Friday, 21 September 2018

The Muppets' Wizard of Oz (2005)




















Ah the little known Oz adventure that I believe is the tenth Muppet movie before they stopped the classic story adaptations and rebooted the idea afresh in 2011 with 'The Muppets'. This was an American/Canadian collaboration that was primarily for Television.

This is of course the Muppet version of events based on L. Frank Baum's original novel. I'm sure everyone knows the story by now so I won't delve deep into that but instead take a quick look at some of the Muppet changes. Noticeable changes start with Dorothy's family now owning a diner in Kansas instead of a farm. Dorothy and her family are now African American. Dorothy initially goes to see the Wizard so he can make her...ugh! A famous singer (facepalm). Toto the dog is now...a prawn. Yes literally a common prawn in a fish tank (who later becomes Pepe). The Tinman (Gonzo) is now a robot. The Cowardly Lion is now a Cowardly Bear (Fozzie) And the flying monkeys are now a leather bound biker gang.

On the other hand, in some instances this Muppet version does stick more closely to the original source material than the classic 1939 movie. For example, the Good Witch of the North and Glinda are separate characters here. Dorothy's shoes are silver instead of ruby. The Wizard of Oz sees each of the characters (Dorothy and co) individually and in a different form. And Dorothy gains control of the flying biker gang when she defeats the Wicked Witch of the West. Of course there are many more examples for both, especially in terms of Muppet changes.

As for the movie well it's a real mixed bag for me. You really don't get a good impression with the way this picture starts. Basically, it's an MTV music video staring Ashanti (Dorothy). A brooding looking Ashanti moping around in black and white trying to look seductive (kids movie!). This intro almost destroys the entire movie because quite simply...what angle are you going for here?? I understand they are trying to make it all hip for the new generation but this is the Wizard of Oz for crying out loud. I honestly thought I was watching something else by mistake.

Naturally things start to improve once we get to Oz and start seeing some actual Muppets. Toto has now changed into Pepe which is a huge saving grace because Pepe is a top Muppet and quite frankly Ashanti can't act to save her life. The Munchkins are now played by Rizzo the rat and his rodent friends which was an inspired decision. Kermit is the Scarecrow, Fozzie is the Cowardly Bear, Gonzo is the Tinman/Tin robot, and Piggy is all the witches.

So Muppet casting wise its all the predictable big names in the main roles. But I really did like Johnny Fiama (stereotypical Italian American mafioso type) as the Wicked Witch of West's main henchman. Along with the flying biker gang minions typically played by all those random monster type Muppets. Sam Eagle was perfect as the Emerald City Guardian of the Gates. Piggy does a good job of being the evil witch with a somewhat disturbing lean towards being a leather clad dominatrix. The rest put in their usual performances that we've all come to expect.

When it comes to set pieces or anything remotely memorable, this movie is lacking. Sure the movie looks pleasing enough with some nice Muppet recreations of classic characters; the sets are attractive and colourful, and the songs are chirpy enough. But nothing really happens here, nothing engages you. The scene where Dorothy and co are poisoned/put to sleep by the poppies has here been turned into some somewhat sleazy nightclub sequence which felt nothing more than an excuse to shove in The Electric Mayhem and Clifford. I'm still not really sure why they changed the Tinman into a robot because it doesn't really make much difference. And the scenes in Oz with the Wizard showcase some of the most God awful CGI you will ever see. Granted this is an oldish movie and the budget may not have been great but by Jove it's horrific.

I think the only memorable scene is with Quentin Tarantino who has this bizarre meta sequence where he discusses a plot point with Kermit as it happens (much like Monty Python) But the only reason why its memorable is because it's so bloody awful. Watching Tarantino overact and restrain himself next to a Muppet is cringeworthy. Its also entirely pointless runtime filler and a way to get a big name into the movie. And speaking of cameos, pretty thin on the ground. Kelly Osbourne is all we get in a sequence that could be deemed somewhat controversial these days (because that's the world we live in now).

I must also confess to not really liking the finale. I realise that in the original source material the Wizard turns out to be a fake, but I really didn't like how they 'reimagined' that idea in this movie. Basically exposing Oz to be a Hollywood movie set and the Wizard to merely be a normal everyday actor (Jeffrey Tambor) was kinda depressing really. Its a twist for sure but it also destroys the fantasy. We know the Wizard was a fake but at least keep the world of Oz real.

I think what's disappointing here is the wasted opportunity. We know the Henson company can make cracking fantasy adaptations of classic tales ('Christmas Carol' and 'Treasure Island') and this story was ripe for Muppet treatment. But they made (in my opinion) bad choices with casting, designs, plot ideas, and obviously didn't have a proper budget. I mean seriously, what kind of story moral is having Dorothy wanting to ask the Wizard to make her rich and famous. Yeah she changes her mind in the end but it shouldn't have been about that in the first place (I would expect that kind of nauseating idea in the present).

Overall this could have been so much more, a real classic like the other Muppet movies mentioned. It has all the elements just waiting to be Muppet mined...but alas!

5/10

Sunday, 16 September 2018

The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)





















The third Muppet movie and arguably the best location for a Muppet movie. Seriously is it just me or does Manhattan just feel like the exact spot where most Muppets would live, their home. Obviously the fictional street of Sesame Street is located in Manhattan which leans towards the idea that Muppets perhaps come from that borough. But despite that, Muppets just feel right on the east coast.

Anywho this time around the Muppets have graduated from college. During this time they have been putting on a popular show called Manhattan Melodies. Upon receiving positive feedback and some advice, the gang decides to try their luck at getting their show on Broadway. Predictably at first the Muppets have no luck at all and are forced to break up and find work elsewhere. During this time Kermit continues to sell their show in an attempt at getting on Broadway. He gains help from a local diner owner and his daughter, along with Rizzo the Rat and his friends. Problems arise when Kermit is hit by a car, loses his memory, and then goes missing. The Muppets are summoned back to Manhattan to help find Kermit; time now being of the essence because in the meantime their show has been picked up.

So once again (it has to be said) we have another Muppet movie with a somewhat lackluster plot. Yes I know these movies are essentially for kids. Yes I know its a Muppet movie and the emphasis is more on sight gags, pratfalls, musical numbers, and just the look of the Muppets themselves. But this story isn't really interesting, it holds no real excitement, it doesn't really engage you. I like that its grounded but dare I say a bit too grounded and pedestrian.



Again I don't want to nitpick a Muppet movie too much...but these things just jumped out at me. For starters when the gang has no initial luck and Kermit throws a hissy fit, they all decide to just leave. This felt a bit odd to me, OK they need money, but no need to depart for entirely new locations across the USA! Also, was it me or did anyone else find Rowlf getting a job in a dog pound kinda weird? In this universe Muppets live alongside humans, so why would a human hire a Muppet dog to guard other Muppet dogs? Surely that's bound to lead to trouble. Also Gonzo gets a job at a circus or funfair and Piggy stays behind to secretly watch over Kermit (in case he gets his amphibia leg over). Both of which were way too predictable.

Having Piggy stay behind to covertly watch Kermit also gives us yet more romantic mush I'm afraid. It seems that every Muppet movie has to have multiple sequences of tiresome romance between the two. I mean sure that is the whole schtick between these characters and it can be funny at times but Jesus! Fortunately this does lead to a really good chase sequence where Piggy rollerskates after a mugger in Central Park (he pinches her purse). The sequence is well done utilising a stunt person within a Miss Piggy bodysuit with a fixed expression. Something that has been done before and works pretty well, from a distance.

This movie is also notable for the first onscreen appearance of Muppets in baby form, Muppet Babies. Yes there is a dream sequence within this movie where most of the Muppets are seen in a nursery frolicking around. The Muppets, the nursery, and the pastel colour scheme we see were all carried across into the cartoon (of the same name). It's literally a live action version of Muppet Babies and it looks terrific. Whilst the small baby Muppets are adorable, the small animatronic baby Muppets were both adorable and visually excellent. Its sequences like this that prove how much more effective live action effects are.



I think the problem with this third movie is the lack of real standout moments. There really isn't too much here that jumps out at you, other than the baby Muppets and the Central Park rollerskate sequence. Seeing Rizzo and friends cook in the diner kitchen was cute. Some nice remote controlled/wire puppet action with some clever visual trickery thrown in. Kermit being hit by a car and seeing him twitch on the tarmac was a legitimately disturbing sequence back in the day...aaand it still is today. And lastly I did like the frog advertisers Gill, Bill, and Jill. These guys felt very much like typical Sesame Street characters to me with their rhyming names, identical looks, and speech pattern.

Then of course you had the big finale where Kermit and Piggy finally get married. Something that you'd think would be an epic sequence living long in the memories of all who grew up with the picture, alas no. Although the sequence is pretty epic in scope with a good hundred plus Muppets on set, including Sesame Street characters and Uncle Travelling Matt from Fraggle Rock, it pails in comparison the first movies finale sequence. That's the problem really, it just kinda felt like they were trying to recapture that classic silver screen moment from the original movie which was bigger, more impressive, and is iconic.

Following on from the classic original and wacky hijinks of the second was a hard act to follow. Heck, even the cameo roster wasn't very impressive for this one with many bigger stars pulling out. On the whole I wouldn't say this is a bad Muppet movie, it's just not a very memorable one. It has its moments which are fun and visually pleasing (what Muppet movie isn't visually pleasing??) but they are few and far between leaving the whole affair a tad muted.

6/10

Friday, 7 September 2018

The Great Muppet Caper (1981)

























This second major Muppet production was a British - American collaboration and marked Jim Henson's directorial debut. Alas twas the only major Muppet movie to be directed by Jim Henson.

So this movie was a caper, a crime caper, and it was set in England. The premise? Well there's a big jewel heist (in New York I think) and local reporters Kermit and Fozzie miss it. Because of this the duo get axed from their reporter jobs. Luckily they manage to talk their editor into allowing them to fly to England in order to investigate the crime and interview the victim, Lady Holiday (Diana Rigg). Upon reaching England the duo (plus Gonzo) team up with other Muppets and begin to unravel the crime despite only being reporters and not the police.

Like the first Muppet movie I grew up with this one. This was a regular VHS weekend viewing type situation for many years (along with 'Superman 3'). So I will cut straight to the chase here and say that I prefer this second movie over the first. Yep, the rather odd intro of Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo landing in downtown Manhatten (?) in their hot air balloon for no real apparent reason. Where just moments before Gonzo was essentially contemplating suicide because it looked like fun. And upon hitting the ground a song and dance routine breaks out...just because. Is indeed all very off the wall, but its visually brilliant and a clear sign of what's to come.



It's funny really. Where as the first movie had a really underwhelming plot, as far as I'm concerned, it was relatively grounded for the Muppets and needed some more wackiness. I put this down to the creative team behind the movie wanting to be a little safe for their first outing. Whereas this movie had a much more exciting plot which didn't really need too much crazy antics but it got a whole tonne of wackiness. Clearly the team had much more confidence this time around.

I think the real highlight of this movie is the Happiness Hotel located on Cheapside Street in west London. This is where many Muppets now reside as it appears to be mainly for Muppets that have no money. The hotel is typical old fashioned British manor house that is falling apart at the seams, complete with a rickety old double-decker tour bus. Most of the scene here are easily the best from the songs to the bedroom heist planning sequences. I love how the creative team utilised the building for Muppet hijinks; it's a typical Muppet-esque set scenario.

There are plenty of other highlights to mention such as the fun yet extremely stupid robbery sequence at the end. Here the crooks (led by the rather uninspired choice of Charles Grodin) are sprung upon by all the Muppets as they try to steal the fabulous baseball diamond from a gallery. Again it's a typical Muppet-esque sequence that naturally makes no sense at all and has Muppets popping up all over the place despite being in random other places merely seconds before (or not even a part of the movie up to that point). The closeup shots and editing of each Muppet doing something utterly insane is glorious as they play a game of catch to keep the diamond away from the robbers. It's only when you get a revealing wide shot that everything looks stupid (dunno why they did that as it wrecks the illusion).



Of course this is a Muppet movie so we have a whole string of cameos again, but this time we actually see a few of the creative team getting cameos. Jim Henson is in a blink and you'll miss it moment. Jerry Nelson and his daughter have a walkon moment, along with Frank Oz and Richard Hunt. Star wise Peter Falk has an amusing and decent sized cameo. Peter Ustinov pops up quickly. But by far the best must be John Cleese along with Joan Sanderson who team up together once again (Fawlty Towers) to play familiar characters.

I think one of the biggest negative points I have to raise here was that gosh darn romance between Miss Piggy and Kermit. They really lay this element on thick this time with the frog and pig getting loads of romance time which quite frankly becomes irritating. I've got nothing against frog and pig lovin' but holy felted balls it's in your face. Piggy never stops lusting after Kermit whilst the green one holds back for as long as he can before submitting to her advances. We then get some quite long scenes of slush such as the (now infamous) aquatic sequence with a swimming Piggy which is very well done but kinda stops the movie in its tracks for me. Its all done for giggles of course but my God its vomit-inducing, which is the entire point but...yeesh!

Of course the movie is visually dated in terms of both ideas and styles of the time, which adds to the overall old English charm factor. Take that swanky club sequence, the clubs interior, what the feck was that?? It looked like the set of a sci-fi movie. The costumes and makeup are all gloriously top-heavy with early an 80's passion, whilst the sets do generally look like sets...but Muppet sets, which is cool. Not sure about the sequences where the Muppets are thrown out of planes when over the UK and US. Firstly they have to travel in the baggage hold which seems really cruel. And then when the plane is over the destination country a steward comes down and literally hurls them out of a hatch! That always kinda disturbed me as a kid and it still kinda does now.



I think overall this Muppet movie is better than the original for the simple fact that the plot is far more engaging...despite still being a bit thin. There is definitely more punch with this movie, a more energetic vibe, more exciting with a small element of risk involved (but not really, obviously). The original movie had more sentimentality I think,  this movie is more zany and madcap. It's not the best example of a Muppet movie but I think its probably the best of the early offerings with more colourful and funny sequences. Not forgetting that this movie introduced the new Muppet Rizzo the Rat and his rodent family.

'if we wanna get Miss Piggy out of jail we've gotta catch those thieves red-handed'

'what colour are their hands now?'

7.5/10

Monday, 27 August 2018

The Muppet Movie (1979)

























I am currently 40 years old as I write this (born in 1978). Like a few other franchises (Star Wars, Star Trek, Ghostbusters, Superman etc...) I was introduced to the Muppets at a very young age and ended up growing up with them. In fact, I do believe this was one of the first movies I recall seeing in the early stages of my life (along with some Disney animations). Yes back in the days of big square television sets encased in a plastic wood effect surround; along with a big chunky VHS recorder that had a remote control attached by a cable. Those were the days when watching a movie like 'The Muppet Movie' on TV was a big deal and had to be recorded for repeat viewings.

This being my first Muppet experience as a kid it obviously holds the greatest amount of nostalgia for me. As I watched this recently it was incredible just how many memories of my childhood came flooding back simply by seeing certain scenes. It's a strange...emotion really, I found myself near tears as the camera slowly panned down on Kermit whilst atop of his swampy log singing The Rainbow Connection. It's weird how you recall little moments out of the blue, little bits of dialog, despite not seeing the movie for many many years.

But I think one of the funniest things that spring to mind is simply how much of this movie I didn't understand when I was a kid. I remember not getting some of the jokes, not understanding certain scenes, certain gestures, and even certain individual words. It's funny how you watch an old childhood movie like this and think to yourself 'oh so that's what that meant'. 'Oh that's what that character means'. 'Oh I get that now, I see the nod and wink gag'. I think the Muppets is certainly a franchise that serves both adults and kids perfectly. As a kid you love them because they are just silly, colourful, funny, and look wacky. As an adult you get the sly humour, the winks, and of course you know who the cameos are (something else I totally missed as a kid). They are very much like the old Warner Bros. cartoons in that sense.



As for the movie itself, it's actually more of a mixed bag for me now looking back. Firstly the Muppet effects are of course, for the time, very good. An early scene in a bar showcases a full-body sequence of Kermit and Fozzie dancing on stage. This was done by utilising the same techniques they would eventually use in 'Labyrinth' which had both Jim Henson and Frank Oz manipulating the puppets in front of a bluescreen. That footage was then composited onto pre-shot live action footage of the bar. Considering how old this movie is and it being the first Muppet movie this sequence looks great (helped by the dark setting of the bar).

The opening sequence of Kermit sitting on his log in his swamp is also one of the movies great highlights (if not the highlight). In this case, Henson had to be submerged under the water inside the log and performed Kermit through an above opening whilst watching on a monitor. This not only sounded very tricky but also very dangerous in my opinion. Needless to say the entire shot looks flawless. The same can be said for the shots of Muppets riding bikes which was simply a Muppet stuck to the bike's pedals and handlebars with the bike being guided along by an overhead crane. And then you have the odd full-body shot of Muppets standing in the open which I'm guessing was again utilising an overhead crane, but you'd never guess because it looks terrific.

Of course the big finale sequence of every single Muppet (including Sesame Street I think) all together singing in one huge overhead shot was the coup de grĂ¢ce. This was achieved simply by having around 250 puppet performers all side by side in large long trenches or pits (so all the Muppets would be at the same height). It was merely the same technique they used all the time but on a huge scale to incorporate all the Muppets. Simple but effective and immensely memorable.



The movie itself is of course a light-hearted kids comedy bordering on spoof at times. There are tonnes of silly slapstick and songs for the kids to enjoy, but at the same time the movie is crammed with dry wit, pop culture references, meta-references, and big-name cameos for the adults. The gags tend to vary in quality though it has to be said. Whilst some are still quite clever, some are horribly childish and now horribly dated. When the Muppets come to a fork in the road...there is literally a large fork in the road. At times the Muppets will actually reference the movies script, people behind the camera, and will break the fourth wall.

The cameos are another large part of the Muppet movies that would continue going forward over the years. This being the first movie it has some epic cameos from actors of legendary status and other actors you'd be surprised to see. Brief cameos from the likes of Dom DeLuise, Telly Savalas, James Coburn, Elliot Gould, Bob Hope, Orson Welles (looking epically awesome), Steve Martin (yes Steve Martin!), and Richard Pryor to name a few. And then you had Mel Brooks (who always looked middle-aged) as a mad German scientist hired to brainwash Kermit. To say that Brooks was overacting would be an understatement, he goes for it.

The one problem with this movie that I just can't get around is the plot, its crap. Basically Kermit and his friends are trying to get to Hollywood to become big stars (somewhat shallow in itself). This seems to be something the Muppets try to do a lot. On the way Kermit is pursued by Doc Hopper (Charles Durning), a restaurateur who wants to open a chain of fast food frogs legs restaurants (but why????). But for some reason he needs Kermit to act in some commercials for his chain to get the gig off the ground. His idea simply being a dancing frog mascot will help sell frogs legs. What's more to the question, would anything help sell frogs legs??



So he offers Kermit some great monetary deals to simply star in some adverts and basically be a mascot. Naturally, Kermit being the sickening goody-two-shoes that he is, he turns these offers down despite the other Muppets telling him to take them. So Doc Hopper chases Kermit and co across the US trying to force him into the deal. This involves threats, kidnapping, attempted brainwashing, attempted Muppet murder etc...In short it all feels somewhat extreme.

But this is the problem, the plot is just awful. The Muppets just wanna go to Hollywood to become stars...just because. And Doc Hopper (notice the pun in his name) wants to sell frogs legs to Americans via a fast food chain and wants Kermit to do some adverts. But towards the end the Muppets reach Hollywood and do their thing whilst Doc Hopper and his gang simply disappear, I guess they give up (?). I should also point out that the Muppets are given the 'Hollywood rich and famous contract' by Orson Welles straight away without any hesitation. They just burst in and get taken on. Yes, I know its just a kids Muppet movie but I have to point out that the plot literally makes no sense and grinds to a nonsensical stop at the end. Its almost as if Henson didn't know how to finish it so they just...ended it with a song.

I should also point out that the story we watch unfold is actually a movie within a movie. The story is actually a movie the Muppets have apparently made themselves and are screening it for themselves (this bookends the movie). My question has always been, is this movie the Muppets have made a bio of themselves coming to Hollywood? Is it supposed to be their story of how they cracked Hollywood? Or is it supposed to be a fictional tale they have created for monetary purposes?



It's certainly a historic movie with all the classic cameos, classic cars, classic songs, and classic set pieces throughout. As you might expect the movie is also pretty corny and dated these days, but that's not a bad thing. After all this is a Muppet movie and Muppets can get away with just about anything because they are so damned iconic and adored worldwide. But yeah the plot is very fast and loose, strung together by set pieces and songs which luckily are very good. All your favourite Muppets are present and correct with Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, Rowlf the Dog, Beaker, Lew Zealand etc...And even Big Bird on his way to Sesame Street (was Big Bird a new character at this time?). The movie does seem to end in an abrupt and odd kinda way but its so fecking sweet you just can't help but smile (or wipe away a nostalgic tear...damn it).

Is it just me or was anyone else kinda terrified of Sweetums when they were a kid? Like who the hell thought that was a good design for a Muppet?? He's a huge, monstrous, evil-looking, humanoid beast that can run and eat things whole!!

7/10

Monday, 20 August 2018

Project ALF (1996)

























So back in the late 80's there was this TV series that starred what was essentially a Muppet. But this was not just any Muppet oh no. Firstly it had nothing to do with Jim Henson and was not a Muppet, and secondly this fuzzy character was completely politically incorrect. The absolute horror!!

So ALF (Alien Life Form) was an alien from the planet Melmac that crash-landed on Earth in typical alien fashion. Not only did he crash-land on Earth, he crash-landed right in the garage of a nice middle-class suburban American family called the Tanner's. Upon discovering that ALF (real alien name Gordon Shumway but affectionately known as ALF) was harmless and friendly the Tanner's hid him, essentially making him a part of their family. And from there we got a 4 seasons of wacky alien hijinks as the Tanner's try to keep ALF hidden from the government and ALF merely tries to fill his eight stomachs and make some money on the side.

This movie followed on from where the TV series left off (an unresolved cliffhanger) and sees the military getting a hold of ALF and taking him away for experimentation under the orders of Colonel Milfoil (Martin Sheen). Basically Milfoil wants to exterminate ALF because he sees the alien as a threat. On the other hand two other military scientists don't want to see ALF executed because its against his alien rights, it would be cruel, and humans could learn from him. So the duo decide to help ALF escape and go on the run. Eventually they seek help from an ex-NASA scientist (Miguel Ferrer) who seemingly wants to help ALF but also turns out to have his own dastardly plans. So its all very corny cliched and stereotypical stuff.

So let me just get this out of the way first. ALF was one of those US shows of pure genius the likes of which we'll probably never see again. The show was for the family but probably swung that little more towards the older age range because of its dry witty humour. The kids loved ALF of course but his cruel, sarcastic, mocking, cutting quips were anything but childish and would probably be deemed offensive today. I guess you could kinda say Married with Children was a similar type of show in the sense that everyone could enjoy it, but it was clearly aimed at the older age range overall (and it was also highly offensive by today's standards).

Of course the puppet of ALF was the standout feature of the show which was surprising if you think about it. Here was essentially a rather daft looking puppet that was fat, had a long snout, big dark eyes, big pointed ears, covered in thick brown hair, and had a kind of curtains style mop on his bonce. Just like any Muppet he was limited in facial movement and could only move his head arms and hands as his bottom half was never shown (he was always behind something). But it was never really about his look, it was all about his attitude, his biting satire, and his goofy voice all provided by creator Paul Fusco.

This movie starts off on top form showcasing ALF at his witty best whilst being experimented on. This initial sequence which shows ALF being questioned by various scientists is easily the highlight of the movie and gives you what you crave, ALF at his most cynical (and food obsessed). Dr. Warner the first scientist to question ALF (Ed Begley Jr.) gets accidentally electrocuted to death whilst trying to remove a warning sign off an electrical piece of equipment. From there on ALF constantly refers to this incident sarcastically (mainly out of fear and pure bewilderment) because the following scientists try to cover it up as a nothing burger (secret military facility you see).

Word Association Test:
Scientist: 'Left' - ALF: 'Overs'
Scientist: 'Sunrise' - ALF: 'Breakfast'
Scientist: 'Square' - ALF: 'Meal'

Scientist: 'Are you hungry?'


The scientist continues...
Scientist: 'On' - ALF: 'Off'
Scientist: 'Up' - ALF: 'Down'
Scientist: 'Toast' - ALF: 'Dr. Warner'

Alas the movie does tend to deteriorate pretty quickly once ALF is broken out of the military facility. One reason for this I believe is the fact that when ALF is outside or on the move its hard to do things with him because he is a puppet. You always need something for him to stand behind, lean against, sit on etc...I think this limited the movie as once ALF is out it becomes a chase flick. Now whilst you could say that the Muppets prove this can be done effectively, you still have to accept that many scenes in Henson movies work when the Muppets are indoors on a set of some kind. Plus the Henson movies probably had a much better budget than this movie.

As with the Muppets the people behind this movie do know their way around puppeteering and I assume worked on the TV show previously. ALF is shot well and still looks as good as you would expect. I can't recall the TV show too well these days but I'm sure ALF probably looks better than he did on the show given the circumstances. There aren't too many special effects aside from ALF of course. Like the Muppets there is the odd shot of a short person in a full body suit for the odd long shot or brief walking shot of the alien. And much like the Muppets it does work...unless you go back and rewatch it over slowly.

In general the humour becomes more mundane and predictable as the movie progresses. The usual situations where humans are at first shocked by ALF, then realise he's harmless and slowly accept him...whilst still in shock. Yeah its kinda amusing but gets old fast. The setup ALF has on the military base is also very Bilko-esque to the point of being a direct copy frankly. Almost every scene where ALF is not present is unfortunately really dull and you just wanna get back to ALF as quickly as possible. That's where the Muppets win because there are many Muppets and their stories surround them, humans are the extras. Here the story also involves humans and you are unable to escape focusing on them. ALF is not the only main character and that's the problem.

Still there are of course some highlights dotted around the latter half of the movie, all involving ALF of course. The little jab about the possibility of seeing ALF dolls on sale everywhere was very cute and meta (back in the day, at one point, ALF dolls were everywhere). ALF talking dirty to a blonde female was most amusing. 'do you mind vacuuming my lap? Nina needs a clean place to sit' ha!..ha! (ALF laugh).

The main problem with this movie was the fact it just felt cheap and not well thought out. For starters its a made-for-TV movie (not good) and damn well looks it (also not good). Yes it follows on from a TV series but it doesn't look [b]that[/b] much better which is not right. Yeah you could say it doesn't need to be flashy but blimey it could of looked better than this. There is nothing really exciting here, nothing to look at. Every scene is boring, set in boring locations, it doesn't appear that any imagination was used anywhere. As said the plot is really pretty wafer thin and makes no real sense. Martin Sheen's character wants to kill ALF simply because his mother was supposedly abducted by aliens and went mad over it? K I can understand him being upset but killing mankind's first contact with friendly intelligent alien life is not the best way forward.

Then you have Miguel Ferrer's character who wants to sell ALF to the highest bidder which is a selfish thing to do but not entirely problematic really. He also said that exposing ALF to the world would make him safer because everyone would know of him and would obviously want to learn from him. Again this actually makes sense. Whilst ALF is a military secret anything could happen to him. Once he's plastered across the world then it would be very difficult for someone to get to him. He would probably instantly become a protected species so to speak. So this plot angle doesn't really work, plus Miguel Ferrer looks really bored here.

So yeah, its fun when ALF is on screen, but not so much when the humans are on screen. Too many humans and not enough ALF was always gonna be a problem (an issue the TV show didn't really have). Maybe they shouldn't have jettisoned the Tanner family? You could of had them try to rescue ALF I guess; still not exactly groundbreaking on the originality front is it. But to write out the main characters of the TV show after 4 seasons on TV? Probably not a good move. Anyhow, this isn't a great movie by any stretch but its not awful. If you like ALF then you'll probably enjoy the ALF nuggets here. But overall this feels so much like a wasted opportunity that is compounded by the fact it probably came too late in the day.

5/10


'I thought I'd open with a joke or two. What's the difference between a shower curtain and toilet paper?'

'I don't know'

'So YOU'RE the one! Ha!'

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

BASEketball (1998)

Back in the early days of man, the dark ages, pre-1997, there was no such thing as South Park. Yes I know what you're all thinking right now, how could that be??!! How did people survive?? What did they do with themselves?? What's wrong with some good old fashioned Morris dancing? Is how I would have replied, but I digress. Twas the surprising success of the Colorado set animated TV show that gave both Trey Parker and Matt Stone the chance to let loose in crazy ventures such as 'BASEketball'.

Apparently the actual game of BASEketball was the brainchild of this movies director, David Zucker. Is this true? Who knows, moving on. The plot consists of two 23 year old unemployed losers, Coop (Trey Parker) and Remer (Stone), who seem to have generally failed in life thus far. In their own words they mainly sit around all day drinking beer and playing Nintendo. One night they crash a party being hosted by a sexy former high school classmate and end up challenging two jocks to a game of two-on-two basketball. But in order to humiliate and ultimately beat the jocks (who are both very good at basketball), the duo quickly invent their own game rules on the fly (a combination of baseball and basketball).

The guys win their stupid game but still lose the girls (ultimately not humiliating the jocks after all). Despite feeling rejected the duo decide to work on their new creation which appeared to work quite well all things considered. Over the next six months their idea morphs into a highly popular street game which attracts the attention of businessman Ted Denslow (Ernest Borgnine) who helps the guys turn the game into a major national sport, the National BASEketball League (NBL). Its from this point on things go from bad to worse as the duo find themselves disagreeing on things such as the monetisation of the sport, sexy women, best friends, child labour, and of course fame. All the usual things because money is the source of all evil and leads to unhappiness, greed, and all that jazz.

So obviously this movie was nothing more than a vehicle for the South Park duo to cash in on said TV show because said TV show was, at the time, becoming incredibly popular...bordering on massively popular (if it wasn't already at that point). So it was clearly time for a studio to get these guys involved in something in order to mine that precious moolah. The movie has absolutely nothing to do with their animated show but its as you can imagine a lot of the humour does fall in line with said Colorado based animated show. Add to that the very popular and classic spoof humour of Zucker ('The Naked Gun', 'Airplane' etc...) and you do have the possibility for comedic gold.

Do you actually get comedic gold though? Well yes and no, its kinda sporadic. The movie has many highs and lows which can either make you cringe or laugh out loud, its very...umm sporadic. Of course the movie being 20 years old doesn't help too much with much of the humour (some of it is terribly 90's). But a true classic comedy should stand the test of time really so I guess you can say this isn't up to that standard (it definitely isn't).



So essentially what you have (as I'm sure you can guess) is across the board infantile frat-boy style humour mixed with some equally crass and silly spoofery. Most of the humour does indeed surround typical things like hot girls, beer, bowel movements, sexuality etc...At the national league games the cheerleaders are essentially strippers clad in different attire depending on the game night theme...or sometimes they are just strippers. The game night themes are themselves utterly bizarre and actually quite amusing at times. For example there is dozen egg night, free range chicken night, and probe night. On these nights the crowds usually partake in the theme, so on free range chicken night the fans bring in their own chickens to the game. The typical Zucker humour tends to creep into the background strategically. Whilst two characters discuss the plot in the foreground, in the background a groundsman casually pushes along a huge vacuum machine that sucks up loose chickens on the field. And no one bats an eye.

The game teams are all ridiculous and in some cases now offensive. For example Coop and Remer play for The Beers, because no comedy is complete without mindless predictable beer gags. Then there is the San Francisco all male team The Ferries who dress in pink and have buffed up male strippers for their cheerleaders. The New Jersey team are called The Informants...bada bing! The LA team are the LA Riots...ahem! There is a team from Roswell which are of course based on Area 51 and aliens (ugh!). There is a Latino team which is based around crime and finally a Texas team chock full of redneck cowboy types. So yeah, mostly offensive stereotypes which would cause a shitstorm these days.

One of the movies small highlights is of course Trey Parker doing what appears to be his best Rik Mayall impressions (complete with wacky blonde hair). For instance in the games players are allowed to try and distract their opposition whilst they take shots. This leads to some pretty ingenious bits of visual comedy. We see Cooper pretend to cut off a finger complete with squirting fake blood. Cooper also munches on silver foil. Remer squirts milk from his nipples whilst asking 'got milk?'. The pair constantly mock and berate their smaller teammate Squeak (Dian Bachar) using him as a way to unhinge the opposition; something which at times is funny whilst at other times far too predictable. And at one point Cooper even unleashes Eric Cartman's voice to attack a player.


Parker is clearly the more energetic and amusing cast member to watch. He seems much more comfortable in front of the camera hence his visual antics and quips do tend to come across more, dare I say professionally, than Stone. Its the little touches that make you smile such as Coop getting annoyed and simply letting out a frustrated 'awww' every time; something that he exaggerates more and more throughout. His one in-game drunken stupor was also a small highlight. Falling asleep at the mount, running whilst still hungover bloated with alcohol, and letting down little Joey who wanted Coop to hit some homers (or whatever they were called). Then there's the happy dance, whenever Coop gets really angry Remer makes him to a little jig whilst singing 'I'm doing the happy dance, I'm doing the happy dance'. Its utterly stupid but the fact it clearly makes Coop happier is somehow amusing to watch.

On the other hand Stone isn't really as good as Parker. He doesn't really have the same screen presence, he isn't as good with physical humour, and he doesn't have the ability to do any really funny voices. Overall it just kinda feels like Stone is there merely because he was part of the creation process behind South Park and he has to be there otherwise it would seem unfair. Sure he can do some simple voices for certain characters but he's obviously better in the writing process.

As for the rest of the cast it reads like a who's who of forgotten stars and wannabes. It kinda feels like they got certain older classic stars because they just needed the work and money. Or they just wanted to get involved in a 'hip new comedy' that's 'down with the kids' to stay relevant. Whilst other lesser known actors clearly just need anything they can get. The movie is also stuffed full of needless cameos which always comes across as a cheap ploy to lure in an audience and boost interest. At the same time it also dates the movie horribly, case in point, a specific NASCAR driver, some American sports commentators, and dated celebs like Victoria Silvstedt. Also despite the soundtrack being somewhat engaging it too does very little to help the hideous dating of this movie. Who remembers Scatman?



In a sense I believe this movie is maybe supposed to mirror Parker and Stone's own early lives as they went from being losers bumming around, to losers with fame and fortune under their new-found creation. Of course I could be wrong because essentially this movie has no real plot, its merely a string of silly and offensive sequences tied together with some music and cameos. On one hand I do like the movie simply because of its sheer lack political correctness (twas before all that shit) which is always a breath of fresh air. Some of the things in this movie would never be allowed these days, and that's fecking awesome. But on the other hand it is admittedly a pretty crap movie with crap acting, bad effects, a stupid plot, and tonnes of awkward cameos.

In typical Parker and Stone manner the movie (like South Park) is deliberately offensive. Its offensive for the sake of being offensive. But if that's your bag, if you're open to that kind of humour, then you may have a blast with this guff. If not then I'd advise you to stay away for fear of getting triggered.

6/10

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Black Water (2018)

Apparently the fifth collaboration between the mighty Dolph Lundgren and the muscles from Brussels...kinda. K I'll be honest with you here, don't expect too much with this OK.

The Plot: Holy shit there is some double cross in this picture, I'm still not really sure what the goal was here but lets go. Scott Wheeler (JCVD) is a deep cover agent who trying to identify a leak within the CIA with his female partner. His partner has a USB drive which contains an algorithm to activate secret agents (what?) whilst Wheeler has the activation key. Naturally Wheeler's partner is killed resulting in him being captured under suspicion of going rogue. Wheeler awakens on-board a CIA blacksite located on a submarine. On-board are various CIA  agents, some are genuine and of course some are not. What follows is a convoluted mess as Wheeler and some remaining goodie agents try to escape the sub with the drive.

Again I honesty had no real clue what the hell was happening whilst watching this because it is a real mess. The plot is all over the show and never really makes much sense. I still don't really get what this USB drive could actually do. Activate secret agents? How do you mean? Reveal their locations? Are they under some sort of mental control? I'm not even sure how activating these agents would be of any use, unless they're super agents or something. In the end it doesn't really matter because the drive and its purpose are more of a mcguffin than anything. Its just an object for the various jacked-up agents to fight over.

Oh yeah, speaking of being jacked-up (rather muscular), literally everyone in this movie is jacked-up. Every single agent looks like they've been on a four course meal of steroids for the last six months. Oh and most have cropped hair with tattoo sleeves and long beards, because having a long beard is the thing now apparently. I believe its what you call being a hipster? Only with big muscles.

Anyway the entire movie is set inside this submarine which of course isn't really a submarine but a very very bad selection of sets. Now when I say bad I mean bad. They generally consist of grey painted corridors and rooms with some control panels and every shot being lit in either red or green (because all subs are lit with red and green bulbs you see). Everything is dark of course to hide the bad sets where ever possible, hence the red and green lighting. Every now and then we might get a shot which seems to have been filmed on location, most probably inside a naval ship of some kind, but these are sparse.



All the action is pretty terrible. All the shoots outs are laughable because everyone misses the good guys every time, often at point blank range. If any good guy does get shot its usually in the shoulder, unless they're expendable. I also had to ask myself, surely with all these shoot outs the sub would be in danger of getting damaged badly, maybe springing a leak perhaps. Nah, they just keep blasting at each other and hitting the walls or pipes or whatever, no worries. In between any gun fights Van Damme of course manages to kick some bad guys in the face at close quarters. I say close quarters but in reality these sets are nice and wide so Van Damme is able to perform his usual repertoire of kickassery, because realism.

Oh Christ I nearly forgot about old Dolph. Well clearly the director nearly forgot about old Dolph too because he's hardly in this. He obviously gets top billing on the poster alongside Van Damme to obviously attract the hardcore fans; but its pretty blatant false advertising on said poster (a poster which sees Van Damme blatantly de-aged). Dolph plays another prisoner on-board the sub who is eventually released by Wheeler for help. He then kicks a little butt and literally disappears for the rest of the movie. That is until the very end where we get a completely pointless final scene with him.

The acting is generally bad all round because they've seemingly hired body builders with no experience in acting. The main characters are a tad better but not much. Most are unknown to me but I guess the best of the bunch goes to Al Sapienza who plays one of the main CIA heads who may or may not be Wheeler's friend (intrigued much?). But apparently they only wanted good looking sexy people to aide Van Damme's character. Special mention to Jasmine Waltz and her plastic doll-like face and body (obvious surgery).

The poster does look good for this I can't deny but alas its utter crap my friends. Shoddy all round, very fake looking, poor acting, poor everything! I think this has to be the first really bad straight to DVD type movie I've seen with both Dolph and Van Damme. I know they have made some lower budget things in the past but this really takes the cake.

2/10