destruction is on a GRAND scale the likes of which I don't think we've witnessed before. Tokyo like Melbourne is (in parts) utterly decimated. Hell the human controlled Jaegers even use the fecking buildings as weapons at one point! Did they even check there were any humans in those buildings??



The monsters and Jaegers throw each other around smashing into various buildings as if for fun! And when either aren't falling into buildings, they're swinging around on them or simply barging them over for fecks sake. I simply cannot convey the amount of carnage in this movie, its literally colossal. Its so unbelievably epic it just becomes a farce; surely a staggering human death toll but who cares eh. Funnily enough despite the inescapable death toll you never actually see any humans on the ground anywhere during these battles. The CGI cities are totally barren of any human life apparently. Oh and what the flip was all that shit with some Jaegers being taken over by Precursor (the aliens that control the monsters) brains! So not only do the Jaegers get their brain/core taken over, the Jaegers actually morph into robot monster hybrids at the same time?? What??

I think the one moment where I completely switched off was the point in which the Jaegers started performing martial arts moves. I mean I guess you've gone this far with this crap you might as well just go the whole hog right. And then they launch Gipsy Avenger into orbit so they can freefall the thing directly onto the last remaining monster (there were three but they all morphed together like a big organic Transformer), oy vey!

In essence this movie is pretty much a mix of Transformers, Voltron, Godzilla...and amazingly for this sequel Power Rangers. The sight of these Jaegers being piloted by these young annoyingly cocky hotshots, each with different skills and abilities, was cringeworthy.  Not to mention the cringeworthy performances from Boyega and Eastwood both trying to be stoic funny and ice cool in every scene. Just before the final battle Pentecost turns to his young recruits and claims he can't make rousing speeches in the heat of the moment. He then continues to give a (cringeworthy) rousing speech in the heat of the moment.

For me this comes across as yet another movie that falls under the 'if it had been released in the 90's it probably would have been a big hit' category. Obviously self explanatory and I fully believe this. This isn't a terrible movie per say, its solid sci-fi, its just too late in the day. Overall this movie just feels incredibly dated on every level (except for the effects obviously). But the most heinous crime of all is the fact they totally mullered a pretty decent concept from the original movie. Yes the first movie was big and flashy, but they still managed to somehow go stupidly incoherently overboard here.

4/10

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Tomb Raider (2018)





















So Tomb Raider was a game from Core Design that was released back in 1996 primarily for the Sony Playstation. Many sequels followed over the years taking us up to the 2013 release which was a reboot of the games series. This 2013 version gave us a new in depth look into the origins of the games protagonist, Lara Croft. This 2018 movie is an adaptation of the 2013 game reboot whilst also being a reboot of the first two Tomb Raider movies from 2001 and 2003.

A Tsunami of Cliches (the plot): The most generic plot they have come up with? Yep.

Lara (Alicia Vikander) is essentially a mega rich British woman thanks to her fathers business of whatever. But for some reason Lara is not interested in accepting her fathers inheritance because reasons. Her father Richard (Dominic West) disappeared whilst searching for Himiko, a mythical Queen who was said to have power over life and death. Richard is presumed dead (of course). So after much personal angst and discovering the stereotypical hidden chamber stocked with clues, Lara goes off on an intrepid adventure in search of her dad.

Briefly, she meets up with a good looking toned Chinese bloke. She convinces him to help her. They both sail off to find this mysterious island set right in the middle of a treacherous section of the Pacific (where no on ever survives type scenario). They get shipwrecked on the island. Lara gets 'rescued' by what turns out to be the bad guys. The bad guys work for a dodgy company who are also after this mystical supernatural power. The bad guys are all big muscular blokes carrying large automatic weapons. They find the location of the mystical Queens tomb. Its chock full of booby traps. They get past all the booby traps. All the bad guys get killed. Lara makes it out alive as the whole place comes tumbling down. Generic enough for you?



The start of this movie doesn't really help. Lara is in London working for as a bike courier and decides to enter into this rather childish game of chase for money. Basically loads of blokes try to catch her and grab this fox tail off her bike (essentially a flag) before she can reach a certain destination, I think? The entire sequence looks lame and stupid. Its cringeworthy because the whole time there is this rock soundtrack playing in the background as if the entire sequence is supposed to be 'kewl'; like its some kind of extreme sports around west London, pfft! All the guys chasing her have these extreme haircuts, shades, clearly expensive bike gear, inked and pierced up etc...Its so flippin' pathetic.

But at least that sequence was real in real locations. Unfortunately so much of this movie looks fake because its bolstered with tonnes of CGI. The now infamous waterfall sequence which we all saw in the trailers, yeah it looks terrible. The bomber looks terrible, the rapids look terrible, and Vikander copy and pasted against it all looks terrible. Speaking of that bomber, kinda looked like a WWII plane. That in itself would be a huge discovery...but who cares! No time for that. Literally everything Lara does in this movie is against bloody obvious CGI. All the set piece backdrops, every time she leaps across something (in cliched slow motion), hangs from something, stands in front of something.

Not only that but Lara is bloody useless in this movie too. She literally spends the whole time getting beaten to a pulp by various blokes, only occasionally does she manage to actually win...kinda. I mean on one hand that's more realistic for sure but blimey does she take a beating in this. Lara also takes a huge amount of damage ranging from really nasty landings from heights, getting struck by objects, and even getting a puncture wound in the belly! Its like they went for realism in terms of fighting blokes, but went down the videogame invincibility route for surviving really nasty incidents.



The whole bit with Lara finding her dad was incredibly incredibly predictable and cliched. I mean it was so fudging obvious right from the start. The fact it actually happened and director Roar Uthaug tried to make it surprising just made me facepalm. Not only that but naturally her dad just happens to have a bow and arrow with him, something that Lara just happens to be a dab hand at (ugh!! please!). So now Lara's running around with an apparent unlimited supply of arrows. Oh and all the bad guys drop dead straight away after being shot by an arrow, stone dead instantly.

Lets take a quick look at the bad guys who are led by Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) and who all work for the shadowy Hyd...I mean Trinity organisation. Well as I said before they're pretty much you're bog standard merc type in movies these days. All roided up with hipster beards and tattoos. There only appears to be about six of them at first but their numbers become inexplicably bigger during an action sequence. Suddenly there are loads of guys just waiting to get shot with guns or arrows. The only bad guy of any worth is of course Vogel. A solid slimy villain who is quite happy to kill people. The rest are just background fodder for weapons and booby traps.

I find it amusing in movies like this how both the protagonist and antagonist are looking for one specific item and often ignore everything else. Like in this movie they discover this ancient tomb with wall to wall treasures such as ancient text on walls, markings, various artifacts, what looked like precious gems or stones to stop a booby trap etc...Heck even the various skeletons lying around the place could be historically important. But they always totally ignore all that, often allowing the stuff to get destroyed in the process.



Frankly the entire movie is a snooze fest until Lara and co reach the subterranean tomb of Himiko. There we get some nice thrills with the booby traps but even that can't detract from the fact its retreading very familiar ground from a certain Spielberg/Lucas franchise. I mean they virtually copy some aspects beat for beat to a degree. I quite liked the notion that this ancient mystical power turns out to be a deadly potent disease. But then they absolutely ruined it by going down this zombie-esque state route. I mean honesty, hasn't that whole angle been totally milked dry already, come on guys.

I quite liked how they made the movie a bit more adult orientated, a bit dark. Its was also acceptable that Lara wasn't a superhero type character all the time, although I felt she did need to be a bit tougher at times. Its a fine balance I know but Lara did seem a bit sidelined in her own movie at times (maybe that's just me). But overall I'm pretty shocked at how generic this was and the fact they copied other movies.

4.5/10

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Critters 2: The Main Course (1988)

The insatiable appetite of the Crites continues in this inevitable sequel.

It seems the bounty hunters missed a small batch of Crite eggs when they were last on Earth. You'd think they would have known to check for something like that considering they are bounty hunters and apparent experts in various alien lifeforms such as the Crites. Alas no, the professional bounty hunters bungled their last job by forgetting to check for eggs. Oh yeah and its Easter time on Earth. Crite eggs...Easter...got it. So after a brief hologram message from some wiry alien creature (must be the new space prison boss. The last hovering alien was probably fired for f*cking up and allowing the Crites to escape, probably), the bounty hunters are off to Earth yet again for another ultra destructive rescue mission.

So lets just address the most obvious change here. This franchise started after the classic 1984 horror comedy 'Gremlins', yet it was apparently written before. This critter sequel came out in 1988, two years before the sequel to 'Gremlins' in 1990. And still, like the original films the similarities between the sequels are easy to spot. Where as the original movies (both 'Critters' and 'Gremlins') were basically horror comedies with a somewhat semi-serious dark thrilling vibe; the sequels go down the comedy route.

Everything in this movie is one step up, more in your face, more lunacy, more cartoonish. But lets be clear, this isn't a goofy spoof which 'Gremlins 2' kinda turned out like. No this is still a semi dark, thriller-esque horror comedy for sure, it just has more laughs at the Crites expense. The Crites themselves have definitely gone down the cartoon route for certain scenes. They are still threatening and make you wanna pull your feet away from the edge of the couch; but at the same time they are now used as the butt of some definite goofy visual gags. Nevertheless this movie doesn't ever go down the meta/self-referential route for its gags, it doesn't satirise the original movie. The basic plot still holds up and plays out.

So lets have a look at the plot. Well its the same as before only more! More Crites, more feeding, more blood, more gore etc...Oh and Charlie is now a bounty hunter. Why is Charlie (Don Opper) a bounty hunter? Beats me, no clue why Ug would allow this clearly weak human to accompany him into space as a trainee. We even see how bad Charlie is at the job at the start. Meanwhile on Earth Brad (Scott Grimes) is all grown up now and visiting Grover's Bend to see his gran (conveniently). For some reason Brad has a bully problem from a guy called Wesley (in a very 'Back to the Future II'-esque scene). Not sure why this guy was in the movie. And Sheriff Harv has now been recast with the younger (at the time, I think) Barry Corbin who was at one time the main man to cast for any authority figure...usually in a small town type scenario. This guy is the most Texan Texan I've ever seen; his name should be Tex Stetson McSixShooter.



One of the big attractions with this sequel (for all us dirty minded underage boys at the time) was of course Ug's partner in crime (now called Lee). In the first movie his gimmick was shape-shifting between various human forms for comedic effect. This time things got a bit more grown-up, a bit more seedy; dare I say a more lowbrow hook or carrot on a stick. Yep this time Lee shape-shifts into a hot sexy blonde with big boobs that adorned a Playboy magazine cover that Charlie finds lying around in a field (as if). I should also point out that not only does Lee's face change, his body changes too. Complete with firm arse, huge boobs (that inflate like balloons complete with whining sound), and even a nice tight thong. Because of course that would be included in his shape-shifting.

The other big draw with this movie was the Crite special effects. Basically the new tricks and gimmicks the puppets could do and the various comedic ways in which they got killed. And with that we see critters getting blown to pieces with the bounty hunter space guns. Getting run over and squashed flat. Boiled in a vat of chip fat until lobster red and bald. Electrocuted in a very cartoonish manner. Biting on a car tyre and inflating like a critter balloon. Splattered against a wall. Seeing Crite facial expressions such as their little eye bulging out of their head when scared. And the coup de grâce, where all the Crites join together like an organic Transformer to form the giant critter ball which eats people alive as it snowballs along. Everyone loved that bit, the bit where the critter ball rolls over some guy reducing him to a quivering bloody skeleton in its trail.



Quick note, Ug transforms/morphs into a critter in this movie. That is something new which leads to questions such as, why did he not do this before? Surely that would have helped in the first movie. How can he do this?? It is kinda assumed these shape-shifters can only transform their face, but in this movie it seems they can transform their entire body shape and even size! So clearly the goalposts are being moved to suit the plot here, which is fine I guess (this is a B-movie), but also troublesome for consistency.

So what's the lowdown? Well I'd say this movie is pretty much on par with the first movie. The original is more of a genuine horror thriller with reasonable jump scares and tension; the sequel is more of a horror comedy with more silly Crite hijinks. Both movies are good stand alone flicks, both are easy to follow, and both deliver exactly what you would expect. Some folks will prefer the original and some will prefer the sequel, and that's completely understandable. Myself now, I think I slightly prefer the original as it takes itself a tad more seriously, a bit darker. When I was a youngster I preferred the sequel because bewbs. But overall, weighing up the pros and cons, I'd say they were about equal.

7/10

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Critters (1986)

























Looking back I cannot for the life of me remember how I got to see this movie. I know I first saw it when I was quite young but I'm surprised I was allowed to see it. Its really quite puzzling frankly. I'm guessing my dad (the sci-fi fan) may have let it pass as it was more of a silly sci-fi comedy horror rather than an all out nasty horror (bit like 'An American Werewolf in London') Anyway somehow I saw it...and became a relatively big fan of the franchise.

Its amazing to think that this movies story was actually (apparently) written long before we got Joe Dante's 1984 classic 'Gremlins'. As with many movies that become influential classics there often follows a raft of copycats varying in quality. After its initial release Critters was widely regarded as such a copycat, albeit one of the best copycats. Alongside that you had other movies such as the Ghoulies franchise, 'Munchies', 'Hobgoblin', 'Elves', 'Beasties', and maybe to a certain extent the Leprechaun franchise. Despite that Critters plot was actually very different to Joe Dante's movie.

The plot is your typical science-fiction hokum that could quite easily of come from the pages of a 1950's script. A prison in space (on an asteroid) houses a species of deadly creatures called Crites. The Crites manage to escape the prison and fly off towards Earth. The space prisons alien warden immediately hires two space bounty hunters to track down the Crites before they manage to feed (before midnight?). The Crites naturally make their merry way to Earth and touchdown right in the middle of rural America, because where else? Before you can say bon appétit the Crites are attacking everyone and everything in site.



Now even though this movie is called 'Critters' and follows the little carnivorous creatures from A to B; technically you could call this movie 'Bounty Hunters' because essentially its more about their story than anything else. The Crites are merely a basic plot device to defeat, the human family in danger are merely there for the risk factor. The bounty hunters are the characters you get behind and cheer for because they are ice cool, quirky, funny, and the movie is always better with them in a scene. Hell most of the movie is simply following the bounty hunters as they search for the Crites. Once they find them they are able to eliminate the critters easily with their huge space guns, its just a matter of finding the little darlings.

The bounty hunters are also shape-shifters (one called Ug, the other apparently nameless) with glowing green blobs for heads. They both literally have glowing green, featureless putty-like heads which effects wise actually works really nicely. We don't find out where they are from or anything about their backgrounds at tall. We don't even know what they actually look like in their original form. They are shape-shifters, they have an original form which we assume is the glowing green putty-like form. But then why do they always retain a human male form in general?

It is the shape-shifting special effects sequence that wowed me as a child back in the day. When the bounty hunter begins to morph into his intended target (in this case a human male). Clearly the crew have made a full sized (?) human head out of different layers of wax or putty or plasticine or whatever. They have then slowly and carefully heated this head, presumably one stage at a time, so each layer can run and melt away to reveal the next layer underneath. Each layer obviously represents skin, muscle, blood, bone, tissue etc...Once this was completed they then ran the recording backwards as if all the layers were slowly growing or merging into place over the skull as the aliens head morphed. The trick is a simple one but extremely effective and memorable here as one of the cool gory moments.



Ug is the main bounty hunter with the bulk of the dialog, he is the hero character basically. You can tell this because he chooses a human male rock star (the fictitious Johnny Steele) for his 'face' when they initially come to Earth. This means he's got that Mick Jagger type of look about him with flowing locks, a sexy voice, he's slim, and has high cheek bones. Whilst at the same time he has the cool calm serious demeanor of Clint Eastwood. You could say he's an anti-hero really because he's not exactly kind to humans initially. He's not bad or anything but he doesn't mollycoddle them, its only towards the end that he becomes more sensitive towards the humans.

Johnny Steele: Power of the Night. The best fake band (and fake hit song) ever? I must also point out that the score and soundtrack for this movie are so delightfully 80's. If that's your bag then I highly recommend this. Go Google it now, now!!

His partner on the other hand is a bit of a loose cannon with his space gun. This guy is kinda twitchy and won't hesitate to whip out his weapon and blow something away with no regard to any humans nearby. He also cannot decide on a face to transform into and is constantly changing throughout the movie. They are a slightly mismatched pair for sure with Ug being the more calm and level-head hunter. Still this doesn't stop the pair of them destroying a whole load of shit together, Ug certainly doesn't rein his partner in much.



The Crites are (as I'm sure you are aware) little fuzzy rodent-like creatures with tiny arms and legs, glowing red eyes, and a large maw full of razor sharp teeth. They are basically hand and animatronic operated puppets depending on the scene and shot. They look pretty different from Joe Dante's Gremlins but the way in which they were created and shot are very similar. So in general you'll have scenes where a critter will be a fully animatronic puppet for a closeup on its face, and its effective. Then other scenes where the critter is operating something and you get a closeup of its little arm and claw, and its kinda basic lookin'. And then scenes where the critter is clearly a puppet or doll. When they curl up into furry balls and roll around (how they get around quickly), its a bit tacky looking.

Alas the history and evolution of the Crites is not really explained well in this movie. Again like the bounty hunters we do not know where they come from, why they must eat all the time, how they can eat all the time being so small, why are they going to space prison? (guessing they ate someone or something). They are clearly intelligent creatures with emotions and thought because they can speak to each other, they fear things, they can be happy, and they can fly spaceships. But they also appear to be inherently evil towards anything...if they can eat it, they don't care. It is also shown that the Crites can grow to enormous sizes when they carry on eating, but this only happens to one of them, why not all? This rather large Crite also kidnaps the young female towards the finale, but why?? Were they gonna use her as a hostage? Use her for food? Breed with her?? Who knows.

The humans in peril are of course you're typical all-American rural types, not rednecks but just good honest country folk. They live on a very nice picturesque farm with a white picket fence and a large well presented house. The father (Billy Bush) has a very strong southern accent, he's firm and seemingly a good man. Whilst the mother (a very gorgeous looking Dee Wallace) is very much a 50's looking type of house wife and offers up some more classic scream queen type antics. Their daughter (Nadine Van der Velde) is also seemingly a good girl, very attractive, and is seeing a rather well-to-do flashy young jock with a cringeworthy ponytail and Porsche (a very young Billy Zane). And then we have their son Brad (Scott Grimes) who seems completely unrelated being ginger, looks a bit like a young girl if you ask me, and has an obsession with making homemade...explosives?! Foreshadowing tip, the explosives will obviously come in handy.



This just leaves old Charlie (Don Keith Opper) who is the stereotypical town drunk and conspiracy nutjob. This guy clearly spends most of his time getting pissed and shouting his mouth off about all sorts of conspiracies surrounding aliens and the government etc...We first meet Charlie in the local jail (the drunk tank) sleeping off his last bender. He's a scrawny goofy looking guy who is kind gentle and helpful. In this movie he kinda plays Brad's sidekick and second and third fiddle to both the bounty hunters and the rest of the family. Opper does get a more meaty part when Ug's bounty hunter partner transforms into Charlies visage, but other than that the character of Charlie does very little really. And yet this character goes on to become this franchises main protagonist, which is odd.

End of the day what do you have here? A movie about little alien furry balls with sharp teeth that eat pretty much anything. Its all set in a small American as apple pie hick town complete with a local drunk and a tobacco chewing, aging, balding, fat Sheriff (M. Emmet Walsh). You can't really get much more cliched and cornball than that. Its clear to see this movie didn't have a great deal of money to work with, but its also clear they made every penny count. This was an early New Line Cinema B-movie release that was pretty blatantly trying to ride the coattails of a larger A-movie, but quite surprisingly had enough of its own ideas to stand on its own. Yes those ideas weren't exactly fresh (now or then) but the super creativity in effects along with other simple quirky visuals really helped this to stand out in the crowd.

Oh and that special button that somehow magically rebuilt the farmhouse right at the end, how the flip does that work??

7/10

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Another year and another old franchise is brought screaming and kicking back into the present. For better or worse? Well that's always the million dollar question and often its the latter. And with that in mind I dived into the sequel/reboot (bit of both really isn't it) of one of my favourite movies...with much trepidation.

The Plot: Its now 2049 and now all older model replicants are illegal (newer models are legal). We now follow a replicant blade runner called K (Ryan Gosling). After retiring a rogue replicant K discovers a box buried in the ground which contains a mysterious skeleton. Turns out the skeleton belonged to a female replicant and bares the marks of a caesarean delivery. K is now tasked with finding the child and retiring it. He takes the remains to the Wallace Corporation, which took over the Tyrell Corporation, to identify the remains. The replicant is of course Rachel from the first movie which will in turn eventually lead K back to Deckard (Harrison Ford). Of course Wallace CEO Niander Wallace wants to know how replicants are reproducing so he sends his combat model replicant Luv to get the remains and track K to find the child.

The Visuals: Oh man its dark here, its so really really murky dirty and dark. Like has mankind somehow blocked the sun out and everyone lives in perpetual darkness and rain, like lots and lots of rain. But seriously, we all know the first movie was a dark moody vision of the future so its of no surprise that that has continued here (despite the fact that outside the cities there is still green countryside and blue skies, apparently).

Director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins have certainly recaptured the original movies looks...and then some. Every scene, every shot, every sequence feels like something you'd see in an art museum exhibition. The imagery ranges from stunning to super stunning utilising vivid colours, muted colours, barren wastelands, surreal interiors, and of course bleak dystopian cityscapes. Anyone who knows this franchise will know what to expect for sure, but what you see here is still gonna blow your socks off. Whilst some scenes look like something straight out of your standard futuristic anime vision of Tokyo complete with huge holograms and neon signage everywhere. Other (interior) scenes do certainly seem to have a 'Prometheus' vibe about them. You could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a sequence involving the Weyland Corporation.



Indeed whilst some sequences do look highly imaginative, at the same time they can be quite bizarre also. Most interior shots of the Wallace Corporation are wildly outlandish and alien looking. In fact some of it is so alien looking it actually comes across as less authentic and more showcase, literally like an exhibition of the future by a designer. On the flip side it seems impossible to escape the more obligatory dystopian visuals. As already mentioned you have the typical Futuristic far east vibe; but then you also have the typical grotty wastelands and ruins where typically hostile scavengers eek out an existence. An abandoned ghostly city (Las Vegas) is also a pretty standard sci-fi trope but in this case its visually breathtaking because its enveloped in, an apparent, eternal dazzling sunset coloured haze. Without that haze these scenes would look pretty dull and standard.

The Score: After much tinkering around with different people at the helm at various times, eventually Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch were hired. The aim was to get the score back to the roots of the franchise, more in line with Vangelis's iconic score. With that in mind do I think they achieved that? Well yes and no. On one hand parts of the score is very original, very bombastic with its very loud blasts of electronic synth. But it does also tend to feel a bit too heavy or videogame-esque in places more than anything. On the other hand the more recognisable parts of the score (that remind you of the original film) are good but tend to feel a bit too close; as if they just modified Vangelis's actual work instead of coming up with their own. That's fine, but then maybe just use Vangelis? Sticking Vangelis's original score over the finale merely confirms that they should of used it throughout.

The World of 2049: So what's really changed here? Not much by the looks of it. The cities (or at least LA) still look like highly polluted, rain drenched, flying traffic infested urban sprawls festooned with various (oriental influenced) neon signage. Vegas is now (ghost town remember) awash with radiation after a dirty bomb struck it (bomb? What??). We don't see much else of the world but apparently the climate is f*cked up which has led to California suffering almost permanent winters and the sea reaches inland up to Sepulveda Boulevard. Oh and said state is also overcrowded with refugees, so an accurate portrait of California for the future then. But where did all the Asian people go from the original film?



In this age K can now appear to lead a normal life with a hologram partner. To the point where said female hologram actually falls in love with him and arranges for a prostitute to pop round so she can 'merge' with the prostitute and have sex with K. I found this...odd, to say the least. So is this female hologram programmed to so this? Did K request the hologram like this? Did K programme the hologram himself? Also full blown gigantic neon advertisements can interact with you which seems kinda pointless. I did like how they advanced the technology from the point of view of the original movie. In other words this films future tech is based and advanced on from the future tech of the 1982 film, not our reality based future. Hence plenty of analog tech and Atari are apparently still a big company.

The whole police protocol baseline test that K must undergo in order to remain...emotionally reliant I guess, seemed overdone to me. He seemingly undergoes this everyday I think, at the end of his shift. Its quite clear that K has been taking and passing this test for quite some time and is a solid blade runner. Yet at one point he fails the test and is immediately branded rogue. By this point I would of thought failing the test wouldn't be that big of a deal. I would of thought something like that would/could be easily sorted as part of a constant police monitoring programme because surely over time it will have occurred often. I just don't see how it would be a major problem anymore, in the early days maybe but now?

Also K stages Deckard's death at the end, intending to claim that Deckard drowned in the crashed spinner (or whatever flying car that was). But how does that work?? Surely anyone could quite easily find the crashed vehicle reasonably quickly (especially a man like Wallace) and discover no body. With all the tech in this world I'm sure Deckard would get found out soon enough (ahem...sequel).



Niander Wallace and Luv: I can't deny that Leto fit the bill here perfectly with his smooth baby-faced looks. But I can't help but think that both Wallace and his brutal assistant Luv were slightly generic. Wallace is a highly perceptive, intelligent, calm, and softly spoken man. He is blind but we do not know if he was born this way or not (I originally thought he was a replicant). He also has a sadistic streak about him and a clear God complex as he refers to himself as a father to all of his (replicant) creations. He really did come across to me as your typical 80's kimono wearing bad guy who dwells in his large lair sending out cronies to do his dirty work. That leads us to Luv who is Wallace's female replicant enforcer. And that's all you need to know really. She's your typical menacing, equally sadistic enforcer type who knows martial arts, meh.

Its worth noting that in this sequel the replicants do not appear to have the noticeable shine in their eyes anymore. I put that down to the obvious evolution of replicants, the slow blurring of both human and replicant. Well that plus the whole managing to give birth thing also.

Overall the lack of a proper score throughout this film is but one issue I had in a string of issues that all led me to one real conclusion. What is the actual purpose of this film? I'm a solid fan of the original 1982 Ridley Scott masterpiece. Back in the days of yore (the 80's) when I was young I didn't really like or appreciate it. Later in life I have since grown to understand the film, I like (but not love) it. But I have never really thought the film required anything more, and that's the problem (on top of the fact this franchise is highly divisive which was proven at the box office. If you didn't like the first film...forget it).



This new feature doesn't really feel like it needed. Yes the visuals are (inevitably) lavish and opulent, yes the acting is solid on the whole, and yes the package overall is well put together (kudos). But the story just felt kinda dull, not really important, not really required. There is little action which was to be expected, but also no real moments to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Nothing that rouses your emotions and adrenaline. Nothing that almost brings you to the brink of tears (...in the rain, yes I'm referring to that iconic scene).

The original movie is fine as a stand alone film. It offers intrigue that doesn't require a bow on top, it doesn't really need anything further. This just felt like a sequel for the sake of having a sequel. As though they did it merely because they could, because Ford is still alive, because they could basically remake the original with better visuals. That's essentially how this came across to me. And despite being a good science-fiction film, it still can't touch the original.

7.5/10

Friday, 11 May 2018

The Crow (1994)

Back in the day there weren't really very many comicbook movies, they existed but most were pretty poor or wasted opportunities. Richard Donner turned things around somewhat with his now iconic Superman movie in 1978; but it wasn't really until the late 80's that Tim Burton's surprisingly decent Batman movie literally changed the game for the genre. But despite that things still took time to actually change in a positive way. There were a few movies that weren't too bad and looked good (in some cases very good), but failed to really light up the box office or gain much interest after their release eg. Dick Tracy (1990), Darkman (1990) and The Rocketeer (1991).

But putting basic comicbook movies aside, apart from Tim Burton's vision for Batman in 1989 there was literally no such thing as a gothic comicbook movie, it was virtually a new untapped genre. Tim Burton had certainly given cinema audiences a strong dose of gothic grandeur but no one had really seen a dark, gritty, violent, adult action movie in that visual style, yet.

Then along came James O'Barr and his dark personal opus. In 1978 O'Barr's fiancée was killed by a drunk driver (two weeks before her 18th birthday) which left him virtually destroyed inside. A talented artist O'Barr began working on a personal creation in a way to cope with his loss. With the combination of his own grief and a local murder case in Detroit, The Crow was born. The tale of young couple Eric and Shelley who are both murdered on their wedding night (Devils Night, the night before Halloween) by a vicious gang. One year later Eric is brought back from the grave by a mysterious supernatural crow, at the same time giving him powers of strength and invulnerability. Eric is seemingly granted the chance to exact revenge upon his killers so that both he and his fiancées soul can finally rest in peace.



So lets look at the various differences between the Comic and the movie. Now whilst the movie was generally well directed and included almost everything from the original source material, there are many differences. But I must stress that whilst these differences are typically very Hollywood, they aren't necessarily bad. As a large plot alteration was basically somewhat required for the movie, this meant major changes to almost all the characters. This included most of the villains, some goodies, and the removal of some characters along with the inclusion of new ones.

Firstly in the comic the entire murder of both Eric (no last name of Draven in the comic) and Shelley is nothing more than a random attack by the drug crazed gang. There is no purpose behind it and thusly Eric's story is pure and simple revenge, no other factors. In the comic there is also no head honcho running the show, its just a bunch of thugs. For the movie they had to add more romance and a narrative in the form of both Eric and Shelley fighting unlawful tenant eviction from their apartment (owned by Top Dollar) which leads to the fatal attack; and of course they had to add a big boss villain for Eric to showdown with. Of course its still not really that good because essentially...what does Top Dollar want to achieve? He just wants to see the city burn? And then??

Devils Night: The night before Halloween which the movie centres around and is often mentioned. In the comic Devils Night is not mentioned.

Eric: In the comic Eric is clearly based more on the classic rocker look of the 80's, but fitter and more toned. He has a very stereotypical 80's rock hairstyle matched with a slightly anime look to the face. At times he also looks like a young jacked-up Rod Stewart. In the movie Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) has a very early 90's MTV music video vibe about him, mainly because it was the early 90's and that long black leather trench coat trend was started by this very movie. Its also interesting to note that in the comic there is no mention of Eric being a musician, playing the guitar. That seems to be another Hollywoodism to boost his ice cool sexual appeal.



Tin-Tin: Visually he looks about the same in both the comic and the movie (an African American male). He is still the first to be killed by Eric in both the comic and movie, but by gunshot to the head I believe. In the movie they also gave him some more personality with the addition of being a knife wielding expert (played with aplomb by Laurence Mason).

Top Dollar: In the comic this guy is just a regular gang member, a regular drug pusher. Again visually he looks about the same (a white male) apart from a beard in the comic. He is the second gang member to be killed by Eric in the comic, again via gunshot to the head. For the movie Top Dollar (Michael Wincott) has been promoted to the main crime boss and controls everything, including ordering the hit on Eric and Shelley's apartment. He's a white westerner with an obvious appreciation for Japanese culture judging by his samurai-esque hair and choice of weaponry. He is also a very clean cut dapper looking villain dressing in period styled attire complete with old fashioned officer boots.

Tom Tom/Skank: Tom Tom does not appear in the movie, instead this character seems to have been combined with Skank. Where as in the comic Skank is not a part of T-Bird's crew, Tom Tom is. Skank is killed early on in the comic, after Tin-Tin and Top Dollar via decapitation. In the comic Skank looks very different to his movie counterpart, same gender and race but just very different. The movie version of Skank (Angel David) is basically a cowardly character. All mouth but weaker than the rest, possibly abused by the rest, used as bait by Top Dollar, and eventually tossed out of a window by Eric.



Gideon: Again visually this character is similar in both comic and movie. Both are middle aged, tubby with facial hair. Only main difference is in the movie Gideon is bald (played by Jon Polito). This characters fate differs once again as in the comic Eric guns him down, where as Top Dollar executes him in the movie.

Funboy: This character looks very similar when comparing the movie version (Michael Massee) to the comic. A white male with long flowing blonde hair. In terms of his fate, its similar but with varying degrees of impact. In the movie its quite a powerful scene with Eric also rescuing Sarah's mother Darla. In the comic Funboy regrets and shows remorse for his previous crimes. He offers Eric a deal that if he gives him T-Bird's location, Eric will allow him to commit suicide (fourth to die) by overdose instead of Eric killing him.

T-Bird: This character displays the biggest change visually. In the comic he seems to be an African American male with long dreads, where as in the movie he's a short white male played by David Patrick Kelly. In both the comic and the movie T-Bird is the leader of the gang but in the comic he is the final character to die at the hands of Eric. Surprisingly, much like Tin-Tin and Top Dollar, T-Bird isn't as big of a character as he is in the movie. Overall all the villains in the comic are far more throwaway type characters than displayed in the movie; they are simply cannon fodder for Eric to slaughter.

Then in the movie you also have Sgt. Albrecht (Ernie Hudson) who is a composite of two comic characters; namely Captain Hook and a nervous rookie beat cop. Top Dollar (in the movie) has a sexy sultry female sidekick called Myca (Bai Ling) who doesn't appear in the comic. This character is a little weird as Top Dollar refers to her as his half-sister yet he also seems to have an obvious sexual relationship with her so...kinky? Myca also seems to be some of dark oracle or witch, something which is never really fully explained but merely hinted at throughout the movie. The young girl in the comic who Eric befriends is called Sherri, in the movie its changed to Sarah. In the movie you have the henchman called Grange (Tony Todd), who was based on the character of Shelby the giant in the comic. And finally the mysterious Death-like character called the Skull Cowboy is completely absent from the movie except for a deleted scene.



Its also worth noting that in the comic the actual crow is far more supernatural than in the movie. In the comic the crow not only leads Eric around but also talks to him, passes him information, goads him, berates him for dwelling on past memories etc...In the movie Eric simply follows the crow and occasionally sees what it sees, but no talking. The movie also introduced the notion that if the crow is killed, then whoever it raised from the dead can be injured or even killed again. As if the crow is merely a shield for each unsettled soul and its body. But how can you kill someone who's already dead? Unless their body (the shell) becomes mortal again which enables you to mortally wound it? Could the Crow take that persons soul to another body if needs be? This is a major plot issue that carries through into the sequel.

Of course there are many more little Hollywood touches that are included simply to make the whole feature more appealing to a mass audience. Before Eric kills T-Bird in his rather nice 1973 Ford Thunderbird, there is an entirely pointless car chase with the cops. Despite Eric being invincible he allows himself to get his ass kicked and shot on numerous occasions just so we the audience think there might be a threat or risk to the protagonist. Eric ends up needing Albrecht's help throughout despite being invincible; again to give us a sense of risk, some human compassion amongst the carnage. The hugely over the top climax in the huge gothic cathedral that leads to a very over the top sword fight on its roof amongst its gothic gargoyles and spires. This also felt extremely ripped off from Tim Burton's Batman finale. And finally the fact that Top Dollar is now interested in the occult/supernatural and has a witch-like sidekick to help him try and unlock the crows powers. Again this gives us a sense of risk for the protagonist which was totally absent in the comic where Eric was unstoppable.

For the most part the effects for this movie have admittedly not aged well (they weren't exactly great for the time). Whilst its nice that practical effects were used for a lot of the movie you can unfortunately see them very clearly. Various model/miniature shots of buildings and cityscapes do look pretty ropy in places, especially when live action (projection?) shots of cars were added to them (the fires look even worse because they did use projection technology for those). The big finale in the cathedral is an example of how the effects and sets did work effectively, but at the same time still a tad fake looking. The shadows and lighting helped in setting the mood but also in covering these obvious flaws.



Hell in all honesty even Eric's grave and surrounding graveyard looks pretty hokey these days, looks totally plastic. The only images/sequences that still do look quite good are basically all the shots with the trained raven (yes raven, not a crow). These are all genuinely innovative and highly atmospheric despite being obvious superimposed shots with thick black lines around all the edges.

Speaking of Eric, considering how early CGI effects were back in 1993/4 it is actually very impressive how the effects crew were able to superimpose Brandon Lee's face into certain shots. Lee had completed most of the required scenes needed but after his death rewrites and reshoots were needed. Using a body double strategically obscured by shadows the team merely slapped Lee's face on top of the body doubles face and kept the reveals minimal. For the most part the results being an effective quick glimpse which does look a little off-kilter but generally works fine. Other times the team had to use completely different footage of Lee and superimpose him against a totally different background. Eric breaking down in front of a broken mirror in his old apartment, and stumbling into said apartment for the first time were both entirely superimposed shots combined with CGI. Amazingly I never even knew this, never even noticed, which shows how good it was.

Where as some practical effects might now look incredibly dated, the stunts and action were handled very well. There aren't that many blazing action scenes but what we do get is very satisfying. Each gangster takedown by Eric does deliver a sense of justice, you do feel vindication for both Eric and Shelley. Although they don't follow the source material 100% there is a nice sense of variation and imagination in these death sequences. There is one highly impressive shot of a stunt double taking the full force of an equally impressive explosion in the scene where Eric blows up Gideon's pawn shop. I'm genuinely not sure how this guy didn't get burnt in this shot.



The main gun fight between Eric and various gang members in a dark dingy club is a highly vibrant and atmospheric sequence which is heightened by its accompanying thumping soundtrack. The blazing gun muzzles lighting up the gloomy room, the sparse lighting, the various baddies getting sliced diced and blown away by a frenzied Eric hellbent on revenge. Looking back the editing is a tad questionable as you can tell they chopped this sequence up (work print shows us how much they cut), but it does still work nicely. Alas the same can't be said for the helicopter chase sequence across the rooftops which really does highlight some terribly dated and obvious superimposed shots against model backgrounds.

The Soundtrack: What can I say? One of the best movie soundtracks ever? Yep its up there. Back in the 90's there were a few things that nearly every young person into rock agreed on. Nirvana were the dogs bollocks and you had to own 'The Crow' soundtrack. It was almost mandatory, the way things were. And frankly who could blame them, the tracks on this compilation are now almost as iconic as the movie itself. In fact most of these tracks are probably known as well as they are solely because of the movie. Admittedly at the time I didn't know who most of these bands were but most were instantly likeable and fit so well with the movie. They even had two bands (Medicine and My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult) cameo in the movie which sometimes can date a movie badly. Not here, somehow they just blend in perfectly as trashy acts in a scummy nightclub. Heck for a long time I didn't even know they were real bands.

But not only is the soundtrack fantastic the score is also top notch. The calm yet haunting orchestral score that accompanies Eric throughout the movie is terrific; a beautifully emotional selection of pieces that really can bring a tear to your eye (considering the circumstances of the movie). The final curtain of the movie and fade out to Jane Siberry's It Can't Rain all the Time still brings a lump to my throat.



Brandon: Would this movie have such a cult status had Brandon not died? Well this is the million dollar question isn't it. In all honesty I would have to say no and I say this because, although its a morbid thing to say, the death of Brandon added to the supernatural vibe/element of this movie. I mean, you couldn't script it any better if you think about it, its almost like a horror story in itself. A movie about someone dying before their time only to come back from the grave to tie things up; and then at the same time in reality that exact incident occurs to the actor performing in the paranormal feature. Had this occurred in any old silly action/adventure flick then the whole scenario would be totally different. It was the nature of this specific film that made the difference. The final interviews with Brandon where he speaks about mortality merely serve to ramp up the eerie atmosphere tenfold.

Unsurprisingly I do indeed consider this movie a cult classic. Lighting in a bottle. It was a game changer. A tour de force that came outta nowhere and kickstarted an entire genre and trend that stood the test of time. It positively dripped with gothic splendour and dark energy which even to this day many movies simply can't top. The movie is a totally different beast to the original comicbook but still manages to stand on its own offering an alternative (dare I say better) version. Yes you can argue that the movies plot is chock full of holes, makes no sense, and the characters are one dimensional. For instance Eric was just a regular guy before he died. But when he comes back from the dead he's suddenly an expert with all weapons, he can fight and perform various acrobatic moves. So the crow somehow gives you the power of being a martial arts military expert? And why the hell does Eric eventually have what looks like black bin liners and rope wrapped around him?

Nevertheless, the movie virtually overcomes all of this simply through solid direction from Alex Proyas, great pace, terrific set pieces, a superb atmosphere, quality performances, and of course Lee who haunts every frame with his strong yet ethereal performance. The über intense brooding superhero in the darkness. You could almost compare this movie to 'Robocop' in the fact that it made such a lasting impact and many of its stars (the villains) seemed to disappear after the fact, apparently not capitalising on the hit. I do think the movie would still have been a classic had Brandon not died, but not on the same level. Changes were made after his death which changed the movie in the long run, was the movie better for that? I guess we may never know that, debatable.

People seem to forget about this movie nowadays which I find incredible seeing as, along with Batman 89 and 'Blade', its easily one of the greatest comicbook movies ever made. Amazingly better than its source material in many ways. People talk about wanting good R rated comicbook flicks, yeah they already did that and this is it.

9.5/10

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

The Giant Spider Invasion (1975)

























Sounds good doesn't it? I was expecting a black and white masterpiece of the 50's when I first came across this. Alas its actually from the mid 70's which means its in colour and full of dodgy hairstyles and fashion. Still, can't not be intrigued with a title like that huh.

So somewhere in rural (always rural) Wisconsin a meteorite crash lands which lights up the sky on impact (literally lights up the sky with some awful colour effects). Now somehow, don't ask me how, but somehow this meteorite contains lots of spiders, all of which look remarkably like spiders here on Earth (don't question it). These spiders seem to vary in size from your regular tarantula size (because they are tarantulas), to dog size, to house size.

I'm not too sure how these spiders survived the impact but they do appear to be cocooned within small circular rocks (rocks which also contain diamonds!). So I guess that sorts that (?). But do they spawn in the rocks? Do they use the rocks as shields against the vacuum of space? What do they feed on? Where did they come from? When they emerge on Earth why do they start to grow slowly? Why do they grow to such enormous sizes?



The main crux of the movie is of course the spiders, but leading up to that there are various boring subplots surrounding various characters. We are introduced to each individual and shown what type of person they are. Not that that matters much because this was a low-budget affair only intent on showing you spiders eating people. But sure enough, this being the countryside most of the townsfolk are hick types bordering on rednecks. Most of these rather unwashed looking characters are generally either in troubled relationships or simply up to no good such as one character trying to sweet talk an underage female (gulp!).

I guess I should point out that a few of the actors in this movie are/were well known stars on American TV shows as well as movies of the time. Director Bill Rebane managed to do what Quentin Tarantino once did which was gather together a bunch of forgotten stars (probably on the cheap) who were happy for the work. Obviously the quality of film and outcome differed slightly.

Anyway back to the arachnids (effects). So what are they like, the effects. Well whaddaya think they're gonna be like? Obviously all the effects are pretty much on the cheap and homemade, but with much care and attention. There are plenty of wispy cobwebs hanging about the place and they do use quite a lot of real tarantulas which is quite effective for certain shots. There are also some bigger shock sequences such as a house (room set) being torn apart by the giant spider; and a guy getting mauled by the giant spider in his car which leads to a crash and explosion. I was actually reasonably impressed with the real tarantulas popping out of the ball shaped diamond encrusted space rocks (almost like eggs). Clearly they did put real tarantulas inside these balls and sprung them open to reveal the creepy contents.



The larger spiders is where things obviously go down hill somewhat. A large dog sized spider leaps onto one female character at one point which is quite amusing. Its very obvious someone threw this rubber spider at the actress...and its quality stuff. The oversized fangs, wobbly legs, and eyes are especially top quality. But its the giant spider that wreaks havoc on the town that is the big draw. Apparently the effects guys built this thing out of a VW Beetle; simply covering it with black fur, big legs, and using the rear lights as eyes. The crew operated the legs from inside the car. Ingenious if I do say so myself because the bottom half of the spider vehicle is always out of sight, which does actually give the solid illusion of a slow moving giant spider roaming the US countryside. There are quite a few shots showing this thing in the distance and it genuinely does look quite good.

Its was also quite gory too. This giant VW spider has big fangs below its (two) big red eyes and doesn't hesitate to slam them into its victims as they are dragged up into its gaping maw. I assume the crew inside are pulling the actor inside the car via the sunroof when the spider eats someone. But this simply action is well edited and accompanied by a good gallon of blood that flows down the victims body. All in all its pretty satisfying to see people getting eaten by this mega arachnid or watch crowds of people flee from it. That and the individually moving legs, overall its a solid effect cleverly thought out.



I love how despite everything that occurs you never see any real police, army, or scientific presence. Its like no one outside that town knows whats going on at all and no one thinks to call for any external help. Pretty much all the characters are scummy or too gruff and you don't care about them. Plenty of stock footage, a staple of these cheap crappy movies. Day and night switching between shots in classic Ed Wood style. The movies explanation for the spider invasion is ridiculous, an interdimensional gateway. The solution? A Caltech neutron initiator ('it just might work!'), like yeah...whatever you say bud. Apparently they drop this thing in the meteorite crater and switch it on. This does something that closes the interdimensional gate which in turn causes all the spiders to melt (an admittedly neat little melty effect sequence). Like I said, don't question it.

You probably know not to expect too much from a movie like this. A cheap sci-fi B-movie that looks like its been shot on a camcorder. Visually it looks like a shoddy exploitation movie at times. Those 70's styles and especially the violent and panicky street mob sequences. Its a throwback to the corny giant bug movies of the 50's (check that poster), yet they made it to genuinely compete with 'Jaws'! Somehow this went on to make quite a bit of money for Transcentury Pictures and has since become a cult. I can understand why but for me personally I think it would be a lot more enjoyable and effective in black and white (and set in the glorious 50's).

'if it doesn't work, then old buddy we've got company for dinner'

5.5/10

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Falling Down (1993)




















There was a period during the late 80's and early 90's when director Joel Schumacher was hitting home runs. A string of hits that ranged from brat pack movies, to horror, to thrillers, to court room dramas, and eventually culminating with a certain comicbook character. This was to be his bump in the road. But in between all that there was this gritty urban thriller/dark comedy which you'd be forgiven for not realising was a Schumacher movie.

The plot is a simple one. Divorced and recently unemployed defence contractor William Foster is a hot tempered man, he has a short fuse. It is this reason that he is divorced and his wife has a restraining order against him (to keep him from their young daughter). As Foster sits in heavy traffic during a typical hot humid day in LA, he snaps. The presumed combination of the heat, the drudgery of his life, the little annoyances of life, and the current situation with his ex-wife and child all lead him to lose the plot. He therefore leaves his car on the highway and begins to walk through LA to reach his ex-wife's residence in time for his daughters birthday.

Now this was a controversial film even back in the day. Apart from the fact it was filmed during the infamous LA riots back in 1992, it also sparked debate surrounding race relations, race representations, stereotypes, urban violence, vigilantism etc...Back in the early 90's LA was known for its gang culture, the street crime and violence. An ever growing melting pot of people in a hot steamy city at a time of recession. Temperatures were high in both senses of the word. Then set against that is this working class white male who seems to represent the average male of middle America from the 50's. Its almost as if he's stepped out of a time machine and has waded into a new world full of new cultures, trends and attitudes. A world where he feels he no longer belongs or fits in, an America he no longer recognises.



So essentially the film could be seen as a white male (or aging out of touch white male) lashing out against an ever increasing multicultural society. That is certainly one angle to take as the movie does indeed hint at that at various points. On the other hand you could say this character is supposed to be you the viewer, at least with certain everyday experiences. I think the main crux of this movie is basically to showcase all the things that may have annoyed, frustrated, and pissed off generally all people of all backgrounds at one point or another. I think most people will see specific scenes in this movie and relate to them on a basic level. Or they will agree with the narrative, or they know they have thought the same thing at some point. Because after all we're all human and many of these emotions and reactions are simply part and parcel of our make-up (whether people want to admit that or not).

So lets look at some of the incidents in this film. Right from the offset the first sequence I'm sure most people can relate to. Foster sitting in his car, in heavy traffic, going nowhere fast, on a clearly sweltering day, and his air con has ceased to function. I'm very sure many people have been in a similar situation and just wanted to get out and walk away. Probably the same in the work place too.

At the convenience store. This is one of the scenes which does indeed show Foster being somewhat offensive towards the Korean immigrant store owner. He becomes angry at the man because of his accent and says he should try to learn English seeing as he has come to an English speaking country. Now behaving in that way towards someone is of course wrong, but there is much talk in many countries these days about immigrants needing to integrate better into the societies they move into. So that social commentary is indeed relevant today. Then again the violent tirade Foster throws at the Korean man over his store prices is obviously totally wrong, criminal. Yet how many people can relate to going into a small private store/grocery/newsagent where the prices are simply exorbitant. In London this is well known.



The gangsters. This was the first scene that initially set Foster on the right track for possibly being the hero of the movie, the common man's hero at least. Foster is minding his own business simply taking a rest on a lone chunk of concrete debris, when he's approached by two young gangsters (both of a Latino background). They try to mug Foster claiming he is trespassing on their land. Using the bat he stole from the Korean grocery store Foster successfully beats and scares off the young thugs. This is clearly supposed to be an upbeat moment for the audience; the everyday law abiding citizen standing up against the criminal element.

At the Whammy Burger. Firstly I love how Foster just misses out on the breakfast meal option by about five minutes or so. I can't recall exactly how many minutes but it was close. Admittedly I haven't been into a fast food burger joint since I was a teenager so I have no clue if things still work like this nowadays. Secondly I adore how the young manager who speaks with Foster has this idiotic smile plastered across his face at all times (even when he's clearly annoyed) because that's obviously the company policy. Thirdly, after Foster has whipped out his gun and finished his tirade, he calmly asks for his breakfast meal. The terrified manager asks the cashier to grab him a breakfast meal. She calmly turns around and picks up the breakfast meal which was literally right there at the front of the rack; so in other words they could have given him a breakfast meal quite easily all along.

The main relatable point from the Whammy Burger scene was of course the fact that when Foster opens up his meal and takes a look at his burger, he's instantly disgruntled with what he sees. A flat, lifeless, messy, squashed looking burger that looks nothing like the fat juicy burgers advertised in the restaurant. Even to this day I'll bet anything that this is still the case. It certainly was back in the day when I was a kid. The burgers never looked like the pictures you saw on advertisements.



The army surplus store. Now this scene is clearly one of the darkest in the film and offers up a glimpse of real heroism for Foster who, up until this point, is clearly an anti-hero on a rollercoaster. Said surplus store is owned by Nick (Frederic Forrest), a neo Nazi/white supremacist vet (a white skinhead, the biggest stereotype going). Now this guy was a real class act creep, superbly performed by Forrest I might add. We get the picture straight away when he verbally abuses a gay couple in his store. He then covers for Foster when Detective Torres (Rachel Ticotin) comes in. Nick recognises Foster from police reports on his radio and is thrilled to see him. Nick sees Foster as a white vigilante who is targeting minorities, which he agrees with.

Now I have to point out that despite Nick being an avowed racist and truly nasty character, you're not entirely sure if Foster is actually gonna side with him or not. Because after all...Nick did help him. Still Foster is clearly unsure about this guy. But its not really until Nick shows him his private collection of military antiques (that includes various Nazi memorabilia), his continued harsh language against various groups of people, and the breakage of a birthday present for his daughter, that Foster makes his decision. On one hand Foster seems to do something right by taking out this ugly character. On the other hand I kinda get the impression he only did so because the present he bought for his daughter was smashed by Nick. So at the end of the day, which was it?

The golf course. This was another scene which was basically setting up Foster as the common mans hero. A large plush golf course used exclusively by rich elderly (white) males. As Foster points out in yet another tirade, you could have playgrounds for kids here, you could have a park for families. So when he again whips out his weapon and gives one of the old geezers a heart attack by shooting his little electric golf cart, its easy to cheer for Foster whilst laughing at the gallows humour of it all. Like many of the things that happen in this movie Foster does have a legitimate point with some of his rants, but you simply can't go around doing the things he is doing. Even if in some cases those actions do seem completely appropriate.



The road works. Again another scenario where most viewers would agree and cheer Foster on. How many times have you come across road works that have seemingly popped up out of nowhere? How many times have road works made your journey an absolute misery? How many minutes and hours have you lost being stuck in traffic caused by road works? How many times have you been late for something because of road works? I'm sure everyone can relate to this, UK dwellers especially. So when Foster gets a construction worker to admit there was nothing wrong with the road and they're only doing it to justify their budget, you feel a sense of satisfaction that the film is addressing this, backing you up. Thing is, did the construction worker only admit this because he saw Foster's gun?

Still it was amusing to watch the young African American boy talk Foster through using the bazooka. Another cute little dig at the possible ease of which kids were able to find out about dangerous violent things through various forms of media at the time.

In the end Schumacher seemingly can't decide what message he really wants to send with this movie. Is Foster a hero for the common man? Is he an anti-hero? Is he in fact the villain of the piece? I really don't know as the message swings like a pendulum. Some scenes clearly show Foster as a man standing up for the little people. Some scenes merely show him cementing little frustrations we have all encountered throughout our lives at some point. But then there are some scenes where he is clearly in the wrong, he goes too far and takes the law into his own hands.



Take the short sequence where a black man (Vondie Curtis-Hall) is peacefully protesting in front of his bank because they have recently deemed him 'not economically viable'. The cops show up and haul him away (peacefully without force) as Foster looks on. What exactly is Schumacher saying here? Is he actually admitting that Foster has 'white privilege' in the fact that he himself hasn't yet been hauled away by the cops? That an African American man cannot peacefully (and politely) speak his mind in the street without being arrested? Maybe Foster doesn't have it as bad as certain minorities? Or is it simply because he was disturbing the peace outside of a place of business? Because some of these notions would kinda undermine Schumacher's main aim for his protagonist, the basis of the film.

What's more we discover in bits that Foster's wife is actually scared of him. She is scared for her safety and the safety of her daughter because Foster has a bad temper (hence the restraining order). We see small snippets from the past via a VHS recording that shows Foster losing his patience with his wife; getting angry when things aren't going the way he wants with a previous birthday for his daughter. Then towards the finale his wife flees their house with her daughter because she knows he's nearby. So we know Foster is a genuinely unstable man, he has issues and could be a legitimate threat to his family.

I can't deny the ending is a very downbeat and sad affair. Schumacher gives this character one last chance to redeem himself, one last scene for the viewers to understand and maybe forgive this character. And to a point that works because you do feel for him, whilst at the same time you do feel for Sgt. Prendergast (Robert Duvall) who has been put in the situation of kill or be killed on his last day on the force (often people don't think about the trauma cops suffer). Essentially Foster commits suicide by cop and escapes repercussions for his actions leaving his daughter fatherless. So even though you can't help but feel sorry for the man (the score is typically moving) and you side with him on many of his actions, he was still wrong and a douchebag.

With all that being said this is still a (surprisingly) powerful film from Schumacher with a top notch performance from Douglas. It is obviously very 90's visually but I love how Schumacher gives everything a yellow/orange hue to really highlight the muggy stifling heat in the city. Almost everyone has a sweaty brow or face on closeups. I have to be honest and say the film does slow down when its not following the character of Foster. Everything to do with his wife and kid is generally boring apart from the finale. And everything to do with the cops and Robert Duvall's character just seemed kinda generic really (almost Lethal Weapon-ish in some scenes). It is a tad stupid how it takes the police so long to catch up with Foster, seeing as he's easily identifiable and simply walking around casually with a sports bag full of guns, but anyway.

Most definitely thought provoking, most definitely an enjoyable engaging ride; unfortunately its full of mixed signals which will be inevitably problematic for different people.

7.5/10