Monday, 29 September 2014

The Vault of Horror (UK, 1973)

Otherwise known as the sequel to 'Tales from the Crypt' yet all the stories here bar one are from the 'Tales' comics. So it seems the 'Vault' comics short stories weren't good enough for a film?

Again the simple premise is the same, a group of people in an elevator are taken down to the basement of a high rise block in London. Because they are trapped each of them tell tales of their worst nightmares (as you would do). From here on we get another five short spooky tales of which all in my opinion are really quite good.

Up first is a basic plot involving a man going to a small village to kill his sister so he will get their recently deceased fathers estate. The village turns out to be a vampires nest and he is killed watched over by his sister whom he had just murdered. Second is merely about a pedantic man and his neat and tidy obsessions which drive his new wife so crazy she kills him.

Third sees a magician and his wife observing a young Indian woman perform a rope trick whilst in India. The young woman will not tell or sell the secret of the rope trick so the magician and his wife kill the young girl, but revenge is short coming. The fourth story is about two con men who set up an elaborate insurance scam. One of the men fakes his own death and is buried alive as part of the plan but the second con man double crosses him and leaves him for dead. Unusual circumstances see the buried man dug up but fate has a final trick in store for both of the men.

The final story shows us an artist who gains the power of voodoo in his brush hand whilst in Haiti. He then uses this power to enact revenge on some business men back in London who have lied and tricked him over the sale of his recent work.

Overall every story here is a really neat little creepy tale mixing revenge, ghoulish graves, magic and vampires, the perfect blend. Much better than the first 'Tales' anthology in my opinion, the stories are more fun and mysterious making you use your imagination. I especially liked the eerie death for the magicians wife in the Indian rope tale.

Again its an English film so we are treated to some more A class casting. This time you can see Tom Baker, Glynis Johns, Denholm Elliott, Terry Thomas and Curd J├╝rgens. There is no 'keeper' this time, although the comics had a keeper just like 'Tales', but the outlining premise of the wrap or frame story is the same, much like all horror anthology flicks.

This really is a much better set of stories than the first film. More in line with other good anthologies like 'Darkside' and 'Twilight Zone'. There is a tad more blood and gore shown is this film too, not in your face but some nice hints, of course don't go expecting brilliant visual effects.


Friday, 26 September 2014

Torture Garden (UK, 1967)

Another British horror anthology with a slightly silly title methinks. This time nothing to do with the 'Tales from the Crypt' franchise but a stand alone set of shorts which was made before in 67. The director obviously made a good job of this anthology as he was used again to direct the first 'Tales' film, possibly taking many influences with him.

The frame/wrap plot for this horror sees a group of five people enter into a horror house or sideshow of sorts in a funfair. The 'show' is run by 'Dr Diabolo' and he offers all the visitors the chance to experience real terror if they pay extra, they do...I wouldn't have.
One by one they are all given the chance to glimpse into their own futures or fates at the shears of Atropos, a strangely real looking statue (which no one seems to question) of a Greek deity.

From here we are given four (yes four) short tales of terror. The first has a young man letting his seemingly rich uncle die so he can find the old man's money. He searches the old house only to be brainwashed or fall under the spell of an evil cat that he finds. Second tale tells of a young woman breaking into Hollywood only to discover the secret of all the stars youthful appearances, they are all robots.

The third tale is about a man and his grand piano. The grand piano is possessed and becomes jealous of its owners new love, so it takes its revenge on her. The last tale is about two Edgar Allan Poe collectors, one that wants bits of the others marvellous collection. In the end his greed sees him killing his fellow collector and having to deal with the devil and Poe himself.

Its yet another British horror (we did them so well back then) so again we have some good casting but this time there is also an international flavour. This anthology offers you the talents of Palance, Burgess Meredith, Michael Bryant and again the horror legend Peter Cushing.

I did like this anthology better than the first 'Tales' film. The main 'keeper' type role played by Meredith makes all the difference here. His sinister all teeth, razor sharp, Joker-like grin and villainous voice are perfect for these kind of Hammer-esque films. Then you have Jack Palance and his gleaming slit like eyes, his facial movements and sneering expressions. I always thought Palance was like that due to his age but it seems he's always been creepy.

The thing that lets this down is the range of short stories it offers. One I liked which involved the major stars of Hollywood becoming robotic inside to remain young, a fun little sci-fi 'Westworld' type plot there. The others are poor really, the killer grand piano? really?, a man possessed by a black cat and the two Poe collectors. All pretty lame really, not exactly creepy scary or even fun, just dull and idiotic in the case of the grand piano.

It looks good visually, again better than the first 'Tales' in my opinion but can't beat 'Vault of Horror'. The only two things I liked about this film were Meredith and Palance, Meredith especially in his post 'Penguin-like' outfits clearly making the most of that older winning role. Was cool to see Palance go up against Cushing too, epic double team there folks.

A good anthology which is well worth the watch if you like these kind of films, the casting is best but the stories lack punch. I think I've repeated that a few times in this review now, you get the idea then eh.


Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Asylum (UK, 1972)

Boy they liked their horror anthology movies back in the 70's didn't they, well Amicus certainly did. This movie actually has a genuinely eerie title that has of course been reused since, and the movies poster is actually quite scary too. Usually these old horrors have cheesy titles with very daft posters but this one breaks that mould somewhat.

So its an anthology movie, therefore as you might have guessed its the same premise yet again with a selection of four short tales sandwiched between a bookend tale usually with a narrator of sorts. This time a young Robert Powell plays a young doctor who is visiting an asylum to apply for a position within. Oddly he is set the task of interviewing all four patients within the asylum to figure out which one used to be the head of the asylum...if he can he gets the job, just like in reality.

First patient and first tale recounts a plot to murder the wife of a wealthy middle aged couple. The murder is planned by the gent of the couple and his bit on the side. The thing is the gents wife studies voodoo, as white middle aged wealthy folk do, and when she is killed off she comes back for revenge. Its a very rudimentary vignette that doesn't really show much imagination methinks, although I must admit it is quite unnerving when the dead wife comes back in the form she does. This was probably the very first old fashioned horror tale in these anthologies that actually gave me the willies, very creepy.

Second patient who is an ex-tailor, tells us of a mysterious man (the mighty Cushing) who orders a fine suit to be made out of a special material. The catch being this tailor must make the suit under a specific set of instructions that must be followed precisely. Once completed and taken to Cushing in his dark dark residence we discover the suit is for his long dead son. Why you ask? well it can bring inanimate objects to life, not dead but inanimate as we find out when a store mannequin is accidentally dressed in the suit. This is again a simple tale that didn't really grab me, many questions are raised as usual and as usual left unanswered. Not really an issue as I'm used to this with these movies but the ending is very weak with this one, I guess the tailor made it out of the situation alive then, how very unexciting.

The third patient is a female who appears to be suffering from dissociative identity disorder, in other words she has multiple personalities or in this case a second personality. The young woman in question believes she is being told to escape her boring life by another young woman which results in her murdering her brother and a nurse. This whole short is very predictable and really rather unimaginative I think, its pretty obvious the young blonde is a figment of the girls imagination and what follows is bland to say the least.

The final patient is played by the legendary Herbert Lom and his little vignette blends into the bookend story involving Powell. Bizarrely this short story looks like a forerunner to the horror movie franchise Puppet Master...kinda. Lom is creating a little toy robot that is a likeness of himself (why a likeness?), he intends to transfer his mind (somehow) into the toy robot so he can...escape? not too sure actually. I can't quite see how this will benefit this patient if his mind is inside a small slow waddling toy robot but there you go. Plus how on earth did he manage to recreate a miniature working version of his own viscera for the little robot and why would it even need that??! This short offers an intriguing premise but it makes no real sense as I've already pointed out, the final outcome seems coincidental and I'm not even sure if that was the characters actual game plan. It merely serves to run into the bookend story which in itself is weak and ends on a flat note that wasn't setup well in the first place.

Overall I found this anthology tame and very cliched with stories that have been told a billion times before, there is nothing much on offer here that feels really fresh. Yes the casting is top notch as they tend to be and the visuals/effects are particularly well done this time round but the stories are sooooo routine, there is better out there.


Monday, 22 September 2014

From Beyond the Grave (UK, 1974)

Amicus seemed to like anthology horror movies, this was their last picture in a series of six including the original 'Tales from the Crypt'. The basic outline is as you would predict, the common theme of four spooky tales sandwiched between a bookend plot which is kinda hosted by an eerie narrator type.

The main character throughout the whole film is the horror maestro Peter Cushing who plays the owner of a small antiques store in London. One by one customers enter the store for bits of objet d'art but each one wrongs the shop owner in one way or another. Naturally this causes each person to suffer some kind of nasty cruel fate which appears as though the shop keeper may or may not be behind it...or at least knows of their fate.

The first tale sees David Warner tricking the shop keeper into selling him an expensive mirror cheaply. When he then holds a seance (as you do) he is visited by a spirit from within the mirror who sort of brainwashes him into killing people so he may materialise and travel 'beyond the ultimate'. This is probably the most curious of the tales and is nicely spooky, not much is explained so you're left to make up your own minds which is cool...sorta. Personally I really wanted to know more about the background but the looping twist in the tale is smart.

Up next is a strange one, a nice married man buys some matchsticks from an ex-serviceman (Donald Pleasence) to help him out. He then sees some shiny medals in Cushing's antique shop and wants to impress the serviceman by pretending to be ex-army himself. Unable to buy the medal because a certificate is required to prove you are a real ex-serviceman the man steals the medal. Impressed with the medal the serviceman invites the gent to tea and to meet his daughter (Angela Pleasence). Over time the gent has an affair with the young girl who seems to be some kind of witch. Eventually the kind gent and young girl end up cursing and killing his dominating wife then marrying, but the twist revolves around the gents young boy.

I didn't really understand this one, the gent is a nice guy trying to help the ex-serviceman, he's bullied at home by his wife and gets no respect from his son, his life is a misery. It seems he finds happiness trying to mix with the poorer man, yeah sure he stole the medal but it wasn't a malicious act. He just wanted to make the ex-serviceman happy, feel comfortable around him...he just wanted to be one of the lads really, felt sorry for him. The whole thing with the daughter was just weird and ended up making no real sense, very off the wall, I'm still not really sure what she was, how, what her father had to do with it and why the pair did or do what they do.

The elemental is based around demons or gremlins perhaps. Another posh well-to-do gent tricks the shop keeper into selling him something cheaper than it should be. On the way home a little batty old witch warns him of the elemental sitting on his one can see this creature but animals, small children and...errr other witches or crazy people. In time things happen that are totally out of the man's control and he seeks the assistance of the eccentric 'Madame Orloff'. I liked this short tale because the idea of an invisible little gremlin type thing perched on someones shoulder like a gargoyle and taking control is cool. I also think the short is boosted brilliantly by Margaret Leighton as Orloff who comes across like a character straight out of a Disney movie like 'Bedknobs and Broomsticks' or 'Mary Poppins'. Must just add that the ending is kinda evil though, the whole thing goes from a quirky olde worlde English country witch casting spells to a much darker place.

Finally there is another almost charming ghoulish tale about a young man buying a very old highly detailed carved wooden door from the antique shop. This door of course opens up to another dimension or world where an evil occultist is trying to lure people so he can collect their souls? I think. Again the plot doesn't make much sense and isn't explained too well but its another visually fun tale in that typically old English manner with a large well decorated olde worlde house...suit of armour on display etc...This time the twist ending isn't a gloomy one though, that in itself is quite unique with these films.

Overall its a good little collection of horror tales, three I liked with their old school visuals, quirky characters and stereotypically English gents (although not stereotypical at the time of course). The stars add much gravitas to the whole affair, what old 70's horror flick is complete without Cushing?! and on the whole the special effects aren't too bad considering. Charmingly old fashioned whilst not being too horrific, perfect Halloween fodder and great fun.


Sunday, 21 September 2014

The Monster Club (UK, 1980)

The title for this film and the poster are pretty cool, I wonder if Fred Dekker borrowed the idea for his movie 'The Monster Squad'. Anyway here we have another horror anthology (not Amicus) that's piece de resistance was having Vincent Prince and John Carradine star in the bookend story. Other horror (anthology) regulars such as Donald Pleasence and Britt Ekland also pop up but no Peter Cushing this time. Carradine portrays real life British horror author Chetwynd-Hayes whose stories are what this anthology are based upon.

The film starts off in a fine manner with Price playing a vampire (he didn't play them often...or ever) and biting Carradine in a most polite way of course. To thank Carradine Price takes him to the Monster Club where various ghouls and...errrm monsters hang out and let their hair and fur down. Now this sounds pretty sweet no doubt but I'm afraid to say the entire idea is let down with the most dreadful looking sequences you'll have seen for some time. Think of the Mos Eisley space cantina in 'Star Wars' with all the alien creatures but no where near as good and with terrible costumes.

When I say terrible costumes I mean it, they look like kids Halloween costumes your mum bought at the local supermarket. Absolutely horrendous, so much so in fact I'm not even sure if it was done like that on purpose for comedic relief. What's even stranger is the musical interludes between the short stories, you have a horror tale followed by some weird ass pop group dressed up with bad makeup singing a bad song, was this filler? At one point Price gets up and dances with the monsters on the dance floor...I'm still not sure if I should look on this as uber cool or just a crappy run time extension, its nothing like 'Thriller' so don't get excited.

The actual stories are reasonable but pretty timid frankly, what's more they create new monsters or hybrids which sound daft. The first is based around a Shadmock which is the offspring of...something, I can't elaborate because the sequence where Price explains what monsters are called when they mate with other monsters is so confusing I just ran with it. Basically this creature looks like a pale male human but his whistle can somehow burn things to a crisp? whatever. The story is merely about a couple trying to get a hold of this Shadmocks huge fortune by having the young woman marry him under false pretenses of love. The setting and location are nice and atmospheric, bit of a 'Beauty and the Beast' or 'Phantom of the Opera' type premise but not up to the same standard.

The next short is about a vampire family, well the man of the house is a vampire but his wife and boy are not oddly. Donald Pleasence is part of a secret vampire hunters team that carry violin cases that contain stakes for killing vampires (Robert Rodriguez see this film?). Pleasence follows the boy and eventually talks him into exposing his father even though the boy never knew his father was a vampire. In the end Pleasence gets bitten and must fight off his own men, its very shallow and hardly a horror tale at all, its not even spooky really. It raises more questions than anything but I guess its only a vignette.

The final story is easily the best and revolves around a film director travelling to a small remote village in the English countryside to scout the location. There he discovers a century old race of ghouls that eat corpses. When trying to escape this village of the damned he only gets so far before discovering that more people outside of the village are in fact ghouls and escape may well be futile. Again many questions are raised but the tale is the most interesting and could easily be expanded, its basically your common zombie apocalypse type flick that obviously has lots of similarities with the 1960 film 'Village of the Damned'.

I kinda had high hopes for this film but felt disappointed in the end. Everything looks a bit cheap and nasty and the vignettes are pretty low key with little thrills or excitement to be had. The cast is solid as usual but that doesn't really make much difference, its all about the stories and apart from the final one its all very drab.


Friday, 19 September 2014

Still Crazy (UK, 1998)

When you see the poster for this movie it tells you everything you need to know. Its a mock cover of the famous Rolling Stone magazine featuring the aging 70's band 'Strange Fruit'. You can tell quite easily the movie is going to be a good laugh by the quite disturbingly haggard and unsexy looking pose from Nighy in the centre, its funny and icky at the same time.

The plot, as you can imagine, is all about getting the band back together for a reunion concert. Back in the day 'Strange Fruit' were on the brink of stardom but it all fell apart when their lead singer died of a drugs overdose. Twenty years later Rea trying to get the guys back on-board whilst having to deal with each members current problems and the confrontations that have reared up again. Eventually, once everybody is brought together again, it is discovered their old lead guitarist (brother of their old lead singer) has also apparently died of a drugs overdose (as is the norm in this business). This forces the band to hire a much younger guitarist for their comeback adding more tension. Can the lads all come together and prove to themselves they've still got what it takes? or they had what it took originally to make it to the big time?

I think the casting is the one main factor that makes this film work, the small British ensemble casting of Nighy, Nail, Rea, Connolly and Spall. Not only does this group of oddball character actors gel together perfectly but visually they actually look like an aging 70's rock band too. Nighy as the flaky somewhat slow long haired rock-star lead singer, Connolly has always looks the part of a hippie rock singer so no worries there, Rea with his curly Brian May hairdo, Nail the deep conscientious heart of the band, the hard worker with strong morals and family values and finally Spall looks like a dirty unwashed biker with Inland Revenue issues.

I liked the whole loggerhead scenario between Nighy's character and Nail's character. Nighy's character being the epitome of a glamorous fame obsessed money grabber, his larger then life rock-star lifestyle clashing against the quiet brooding song writer of Nail's character. Nighy does tend to be the problem in the band for the most part with his overbearing wife and the fact he is still haunted by the reality that he was hired as a replacement for the bands old lead singer. He tries to elevate his performances with glam costumes and stage effects because he's insecure over his own abilities, now being much older. This in turn affects the band and their overall performances which provides both amusing and sober sequences.

The situations and scenarios are really authentic within this film. The group having to slum it around backstreet nightclubs for work and recognition, dodgy stage safety, trying to re-tune their skills whilst bickering with each other, bad food on the go, little money, poor accommodation and the obligatory sex drugs and booze problems. This angle is stronger because its also about a group of old men trying to rekindle something great they once had, reigniting an old flame. The outlook on life and the music is very different from their younger days, its not all about sex drugs and roll 'n' roll anymore, there is more to it than that. Sure they wanna be like their younger selves again and uncork that lightning in a bottle but the team has to learn to settle old scores, move on and help each other with their dreams.

The locations humour visuals and dialog is all typically British and it is a hoot to watch but the fall outs and reconciliations along the way do get a bit frustrating, you just wanna slap them and tell them to get on with it. The movie does tend to drag a tad through the middle, there are some nice montages and some great original musical numbers but the break up of the band midway brings with it lots of moping by Nail's character who can be overly broody. Its mainly Nail Nighy and Rea who carry the film honesty, Connolly and Spall tend to fade in and out of the background whilst Matheson does his best Liam Gallagher walk at one point. The finale and its little twist is cute but completely predictable, but we all knew it would end on a happy note I'm sure.

A fantastic nod to the late 60's 70's glam rock era of course, many influences, very relatable for many I'm sure and very very very British with its dry wit and toilet humour. Personally I think the film should of been called 'Strange Fruit'...rock 'n' roll forever!


Thursday, 18 September 2014

Almost an Angel (1990)

Fresh off the success of the 'Crocodile Dundee' movies where Hogan played a rough tough lovable roguish bushman, Hogan is back going for gold again playing...a rough tough lovable roguish criminal. Only this criminal has changed his ways after a near death situation and he now believes he's an angel on a mission from God, but is he?

Thing about this film that is disappointing is the fact they don't really make the most of the idea. We're never entirely sure if Hogan's character is actually an angel, was his afterlife experience just a dream or not and if he's really invincible, we're led to believe he's a heavenly being through various lucky scrapes. For the whole run time this concept isn't really explored as well as it could have been I think because this character doesn't really do much accept walk out in front of trucks. There are times he puts himself at risk helping others like standing up against some gang members and setting up religious themed tricks but on the whole its all dialog.

Now there's nothing wrong with good dialog, emotional dialog...but this doesn't really have that (Paul Hogan comedy remember), you really do expect there to be more in the shape of visual comedy. Most of the time he's chatting to folk, trying to either con or assist them and of course having to fend off his real time wife Kozlowski. Gee I wonder whose idea it was to cast her in the film. I suppose it is neat to have us the audience unsure as to whether this guy is really an angel or not but this also kinda leads to the movie being really very dull. Like I say nothing really happens that is exciting or remotely interesting other than him beating some guys up once and walking out in front of a truck.

Things become really boring when he meets up with a wheelchair bound Elias Koteas whom he makes friends with. This is the main plot point in the film and its incredibly boring, things were dull before this but dear Lord it gets worse. The movies highlight appears to be a chase sequence between a fat cop and Koteas in his wheelchair...and the fat cop can't catch him...on foot...riiiiiight. They actually do try and make this sequence really intense as Koteas ducks under stuff, turns corners sharply and pumps away to increase his speed...I'm serious here. Plus I really gotta mention how lame of an ending it is for Koteas' character, he bumps into something and ends up fatally stabbing himself in the thigh...laugh out loud!

In the end we actually discover Hogan is an angel...oh spoil...whatever. Its only then that you realise how cool this film could of been with more ghosty spiritual moments like that. Don't get me wrong its a nice ending but it sure took some strength to get there sheesh! The tagline for this movie is 'The guy from down under is working for the man upstairs'...I mean sure its a quirky line but are they really still banking on the fact Hogan is an Aussie?? still pushing and depending on that unimportant geographical detail! Surely they exhausted that with the 'Mick Dundee' movies...we get it, he's an Aussie, cultural differences gag officially milked.


Saturday, 13 September 2014

Deep Impact (1998)

Back in 1998 we got the first of two movies revolving around the possible cataclysmic events of a gigantic comet hitting the Earth. This did happen a few times back in the 90's with the two volcano flicks...'Dante's Peak' and errr 'Volcano', 'Bug's Life' and 'Antz', 'Tombstone' and 'Wyatt Earp' etc... For some reason Hollywood bigwigs seemed to think we needed two virtually identical movies coming out in the same year.

Where as 'Armageddon' was a more bombastic explosion filled action adventure where characters had cool nicknames, this movie was a much deeper emotional rollercoaster with a sensible angle. I've always seen or compared these two films to videogames...this film being more like a realistic simulator and 'Armageddon' being more like a balls to the wall arcade cabinet game. Clearly there is no need to go over the plot in much detail as it speaks for itself, but both films required astronauts to drill deep into the vast looming comet and plant nukes to blow it up. In one film it works, in the other it doesn't.

What I liked about this film was the well portrayed characters and their development, although the casting wasn't all that good truth be told. We meet a rounded selection of average people, and of course Mr President and some officials, as the clock ticks down to judgement day. Each character has their own individual issues that intertwine with other characters throughout, its basically a slice of life for each person in the lead up to the disaster. In the mean time we also follow some astronauts and their mission to plant the nukes which naturally also includes more heart pounding problems to solve. On the whole every story line is very emotional as the tension builds...people die, people must make choices, sacrifices, redemption, reconciliation, love...its all here in buckets loads and what's more it works.

I will be quite honest here and say this movie gets me every time with the old waterworks, I can't help it. Leder uses all the tricks in the book to make you reach for the tissues, every predictable cliche is present and correct from making up with a loved one, giving up a life saving seat on a helicopter for a mother and the astronauts making the ultimate sacrifice. There are some scenes which really wrench at your heartstrings (I think), when Leoni and Schell hold each other on the beach before being engulfed by the tsunami, the shuttle crew saying their goodbyes before blowing themselves up inside a comet fissure, when the newsroom team must draw straws for helicopter placings. That scene also annoyed me, a young mother and child draw the short straw and must stay behind and no one offers their place to them! surely a mother and baby would get a place regardless sheesh!

On the flip side the destruction porn, or disaster porn should I say is handled well with solid CGI. The ruination of poor old New York is well rendered and still holds up today, watching the megatsunami sweep through the city toppling skyscrapers is actually quite scary. The tsunami itself looks good against the city but elsewhere it does look a tad obvious, there are the odd shots that stick out a bit these days but that's expected. In general it all looks very good and with minimal use of big set pieces really, not until the finale that is, its mainly dialog and space sequences. The space sequences are quite impressive I might add, nicely done, realistic in appearance no all looked accurate to me, as though it could really happen. The comet sequences were probably the best in the film, it all looked like a set sure but very well created, cold and intimidating visually, great space suits for the astronauts and some slick looking machinery and gear which all looked like it would actually do the job for real.

It always amused me how the US decides to save one million people, 300,000 of which already have places, people like scientists teachers doctors...artists? No one over 50...bit of a bummer huh, oh unless you're the President or any of his aides that is. I've also always wondered about the US military in this film, did they get automatic places in the caves? seeing as they are serving their country, did their families get automatic places too? if not why would any soldier follow orders and do what they do...act like emotionless heartless robots.

I also found it hilarious that as Elijah Wood and his family are about to enter the caves his folks actually let him run off to find his little girlfriend! As if any parent would allow their child to do that in that situation, I'm pretty sure any normal parent would have dragged the child in with them no questions asked. The whole sub plot is ridiculous too seeing as Wood would have died for nothing, he didn't know the bigass comet would get destroyed and he never made it back to the caves, so both him and his girlfriend would have been killed ordinarily. When Wood does find his girlfriend her folks tell them to get to higher ground...but again why bother when they all knew the bigass comet would wipe everything out. Surely being together in the last few minutes would have been a better option for the kids. So technically Wood goes off on a suicide mission and his folks let him.

So even with a simple plot like this there are still (I think) some flaws that don't really reflect reality that well. I also thought the main casting was a bit all over the place with Leoni coming across kinda weak in my opinion. She just looks confused all the time and her newscaster sequences were terrible, even before she announces the bad news she's stuttering through it annoyingly. Schell adds some old fashioned class and sheen but the relationship/connection between him and Leoni never really feels right even though it isn't suppose to. Even at the very end I just didn't feel it between them which is a shame because they are one of the main focus points in the plot (still a sad moment).

On the other hand the drama kicking off in space is managed expertly by Duvall, him and his team really do come across as a proper group of astronauts. This was one aspect I've always like about the movie and that's the combination of the Earth based drama and space set drama, both of which are solid and gel perfectly. I was also impressed how the story is handled, it never crosses your mind that the space shuttle crew might not make it back, sure you know there's always gonna be redshirt character in there but you always assume they will be the heroes and get home. I guess this is what makes their sacrifice so powerful towards the finale, it surprises you, hits you hard, and in that brief moment you connect with the small team one human to another.

I'm sure there are probably some scientific bits that aren't overly accurate too but in general this movie feels very realistic, looks very realistic and manages to cover the stark reality of humanity having to face extinction exceptionally well in the countdown to the end of the world.


Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Godzilla (2014)

The much anticipated reboot of the flagging franchise that was kinda abused and left for dead back in 1998 by Roland Emmerich. A revamped origins tale set in the present day with a much darker moodier semi realistic approach  that everybody kinda expected to be like 'Pacific Rim' but wasn't.

I'm not gonna lie and say this movie isn't cheesy, its all about huge monsters that are awakened from the bowels of the Earth and go rampaging through our city streets...oh and these monsters eat radiation. Indeed the story starts out in a very cheesy hammy sandwich type manner much like the Emmerich version back in 98. A couple large egg-like cocoons are accidentally discovered by a mining company, one happens to be fresh and open leaving a rather huge obvious trail down to the seafront. The appearance of these two insectoid-like monsters triggers the appearance of Godzilla for some reason whose existence has been known about since 1954 by the US government...can never trust that US government huh. What was that huge skeleton then? a long dead Godzilla?

I like how the military pick up Cranston and his son when snooping around the ruins of Janjira and take them back to the top secret base where they keep the monster. Why would you take trespassers back to your top secret base and show them everything? I did like the little moment showing some bugs crawling over tiny toy tanks in the ruins, clever little wink there.

It seems that these monsters were driven underground millions of years ago I think it was, hibernating if you will. All that time they have lived on radiation deep within the Earth but...would there be enough radiation for such large creatures? wouldn't these creatures ever need to move around or require oxygen to breathe? Now I realise these things all tie in with Godzilla lore and the film is of course an all out fantasy flick about monster mashing but at the same time its been made in a serious way so questions will be raised. I know Godzilla has his trademark atomic breath attack (like a dragon) and these things emit EMP attacks, but how would that stuff even work in a semi- realistic movie like this? is there enough radiation for such vast creatures to live on when on the surface? I'm no scientist so beats me, doesn't seem feasible.

I still don't really get why Godzilla even pops up in this story, does he merely awaken to hunt the other two monsters? how does he even know they are around? why does he hunt them? he clearly has some kind of grudge against these things. Since Godzilla has been around since 1954 what has he been doing all this time?? if he lives to hunt the other monsters what the hell does he do to pass the time?!! anyone?? And how in God's name does he NOT get seen by any living soul??!! the thing is fucking massive!! you're telling me he's never been spotted or detected when swimming around or possibly popping up for some sunshine. Seriously I know I'm a picky bastard but come on!

So apart from the patchwork plot what else has this got? well if you're wanting monster battles then not much. Most of the overly long run time is merely watching human characters and their rather mundane problems as their world gets crushed around them. You'd think the development would be solid but its not really, its very shallow, very cliched and wholly boring frankly. What's more the damn bare faced false advertising of man of the moment Cranston as a main character is unbelievable! He's the only character of any interest and they kill the bugger off in the first twenty odd minutes!

The whole movie does play out like and have a very clear Speilbergian quality to it if you ask me. The entire approach both story wise and visually feels like a vamped up 'Close Encounters'...or 'Jaws' even. The way they hide the creatures right until the finale, lots of hinting, the dreary character arcs, the eerie foreboding, the bleak colour scheme and lighting etc...The only problem is this is a Godzilla movie, you pay to see Godzilla, you pay to see Godzilla kicking another monsters ass, you don't pay to see dull humans talking about how they can stop this rarely seen threat. Seriously Watanabe had a face like a goldfish for the entire run time, that's all he did...look shocked through multiple facial closeups accompanied by dramatic musical crescendos. In fact there were loads of overly dramatic moments with facial closeups and dialog read in an overly dramatic manner, quite amusing.

Once we see Godzilla he does look the business admittedly, the beast is gigantic imposing scary and spot on design wise. This Godzilla really looks like the classic Zilla we've all seen in the old Japanese flicks, its his face and spine scales that really sell it this time. The other monsters are fair enough but nothing outstanding, more like rejects from that Del Toro movie with their glowing luminous eyes and...errr luminous glowing egg sack cocoon things. I'm not a Godzilla connoisseur so I don't know but doesn't Zilla ever eat humans? would have been cool to see, plenty of stomp fodder of course which was sweet...yep I know that seems a bit sadistic but hey its a Godzilla movie.

In the end most of the movie doesn't feel like a Godzilla movie but a movie about military folk trying to get a bomb from one place to another and then trying to disarm it. The monster jiggery pokery merely happens in the background. When it does kick off at the end it does so Godzilla saves the humans? Yep he kills the naughty beasties then simply slumps off back into the ocean without so much as a whiff of human munching. Oh and all the survivors of what's left of San Francisco cheer him as he does so...from the utter ruins of their city. Yes the movie looks fantastic all the way through, Godzilla looks fantastic, the final boss fight at the end looks fantastic and there are some fantastic sequences like the HALO jump.

Despite my hardline review I did kinda enjoy the film and I appreciate how they went about it by not slapping all their cards on the table at once. Whether that was the ideal way to go for this franchise is debatable and I'm sort of borderline with it. Its a solid new Godzilla from Hollywood but personally I think they have kinda acted a bit sneaky and have purposely held Godzilla back aiming to go all out with the possible (slightly inevitable) sequel...dare I say trilogy? Is it just me being cynical or does this seem to be the game plan more often these days.


Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Inbetweeners 2 (UK, 2014)

So after the somewhat mediocre affair of the first film the boys are back for more vulgar adventures, this time down under. That's pretty much my whole synopsis right there, this film is virtually the same spiel as the first film but set in Australia, game over.

The film follows on from the last movie with Simon having relationship issues with the girl he met in Malia and Will doesn't seem to be with the nice blonde he met in Malia anymore. Neil has also moved on from his girl but Jay has run off to Oz to find the chubby bird he also met in Malia. So most of what happened in the last movie has been jettisoned for a clean slate and basically the story revolves around Jay going after his bird from the first movie.

No sooner have the guys met up in Oz and discovered Jay is actually working in a nightclub toilet (nicely done), Will bumps into an old flame and all four are dragged off up the eastern coast to Bryon Bay following her. After a slow start the story does pick up a bit when we meet Jay's uncle in Australia, I can't deny the obligatory stereotypical beer swilling racist foul mouthed Aussie is a hoot if somewhat predictable with the verbal gags. From there on the movie does nail each and every stereotype perfectly from the guitar playing, bead wearing, bracelet adorned, backpacking UK hippies with their silly head wear and earrings.

I guess its no surprise the whole film is one big predictable cliche, we all know that right, we know to expect that but does this make for a fun flick? In all honesty no it doesn't, I still can't quite work out how or why this film has done so well here in the UK, well I know why...its because the TV show was so popular and it has a huge following that's why. I must declare I found myself second guessing almost every scene, every line of dialog and every gag, the whole scenario, the whole setup...everything was just so formulaic and predictable it really felt quite lame dare I say.

Sure there are scenes and lines that made me laugh of course. The most horrendous of these must be the lumps of poo shooting down the water chute after Neil has an accident at the top. This wasn't exactly funny...more utterly disgusting as the lumps of poo did look very real and the fact they hit Simon in the face followed by him gushing vomit did leave me actually gagging. Seeing Jay wanking under the covers as Will comes close to getting laid was very amusing, the lads getting stranded in the outback brings up some good lines despite the fact you knew right from the start that whole scenario was bound to happen and Will having a spiritual campfire moment (and outburst) with the hippies was quite good.

I did find myself enjoying this in places but generally it all felt extremely repetitive in my opinion. Its all a thinly disguised rehash of the first movie, the plot is near identical and follows the same routine. The lads try to get in with the pretty folk, one or two of them manage to nab a sexy bird somehow, they all fall out over silly issues, they almost get their leg over but end up getting dumped in the end for a jock and then finally making up with each other. Hell even the verbal and visual gags are almost the same stuff rehashed but just slightly altered, instead of the 'pussay patrol' its now the 'banter brigade', worth a giggle but meh. The location this time made things more interesting and visually more exciting which I liked although I wish more had been set in the wilds of the outback. The short teaser trailers did tend to make you think that but alas twas no more than a tease.

The finale is again all the same guff from the first movie literately scene for scene including the end credit extras, plus it does feel like they shoehorned in as many cast regulars from the TV show as possible when they didn't really need to be there (Jay's dad?). In the end I do think this is better than the first movie outing but only marginally. The Aussie setting is great but lets be honest here...this film could of been set anywhere as they don't really take much advantage of that Aussie factor. I do believe (personally) that this franchise has now run its course and should quite while its ahead, its become very repetitive and making another in yet another location may not succeed.


Friday, 5 September 2014

The Inbetweeners (UK, 2011)

So back in 2008 the UK was introduced to yet another foul-mouthed rude and disgusting comedy show...and it was more British brilliance. Easily the most semi offensive, filthy and sexually profanity ridden show to hit our screens since Bottom, and that was tame in comparison. The whole premise is basically centred around childish immature toilet humour, typical boyish low brow school smut that most every British male can relate to because they probably grew up doing and saying the same things.

The TV show revolved around four young boys struggling through their school years which included various stereotypical themes which, again, many will relate too. The most common of these was the attempt and failure of many many sexual encounters with girls from their school or where ever, these sexual escapades made up the bulk of the shows plots. Yes it sounds like a wholly cliched and unoriginal but that doesn't deter us Brits when it comes to embarrassing sexual innuendos and smut.

This movie carries on from where the TV show left off after the final third series which we all thought had finished for good. The lads are still mates and they're off on their holidays to sunny Malia, Crete, Greece. That is basically the plot right there, you don't really need to know anything about the TV show or what happened, you can quite easily watch this on its own and get the drift perfectly. There might be the odd moment which you might not get if you haven't watched the TV show but generally you should be fine.

If ever there was a bad advert on a mass scale for Brits abroad then this has gotta be high on the list. I'm not referring to all Brits of course but mainly the younger binge drinking generation that we all know and loathe these days. Yep its the stereotypical vision of modern day British youths abroad getting blind drunk, having or hunting for guilt free animalistic sex, drugs, vomit, feces and lots of football shirts. Its exactly what you'd expect as a British viewer which is both hilarious at times and utterly shameful at others, we all know what goes down in these types of places, amazed it wasn't filmed in Magaluf (probably too extreme).

Whilst the TV show seems anarchic and unpredictable this film really feels like a let down in my eyes. Gone are the fresh wild obnoxious antics...instead replaced with every known cliche from the book of cliches, besides that we saw all this before with 'Kevin and Perry Go Large'. The one that has been implanted into this story is emotion and some solid character development. The guys do seems to grow as we see them fall out, make up and meet the girls of their dreams...naturally not being the type of girls they expected. Although again its kinda obvious, 'Jay' gets a tubby bird and starts to show signs of maturing, 'Will' get a hot blonde, 'Simon' finally moves on from 'Carly' with a brunette and 'Neil' finds a slightly ditzy girl the same height as himself.

Generally I found this movie kinda depressing actually, there is tonnes of negativity with the guys trying to find girls, trying to be popular and trying to fit in. There are of course the highs but I found there to be more lows really, lows and lots of cringeworthy behaviour which somehow didn't seem as funny as the TV show. Most of the laughs tend to be the most obvious and over used cliches such as the shitty hotel, aging desperate women dressed in unflattering attire, too much booze with obligatory vomiting, hot babes, buff jocks and the old gag of the rude doodle burnt into burnt into your back. I guess the old school location of...errr their school works the best, prime example being the fantastic small sequence with Greg Davies as 'Mr Gilbert' the Headmaster giving a rousing speech at the start. Its reasonable fun in places but on the whole it can't live up to the original show despite the usual good performances from the main cast.


Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Neighbors (2014)

The whole nightmare neighbours thing has been done to death, anyone remember the Aykroyd and Belushi movie 'Neighbours' from 1981? There are other examples that vary on the premise but the idea is old hat, this movie uses the old frat house theme against the homely couple which in itself is not entirely original. None the less its an opportunity to see Rogen act like a beer swilling unkempt overweight slob and...oh wait, that's not entirely original either.

So the young-ish couple with a baby living in some huge huge detached house in suburbia are horrified when the other huge huge detached house next door gets turned into a frat house. This kind of thing doesn't really happen in the UK, we don't have frat houses and the concept does sound quite ludicrous frankly although I'm sure this situation has been exaggerated. Most folk in the UK don't live in detached mansions either by the way. At first the young couple get on with the party mad...err frat guys/people, but sure enough tensions mount and eventually the situation boils over into a feud.

I kinda found this film to be along the same lines as the comedy 'Identity Thief'. Now when I say comedy I use that term loosely as both movies revolve around situations that aren't really funny, this is how I see them as similar. In reality if this happened to you (either movies plot) it would be horrible, a real nightmare, thusly watching this film kinda made me feel uncomfortable, I actually felt tense and nervous because the whole scenario is just nasty.

Sure there are amusing moments...kinda, at first everything is sorta OK but you know it won't last of course. It starts with simple noise pollution as the teens party all night long, little jibes here and there, nothing too bad. Then as things start to heat up Rogen's character attacks the frat house causing bad water damage which the lads somehow manage to fix by selling...dildos?! they make about 10K I think it was...wut?! From there on various things happen which just aren't particularly funny, nothing really seriously malicious like horrific serve vandalism but just dangerous pranks like somehow setting up Rogen's car airbags to go off on his work seat. How on earth did they manage to get into his work place and do that? let alone find out where he works. The same could be said for the airbag pranks inside Rogen's plus would they really make a fully grown male as heavy as Rogen fly in the air like that? it all seems illogical and it looked stupid.

I guess the whole thing just feels completely predictable and like something we've seen before many times over the decades, oh wait we have. All the usual drinking pot smoking visual gags, the nerdy older couple trying to be cool and mix in with the younger kids by dressing idiotically and talking like some street wise surfer rap hoodies (am I showing myself up to be out of touch with that comment?). The party montages are the usual epileptic fit inducing variety with hot scantily cad chicks, neon lights, dance floor grinding, insane activities and close ups of Rogen's bare disgusting hairy gut.

What's really kinda weird is the young frat guys keep threatening to do things to get back at Rogen and co yet they never really do much accept for the airbag jokes and just being plainly annoying. The film keeps building up the plot as though something epic is gonna happen but nothing really does. Then in the end after the frat house is shut down and you'd think the frat boys (mainly Efron's character) would be really pissed and out for revenge, he just makes up with Rogen as if nothing ever happened! I was like...that's it?!" after all that you just shake and be friends! what was the point of all this again?

I like Rogen I really do, he can be a funny guy, a good average Joe type fella in solid everyday bloke type movies, he's relatable. This just feels like a vain ego trip (seeing as he produced it) which just doesn't work and feels totally forced. Trying too hard and coming across as overbearing with the attempted laughs, get a new schtick Rogen.