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.


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'


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.


Thursday, 19 April 2018

Double Dragon (1994)

Its really quite amazing to see how campy the 90's could actually be. Its also mind-blowing to see just what movies actually got full cinematic releases back then. Case in point, 'Double Dragon', easily one of the most 90-iest 90's movies ever made.

K so just in case anyone wasn't in the know, this movie is based on the hugely popular scrolling beat 'em up videogame Double Dragon released in 1987. Double Dragon was basically the game that kick-started a wave of martial arts inspired fighting games throughout the 80's. Interestingly this videogame adaptation was made two years before the dumpster fire that was 'Street Fighter'. But both movies were released in late 94, 'Double Dragon' coming first in November. I'm guessing the studio knew they had a piece of crap on their hands and possibly thought to release it during the height of the beat 'em up craze with 'Street Fighter' (?).

So what do we have here? Well its pretty much the standard 90's fantasy plot mixed in with lots of hokey oriental mysticism. Thousands of years ago in ancient China an army of shadow warriors lay siege to a city. In order to save his people the King sacrificed himself to create a powerful medallion. Said medallion gave its owner immeasurable powers over the body and soul. This power was so strong that the King (presumably before he died) split the medallion in two; one half giving power over the soul, the other the body. Naturally both halves have since been apart and hidden from each other.

No clue who the shadow warriors are or were. No clue why they were attacking this Chinese city. No idea how the King made this medallion by sacrificing himself. Why would the medallion be so powerful? Was the King a wizard or something? Did the medallion save his city and people? Why am I asking these questions? Well I guess because it all seems kinda important to the plot and its a huge chunk of exposition.

In the present (then) futuristic day of 2007 a nasty villain called Victor Guisman (inexplicably changing his name to Koga Shuko later on) is after the medallion so he can rule New Angeles (Los Angeles). He finds one half (on a bad set made to look like a Chinese village) but of course the other half is owned by the Lee brothers. The Lee brothers are of course based on the two main characters you can play in the videogame (Billy and Jimmy). Unfortunately they couldn't even get that right as they cast Scott Wolf and Mark Dacascos. Now whilst I agree Wolf has the boyish looks and Dacascos has the martial arts skills, they most definitely can't pass as brothers. Putting all things aside, you have to remember this movie is terrible. That's the only reasonable excuse. But they did get their individual red and blue outfits right, so there's that...I guess.

Billy and Jimmy also have a guardian (adopted mother) that just happens to be an Asian lady with martial arts skills. Lucky that innit, image how crap things would have turned out if their adopted mother was a boring white woman who worked as a bank clerk. Satori Imada (Julia Nickson) is essentially the stereotypically wise mystical Asian character, thing is she isn't particularly mystical in this.

As for the villain we have the glorious Robert Patrick hamming it up...gloriously. The character of Victor Guisman/Koga Shuko was created for this movie but added into the 1995 Neo Geo videogame. For some reason this character has hair like Vanilla Ice, an obviously dyed goatee, eyeliner, and dresses like an evil oriental sorcerer of some kind (the usual obligatory dress code). His sidekicks are Linda Lash (Kristina Wagner) who is based off the whip wielding female fighters in the videogame. And finally Huey (Jeff Imada) and Lewis (Al Leong) who are your bog standard Asian martial arts henchmen (but not based on any game characters). I believe the duos names are a nod to the actual Huey Lewis for some reason. At one point Shuko  asks 'Huey, Lewis, any news?'. A reference to Huey Lewis and the News.

Lets not forget Bo Abobo (Nils Allen Stewart) who is also another videogame character. This villain in the game was a huge roided up meatbag, obviously this being pre-The Rock there weren't that many guys as big back then. But Stewart is initially a good similarity. Alas they fudge this character right up by mutating him into some ginormous hemorrhoid. He then proceeds to do literally nothing for the rest of the movie.

So being a movie set in the future, and made in the 90's, there's only one direction this could possibly go. Yes that's right, its a dystopian, post apocalyptic, flooded hellhole that's overrun with various punk gangs and skateboarding vigilante groups. A massive earthquake destroyed half of California yadda yadda yadda. Its remarkable how cities seem to crumble into wastelands filled with gangs when natural disasters happen. Why did half of the youth decide to join scummy street gangs after the quake? How would that make your life any better? And where do they get all their gear from?? Is there a big leather, spikes and chains store in the area? The most utterly bizarre thing about these gangs is the fact some of them dress in postal uniforms, mime makeup, clown outfits, and posh grammar school-esque uniforms.

Then you have the Power Corps vigilante gang that...well I'm not sure what they actually do but they're all kids. Do they fight back against the baddie street gangs? Do they fight back against the police and their curfew? Not really sure but what I do know is their attire is totally tubular dude...not! Seriously this gang is the most 90's thing about this entire movie, its unbelievably cringeworthy. A large gang of kids of various ages in a large secret base filled with arcades, skateboard ramps, electronic equipment, some weird green water...hell its just an adventure playground covered in graffiti. And their leader is Marian (Alyssa Milano) from the videogame, only this time she's a badass with cropped bleached blonde hair and dressed in rainbow coloured slutwear. Seriously I think the director forgot this was a kids flick at certain points. Like the shot of Milano's ass in tight cut-off jeans whilst she's on all fours crawling into a vent.

So as you might expect there are tonnes (and I mean tonnes) of fast, not so witty, quips and mugging into the camera by virtually all involved. All the action centres  around vapid childish martial arts sequences that just looked bad even back in 1994. You can see no contact is being made, the sound effects are way too much, everybody is over acting when getting struck etc...Its legitimately embarrassing to watch at times. Other actions sequences focus on vehicles which are just as bad because its all very slow and basic. It makes no sense why the vehicles are the way they are (seemingly no petrol but running on anything you can stick into furnace-like tank). And how would a common street gang get a hold of a massive Humvee-like 4x4? Oh and they stuck metal teeth on the front grill, because that's hella intimidating right...right??

The speed boat chase sequence is the epitome of how naff this really is. Billy and Jimmy find a speed boat and escape on the river. The bad guys just happen to be all suited up in all black wetsuits with a couple jet-skis ready and waiting to take pursuit. I think the only positive thing I can say about the movie (and this sequence) are the nice looking matte paintings dotted throughout. These images of a ruined LA alongside live action shots do genuinely look quite good. I quite liked the idea of these large metal struts that hold buildings in place, because of aftershocks. And the special effects on Shuko in his shadow form (when activating his half of the medallion) were very effective. The creeping living shadow on the ground was a nicely realised idea.

I think the question here is, should we have expected more from this kids movie? Well at the time videogame adaptations were just starting to flood the market so to speak. 'Street Fighter', 'Mortal Kombat', 'Resident Evil', 'Tomb Raider' were all to come, looming on the horizon. Sure we had already suffered 'Super Mario Bros.' but that was merely seen as a one off mistake, a blip on the upcoming genre. So yes I think its fair to say we were expecting more at the time and looking back they should have done much better. Clearly this should have been an adult movie, I think an over the top violent adult flick could have gotten away with more here. As it stands a dopey kids movie was always gonna be tough because you're simply restricting yourself so much.

The plot is weak as hell, cookie cutter stuff. The characters are basic bland stereotypes. There is absolutely no risk involved in anything (no one dies). Way too many kid actors, also the background extras are hilarious to watch. Just focus on the odd one in crowd scenes and watch them 'act'. The costumes are a literal joke. The weapons all look plastic. The pop culture dates the movie terribly (George Hamilton as a newcaster, digs at Madonna etc...). Dreadful looking early CGI sequences are dreadfully ghastly. Oh and the actual arcade cabinet of Double Dragon is clearly seen in the movie...ugh!!! In short this movie is a pantomime of crap. Its not 'so bad its good', its just bad.


Thursday, 12 April 2018

Firefox (1982)

So we all know Clint for his westerns, but you should also know him for his political thrillers. 'Firefox' was one of his first political thrillers in the midst of some tough cop/crime action flicks and stupid crap involving an orangutan. Naturally it was based on a novel of the same name which I've never heard of or read, so I am unable to compare the two.

The plot: Put simply, Major Mitchell Gant (Clint) is a Nam veteran who can fly anything and can also speak Russian (thanks to his Russian mother). He is brought back into action on a joint Anglo-American mission to steal a highly advanced Russian jet fighter (code name Firefox) which can hit mach 6, is invisible to radar, and can fire missiles controlled by the pilots mind. He is dropped into Russia undercover. He must reach and secure the jet fighter with the help of Russian dissidents. However, the KGB are aware of his presence and are hot on his heels. Yep, its a fictional cold war thriller.

The film is kinda split into two halves really, the first part follows Gant as he enters the Soviet Union, meets up with Soviet dissidents, and moves from place to place trying to stay one step ahead of the KGB. The second part follows Gant piloting the Firefox jet as he tries to evade Russian attempts to bring him down whilst trying to flee Russian airspace.

For the most part the first half of the film in Russia is slow moving but with solid tension. The film wasn't actually shot in Russia due to actual American-Russian cold war unease so Austria stood in for locations. This is made abundantly clear in a shot showing Gant walking past Red Square in Moscow; its a horrendously obvious and amusing bluescreen shot. It is also kinda amusing watching Clint in this role because if anyone stood out from the crowd as a possible US spy in Moscow, it would be Gant. The man is clearly on the ropes every time he speaks to an official. He's twitchy, sweating, his eyes are darting about the place, he just looks worried as feck. Its so stupid how no Russian official ever pulls him in for further questioning.

I can't deny it is quite exciting to watch Gant evade the KGB one scene after another. The sequence where Gant is trying to leave a subway station quickly before a killed guard is discovered is very good. The Russian dissidents were slightly over the top though I thought, a bit too gruff and merciless, but well acted. They also came across as too obvious for my liking, basically everyone looks so damn guilty in this film. At times it did feel like you were watching a film set in Nazi Germany, but I'm assuming its relatively accurate for the period. Seems very odd that people had to show their ID papers constantly, almost everywhere, but hey it was effective.

I do think the film would have been even more effective if all Russian characters had spoken in Russian with English subs, ditto for the Americans. Although listening to Clint speak Russian  did sound rather off, an understandably difficult task. I'm still not entirely sure if Gant was supposed to be talking Russian (when speaking English) when communicating with various Russian dissidents at certain points in the film. Don't think so but its possible.

The second half of the movie sees Gant stealing the Firefox jet from within a Bond-esque Russian military base complete with white coat scientists who get brutally gunned down after exposing themselves as dissidents. The whole sequence isn't quite as thrilling as Bond but instead quite dark and sobering. The jet itself is a very impressive full scale model which looks a bit like the Lockheed Blackbird aircraft. Whilst the air suit Gant wears is a very cool sexy and futuristic all black affair with slick helmet and visor. All the interior cockpit shots and sequences do look very authentic and of course very cool. The constant light and cloud reflections zipping off Gant's visor (along with the cockpit interior) does sell the illusion perfectly.

The exterior sequences for the aircraft (and dogfight sequence) were filmed using a new technique from John Dykstra called 'reverse bluescreen'. This essentially enabled the shiny black model aircraft to appear to be flying against clear blue skies and glimmering white snow without bluescreen leakage on the model. This does work but naturally things have moved on somewhat since 1982 so by today's standards it still all looks a bit hokey. Some shots do look good, the flyby effect on land and sea is quite nice as the jet zooms overhead. The odd model shot does look pretty sweet but in all honesty a lot of it looks very fake. The more elaborate the aerial manoeuvre, the more fake looking unfortunately.

All in all this is definitely a movie of two halves (have I mentioned that?). The first half is a far more serious affair of infiltration and espionage. Its dark tense and engaging despite how simplistic it all is. On the other hand the second half becomes much more of an action movie with a more jingoistic vibe. Eastwood certainly seems to feel more at home when in the cockpit of an ultra cool armoured killing machine being an all American action hero (who somehow forgets about rear firing missiles despite being the best of the best). Yes in all honesty Eastwood probably wasn't the best choice for the main role here (I know he gave himself the role). He's as wooden as a very wrinkled narrow piece of wood and is clearly outdone by his Russian dissident costar (Warren Clarke), and pretty much all of the Russian military cast.

A good solid reliable Eastwood film which ironically would probably have been much better if Eastwood wasn't in the leading role. He is easily the weakest element in his own movie.


Monday, 9 April 2018

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

Welcome to the jungle...really? Is that the best they could come up with? How many movies have used that in one way or another now?

So at the end of the first movie (in 1969) the board game Jumanji was thrown into a river by Alan Parrish; 26 years later (1995) its somehow ended up in France apparently. Fast forward to 1996 and the board game has once again been discovered...but back in America? (I trust that wasn't supposed to be the same beach from the first movie). Anyway the game has somehow evolved with the times and is now a videogame console; and once again it lures another unsuspecting youth into its jungle themed clutches. Fast forward again to 2016 and four students will also discover the board game which will trigger the same things that happened before. And round and round we go.

So I gotta admit that I liked the idea that this mysterious game can somehow evolve with the times. Back in the first movie (1969) it was a board game to blend in with the era. Now its a videogame console which of course is perfect for this era. The whole idea of the protagonists choosing a game avatar to play as which then turns out to be their live action avatar once inside the game is pretty cool (although Red Dwarf did it first). This does inevitably lead to very stereotypical characters which is deliberate...but doesn't excuse the stereotypical teenage protagonists which wasn't deliberate I'm guessing.

Yeah so the teenagers, they're a straight 'Breakfast Club' type bunch for sure. You've got the jock, the nerd, the princess, and the weirdo. So yeah its a complete rip-off. I really felt like they could of done better with these characters despite the movie being full of deliberate cliches and stereotypes. As for the avatars they are also rather cliche, naturally. The Rock is of course just playing the same character he always does, basically himself. Jack Black is the squat, spectacled, old fashioned looking professor type. Kevin Hart is the goofy sidekick type. And Karen Gillian is Lara Croft essentially.

One thing that did get me thinking was the in-game characters, the baddies and the in-game guide. The in-game guide and various baddie henchmen all seemed to act like actual videogame characters on rails. In other words they don't interact with the protagonists on a personal level, they just do and say what they were programmed. But some henchmen and the main villain (Bobby Cannavale as Professor Van Pelt, same name as the big game hunter from the first movie) seemed to not do this. It did seem like Van Pelt behaved differently and not in a programmed way like the others, almost as if he were a real person.

Now in the original movie we never saw the jungle in the game, obviously this time we do. Alas its not really been visualised that well in my opinion. I always had the impression the jungle was set in an old fashioned British colonial type era mixed with a bit of Tarzan type fantasy. Like the exterior of the board game indicates. Of course as the game evolved so did the interior jungle it seems. This unfortunately has led to all sorts of modern crap turning up like military choppers, motorbikes, modern guns and weapons, ridiculous chase sequences, and lots of explosions. Now I'm sure some people will have liked these elements but for me it totally ruined the entire feel of the movie, or at least the look and feel I was hoping for.

Gone is the possibility of quaintness and charm, enter vast CGI chase sequences on-board a military chopper (being chased by man eating CGI rhinos. Why didn't they just shoot them?). Stupid chase sequences with hordes of motorbike riding bad guys. Lots of gunfire, explosions and of course the obligatory martial arts sequences from Ruby Roundhouse. I might add that Ruby Roundhouse spends lots of time trying to learn how to flirt and act sexy to distract some bad guys, but ends up just kicking the crap out of them. Her entire character is utterly pointless, why did we need all that shit when she can just beat them up. Its like one sequence where The Rock's character says he knows CPR but doesn't actually do it when its required. He just stands there and gives instructions to another character, eh??

Its really such a shame that this movie went down the route it did. Obviously there was gonna be CGI involved, obviously there was gonna be greenscreen involved, but Jesus Christ could they not do any better than this?! Most of the CGI is bad, real bad. Most of the greenscreen is obvious, real obvious. In fact it gets noticeably worse towards the end in my opinion. There are barely any practical effects which the first movie did incorporate in places. This movie is just ugly from top to bottom and its not helped by all the ludicrous action sequences. Its like half the movie wants to be like The Phantom, and the other half like Rambo. Its such a clash of genres and tone.

There is also a large plot hole in the way this story works, I think, unless I missed something. In the original Alan Parrish goes back to the point where he started playing the game in 1969 and changes time. This is obviously meant that Judith and Peter would never have played (in 1995) and wouldn't know anything about the game or Alan (having never met him). In this new movie the protagonists meet up with the kid (Alex) who got trapped in the game from 1996. When they all leave Alex goes back to the point he started playing in 1996 and changes time. So if he changed time, how come the four main protagonists still remember everything when they get back to their present day of 2016? Surely there's a chance they would never have ended up playing the game, or the game wouldn't have ended up in the school (?).

Anyway once again I find myself completely mystified by a modern movies success. How on earth did this pile of crap make so much money? How on earth did people find this enjoyable?? I could maybe understand it if this was an original movie and the first had never existed, but it does exist! I simply cannot fathom how anyone can accept this utter garbage after the excellent original movie (complete with a terrific Robin Williams) which came out back in 1995. There are some neat little touches here and there, I like the evolution and mystery of the game, and Jack Black is always a pleasure. But apart from that, this was yet another cookie cutter Dwayne Johnson flick. CGI laden trash of the highest order.


Thursday, 5 April 2018

The Cowboy Way (1994)

This movie was pretty much the epitome of cloning or ripping off another movies concept, and then see it go straight to video (in the UK at least). Back in the day you'd find many of these random comedies on the videoshop shelves. Movies you'd never seen or heard of before but had really good casts; its like they just popped up outta nowhere ('Celtic Pride' for example). You had no idea if they were any good but you'd usually rent them because of the cast, and sometimes the neat movie poster on the box.

The plot centres around two cowboys in New Mexico (Woody Harrelson and Kiefer Sutherland) who must travel east to New York in order to find their Cuban friend Nacho (who went to find his daughter). Turns out Nacho owed money to a gang for bringing his daughter into the US from Cuba. In the meantime the gang keeps his daughter in sweat shop slavery. So the butch stetson wearing duo must find Nacho and his daughter.

In short this is a very weak rip-off of 'Crocodile Dundee' but minus everything that made that movie a classic. I'm sure you know exactly what to expect when I say that. Both protagonists are your absolute cowboys. They both wear stetsons, jeans and cowboy boots all the time. They both have various stereotypical cowboy skills which come in handy throughout. And they are both displayed to be rather butch and sexy over dem city folk. The only real difference is Sutherland's character is the more sensible, straight laced cowboy with morals. Where as Harrelson's cowboy is the wildcard who loves loose women, drinking and getting into trouble. Pretty predictable stuff really.

Most of the action we see if also your predictable guff (oh my the stunt doubles!!) which was done way better in that 1986 Aussie comedy. Being cowboys these guys are of course out of their natural habitat in downtown New York/Manhattan. They dress funny, they talk funny, and they act all gruff; its all just so...funny. Somehow they manage to waltz into the Waldorf Astoria unchallenged and then manage to get into the dinning area for a snack to eat. Oh the hilarity that ensues as Harrelson's Pepper character acts all uncouth (ahem).

Later on Pepper gets himself into a posh yuppy-esque party for catwalk models (some middle aged woman takes a fancy to him). So this is the part where Pepper acts a bit homophobic because cowboys are real men, grrr! As the plot progresses they meet mounted police office Ernie Hudson who tickets them for camping out in Central Park (you know because they're cowboys and that's what cowboys do). Ernie's character seems to fall under a bit of a man/hero crush with these cowboys and starts helping them on their quest. By helping them I mean completely violating his jobs procedures and acting like a wild cowboy. This includes riding all over New York on his police horse waving his gun around. And allowing Pepper to drive his truck full speed into a local bar owned by the gang (his truck seemingly suffers no damage and apparently no one gets killed or injured).

As the trio chase after the main villain (a snarling, scenery chewing Dylan McDermott who dies quite horribly in the end) they basically end up riding horseback all over places which you simply wouldn't expect to see a horse being ridden. This is of course the movies main hook, having cowboys running amok in Manhattan. They make a point to ride past many landmarks, because of course they do. I can't deny it was interesting to see these scenes of cowboys galloping down main streets, bridges, railway stations, the port areas etc...

In the end this is a cheeky little number that solely relies on the then star 'brat pack' power of Kiefer Sutherland (which he retained for quite sometime); and that period in time when Woody Harrelson was considered a bit of a heartthrob. It also relies heavily on the overly used concept of lower class rough types clashing with posh types, and the tired culture clash formula. The weathered, seemingly backwards type character/s entering the fast-paced modern world.

Its totally as you would expect all the way. A silly comedy with Harrelson in his brazen undisciplined period, and Sutherland just doing what he always kinda did...look stoic (whilst also looking like he stepped out of a Marlboro advert here). Its reasonable but there are much better similar action comedy flicks from this era.