Friday, 31 January 2014

Elysium (2013)

What starts out as quite a grounded realistic take on the future quickly descents into the kind of action flick you'd half expect to see Arnie in about 20 years ago. In fact this film reminded me very much of the Verhoeven ultra violent sci-fi 'Total Recall' with its themes on class levels, the rich and the poor and of course the hyper levels of violence.

The distopian plot is pretty simple really despite the films initial intelligent appearance. Matt Damon is a grunt on Earth doing hard labour for peanuts, Earth is now a polluted ruined disaster zone. Up above orbiting Earth is the space station Elysium where all the wealthy folk live, they enjoy a perfect existence with health care, clean air and luxury. Through negligence on his bosses part Damon gets a massive dose of radiation and has five days live. So now the clock is ticking and Damon must get his ass to Mars...errr Elysium so he can treat himself.

There are many good and bad elements in this film and straight away that is a bad one. The technology in this film goes from a really impressive realism with all the robot workers, military and police, to downright insanity with the medical care. The rich have these pod-like machines that will basically cure you of ANYTHING! absolutely anything can be fixed. This really does sound too good to be true even for a sci-fi film, its gets so ludicrous that even when the films bad guy gets his face blow off these wonder machines still manage to patch him back together bringing him back to life with clear memories of what happened before he was 'killed'. No recuperation required folks, good as new.

As said the robots in the film look amazing, very realistic and practical if you ask me, you could almost manufacture them right now!. I did love the visuals in the film from start to finish, its really glossy where it needs to be. The space station Elysium looks like the big space wheel from '2001' but the immense detail of its interior when we see flybys from spacecrafts is breathtaking, it really looks good. Most of the ships you see aren't overly original in design but again they all look functional, realistic and very cool, the bad guys ship is a very sweet looking bounty hunter ride, eat your heart out Boba Fett!. On the flip side Earth looks perfectly grimy, bleak and desolated, we've seen it all before but it still looks good.

I did enjoy the themes throughout this film, again hardly original stuff with the old class rivalry between the rich and the poor. Interesting to see an American film tackle immigration in such a stark way, especially when everyone on Earth appears to be Latino/Spanish speaking folk (minorities) and they are all made out to be ruthless, dirty, tattooed, gun toting scavengers who aren't able to hold onto civilised society without white folk. Many also don't appear to be able to do anything constructive accept criminal activities...until Damon (a white guy) comes along and saves them all. Oh and is Damon the only white guy left in this region? or Earth? well him and his nasty boss. Anywho life is cheap on Earth and the rich see it as expendable, no surprises there then.

Then of course you have the hot topic of healthcare (for the Yanks) and the fact that it appears to be free and easy (I think it was, everyone has one of those pod things). Its the perfect utopia with no scruffy ethnic minority immigrants clogging up the system. Most of the people on Elysium appeared to be white with blonde hair...those damn blondes, the mark of evil I tell ya!. Basically all the white people were bad, accept Damon, everyone else was good and repressed...not too many messages in this film huh. Oh and the really bad guys were white South Africans!! that's like...doubly bad!.

Nice touch that Damon and all the other grunts earn peanuts slaving away in factories making the very robots that make their lives a living hell with a lot of stern bureaucracy and tough laws. Still not original but it works.

So I enjoyed this film a lot right up until the point where the bad guy merc turns into some kind of comicbook super villain right out of a W.S. Anderson flick. Seriously I half expected Jovovich to pop up and fight him. Now I can't deny this guy was a good baddie but my God was he over the top, I mean they really tried to make this guy some kind of iconic badass. Head to toe in an admittedly cool looking military suit and looking very Halo-ish, lots of big hidden knives and guns all over the place, some kind of energy shield from the Star Wars universe and to top it all just in case he wasn't quite ultra cool enough...a samurai sword strapped to his back. Yeah this guy was meant to be the ultimate villain alright, I don't think they could possibly give him anymore weaponry if they tried, seriously tooled up.

But despite this uber visual coolness on display the film just went downhill so fast towards the end. Such a predictable mess of action movie cliches. Damon gets his exoskeleton suits early on but doesn't really do too much, they save it for the inevitable fight between him and this uber badass South African bad guy (yep he was really South African folks and his name is 'Kruger' *groan*). Two badasses wearing exoskeleton suits giving them super strength, speed, power etc...must fight to the death in yet another 'Matrix-esque/Underworld-esque' battle, gee I wonder who wins after all that wire work.

Don't get me wrong the action is top rate and extremely brutal at times. The gun battles we see are terrific and pretty realistic looking even though its futuristic gear. It all looks very much like certain popular FPS videogames to me at times, not a complaint I assure you as its really thrilling to watch, especially on Bluray. The entire film is super slick and a treat for the eyes to be sure, sound too, a very polished action film.

Highly thrilling ride from Earth into orbit that's for sure but its just a shame its a film of two halves. On one hand it seems like it could of been a very decent intelligent (if somewhat questionable) science fiction story based on life in the year 2154. but there's a clear line in the sand which the film crosses and it goes in a completely different direction, it turns into Arnie fodder. So I find myself torn liking both halves but knowing they don't really blend too well together in my opinion. Plus it does get way too stupid towards the end and the actual ending its self is soooooo corny it was embarrassing.

With some heavy themes this does feel a lot like a modern 'Robocop' but it doesn't have that dark satirical angle. More like controversial stereotyping and strong propaganda softened with sonictacular turbo violence for the masses. Definitely makes you think on various levels which is good and you do get bang for your buck which is also good. A very jumbled film but solid certainly.


Thursday, 30 January 2014

Legendary: Tomb of the Dragon (2013)

I can't get my head around Scott Adkins, he's acted alongside some of the top action men of all time and in some big action flicks, but most of his work is straight to DVD, badly acted, throw away hokum. You only gotta look at his filmography, half of them you probably haven't heard of.

I give you exhibit A: this time Adkins hangs up his martial arts skills and tries his hand at the Indiana Jones angle as a cryptozoologist (mythic creatures instead of mythic places and objects). After the failure to capture...errr a very large bear its off to China to hunt down...errrm a very big lizard, oh OK a dragon then. Its Adkins and his goodie goodie team of kind scientists vs Lundgren and his baddie team of hunters. Yep you've guessed it, Adkins and co wanna find and study, Lundgren and co wanna hunt and kill!.

So a US accented Adkins leaps about in this really iffy low budget creature feature which doesn't really scare or thrill. Nothing much happens at all accept for the odd obligatory water sequence where faceless people get snatched by the monster. Its all very 'Lake Placid' like but with really bad attempted humour and some atrocious acting all round.

The dragon in question isn't really a dragon naturally (shame), they go down the more realistic approach and merely make it an overgrown gecko type lizard...salamanderzilla. So no fantasy element just a stupid looking big lizard that doesn't really look threatening. The finale sequence in the caves really shows the creature in a bad light, hokey ass CGI. The moment Adkins wrestles the beast is fantastically crappy looking, even Harryhausen's dated work looks better.

The only thing more hokey than the CGI lizard is the lurching Lundgren and of course this being a flick with the two action men they gotta fight. Amazingly though neither of them gets their shirts off, old fashioned fisticuffs for this one.

The entire film is basically trash accept for the finale which is slightly more exciting, as said the lizard looks awful but at least you get plenty of eating action. It feels like a homage to those old Doug McClure fantasy flicks more than anything, then you could easily forgive the schlock on screen, problem is it isn't. Why would the Chinese hire Americans to search their countryside for a man eating amphibian?.


Sunday, 26 January 2014

RoboCop 3 (1993)

With the imminent release of the new Robocop film I thought a rewatch of the notorious trilogy bookend was in order. Directed by Fred 'The Monster Squad' Dekker and written by graphic novel icon Frank Miller how could it go wrong? Well in all fairness I don't think they did go that far wrong abeit a few obvious changes.

First of all as we all know the overall violence had been watered down hugely. Of course there are some that will argue that blood n bullets don't equal a good film, and they'd be right, but in the case of this franchise I personally think you need it. Like various other classic adult franchises ('Alien', 'Predator', 'The Crow' etc...) they simply work better without restrictions on who will be watching them, free reign...because they are for adults.

So straight off the bat all the dark satirical graphic novel type violence and blood has almost been taken out. I say almost because the film does have some good moments. You can tell its an old 90's film because it does still manage to squeeze in some violence and edgy bleakness. A small scene where an OCP suit leaps out of their tall skyscraper due to their stock crash. Next scene we see a 'blink and you'll miss it' shot of him hitting the ground, well you don't actually see that. Plus during some actions scenes where bad/good guys are gunned down you do get some good old fashioned bloody squib hits just like the first two films. Most don't have any squibs but they are in there so the film isn't all PG-13, pretty sure you get that these days.

The actual plot isn't too bad in all honesty, its not too unfamiliar but it works for this franchise. OCP control the cops and now have this special unit specialising in clearing out this specific urban region in Detroit to make way for Delta City, yep the're STILL trying to make Delta City. Naturally OCP are trying to make out this is a positive thing for Detroit and they're actually helping people relocate, but of course in reality they are acting like Nazi's and stormtrooping everybody off in buses without a care for families, property, well being etc... The concept works but its a forced one, most of these OCP guys are dressed like Nazi SS officers with long trench coats in militaristic fashion. They round everyone up just like the Jews were in WWII, many end up getting shot but all that is covered up by news propaganda. Their leader played by Brit John Castle is a decent Euro villain who snarls perfectly.

So you throw Robo into the mix and at first, like the cops, he's following OCP rules but eventually he sees how wrong it is, as do the cops, and they all change sides. Its all very predictable, there are a few predictable sequences where the drama is suppose to be heightened to rouse your emotions, like when the cops turn up to help the civvies or when Robo goes after the bad guy who kills Lewis, but the film never really manages to charge you up as it should. It tries hard to do so but just feels flat. There are some nice visual moments (Robo's intro sequence) but nothing as iconic as the first film, hell even 'Robocop 2' couldn't quite give us anything that visually iconic.

I think the worst part of the film was the inclusion of the Japanese company working with OCP. This really didn't need to be in there and I don't think you would of missed it if it wasn't. The most heinous crime for the film had to be the Japanese samurai assassin cyborg which was like something out of a trashy low budget ripoff flick. The daft part being this cyborg looked infinitely more advanced and sophisticated than Robo, more like a Terminator, and could have easily kicked his ass all over. Well he could of if he didn't just do martial arts flying kicks on him. He does manage to slice Robo's forearm off but somehow Robo is able to just stick that gun enhancement back on, despite his arm being half sliced off by a katana.

The killing of Officer Lewis definitely meant the end of the road for this franchise though. I was still quite impressed they got quite a few cast members back for classic characters, OCP suit Johnson, Casey Wong, Bixby Snyder and Sgt. Reed are all back, as is a nice well done cameo from ED 209 (unaltered too). I was also impressed with the makeup on Robo's face when his visor is off. They managed to get Burke looking exactly like Weller! no dilution anywhere, the makeup effects are spot on and look great as does the rest of the suit. I also think Burke did a good job as Robo, he accentuates his walking and mouth movements a bit too much if you ask me but apart from that he was good. All sound effects on Robo's movement, his gun, ED 209 and visual graphics for Robo's vision are all perfectly recreated, good continuity.

Yeah so jet pack Robo felt a bit too much like a merchandising ploy but...damn I'll admit it I quite liked the idea. Its not too incredible as an idea and it did look quite cool. I think the limitations on budget and effects hampered what could of been something pretty neat. All in all this film isn't as bad as I recall to be honest, it carries on nicely from the previous films, story is OK, effects all look as good as previous films...had Weller been involved who knows. Bottom line for me is the lack of graphic violence, grimy seediness and dark satire, a must in a Robocop film.


Saturday, 25 January 2014

Suburban Commando (1991)

Holy tight ass spandex Batman! a vehicle all for Hulk Hogan! luckily Christopher Lloyd is there to save the day kinda. An alien warrior that oddly enough looks exactly like a human being must save Earth and the universe from another set of aliens who also happen to look exactly like Human beings! what are the odds?

So for better of worse Hogan is an alien that is basically space Rambo, he wears unconvincing plastic looking armour and carries unconvincing plastic looking weapons with flashing lights on them. It all looks like its been made by a fan for a comicbook convention, basically very good cosplay.

The film also kicks off with a pretty bland looking 'Star Wars' rip or homage however you wanna look at it. Its virtually shot for shot as a huge lumbering spacecraft slowly glides over the top of your screen like the Star Destroyer in 'A New Hope'. We then see a pretty terrible looking space battle with familiar looking laser shots all over and the intro of the supreme bad guy who is a short bald human. Maybe a bit of 'Spaceballs' going on there, mirroring Rick Moranis.

Most of this film comprises of small action and comedy sketches set up for Hogan to abuse with his big frame. So you get various silly scenes where he beats up bad guys, stops petty crimes, helps kids, helps old ladies, the odd pratfall and goofiness due to his super strength etc...its all very predictable and childish but then it is a kids flick.

In all honesty Hogan is a reasonable comedy actor and does ham it up nicely, he is also clearly great with kids which is nice and adds a genuine gentle touch to the films infantile bits. The best part of the film is the pretty sweet alien monster costume which appear when the bad guy transforms (yep he was a nasty alien creature all along). This suit is actually pretty scary for a kids flick which isn't surprising seeing as its a Steve Johnson creation. Other than that the rest of the effect are tacky as hell but that does kinda add to the charm I can't deny.

A typical low budget looking B-movie affair that didn't really do anything other than give Hogan some work to do. but despite that it is a warm fuzzy little flick with a good heart.


Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Death Becomes Her (1992)

A film about rich and famous folk trying desperately to cling on to their youthful looks by any means necessary, well mainly women in this case. Gee not too far from the truth really is it, seeing these two aging Hollywood female stars, neither of which are particularly attractive in my book, acting narcissistic egotistical and spoilt whilst under thick layers of makeup. I think the trowels of makeup are the only way these two can achieve any remote level of beauty frankly.

The plot is all about a magic potion that...errr magically turns people into younger firmer versions of themselves and gives you immortality.  A potion of youth and eternal life, but the trick is you must disappear from public view after ten years to keep the secret...errrrrrm secret, yeah. So naturally you can expect the cliched spectacle of seeing various ultra famous people popping up who have never really died from the public eye, forever immortal stars people wanna believe are still with us eg. James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis etc...

The first thing that hits you is how can this supposedly sexy siren (Isabelle Rossellini), who's real age is 71, keep this amazing secret under wraps in LA of all places!. She has dished it out to so many famous people who all abuse their fame it seems, its incredible she hasn't been discovered. She's an illegal magic potion dealer with muscle bound henchmen who are also all on it. I would of thought it might also get harder to hide this when people die and start to walk around like decaying zombies as we see slowly with the main two characters.

The other niggling bit is where exactly does she get this potion from? she seems to have quite a lot of it, does she make it in the basement?. And while I'm on it, her massive mansion, is that suppose to be 'disappearing from the public eye'?! really?? I mean seriously you couldn't get anymore attention if you tried!, the house is a freakin' castle!.

Yes the films plot is totally full of holes but I guess its not suppose to be remotely serious, just a silly fantasy. To a degree it does work, this is mainly down to the terrific special effects that at the time were virtually groundbreaking. It was quite good ghoulish fun seeing Streep and Hawn battle it out 'Beetlejuice' style with all the undead goofiness. Willis doesn't really do much accept scream the whole time and the sets have a nice modern gothic style accompanied by crashing lighting and thunder, which is cool for all the goths out there (like myself).

When it came out this was a pretty big hit as I recall, stayed in the cinema a while and I did enjoy it when I saw it (at the cinema, mum LOVED it!). Looking back it doesn't really hold up, sure the effects are still quite neat and there are some amusing bits, but generally its so stupid, lame and completely makes no sense...which ruins it in the end. Its pretty much a live action cartoon with a wafer thin plot, the poster is also a complete rehash of 'The Witches of Eastwick', best stick with that movie though.


Monday, 20 January 2014

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (2013)

So this idea still hasn't burned out it seems, the now highly dated secret camera footage clip movie concept thingy. Oh man back in the day Jackass was admittedly fresh and at times very amusing if more awkward and embarrassing. These days the whole thing is somewhat stale but there can be the odd moment of squirm inducing humiliation that forces you to blush uncontrollably whilst watching.

The 'plot' sees grandpa Knoxville taking care of his grandson whilst trying to deliver him to his real father because the kids mother is off to jail. This inevitably creates one setup sketch after another as the old man and young kid make their way to North Carolina. Of course this being Jackass all these setups are real time hidden camera gags where the general public are unaware of the film being made.

The big question is how many of these people were actually aware of the film crew? well it does seem pretty genuine throughout no doubt. There are a few spots where I couldn't help but think someone caught on but its not overly important. The fun parts are seeing the reactions from people when things happen, much like Sacha Baron Cohen's antics its like a car crash and you just can't look away (Although Cohen is more clever and more in depth with his verbal assaults and risky actions, Jackass is more of a dumbed down cartoony comicbook approach).

Problem is everything is pretty average in terms of shock or ideas. Most of the scenes raise a slight giggle but none of it is hilarious by any means. Knoxville is an 80 year old man so you can guess the type of old man jokes and pratfalls you will see, its not brain surgery. So stereotypical elderly people gags aside there are one or two more amusing bits. The male stripper club/bar which appeared to be for black people mainly was quite embarrassing, the old hanging testicles gag was reasonable but it was just the whole touchy PC factor of it...racially, sexually and age wise. The top three hot potato topics.

Next to that was the rather odd all American biker gang called  'Guardians of the Children' which seemed kinda weird really, Lots of fat hairy men in black leather with tattoos looking out for young kids?. You gotta have a biker gang bit when travelling across the US don't you, I liked the predictable crash into their hogs at the end. There was also a very brief and again predictable wedding crasher sequence involving a heavily laden table. But the most amusing and shocking sequence was the all American little girl beauty pageant which truly exposes the grotesque, dare I say paedophile-esque activities of some people. Not only does Knoxville and the young Nicoll mock the event but they lampoon it in a way which most normal people see that kind of competition, by insinuating that these over pampered girly tots will become spoilt emotionless princesses or straight up strippers bordering on whores.

So the odd hint of a good laugh can't really save the film from being a bit flat. Its not particularly shocking or outrageous, I guess the worst bit there was Knoxville getting his old man todger stuck in a drinks vending machine. I prefer it over the old Jackass with their disgusting toilet humour and accidents/injuries which could really make you gag, but at the same time this just feels too much like a cheesy half hour TV show ('You've Been Framed' or international equivalent). The gags fire by quite quickly too, trying to cram in as much as possible clearly. Believe it or not, yet again, the rather predictable finale between Knoxville and Nicoll does show some half decent emotion and empathy, its brisk corny and clearly done to ignite the regular folk within the scene (the bikers), but it does work on a simple level.

The final credits showing behind the scenes moments within the film and a bit of extra footage is actually pretty good. Its nice to watch real peoples reactions when they discover it was all a prank scene in a movie. Must actually be a nice thing to discover if you think about it, unless you haven't said or done anything silly of course.


Sunday, 19 January 2014

Braddock: Missing in Action III (1988)

Chuck is back and he's wearing his bandanna!. This time he's found out (conveniently by some creepy reverend who just happens to be in the US from Nam for what seems like five minutes) that his wife is still alive and well (sorta) back in Nam. Old Chuck thought she had died during the fall of Saigon. To make matters worse she has had his child! omg!! now Chuck is seriously pissed and you better bet your ass he's gonna KILL EVERYONE!!

So as you might expect this film plays out pretty much like the original and sees Chuck going back into the jungles of Nam to kick ass. Of course, as you might expect, this being the third film its bigger, louder, a bit more impressive with stunts and explosions and ever so slightly more bloody...but not much, oh and Chuck still won't swear. To add spice to this adventure old Chuck most endure the sight of his wife getting executed by the evil Vietnamese General not too soon after his initial rescue attempt. Holy wonton soup General! now you've REALLY done it! Chuck's gonna bite your nuts off whilst using polite profanity.

Its probably the best of the trilogy for me because its just that bit grander yet still maintains those glorious 80's visuals and vibes that really set the stage for a retro offensive. Chuck is the epitome of the one man army, he parachutes into Nam with his own personal speed boat loaded with gear, treks through the jungle unaided and taking no malaria tablets, finds the enemy base, crashes it, saves his wife and child and then promptly gets caught. But fear not! Chuck escapes after some mild torture, gets his MASSIVE assault rifle, heads back to the enemy base, saves a whole tonne of other kids recently imprisoned and cooly dispatched all the bad guys in a super-duper array of slow motion bullet hits and explosions.

Its a serious film but at the same time its also a cheesy action flick. I could mention many things such as the fact none of the kids get injured at all during the main escape despite bullets, shrapnel and debris raining down on them constantly, but I won't. Of course, as you may expect, this being a Chuck flick there must be some douche bag US officials trying to stop his mission for political reasons so he can come across all rebellious and righteous. Well that box is totally checked.

In short (yes I know this hasn't been short) the film is great fun in a tame Rambo type of way...but I'm sure you all expected that. Its Chuck at his best killing the bad guys, being heroic and morally right in every way...hell its like watching 'Mary Poppins' with an assault rifle. Much more visually impressive and exciting than the first film, not as serious and bleak as the second. It starts off seriously but soon descends into that familiar hokey action packed scenario where Chuck goes around snapping necks without breaking sweat. God Bless the Stars n Stripes emblazoned across Chuck's chest.


Friday, 17 January 2014

Missing in Action 2: The Beginning (1985)

Well if that title doesn't tell you all you need to know I don't know what will. Both of these films were filmed at the same time, back to back, but for some odd reason the powers that be decided to release the sequel first then this film as a sequel prequel. Why exactly I don't know as it makes no sense whatsoever, I don't think there were any issues so why muddle things is a mystery.

This film simply tales the tale of how Braddock got captured and held captive in Nam before breaking out and getting to the point we see him in 'Missing In Action'. Its all very straight forward and like the other film, very by the numbers step by step action flick fluff.

Mind you this film is slightly more adult than the first film. Most of the plot takes part within the POW camp and shows us some mildly nasty stuff. The odd bit of torture, beatings, mock executions, real executions, torment, getting burned alive with flame throwers is a bit harrowing in a semi-harrowing kind of way. Nothing that will make you lose sleep, its not a dramatic epic true to life event flick, but its based on the reality of real Nam POW camps and does offer a touch of emotion.

The evil sadistic POW camp leader is nicely portrayed by Soon Tek-Oh. Much like Drago in 'Delta Force 2' this film is saved by his smooth villainous ways, his almost charming tone of speech, wry smile and merciless manner. His henchmen soldiers are all your standard Vietnam war types if I can say that, they just appear very stereotypical to look at I guess. Same can be said for Chuck's boys, militant and loud mouthed yanks with blonde hair, blue eyes and the token black guy (who dies). As for Norris...well its business as usual with the headband, Uzi and his lumberjack looks. He says little and acts badly while doing it, but we don't ask that of Norris do we, we just want him to grunt stare and kill bad guys tamely.

The film looks better than the first that's for sure but I'm starting to get bored of bamboo huts within green South East Asian jungles. Still we are given some more explosions, bigger ones this time and a more interesting array of deaths for various military personnel good and bad. Its still fun as we see Chuck wear down the evil Colonel and survive his torture tricks. It is more realistic than the previous film but overall it does also feel a bit of an excuse just to see Chuck take out an entire camp of bad guys...again.

Still its on par with the original film in my opinion, the more adult approach is welcome adding some tension, the corniness of the first film has been cut back. Its also funny and hackneyed that when this film was made it was common practice that the goodie black guys all get killed off whilst most of the blue eyed white guys survive to fight another day, old movie cliches huh.


Missing in Action (1984)

Chuck's first main franchise and one of his classic actioners. Only two years after the release of 'First Blood' you can see where this idea main have spawned from eh. In fact a script by James Cameron intended for the Rambo franchise was the inspiration for this very film so there. But since then this film itself has been copied many times, the ever popular one man army with a big gun.

The mission, Chuck only just got back from Nam where he was held prisoner by some nasty Vietnamese. Once back in the States he realises there are still US POW's MIA back in Nam, so what does he do?. Well he packs up and goes back into the danger zone to find them of course. Isn't there a chance he might get killed or recaptured you say? pfft! Chuck Norris laughs in the face of danger, he tweaks the nipples of fear, he curses politely at those who stand against him.

So I'll leave the extremely obvious Rambo similarities aside and just give my views on the action. Well it takes time to get there that's for damn sure, a long time. There is much build up and deliberation as Chuck works out what he's gonna do and how he will do it. Takes him ages to find his old army buddy for a start, not sure why that guy was such a big secret with the locals but there you go.

Once we do hit the action its...well OK I guess. Dare I say its identical to 'Delta Force' in the sense that you never see any blood, violence, squib hits (not many) etc...I've mentioned before how Chuck's films tend to be like A-Team episodes haven't I, well its deja vu again. Now I'm not saying its bad because its not, its reasonable fun watching Norris run around gunning men down, but its hella tame.

What I love about this film is the horrendous editing and feeble accuracy by everyone involved shooting a gun. So many times you get a shot of someone firing a machine gun (bad guys), just standing there and firing continuously at an enemy yet they never hit a thing!. You don't see any bullet hits, no sound of bullet hits, no ricochets nothing, they just stand there firing blankly and never running out of ammo, its quite amusing. All the while the other person is doing the exact same thing haha both firing continuously at each other yet nothing is happening around them, doesn't matter how close they are or how well hidden they are, classic.

It really is a low rent Rambo, gotta say it, Rambo minus any blood, violence and real tension. Norris just waltzes in and terminates everyone without even bothering to aim much, whilst the enemy couldn't hit a barn door right in front of their face, glorious!. Bottom line that's what you watch it for, the classic hokey action which so many films homage and have spoofed ('Hot Shots 2').

Chuck wins the day, was it ever in question? no, he doesn't even get a scratch bless him. The explosions are grand, chop-socky fighting and the action sequences are as corny as a corn on the cob...but its still fun to watch I can't deny. The minute I saw Chuck rise from beneath the murky river waters brandishing his huge M60 machine gun clad in those classic army fatigues with head band...I knew it had all been worth while.


Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Lone Survivor (2013)

This film was made by Peter Berg, the same guy who made 'Battleship'!...well I guess that explains the casting of Taylor Kitsch again. Man talk about not learning lessons, Kitsch was the only guy in this film that genuinely didn't fit the bill, next to Wahlberg and Foster it is clear.

This film is based on a real event back in 2005 when the US managed to get some of their military killed...yet again. Four SEAL's are dropped into enemy territory in Afghanistan for surveillance and reconnaissance but are soon discovered by local goat herders. After releasing them the heat is on as the team must evac asap before the Taliban come after them, sure enough they do.

The beginning of the film is very interesting as it shows real footage of real men going through hell to try and become SEAL's. From there on we do get some time to get to know the team that will be our guide through this ordeal, not a lot of time mind you but its enough. There isn't much hanging around as the film moves quickly into the main crux of the film, before you know it we're sneaking around the rocky bush in a mountainous region of Afghanistan.

I'm not gonna sweet talk it but this film is all about the long fightfire between the SEAL's and the Taliban after their mission was compromised. There isn't much else to the film other than that, but what you see is damn intense. At first the small team have everything under control taking down the enemy calmly and smoothly and it makes you feel at ease, it feels like a cool action flick. But bit by bit the team become more and more overrun and seem to be becoming outnumbered as the fight continues. The men are forced to move from spot to spot desperately trying to find good cover to return solid fire and the intensity of the action becomes greater and greater. You are on the edge of your seat the whole time this fight rages on, you know from fact that only one will survive and you know who, but it doesn't detract from the immensely harrowing fight for survival taking place before your eyes, its relentless.

This firefight must be one of the top 'action' sequences I have seen for some years and the fact its based on reality drills it home hard. Seeing these four guys slowly getting battered, bruised, shot and exhausted by the continuous siege of the enemy is sobering to say the least. What really hits you is the decisions they had to make to carry on, the fact they had to jump down cliff faces as they were pushed back. When watching these sequences I did find myself wondering if the film wasn't embellishing on the truth somewhat (only the remaining survivor can really say), its possible but apparently not. The same could be said about each of the SEAL's getting shot various times, it did seem a bit too Hollywood to me, how could these guys be getting shot over and over and still be carrying on? I have since read the wounds on the SEAL's shown were gotten from medical records and are precise!

As the story gets deeper we then see how a US MH-47 chopper is blasted out of the sky by an RPG! Again this is based on reality and happened but you couldn't have scripted it better if you think about it. A terrible set of events but it makes for a thrilling film no doubt and you gotta give Berg and his cast kudos for bringing it across for all to see. I was impressed by both Wahlberg's and Foster's performances here, not just because they are the big names on campus but the clear determination on their faces to bring the horror and realism of the situation to the surface whilst truly honouring the men they portrayed.

It does of course feel very patriot as you would expect with a US military flick and the focus is more on the action in the main battle rather than the characters. One let down of the film being the entire fictional Hollywood finale which wasn't required at all, but rather shows us that all Hollywood is concerned about is the bloodshed and violence in the event and adding more just in case. The whole thing does feel like war porn, just seeing these guys shot to bits slowly in a fracas that got out of hand quickly and the US lost, this kind of thing has probably happened many times and we'll never know. The US seem to be very good at messing up their military ops and then making courageous patriotic films about them, cynically saying that is.

Never the less the film is a hard hitting visual and audio spectacle that does manage to convey to us what happened with the majority of the film being truthful. I know it sounds cliched but this is easily 2013's 'Black Hawk Down'. So Mr Berg there you have it, you have found your niche, less 'Battleship' crapola, less Taylor Kitsch and more films like this.


Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The Monster Squad (1987)

Bunch of savvy kids that have their own secret club, a neat treehouse base and end up on a spooky adventure trying to stop supernatural could say this has a 'Goonie' influence. Hell the young boys even have a fat kid amongst their ranks and he wears loud brightly coloured shirts too.

The plot is hammy as hell but it is suppose to be a homage and twist on the classic B-movie horror genre and of course Universal horror monsters. Putting all the big name supernatural beings together and sticking them in the 80's (present day back then). All the classic monsters including Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, Gill-man, the Wolf Man and The Mummy teaming up to try and take over the world with a supernatural amulet, only the kids can stop them. The only way they can be stopped is to open a portal into limbo and kick them through...this whole idea visually looks identical to the portal sequences in the 'Evil Dead' franchise.

So the whole thing is really cheesy and silly as it is suppose to be a kids flick, but it is?? There is actually some quite edgy scenes in the film with visible blood and body parts! when Wolf Man gets blown into pieces for example, nothing much hidden. Some scenes are also a bit scary for the younger viewer in my opinion. Again Wolf Man attacking people and transforming in classic 'American Werewolf' style, stakes through various hearts with blood, Dracula trying to actually kill the kids and the makeup doesn't skimp with realism.

The monsters all look as they should in classic style but they certainly aren't tame by any means. Wolf Man has a much wilder vicious look which is pretty scary, Gill-man is the best if you ask me, he looks terrific, whilst Frankie is as expected as is The Mummy. Its only Dracula who doesn't really thrill, the casting seems a bit off to me, the guy in the role just doesn't look right, he's too young and 'modern' looking if you get me. There are also Dracula's vampiresses who look as you would expect but they have no purpose in the film, kinda under used idea really, clearly crammed in.

Naturally there are plot issues a plenty which don't really matter but they do stick out. Why exactly does Dracula have Frankie in the first place? Where did Dracula get that big black slick custom hearse?? he's only been in the US about one day! and how did he get a hold of that big mansion? is it his?? The most obvious to me was why exactly Gill-man, The Wolf Man and The Mummy all joined Dracula in the first place, they all just appeared and teamed up. So before hand what exactly did Gill-man do? he just like...lived in the swamp? how did he and The Mummy know Dracula had arrived in the region? I'm guessing it was his supernatural powers. None of the monsters have any real backstory, it all just happens.

The silliest of all was in the finale when Van Helsing appears from the portal to drag Dracula through it. But if Helsing was in limbo how did he get out to do that? and wouldn't he wanna try and stay in the real world once getting out?! I'm pretty sure it wasn't easy.

Its certainly a strange beast this film, its hardly for kids with the blood, monsters and Dracula going around snapping cops necks, yet it is aimed at kids with the young Goonie-esque line up. The young cast are good but the whole time you can't help but think they really wanted Corey Feldman, Haim and Astin in the main roles. Pretty much cast everyone from 'The Goonies' in this and while you're at it call it 'Goonies 2'. End of the day the film was just an excuse to bring back all the classic B-movie monsters and have them looking top dollar with modern makeup (for the time of course). And it works plain and simple, the plot is daft with many holes but it doesn't really matter, its a flick for ghoulish monster lovers with a touch of Indy adventure for good measure.


Sunday, 12 January 2014

The Family (2013)

This is a Luc Besson film so you know right from the off there's gonna be a slick gun fight somewhere in here. Question is does this story require such a style from the action director? This is a slow paced story about mobsters, an adaptation of a novel called Badfellas which kinda spells it out for you really doesn't it.

The plot is easy, De Niro and his family are in the witness protection program to try and start a new life whilst evading the mafioso who are trying to kill them. The reason? because De Niro (an ex-crime boss) insulted a rival mafia boss and then snitched on him after a failed hit attempt.

What follows is a black comedy about this violent crime addicted family that are trying to blend into a small French town out in the countryside. De Niro is the ex-mafia boss who gets angry very easily and likes to inflict pain on people who deserve it. Pfeiffer is his wife and she too is a slightly unhinged woman who won't hesitate to resort to violence when upset. Then there are their two kids, one teenage girl who like her mother will beat the shit outta anyone who upsets her. And one teenage boy who is quite clever, influential, sly, manipulative and with skills in fraud...but he can still be violent if needs be.

In short this family is kinda like the mafia version of The Addams Family. On the surface they all appear normal but underneath they are all violent, trigger happy, aggressive, untrustworthy lifestyle mobsters that will snap and go berserk very easily. The only difference is they try to keep that darker side under control and under wraps.

I guess this film is amusing in places but its awkward at the same time. There are moments which are sorta funny but then there are moments that are pretty nasty and you don't know what to think. Yes its not suppose to be a serious mafia flick but the violence is pretty serious and doesn't stray to far from old De Niro films like 'Goodfellas' or 'Casino'. Seeing the sexy young blonde daughter beat a nerdy French kid half to death, or other girls, is kinda hot but also kinda disturbing. At the same time De Niro gets up to his old movie tricks by beating guys to a pulp with a baseball bat or dragging them along the tarmac behind his car, tied at the ankles by rope that is. The violence is quite graphic at times.

So really its every old mafia movie cliche rolled out once again. The fact they cast De Niro in the lead role really makes it even worse because he's done this stuff so many times it not really very entertaining anymore. Add to that your stereotypical looking cast of scrawny old mafia bosses accompanied by big fat henchmen and short squat balding hitmen. Exactly the type of characters you'd expect to see in a film like this, its been done!

The big main angle of this black comedy is seeing this hardened New York mafia family trying to fit in with the soft cultured cheese eating French locals, that's it, there is nothing more. Problem is we can't care about any of them because they come across as merciless psychos. The finale is the predicted flashy Besson shootout which does excite somewhat but it too is over pretty fast. Where are all the residents of this town when all the gunfire and explosions kick off?? you'd think someone would get more police. Its also pretty stupid that the bad guys kill all the local police/emergency services and a few residents, that won't gain much attention will it geez!

There is just nothing to keep you interested here because its been done about a squillion times before, it couldn't be anymore repetitive and unoriginal. I think the only cliche they left out was casting Joe Pesci.


Thursday, 9 January 2014

Red 2 (2013)

The OAP secret agent club is back and the makeup levels have increased tenfold. The over the hill Expendables strike again and this time there are new members to the team...sort of.

Mission status: your bog standard, obligatory, run of the mill, over the top James Bond type secret agent tomfoolery with 'Mission: Impossible' styled stunts and vehicle chase sequences. Throw in light-hearted comedy to soften the violence and utilise lots of age jokes.

I think the problem here is firstly this genre is so so so so so so utterly and completely flooded with so many films that are all the same with the same action sequences, its just dull. There is absolutely nothing exciting about watching these aged actors pretending to be action heroes, under layers and layers of makeup attempting to make them look young and fit whilst the whole time its simply watching stunt doubles. I mean really, what's the point? half the film isn't the actual cast!.

Willis clearly doesn't care anymore, the guy is done, past it and doesn't care about acting, he should retire. Louise-Parker is the most annoying female I've come across since Sandra Bullock, she merely smirks, grins and acts coy the entire time, that's all she and Willis do! perform awkwardly as a couple together, its dreadful. Watching Mirren is literately like watching my gran (God rest her soul) in an action flick! its embarrassing. The only person to have more makeup on than Mirren was Zeta-Jones who looked like a frankfurter, how much makeup Jones?? it doesn't make you any sexier or a better actress, give it up.

Only good old Malkovich still manages to shine with his bumbling trigger happy persona and Hopkins isn't too bad as the under assuming scientist type with a secret. But wait! the powers that be have really gone to town this time and have tried to hire every aged/aging British thesp they can get their hands on. Enter Thewlis as some other secret agent bloke who is a dab hand with a gun...unsurprisingly. Cox is also back again as Mirren's Russian love interest but does nothing accept sniff her boots.

After all that we have Lee Byung-Hun who really sticks out like a sore thumb. A primed firm fit buff martial artist who can take down hordes of men single handed yet can't defeat old man Willis. Surely this dude could and should kill the whole team without breaking sweat, its like he should be in a totally different movie.

Nothing of much interest happens for the whole film in all honesty, a few fights, a few shootouts, a dash of lame comedy, Willis and Parker displaying some of the worst acting you've ever seen etc...Its only at the end do we see some fast n furious action...errr in the form of a 'Fast n Furious' styled car chase a Lotus that came outta nowhere. The action is hyper yet dumb, so very dumb. I love the standard modern action movie cliches of bad guys spraying these fancy cars with machine gun fire yet no damage is visible, plus no one ever thinks to shoot out the tyres. The less said about the hideous helicopter crash that Willis and co walk away from the better, oh so they are invincible super agents after all.

A complete and utter rehash of the first film which somehow manages to be less exciting, not as funny and with tired performance from Willis. First film was quite quirky and fun seeing these old boys kick ass, now its just deflated and repetitive. There just doesn't seem to be any point to this films existence other than simply to try and make more money, just crank out another, no thought, no worries, roll out more of the same, no one will notice or care...its got Bruce Willis in it.


Red (2010)

You know this idea had to come along at some point. Take the basic action premise of various spy flicks like Bond 'Mission: Impossible' and 'True Lies', then make the main characters retired old agents, super spy pensioners.

The plot is pretty much like any other flick in this genre, corruption that leads all the way up to the top, assassinations, intrigue and cover ups. Its Bruce Willis and his ex-team members who have been targeted by the CIA for termination due to previous unearthed information. So its up to them to get to the bottom of the it and uncover...errr the cover up.

The film is yet another comic book adaptation of another comic I've never heard of so I can't compare. A lavish cast from top to bottom because its a big Hollywood production, thusly the visuals and action are also lavish as hell. Now whether or not this is a good thing I'm not sure, I don't know how accurate this is to the comic book firstly and secondly I think it can take away from the whole experience because its too 'Hollywood-ish.'

There's nothing wrong with a glossy action thriller but they do tend to look the same. You don't really feel invested in the story because its all so neat, clean and shiny, there's no grit, no real sense of danger, all the cast are dolled up in layers of obvious makeup (Mirren) and you know no one of any real importance is gonna die and if they do chances are they will come back in the sequel.

That being said I can't deny this film is a reasonably fun ride with semi decent action sequences that all do look quite comic book-esque. The sharp visuals do give it a certain bold colourful style that comes across as quirky but with some dark undertones. I do like how the film is violent to a degree, its not a blood bath but you do see bullet hits, injuries and plenty of death...yet it seems to get tamer towards the end methinks. My best description would be akin to 'Kick-Ass' but not as violent and without the profanity. It is quite fun to see older action heroes taking out elite hit squads, the sight of Helen Mirren using a massive tripod mounted anti tank machine gun in a ball gown was quite funny.

It is all very predictable to be honest, this ain't no Bourne plot folks, did you really think Willis would lose his damsel in distress?. Some good action sequences, amusing dialog mainly coming from Malkovich who was the best character by far and a really good fight between Urban and Willis amazingly. The very end sequence unfortunately is too daft and comes across more like a Monty Python moment rather than a top action flick. For people like myself who don't know anything about the comic book the hook is old folk as super spies which is admittedly fun, apart from that its basically business as usual with nothing too ground breaking going on.


Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Treasure Planet (2002)

Avast ye scurvy space lubbers! I just recently watched this on Bluray (1080p), holy coconuts it looks good! And bare in mind this film is twelve years old now. I recall when this was released and boy was it destroyed by the critics, really panned, but I can't understand why, this is only the second time I've seen this since the cinema and I loved it.

The idea of sticking this classic 18th Century set adventure into the sci-fi realm is actually a sweet one, I'm surprised it has not happened before. The whole concept really does fit the space adventurer aspect nicely but of course there are some bits n pieces that don't add up. Like why on earth would all spacecraft in the far distant unknown future be built around centuries old galleon designs by humankind? And are those ships actually made of wood??!! Why would these ships require sails? And how come no one (mainly humans) dies from exposure to deep space? There isn't anything to protect anyone accept a gravity force field. Kinda odd seeing a young Hawkins high up on the ships rope ladders with the space winds blowing through his hair.

Are all buildings in this future made of wood?! Can there be that much wood left? Why are various alien species wearing centuries old human attire? All aliens speak the human language of English? Are they actually using rope on these ships?!! ROPE! And there doesn't appear to be many humans left now I think of it...just Hawkins and his mum or so it seems. I could go on but at some point you gotta let it go, its Treasure Island in space with aliens and robots, its just suppose to be visual fun and it is by gum!

Silly absurd nonsensical plot issues aside the whole aged steampunk/historic aesthetic look is really pleasing to the eye. Some of the space sequences really do look gorgeous, a cosmic ballet indeed. Of course the film is dated which means dated CGI is evident throughout, some obvious and some not so. Its nothing too horrendous and is tolerable. Some of the best looking CGI is easily the crescent moon shaped spaceport which borders suspiciously on Mos Eisley. Where as some of the worst CGI would be the huge whale-like space creatures and the rather over the top finale on treasure planet.

The characters are a fair bunch and fairly enjoyable to watch. Old Long John has been crafted into a half alien half Terminator style cyborg which is curious. Sounds stupid but it actually plays out OK and looks pretty good. Jim is your standard rebellious scruff of a boy who also strangely looks familiar to John Connor from 'T2', I think there is some definite influence there. The rest of the crew are satisfactory but nothing amazing, obligatory insectoid type guy, 'Star Wars' Cantina type alien, floating blob, Cat-like female, one eyed alien etc...bog standard alien designs really, possible homages I guess.

I must confess to not liking Martin Short's characterisation of robot B.E.N. with his insanely loud grating voice. The way this character is portrayed as a robot gone mad is just annoying and kinda old. The kind of role you'd give to Robin Williams and his annoying crazy loudness. The only voice I did like was Murray's Irish take on Long John which does give that nice olde worlde touch, you get a good sense of the character with this, a good sense of history.

There are tonnes of problems with this film that just don't add up at all, the idea of a space set pirate film works but also doesn't. I do think they just abandoned a lot of sense simply because its an animated Disney movie for kids and it simply wouldn't matter. True it doesn't matter, it is just an enjoyable fantasy romp for kids, but at the same time it would have been nice to address some of the silliness. After all everyone of all ages will watch it and while it does look awesome with some lovely creativity and imagination, the silliness sticks out like a giraffe at a polar bears only club.


Monday, 6 January 2014

Space Jam (1996)

Not too sure why this film is called Space Jam but I guess it sounds kinda cool doesn't it. Despite the fact the film stars all the Warner Bros Looney Tunes characters the whole thing is really all about Michael Jordan. A fictional account of a small segment in his career if you will.

So if you haven't already guessed the film is also all about basketball, this makes me wonder if the film was as much of a hit here in the UK as it inevitably was in the US. Obviously the Looney Tunes characters had a lot to do with the appeal for many as the film serves as more of an animated adventure rather than a true basketball feature. That being said it does give plenty for both sides of this spectrum.

Should I really have a go at the plot? this is after all a cartoon of sorts. Basically MJ must do battle on the court against some aliens who want him to be their slave within their intergalactic theme park. Thing is these crafty aliens have pinched the talents of fellow NBA All-Stars Muggsy Bogues, Larry Johnson, Shawn Bradly, Pat Ewing and Charles Barkley (what about John Stockton or Scottie Pippen?). So end of the day its Michael Jordan vs a selection of other NBA players, guess who wins? I wonder what the films trying to say?

As far as an animated flick goes this is a fun time, its bright bold and colourful, there's plenty of toon action, the usual visual gags, in-jokes, sly homages etc...and of course the WB roster is always good see. The problems I have is the fact the animation is nowhere near as good as the classic original toons of Chuck Jones and co naturally...and they never will be ever again. The voice talent is nowhere near as good as Mel Blanc and co...and they never will be again. Plus of course they mix in CGI with hand drawn animation which kinda works in places but looks awful in others.

I think the worst voice work going in this film must be the attempt at Pepe Le Pew. Wasn't a fan of the stereotypical female version of Bugs either, wasn't required, was just added for the young female audience and felt totally out of place. On the other hand the baddie alien characters weren't too bad if a little bland, they became more interesting in massive monster mode of course. I think if I were Bradly I might have been upset my animated alter ego was made out to be a slow towering numbskull. Using Danny Devito as the chief alien bad guy was a smart move, again his character wasn't overly intriguing and kinda standard in design but it worked.

The actual basketball game is good fun even though you'd think it wouldn't be. Its certainly looney, has some slick moments, a nice 'Pulp Fiction' homage, the gag about Michael's special drink is cute, its fun watching the lofty NBA Stars trying to act and Bill Murray adds some much needed fizz for adults. You know what happens in the end, its no surprise, luckily it is a good ride getting there. Definitely an unexpected hit straight outta left field.


Thursday, 2 January 2014

The Haunted Mansion (2003)

Ah 2003, the start of Disney's major theme park ride adaptations into the movies...not counting a few earlier nondescript flicks and 'Mission to Mars' which I never realised was a theme park adaptation. If you think about this premise you could be forgiven for thinking it would turn out crap, especially with Eddie Murphy involved. And you wouldn't be far wrong on that one point, the casting of Murphy and his 'family' members in this film was a terrible choice.

The reason being they all stick out like a sore thumb in the story, they all look totally out of place and none can act too well. The film has been turned into a Murphy vehicle and the film suffers for it, it feels forced, his family in the film feel forced and fake, the silly humour and annoying dialog from Murphy feels forced and its all in there simply for Murphy, awful decision.

That aside the rest of the film is actually pretty sweet. The plot has been cleverly turned into a romantic ghost tale where upon the mansions owner is seeking his one true love whom he lost centuries ago. Of course his true love is Murphy's living wife so a battle of supernatural proportions ensues as Murphy must stop this aristocratic spook floating off with his wife.

What works is the extra casting of the main ghost servants and their master within the mansion. Stamp is perfect as the stiff upper lipped butler with a dark secret, Wallace Shawn is perfect as the quirky sidekick footman ghost, Tilly is surprisingly good as the crystal ball gypsy spirit and Nathaniel Parker plays the noble British toff manor owner to a tee complete with thick dark locks. Not too sure how these ghosts work though, at times they can't or don't seem to interact with the living, then all of a sudden they can touch and pick things up.

Its all very cliched and hammy of course being based on a stereotypical haunted house attraction but that's fine, you expect that. In fact they capture that atmosphere perfectly, the whole eccentric Disney ambiance coupled with an eerie fanciful glow. Indeed the film does work better if you have actually been on the attraction at Disney World. There are many many little homages to the ride throughout the film from visual references to dialog, some sequences showing identical sections from the attraction. It does sounds kinda tacky but it really works nicely and gives you a pleasant ghostly trip down memory lane.

I really liked how the ghosts become 'more dead' visually the further from the mansion they are. So once outside all the ghosts have a really cool supernatural blue glow or aura which looks quite striking. I liked the graveyard and how it housed many of the ghosts from the attraction including the three famous hitchhiker spooks. As said I also liked the replication of sets from the attraction too, the hallway of portraits being the main one easily. One thing I didn't like was the swamp set New Orleans look for the mansion, not my personal cup of tea, I prefer the Liberty Square Dutch Gothic design from Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

But how did that ghostly horse drawn hearse crash through the walls of the mansion complete with Murphy and co inside?. How would ghosts be able to knock through walls when they are...errr ghosts. And how on earth would living people be able to go through the wall with the ghosts??.

On the whole the film does look really good and clearly a lot of thought and craftsmanship went into making the visuals realistic. Its really nice (and amazingly surprising) that they actually constructed the mansion instead of relying on CGI. The interiors and props all benefit from genuine craftsmanship too which really sets the mood, for all you 'Nightmare Before Christmas'/Addams Family/Munster lovers out there (like me) you'll love it.

This is a film you really really really really did expect to be utter utter utter tripe...but its not!. Its actually a really decent looking light-hearted supernatural ride just like the real attraction. The homages are great for folk who have been to the attraction but for those who haven't they just come across as neat spooky visual candy. As I said the only let down is Murphy and co as the endangered mortal family, well mainly Murphy. His tomfoolery lets down the quite decent performances of the supernatural cast.


Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)

Six years after the original smash hit and Dante comes along with this newish sequel. The intro to the film is an animated Looney Tunes segment with Bugs and Daffy which is meant to hint at the wackiness you were about to see, not good.

The plot this time is virtually the same deal as before but this time its set in New York and within a huge futuristic skyscraper, well for the time anyway. Of course the other reason for this sequel was mainly to do everything over again with much better effects and creature puppetry. Now I'm all for this no doubt but at least they could of gone for a fresher storyline.

There are many problems with this sequel which is a shame as the effects are indeed much better (although the original films were damn good). It starts off OK with good continuity seeing old Mr Wing again in his little shop with Gizmo. Unsure if the first film setting of this Chinatown location was in New York though, I always kinda thought it was San Francisco for some reason. Anyway it makes sense that the old man dies and Gizmo is left alone in the world, not too sure about the fact they bulldoze the little store before clearing it though.

Eventually the film sticks to its new location for the action within this skyscraper. I still find it funny that this huge building would have its own animal testing floor filled with various animals of all shapes and sizes. Also the fact it appears to have lots of shops and eating establishments along with filming studios and its own TV cable network! all this with office areas higher up where lots of desk jockeys work feverishly to look good for the big boss Clamp. Obviously its all just setups for the Gremlin action to come but it really seems quite odd that this building has everything in it as if it were a mall when its suppose to be a place of business and work.

I guess the main issues begin when the Gremlin mayhem kicks off. It all starts out fine and relatively sensible if lighter in tone, but it just gets ludicrous. The first thing that hits you straight in the face is the horrendous slapstick schlock that Dante gets the creatures to do, the first film had it but it was set within a dark tone, this film is virtually a cartoon (as laid out for you by Bugs n Daffy at the start). I really enjoyed the different ideas they used with the Gremlins...a bat hybrid, a spider, an electric poltergeist-like Gremlin, an intelligent Gremlin, a Gremlin made up of vegetables and naturally the obligatory female Gremlin. But the whole thing came off like 'The Muppet Show', albeit Muppets with a more sadistic crazy edge.

The female Gremlin was clearly a play or rip off from Miss Piggy if you ask me, right down to the awful little musical number where she/it appears in a very Muppet-esque/Piggy way from beneath a huge self portrait picture.

The other thing that irked me was the hideous self parodies/meta-references of the franchise and others. A cringeworthy self indulgent sequence where a movie critic is giving the original film a bad review and is then attacked by Gremlins, the bat hybrid Gremlin flies out of the building crashing through a wall leaving the famous Batman logo as a hole, some Gremlins where anti-Gizmo t-shirts and there is a Gremlin logo on the cable network when it goes down. And finally there's the sequence midway where the film actually stops as if Gremlins had invaded the cinema where you the audience were watching. We then get an embarrassing cameo with Hulk Hogan breaking the fourth wall, did it really have to go that far Dante?

The inclusion of Dick Miller's character and his wife felt very forced too, not only that but I'm pretty sure they were killed off in the first film. There was no reason for them to be in this film other than some visual recognition from the first, a simple link. The whole notion that those two characters were suppose to stay with Peltzer and Kate in their small apartment is so stupid, and why would they be visiting them anyway?? These people weren't that close in the first film, just neighbourhood folk.

Plus I noticed Dante literately cast everyone he has ever worked with in this film, even Rick Ducommun and Henry Gibson get some screen time here. Amazing cast of character actors and cameos in this film.

Gotta ask but why is it everytime Gizmo get wets and produces new Mogwai they always turn out evil? How come none ever turn out nice like Giz? you'd think they would genetically be like Gizmo. I didn't really like the new goofy Gremlins, it just felt like The Three Stooges and was just dumb, the various cartoon sound effects didn't help either. I know the film was suppose to be lighter but Jesus those new Gremlins were annoying, the two evil none insane Gremlins were nice and errr...evil, but again they didn't really look too different, the effects guys didn't wanna move away from the mohawk look did they sheesh!

All the Gremlins look fantastic in this new film I must say, the detail and animatronic puppet work is astoundingly good from the realistic skin colour and patterns to every small snarling facial movement. There are also some nice effects using stop motion and bluescreen which are obvious but do still hold up quite well, it all shows how well these effects can work. It might be most costly sure but I think everyone would agree its worth it in the end, the final result looks awesome especially with the vast numbers of Gremlins on display this time. Beats the f*ck outta CGI I can tell you.

I want to like this film but its hard. The idea is reasonable giving us a wider range of Gremlins with new designs and more havoc, which is what you wanted really, but they dumbed it down too much. A lighter version is not a problem but the self referential jokes and small nonsensical plotless sequences felt more like a collection of sketches from a TV show (the 'Phantom of the Opera' Gremlin sequence). It makes the whole film feel like a spoof when its not really meant to be, not to that degree anyway, and the fact that the female Gremlin survives simply makes a mockery of films finale, who cares.

I love the creature effects and there are still some really nice moments of Gremlin gore and horror which hint at what could of been. Unfortunately it just gets lost in a sea of zany childish wackiness that doesn't really appeal to adults, fans of the original or kids because its still a bit too scary for them, so really it has no decent target audience.