Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Small Soldiers (1998)

I saw this when it first came out in the cinema way way back in good old 1998, the air was cleaner back then. *Cough!* sorry!...Anyway I didn't really like it as I recall, it was hyped up pretty strongly but didn't really live it up to it. Surprise surprise on a re-watch I have done a 180 and now do appreciate the film a whole lot more, I guess I didn't quite get the tone first time round.

Set in small town USA two sets of brand spanking new hi-tech toys are due for release but a small batch get an early chance of sales in a local toy shop. The shop is run by a humble man who has a slightly rebellious son, naturally this lad gets into some small fry high jinx (that builds) with these toys as they break loose and run amok. One set of toys are the good guys and one set are supposedly the bad guys, one group has been programmed to destroy the other and the local family is slap bang in the middle.

Basically this is a modern remake of 'Gremlins' and I never even twigged back in the day. The whole premise is pretty much the same albeit in a lighter tone of course, replace monsters with killer toys. Everything is very cliched and pretty stereotypical of small town America, the film is actually a very good little homage to those classic 80's teen flicks that involved monsters/aliens/the supernatural etc...Hell they even cast classic 80's stars Wendy Schaal and Dick Miller, who of course has starred in some perfect examples of typical 80's trashy horror comedies, including 'Gremlins' (that's not trashy by the way). Miller even plays a similar type of role to his 'Gremlins' character, direct homage to the genre right there if you ask me.

Had this been made back in the day it probably would have been pretty dark, but let's give credit where credits due, this film is also quite dark. It's not scary and it's not bloody of course but there is a nice undercurrent of evil that lurks within these toy soldiers. You would think how can a toy injure me, but give these little guys a big knife or nail gun and all of a sudden you've got a problem. This is how the film works well in my opinion, they don't hold right back with the action, yeah sure most of it is kinda silly, almost cute, but there are some slightly nasty moments where they have successfully tweaked the hairs on the back of your neck.

The sadistic knife-wielding Barbie-ish girly dolls are a good example of this. The sequences with them involved aren't scary but its certainly heading down eerie street as they scamper around with damage to their faces and no hair. Almost a PG version of Chucky...almost.

The toys themselves are a mixed bunch for me. On the one hand the gruff, butch, muscle-bound military special elite soldiers are really nicely. Love the cliched cartoonish caricatures of the typical buzz cut 80's macho action man, especially the cigar-chomping ones. Not only do they look like a typical dirty dozen team with each member a master in his own field (explosives, communications etc...), but they got Borgnine, Walker, Brown and Kennedy to voice them! awesome much?! The other two remaining soldiers are voiced by Tommy Lee Jones and Bruce Dern so really its nothing short of sheer brilliance. And again back in the day I didn't even realise.

Of course you have to remember that even though these little guys have been deliberately designed to homage their voice actors to a degree (and the action man genre). They are also supposed to be stereotypical action figures within the film, the type of toys that little boys would clearly love. Look at their names! Brick Bazooka, Nick Nitro etc...The characters work on two levels of the conventional stereotype.

On the other hand the Gorgonites are a very surreal bunch that didn't really fit the style of the film methinks. Their leader Archer is pretty cool looking and sounds epic voiced by Langella but the rest are a crazy ass bunch of monsters that would feel more at home in a Tim Burton fairytale really. I'm not sure why they didn't keep all the Gorgonites the same type of creature as their leader Archer just with different colours or patterns on the fur (go down the Thundercat route). I did like the dark twisted appearance of one or two of them sure, almost a bit 'Evil Dead-ish' if you ask me but they just don't fit this flick.

I do recall that a lot of the hype for this film was down to the Stan Winston effects for the toys. To be fair these effects still remain solid today, gotta give kudos to the actual design and creation of all those action figures because they do look great, I'd have one. The CGI is also not too bad these days, its used for the more obvious requirements but blends in well. On the whole they managed to use both real props/models and CGI effectively together instead of just relying on all-out computer effects.

This film shows me how you change as you get older, when I first saw it I couldn't care a less about it and didn't pick up on half the details. Now I can see clearly what they were trying to do and I think it works pretty well really. It's not anywhere near as good as some of the 80's classics but it can hold its head up high as a decent entry into the comedy horror genre. I say comedy horror with a pinch of salt as its not totally like that, more a watered down kiddie PG version but still good, still good.


R.I.P.D. (2013)

So I found out this film is based on a Dark Horse comic book which instantly got me somewhat excited truth be told. Yeah I heard all the negative buzz flying around about the film, bad reviews, the fact it bombed blah blah blah...but as we all know you should always see the film and make your own decision right. So yeah I was pretty curious about the whole thing mainly because of the premise which seemed dark and cool. It felt a bit familiar with another certain film sure but I put that to the back of mind.

Well that didn't work, no sooner has the main character been killed and sucked into plain waiting room, the 'MIB' copyright stands up marches down to you and slaps you across the face! But wait there's more, this isn't just a complete rip-off of 'MIB' (could almost be a sequel/prequel), there are heavy elements taken from various other films like 'Hellboy' 'Ghostbusters' and 'Beetlejuice' with all the paperwork and bureaucracy of the a degree.

In general I really got the impression nothing had been fully thought out here, there are some nice ideas, hell the whole plot is fun enough but its been made poorly. First off nothing is really explained too well, why exactly do dead people who don't manage to make it to judgement turn into monstrous ghosts over time? they seem to decay, why? While I'm talking about them how come the living can see them?! they are ghosts right. Then there is the terrible way the main characters can mingle amongst the living and not get recognised by people that may have known them when they were alive. Again they are ghosts, how come the living can see them plus the fact they look like different people or have new bodies just came across as lame and cheesy. I realise being a ghost doesn't mean you can never be seen, heard or cause damage but all these characters just act as though they aren't dead, you'd never guess this was about ghosts if you didn't know.

Everything seems so wafer thin in conception, there doesn't appear to be anything in place to stop the living finding out about the afterlife and all the monsters. When some ghost monsters run amok downtown that's it, everybody knows about the paranormal being true, no going back, the cats out the bag. On top of that I can't believe that kind of thing has never ever ever happened before, really? with all those huge crazy ass ghost monsters...never ever?? come on you're shitting me. The whole structure of the plot seems so fragile, one pick and it topples.

The gold pieces that form that religious statue thingy, it opens up lots of typhoon-like storms and somehow makes all dead people come back to the realm of the living...wut?? Why would someone create such a device? what would be the point of it? how would anyone benefit? and why doesn't God do something seeing as the film hints at an almighty power above (and below).

So much more could of been done, when Nick arrives in the Boston division of the Rest In Peace Department, the entire reason behind what has just happened (his death) is explained in about five minutes. No sooner is he told he accepts everything and joins the R.I.P.D. without a moments thought, no questions, no disorientation...nah he's good. We don't really see any background action or characters in the afterlife, there is nothing going on, its totally bland and boring mainly because they are trying to copy that Will Smith film. The interior of the Boston Division is seriously taking the piss with the pinching of ideas Jesus! it may well be close to the source material (or not) I don't know, but visually its virtually a copycat. Now I'm not saying the film had to be quirky and kooky like 'Beetlejuice' but its simply screaming out for some depth, something other than plain white walls and grey office furniture.

Its not all bad, as said there are some nice bits. I did like all the cops from different eras within the R.I.P.D., the handguns are quite neat looking and Bridges does play the rootin' tootin' yeehaw! wild west lawman to a tee for sure (if you can understand him, sounds like he's got a gob full of tobacco). Naturally I COULD compare his character to the grizzled Agent K and on the same note I could compare the wet behind the ears Nick to Agent J...but that's way too obvious. I could mention other scene for scene sequences but its not worth it, you only need to watch the trailer to get the gist, this feels like the low budget version of 'MIB'.

Yep that's right I said low budget, the film generally looks awful with shoddy CGI, uninspired ghostie monsters, cheap looking sets, costumes and above all errr...shoddy CGI. The CGI would have looked great about maybe ten years ago. Oh anyone notice there isn't anyone around in the city street sequences towards the end, totally deserted! where has the population gone?! I hate to say it but it does look like an average video game, the old cliche I'm afraid. Looks like the critics are right with this one, a pretty poor looking formulaic CGI filled shambles that is clearly heavily influenced by many things (or was it the comic book that was heavily influenced?).

Had this gone straight to DVD then you could look on it more favourably. On the other hand had it come out before 'MIB' over sixteen years ago, you could also look on it way more favourably. But as a major summer blockbuster release?! with those visuals!! come on guys seriously.


Monday, 28 October 2013

The Lost World (1925)

How many firsts can one film have? this historic movie is the first adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's novel of the same name. It was the first dinosaur based fantasy film which inevitably led to more monster/dino movies, the spark that lit the fuse as it were. And it was the first film to show animated models as the main feature within a film, or the main special effect...welcome to the lost world.

This being the first time I have seen the film I was surprised at the fact its basically the very first King Kong film. The plot involves a team of adventures, professors and scientists (and the obligatory female) that venture deep into Venezuela to a large plateau. The reason being firstly to rescue an explorer who has been lost on the plateau and because of his journal that shows sketches of dinosaurs.

So the team set out mainly to rescue but also to try and discover lost dinosaurs and naturally try and bring one back. It wasn't until the later of the film that I realised how much of an early Kong film this was. When they manage to bring a huge Brontosaurus back to London only for it to escape and run amok destroying half of Westminster, I was quite surprised. I really didn't expect to see that, there have been so many similar films that have used this simple premise but its interesting to see the very first of the genre. A little research and you will see the man behind the effects is none other than Willis O'Brien, the man responsible for the mighty Kong and Mighty Joe Young.

But lets not beat around the Jurassic bush here, this film is all about the special effects, it was America's first summer blockbuster if you will. Hell yes it was the first big blockbuster...the film even had product placement in certain scenes, mainly in London at the end.

The film now of course is very rough and has aged badly in places, but in my opinion this actually makes the effects look much better and adds a real sense of grittiness to the proceedings. A combination of stop motion model work and matte paintings set against the scratchy, darkly lit black n white actually brings the whole thing to life and covers any nasty obvious joins that would give away the illusion. Of course the model dinosaurs are somewhat jerky and tend to move erratically at times but in general the creature movements and behavioural habits are surprisingly well created.

When the Allosaurus attacks a baby Triceratops and the parents come to its defense it does actually look quite realistic. Clearly research into the way animals do behave in these situations has been used for the dinosaurs, you half expect a real 'Godzilla-esque' cheese fest but its better than that. The only issue I had with some dinosaur sequences is they felt separate from the characters plot, they didn't really connect in any way, had you taken them out it wouldn't affect the story. Most of them are obviously in there just for the visual spectacle which is fine, you do need some dinosaurs present if you're going down this route. But we mock modern films for doing the same thing don't we hehe.

There is also some brilliant use of scale in the sets and model use. Shots of the massive cliff face they climb to reach the plateau (although I have no idea how on earth they supposedly scaled that cliff as its flippin vertical!), the tree that spanned the deep drop, the mighty cliff face they descended from their cave hideout, the dinosaur fight on another cliff edge...lots of cliffs in the film. They all help to give the film a realistic sense of depth, simple tricks to lull the audience whilst at the same time essential ingredients for adventure yarns.

You can clearly see how the film has influenced so many creature films, from the jungle sequences to the rampage in London, its all very familiar if you've seen other stop motion classics such as Harryhausen's. The later live action sequences are grand too, the amount of extras and cars that we see dashing about in the London sequences is certainly an eye opener. You can see why people in the day thought the film was genuine and it terrified them because it does look like a realistic news reel. I can imagine that various elements of this film scared people back then, this kind of thing had never been seen before. I'll bet the ape-men probably brought gasps of horror as they do look pretty fearsome even now, the black and white accentuates their looks even more.

I can't deny that I did find the plot a little tricky to follow at times. This being a silent film all you get are the odd shots of text with dialog, but at times you don't get much so you're left to guess what's going on. The ending suffers from that to be honest, it fizzles out leaving you kinda wondering what actually happened. One minute there is death and destruction, the next the lead character is kissing the female lead and they drive off into a happy ending. That along with the constant organ (?) soundtrack throughout are the only things that I didn't really like, the music can become irritating as it never really blends properly with the film, seems completely out of place.

Being a monster/creature/dinosaur fan I did enjoy this...musky, grainy, stuffy old visuals included. Its interesting to see the dated effects and the slightly hammy acting and its also interesting historically of course (white guy painted up as a black man! his dialog screen caps also being written as a black man would have spoken at that time...presumably). Its not gonna be for everyone of course and I won't lie and say its a rollercoaster ride of thrills, it can be boring at times, but I think everybody should at least see where it all began.


Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Gnome-Mobile (1967)

A shiny penny to the man (or lady) who can remember this or has even seen it!. Directed by Disney maestro Robert Stevenson who ALL of the Disney films through the 50's and 60's!. The film also has various actors from other famous Disney movies such as the 'Mary Poppins' kids, Tom Lowell from 'That Darn Cat' and Disney stalwart Ed Wynn.

The film is based on a story by Upton Sinclair although how accurately I don't know. The story tells of two children and their grandfather who discover gnomes living in the Redwood forests in California. The trio help the two gnomes by escorting them to another wooded area looking for more of their kind. They run into trouble along the way as a freak show owner steal the gnomes and the fact that the kids grandfather is the owner of a logging company that is destroying the gnomes natural habitat.

Much like other classic Stevenson films such as 'Blackbeard's Ghost' this has been forgotten when up against other mega Disney animations. The 60's saw many live action flicks from old Walt which are admittedly terribly dated watching now but the charm factor is through the roof!. The visuals here are your typical vibrant colourful affair, the cheery ever happy acting, quirky sickening songs and those amusing sped up special effects.

I was impressed with the puppetry on display though, at the start of the film the gnomes are chatting with some animal friends of the forest and these creatures look great. Considering this film was made when it was you gotta give kudos to the craftsmanship on show. The effects overall are to a very high degree in general, the bluescreen work is of course obvious but does the job, while enlarged sets to force scale really work nicely, especially inside the Rolls Royce. The entire film has that bold cartoon look about it much like all the other uncle Walt live action films of the era but it does also suffer from feeling somewhat similar to those other films.

There is a nice car chase sequence which is pretty much the same stuff you see in 'The Love Bug', its cool and planted the seed for 'Herbie' but its too much of deja vu for me. Later scenes in the film do tend to feel like other fantasy films also, a bit 'Willy Wonka-ish' a bit 'Wizard of Oz-ish', not totally but you sense it. Unfortunately the film is no where near as great as those films, probably why its long forgotten. You do get the feeling they stuck the 'Mary Poppins' kids in there simply to try and make the film more attractive to audiences still high on that British vibe. Its only Ed Wynn who seems to fit in this fantasy world, even Brennan kinda feels a tad wooden and out of place (his 'Jaunty car' song is pretty awful).

Without sounding too cynical I can see why these films didn't take off as well as the animated films, the use of the same cast doesn't help with originality, I mean you could of stuck Dean Jones in here quite easily and nothing would feel any different. I confess to finding the finale also somewhat disturbing actually, the main young hero gnome is looking for a female partner, so he gets to choose a girl gnome at the end (spoiler aler...oh come on the films 46 years old people!). So all the girly gnomes line up and he gets to choose his sexy gnome wife! lucky boy, so basically we are seeing gnome prostitution are we not?.

Sounds over the top but the dialog coming from the elder gnomes do in fact consolidate my theory. After that the girls must chase and capture our plucky young gnome hero, the one who catches him gets to be his the whole choosing bit was a complete waste of time. This again seems really dumb, why would anyone run??! these sexy girls are running this guy down and virtually tearing off his gnome pants, oh if only!. Its all done in a very family fun orientated way of course but there does feel like a darker undercurrent here...or maybe that's just me and my sordid mind who knows.

The film is most definitely a Disney classic for sure, chock full of delightful characters, magical sequences of wonder, bright colourful scenery and charming silliness all based around old world fantasy creatures. I'm not so sure kids these days will get a kick out of it as CGI animation seems to be the thing. For me the film is a bit too wishy washy and sappy, not a lot does happen that is memorable and as I've said its way too similar to many other Disney films of the time. Even though the magic on display is created well it does clearly tend to struggle to keep things gripping and inventive, it can't really match the likes of 'Bedknobs and Broomsticks'.


Saturday, 26 October 2013

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)

The film that kick started the long long long TV series that was basically Star Trek under the sea. So the success of this film of course lead to the TV show which in turn was a big success and encouraged the creator Irwin Allen to go ahead and make other sci-fi TV series that all had a similar look and feel about them...'Lost In Space' 'Land of the Giants' and 'The Time Tunnel'. So this original film was the spark that ignited a whole genre of classic TV.

Yet despite all that...holy crapenstein this film was errrr...crap! Now I've seen a lot of these old fantasy flicks from the 60's but this has to be the most boring sci-fi I've ever seen I kid you not. The plot is nuts, something about a meteor shower that is on fire threatening the Earth with an extreme rise in heat temperatures. So the Captain of this fancy ass submarine comes up with a plan to extinguish these flaming meteors by firing a nuke at them on a certain day and at a certain time. It has to be this exact time and day so the nuke will put out the flames and blast the meteors back into space. Wut?? say again? repeat all after the plot is nuts.

The excitement comes from the fact that this plan is rejected (really?) and only the US President can authorise it. So the devious Captain ignores this, gets his sub into position and tries to get in contact with El Presidente before the time slot is missed, of course there is a saboteur on board which makes things even more exciting!

I mean seriously there is nothing happening in this film! the plot is too stupid for words and makes no sense. When you watch the film you do agree with UN that the main plan is nuts and its probably best to leave the meteors alone. So you spend the entire film thinking this bunch of sailors on this fancy sub are doing something really really dangerous and stupid...without permission! Of course we all know it will work but you still know its utterly stupid.

There are various issues the subs crew must battle against to try and complete their illegal mission, typical stuff like under sea mines, debris, a mutiny, equipment being damaged blah blah blah, oh and a giant squid attack too. Yep that's right, you can't have an underwater adventure without a giant sea beast of some sort attacking the main vessel. So right away that compromises the films semi realistic approach, at first I thought it was sort of serious, outlandish sci-fi but kinda serious with sensible elements. The giant squid kinda turns the whole thing into complete fantasy and ruins that feel, I mean what next? mermaids saving the crew?

I think one of the main issues for me was the fact the film just looks totally dull, the action is lifeless and visually its just bland and plain. All the sets are clearly sets (they used the same sets for the TV show), the colours are stale, the costumes are drab, the sub model looks like something you'd see in 'Flesh Gordon' (a dildo with a windscreen) and most of the film is set within this monochrome tin can. I get the feeling the sub has been designed like a spacecraft, sleek, smooth and intimidating like a shark, as apposed to the steampunk-like design of the classic Nautilus. A wondrous and fantastical craft ready to set sail into unknown deep sea what happened?

There are a few scenes outside the sub but nothing much inspiring goes on, the only sequence with some life is the squid attack naturally...but don't go expecting anything of Disney standards now.

Imagine the original Star Trek show but without any planet hopping or alien encounters, just the crew on the ship having mechanical issues and chats...constantly. Yep well this is pretty much this film to a tee, a tonne of blokes on a sub with the obligatory blonde female sidekick doing virtually nothing but talk, with the odd shaky cam action sequence for good measure (with obligatory red flashing emergency light). I don't think any of this film cast star in the TV show, but it really doesn't matter as even the likes of Peter Lorre can't make this film any better.

The films title sounds awesome and thrilling, how wrong could it be! I was straining to get through this, I do recall the TV show being pretty boring when I was a kid but I hoped this would be much better seeing as it was the acorn that spawned the oak tree. I can't see how this was popular I really can't, there were so many other better fantasy/sci-fi films out around this time and this film totally pales in comparison.


Friday, 25 October 2013

Nemesis 2: Nebula (1995)

The original film is a bit of a cult classic in the B-movie genre, trashy sci-fi hokum that somehow just kinda works with its gritty low budget feel. This sequel is more of the same accept Mr Pyun merrily rips off two classic sci-fi films left right and centre.

Humans have developed a new DNA strain that could put a stop to the cyborg threat. Its injected into a pregnant female who then escapes back in time to Africa 1980. There she is killed by hunters but the child is saved and raised by natives.

Now comes the copyright infringements, the cyborgs send a killer cyborg back in time to terminate the child who is now a very muscular adult female with a great ass. So that's a certain sci-fi flick ripped right there, then for the duration of the film another sci-fi is ripped off completely as we follow this bounty hunter predator as it hunts this female. I might add this cyborg bounty hunter has its own light bending camouflage, it growls like an alien creature, it has some kind of body armour suit and mask, its own HUD in its mask giving it various tracking and voice analyzing tricks and it has its own shoulder mounted laser...ring any bells yet?

But that's not all, what really amazed me is it took around 12 minutes before we get to see the films title. It took a further 25 minutes before we even get a word of English out of the main heroine! the film is spoken entirely in a native African language (I think, could be gibberish) by everyone for a good chunk of the film. So basically I had no clue what was going on, guess that's why there is a bit of narration at the start and those handy bounty hunter screen readouts.

As we delve deeper into the film we are given plenty of running action, plenty of chase sequences, then more running, and some more, and yet more! Most of the latter half of the film is watching the heroine run for cover whilst explosions go off around her. There is some kind of plot involving treasure and some guerrilla type fighters but to be honest I'm not really sure what all that was about. The main plot seemed to be our muscle bound heroine running from the Predator rip-off creature. I've never seen so much running in a film! running from things getting blown up, so many buildings, so many missed shots by this so called top cyborg bounty hunter Nebula. All this and hardly any dialog I kid you not.

Anyway it all ends as you'd expect surprise surprise. Despite all this it actually looks OK in places, Pyun isn't too bad at slow motion high octane action, a low budget John Woo if you will. The location isn't too bad either really, meant to be Africa but filmed in the US, it does the job though, not too shabby. Its all utterly ludicrous of course, some of the back flips and somersaults through the air are insanely daft, and she firing a gun at the same time! Thing is the film starts off reasonably sensible but just sinks into this overblown over the top nonsense...still its somehow quite enjoyable. Sue Price all greased up as the lead heroine helps of course.


Nemesis (1992)

So apart from 'Angel Town' this was Oliver Gruner's other best known vehicle, probably one of director Pyun's best known films also. The plot is again about androids in human form and borrows heavily from many many other sci-fi films most probably the Terminator franchise.

Despite the fact this is a low budget sci-fi action flick the plot is so darn twisty. Basically its all about a cop who is part machine (body enhancements), trying to track down and stop rebel freedom fighters. These rebels are figthing against the government that are allowing a new type of android to take over which is duplicating or replacing people, or something like that.

Of course Gruner's half android character realises what is happening and changes sides to battle against the evil government assassins. These assassins are led by the wonderful low budget sci-fi master Tim Thomerson and bad guy regular Brion James, both of which give brilliantly hammy performances.

To be honest the plot is messy and confusing, so many characters and names flying about its easy to get lost at times. That aside the action is actually pretty good throughout the film with some really impressive set pieces and stunt work. Its not original by any means but there are some great camera angles, cool weaponry, plenty of squib action all coupled with a low budget visual appearance which gives that gritty and realistic look.

I must also give kudos to the neat android effects, the odd moment when someone gets blasted and we see their robotic interior. You'd think it would look terrible but its actually quite good, not stunning but very acceptable if completely unoriginal. The finale fight sequence against a mechanical endoskeleton kinda reminds you of something.

Impressive cast of character actors too I might add, Pyun always manages to get good B-list stars. I gotta admit I do like the visuals in this film, that kind of slightly colourless/washed out, cyber punk, wasteland set dystopian future. The action is way over the top but fun whilst Gruner looks good and does fit into this world perfectly.


Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Monsters University (2013)

The boys are back in town only its not a sequel but a prequel and we gonna see how Mike and Sulley became friends. Yep its back to school for this next adventure into the world of scaring.

Mike is off to Monsters University to become a scarer, only problem is he's not very scary, but he's book smart, so he learns all he can on the art of scaring. Sulley is a bit of a jock and thanks to his privileged family background he has a good reputation and following. He's a good scarer and indeed scary but not so book smart, so in essence these guys need each other. Even more so after getting kicked off the scaring programme they must both work together with a team of nerds to win the scare games and get back into the scare programme (the word 'scare' is used by the bucket load in this).

My initial thoughts on this were skeptical I admit, another prequel which seems to be the trend these days, why not a straight forward sequel. These thoughts were virtually obliterated as Mike jumps off the bus and enters into the Uni. Do I really need to talk about visuals here? one word...awesome! these animated films just get better and better. Everything just looks so damn real! the slimy monsters look slimy, the furry ones look perfectly furry, everything has such a solid realistic sense and weight about them its fantastic. The colours are bright, bold, vivid and gosh darn beautiful.

On top of that the detail here is astounding, everywhere you look in each frame or scene there is something going on. Of course being set within a school there is plenty to create, plenty of visual gags, homages, in-jokes, parodies etc...the possibilities are pretty endless and sure enough its all covered here. Yeah sure a lot of it is cheesy and cliched, we've seen many of these high school-like pranks and party scenarios with jocks and dweebs before, its an old concept, but it all looks good enough to eat.

Its actually pretty cool to see a very young Mike Wazowski, he looks so adorable, I really felt sorry for the little guy when he gets pushed around. Once he's grown up a bit and voiced by Crystal that cuteness falls by the wayside but never mind. I really liked all the other characters in the school, it must have been hard to create so many unique looking creatures, there are some that look a bit lame, a bit similar, a bit Dino-esque but in general a nice selection. The middle aged textile salesman monster Don Carlton was a great little creation although he does look somewhat like Mario.

I really did like some of the fraternity monsters especially, the monster that looked like an eagle with horns and his mohawk/mullet-like hair. I also liked how they came up with stereotypical types of monsters which parody reality...the goth/emo kids, the girly cheerleader types, the porky kids, the poindexters etc...I REALLY liked the brief appearance of the scream can design teacher, like an overly hairy Muppet. It was also cool to see Randall back as for some reason I didn't expect to see this guy. So not only do we get to see how Mike and Sulley become friends we also see how Randall comes to hate Sulley.

The scare games predictably do go the way you know they're gonna go, but the finale scaredown is cool and fun to watch. What I liked is the actual ending to the film doesn't play out as you'd expect, there is a little twist and the good guys don't totally win in every way you'd expect them too...which is cool.

There are absolutely tonnes of good morals, good values and good lessons to be learnt in this film, a great motivational spirit lifter for all ages (especially the younger gen of course). Maybe a little bit more for the kids this time but still thoroughly entertaining, the perfect underdog story, or should that be undermonster? zing!


Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Toy Story of Terror! (2013)

The team are back...if you don't count the numerous cartoons and shorts over the years, but yet they're back. Yes despite my rather cocky introduction there I was pleased to see the toy crew back for more adventures as I'm sure everyone else was too. Much to my pure pleasure this story centres around a horror tale of sorts, admittedly not in the same vain as The Simpson's Treehouse of Horror tales which I was kinda hoping for but its all good.

That's not to say this short animated tale is all dark and creepy with elements of Cushing, Lee and Price, alas no (even though the intro does lean that way like its teasing you...damn them!). It's much more straight-laced than that and still takes place within the semi-real world we all from the films. Gotta be honest this did disappoint me as I really wanted to see a kooky haunted mansion type horror along the lines of The Addams Family, I really think that could have been cool.

The film does feel a tad tired I can't deny, the plot is the usual toys in trouble affair with the team getting split up and the others having to rescue them. It's not exactly genius but it just about works although the laughs are few and far between in all honesty. It looks good of course, all the characters are present and correct with their original voices by the original stars which is nice. Wasn't too sure about the pet iguana that acts like a dog, yes I know its a kids cartoon essentially but that just seemed too stupid to me, too toonish.

The best thing about this new short is easily Combat Carl voiced by Carl Weathers. This character easily equals Buzz in terms of great humorous dialog and his sheer retro design, the classic macho man action figure of the 80's and beyond. I also thought his mini version was a nice touch too, the type of smaller figure that would fit inside an action the small M.A.S.K. figures. Weathers was perfectly cast for this little role he really was, I loved how the action figure was basically a young Weathers probably based on his character in 'Predator'.

Then there was the awesome brief appearance of the Transformer type robot toy who comes apart and reassembles when required (looked a bit like Voltron), the fat superhero toy, the Pez dispenser and that Lego type character. End of the day the story is slightly weak I can't lie about that but its the great retro toy characters that keep you entertained. Fun for the kids because its an animated cartoon, and fun for the adults because we can reminisce about all these old toys we used to have. Surely you all remember how cool it was to see plastic soldiers in action in the original I right? Just don't expect anything as sizzling as the movies.


'can it Pants!, life ain't a movie, they're never coming back'

Monday, 21 October 2013

The Lone Ranger (2013)

' big flop Kemosahbee' Not happy with giving pirates a good kick up the wazoo, Verbinski turns his attentions to the wild west and the positively ancient character of The Lone Ranger (and Tonto). If ever there was a more cliched, old fashioned, easy going child appealing character its this guy...and he's been given the Bay treatment by his close work colleague Bruckheimer.

You only gotta look at the details in TV history here. This cowboy wears a brilliant white stetson, has silver pistols, silver bullets, often wears a one coloured outfit of grey, a red scarf round his neck, he never shoots to kill, he speaks well, he doesn't drink or smoke, his horse is also brilliant white and called Silver, he wears a mask which he never removes and he yells out 'Hi-Yo, Silver! Away!'. Yet despite all that the powers that be seemed determined to add a modern day semi serious feel with explosions, destruction porn and violence to this charming characters universe.

This creates conflict straight away because the film makers have given the film a more sensible approach, there is death and the bad guys are reasonably nasty. But then against that you have this ridiculous character who refuses to shoot anyone because its not right, hates guns and pretty much refuses to touch them. The dude goes around trying to arrest people merely with the power of his voice and his badge, it just doesn't work, these guys have guns and will shoot you in the face.

I didn't know the backstory to this guy so after a bit of reading I was actually stunned to discover this new film has followed the origins pretty accurately. John Reid goes off with his brother to capture the outlaw Butch Cavendish but they are betrayed by one of their own and ambushed. All are killed accept for Reid who is saved by Tonto the clown...errr I mean Native Indian. From this point on the duo work together, kinda, to capture Cavendish.

The story is told in part as narration by an elderly Tonto who for some reason is on display in a museum? wut? The guy is in an actual display case and appears to come to life in front of a young boy dressed as the Ranger. The whole idea is completely irrelevant and ineffectual, plus no one around seems to notice or care and the boy seems OK with moving on.

We all know the angle they were going for here, everyone has seen 'Pirates of the Caribbean', so it was no surprise at all that the escape of bad guy Cavendish at the start of the film snowballed into a gigantic action sequence that ends in a train crash. Not content with a simple stick em up! we are given this outrageously over the top sequence which is peppered with little touches that are suppose to be amusing but aren't. I can't deny it looks damn impressive but its so insanely stupid no one should of survived the events that occurred. Hook yourselves up to the suspension of disbelief machine folks, you're gonna need a lung full for this one.

Most of the film follows these two characters around from location to location as they attempt to find their quarry, of course as this is a comedy they bicker and fight the whole time. In and out of one dangerous situation after another meeting people who don't really matter (Bonham Carter). I still don't quite get how Tonto got out of that jail he was thrown in at the start, or when Reid wakes on top of that massive wooden structure which teetered dangerously on that tall thin enormous rock which had no apparent way up or down. Next scene he's on the ground talking to Tonto! what the hell!?

Must admit the casting is good in this, some of the main characters are portrayed well. Depp pretty much does what he does in all his films these days, he really doesn't like to stray from his self made winning formula. In short he does the job but we've seen it all before and it doesn't really stand up as well anymore. Armie Hammer? sounds like a lavatory disinfectant, he isn't too bad truth be told. He looks the part and sounds the part, he plays it a bit wet though, not sure which of the two main heroes is suppose to be the trousers of the operation as both are pretty drippy but I quite liked Hammer's performance. The best performance is easily Tom Wilkinson as the railroad tycoon who we know from the start is really the bad guy...its the facial hair and wicked grin. He puts in a sturdy offering with a serious tone, maybe too serious for the film, but he's good. I guess the same could be said for Fichtner as Cavendish, he's good but maybe a bit too serious for this film, have to remember this franchise is very lightweight...or its suppose to be.

I guess the main thing about this whole film is its not really anything to do with the Lone Ranger. Sure it has the Lone Ranger and Tonto in it but everything else is simply your run of the mill action movie fodder dressed in western garb. You still have every darn action cliche in the book and every darn western cliche in there too...obviously. They stick the classic Ranger theme tune in there once or twice just to make sure you haven't forgotten its based on the Lone Ranger but my god does that theme stick out like a sore thumb.

You have all this furious action with horses galloping on the tops of train carriages, a massive bridge getting blown to smithereens, heavy machine gun fire ripping things apart, people leaping from train to train, implausible stunts galore and a train plummeting off the destroyed bridge into a ravine. Against all that you then have this age old theme tune trumpeting away, but it just doesn't sit right at all, totally misplaced and it feels very silly indeed.

The best thing about this film is the visuals, the location work is beautiful. Mother Earth looks glorious every step of the way and along with some excellent costumes, sets, props and camera work this film couldn't look any better. Weeeeeell accept for the CGI horses leaping about all over the place and bluescreen moments that is. The film is kinda enjoyable but its a real mess, conflicting ideas and genres as a seriously dated character is dragged into the modern era and you can see quite clearly it doesn't really gel.


Thursday, 10 October 2013

Pacific Rim (2013)

The colossus, he blocked out the sun and darkness fell all around. Step aside Harryhausen, del Toro has brought giants back into the fold for a new generation utilizing CGI and a whole lotta destruction porn. A love letter to an obvious stream of cult Japanese creations, mainly Godzilla and various other 'Kaiju', alongside the other far eastern love of mechs or mecha.

Mission status: a crack or trench has emerged on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, some kind of portal to another dimension it seems. From this hellish region came the kaiju, huge monsters that have slowly ripped through our civilisation bringing us to our knees (but only in countries around the Pacific? What about Europe? They OK?). To combat this invasion humans build the Jaegers (why are they called this?), colossal robot mecha piloted by two humans, and for a time all was good. But the alien creatures appeared more frequently and became stronger, they started to defeat human defenses, so in a clever decision human leaders decide to scrap the Jaegers and build big walls...yeah that'll work.

Only then does one man come up with the sheer genius idea of dropping a nuke down the portal to try and break the connection between dimensions...seriously no one thought of this when the whole issue cropped up?? Nope they thought it easier to build implausibly massive robots and then big walls. Wouldn't the robots presumably take yonks to build? In the mean time the monsters destroy humanity? Oh and did anyone ever actually stop to think if these colossal time consuming constructions would actually have any effect on the monsters at all?? Doesn't the whole thing seem like a colossal gamble??..Meh maybe its just me then.

Now I will start off by admitting I obviously know what this film is aiming for, its a complete fantasy thrill ride and basically wants to show off big robots fighting big monsters, I see that. The film is a homage whilst at the same time being somewhat of a hyper B-movie in the same vain as 'Independence Day' was. There is a semi serious take to everything but at the same time its a hokey rollercoaster sci-fi ride that delivers exactly what you'd expect, exactly what you pay for and it doesn't try to hide that fact. In short if you go into this wanting a serious realistic approach then you're not gonna get on with this...but we all know this right?

The whole notion isn't exactly original lets face it, the usual mankind on the brink of destruction by an unknown alien force, this alien force has no real intentions other than to wipe us out and move on to the next world (heard that before right), time to call in the buff heroes who swagger a lot. As the film started I did find myself enjoying it, the giant mechs look good if somewhat stupid at the same time and the white mechanical suits worn by the pilots were super cool and much better than the black suits later on. I loved the detail on the suits as the pilots locked into them, really well done and I loved the massive scale of detail on the Jaeger hangers/command base. There is so much going on, clearly a lot of attention to small details with different types of personnel, equipment, machinery etc...It really feels like they have tried to create a full universe where everything has its place, everything can be explained, everything links to something and is functional. At no point did I ever see anything that I felt was just there to look good, everything seemed to have a purpose.

As time went by I started to grow slightly bored, there is character development and dialog/backstory but its dull, the characters aren't really very interesting to be honest and pretty much everyone acted really really badly. Why on earth they cast the folk they did I don't know, I liked how most of the cast were unknowns (to me) so kudos for trying that because its normally the best option. But Hunnam was awful and merely tried his best to be the new LT Pete 'Maverick' Mitchell, Kikuchi was the worst of the lot and appeared to have no acting skills at all plus she was really annoying and Elba seems to have this aura about him at the moment where everybody thinks he's the best thing since sliced bread for some reason (Cumberbatch much?). The other cast members were very hammy, did the scientist guys really need to be such stereotypical nerd-like goofballs? Oh and its a del Toro film, this means Perlman is in there no matter what...basically playing Hellboy without the makeup.

Then we came to the crux of the film, what its all about, fighting big monsters...big errr neon monsters, why did they go down 'The Phantom Menace' route? Yep I can't deny the fights at first were pretty cool, I was interested in the big flashy CGI...but only for a while. After I had seen the first couple fights the later ones became very similar and uneventful. I have to say I didn't really like most of the monster designs as they all looked a bit Star Wars prequel-ish, I don't understand the obsession with blue neon these days, at times the fights just looked like a big dark, wet, strategically lit CGI cluster (why no daytime fights?? What happened to the daytime??) and the giant mechs were just completely daft. When one pulled out a giant sword from nowhere just because one of the pilots happened to have a thing for katanas (she's Japanese so of course she does)...I groaned.

What I can't get my head around is the fact these mechs move the way they do, because they wouldn't. Yep I know its not meant to be taken seriously but really! These things would be so heavy and slow, one movement would probably take ages yet these things run and move like a regular human! and then there are the silly little moments like making the mech slam its hands together in a martial arts stance before battle...really? You'd probably damage your mech doing that. I'm also pretty sure most of these monsters would be much more agile and faster than the mechs and would defeat them easily every time. If the creatures are of reasonable intelligence I'm sure they would see a punch/hit coming a mile off. The mechs are powerful but (would/should be) too slow, it would take time to do things and then reset.

Also the idea that the pilots control them by being hooked up to each other via the brain seems soooooo unbelievably risky and unstable, god knows what you'd find out about the other guy, doesn't matter how well you know him/her. Wouldn't it be more sensible to make the controls more open for more potential pilots? surely doing it this way is just restricting yourself big time, you know there will be problems in the future with numbers through death, just seems idiotic. I must say I did like the cockpit interior though, a mass of LCD HUDs in various colours which looked both impossibly confusing yet ultra slick and cool, unsure how the hell those guys could see anything out of their windscreen though.

Their movements would cause tonnes of destruction in itself just by walking, wouldn't dropping into the ocean, walking and fighting in the ocean cause tsunami's? When they fight a monster in Hong Kong I'm pretty sure they caused massive amounts of damage just walking through the city, then we have the 'Man of Steel' issue, why didn't they try and move the fight out of the city? Yes I'm being picky but these things are obvious.

There aren't many fights actually believe it or not, the film is quite dull whilst you wait for the fights but then once you've seen one darkly lit battle with mechs stomping around you've seen them all. But I must ask why the monsters never seem to attack any military bases where the mechs are stored? Or why the monsters didn't try and destroy the mechs whilst in construction? That would have been easy no?

But despite all that the film is a comic book-like monster mash so you gotta put all that aside, if you can. The film is a well constructed homage to the cult genre and it does it proud I can't deny, but for everyone else not overly involved in this genre it really does play out like yet another factory line CGI stuffed Hollywood blockbuster production. Having del Toro at the helm has certainly given the film an edge in the visual department, mainly sets and monsters wise but that doesn't really alter the fact its no surprise this didn't do as well as expected. Is it possible the idea of Godzilla type monsters, big robots and even more destruction porn turned people off? Doesn't bode well for the Godzilla reboot.

Its big, its loud and its flashy, its actually a complete rip off from the 80's cartoon 'Inhumanoids' to a degree (look it up kids). Why did the pilots require that intense martial arts sparring training? How did that have anything to do with what they actually had to do? Is this because the mechs are suppose to be able to perform martial arts just like their pilots? Or was it just a chance to sneak in an obligatory sexy martial arts sequence just for the hell of it? Hmmm for shame Guillermo.


Wednesday, 9 October 2013

The Animatrix (2003)

With a slightly dodgy title this was I believe the first animated addition to a movie that acted as a sequel and prequel at the same time. A collection of nine short stories that gave both more insight into the films plus some individual tales of characters in a world run by the machines.

Final Flight of the Osiris: The first story is in CG animation which I didn't really like in all honesty. This tale is about the ship Osiris and her crews battle to deliver a warning to Zion whilst being attacked viciously by Sentinels. Everything in the segment looks good accept for the human characters if you ask me, there you have that typical plastic vacant look on their faces accompanied by so so lip syncing. The bleak dark work of reality looks great of course, the ship looks great and so do the sentinels, its just the human characters, but at least the story is a good one connecting dots to the second film ('Reloaded').

The Second Renaissance: A prequel to the entire trilogy and tells the tale of how mankind ruined what they had and how the machines slowly took over. Its unoriginal and deals with mankind inventing humanoid robots to serve them but treating them badly. How the robots slowly gain a conscious and one of them kills its owner which leads to a massive rethink in human/robotic relations and inevitably war. The segment is traditional hand drawn animation with the odd splatter of CGI assistance which I think is best really. It looks terrific as a montage of events accompanied by a cold sterile narration, really sets the mood. This is easily one of the most interesting stories as it gives tonnes of info about how it all happened.

The Second Renaissance Part II: Number Three continues on from where the previous segment left off and tells of the gradual descent into all out war between mankind and machines. It shows how the robots finally overrun and destroy most of the human defenses, kill off all world leaders and begin their construction of the matrix to gain power from human bodies. This is because man has blocked out the sun with a massive dark cloud of nanomachines which cuts off the machines primary source of power. Again the segment is hand drawn animation with CGI assistance and again it looks lovely. This second section is a much darker affair and really well executed, probably the best shorts in the collection.

kids Story: This is another good segment because it helps us to see how one film character came to be free from the matrix. Set between The Matrix and Reloaded it simply shows how Kid is a disgruntled teen who believes something is wrong with the world. He manages to contact Neo
via his computer and soon finds himself on the run from agents. This short has been rendered in a sort of rotoscoping method where it was clearly filmed in live action but then hand drawn animated over the top. The effect is eerie and unique but I don't think it suits the material here really. A very straight forward story which just makes the character a little more interesting when you see him in the film.

Program: Again another very simple straight forward short which involves a female undergoing a training simulation session. Things go awry when a male she recognises turns up and says he is going back into the matrix and wants her to follow. A very minimalistic looking segment, pretty much in black, white and a few sparse colours but its really effective with some stunning hand drawn artwork on display. It looks very much like the Genndy Tartakovsky Star Wars microseries but maybe a bit sharper.

World Record: This is one of the most intriguing segments as it basically tells the story of a top sprinter who runs so fast during a 100m race (his body energy build up) that his real body tears itself away from the matrix and he awakes in his pod confronted by a sentinel. He is zapped with an electric shock which sends his mind back into the matrix. A neat idea that rarely some people can rip themselves from the matrix under obvious situations of high intensity/stress. Again the animation is somewhat similar to the previous segment, sparse on colour, mainly black and white, very comic book-esque in appearance.

Beyond: This segment was one of the harder plots to follow. A group of kids are playing in area within a rundown building, this area is basically a glitch in the matrix and thusly odd feats can be performed such as floating. Other strange occurrences also happen such as shadows not connecting with their solid origins, doors opening into nothing, rain from a sunny sky etc...Soon agents come along and sort the problem out. This segment is the most stand alone story really as it doesn't really point to anything, its simply a tale of regular people in the matrix finding an error but not understanding what it is. The animation seems to be rotoscoping again for the main female character but hand drawn animation for everyone/thing else. It looks like a typical foreign cartoon to me, a Jap cartoon or maybe even French at a stretch. Its OK but it didn't thrill me in anyway.

A Detective Story: A prequel to the first film which has Trinity as a main character trying to help a private detective who has been hired to track her down...unbeknownst to him by agents. Much like Trinity saving Neo in the first film this follows the same kind of route but shows things don't always go to plan. A typical black and white noir style for this one, a bit cheesy with the full spectrum of cliches that go with the style. Even to go as far as having the good old Venetian blind shadows and setting most of the segment on a train with lots of flashing white lights. Does look good though.

Matriculated: This is another interesting segment as it shows a team of humans in reality who trap machines and plug them into their own man made matrix. They do this in order to show the machines more of human behaviour, positive human traits, hopefully to convert them to fight for mankind without forcing them, but if their own accord. Most of this story is plain surreal as its set within the man made matrix, this naturally equal lots of CG animation which I don't really like. Luckily its not all like that, when not in the matrix the animation is hand drawn and handled by Aeon Flux director Peter Chung, and you can see it clearly. The main female character bares a striking resemblance to Flux, a little too close really, but its a nice touch and saves us from too much CGI.

When I saw this years ago I didn't really like it, I don't think I really got it back then. After a revisit I do understand the segments more and they do fit into the trilogy really nicely, 'The Second Renaissance' for me, being the best and most interesting and of course 'Osiris' being more like the original films which is cool. My only wish is maybe they should of stuck to hand drawn animation with CGI tit bits for all segments, it would feel somehow more complete. As it stands now it feels too random, some parts don't feel as if they belong in the same universe..but that's just me. Its still a very slick compilation of artistic styles each with their own little twists and ideas that only help to bolster the franchise.


Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)

So 'Pitch Black' was a sleeper hit which meant it was inevitable that a sequel would come along, unfortunately Hollywood never learns and they messed it up as per usual. The return of Riddick is a strange convoluted mess that mixes various other film elements and completely loses what it was originally. But does that make it a bad film?

Now I just saw the director's cut and it does clear things up (apparently) over the cinematic version. I honestly can't comment on this as I haven't seen the cinematic version since it came out in the cinema way back in 2004. Bottom line apart from extra fight bits and various other odd small scenes the main crux of the director's cut are a few flashback sequences where Riddick sees a spirit-like entity of one of his people. This female gives him more information about his past and homeworld.

The whole plot in general is choppy, we get to grips with these Necromongers coming along and threatening every living soul including Riddick. So you think you're gonna get a full on war between the naughty legions and Riddick. But no! Riddick gets carted off to a prison planet for half the film and the naughty legions are virtually forgotten about till much nearer the end.

I think this film split fans right down the middle, myself included. The original film was a semi serious, semi grounded sci-fi thriller/horror that was gritty, dark (no pun intended), not many over fancy effects, adult based and had a small fry cast. It wasn't original, a typical alien/last man standing survival thriller but limitations brought the best out in the final product. This sequel was completely the opposite of that first film, everything they did right for 'Pitch Black' they pretty much did wrong for this, polar opposites.

Its amazing how the Hollywood bigwigs never seem to learn. This film was chock full of massive CGI effects, in your face effects, lots of gun fights, lots of fisticuffs, big CGI alien creatures, big CGI ships and stunt men flying all over the place. The cast is bigger and of a higher grade, sets are bigger and deeper, costumes are much more lavish and most importantly, the biggest issue (as usual), they went with a PG-13 rating. There obviously weren't as many limitations for this bigger budgeted flick as the Riddick universe has been greatly expanded, which isn't totally a bad thing I might add.

But as usual, the first film did surprisingly well so the bigwigs wanted another film which would capitalize on the new franchises popularity. In order to do this they demand a watered down film for the wider audience which is bigger in every aspect. I did also get the feeling that Riddick was suppose to be a mere human in the first film, but the character has been massively over expanded in this sequel. I say over expanded because clearly in the first film none of this stuff had been intended, it was (I think) just a band of humans fighting aliens after crash landing. The creators were simply able to shove all this into the films universe afterwards to make this sequel more explosive and interesting...I think.

So we end up with this sci-fi which has totally lost its gritty beginnings and has now become much more of a Flash Gordon-like fantasy. The bad guys are basically Romans in space with a suspiciously 'Dune-esque' appearance. There is a silly elemental race of aliens that look like something out of Harry Potter, a bleak cliched prison planet, cliched Jedi-like spiritual moments and the evil hordes aren't really explained. Why do they wish to convert everyone? what is their religion exactly? do they brainwash people? what happens to get those marks on their necks exactly? where do they come from? what is this 'underverse'? what is their goal? is their leader a half dead spirit of some kind? can you tell us more about the 'Quasi-Deads' please...I also think the actor playing the lead villain was trying too hard to make a memorable bad guy, felt a bit too forced to me.

Despite all that and the obvious selling out by everyone involved (if they had a choice that is), the film is still highly enjoyable. For me this is down to a few things, firstly the visuals. Now I know I just said the original works better for lack of glossy CGI, but I simply can't deny that this film looks crisp n sexy, if you like the sci-fi genre then you can't go wrong. Its that trashy pulp sci-fi appeal with a dash of space opera that appeals so much, of course its expensive pulp sci-fi but I have to admit I liked the atmosphere here.

The other reason is simply the main character of Riddick. This guy is your typical musclebound hardass sure but he looks distinctive with his glowing eyes, his particular blades of choice and of course the goggles. As I said in my 'Pitch Black' review this guy is like the new 'Snake Plissken' but in space, he just oozes coolness. Along with Riddick I must also mention Toombs who is another great character that I'd like to see more off. A bounty hunter with a ruff Han Solo-ish appearance and a real bad attitude, great stuff.

So yeah, despite all its cliched guff, muddled plot and general unoriginal silliness, the film is (for me at least) quite enjoyable. It does remind me very much of 'Star Trek Into Darkness' in the fact that both films are basically crap...but still enjoyable sci-fi romps in their own way. You just gotta look past the crapola and have fun with the science fiction if you can (more here than in 'Into Darkness' I might add). Bet you didn't see this review twist coming eh.


Monday, 7 October 2013

The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury (2004)

Just like the animated spin offs from 'The Matrix' and 'Van Helsing' we were also given a small animated feature showing us the events leading up to The Riddick sequel. This short was a sequel to the original 'Pitch Black' but was it really required?.

We see Riddick and the other two survivors leaving the dark planet of the original film. In transit to 'New Mecca' they get captured by some mercs lead by the evil villainess 'Antonia Chillingsworth' (Chillingsworth...chilling, scary huh...get it?) who likes to capture famous criminals and put them on display in her ship. She does this by freezing them basically, freezing them into statues, a bit 'Batman and Robin-ish', a bit cheesy but hey.

Now this isn't too old really, its only 2004, but I was amazed at how poor the CGI sequences were. There aren't too many, mainly a few ships, some internal corridors and one or two creatures. But it must be said that they look pretty awful to be honest, really obvious and very plastic looking, quite shocked. The sequences with Riddick's ship look like an amateur did them very quickly, so plain and lifeless!.

Other than that the animation is nice n quirky, not overly fantastic but it does the job. Hard to criticise art and animation styles because everything is more so a matter of opinion and of course some styles can be deliberately hokey/simple/rough looking. This style is typical anime style with a slightly surreal edge, the characters are drawn in exaggeration at times, overly defined or amplified if you will.

What is nice is the fact all the main characters are voiced by the real film cast to give that extra layer of cannon, coolness and fanboyism. I mean lets face it no one can really replace Vin Diesel as Riddick right. The story ticks along fine, a bit simple but its OK, we see the intro of 'Toombs' which is a minor highlight really, not particularly important but hey its there...a small token mainly for the sequel of course.

Overall I found this pretty average really, nothing too special, by the numbers in terms of both animation and excitement. It didn't really need to made in all honesty, it serves no real purpose other than to keep fans happy until the second was released, and does it do that? well maybe I guess. A bit short also I might add but at least it served up plenty of blood n gore which always looks good in these anime adventures. This animation does the odd things a film can't because the bigwigs want a film for the mass audiences, we've all heard that before right, this has more free rein.


Pitch Black (2000)

This modest sci-fi thriller pretty much came out of nowhere with hardly any big names and an unknown director (to me). The small fry cast (apart from Keith David maybe) contained a certain Vin Diesel in his first major lead role, a role that has pretty much encompassed his whole career to date, along with 'Fast n Furious'.

Its a simple tale really, hardly original, just a basic survivor thriller set in space. A group of people on a spaceship are forced to crash land on a remote desolate planet. The planet is a vast arid desert with no signs of life or water or so they think. Into the fold comes Riddick, a prisoner who was being transported by a merc. At first he seems a threat to the stranded crew but they all soon realise they are not alone on the planet and must trust Riddick to help them.

So yeah its nothing special in terms of plot, the planet they crash on is yet another desert planet (popular in sci-fi) and the hunter/prey aspect is as old as the hills. The cast playing the crew are pretty bland also, none of them really interest you, the strong female lead played by Mitchell is actually annoying and an obvious wannabe Ripley type character (difficult to avoid that comparison I'm afraid). The fact she wanted to kill the crew to try and save the ship as it went down just annoyed me even more, some leader. But I guess that sets up the finale doesn't it, she was still annoying though.

The rest are dull, Keith David playing some religious Muslim preacher type and Hauser as usual being the shifty guy, the rest are merely alien fodder. Its no surprise at all that the film is saved and interest levels are heightened by Riddick the criminal. Its not specifically because he has big muscles, but mainly because he's a bad ass, a typical Clint Eastwood type anti hero who doesn't say that much, growls a lot, mutters the odd cool tagline, has a rebellious anti society/law view on life and an all round kick your ass attitude. Of course his glow in the dark night vision eyes just look uber cool and add to the intrigue. A real Snake Plissken type character in all essence but he doesn't show much evidence of being a cold killer as tagged throughout.

Admittedly it is a disappointment that you find out he paid a surgeon for his special eye job because he needed it for a spell in a dark dank prison. This kinda takes away the mystery behind that idea as you tend to think he's some kind of special mutant-like human or something. Although as we all know we do find out he isn't human after the sequel.

I think the other thing that impresses with the film is the visuals and especially the way the film has been lit. You can see the film has been purposely overly lit (almost over exposed) for most outside planet sequences to try and show a more alien terrain and atmosphere. Its a simple trick really that shows initiative and does work at times although at others it can look cheap. There is also a nice variety of color intensities going on throughout too, all to show various perspectives (often forced) such as alien vision, Riddick's vision, heat, reflective, shadow, glowing, cool etc...its all quite inventive.

But there are some nice CGI effects in here too, some nice skylines, space panorama's and a cool eerie eclipse. There were obviously limitations for the film and you can see this, but all in all everybody did really well to make the film look glossy and realistic. A classic example of having to think and work hard to make the film work, where as if you have too much money you can become too complacent and lazy letting too much CGI do it all for you.

The alien creatures are so so and not overly stunning. Nothing wrong with them, the bat concept works well for the story but they do look a bit too CGI, bit plastic and shiny. Really this could be called attack of the giant vampire bats in space, but hey its a sci-fi horror that's not suppose to be serious.

After watching I still gotta ask why the aliens don't often attack Riddick though. These creatures are suppose to be darkness feeders and attack anything they come across in the dark, even more so if its bleeding. Yet so many times Riddick is wandering around alone in the dark and never gets so much as a bite, weird. Also I'm guessing the aliens started to attack each other for lack of food? and the presence of aliens in this universe must be common knowledge? because no one is bothered when they come across the mass of alien skeletons on the planet (the big ones) or the live aliens.

Must just mention Riddick's goggles, he needs them for protecting his eyes in light, yet he does tend to wear them almost all the time, even in the dark. Many times in dark sequences he has the goggles on or removes them to see in the dark. If you're in the dark why not just take them off completely? you wouldn't need them at all. I'm guessing this is for the image, also to make the odd luminous eyes reveals more dramatic I think.

Yeah its silly in places but its not suppose to be ultra realistic. I mean would you be able to pop out of cryo-stasis without batting an eyelid, feeling right as rain within minutes ready to pilot an out of control spaceship? doubt it. The film has that happy balance of your typical action hero flick crossed with some semi serious sci-fi so its not completely ridiculous. The basic premise is a trashy B-movie-like sci-fi action flick and it could so easily of bombed, but it works perfectly mainly down to ingenious use of light effects and a superb anti hero character.