Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Gremlins (1984)

Probably one of the first horror comedies supposedly for all the family. Released back in 84 at a time when there was some incredibly stiff competition at the box office, namely 'Ghostbusters'. The film opens at Christmas in a typical small all American apple pie town blanketed under a layer of snow. My first thoughts when seeing this again was how similar this town square looked to the town square of Hill Valley in 'Back to the Future'.

Straight away you can't help but love the atmosphere this film is setting, the opening credits play out to Darlene Love's popular 1963 song Christmas, everything looks so cozy and charming as kids play in the snow. All this is of course after the more Spielbergian opening of how little Gizmo gets discovered in Chinatown, a very Indiana-esque look and feel about that whole sequence, you can tell its an Amblin production. Isn't that little Chinese boy wearing the same baseball hat as Short Round from 'Temple of Doom'? or the same look perhaps? Don't miss the Indiana Jones billboard nod at the start either.

I think the one thing that always stuck with me (and everyone else I'm sure) was the fact this film was actually pretty scary and dark. Considering it was a young persons film and advertised as just that it was edgy, I remember always hiding behind a cushion when watching this. The whole concept of little green monsters hiding under your bed or in the clothes cupboard is pretty terrifying for kids, its the stuff of bedtime legend, so this film really hit home in so many aspects at the time.

What still impresses today are the special effects, the cute lill Giz puppet is clearly just a puppet or advanced Muppet but geez it still looks good!. His huge round eyes, little snout, big floppy ears and that adorable little chirping voice of his. I don't think anyone can deny that little tune Giz whistles or hums is almost as iconic as the electronic sound from 'Close Encounters'...and downright lovable. But its the facial expressions we see on close ups that really impress me to this day, the way he rolls his eyes in loathing or looks frightened, the little guy still genuinely looks quite real.

'bright light! bright light!'

The same can also be said for the evil Gremlins and their reptilian appearance. These guys really do look scary and nasty, you know you wouldn't wanna get bitten by one of these guys. I also love how dated this film is, how un-PC it is. The Gremlins are clearly show smoking virtually all the time! drinking booze, getting drunk, smashing everything and even using lethal weapons including guns! Can you imagine a kids film in this day and age showing stuff like that! this film could almost be seen as advocating yobbish behaviour and saying drinking, smoking and trashing property is fun. It really is quite the eye opener when you see some of the things these Gremlins get up to, you half expect to see them grunting away whilst mating on a table.

Never really understood how Mogwai seem to reproduce as they do, never explained. The idea is a bit silly really, just like the three rules. Water makes them reproduce, but why? how? from their back?? how do they drink or do they? surely this would be hard to avoid, plus wouldn't he be smelly and disgusting with all that fur? They can't eat after midnight...that doesn't make much sense because that means he can never really eat doesn't it? Oh and is Gizmo the only Mogwai left? you'd think there would be lots.

The film does has many levels or stages I think. The whole tranquil little snow capped town with all the townsfolk knowing each other does homage 'Its a Wonderful Life', they don't hide this though as its shown in the film. The grumpy and somewhat sadistic Mrs Deagle is clearly a little homage to 'The Wizard of Oz' and the wicked witch character, she even says the same lines at one point. At some points the film is very humorous with silly Gremlin slapstick and tomfoolery, visual gags and overall light-hearted laughs that kids would enjoy. On the same note there are also many more points in the film where it does really get close to the bone. You get a quick hint of this early on when the professor gets killed or half eaten which is a tad unnerving.

The tone shifts from one end of the scale to the other quite dramatically, it can be a bit mind boggling. A good small example would be when the Gremlins are all in the bar drinking and smoking (its all good kids). There is much craziness going on which can be seen as light comedy but all of a sudden Stripe whips out a gun and shoots a fellow Gremlin in the face! This causes much laughter all round from the little critters but it does kinda get you thinking doesn't it, hey kids its fun to shoot people in the face...no consequences accept for hilarity and drinks all round!

The same could be said for the Gremlins attack on Peltzer's mum in the kitchen. I think this is the first really graphic attack sequence in the film, some quite nasty justice for the little terrors. The infamous microwave sequence, head in a blender, stabbed to death with a big knife and all rounded off with a decapitation into the fireplace! The whole finale against Stripe is very dark too as this Gremlin is trying to kill Peltzer is some pretty gruesome ways, no holding back here kids, chainsaw to the face!!

I'm not even mentioned the depressing tale spoken by Cates character of why she hates Xmas, pretty bleak stuff right there. Then of course there's the excellent melting sequence of Stripe as he meets his demise right at the end. Much like the melting moments in 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' that bit always had me half looking back in the day, twas cool but scary, I guess that's why us kids liked it back then. The sound effects made that scene so much more disgusting with all the bubbling and squelching, loved the dogs reaction too, that dog really jumped on many occasion in the film, poor fella.

Its corny and cliche but they don't make kids films like this anymore. I guess that could be a good thing because kids these days are exposed to so much stuff, but I suppose you could argue they wouldn't find it scary because they are more immune. Back in the day times were simpler and we didn't have all the tech stuff you have now so films like this really blew your mind and I think we enjoyed them more because of it. I think films like this felt more special because they looked real and gave you something you wouldn't normally see, no internet or CGI back then kids.

I always did like Hoyt Axton's (loved his performance and character) last few words in this film...'Well, that's the story. So if your air conditioner goes on the fritz or your washing machine blows up or your video recorder conks out; before you call the repairman turn on all the lights, check all the closets and cupboards, look under all the beds, 'cause you never can tell there just might be a gremlin in your house'. The thing is back then when you were a kid, you DID check in your clothes cupboard and under your bed before going to bed.


Saturday, 28 December 2013

Casper (1995)

I recall this film popping out of nowhere really, saw a trailer for it out of the blue, liked the look of it and went to see it. The creepy Addams Family visuals along with some really sweet looking effects hooked me and overall I really enjoyed this little kiddie flick.

The plot is a simple Scooby Doo type affair really. There's a big old spooky mansion where Casper and his three uncle ghosts reside. An evil tyrannical female inherits the mansion and wants to find the treasure hidden within its bowels (then tear it down), problem is the ghosts. So she hires Bill Pullman (a paranormal therapist) and his daughter Ricci to get rid of the spooks.

This being a kids flick its very predictable so I needn't tell you how things unfold. What I will say is the film is a highly enjoyable ghostie adventure with some really nice looking cobweb ridden sets, charming locations, quirky humour, acceptable performances and great CGI amazingly.

The ghost effects on Casper are really nice and hold up well today. He's easily the best of the bunch visually, he looks quite realistic actually. The three naughty uncles are slightly more cartoonish looking and act so. The jokes and slapstick from them is very childish, you can see the one liners and sight gags coming a mile off but that's expected. Other ghosts that materialise during the film also look more like cartoons and not as effective as Casper, not too sure why Pullman's wife appears as a proper human though when all the others are CGI, emotional moment I guess

The other thing that impresses is how well the actors interact with the CGI spooks, believe it or not but they do look in all the right places and at the right times. You'd half expect this film to have hokey effects and badly directed live action but its really good all the way through. There are some unnecessary quick fire cameos that's for sure, the only clever one was seeing Dan Aykroyd turn up as Ray Stantz, I liked that.

Hot on the heels of a certain Charles Addams creation Ricci follows on with her adopted kooky persona with this halloween caper, and its suits her perfectly. Pullman is a blundering but lovable father to Ricci's character whilst Casper is voiced nicely and acted well by a young Devon Sawa in human form. The only let down is the rather lame villainess and her henchman played by Eric Idle who didn't really need to be here.

At times this film is actually very sweet and can bring a lump to your throat, it has that sickly sentimental touch, especially during the finale. But overall this is a great fun film if you enjoy light-hearted supernatural silliness. To sum up it isn't too far from a kids version of 'Beetlejuice' or 'High Spirits' and much better than the Eddie Murphy vehicle 'The Haunted Mansion'.


Dollman vs. Demonic Toys (1993)

Suppose to have been the first 'vs' film made so really this film is a ground breaker if we are honest about it. Its a very silly premise of course and the back story behind it is muddled. Basically this is the sequel to 'Bad Channels' 'Dollman' and 'Demonic Toys' all at once which in itself is pretty impressive and unique, but alas they screwed up the continuity badly by making 'Nurse Ginger' as the sidekick from 'Bad Channels' when it should of been 'Bunny'.

That aside this is actually good fun and continues the cult craziness of the previous films with the added bonus of Thomerson back as Dollman. Most of the film is filled with flashbacks unfortunately which does take up time and seeing as the film is only one hour!!, you can tell they struggled to fill out the plot.

Effects wise its about on par with the other films accept this time we have life size Demonic Toys going up against 'Brick' which doesn't look too bad really. The fact they are real models using stop motion makes all the difference which would be lost using CGI. Its actually the big in your face models and puppets that make this film enjoyable, utterly farcical but fun, kinda like a fairground ride in the funhouse.

You could almost say its a low budget modern day Harryhausen homage flick...almost. Gotta give kudos for imagination, absurdity and the balls to actually make something so zany.


Dollman (1991)

There is something about this B-movie that I like, its hard to pinpoint as the film is so ridiculous and belongs in the cartoon realm. I guess its the quaint 'Twilight Zone' charm of the plot and the cheesy yet fun effects mixed with some great hammy acting.

Pyun regular Thomerson gives his best 'Dirty Harry' performance here as 'Brick Bardo' (great name) complete with silly shades and a long trench coat. His strong gritty voice barking out silly dialog left right n centre to the wonderfully cliched baddies and gang members lead by a young over the top J.E. Haley.

This film does seem to have a cult following (nowadays, upon release not so much) and its easy to see why as its highly enjoyable with its highly nonsensical premise. A classic lead character, terrific bad guys and brilliantly hokey effects. Pyun's best film along side 'Cyborg' most definitely, which I'm sure came as a shock to him.


Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Riddick (2013)

The chronicles of Riddick continue where they left off from in the second film. I'm glad to say the powers that be have decided to get back to the roots of Riddick this time. The first film was a surprise hit and a decent alien monster survival clash. The second film then got too big for its own boots and went off the scale with over the top cheesy fantasy nonsense. This time we're back to survival mode with plenty of grit.

Now I will be brutally honest here, I'm gonna moan a lot about this film...starting right now. First off we see how Riddick was betrayed and dumped on this desolate planet, but why do that? he offered Vaako the position of Lord Marshall merely in exchange for being taken to his home world of Furya, so why the need to trick him?? just take him home and all is good. I must also ask how in the hell Riddick survived that cliff fall?! it was like...a gazillion feet high!

The planet this film is set on is a nice looking one if you ask me, very slick visuals in general but I really liked this planets design, it felt very real actually. Not too original in all fairness, your standard Tatooine type location but very realistically created. So Riddles is stuck on this planet, marooned, he manages to fix his leg which I can buy but then finds these mud pool/geyser/springs which do not contain drinkable water yet he submerges himself in one to escape some wild dog-like creatures. Isn't that kinda risky? god knows what that liquid could of done to him.

After much limping around Riddick finds some ruins (no explanation to what they are or who built them though) and he entombs himself for an unknown amount of time. Enough time for his leg to fix completely though...so that's a long time entombed without food or water, I'm confused. Once vampire Riddick emerges he eventually discovers there is more fertile land beyond these jagged rocks but he can't get there because of the mud pools and these scorpion things that live in them. There was no other way around this area? really?? no way at all!? Although I did like the way he uses his survival skills to gradually build his immunity against their poisonous sting, inoculation 101. Low and behold once around the rocky patch and into the nicer areas Riddick finds an outpost, always an outpost, he couldn't have landed on an uninhabited planet oh no, but I guess we wouldn't have our film then would we.

The film does feel very segregated, the first half is a really neat survival concept with Riddick and his new pet doggie creature. The middle part then changes into a more standard action setup when the rather gimmick riddled 'Alien Resurrection' mercs turn up spouting much cliched crap. Boy do they try too hard with these characters, they really want this guys to be memorable iconic sci-fi characters but it kinda fails really. The merc leader seems to be Peter Stormare's love child or a low rent version, Sackhoff really tries to have an air of uber coolness about her but gives it up all too easy when Riddick flirts with her, Batista is just another ex-wrestler to move into acting playing large meatheads and why cast Keri Hilson in that cameo?? What is this modern trend of casting pop singers and ex-wrestlers when real struggling actors are forever available and can actually act because that is their actual profession.

The last half of the film descents into familiar territory as an all to easy 'Aliens' clone, well who are we kidding it basically turns into 'Pitch Black'. The ever decreasing team fight against the odds as lots of those mud pool monsters come after them during a big rain storm. Thing is how did Riddick know this would happen? I don't think he experienced this beforehand and how come there are lots of mud pools all of a sudden? I thought we left those behind in the rocky region??

Don't get me wrong this section of the film is fun if somewhat predictable seeing as its a rehash. The problem with this film is the plot holes and lack of a coherent story. Riddick and Johns speed off to retrieve the power cell things for the ships (on those admittedly cool hover bikes) which appears to be some distance away. After some fisticuffs shenanigans and alien battles Johns and Riddick are forced to walk back! and they do it in half the time it took them to get there!

I guess what I'm saying is the film is very badly written and developed but it has some fantastic effects and lavish sci-fi porn. Most of the effects are CGI and you can tell, many shots are clearly live action against CGI backdrops but it still looks quite slick. The atmospheric colour palette, hover bikes, spaceships, creatures and realism of the planet are attractive to sci-fi geeks such as myself. They just let it all down with such mindless questions, errors and moments of complete ludicrousness like the death scene of one bad guy and a big knife. Oh and the sequence where the mercs all discuss opening a possible booby trapped locker by Riddick for nigh on six or seven minutes!!!! yep that's right, they stand around and talk it over for around that length.

Moan over and believe it or not I did like this film. Its silly sci-fi hokum with an array of cheese collected from various other sci-fi films (mainly its own franchise!) but it does work and it is a fun ride. Riddick is a likable lone wolf which helps a lot and its nice to see an adult orientated flick too. Its all essentially just about Riddick trying to get off world, that's it, not complicated, just needed to be a bit more original perhaps. I would have stuck with the lone survival aspect some more myself. And shame on you Twohy for giving us the old emotional pet death sequence, you know everybody chokes up on that stuff damn it! Awww poor alien dingo doggie-like thing, Riddick would have been cool with an alien pet for future adventures.


Monday, 23 December 2013

Zoolander (2001)

This was the first film to really introduce me to Will Ferrell back in the day, its hard to think when this film came out he wasn't a big name star. Twas also the first time I saw Ben Stiller's dad on the big screen, or anywhere really, I hadn't yet discovered the joys of 'The King of Queens'.

This entire film plays out like an early Sacha Baron Cohen flick ('Bruno') but much much tamer. A very deliberate spoof and parody of the fashion/model world that is grotesque, bloated, narcissistic and embarrassing. Alongside Stiller and Owen Wilson is fellow frat pack member Vince Vaughn in an early cameo role and many many other big name stars hamming it up...or so we're led to believe.

Of course this being a film about modelling and fashion there has to be real patriots of this exclusive world involved, and there are plenty. All the big glamorous names you can think of that are connected to this vomit inducing scene are hauled out in front of the camera to show us their parody acting chops. Thing is I'm not entirely sure some of them understood they were being put in a film, I highly doubt they caught on that their lives were being poked fun at (mocked) and they were contributing towards the laughs. Just another day in the glitzy limelight for them.

I wouldn't say the humour was particularly clever, witty or sharp. Its most definitely amusing seeing Stiller and Wilson going overboard as two self obsessed male models, the clip montages at the award ceremony, their own unique dialect and visual expressions plus the 'walk off'...some great mockery going on there. Unfortunately it doesn't quite hold up for the run time in my opinion, the early golden moments dry up quickly as do the ideas.

The plot is daft of course but that doesn't matter really, its just a chance to have a pop at this ridiculous industry, maybe open some insider eyes perhaps. It all feels like your typical SNL sketch that has been stretched out but a little better than their usual fare. Its all very predictable childish and silly but that's the idea so there's no need to think into it. The only good thing about the film for me was the main lead duo and their excellent self indulgent portrayals, everything else is so so.

I totally forgot how hot Jovovich is in this film with her strict dominatrix attire, plus talk about a desperate attempt to kick start your career Billy Zane! Why exactly are you in this?


Friday, 20 December 2013

Ninja: Shadow of a Tear (aka Ninja 2, 2013)

The spawn of JCVD is back in action again with his own personal franchise about ninjas...well American ninjas which appear to be much better than Japanese ones according to this. The first film was pretty much a cool excuse for some ninja martial arts and weapons action from Adkins, and this sequel is no different whatsoever, but this is a good thing.

A completely childish plot with unreal amounts of cliched moments and corn, but who are we kidding here its all about the fisticuffs and nothing more. And that's exactly what you get, more than last time too. Adkins wife is murdered whilst he's out buying chocolate and seaweed? so he gets mean and outta control, its time to kill EVERYONE!!!!.

The plot is so completely amazingly and utterly basic I simply can't find any other ways to describe it further. The whole thing is so shallow and unimaginative it hurts, they should of just called it 'Scott Adkins kicks ass for 1hour and 30minutes with no plot interference'. Some of the fights do seem to be quite obviously staged I found, mainly the indoor ones. The kicks and punches don't connect, fake looking breakable props and the fight extras clearly throw themselves around badly. But once the battles reach the open they really come into their own, there is an amazing bar fight (gotta have a bar fight) and a great 'Point Break' style chase sequence.

As we reach the predictable climax the fights do get really intense, the final boss fights are a blistering montage of moves that seem to defy gravity yet are clearly real time!. To be honest it becomes more a display of acrobatics rather than martial arts, you know these moves look incredible but in reality they probably wouldn't be as effective.

I hate to use this terminology but this film plays out like a videogame adaptation from the days of Double Dragon. Just look at the facts, the heroes love is killed off, he then fights his way through level after level of different bad guys in various locations...bars, hotels, dojos, enemy hideout, alleyway, prison etc...Each encounter offers a tougher adversary as he gets closer to the final level and the three boss fights. One is the bosses main henchman, then the boss and then finally the predictable surprise boss in a twist ending just when you thought it was all over.

Yes its horrendously cheesy and we've seen it all before, its been done by all the classic action heroes back in the day. This is the new gen of action hero and Adkins is the top dog as far as I'm concerned for Western martial artists. This guy can do the moves we never saw JCVD do, he's like a living beat 'em up videogame fighter and he's just as wooden to boot, in short the man is perfect. Everything you expected you get right here, the only thing you don't get much of is actual ninja suit clad action albeit one sequence at the end.

This is what a classic back to basics action flick is all about, not the hammy action comedy 'Expendables' nonsense. Adkins has easily given us some of the best retro action homage flicks (JCVD homage flicks) in the last few years. I'd like to see him do some gritty underground Eastern set tournament fight flicks like JCVD's classic 'Bloodsport' and 'Kickboxer'.


Thursday, 19 December 2013

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013)

Much better film title this time around, loving the sound of it, alas if only the film was actually as good. The franchise moves on, the next chapter adapted from the novel of the same name, basically Greek mythology set within our present day and updated.

This time our young hero Percy must find the Golden Fleece to heal a magical tree that protects his home of Camp Half-Blood. The fleece can be found in the lair of the Cyclops Polyphemus which itself lies within the Sea of Monsters (Bermuda Triangle). So off our little intrepid adventurers go to find it and save the world as we know it...kinda. Oh and did I forget to mention there are some bad guys also trying to get the fleece to raise Kronos? well there you go.

In all honesty I can't really recall much about the first film, it got so easily lost in a whirlwind of Potter-mania and some other nondescript replicas, but I did seem to slightly enjoy it according to my review (yep I read em). This of course is still the main problem with this franchise and any other really...they will always be compared to the superior Harry Potter. The kid with specs set the bar high and was the first big budget fantasy of its kind to do really well. After that every else has seemed weak in comparison, merely average imitations.

This film does itself no favours simply because it looks average in the special effects department, a major flaw for a fantasy. Right from the start everything just looks lame, Camp Half-Blood just looks like some kind of summer holiday Cub Scout camp where you'd eat sausage n baked beans for dinner. The big creatures are obviously CGI and boy do they look it, most of them just stand out big time, that large mechanical bull that attacks the camp is laughable. There are various other big creatures throughout that are all CGI and none look any good frankly, accept for the odd close-up perhaps. The finale with Kronos is the same, if these were videogame in-game sequences I'd be impressed, but they aren't.

Some sequences really do look truly awful in fact, I'm amazed they got through into the finished film! When the young trio ride a big Seahorse thingy across the sea to reach the bad guys yacht, that is a bad one (oh and the yacht? that doesn't feel very fantasy-like does it, kinda out of place). They are riding a wet slippery sea creature at speed, yet they aren't holding on to anything, how do they stay on its back people?! plus they didn't seem all that wet afterwards. Then a bit later on in the same scene we see Percy and Luke ride/surf a big wave...don't ask it looks terrible, all the water effects look terrible.

The only bit of originality to rear its head appeared to be the concept of making the three Stygian witches cab drivers in a yellow New York cab. A unique approach for sure and one that sort of works I guess...but then I realised I'd seen a similar idea before in 'Scrooged'.

A common problem is the fact everything also seems so bland and derivative. All the characters are your bog standard types and offer nothing new, the hero, his sidekick, the female sidekick and the best friend who you know will get killed (and you also know will come back at the last minute). Next to that are the bog standard baddies led by the good looking charmer with blonde hair. I mean come on...at least lets try and make the characters look different from the Potter clan Jesus! You don't care about any of them because they are all so cliched, we've seen this all before and you know none of them will come to harm anyway so what's the point?

I guess what bothered me the most was the film was clearly trying to be epic, every scene is accompanied by a strong musical score as if that will make it so. Its not meant to be a dark emotional journey with teen angst that's for sure, its a light-hearted fantasy that doesn't show much or any death, but everything is built up to enormous proportions only to let you down. You simply can't connect with any of the characters or what's going on because the whole thing is such a basic videogame with step by step action sequences. Complete one task against a CGI foe, move on to the next, complete that task against a CGI puzzle, move on to the next...and so forth.

You can tell the whole franchise isn't really going as planned seeing as this is only the second film and already the cast continuity has been compromised, two major characters recast. Still I gotta give some kudos for the attempt at bringing Greek mythology into the present day even though it doesn't really work, or should that be kudos for the novel?

Plenty of good morals throughout the adventure, lots of heroic actions and bouts of friendship that will make you gag, but the entire production is predictable, anti climatic and dull. A shoddy looking sequel which fails to better the first entry.


Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)

I had no idea there were so many kids books that could be made into films, they just keep popping up every year after Harry Potter opened the flood gates, and still none can compare to the kid with specs. This is close and probably the best rival yet but whilst watching I was still thinking of Potter, 'Clash of the Titans' and 'The Chronicles of Narnia'. Unfortunately for this film you just can't help but compare it to these films/stories and wonder if its just come along too late in the day.

The film did get better as it went on but the acting is kinda average. Its a bit too silly in places with dumb lines, lame visual gags and apart from a great Hydra sequence the film is visually kinda average. The secret hidden camp where all the 'special' people train looks pathetic, like a Scout camp you would go to over the summer holidays, plus it only seemed about a five minutes walk from a main road in the film? hardly well hidden. The best part as said was the Hydra attack, brilliant CGI with that sequence and really well played out, not really tense as you know no one will die (kids film!!) but its the best bit on offer, the rest ticks along steadily I guess.

I'll say it again, the problem here is all the time your watching you can't help but think you've seen this all before. There's nothing new or special, its all been done now...quite a few times, so why make another film about the same kinda stuff? Its never gonna beat Potter and this just seems rather repetitive I'm afraid. Shame because had it come out ten years ago it would of done much better I'm sure and not come across so stale.

Hate to mention Harry flipping Potter so much but really...how can I not do? look at the title for Pete's sake! An awkward modern day setting for Greek mythology which works on some levels but fails on many others. The whole Medusa sequence with a dreadfully miscast Uma Thurman pretty much solidifies this if you ask me, the whole thing just doesn't feel right at all.


Monday, 16 December 2013

The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005)

If ever there was a one joke film...So as you may have guessed this is all about a dude who is the ripe old age of 40 and has yet to have jiggy jiggy. Just looking at the cast line up and director for this film you know exactly what to expect comedy wise, there's gonna be infantile toilet humour and lots of sexual innuendos.

But wait! its not all like that, its not gone completely down the 'Deuce Bigalow' route, beneath all the visual gags and nerd references there is actually a heart warming rom-com here. The film kicks off as you would expect and its really quite amusing, Carell is perfectly cast as the simple lonely virgin in his amazingly decent and spacious flat, How does he afford that place with the job he's in?! Naturally Carell's character has been given the stereotypical nerd look, the silly childish way most males would perceive a single middle aged man with no girlfriend.

Andy's home is a haven for all sci-fi comic book merchandise geeks everywhere, a treasure trove of collectibles, action figures, boxed action figures, posters etc...the rather over used and cliched stereotypical view on single guys that might play Dungeons & Dragons too much. Admittedly it is amusing but it does kinda wane quickly to be honest, much like the humour. At first it is funny watching Carell struggle to fit in with his alcohol consuming friends, its probably awkward for most as I'm sure many of us have actually been in that position. Trying to fit in with your mates and not stick out like a sore thumb, we can all relate to these things at some point in our lives and this is why it does hit home and make you cringe and smile at the same time.

Problem was for me it all got very old very fast. The whole infantile college boy type humour, trying to score and pull birds, drinking whilst mocking Andy for the fact he gets more aroused by movie collectibles rather than women (at times). I do like Seth Rogan so that did help along the way, he always comes across like a lunatic about to flip which is hilarious. Thing is once we've had the 'outing' of Andy and the first few attempts to get him laid it just becomes boring.

As we get towards the end of course things get mushy as Andy does find the right woman, they have spats, realise they are meant for each other and eventually naturally become an item, happily ever after. Yeah yeah spoiler alert but who cares, like you can't see that coming a mile off. On the whole you gotta give kudos to Carell for making Andy such a likeable guy and to Keener for giving such a touching caring performance as his older girlfriend. Thanks to them the film is elevated above a silly comedy purely about having sex. As for that song n dance routine at the very end...what the hell was that about?!


Sunday, 15 December 2013

DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story (2004)

Probably one of the most underrated 'sports' or fun games you can play which I haven't done since I was in school. I have no idea if there are any actual proper dodgeball leagues/competitions like in this film but I think there should be.

As for this film, well the title says it all really, its an underdog story where the underdogs emerge victorious against all odds, the end. This film doesn't try to be anything other than what it clearly is, a complete dumbass of a film with 'in your face' laugh out loud moments. Nothing here is clever or particulary original its just childish toilet humour utilising every trick in the book to get a giggle, no stone left unturned.

The cast is a mixture of some Frat pack members and good character actors who all take the opportunity to let loose and just play it to the extreme. Good old Ben Stiller has to be the main attraction here as the narcissistic gym owner with a Vidal Sassoon hair style. I did also enjoy the satirical take on flashy modern day gyms filled with overly tanned models who merely like to look at themselves whilst 'getting fit'.

Stephen Root rehashes his 'Office Space' character to great effect, Alan Tudyk is a pirate, why? no idea but its amusing and Vince Vaughn simply plays the same regular Joe character he always does but he does it well doesn't he. There are many other funny performances here and quite a lot of cameos, too many to mention but none of them ever undermine the films comedy. Kinda funny seeing Lance Armstrong going on about his Tour De France victories though, ouch!.

The whole idea here is so basic its amazing they got it off the ground really. Chock full of cheap laughs, naughty visual gags, lots of crotch slapstick, cheesy lines, weight jokes and pratfalls, the film does feel very infantile at times but at others it can be very funny indeed. Its not really about the plot for all intense and purposes, you just watch to see Vaughn, Stiller and co act the fool and crack hokey lines. Its all about the hammy acting and rude visual tomfoolery but the bonus is its a good little feel good flick too.

Yeah you know what will happen, you know the slimy slow witted Stiller will get his comeuppance in the end, there aren't any surprises here. You know exactly what you're paying for with this and you get it, like I say the film doesn't pretend to be anything else other than a stupid comedy much like 'Dumb and Dumber' or other frat pack flicks.

Upped to the max deliberately with daft spoof-like moments for optimal belly laughs and finishing off with the all too common parody of the classic coming from behind victory. Its admittedly a bit of a one joke flick for sure but you don't need to look into it that much, its just an easy going fun entertaining hour and a half.


Saturday, 14 December 2013

Toy Soldiers (1991)

Ah the ever popular brat pack type casting line up, a selection of young Hollywood faces either on the edge of becoming major stars or falling into obscurity. In this forgotten action thriller its Gomez Addams son Sean Astin and Wil Wheaton who are the main rising stars, the rest of the youngsters have fallen by the way side. But unlike some other young gun lineups this film also includes various adult stars to add that bit of quality to the film.

Dare I say it? the plot is basically Die Hard in a boarding school? sure it is. Group of terrorists take over a posh school for kids of rich families. Their purpose is solely to see the release of the terrorist leaders father who is some kind of drug kingpin. So its up to this small band of plucky smart ass teens to take back control of their school from the nasty bad guys with automatic weapons.

The similarities to that certain Bruce Willis franchise are clear to see. If you take the basic premise of Die Hard and mix it with 'The Goonies' and The A-Team you see what I mean. The teens in the story use their skills, knowledge of the school and cheekiness to somewhat outwit the bad guys and slightly disable them for the special ops guys to mop up. There is a very fine line between a happy go lucky boys own adventure flick and in your face bloody squibbed violence which is a bit odd actually.

Its difficult to know what the film is trying to be, an adult action film or a light-hearted teen flick. The young cast are clearly enjoying themselves in their roles which gives off a vibe which clashes badly against the older actors. The bad guys and their leader played menacingly by Divoff are really going for broke and being damn ruthless gunning innocents down and chucking them out of helicopters etc...Problem is these two sides just don't gel too well together, seeing Astin playing an older version of Mouth from 'The Goonies' and Denholm Elliot playing an old lovable professor set against Divoff's cold blooded killer feels uncomfortable (Divoff really relishing his gritty evil Colombian drug lord role). Its like two different films.

Yet despite the moments of bloodshed the action is so predictable and almost childish as it unravels. The special ops guys at the end come across as inept, plus there is like a whole army of them and it takes them some time to take out just two bad guys. There are only twelve bad guys and it really feels like there needed to be more to make the ending more exciting. The action and soundtrack was reaching such a crescendo in the finale...but because there are so few bad guys in the end it feels totally deflating. Also the way the special ops storm the school, they could of just done that straight away! apparently it would of made no difference.

I love how all the Colombian bad guys are dressed up as sweaty, dirty, vest wearing guerrilla fighters with headbands and lots of stubble. Not too stereotypical then. The very end is also terribly corny and unoriginal, surely Divoff could of gone out in a slightly more exciting way? Oh yeah there's even a crawling in an air duct homage to 'Die Hard'.

This was one of those films that I enjoyed back in the day when I was much younger mainly because the young cast were appealing. I kinda looked up to them as I did with other similar brat pack flicks (wanted to be them) and I was around their age when I first saw it (or a bit younger). Looking back now the film isn't really too good, its actually really dumb, looks silly and has an even sillier title. It sounds predictable I know but it really does feel as if they wanted to make a 'Die Hard' for teens.


Friday, 13 December 2013

The Substitute (1996)

Coming along some five years after the similar themed 'Toy Soldiers', two films about schools under fire from criminals. I guess that's about as far as the similarities go though as this is an undercover mission for some mercs/Nam vets whereas the other film was terrorists taking over the school.

So a nasty messed up city high school is plagued by drugs, weapons and bad eggs, what is the Principle to do?? Hire a badass killer merc of course, but the thing is he doesn't know the sub is a badass killer merc. So both the yobbish kids and the staff have no clue this guy is an ex-Nam hardass. As things progress for the Berenger the merc he finds out all is not what it seems.

A perfect role for the stoic butch looking Berenger who can play military types till the cows come home. Not much is required of him really, beating the kids down, killing drug dealers, being a smartass...all in a days work. His little tight knit group of mercs are a cool bunch, a young Luis Guzman, the insane William Forsythe, military action flick regular Ray Cruz and Richard Brooks. A really good team of character actors that are great fun to watch, its just a shame we don't more of them in action together.

Most of the film is a huge stereotypical montage of standard scenarios you can see coming a mile away. Its all very predictable and you know Berenger will never get hurt. Its undeniably fun to watch these sequences where the youths are acting up with their gangland dialect, waving their hands around making gang signs, virtually behaving like cartoon characters whilst being dressed like bums. At the same time all the girls look greasy, sweaty and thoroughly unwashed, need I say almost all the youths are black, Latino or Hispanic. Yep this film doesn't beat around the bush with racial attitudes towards suburban inner city schools in the US.

So yes you could say its racist and a bad image on certain groups of young people but dare I say could it also be the truth? That aside it's still a rush to see Berenger humiliate the posers and stamp his authority on the class. I must also say Marc Anthony is really well cast as the slimy skinny gangland leader within the class, a simmering undertone ready to pop. You really do dislike this guy as the plot builds, you know Berenger could kick his ass but he still has that ominous presence, plus the fact he's only supposed to be a teen makes him even more annoying when he gets all mouthy.

The whole thing is pretty hokey and like I said before it is very predictable. The finale shoot out within the school is cool though no doubt about that, although I would have preferred if the bad guys had brought lots of gang thugs to the battle instead of their special ops guys. That kinda dismisses the fact the good guys are a special ops team, its suppose to be mercs vs drug dealing thugs.

Still it's very cool to see all of Berenger's mercs kick ass in their own unique way. A final kudos to Ernie Hudson as the shifty principle of the school, his performance isn't much better than his hammy role in 'Congo' but that's why it's so good. Definitely a bit of an adrenaline rush at times with this one, I think everyone has had fantasies about kicking the crap out of their old school bullies at some point. This would probably be a step too far but I'm sure being a badass merc teaching out of control youths a lesson would still be right up there.


Thursday, 12 December 2013

Planes (2013)

So I think its safe to say we all know what this film is about and what its based on right?. Should I also be surprised that the entire thing is a bit of a cliched rehash of every animated film ever made?...sort of. Its quite clear this film is a direct spin off from the 'Cars' movies, its no secret obviously just by looking at the poster. Problem is its not been created by Pixar but by DisneyToon Studios, its all still under the same roof, written/produced by Lasseter, but its clear to see the quality just isn't here.

The film was meant for a straight to DVD release and boy can you tell. First thing that does hit you is the fact the visuals just aren't the high quality you'd expect. They look nice sure but blatantly low in standards compared to other Pixar work, it just looks like a cheap DVD release all the way. Those spin off adventures that big mainstream characters have but no one ever hears about them because they disappear straight into the shops, made purely to capitalise on the original cinematic hit.

So the visuals look basic and too simple, although they are planes, only so much you can do with them I guess. The actual animation is fine but overall it all looks dated, about ten years old. Next up is the plot...oh my the plot, you know those overused underdog tales where the plucky young hero braves his fears and eventually, after some wise tutoring from a mentor, overcomes the odds and wins something, usually a tournament or whatever. Yep well that is the plot right here all over again, predictable, hokey and corny to the max.

Character wise its the same story I'm afraid, you can guess right now exactly what the characters might be...and you'd be right, yes it is that predictable. One plucky young hero...check, one gruff wise old mentor...check, one soft female love interest...check, one goofy amusing sidekick...check, one dastardly plotting baddie...check, two clueless amusing baddie sidekicks...check and plenty of stereotypical multiracial characters that could border on being offensive to certain folk...big fat check.

Next to that is the fact all the characters just look boring, real boring!. There is nothing exciting going on with any of them, all the background characters look the same, lots of little cookiecutter forklift characters whizzing around. The planes are a standard mix of light aircraft, old war planes, racing planes etc...all propeller planes I might add. The only neat little touch was using Anthony Edwards and Val Kilmer as two Super Hornet jet fighters in a cool little 'Top Gun' homage. That was literately the best thing the film had to offer.

I'm still amazed they didn't include any of the 'Cars' characters or have any tie in's anywhere (unless I missed it). Surely that would be a must?! screaming out for that I would of thought, strange.

The other thing that bothered me about this was the fact it just doesn't work. There are no humans in this world, this universe seems to be a fully living mechanical one with no mammals whatsoever. Now I know its a kids film and I shouldn't delve too deep but I kept asking myself things like...why on earth would they need buildings, tables, glasses and various other regular items humans use. Why would the airport need an actual airport building? why would their be airliners if there are no people to carry?. Thing is if that airliner is suppose to carry other plane 'people' or cars etc...surely it would have to be HUGE! surely all buildings would have to be huge to fit all these vehicles within them.

I know its picky but the more I thought about it the more it just makes no sense at all. Why would the main character, who is a cropduster, need to dust crops?? do these mechanical things eat crops? human food, surely not?. And why would the crops need that kind of protection anyway seeing as there aren't any organic creatures in this world to eat them, or so it seems. Every vehicle in the film is a living mechanical object, even the big aircraft carrier is alive! but how would that work? my god his existence must be deathly dull haha. The whole film felt more like one of those tacky old kids cartoons/animated shows where all the vehicles were living 'Thomas the Tank Engine' or 'Jimbo and the Jet Set'.

The main problem is the lack of humans, without them it makes this world completely unworkable, you need humans to give these vehicles a real purpose and believability. The 'Cars' films weren't too bad because cars aren't as big as planes obviously plus I don't think everything was alive in those films, could be wrong. Like what the hell do these vehicles do all day besides race? and who or what creates them? the characters even chat about birth at one point, how would that come to be exactly?. I know its not important but it just seems so stupid to me when I was watching it, as if nothing has really been thought through, its a kids flick so it doesn't matter.

That aside the film is reasonably enjoyable in places but it really is lacking in imagination badly. It literately feels like they just took the foundations of the 'Cars' movie, stripped it of cars and slapped a planes shell over the top and churned it out with a few minor alterations. Is there a better word I can use other than predictable? this word doesn't feel grand enough to describe just how much of a rehash this film is, fast food flick making of epic proportions folks.


Wednesday, 11 December 2013

2 Guns (2013)

Whoa never knew this was adapted from a graphic novel, whether that work is any good I don't know (obviously) so I can't compare here. The main carrot on the stick here is...I don't know if there is one, so I guess its the team up of Washington and Wahlberg. Yep its another buddy action flick but this time one guy is undercover DEA and the other is an undercover Naval Intelligence Officer.

So that's the main surprise up front, you'd half expect this to be a straight up crime thriller with two lowdown criminals double crossing each other amidst much dark humour. Either that or you'd expect this to be a straight up buddy cop action thriller with lots of rebellious anti rule book attitude...but you'd be wrong. Two undercover uniforms trying to knab the same bad guy by stealing money from him so they can do him for money laundering. Thing is the cash belongs to the CIA and they want it back by any means necessary. And at the same time the Navy wants the cash for its own purposes, or some dirty officers do anyway.

Yes its yet another double crossing twist filled plot with lots of characters and various sub plots which leaves you wondering who's gonna get shot by their so called partner next. What I did like about this film is the fact that its uniforms fighting against each other, Navy, CIA and DEA, with some standard issue drug dealers in for good measure. That's the only original idea on the plate, the rest is just a mess of your average factory line greed induced back stabbing which has been done to death now.

The main duo played by Washington and Wahlberg are a good combination no doubt, they work well together and play off each other surprisingly well despite their clash in styles. It does feel a bit off track at times with Wahlberg coming across like the type of character you'd expect to see in a film like this, a kind of '48 Hours' actioner. Where as Washington does at times feel a tad out of place, he's a good strong actor and almost feels too rigid for the role, too epic if you will, for such a quickfire thriller.

Twenty minutes in and I was bored, sorry but I was. Nothing really happens in the film other than a lot of snappy dialog which tries to be smarter than it really is. The films poster shows the highlight of the movie probably because there isn't anything else to brag about. Olmos does make a good Mexican drug dealer in that stereotypical type of way, the dude looks so damn cheesy its almost funny. Where as Paxton is trying way way too hard to be a memorable bad guy and failing embarrassingly. He isn't in the least bit threatening or intimidating much like everyone else in the film, its just all wind and no fart.

A disappointing film which I can't really call an action film as it has none, and I can't really call a thriller as...you guessed it, it has no thrills. The only thing it can offer is the odd scene with the main duo verbally kicking ass, mainly Wahlberg as he's the smart ass, apart from that its got nothing. Even the big finale shootout can't save this I'm afraid, seen it all before, move along.


Monday, 9 December 2013

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

We all thought it had ended with the trilogy but no! as in this modern age there had to be a continuation, it had to be milked and a milked it shall be. New director, change of cast line up and a new myth to explore, this franchise has become the Indiana Jones of the era.

This film takes elements from actual real history this time and blends them with classic fantasy. The real bits involve the legendary English pirate Edward Teach and his flagship Queen Anne's Revenge and the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon. Now this plot has relaxed a bit, its not a complicated mess of sub plots and tonnes of characters. Sparrow is off to sea once again to find the fountain of youth, alongside him is Barbossa who is now a privateer for the British Navy. At the same time Blackbeard is also after the fountain along with the dastardly Spanish and their religious thoughts. Each party has their own reasons naturally which does as usual involve some double crossing and twists.

I must admit to liking the intergration of actual history into the plot this time. The franchise has slowly used various common old fables and sea myths to its advantage which has worked well, this time the inclusion of some real historic figures gives the whole thing a bit more class, credibility and a small sense of realism. Of course old Blackbeard has been given a slightly spruced up look with black leather top to bottom by the looks of it, aiming for the cool factor a bit too much methinks.

Gotta say I didn't really like the whole supernatural power thing Blackbeard had over his ship with the magic cutlass. That seemed pointless if you ask me, if he can control the ship like that then why use a crew? His galleon has also been given a very fantasised appearance which makes it look like a unique ghost ride attraction in a fairground. Oh and his ship breaths fire out the front? really? did we need that silliness? they'd probably burn their own ship down with it.

Next to that we see mermaids which is about time really if you think about it. The fact they are actually fearsome creatures that kill innocent sailors was a nice touch if rather obvious. But that plot detail causes confusion with the main mermaid character who we are meant to feel for, but that's hard knowing her kind are merciless killers of the deep, plus the 'Splash' finale for her was too much cinematic deja vu.

I think the film in general is let down by totally unrealistic action sequences that just feel implausible when they are suppose to be reasonably plausible. The escape set piece at the start is a good example, its overly long and over the top in every sense. Sparrow is leaping around like an acrobat (clearly a stunt double) and doing things that just wouldn't work, the worst bit is seeing all the English soldiers prat falling about everywhere trying to catch him, its cringing. We all know the franchise is suppose to be fun fantasy but apart from the actual supernatural stuff you do expect a degree of slight realism with some stunts. If it becomes too outrageous then it ceases to be fun and simply becomes a joke, what's worse is the fact its not meant to be that kind of joke.

The film is full of these daft action sequences really, it looks bad because we all know Sparrow isn't that kind of character, we had Turner in the trilogy for that. So now seeing the campy Sparrow mincing about doing these big hero stunts looks stupid as its actually taken semi seriously. As I said earlier the plot does also go down the route of old Indy with the chalices thing and especially the finale for Blackbeard which is pretty much a rip off from 'Raiders' and 'The Last Crusade'.

Altogether the adventure feels a bit flat to me, nothing much happens that we haven't seen before or made me go wow! Most of the characters are running low on juice now accept for Barbossa who is always brilliantly played by Rush. Cruz was a bad casting choice and did nothing whilst McShane wasn't all that intimidating as Blackbeard if you ask me. Kudos to Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey for being gorgeously cute as the mermaid and Richard Griffiths in a small role as King George II at the start.

On the whole very very average in my opinion, hyper stunt laden action sequences can't divert from the fact the film is actually kinda dull. It all looks terrific and very atmospheric in that Monkey Island kinda way but you can tell the difference in direction with the film, it does stand out. I just feel they have now used up most avenues of pirate legend both real and fantasy, I can't see what they can do in the fifth film without it being a complete rehash, especially with this struggling for a fresh look. Who's left to utilize? Long John Silver? Sinbad? YellowBeard? (lol!) what other old creatures and myths can they possibly crowbar in?? Atlantis?

The fact they even squeezed in the minute unrelated hobby of ships in a bottle shows how far they were stretched to incorporate anything remotely olde worlde and piratey into the film. I think this film just about manages to be semi acceptable but that's now it, no more can or should be done. I think Sparrow has had his moment in the spotlight, time to retire in the sun matey.


Saturday, 7 December 2013

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007)

Well shiver my timbers...this here be damn complicated! The third and final part of the pirates trilogy (or so we thought). I've never until now have not understood the plot of a Disney film. Yep its long long long, overdrawn, CGI filled complicated mess with so many sub plots and double crosses I forgot what the film was about. This film is also, apparently, the most expensive film ever made ever! how fitting that its the worst in the trilogy.

In short you have to know the back story for the last two films relatively well to keep up. The plot is even more convoluted than the second film and unfortunately it no longer has the wow factor, originality or nice fantasy element either. To be honest whilst watching I got a distinct sensation that I was watching deleted scenes merely pieced together to create another film. The film really does have that slightly disjointed vibe about it.

I think one of the things that got me was the fact the characters just didn't matter anymore. In the second film Davy Jones was the terror of the seas with his firesome appearance, monstrous crew and pet Kraken (unadventurous end for that beastie), now in this film he is reduced to lingering in the background whilst people talk. A great character reduced to an extra virtually. Barbossa of course was the terror of the first film and he has now been slowly reduced to Sparrow's sidekick of sorts, then we have new character Sao Feng who really doesn't matter. He looks good and its a nice touch to see the Orient in the film but the whole setup is wasted! Again merely background fodder whilst we must watch Depp do his now overdone thing and the quite uninteresting love conflict between Turner and Swann.

I might add that Knightly has been completely covered in makeup for this last entry, absolutely smothered on her face. She looks like an orange with thick eyebrows! its pretty bad and pretty obvious if you ask me, looks unintentionally amusing.

Yet the sequences showing Sparrow's descent into madness whilst in Davy Jones locker I quite liked even though many didn't. I actually thought those scenes were quite original and well thought out giving us something fresh which is quite hard really, especially with the content you're trying to visualise here. The little moments of quirky insanity with Sparrow felt a bit Raimi-esque if you ask me, reminded me of 'Army of Darkness' and Ash going nuts whilst splitting in two. A bit of a stump in the films fluidity sure but it showed some ingenuity, giving some more uniqueness in-between the other bland action bits.

Of course this being a modern day sequel the films gotta be BIG, REAL BIG! you want overblown CGI enhanced action set pieces then voila! I can't deny it all looks terrific and perfectly piratey but blimey gov! how overboard must they go...no pun intended. The perfect example? how about Turner and Swann in a blazing cutlass battle with hordes of bad guys in the midst of a booming sea storm. During this pitch battle to the death they shout out to Barbossa to marry them...he too is in the midst of a fight to the death.

So that he does, we have an utterly ludicrous action sequence with all three exterminating every bad guy with ease whilst they get married. Now I realise this film is purely for fun and all ages, to a degree, but come on, did we have to go there? its sequences like this that totally remove you from the film. Sure you gotta have some suspension of disbelief and that's why its OK to have some slightly fantastical elements but at least give us some small note of emotion, a small drop of actual realistic danger for the characters. No point loading up a brand new video game only to slap on the invincibility cheat and play through.

It takes us awhile but when we do eventually get to the pirate convention in Shipwreck Cove the film does perk up a bit momentarily. The introduction of the pirate city council as it were...was a nice touch, some great looking characters there. I liked how they show us pirates from various different countries, different backgrounds and cultures, they are all well crafted if a little bit cliched too just for fun. But all this leads me to another problem, why couldn't we see more of these guys and less of the rest? the finale sea battle builds up as if we will see every pirate and his crew fight...what happened there?! We see Sparrow's Pearl go up against the Dutchman but what about the masses of other ships? all the other pirate ships? I thought they wanted to fight, instead they all watch? I think Verbinski finally realised it was all getting out of hand and too big, I'll just conveniently let the other vessels disappear for the last bit.

In all honesty I had to do some internet/wiki research after watching this film to actually understand what happened here and there, get to grips with the plot. The whole 'Calypso' thing had me floundered for some time I can't deny, had to pinpoint exactly what the hell was going on with that. The piratey dialog while sounding cool, didn't help with trying to follow various sub plots.

There are lots of nice fun little touches throughout the film which remind you what the film was previously...before it became too big. We all know the film is just too flippin busy, too much going on, I think they could of left a lot out or at least leave some characters out, have them tied up and done in the second film or early on. The whole franchise is terribly bloated when it didn't have to be. Its still a solid set of films with a good story, but the first film is the only one which is looked upon favourably, shame really as these last two films could/should so easily have been classics too.


Friday, 6 December 2013

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006)

'Fifteen men on the Dead Man's Chest Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum! Drink and the devil had done for the rest Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!'

Who'd of thought a movie based on a theme park and pirates would be so successful that it would garner a sequel. A sequel that was so so so utterly huge in production values it makes perfect sense that it would fail to live up to its predecessor. The old lesson Hollywood never learns, making things bigger and flashier doesn't always mean it will be better.

The plot? oh geez where to begin. This is the main issue with this franchise which begun in this sequel, only to get worse in the third film. The story becomes so convoluted and twisty its hard to keep up, and this is a Disney film! Put very simply...most of the characters are all after various bit n pieces including Davy Jones heart, Sparrow's compass and the Black Pearl. Each character has their own reason for needing each item and most of these reasons intertwine with each other at some point, oh and old characters come back into the fray.

The plot is the first film was pretty straight forward, I'm not saying simple is best but it was easy to swallow. This film kicks off relatively well with the characters we know in trouble for helping Sparrow, a deal is set, a plan underway and everybody knows who is doing what and why. The trouble is as the film progresses sub plots pop up, new characters enter with their own story arcs, old characters come back with more story arcs, plans change and double crossing ensues. I can't deny it becomes tricky but in the end it is decipherable and when you think about it its quite good.

So once you've got your head around the plot you do tend to notice how BIG everything has become. The prison Sparrow escapes from at the start looks very similar to some kind of fortress you'd expect to see in a Tolkien story. The entire early cannibal infested island part of the film really does show how the franchise took a swing for the worst. Sparrow, Norrington and Turner break out into a three way fight over Jones chest which lasts for at least 10-15 minutes, displays way way too much slapstick, completely unbelievable cartoon stunts that detach you from the film and the trio end up covering half the island whilst battling! In short the whole sequence wasn't needed, it was completely overblown and merely flashy filler, it bared no importance to the plot whatsoever...and this is what you will come to expect from the franchise thereafter.

Now of course we know this franchise is a comedy of sorts, a period set comedy action thriller for everyone to enjoy. The first film had a nice balance of that plus some supernatural fantasy that really worked well. This sequel added that horrendous cartoonish hijinx that totally tore you away from any suspension of disbelief because it went beyond that into a pure hokey farce.

On top of the ludicrous tomfoolery now on show this film has easily had much more creative influence from the classic videogame The Secret of Monkey Island. If you know the game its quite plain to see really, the cannibal island at the start, the murky, misty, swampy location where the team meet voodoo priestess Tia Dalma and of course that character in her entirety, plus the similarity Jones has to LeChuck in terms of evil behaviour, the supernatural and looks.

It is a shame because the film is a good fantasy with some gorgeous visuals both CGI and real time. Davy Jones and his crew are incredible, a real sight to behold, especially Jones squid-like face of course. Its amazing to actually see CGI that looks so good you think its a real makeup job. The other crew members are also so vividly imaginative and well crafted, every scene with these fishy dogs was really great fun, I was always looking out for different types of mutants in the background. I really liked their vessel the Dutchman and the war torn barnacle covered ghost ship appearance it was given (much like the Pearl and its ghostly shrouds of mist n fog), and of course the Kraken was a fun nautical myth to include if somewhat unoriginal and not too good on the CGI front.

Its still a fun film which is saved by the British actors and their astoundingly fun well spoken pomposity, that and the excellent effects on Jones and his (undead?) crew. The finale for Sparrow is an exciting cliffhanger even though you know he will be back, its interesting to see a group of heroes bickering and double crossing each other instead of simply fighting together as one unbeatable team and that supernatural spice is just right. The plot difficulties do mire proceedings but Verbinski just about pulls it off and manages to provide decent escapism.


Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Well who'd of thought a film about a theme park ride would become so huge. A simple theme park attraction that I rode when I was but a wee nipper in Disney World Florida, and it wasn't that amazing if I recall. So Verbinski and Bruckheimer take many ideas and leafs out of the video game The Secret of Monkey Island and low and behold we have our pirate flick.

Tis the year of our lord errr...the late 17th Century, or possibly the early 18th Century, not too sure, but plundering be a plenty! The crew of the Black Pearl are after cursed treasure and the blood of the last remaining pirate so they can break the curse put upon them for stealing the cursed gold in the first place. Unfortunately the last pirate is dead (cos they killed him) so they need his offspring instead, in the mean time Captain Jack Sparrow is wanting his beloved vessel back under his control.

The plot is actually kinda fiddly methinks and even now I'm having to wrap my head around exactly why and how things happen. So the Aztec gold is cursed and that curse turns the pirates into the undead, skeletal warriors that are unable to be killed. Now is that really a curse? These guys are pirates, they live a life of danger and plundering, surely being immortal and invincible would be really handy traits to have no? I don't really understand why these guys wanna break the curse so badly and make themselves vulnerable to death which inevitably awaits them at every turn. Especially with the whole British Navy after them all the time.

There are many little quibbles I have with the plot really, in all the battle sequences the good guys fight the pirates, but what for?? They can't win, the pirates can't be killed, it just seems so pointless to me. To break the curse all the pirates that stole the gold need to put their blood back into the chest along with all the gold...I think, yet that isn't made clear. You tend to think its just the offspring of Bootstrap Bill, this is why Sparrow wipes his blood on the coin in the end which I never clicked on. That leads me to the other point or mistake that Barbossa is shot by Sparrow before Turner drops the last blood soaked coin into the chest. So doesn't that mean that at the exact moment he was shot he was still cursed and invincible? Thusly he should have survived that bullet. The coin should of been in the chest before Barbossa was shot surely.

Quibbles aside the film is actually a rollicking good adventure the likes of which hadn't been seen for some time. In the good old fashioned tradition of Errol Flynn swashbucklers by jove. I can't deny that the film is tremendous fun enhanced of course by the campy performance of Depp which came straight out of left field. No one really expected what Depp came up with and it was really fresh! The film could so easily have become a stuffy straight laced predictable action romp ('Cutthroat Island' anyone?) but the inclusion of Depp's Sparrow really gave a different angle. You have the obligatory hero in Bloom and of course the damsel in distress with Knightly but Sparrow was such a unique character giving such a quirky boost to the traditional proceedings.

On top of that was the inclusion of a vast array of really decent pirate characters both good and bad from all sorts of ethnic backgrounds. This not only gave the film a nice comic book-esque feel but also actual realism as of course pirates of the day were a scurvy bunch from all over, pirates were pretty politically correct and hired anyone. I personally liked Mr Cotton and his parrot in the traditional sense there. Ragetti and Pintel are a classic slapstick duo of baddie pirates that amuse nicely. Whilst Kevin McNally as Gibbs gives us another traditional approach with lots of golden pirate dialog that I think stems from Robert Newton and Disney's 1966 Treasure Island film.

Gotta give kudos to the makeup and costume designs for the pirates, they really do look completely unwashed. Their teeth, facial hair, coarse knotted looking head hair, even their eyes, it all looks really authentic. Naturally Sparrow isn't quite as scruffy as the rest but his attire is definitely more effeminate which is funny, more so with his body language. Oh and Barbossa...Soul Calibur the movie much? Cervantes if you ask me, just running that up the flagpole to see if anyone salutes it.

In all honesty there are so many good characters in this film its hard to narrow them all down. Then you have the typical type of visuals that you'd think Tim Burton had a hand in, excellent dark atmospheric sequences and shots including dark misty seascapes, fog bound galleons, the yellow glow of light from a cross hatched window pane breaking through the gloomy night, skeleton pirates in the moonlight, bleak islands by night etc...Then on the flip side there are the gorgeous daylight visuals of the British ports, sandy beaches, palm trees, galleons and various other vessels harbouring against tropical settings etc...its all here. Everything you'd expect to see and everything you want to see in a good old fashioned pirate film.

I can see why the film expected to bomb as its one of those dodgy types of genres, but from the offset you can see the quality of detail on display. Everything really looks top dollar all the way through the film but amazingly the film has such a good range of characters (which is unusual lets be honest) it really doesn't matter. For once a Hollywood blockbuster actually got it right and gave us something other than flashy special effects, they gave us good fun characters we care about...to a degree. Also the special effects aren't all CGI which is one for the books (skeletons aside), a lot of the action is using real sets, real explosions, real stunts and in real locations which really does make all the difference, just like in the good old days.

The actual pirate skeletons still look OK but of course feel a bit dated these days. The CGI can't be hidden with these guys and it is obvious, that inescapable fake plastic feel about them. Should have used stop motion I reckon.

To this day I still can't believe this summer blockbuster managed to do what the creators set out to do. To make a film harking back to the days of the silver screen, the golden age of Hollywood and at the same time use traditional real time effects without much use of CGI (what they did use was sensibly done, sparingly). They took an Errol Flynn swashbuckler added some nice touches of humour, a little modern action here and there, a dash of good old fashioned sea tales/myths and cranked up the location visuals to produce a top adventure. If only the plot had been a little clearer in places. Gotta love the film title though huh.