Sunday, 28 April 2013

Cloud Atlas (GER, 2012)

Another novel adaptation, this one a more recent publication. Surprisingly the film is an independent film made in Germany but you wouldn't think it, a huge budget, a cast of stars, directed by the Wachowski's plus the whole thing comes across like a Spielberg production, well to me it did.

The film is very much like 'A.I.' in my opinion, the reason being I'm sure it will split opinions right down the middle. I can well understand people loving the film but I can well understand people disliking the film for various reasons. There is a lot to take in and at almost 3 hours the film could come across as hard work.

So in case you don't know the film is basically like an old Tarantino concept, in other words its six different stories that are all woven into one, kinda. The stories are set over a vast time span from the 18th Century, the 30's, the 70's, the present day, early 22nd Century and the early 24th Century. I will give a brief little review for each section without trying to ruin the plots for you hehe.

1. The mid 18th Century, an American lawyer travels to the Chatham Islands (Pacific Ocean, southeast of New Zealand) to conclude business for his father-in-law. This story is set around black slavery and is probably the most predictable really. The sequences look realistic, rustic and lavish with a stunning old sea galleon and some tremendous location visuals. But to be honest this tale was rather average, much time is spend on the ship watching the main character 'Ewing' die slowly, but the moral of the story is obviously a good one.

2. Mid 30's UK, a bisexual young man works as an amanuensis for an old composer. The tale is set around a homosexual relationship and how (in this era) that could destroy a man's career and life. Easily the most bold and emotional section of the film simply because you don't often see gay relations like this in major films and it paints a taboo subject in a good light, somewhat. Ben Whishaw's role as the bisexual young man is (for me) the best performance of the film by far, the same can be said for James D'Arcy as 'Sixsmith' his lover. Again everything looks period perfect, the costumes are glorious and Broadbent's nasty blackmailing composer rounds off this story flawlessly.

3. 1973, California and this is Keith David's 'Shaft' moment. A journalist is trying to uncover the true facts behind the safety of a new nuclear reactor run by its shady US owner played by...Hugh Grant?. Again I must give kudos for the visuals here, costumes, cars, sets, props etc...its all very 70's. Unfortunately this story looks like a bog standard US cops/detective TV show, you half expect Starsky and Hutch to pull up. On top of that its acted and played out like a crummy bog standard US cop TV show, was that the idea?, guess it was.

4. Present day, almost, 2012, UK. An aging book publisher comes into the money big time when his current author kills a critic. The author happens to be a local criminal gangster, thusly his actions sends his book soaring up the charts making tonnes of cash. A tale of two halves this one, firstly you have what I just described, then when this gangster sends his men after 'Cavendish' the publisher for their share of the profits, he must escape into hiding. What follows is a kind of twisted Roald Dahl type children's fairytale as 'Cavendish' is tricked into an old age home from hell.

Broadbent once again in a tour de force of acting really nails this character perfectly with his typically eccentric British oddball looks. A kind of dark comedy this story, mostly narrated by Broadbent but with wonderful performances by a cast of pensioners and also from Weaving as the evil 'Nurse Noakes'...that character is so 'Roald Dahl-like' its untrue. A little gem this one, quite amusing with some terrific facial expressions and visual tomfoolery from Broadbent.

'is this some sort of kinky S&M hotel?!'

5. Set in a dystopian futuristic totalitarian state in Korea, the year is 2144. Clones are used for manual labour in various roles/jobs but are treated badly, like slaves. This story is told as an account by one clone in custody after her massive ordeal with a rebel movement set against the bad treatment of clones. By far the most exciting story in the film and easily the section where the Wachowski's love of sci-fi really shines through, you can tell its them.

We've all seen 'The Matrix' (right?!), well here you can see that influence breaking through. That's not a bad thing I must stress, this short story could easily be a film in its own right, the characters are really good very intriguing, the visuals are stunning, I LOVED Neo Seoul and its blue neon highways! and the action is superb. The plot is kinda over used and cliched but it works well, you get behind 'Sonmi' the clone, you want her to succeed even though you already know what happens. Naturally comparisons to other sci-fi films are inevitable, 'Blade Runner' and 'I Robot' springs to mind right off the bat, but that doesn't detract from this excellent future set tale of a police state set in the wild East.

6. The year 2321 and it appears mankind has be almost wiped out. What is left are small tribes of people living on an island (Hawaii) in primitive conditions. There are also other tribes of people who have turned to cannibalism it seems and other people that somehow remain in touch with modern technology. This is the story that bookends the film, it is also one of the weakest in my opinion as its a typically silly sci-fi post apocalyptic story that raises many questions. Once again I can't say anything bad about the location visuals or acting but its just daft.

Why would some people choose to live like primitives, some people choose to go about eating people, whilst all the while you could still live with modern technology, medicines, clothes, proper order etc...Did anyone else notice these folk all talked like 'Jar Jar Binks'??! the hallucinations of 'Zachery', the main character, aren't really explained, the cannibals are primitive like the rest but they have metal crossbows? etc..

All these short stories are interwoven amongst themselves throughout the entire film. This is admittedly one of the films issues as I'm sure some will feel confused and lost whilst trying to keep up with each tale. There are so many characters throughout, plus the fact that the actors play multiple characters in every story does make the film hard to follow at times. You find yourself trying to recall who plays who, or trying not to get mixed up with characters played by the same people in different stories. All the characters in the stories are reincarnated versions of their previous lives which we are seeing in each century/each story. So in some stories they are bad in some they are neutral etc...I'm not overly sure if their actions are suppose to effect the next incarnation though, or maybe redeem themselves in certain aspects, cos Weaving plays a bad guy all the way through...I think.

Despite that anyone can see the powerful performances by the cast in this. I like Hugo Weaving as an actor very much and I can't fault the guy here, he plays mostly nasty pieces of work but damn it he's so flippin good. As mentioned Jim Broadbent is on fire, the guy can do no wrong, he's like an ugly version of Anthony Hopkins (no disrespect Jim). Still unsure why they would cast Grant in some odd choice roles, an all American company boss?!, a heavy?!!! (thug) and the cannibal chief! wouldn't be my choice.

An odd entity really, you wouldn't think it was a Wachowski film (accept for the sci-fi bit) and the stories range from excellent to mundane. I found myself not really caring about certain plots and wanting them to spin on so we could get back to the more thrilling plots. I must also add that despite the effects and CGI being very very good throughout, the makeup on various characters is actually pretty bad haha. Using the same actors for various roles in various settings means people had to look Korean, Caucasian, female, old, bald, have different hair, coloured contacts etc...lets just say some times the actors looked good, sometimes like looked scary.

On the whole I enjoyed this epic story telling immensely, didn't think I would but I did. The film does appear to be quite politically correct also in some stories when you think about it (homosexual relations, multicultural relations...the future of the human race in the final tale) and to be honest it does drag. There are plenty of times when you think the film is gonna end, maybe it should, but it doesn't, it goes ooooon.

If this were indeed Spielberg then I'm sure some would say its close to a masterpiece, I don't think it is, for now, but its pretty close. The sheer amount of work and time to bring all this together is impressive, on top of that its a bloody good looking film with great acting. Thing is it may well take a few viewings to get to grips with it, I must admit to having to use the films (and novels) wiki to recap on all the stories. In time this could well be a classic.


Saturday, 27 April 2013

The Last Stand (2013)

He's back, he said he would be back, and he is...and boy is he old!. Yep as old Arnie gets out of his 4x4 police Jeep and strolls in front of the camera in his first movie vehicle since 'T3' we see just how old he is, and no amount of tan makeup is gonna cover it. Seeing this really made me think if Arnie should be doing these types of films anymore, the guy looks like a piece of sun baked leather, and that's thanks to the makeup as I said.

What makes this worse is the fact Arnie plays being an old man to the hilt, he really hammers that fact home in the film. We know your old Arnie, we know you probably shouldn't be doing action films anymore, but no need to really rub it in, your making it worse. The fact that almost everything he does seems to be a stuntman kinda says it all.

So some Drug baron has broken free whilst on a transfer and is making his way to Mexico to get across the border. He's killed tonnes of cops, he's driving a supposedly fast Corvette and appears to be invincible with his legion of gun totting henchmen. Well that's what he thought until he tries to get across the border through Arnie's town, not on Arnie's watch Mr. Yep you guessed it, Arnie and his little band of oddballs will save the day.

The whole film is basically the local sheriff v the bad guys with your obligatory stand off in the main street at high noon type scenario. All the regular cliches, every turn is predictable, faceless henchmen, plenty of shoulders being shot but never anywhere serious for the good guys and the ridiculous sight of old man Arnie fighting someone who knows martial arts. I mean really, this whole idea couldn't be more corny if you tried.

I wanted to like this film but its really so very bland and pointless, it really does feel like a film purely for Arnold to get back in the saddle with. A cobbled together unoriginal plot with whoever they can muster to make an interesting team up with Arnold. How very original to have Knoxville (of all people) play the local town loon complete with jester-like attire, just in case you miss the point he wears an old WWII type aviators hat to round off his eccentric character.

The only thing that did surprise me was the fact the film is actually pretty violent with lots of blood and bullet holes. I thought this was just some dumb spoof/comedy, especially with the idiot Knoxville in it, turns out its a semi serious action flick, if you don't count Arnie hobbling around. I'm a huge Arnie fan and always will be but this is not gonna cut it, its time to stop with the action films as this just feels forced. End of the day its just an excuse for Arnie to shoot people again, but I guess we all knew that. Desperately clinging on to past glory methinks.


Friday, 26 April 2013

Spawn (1997)

Ah Spawn, we all know and love this McFarlane creation don't we. The ex-assassin back from the dead as a demonic hellspawn (from hell) armed to the teeth with weapons and with a living suit that is able to metamorphosis into virtually anything that is required at any given moment...handy. His world is dangerous, dark, grimy, violent, savage, chaotic, vicious and bloodthirsty. He has battled thugs, drug dealers, pedophiles, murderers, the KKK and various creatures from the bowels of hell.

If there is any comicbook character that is definitely not for young kids then this is it. Could this comicbook character be anymore badass? the material screams out for a solid ultra violent adult movie adaptation. How could anyone even consider the notion of making a PG-13 out of this graphic splatter fest! ahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!..bahaha!..haha...hehe...ahem...oh.

I quite liked this despite many problems with the movie. Unfortunately this characters outing has aged badly showing some horrendous early CGI effects which will shock you. The visuals are generally decent at times, like the comic its very dark, gothic and grim, but its also very obviously filmed on sets and looks a bit fake. Sure the cold night rain comes down in sheets whilst the mist swirls as Spawn leaps around in his fantastic looking living suit...but you need more than that. The other fantasy based creatures are also well created, Clown especially...very dark, humorous and quite chilling. Leguizamo played him brilliantly swinging from reasonably placid too nasty, vicious and perverted in the bat of an eyelid. Best thing about the film easily, kudos.

The Violator is also pretty cool looking in a life size model form yet like a lot of the film the CGI version is pretty lame and ruins it. CGI is a problem with this film as its drenched in it, almost everything is CGI and frankly not much is any good. Jesus Christ even the opening credits are rendered in hokey-ass looking CGI! you can tell back in 97 CGI was the new toy.

On the whole the CGI ranges from excellent on Spawns cape, to poor videogame type visuals on most other things. Hell being the worst with a terrible looking Malebolgia and very plain unexciting looking backdrops, it looks like a student created it at home. The whole thing is very amateurish looking these days it really is, heck even back in the day it didn't come across that well. What's laughable if you look closely is all the legions of Hellspawns are clearly on some kind of animated loop as they all do the same action in the background! Its so obviously the same actor replicated a gazillion times, seriously poor.

The best CGI is probably the work done on Spawn's mask, apart from his cape that is. The small sequences where we see his living suit/mask slide and form over his burnt face is still pretty slick even to this day. Sure his eyes look a bit too big and green but on the whole his mask does look the business. The fact its wet really gives it a living vibe, as though its pulsating, its one of things that does work in this movie.

The acting is hammy with a slight serious edge, but in general its very cheesy. Sheen chews up the scenery and seems to enjoy himself whilst Jai White seems to be going for broke possibly after more comicbook roles. Clearly not expecting much here but this is suppose to be a dark violent franchise, lets try and be somewhat realistic and less camp huh. This film yearns to be harder and more violent (like the comic, what a waste), it is dark brooding and Crow-like for sure but its so watered down its quite painful.

Despite that there is this uneasy feeling throughout where you're not too sure which way the film wants to go. Is it really for a wider audience? is it maybe more for adults? certain scenes seem quite risky and close to the bone but then at the same time its all so docile with no real visible violence or blood, realistic or otherwise. It gives the film an unbalanced feel because its lost somewhere in the middle which will leave both sides of the equation not enjoying the film. Like other similar comicbook franchises they must decide which way they wanna take it, its gotta be for kids or not, simple as that.

Despite that it does have a certain charm which appeals to me, its dark Batman-esque world with hellish creatures and brooding anti heroes still manages to be enjoyable. Spawn being a very likeable character, Wynn is also suitably creepy and Bishop is changed to a female for some reason but pretty hot with some nice gun/blade action. Add some relatively decent action sequences which are kinda fun in a tame kinda way and you can almost get some enjoyment outta this. At least there's a solid thumping soundtrack to be had.

I still wonder what could of been, what it could of achieved had it been made for adults as it should of been. Visually its pleasing if you like this kind of thing (in general), there is just enough comicbook sleaze here to get your teeth into and it still beats 'Ghost Rider' any day of the week.


Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (2011)

OK well for starters we have seen this kind of thing now many many many times over, there is nothing new here and nothing that really impresses to be brutally honest. Despite that this is still a reasonably enjoyable monster and myth movie with a creative side that is clearly down to its solid comicbook origins.

I don't know anything about the comicbook but its quite old (1986), so I can't say for sure but I do believe this comic may have given rise to other such characters and franchises like 'Hellboy', 'Underworld' and probably others. The problem is they have left this adaptation too long and missed the boat. This a real mix of many cool ideas and the first to spring to mind was 'Van Helsing'. DD is very much a monster mash with everything from vamps, werewolves, zombies, ghouls and demons. Add to this a neat little touch of black humour with zombie sub plots involving zombie support groups complete with flyers and a zombie bodyshop where the undead go to fix themselves up. Clever touches like that make this film fun to watch.

Now the first 30 minutes of this film is dull I can't lie, I was getting bored as nothing was happening. The concept is clearly going for an old detective film with narration from Dylan as he investigates clues, its nice and gives the film a touch of class but ultimately its kinda dull too.
Things start to spice up as creatures of the night come into play and the plot thickens, we discover a huge uber zombie is killing folk and there's a battle going on between certain humans and the undead ergo...a bit like 'Underworld'.

The problem is the film does get more enjoyable but you just can't help but relate everything to many other films, some I've already mentioned. You feel as if you've seen this all before (which you kinda have) and you know what's gonna happen. The other problem is the effects aren't all that great on the werewolves, the vamps don't look anything new with their facial design (think 'Lost Boys' or 'From Dusk Till Dawn') and of course zombies will always look the same.

There is a quite lovely piece of makeup/prosthetic work at the finale where baddie vamp leader Vargas transforms into a mega demon of some kind, looks absolutely fantastic but again it also looks identical to Darkness from 'Legend' or Marcus from 'Underworld 2' plus his appearance is a total anti-climax. In short the CGI work isn't the best and neither are the stunts truthfully, blood and gore is minimal which is fine but makeup is probably the winner over CGI here. The CGI is about on par with the first 'Underworld' flick which is obviously dated.

There is a hell of a lot of imagination going on here which is terrific and as this character came about in 86 I'm sure he came before much of what we already know in terms of night creature mythology. Had this been made before a lot of well known films then I'm sure it would have received a much better reception and may well have be known as a semi cult classic like such films as 'Blade' and 'Underworld'. Its a shame as despite the large amount of monsters all fighting for screen time the film doesn't feel clustered and it is nicely done with good humour and a nice dark film noir detective angle. The zombie sub plots are easily the best for plus points in terms of originality (almost).

If you try not to compare this film to others its good fun, with better CGI work I wouldn't mind a sequel as Routh as Dylan is a likeable character who isn't over the top and arrogant. I did enjoy the monster mash, shame they had to include the always cliched and now over used martial arts fighting weapon clad female lead. Have her as a hardass sure but lets not go down the boring Milla Jovovich route again please, no need for that in the sequel...if there is one.


Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Gone in 60 Seconds (2000)

A remake, but one can easily say a remake worth doing and with satisfactory results. Well if you like shallow flashy action films with standard Bruckheimer sunset visuals, one could almost say...Bay porn.

'Randall "Memphis" Raines' (Cage) is back in town but just as quickly he's got a problem that's gonna involve nicking cars again. His brother has pissed off a British crime boss for not completing his task so 'Memphis' must steal 50 cars in one night to bail his bro out of trouble.

Fast n easy story telling here folks, no beating around the bush, once the plot is established we get a quick team recruitment montage ('Armageddon' with car jackers) and then we're off. If you like cars and enjoy seeing car porn then this film is for you, 50 luscious cars all filmed as if they were lingerie models, with various individual motors given special Bruckheimer camera treatment.

The characters are cliched and unimportant, a kinda of greasy 'Ocean's Eleven' motley crew that are there purely to garner the odd giggle. Admittedly here and there this is accomplished but its no riot by any means. We don't learn much about these people, only that they all have skills in pinching cars, a team of super car thieves, best in town, all led by the daddy Robert Duvall.

Some good character actors in the cast/team, Scott Caan who is used to teams with the first two 'Ocean's' films, Will Patton from another well known Bay/Bruckheimer flick, decent actor Giovanni Ribisi and of course Jolie who looks like an unwashed skank.

What I do find amusing is the way car thieves are treated in this. Cage's character is given real hero status with a 'Robin Hood-like' persona and his own emotional score. Its almost as if the film is trying to say car jacking is cool, OK and will get you laid. I also agree with Cage's character towards the end when he turns up with the last car. He's managed to steal 49 cars in one night, all in perfect condition and he's just turned up with the last, 12 mins late, yet the British crime boss with the awful Lancastrian accent (Christopher Eccleston) still isn't happy!. I'd be like...'f**k you!', really I would.

As you would expect every visual aspect of this film looks scrummy, as slick n shiny as...err an oil slick, yes that's right. The cars thunder around with their engines amped up good n proper, but this being a US film the Mustang gets all the focus, the Yanks love their Mustang (despite the fact they stole a Jaguar XJ220! I think that's better). In fact you could say this film is an extension of the car chase in the 'The Rock', remember? with that yellow car, whatever it was. Its just like that visually, but with more sunsets.

So yeah, 'Top Gun' with cars and a bunch of dirty quirky characters, plus Cage acting sensibly for once accept in one scene. High production values and you know where most of that went, the cast of cars is impressive and does make you drool. Yet I saw no Evo's, Impreza's or Skylines.

A pure slice of popcorn silliness that isn't suppose to be anything else. Its simple fast n furious fun with fast sexy cars, quick quips and lots of smash ups. If you don't know to expect this then you clearly don't know about Bruckheimer films.


Monday, 22 April 2013

Life of Pi (2012)

So many book adaptation these days! Ang Lee is fast becoming a master of lavish epic stories, stories with international spice. This new film bears all the hallmarks of a foreign film to be honest, I was surprised to discover it was American made, amazed in fact.

The story is told in part by narration from the main character, who is an adult. He is telling a writer about his fantastical story, about his early years in India and his families decision to immigrate to Canada. After a slow build up revolving around his family, his keen interest in various religions, the way he acquired his name and the family owned zoo, we start to get to the crux of the film.

Whilst on board the freighter bound for Canada, a storm hits and sinks the ship apparently killing everyone. 'Pi' survives on a lifeboat with a tiger, zebra, hyena and orangutan, this is where the real story begins.

Up to this point I'll be totally honest with you all and say the film isn't overly interesting. A slow character building plot showing you Indian family life and how religious minded the young 'Pi' is. Don't let that scare you though, the film is not in the least bit preachy about religion, its a very light view really, 'Pi's' parents are surprisingly easy on him whilst he switches from one to another trying to find his feet. You do kinda expect his father to go ape shit with him but that doesn't happen, that's not what this is about.

Of course the CGI in this film is pretty much the main focus, its not what the film is about but it takes centre stage. So how can I put this for you? the film looks like a crystal clear watercolour painting with 'Dali-esque' sequences of beauty that will inspire you, hows that?. Yes the CGI does look a tad obvious from time to time for sure (the animals in the lifeboat) but in general you don't care. Its like a living painting, constantly changing, expressing the sublime miracle that is nature, almost teaching you as it goes, a virtual wildlife show in poetic motion. Lets not forget about those sparkling sunsets, stormy skies, nautical dusk's and twilight's.

The sequence at night whilst 'Pi' drifts on the ocean surface surrounded by hundreds of bioluminescent jellyfish is damn near stunning, then a mighty Humpback whale (I think) bursts through the waters surface saturating the screen in a glowing shower of turquoise liquid!...pure fantasy but none the less spectacular. To be frank I found it disappointing that these sequences were CGI, I wanted them to be real. As for the main animal 'character', 'Richard Parker' the Bengal tiger, he's fudging faultless! in fact I'm not even sure if they used a real tiger anywhere, did they??! I really couldn't tell.

The story isn't all about fancy effects though as I said, there is a lot more to it than that. The young boy surviving on his own aboard this lifeboat, there is a huge amount of faith naturally, hope, courage, fear, acceptance and understanding. He must learn to deal with his fate, not to blame God for his situation but let God enter his heart and give him the strength to survive. He can't rely on God or a God to bail him out, he can't worry about which religion is right, he must be true to himself.

He must also be cautious and firm with his big cat companion, learn to coexist together for the greater good, they need each other after all.

In the end various elements from the various religions help young 'Pi' on his perilous journey. The story does a great job of simply showing how similar these religions are, how one is not greater than the other, nor is one anymore correct than the other, there is no definitive way. Sounds heavy but it really isn't, the whole plot plays out like a child's bedtime fairytale, a fairytale with a good message.

This visual treat has so many layers its incredible, an Asian/Indian subcontinental core with a dash of Chiwan flavouring from its director. You can clearly see how the animals/mammals in the film are represented and beautifully expressed which is so important to both cultures, the tiger especially. Its so strange that this deep little tale comes from a French speaking Canadian!, it just seems so very close to the stories roots of India, or the far East/Indochina maybe.

Sure the ending is a bit depressing, we find out what really happened, the reality, but like the characters in the story you too can choose which tale you preferred. There is actually no right answer, the question is, does the tale make YOU believe in God? ;).


Saturday, 20 April 2013

Jack Reacher (2012)

Adapted from a novel I know nothing about and a writer I've never heard of, but I did take the liberty of reading up on what to expect. Thing is the director of this film clearly hasn't done the same. Now from what I learned the main character in these books, 'Reacher', is 6'5'' tall, built like a brick shithouse, blonde hair, pretty fit, pretty muscular, piercing blue eyes, weighs around 250 pounds and has many battle scars. For this someone thought it a good idea to cast Tom Cruise, yeah...of course.

According to Wiki Childs (novelist) decided that Reacher's huge frame what more a metaphor for an unstoppable force. Yeah sounds like you're backtracking there matey, just to get Cruise on board, should of cast an unknown.

An atrocity is committed, five people are senselessly killed by a lone sniper, someone is dragged in as a suspect and 'Jack Reacher' is the man asked for. From here on its pretty much a standard murder mystery 'who dunnit?', in fact you could say its like Sherlock Holmes if he went around beating people half to death.

This really has to be the biggest anti climax I've seen for some time. The films poster boldly shows Cruise's battered face (nothing else, as usual), the whole image is dark, brooding and clearly trying to give the impression he's a tough no nonsense kinda guy. Then when you watch the film all you get is Cruise...being Cruise, but attempting to be the strong silent type whilst at the same time being a wisecracking smartass, it just doesn't work.

The story is slowish but mainly just very very average, there isn't really anything in the film that got me excited or had me on the edge of my seat. You know the guy they capture at the start isn't the killer for fudges sake! you know he's been set up, its clear as day, it shows you!! (that's not even a spoiler!) the only question is who did do it and why? but its not really that much of big deal anyway. The whole thing plods along being very bland and highly uneventful. Oh and they show you the killer at the start too pfft! not much left.

We do get a car chase and one sequence where Cruise is up against five guys in a car park. Thing is Cruise doesn't look intimidating at all and the five guys should really just beat him down rather quickly. Duvall pops up in role which feels completely pointless seeing as Cruise is always invincible and the finale with the bad guys is again completely unexciting. You think there's gonna be some really good retribution...nope, there isn't.

Maybe I'm being too hard? its not a bad film, its well made and looks good, its just utterly flat, almost boring. Unsure if Cruise made himself 'Reacher' or it was horrendous casting but either way not a good decision. The plot is standard, the action is standard, we clearly see how short Cruise actually is in a few shots, there is a truly terrible sequence where some guys try to beat Cruise but it all ends up like a 'Three Stooges' sequence and generally on the whole it felt like an episode of some random US cop drama (choose, there are loads of em! and they're all the same).

The film is ONLY as big as it is because of Cruise being in the lead role, simple as that. Other than that its a run of the mill film, two hours with Tom Cruise and not much else.


Thursday, 18 April 2013

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)

Has Jim Carrey has had his big moment in the limelight? he's taking on ensemble roles lately, no pivotal lead star vehicles anymore?. As for Carell this could be his best film to date, a sweet sincere performance which is a change from his usual tomfoolery in various naff wasted projects.

This film is a mixture of two things really, on one hand we have yet another film about magic, this time a light-hearted comedy. On the other hand, at times, it does ever so slightly cross over to that 'frat pack' type of comedy and you half expect Wilson or Farrell to pop up, luckily its not that outrageous.

A simple concept about two traditional razzle dazzle Vegas magicians that fall out after many years together. Then to add insult to injury a younger, tougher, edgier, high risk taking street magician steps into the fray and steals what their fame.

When I first started to watch this I definitely thought it was heading down the silly spoof route. There are moments that hint at that, but as the film progresses it turns out to be a really nice touching film that makes you smile. There are some great little funny touches dotted throughout which mainly come from Carell's character. Even though in the plot the character is from the 80's generation he seems to have been transported from the 50's. A complete male chauvinist and womaniser with little tact, yet he doesn't realise it and thinks he's a gentleman. Much of this is down to his Vegas bubble lifestyle which has transformed him into this spoilt makeup wearing lothario.

Naturally this makes for some great dialog and some hilarious pompous behaviour from Carell. Kudos to Carrey for his wholly annoying street magician who obviously is having a go at people like David Blane/Criss Angel. His nasty tricks aren't real magic of course, simply sick stunts that appease people's morbid curiosity. So the film does achieve something plot wise, you hate Carrey's character and see him for what he clearly is, whilst at the same time you are gradually warming to Carell's character and seeing he is actually a decent man.

I also loved Arkin's character and performance as the old classical, black tux magician with the pencil thin tash, almost Vincent Price-like. I also liked Gandolfini's Vegas hotel/casino owner, I loved his chic 70's-like fashions (well that's how it appeared to me) and how he still looks like a head honcho for the mob.

Some great hand trick work shown throughout, alongside various other more impressive tricks, being a film I'm sure many were assisted with movie effects. The only thing I didn't really like was the ending and how they win back their fame. It seemed a step too far and way too easy for something horrific to go wrong surely!. OK its a comedy and there's gonna be artistic license involved, its not suppose to be genuine but just didn't quite feel right. Plus the idea seemed like a massive undertaking on a regular basis sheesh!.

Apart from that minor detail a very pleasant surprise, enjoyed the film, the glossy visuals and all the characters. Love the films title by the way, although I think 'The Amazing Burt Wonderstone' looks and sounds better.


G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)

Based on the iconic American action figure which was originally based around real US military units/branches. Better known in the UK as the iconic Action Man and was (I think) the only soldier based toy of the time, plus it had many accessories to boot! I had an Action Man plus a few vehicles when I was younger, I can never forget the extreme blonde buzz cut he had and Barbie-like clothing, never really stuck with this particular toy.

Then whilst living in the US of A at a tender age of around 8 years old, I came across the G.I.Joe cartoon, I was hooked. Now I will admit up front I don't really recall any of the stories behind the franchise/characters, I only liked it for the cool action, cool vehicles and of course cool looking characters (bit like 'M.A.S.K.'). I might also add I believe this was the first and possibly only cartoon that dealt with terrorists? the good guys actually battling a force that isn't shy about letting themselves be known as terrorists, don't think that would happen anytime nowadays.

On to the film...hmmm tricky, very tricky. I was highly dubious when this was announced, even more so when it came out, the levels of CGI in this film was mind blowing. The story basically sets up a few characters on both the good side and bad and takes us through how Cobra Commander comes to power. Sommers decided to only use a handful of the massive roster of characters which was probably a good choice but one wonders if a few more could have been stuck in there, the ones with cool outfits perhaps.

I liked how they kinda went about this as a prequel of sorts, setting up how the bad guys come to be, it also sets up the obvious sequel and seeing the main bad guys in full swing. The story was handled quite well I thought, like I say I don't really know the backgrounds to these people but after some research and watching the film it all fit together well, some changes aside *ahem*.

I liked how the main two villains (Commander and Destro) have their stories told and we see how they become their more famous personas. I liked the small flashbacks that gave us clues about various other characters and their backgrounds, and in all fairness I thought the characters looked pretty neat too. Sure they all looked like rehashed characters from other sci-fi/action films, nothing really original, but they looked solid, believable and realistic, not campy as was feared.

The problems arise with the acting for one thing, its awful! Didn't exactly expect it to be stunning but these guys really do move and sound like plastic figures. The worst easily being Tatum followed easily by Marlon Wayans who I don't even think you can call an actor. What was worse was the fact certain actors seemed to take it seriously, Eccleston, Quaid and Pryce I'm looking at you, at the same time Levitt was doing a brilliantly campy Batman villain, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Jesus!) simply can't act end of and the same can be said for Miller.

I don't understand Hollywood sometimes, they wanna make an adaptation like this, clearly they wanna make it semi serious to appeal to the wider audience and to jump on the Bond/Marvel/'Mission: Impossible' type bandwagon which was in full swing. But then they go and cast people who can't act and who star in regular garbage, why on earth would you cast Wayans in this? right there you have a huge negative already, do you want an action flick or some dumb childish pratfall gag reel?

We then come to the hideous CGI issue. This film reminded me of the Star Wars prequels with their massive CGI elements and multiple finales, I think this film really tries for that similar final bang towards the end. To a degree they do achieve that, I can't deny the scope of the film is impressive with tonnes going on, plenty of visual imagination and action, all manner of crafts, subs, weapons, aircraft etc...all over the show. The problem is its so damn hectic its hard to make out what's going on, it really is a complete rip off from Star Wars in how the films acts are staged and of course the CGI is bad, real bad, the cartoon looked better. You can see its a Sommers film because 'The Mummy' films had dreadful CGI too.

Unsurprisingly the film is a very loud, fake looking, badly acted, explosion filled wet dream for Toys R Us. But you gotta look at this collectively, yes its complete trash of the highest order and yes Hollywood should know better. But on the other hand I'm sure the targeted audience will love it and wanna buy the toys, job done. Its a shame Hollywood never seems to learn and keeps producing such nonsense when they could make something half decent, especially with such rich material as this. But again at the end of the day we all know what to expect these days, we all know PG-13 is the favoured way to go and if you're honest the film does deliver what it promises for who its intended, you can't really deny that.

So yeah the film is rubbish and the prime example of modern day CGI filled crapola made purely for merchandise n money. I did enjoy some of it like I said, the plot wasn't half bad amazingly, the characters did look like their toon/comic counterparts I think (in some cases), shame about Cobra Commanders crappy looking mask at the end. Miller was hot in her tight outfits whilst Snake Eyes and 'Storm Shadow' were easily the best looking, most exciting and intriguing characters (bit like Scorpion and Sub-Zero).

Offering plenty of bang for your buck no doubt and a fun brainless night in perhaps, I suppose it does what it sets out to do, just poorly. The sequence where Duke and Ripcord are suited up in those special astronaut type outfits and tearing through Paris to get to the Eiffel Tower, probably one of the worst effects/action sequences I've seen in a long long time. Truly ridiculous, bogged down with utterly lame visual comedy/gags courtesy of Wayans and it all looks nasty.


Tuesday, 16 April 2013

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Damn it Spielberg you did it again! I thought you wouldn't get me but once again you made me cry whilst watching one of your films, sheesh! Right...'A.I.', batten down the hatches mateys, this could be a big one.

From the collective minds of Kubrick and Spielberg comes this lavish epic about a little robot boy who is brought into a young couples life. Based on a short story by a writer I admit I've never heard of, yet the idea could easily be mistaken for work from the brains of Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov or Philip K. Dick.

Lets begin, this film gave me a headache, not a bad headache, more of a problematic headache. I was stuck and didn't know what to think. The film is a massive story betwixt two ideas or genres almost, on one hand you have the first half of a film that centres around the human angst and emotion of trying to adapt to adopting a robot child. The pain of a mother who's child is at deaths door from disease, and the decision by her husband to offer her a brand new state of the art robot child that for the first time can learn and express love for its owner.

The second half of the film then changes completely, gone is the sentiment and powerful family bound plot as we enter into a more seedy grim world. One could almost say the film adopts many visual concepts from other sci-fi films/genres, which do work on their own, but maybe not together with this story.

The story is enthralling and draws you in...but oh so many questions arise Mr Spielberg, where to begin! Once we leave the comfort of the family orientated first part of the film we pretty much straight away hit the Flesh Fair. Now this really did seem too harsh for me, a completely disjointed idea that harks back to a Mad Max type world. Why would people of the future act like this towards simple machines? the whole sequence looked like some freaky red neck carnival. It also seemed like a huge setup for not very much, just a few minutes of carnage, was all that fan fair really required?

This lead me to the question of why do this to old, lost, outdated Mecha's? (the term for robots in this film which sounds a bit Japanese to me). Now surely these robots cost a lot to make, much time, effort, design etc...went into creating them, so surely destroying them is a complete waste. Wouldn't fixing them up for simple labour tasks like cleaning or whatever, be more useful? maybe selling them on? and even if you did have to shut them down, just do it more humanly, why the need for all the violence? The whole sequence just didn't seem sensible really, and it was thought up by Spielberg!

Eventually we get to Rouge City, where is this suppose to be? why not use a real city? Again the whole concept seemed out of place, the city seemed much more futuristic than everything else we have seen, plus the architecture was truly odd. The huge tunnel bridges with a woman's gaping open mouth as the opening? it seemed very Giger-esq to me, quite sexual too, kids film anyone? Then you had buildings shaped like women's boobs and legs etc...geez! Its here we meet Gigolo Joe who is superbly played by Jude Law I can't deny, but really at the end of the day, was he needed at all? He is a nice character, very likeable but virtually bordering on a cartoon character, and why the need for the tap dancing?

The makeup was very good for the Mecha characters, simple yet effective for both Law and Osment. Kudos to Osment of course for his portrayal of the robot David, I honestly can say its probably the best performance for a robot I've ever seen. Brilliant casting too I might add, Osment can act but his looks are half the battle won right there, he has this almost perfect plastic looking young face, its all in the eyes I think.

Speaking of characters how can I not mention the star of the film, 'Teddy'. Now this little guy was adorable, I still find myself wanting my own Teddy *whimpers*. Every scene this little fellow was in I loved, I loved to see him waddle around and assist David in his simple electronic voice. I found myself caring for all the characters in this film but especially Teddy, he was just awesome. Sure he seemed to have some kind of infinite power source but that made him even cooler damn it! What really broke my heart was we don't know what happens to lill Teddy, we see him at the end but what becomes of him?? what Steven WHAT??!! I loved that lill guy *sniff*.

As you near the end of the film and its multiple ongoing finales you literately get submerged in questions. 2000 years pass from the time David is trapped under the sea and his rescue (the ferris wheel didn't crush the helicopter/sub thingy??), in that time the planet has gone from global warming jungles to a MASSIVE ice age? I mean a REALLY HEAVY ice age. Now I'm no scientist but that doesn't seem right. I might quickly add, in the future why are all the skyscrapers in New York in tatters? as if they've been burnt out? Sure the bottom of them has been flooded but they look like skeletons! as if a nuke hit them, eh?

The we get to the evolved Mecha's (or 'Close Encounter' aliens). How would these robots evolve into these angelic liquid-like creatures?? I don't get it, if the human race became extinct tomorrow would computers evolve into alien-like creatures? Sure these robots can fix themselves and update themselves but that far? really? Then you gotta ask yourself why would they be digging up old human remains? they know humans created them, OK they might not understand why but does that matter? They clearly have highly advanced technology so why don't they travel space and look for new similar intelligent life? Why bother with the human race, of which many despised them anyway, treated them like crap.

This then leads onto the resurrection part of the story. I still can't quite work out why David's mother would only live for one day when brought back. There is an explanation from the advanced Mecha's but I couldn't follow it. Again we then have all manner of plot issues...why his mother doesn't recall her husband or son when she wakes, she doesn't question why David is there, she's disorientated but doesn't question anything. She doesn't seem to remember anything like the fact she was probably an old lady when she was last awake, and she doesn't ask to go outside! they stay inside the whole time. You could say the advanced Mecha fixed it so she wouldn't recall anything so not to jeopardize the situation, but when she wakes she acts as if nothing happened and its just a new day.

Where the plot really gets silly is the fact this is all possible simply because Teddy kept some strands of cut hair from David's mother about 2000 years prior. Where on earth did he keep these hairs? its not like he has pockets, and what's more...why did he keep the strands of hair??!! On top of that, and again I'm no scientist, but surely you'd need the roots of human hair for the DNA, not just cut strands, no?

Now there are a lot of whines in there but unfortunately there are a lot of plot issues in the film. I won't and can't say its a bad film, its a truly fantastic bit of sci-fi with some lovely design work and visuals, but there are problems along the way. First half is a decent sci-fi story similar to 'Bicentennial Man', second half is really a rehashed rip off of the classic Pinocchio tale set in the future.

The film garnered a lot of interest due to the involvement of Kubrick and Spielberg admittedly but its still a wonderful bit of work. Part sci-fi but all fairytale in the end, the film slowly becomes more of a children's tale the deeper you go, the narration nails that home if you think about it. The very end is kinda tacked on and doesn't feel correct, true, you can see they had trouble ending the film and a weepy ending was required so they made one. But god damn it works *sniff*.

The final sequence of David lying besides his motionless mother still brings a lump to my throat as I type this now. We then see Teddy join them on the bed and just sit down to watch over them both, like a guardian. Does David actually die here? does he voluntarily switch himself off somehow? again...what happens to Teddy? I'm not sure. But as the score swells and the lights dim, you can't help but wipe away a tear.


The Frighteners (1996)

Take elements from 'Beetlejuice' and 'Ghostbusters' and you have this quirky, light yet also dark, soft comedy horror from the man who gave us 'LOTR's'. You could almost say its a sequel of sorts to 'Beetlejuice', or it could have been, a very familiar ghost story which isn't really for kids, even though it might look like it. Danny Elfman does the score here I might add.

The story sees a man who can see and communicate with spirits of the dead (because he had a nasty near death experience that changed his outward perspective on life, and he lost his wife at the same time). The amusing part is he uses this special skill to make money by conning people with a phony haunting routine, a business deal he has with a few ghosts that help him pull off the stunts.

At the same time a bad spirit manages to come back and start/continue his hobby of killing people. As 'Frank' is the only person here that can communicate with the dead its up to him and his ghostly buddies to stop this evil ghost.

One of those films that did OK upon release but not great, has since become a bit of a cult. I saw this at the cinema when it first came out and I must admit to slightly enjoying it but not massively. The effects, even back then, looked pretty ropey if you ask me, some really dodgy CGI going on. By today's standards it looks even worse, this is a shame as it kinda lets the film down for me, both of the older films mentioned earlier look way better.

Its a fun fanciful film for sure and what I liked best was the fact it didn't shy away from the odd moment of adult humour or adult visuals. One minute the film is quaint and amusing like a kids cartoon, the next you can see someone getting their head shot off with a shotgun! albeit very quickly with no gore. The ghosts are the best thing about the film naturally, I loved how Jake Busey's ghost character has this sadistic, barbarous almost masochistic personality, along with his living compadre. Really gives the film a nice evil twist instead of going down the more safe route.

The other ghosts tended to be slightly corny really, the two that help Fox are pretty lame and cliched. John Astin's ghost character is also heavily cliched but looks cool, whilst Jackson even thought to include a ghost version of 'Gunnery Sergeant Hartman' from 'Full Metal Jacket', well I can't say that for sure but the part is played by Ermey so you decide. I thought the spook angle could of been much better, much more bizarre or varied, its too...standard.

Its definitely a solid ghosthunting film which is helped by the likeable Michael J Fox, but I wonder if he was the best choice for this role. The best character for me was played by Combs, his nervous, twitchy insane undercover cop is fun to watch, looks a bit like Jim Carrey and also has some nice dark moments.
Along with the films tone, the plain poster and rather meaningless film title you can see why it was hard to sell originally. Changing gears too often and too quickly leaves you pondering what the film really wants to be, but despite that I like a good zany spectral comedy so this film sits well with me. It may sound corny but put simply, if you liked 'Beetlejuice' you will probably like this.


The Wild (2006)

Lets get one thing straight here, this isn't a bad animated film, not really, it just had the HUGE misfortune of coming out after 'Madagascar'. Well I'm not sure whether this came out too late or they did indeed try to rip off the aforementioned film, probably just too late.

The plot, settings and entire idea is unfortunately almost identical to 'Madagascar'. A bunch of crazy animals all live together in a zoo lead by the mighty lion 'Samson'. One day 'Samson' accidentally upsets his cub son causing him to run away, get trapped guessed it, get shipped off to Africa. So 'Samson' and the other animals including a Koala, Giraffe, snake and squirrel, all go off on an adventure to rescue 'Ryan' the lion cub.

I can't really go into how utterly stupid this is seeing as its a kids film. But alligators in New York's sewers, the fact they all end up in Africa from leaving NY is pretty amazing, no idea where in Africa though but a volcano?. And the fact there are hardly any humans around anywhere...including in NY. Yes I know its a silly kiddie film but lets have some degree of sense.

One major problem here is the characters aren't too spectacular and AGAIN almost identical to errr that other wildlife animation. The only character that shows any signs of creativity was 'Nigel' the Koala who has a British accent voiced by the brilliant Eddie Izzard. This little guy was pretty neat, Izzard does a great job making him a very nervous, easily scared, unfit, slightly squiffy fellow who hates the fact his likeness is a famous plush zoo toy souvenir. Its Eddie's dry, wry flat deliveries that make you laugh, well for us Brits anyway. Quite liked the Noo Yawker tawk of the sewer alligators also, that's a good accent.

Plus, Patrick Warburton, standard requirement for animated films it seems. Not a problem seeing as his voice is brilliantly funny, lucky huh!.

Its all completely and totally predictable with visual gags that have been used all before. The animation isn't that bad, a different style to 'Madagascar' with fur effects giving a little more realism, 'Ryan' the cub is undeniably cute. The wildebeests actually look pretty cool I though, quite evil and I liked the little intro animation revolving around them at the start.

Shame they chose to include modern pop music within the film but other than that its a fair animation that is fun to watch. Had it come out before that other silly zoo animation then the tables would be turned hehe but such is life.


Sunday, 14 April 2013

The Craft (1996)

Supernatural teen thriller? hmmm I think we've had enough of that concept. But wait! this was back in 96 before the 'Twilight' films, plus three of the teen girls in this film are kinda slutty and dress in skimpy school uniforms! Ahh well that's OK then, game on.

Yep back in the ancient past of 1996 this film came out of nowhere and was a huge sleeper hit, in other words no one thought it would do anything but it did. Massively popular with teen girls, a film aimed for them entirely and they lapped it up. I was in college back in those days and I recall the girls in my class loving it, kinda got you worried in case the film gave them any unsavory ideas.

New girl in town feels slightly uncomfortable in her new surroundings and new school. Three other girls are the school outcasts and verbally bullied or made fun of by both the boys and girls. All the girls meet up and slowly become friends, all four have an interest in witchcraft or spellcraft, so they learn more, become witches and get revenge on all the kids that bullied them. The only thing is one of the girls goes too far and one has natural supernatural abilities unbeknownst to the others. Pretty straight forward but highly effective.

The good thing about this film was it wasn't a nice sweet lovey dovey romance flick like...well you know. It was actually quite dark and twisted with plenty of brooding devilish imagery all to do with classic witch folklore and actual spiritual lore. The whole idea is pushed way beyond the realms of reality naturally but there is slight truth and real meaning behind certain aspects of the Pagan/witch /Wicca folklore practices the girls get up to.

All four of these girls had some serious raw sexual energy also, these characters weren't your blonde princesses, they were devious and naughty. Even Tunney as the good natured girl was no let down, the film appealed to the boys just as much as the girls. The best of all being the wonderful Balk who starts off as trailer trash but evolves into a full blown gothic bitch complete with dog collars, black fingernails, black lipstick and at one point some nice tight shiny PVC pants! oh so good! Balk also gives a brilliant performance as the unhinged Nancy, she is really quite unnerving towards the end with her big toothy Joker-like grin.

Yes you could say this is just another 'Scream' type thriller with a nice pretty young cast, it also stars Skeet Ulrich who is no stranger to teens flicks. But it really isn't, its so much more than that, the basis is the same, its kinda predictable and is full of teen angst but in general its a much better teen thriller than most. Some of the CGI looks bad now of course but there are more real time tricks which is nice to see, lots of creepy crawlies involved.

You only have to look at the films poster, 'Bewitched' this is not! 'Sabrina the Teenage Witch' think again, and I repeat...there is no 'Twilight' crapola either. This is a dark, somewhat gritty, spirit invoking thriller that is a surprisingly good ride.


Thursday, 11 April 2013

Quigley Down Under (1990)

Poor old Tom Selleck, always been the poor mans Harrison Ford, the second choice Indiana Jones or the last option action man. On his side though are his manly looks, his chiselled features and that famous manly facial hair that ensured Selleck is a mans man despite his failure at being in any really big films.

This long forgotten western is actually one of his best films in my opinion, the films title doesn't help its case for sure, it tends to give the impression of a silly comedy in the vain of 'Lightning Jack' with Paul Hogan but its nowhere close. Filmed on location in Australia instantly giving it that epic look with some awesome scenery and having a kind of Dances with Wolves-ish plot really makes for a terrific adventure. Yes there is some silly humour to raise a smile but it fits nicely and never really gets too daft to spoil.

Rickman as usual is splendid in his role as the wickedly nasty English cad hunting Aboriginal folk for sport. Sure his performance is really the same as his Sheriff of Nottingham from 'Robin Hood Prince of Thieves' but it works just as well here (Reynolds and Costner must have seen this and wanted the same for 'Hood').

The rest of the cast all perform well as immigrant Irish workers in the 1800's outback, everything looks great from sets to costume and real aborigine people seem to have been cast giving an even more realistic feel. A bit funny how Quigley never loses his customised rifle and every time he's called to help people in danger he's conveniently set far away enabling him to use his fancy customised rifle to its full potential. Its only at the end we do actually find out Quigley can look after himself without the rifle.

Great light-hearted fun adventure which was set for Eastwood or McQueen to star which gives you a good idea of what to expect. The film also has a nice emotional theme which isn't too strong but enough to add some quality, raising it above most other more silly boys own adventures.


Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (1987)

Filmed back to back with the first film ('King Solomon's Mines'), the continuity is spot on with all surviving cast members returning for the new adventure. Like before this plot is VERY loosely based on the Haggard novels, this time Allan Quatermain which is the sequel to 'King Solomon's Mines'.

The plot is pretty thin, Quatermain goes off to find his lost brother deep in the African jungle (where else?). His brother is suppose to have found the long lost City of Gold so that is what Quatermain (and Sharon Stone again) search for. Alongside them they have James Earl Jones in barbarian mode again, well tribal African barbarian mode, a spiritual guru who is suppose to be the comedic relief and some tribal warriors (booby trap fodder).

Problem with this film is its pretty much the same as the first one, there is nothing much to get your interest going as you've seen it all before. Also, and strangely, the visuals are much worse this time around with even more god awful bluescreen, hokey props, repeated stock footage, fake sets, tonnes of revolting natives and faceless booby trap fodder tribesmen. Location work is still the only plus point really, although James Earl Jones is clearly having a blast hamming it up in his over the top costume.

Stone is even more terrible in this film as well! god knows how she became big after these films, shes a total drip! Chamberlain still looks the part and offers some nice light touches but he's no Harrison Ford lets be honest, he doesn't really look like he could be a hero or fighter, ladies man yes but not a tough adventurer. Cassandra Peterson has a non dialog role as the sexy evil Queen, she merely stands around looking hot with her large boobies.

So yeah its pretty much the usual African jungle safari stuff all over again. There is nothing really original or exciting here, the last part of the film which is set in the City of Gold looks like it was filmed in an African hotel complex in the wilderness somewhere. The plot makes no sense as we move towards the finale and the way Quatermain defeats the main baddie and his tribesmen is utterly ridiculous.

Both films aren't taken seriously and extremely hokey all round but the first film is clearly the better one. I guess the money must have been tight for the second part as it seems a much poorer production. Its still reasonable old fashioned swashbuckling type stuff but definitely moving towards B-movie territory.


King Solomon's Mines (1985)

My my, its been a long long time since I saw this long lost adventure, I remember enjoying this on lazy afternoons as a little boy. Looking back now I'm amazed, could this be anymore like Indiana Jones?! I mean seriously! I can see I'm gonna have to control myself here, one of those films which has been slightly influenced by another bigger fish.

By the time this film was released we had already been given the smash hit that was Dr Jones with two rip roaring adventures. Of course the character of Allan Quatermain dates back well before the Lucas/Spielberg creation but this film has clearly gone down that route heavily, so much so that even the score is infringing on copyright laws if you ask me.

The story is as you would expect from an African adventure. Quatermain is hired by the very blonde Sharon Stone (yes that one) to find her father. They do so and on his wishes continue to search for the lost mines. On their trail is the German Imperial military led by their ruthless Colonel and an even more ruthless Turkish slave trader.

I'm unsure how close to the original novel this film is but I'm also pretty sure the film has been exaggerated quite a bit. The beginning of the film is almost the same as the 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'
Cairo sequence, right down to the same stunts and same action!. From there the film pretty much includes every African adventure cliche imaginable from cannibal tribes, wild lions, fighting on top and underneath trains, Biplane action, sweaty locals as spies and informants, stampeding elephants, alligator pits, booby trap laden caves etc...accept in this film there are monsters too.

The only real difference from a certain other franchise is the fact the story is set within British Colonial times (mid to late 18th Century). So the German baddies aren't Nazi's and of course Quatermain is suppose to be a British officer/big game hunter, not archaeologist. Although Stone's character is studying archaeology.

Its fun to look back at the cast now, with a very young Sharon Stone acting so badly being the drippy blonde princess who constantly needs rescuing. Chamberlain is the hero Quatermain and does look the part, his outfit is appropriately cliched and cheesy in that typical British Colonial style and with a cool trademark shotgun. Shame about the US accent though. Then we have Rhys-Davies playing pretty much the same kind of character he played in Indy accept this time he's a baddie, but he looks exactly the same.

Finally the other main bad guy is Herbert Lom playing the stereotypical porky, curly tashed, oldschool gruff bald German Colonel who cares little about his men and beats natives with his crop. Your typical fat WWI era bratwurst sucking Kraut officer.

Interesting observation, Chamberlain has twice made films back to back for a franchise. This film and its sequel plus the Richard Lester 'Three Musketeers' films.

The film isn't meant to be a serious action film of course, its light hearted and very jokey but nowhere near as violent as Indy. Its all very tongue n cheek here, the action is tame and very much in the same vain as old black n white films of the same nature. Bluescreen is highly evident and quite nasty looking at times, obvious plastic sets and props, stock footage heavily used etc...The only thing that has a sense of quality about it is the real location work, and I guess the sets were quite large, impressive scale at times.

A total campy rollercoaster of continuous watered down action, the finale inside the mines gets even more ludicrous. One thing always baffles me in films like this. When the building or cave or whatever is totally coming down, self destructing with extreme levels of mortal danger. Why do the bad guys still insist on trying to kill the good guy despite the fact they are clearly running out of time to escape and save their own life? Run away, live to fight another day geez!


Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Raid: Redemption (2011)

What we have here is Indonesia's answer to Thailand's martial arts star Tony Jaa. Leading hero of the film Iko Uwais utilizes the martial art Pencak Silat for some major romper stomper fight sequences that would give Jaa a good run for his money I'm sure.

The plot is pretty much videogame-like and extremely basic. A team of S.W.A.T. go into a high rise block of flats within the slums of Jakarta. Their aim is to take out all criminal targets within and get to the big boss at the top.

This film has more of a 'Die Hard' approach than Jaa's films which tend to be more about a lone man fighting hoods. That said the basis is the same as is the look of the film with its dirty, gritty, sweaty atmosphere, its basically an excuse for some kick ass fighting that looks stunning from all angles.

Yes I'm mentioning Tony Jaa a lot but if you've seen his films and like his stuff then you know exactly what to expect from this (minus the small amounts of occasional religion). The only real difference is this film is much more brutal with some truly nasty screen wincing knife attacks and of course many bullets to the head.

On one hand I did enjoy the film as I do like good fight flicks, this dating back to my JCVD fanboy days. On the other hand the fights are slightly ridiculous as they seem to go on forever. It does actually get a tad dull after you've seen the same two/three guys pounding each other over and over and over and over almost taking turns in getting the upper hand then losing it etc...

Speaking of JCVD, these modern day martial arts fight flicks certainly make all the old 80's/90's stars look pretty tame. I look back at Seagal, Norris, Lundgren, Dacascos, Li, Yen, Adkins etc...These Southeast Asian films put them in the shadows bigtime!.

Impressive as it is the film is pretty much fight porn which offers nothing new if your really honest about it. The characters are very bland with most being simple nameless cannon fodder while the carnage is maybe a bit too much? I mentioned 'videogame-like' already, well this film is virtually a videogame level of any FPS you can think of.

My personal diagnosis...take the pending doom and desperation in 'Aliens' of a small elite team being taken down slowly. Add to that the highly stylised visual flair of 'Leon' with the kick boxing martial arts variations of Southeast Asia. What you get is nothing particularly new now (seeing as Jaa got there first) but it is a mean ass action flick with great production values that has been crafted well.


S.W.A.T. (2003)

Kinda based on the American TV show but ultimately kinda not. Characters left out, new ones in, different ethnicity for the one member and turning one regular into the baddie. Kinda makes you wonder why they bother adapting these old shows if they're gonna change most of it. Luckily (amazingly) this film hasn't suffered too badly and is pretty much a stand alone action film, old TV show left by the wayside.

When this was first brought up I instantly thought it would be crapola, just a weak timid action flick that would probably border on comedy. Much to my surprise the film is an out n out serious fast paced cop flick, more serious in terms of realism than say...'Lethal Weapon', but with less of the comedy.

I think we can all guess its a film about a tough highly skilled elite team of cops, and this being a modern flick the testosterone is through the roof!. The clearly unfit Samuel L. Jackson leads a team consisting of Farrell, Rodriguez (again in another crack team of tough nuts), LL Cool J and two other faceless guys. In all honesty I think the team could have been better cast with better character actors from the 80's action genre, why we have to put up with these ex-rap/hip-hop stars with stupid names I don't know.

The plot is sort of obvious but not completely, you'd expect the usual last stand type ordeal with a team but the film shows some imagination. The main bad guy spends most of his time cuffed with cops which is a brave move, the good guys tend to be always trying to gain the upper hand and never really in control and of course there is betrayal, which spices things up. Its not exactly hard to predict but it plays out a little differently than most cookie cutter action films.

What is different is the fact half the film shows this team training, and what is shown looks pretty realistic I gotta say. Lots of skilled combat/hostage training with your cliched yet highly polished 'Top Gun-esq' over the top camaraderie and macho showboating with liberal splashes of gun porn. It all looks slick sexy and makes you wanna run down to the local cop recruitment centre and get shooting. Oh those boys in blue do look handsome in their nice perfectly fitting uniforms and actionman body armour.

The film isn't really very violent, it hints at some strong stuff, you just don't see it. I do tend to think that the film might have been much cooler had it been an all out adult film, bit more gritty and a bit less glossy perhaps. But in general its a solid action flick that you can easily enjoy without knowing the old TV show ever existed.


Lost in Translation (2003)

Had to rewatch this as I've now been to Japan and seen it for myself. It makes the film much more believable and touches me in a different way now, a whole new experience as I can relate to the story and the surroundings.

The thing that struck me is how accurate the film is, I know exactly how the main characters feel (mainly Johansson) in and amongst the huge sprawling, towering, crowded metropolis that is Tokyo. The strange feeling of being alone around hundreds and not being able to communicate, not really being noticed, it is a perfect visual picture of feeling isolated or living in a strange solitary state.
Coppola captures the small niches of the country and its people, how they live, eat and relax etc...its a very different world believe me and you can see this in Coppola's direction and use of locations. Of course the performances by Murray and Johansson are brilliant, just right, understated and subtle. Murray starts off in his familiar dry satire type way but evolves into a much deeper person, finishing on a very emotional finale that does put a lump in your throat. And not forgetting Faris as the superstar airhead, very good (and accurate) portrayal there, loved it.

The atmosphere and visuals of the film are glorious of course, being filmed entirely in Tokyo and a little in Kyoto. It all looks so familiar now, makes me wanna go back. Much of the film was actually filmed live too, in front of hundreds of Japanese people who had no clue they were making a film! again that's impressive believe me. It also shows how different the Japanese are, no one batted an eyelid to the filming, they saw it as normal or uninteresting and no one recognised Bill Murray. Not a clue who he was and they didn't much care either, anywhere else and people would crowd around making a huge scene.

The plot is loose and pretty dull in places I admit, if you have no interest in Japan then you won't like this methinks. I believe a little interest in the country/culture helps here. But essentially its just the two main characters chatting, eating, meeting and going about their daily routines in Tokyo. Over time they fall in love but can't seem to reach out and express this to each other. They both have family/relationship situations which hold them back and make things difficult, its actually quite a realistic little story.

Wandering around Tokyo lost a daze of neon lights and bizarre cultural differences. Murray is good with his little work/business sequences (dotted throughout) which offer some comedy, whilst Johansson does more discovering with a segment in Kyoto. A great couple of scenes with Faris offer more laughs when she promotes a Western action flick her character stars in. And a glorious small dinner sequence with Johansson, Faris and the underrated Giovanni Ribisi which involves much awkward small talk and slobbering as Faris and Ribisi's characters flirt.

Can't not mention the touching, soft, emotional almost spiritual soundtrack throughout. Absolutely gorgeous choices of music which compliment the individual sequences beautifully. As said the ending is a real tear jerker which you don't think will get you but it actually does. The track by 'The Jesus and Mary Chain' is playing as Murray's character leaves Johansson behind, gotta say this choked me up as its a lovely scene and really makes you care for the characters.

A classic underrated love tale that manages to grab you when you think your above it. A surprise hit for me plus a wonderful memory of a beautiful country.


The Fan (1996)

Psychological thriller...cast De Niro...check, give him lots of chances to grimace and stare down his nose at the camera with his trademark uncomfortable look of disgust...check. And that about does it for all the requirements needed to make a good thriller about a nut job.

A slick thriller directed by the camp Tony Scott. Yes it has all his flashy nods like plenty of rock n roll tracks, fancy lighting and glossy sequences but at the same time its very insightful. The whole idea of looking into the obsessive, delusional almost addictive human behaviour when it comes to sports and a mans love for the game.

De Niro is a knife salesman, right off the bat that doesn't sound like a sound occupation. He has a stressful time with his ex-wife who's trying to keep him away from his son, he loses his job and to top it all the new major signing for his fave baseball team is playing badly. And he really likes this new player.

The problem is De Niro's character has an over the top obsessive love of the game, his home team and the new star signing. He thinks he can change their fortunes almost, he used to be a player so he thinks he knows everything and how players should play, he gets easily carried away at games, easily upset, disappointed with the results and performances he's seeing and basically starts to lose it. Of course this is all perfect for De Niro as portraying a man on the edge, a kooky lunatic slowly growing more and more angered with his situation is right up his alley.

The way we see him with his son at the game shouting profanity at the field and the people around him, getting more and more agitated and scaring his son. Its really quite uncomfortable to watch and makes you feel almost sorry for him whilst at the same time kinda awkward or embarrassed. I'm sure many of us have seen real people like this at real games, it can be a nasty situation if it developes into something further. De Niro nails this beautifully with his famous scowls and 'you lookin' at me' looks.

The story here is of course exaggerated and goes to a much darker place, although I'm very sure there are folk out there that are this crazy about their sports. Maybe not to this degree though. It doesn't feel too realistic though as De Niro's character seems able to get close to these big time sluggers very easily, at bars, in the stadium, at their personal homes, in gyms etc...surely it would be hard to do this generally. The way he manages to confront Del Toro's character and do what he does, plus get away with it, is also pushing the boundaries of believeability.

The fact De Niro's character is a knife salesman seems a bit forced also, that's like 'what's one of the most dangerous yet easily assessable/concealable things a salesman could sell without raising much suspicion and use effectively to kill'. Would be too obvious if he sold guns. It kinda gives the game away straight away about what he's gonna do doesn't it. The whole development of the story is really predictable if I'm honest, you can see what's gonna happen a mile off and De Niro has done this type of role a few times before. But its De Niro's acting that keeps you hooked plain n simple.

Its all about De Niro (trying not to say his name in every sentence here), Snipes does a solid job as the big shot new signing with the weight of the world on his shoulders but you watch for De Niro's psycho. The film is covering old ground a lot really as we've seen Snipes do all this before also in 'Major League'.

Thing is you feel for De Niro's character at the end, he's just a guy trying to be with his kid, teach him about his love for the game of baseball whilst maybe having a shot at his dream too. He's not a bad guy really, he didn't intend for it to happen the way it does, he's almost forced down that route by circumstance and people's attitudes. End of the day you can see both sides of the coin for the two main characters. These big players wouldn't be where they are without the fans, none of the team would be, so the players do have to play for the team and for the fans, they owe it to the fans to do their best and show appreciation for their support.

On the other hand a player should ignore everything that goes on with the fans because as Snipes' character says, when you're hitting they love you, when you're not they'll spit on you, the fans are a fickle bunch. So yes a player should really play for himself to a degree, do what he thinks is best and strive to achieve his own goals, but you will always need the team, two sides.