Friday, 28 November 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

 A quirky little tale that was inspired by the writings of Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig. I have never heard of this guy and I don't know of his work (as far as I'm aware), so unfortunately I cannot comment any further on this movies accuracy adapting or being influenced by Zweig's work. What I do know is to expect all the trademark Wes Anderson quirks from plot themes visual style and of course casting that we have all become accustomed too. Now I will admit this does kinda bother me somewhat as I find this sort of repetition, mainly in his casting, a tad mundane and unadventurous, or at least it can lead to that (Tim Burton).

Luckily this movies theme and visual direction grabbed my attention...well mainly the visuals. The story begins with flashbacks within flashbacks as a young girl starts to read from a memoir written by the 'author' (Tom Wilkinson). The memoir recounts a tale about a trip he made to the Grand Budapest Hotel back in 1968, the younger version of the author played by Jude Law. The young author meets up with the aging hotel owner played by F. Murray Abraham and they discuss how he became the owner. This in turn leads to another flashback to 1932 as we see the young hotel owner as a lobby boy under the tutelage of the hotel concierge played by Ralph Fiennes.

The movie is basically a Germanic/eastern European wartime murder mystery split into five chapters. An wealthy elderly hotel guest dies and leaves Fiennes character (Gustave) a valuable painting much to the anger of her odious money grabbing relatives. It is then discovered the old woman has been murdered and Fiennes is a prime suspect. What follows from there is a madcap vintage slapstick of a black comedy as we tag along with Gustave and his lobby boy Zero as they attempt to evade dangerous relatives, soldiers and prison (long story short).

So as I said for me this movie grabbed my attention through its unique visual style which kinda reminded me of classic murder mysteries but in a very Germanic sense. You could maybe drawn comparisons to the comedy 'Clue'? visually at least...kinda. The actual hotel surrounding background and the funicular are a highly detailed models which are based on real locations in the Czech Republic (the hotel anyway). I adored these models because they simply looked fantastic, admittedly obvious models but that's the looks like a model railway set. The cold snowy terrain and weather really gives this movie a warm cozy atmosphere, the cutesy models, highly decorative traditional interior sets (very continental) and characters that look like your old relations all combine to give this almost Christmas glow to the proceedings...or it could just be me.

This sumptuous visual flair is helped along by the colour scheme of certain sequences such as the hotel being a light shade of pink making it look like a large cake. The interiors are also bright and colourful as are the staff uniforms in that classic 30's style. The fact that young Zero's girlfriend also works at the local bakery making fluffy mouth-watering pastel coloured baked treats almost feels like Anderson is teasing us. On top of that the bakery van is also a deliciously looking light shade of pink making you literately think of nothing but pink icing marshmallows and cakes! Its tantamount to torture I tells ya!

On the flip side the fictional war aspect of the tale which is set in between the two great wars (1932) clearly looks and feels like WWI but it isn't...I don't think. Despite the whimsical vibe there are still beatings murder and oppression in some forms in the latter half of the movie, nothing hideous but enough to jolt you out of your cozy spot. I guess the real problem for me was the casting...yes that's right the casting. The movie is based around European aristocracy, puffed up rich continental types with fat moustaches that you'd normally see living currently in certain areas of north London. The issue is they are all played by very American actors and it doesn't really gel half the time.

Fiennes is easily the best thing going here and he fits his role perfectly with his own upper crust upbringing. His performance is both charming and amusing with his suave debonair persona as he greets and sucks up to the guests...then all of a sudden blammo!...he'll drop an F-bomb outta nowhere...brilliant! Kudos also to his sidekick played by Tony Revolori who looks just the ticket as the young alert lobby boy, dude looks like Penfold (Danger Mouse). There are various other decent performances throughout (too many cast members to mention) but its the odd characters played by Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson (basically the entire American cast) that just don't work. The only American that does slot in well is Dafoe as the assassin who basically looks like Count Orlok once yes that fits into this era and region perfectly.

These characters are meant to be Europeans in a small landlocked alpine country...yet they have American accents! plus some of these stars don't really do a great job performance wise either. You do get the impression Anderson revels in collecting a large glittering ensemble cast that looks stunning on paper and the movie posters but don't necessarily fit the bill. Plus I also get the impression Anderson kinda likes to play dress up with these big stars and not worrying so much about their characters, after all this whole movie does tend to look like an illustrated children's book or an explosion from within a toy box (with layers of pink icing on top).

Essentially the story is about greed I guess, on the surface everything seems sweet and pleasant but dig down and really everybody is a bit of a shit and not to be trusted...including Gustave to a degree. I'm not even sure if I liked any of the characters really, I suppose the lobby boy is our (the viewers) most trusted ally. In the end the movie ends on a happy note or so you think, Anderson finally slaps you across the face as the very ending is actually quite sad and grim like some kind of children's fairytale. Its an odd one for sure, starts off like as a feel good flick...visually looking like everything is taking place within a snow globe, but slowly grinds you down until you feel like sobbing at the finale. I still can't really decide if I actually liked it or not, its certainly well made directed and crafted but its not what I thought it would be. I must give kudos to Anderson for his creation and storytelling (even though it all feels a tad ostentatious) but I still can't help but feel somewhat empty and emotionless towards it even though I really really wanted to love it.


Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Doctor Dolittle (1967)

Yes that's right kids, that hideous Eddie Murphy movie is actually based on a very famous set of children's novels by Hugh Lofting and before the modern revamp came this far far superior children's movie. This film is actually based on three of the Dolittle novels, all fused together, but you'd never have guessed that.

The film feels like its set in stages, first off we meet Matthew Mugg and Tommy Stubbins in the whimsical little English port town of Puddleby-on-the-marsh. Once we the audience are acquainted with this cute couple its off to see the doctor in his typically traditionally beautiful little English cottage on the hill. From there on we watch the trio get stuck in various ordeals involving various animals as they try to raise money to go on a voyage to find the Giant Great Pink Sea-Snail. Eventually the second leg of the movie kicks in as the trio and the obligatory beautiful female set sail into the unknown. The third part of movie would involve the crew getting shipwrecked but finding land, land that conveniently happens to harbour the Pink Sea-Snail.

Where to begin?! I was virtually raised with this film (amongst other classics), as a kid I hated it truth be told, probably down to forced repeat viewings but as I have matured I can see what a fantastic picture it really is. The movie didn't perform too well upon release which really amazed me frankly as I personally think this is way better than say...'Mary bloody Poppins'. It didn't help that Disney's 'Jungle Book' came out around the same time of course.

The village scenes filmed in Wiltshire, UK are absolutely gorgeous to look at they really are, if ever you wanted to see the perfect little olde worlde English hamlet then voila. Unfortunately they had to use sets eventually down to the locals not liking what was happening to their little home but I don't see the issue really. The fishing port mockup with farm animals, cats and period dressed locals is so quaint and lovely looking, probably lots of droppings everywhere but hey come on! different times they were.

There really isn't a scene in the entire movie which isn't bright bold and colourful with excellent detailed props and costumes. The locations were magnificently chosen and really brought the picture to life. You can easily tell the sets of Sea-Star Island compared to the real locations shoots of St Lucia, had it all been sets it clearly would not have been half as spectacular visually. Personally (apart from Puddleby at the start) I think the circus sequences and sets were the most impressive and enjoyable. Being a simple circus tent scenario it wouldn't have been too hard to pull off but you gotta remember everything is period set within the Victorian era. This setting is what makes the movie so attractive to look at with the lavish Victorian decorations sets props costumes etc...Even more so within the circus scenes with classic clowns, strong men, bearded ladies, big butch bald guys...and many with thick waxed moustaches.

Its the circus scenes where I think we see the best performance which is from Attenborough as Albert Blossom the ringmaster. His physical appearance was perfect for the role and the added makeup with obligatory fat tash really nailed this character. His cheerful loud brash ringmaster with a northern accent is a sheer joy to behold as he prances around in that classic top hat and red tails attire, along with his funny little tweed looking suit with breast pocket watch. Its also here we come across the most memorable song 'I've never seen anything like it' sung merrily by Attenborough with all his circus folk in their various colourful patchwork clothes. If your kids don't enjoy these sequences then by thunder I'll...errm be surprised.

Yes the film is a musical much like many of these old classic family films and admittedly no the songs aren't overly memorable (apart from the one I mentioned), but for their scenes they work. The cast in general are good but do pail in comparison to the epic Rex Harrison. Its not all about Harrison though, Anthony Newley is very enjoyable to watch as Irishman Matthew Mugg, the Irish always fit into olde worlde eras well. Samantha Eggar is extremely beautiful and dreamy despite her character being a spoilt pain in the arse and I also liked Geoff Holder as Willie Shakespeare the Sea-Star Island tribal leader...very well spoken. Finally I can't not mention Peter Bull as the fat rich and highly aristocratic General Bellowes who is still quite the intimidating character even after all these years (used to worry me as a kid).

What is also surprising is the amount of practical effects and real animals used (well not really seeing as there was no CGI). They really did have tonnes of various animals all over the place for certain scenes throughout. Many seem to have just been shoved into the scene but obviously some were trained and its quite impressive really. Naturally the larger effects do look hokey as hell nowadays, when I was a kid the Giant Great Pink Sea-Snail always amazed me, now its a bit shitty really. Hey I'm not having a go but its very rigid, it clearly moves awkwardly if at all and it has a weird almost human expression for a face. The Giant Lunar Moth also looks pretty bad these days but the scene hides much of it with darkness so it does work better. Again the overly massive whale that somehow manages to push an entire island looks pretty darn scary in all honesty, its also massively massive...and fake. Despite that they all work in the context of the film, that being a fairytale of it would be so cool if they were real.

Honourable mention to the Tibetan Pushmi-pullyu which I always thought was a real animal when I was very young. As I got older I thought it was a real animal with some kind of effect stuck on it, now I realise its two blokes in a suit...isn't it?! Gotta hand it to looks pretty good, quite realistic...apart from when it starts to dance. Hey its a kids fantasy film people!

The movie is long and crammed packed with story which is both overwhelming but (I think) acceptable. Even though there is lots going on, various sub plots that must be completed before the main plot kicks in like some kind of videogame and quite a few flashbacks and no point did I ever get confused. The whole premise is so simple and fun personally I don't notice the run time. It all feels like a more in depth version of Disney's 'Bedknobs and Broomsticks' what with all the fanciful objectives and dialog flying about the place.

So if you can ignore the fact that the original novels were supposedly full of racism (take into account when they were written though), and ignore the horrendous 1998 remake and its following direct to DVD sequels (easy to forget this crap trust me), I think this is a great film for all the family. I think Fleischer did a great job directing and Bricusse did a tremendous job of adapting all three novels into the one film. A delightfully charming captivating timeless ride alongside the good doctor and his menagerie of animals.


Sunday, 23 November 2014

Initial D (HK, 2005)

Based on the highly popular Japanese manga/anime series this Hong Kong made movie clearly took some ideas from the earlier American smash hit movie 'The Fast and the Furious'. Despite the whole concept of illegal street racing generally being a word wide thing its always been a popular icon in American and Japanese pop culture/culture. The concept of drifting (drift racing) is originally an entirely Japanese form of illegal racing which involves racing down and through tight mountain passes or simple tight narrow winding roads. This movie is centred on drift racing (as was the source material) and will feel very similar to 'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift', so if you enjoyed that you'll like this.

The plot is obvious and the usual thing for this type of movie. A young tofu delivering teen is the undisputed king of the mountain when it comes to drifting, he learnt everything he knows from his racing guru of a father...who for comedic purposes is a drunk. His fame for drifting gets noticed by various other racer gangs/teams and he is challenged at various points throughout until he must face some stiff competition at the end. During all this racing drama there is of course the drama of reality with a girlfriend, his best mate who also wants to race, the car breaking down, his father etc...the usual boyracer issues.

Lets be brutally honest here...this movie is basically a Fast and Furious movie set in Japan, its virtually an extension to Tokyo Drift. Everything plays out as you'd expect, the characters are all cliched and cheesy (I love the Japanese black leather wearing gang racers with bandanas and dreads), the races are of course predictable and you know what's gonna happen at every turn (pun intended). What makes it a bit unique is the simple fact its set in Japan, a very picturesque prefecture, it feels more realistic being in Japanese (subs) and the race sequences are gritty looking.

In that sense the movie is better than its US counterparts (just like Tokyo Drift is the best of the FnF franchise). The racing is very impressive and very realistic with genuine drifting stunts on genuine tight twisty roads in Japan. Again I must stress its nothing you haven't seen before of course, not anymore, but it looks really solid. There is little fanfare here either, the races are merely two average looking modded ricers, a few drably dressed onlookers, the hero is also pretty drab himself and there are little to no special effects bar the odd zooming through the car interior and a hint of internal engine tomfoolery. Expect lots of slow motion replays, tight camera angles on the cars, flybys, close-ups on pedals and speedometers, grimacing facial close-ups etc...all regular racing cliches.

There are no semi-naked females in ultra tight skimpy attire, no boom boxes blaring out rap tunage, no heavily blinged up chavy patrons, no heavily pimped up stupid looking cars, no muscles covered in tattoos blah blah blah. This is very down to earth and grounded, Japanese teens are incredibly sensible and well dressed compared to teens elsewhere. Its actually amusing to see them try and be rebellious because they just end up looking like preppy school kids dressed badly.

As I already said the cars are not luminous monstrosities scraping the tarmac polluting the air with hip hop and with the kind of body kits you'd see being used for a glider. Nope...what I loved about this movie was the use of straight up ricers with little gloss but plenty of real muscle. Naturally we see the glorious GT-R, a lovely Mazda RX-7, a stunning Evo IV and the plucky little Toyota Sprinter Trueno that is taken faithfully from the manga series. In the manga series the Toyota is apparently unmodified but in this movie it does seem to be somewhat with suspension and the odd bits n bobs. There are quite a few inevitable changes from the source material to this movie and one appears to be the absence of how Takumi's father does a Mr Miyagi and slowly teaches him how to become a top drifter/racer without him even realising whilst he delivers his tofu. In this movie you do get a hint of that but it seems as though Takumi knows he's being taught which takes away the sparkle.

Watching this now it feels very very very hokey I won't deny, its cringeworthy in places its so damn corny. Plus the rush in street racing flicks has flooded the market so the originality is long gone. Like I said the locations work nicely and will really get Jap super saloon fanboys excited and the cast is solid despite a weak performance from lead star Jay Chou as Takumi...he's hardly much to look at either. Chapman To is easily the best thing cast wise with his chubby bumbling over the top comedic display combined with that odd haircut, he does boost the movie which would of been too dull in places without him. The movie ends on a bit of a flat note I think but other than that its a decent street racer flick which should satisfy anyone who likes this sort of thing. Still not too sure why the franchise is called 'Initial D'.


Thursday, 20 November 2014

Gargoyles (1972)

Two things really show how old this movie is, firstly it was made way way back in 1972 before I was born and way way before fancy special effects. Secondly its actually a TV movie so straight away that limits the feature big time...did I mention 1972? Yep this is some real small fry American TV drama here folks.

A paleontologist and his daughter travel to a remote shack where some old bloke shows them the skeleton of an ancient hellspawn, a demon. These demons are more commonly known as gargoyles on Earth, waiting to take over mankind for Satan...naturally. Now this area has been infested with reports of these demons for ages, since the era of Native American settlements apparently. Yet despite that no one has ever seen them in this area, but the minute the good paleontologist and his sweet innocent daughter turn up they start attacking the run down shack where the old bloke lives. The reason for this is the gargoyles are after the skeleton of their own kind for some reason...but they decide to do so when these outsiders are around.

In the aftermath of this attack the old fella buys the farm and the couples car is torn up badly. Yet again despite all that happens the duo take it oh so calmly. They aren't too bothered about the old guy getting killed and burned to a crisp, they don't report anything until the next day! and they aren't even bothered about the fact they were attacked by big scaly monsters. Hell even the gas station guy doesn't really question the damage...he'll just get it fixed by the next day!!

I guess the funny thing is these creatures have been living in the caves near this town for centuries yet no one knows of them or believes the duo...yet these things go out in broad daylight and fly around!! wut?! No one has ever gone near these huge caves apparently and no one has ever seen the gargoyles hanging around on the rocks as they do...ever. The acting isn't particularly bad or anything its just the plot and direction is rather comical and things don't really add up. I didn't realise demon spawns/gargoyles laid eggs and hatched their young, I would of thought they came up from hell or whatever.

This small film did win an Emmy award so I've found out, I'm guessing that was probably for the excellent makeup effects by good old Stan Winston (couldn't be for much else). This is really why I watched this old movie and I'm pretty sure its why everyone else watches it too. The films cover gives the game away unfortunately by showing you Casey in the top notch facial appliances...but I guess that was the films selling point, the focal point. That makeup job by Winston is darn good even today and its just draws you in, you gotta watch it for that. 
The rest of the suit isn't quite as good, by that I mean you can clearly see its just a rubber suit with covered shoes, hokey rubber fingers, plastic looking wings and obvious creases at the knees and waistline. The rest of the gargoyle horde are all the same in the sense that the faces are great but the rest is hokey, the cringeworthy movements by the extra actors in the suits don't help. I love how they slow down the footage when the gargoyles move into action trying to make them more creepy and heavy looking I 70's.

The film is never really scary or creepy at any point truth be told, not too sure if it was meant to be though, it feels more like an extended Twilight Zone episode. The location work is limited and sparse, nothing much in the form of set pieces or anything fancy, its just barren desert/wilderness. There is a car chase sequence which is rather boring because they keep going and going and going just showing the car and motorbike going past the camera at various stages, I swear this was time wasting.

I guess back in the day this could of been seen as a shifty dark horror, bit of claret on screen, definitely not for the kids. These days its so very amusing and hammy, so bad its good I guess. The fact that Casey's head gargoyle tells Wilde that he will never escape them or see another human ever again...but then he just runs off and finds his way out of the cave and stumbles across the search party immediately (laugh out loud!). Never really too sure why they kidnap the young girl either, what use to the gargoyles is she? I guess they needed a reason for the male heroes to go gargoyle hunting. The finale where the head gargoyle flies off is another crude funny moment, I shouldn't mock but really...its hilariously terrible looking. Did James Cameron get his finale idea for Ripley flaming the Alien eggs from this little movie? who knows.

I definitely think there is a lot of the 1985 movie 'Legend' in this film. The way the young girl is left to wander around the gargoyle caves whilst being quietly observed by Casey. Then finally she stumbles across him as he sits reading from a book looking quite majestic and regal almost. Also many of the camera shots of Casey in his hero gargoyle suit look similar to the way Scott shot Curry as Darkness...if you ask me.

I wouldn't say this was a bad (TV) film despite what I've said here and there, its not exactly a great film either...but its sure one hell of a cult film. I really wanted to see this (first time for me) as the cover excited me for those wondrous makeup effects, naturally being a Winston fan. I definitely wasn't disappointed with the makeup work but overall the film was pretty below par, maybe not back in the day but looking back now geez! I didn't know the film was set in the desert and that kinda threw me a bit, that setting doesn't work for the plot methinks. I did enjoy the adult approach and not shying away from blood and the odd scare. At times it did remind me of those old superhero TV movies (Spider-Man, 1977) visually but luckily they didn't go down that route.

I was totally in the dark about this, I actually thought this was the precursor idea that led to the animated show Gargoyles during the early 90's (still not too sure). Glad I've seen it and Winston's work (the man was always quality), but end of the day there isn't much else here other than those glorious gargoyle prosthetics.


Monday, 17 November 2014

Leviathan (1989)

So back in 89 there was a spate of deep sea movies which included James Cameron's 'The Abyss', that movie was the only one to actually do well. I guess its a little ironic that the only other deep sea flick that was of any worth at this time was this movie which just happened to completely and utterly rip off Cameron's previous two mega hits of the era.

So the plot here is basically 'Alien' combined with 'Aliens' and 'The Abyss' along with various other horror movies such as 'The Thing'. A small team of undersea miners are on the ocean floor erm...mining stuff, when along the line one crew member discovers a sunken Russian vessel which contains a deadly secret. This turns out to be a mutagen of some kind that infects a crew member killing him, his body then begins to mutate into a sea creature and I'm sure you can guess how this goes.

The general idea is not completely identical to the James Cameron 80's filmography, the creature is basically a toxic mutant which is made up of the various dead crew members. This thing absorbs its victims intellect and is physically formed by the crew members bodies...or something like that. The crew members don't appear to be completely dead, more like trapped within this creatures body or they are being slowly absorbed/digested (?). Anyhow the visual design is not entirely shown in the movie, its kept out of sight and hidden behind lots of steel pipes, but what you do see revolves around tentacles (as usual) and snapping maws. The look of of the beast and the way it mutates does run along similar lines to John Carpenter's 'The Thing' where as everything else is 'Alien' within the set of 'The Abyss'.

Put it this way the special effects are a solid example of old fashioned hands-on craftsmanship with plenty of blood gore goo and body shock horror, the good old days. Despite the fact Stan Winston, Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr. worked on the effects they aren't the best you will see, like I say they are solid and fun for fanboys of the craft but the other movies of the day were better examples. I think the creature is mostly hidden because they knew it wasn't too good, earlier in the film the smaller leech type things were effective but the main creature is a bit of a lifeless lump.

The deep sea base set does actually look pretty good with some obviously solid production values in play. Again if you think of the Nostromo and the Deep Core combined then you have a good idea of the visuals. Lots of metal corridors, pipes, gratings, the odd beige coloured medical bay, beige living quarters etc...its all too familiar really. I did like the deep sea diving suits they use which have a nice futuristic realistic look, more like space suits admittedly but that tends to be the way with these types of movies.

Although not actually filmed under the sea the film does look very good with some brilliant use of indoor sets, heavy mist and lighting, it does look as though its on the ocean floor. This is helped by good camera angles with the crew in their suits when walking around, a great submerged Russian shipwreck and lots of little floating bits in front of the camera to simulate the deep moving ocean.

I guess overall this movie is just way too much of a carbon copy of the other movies I've mentioned. The characters are all extremely cliched and look like they've just stepped off the set of the Alien franchise. Richard Crenna would be the Ash/Bishop character, Ernie Hudson is Parker, Daniel Stern would be Brett/Hudson, Eilbacher would be Lambert etc...and yes I did just mention Daniel Stern who was totally miscast incidentally oh and his characters name is Sixpack. Along with that the plot trundles by exactly the same as the Scott/Cameron flicks. I mean Exactly the same right down to the self destruct finale with loud computer countdown, the company knowing all about the mutagen and setting the crew up and ridiculously similar weapons including the obligatory flame thrower.

The finale doesn't really help its case either with a brief shark attack that ends just as quickly as its starts, the coastguard flying overhead at the exact moment the survivors surface and the fact the beastie seemingly comes back from its watery grave. Its a bizarre finale really as we see the creature getting crushed and then the entire deep sea base implodes...yet it manages to survive.The movie then still continues as we see Peter Weller getting his own back on the company director or representative by punching her out!! he knocks out a woman! Everything about the finale just feels tacked on and rushed, as though they weren't sure what to do...and it really shows. It is a fun deep sea thriller but its not very scary truth be told and in an era of sci-fi classics this movie fell well short I'm afraid, but its not a total loss.


Saturday, 15 November 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Yes it seems to be official, Gary Oldman is apparently in everything! Much like the ALZ-113 virus he gets into everything and...errr kills it? no wait, analogy misfire here.

Following on from the first reboot of this classic franchise with this new cracking title we now see the results of simian flu as its wipes out most of humanity across the globe. Only pockets of people who are naturally immune to the disease are left to try and rebuild whatever they can from their former existence as the dominant species on Earth. In the mean time Caesar and his ape companions have evolved further living in a big Ewok village just outside San Francisco, they don't want war but will fight if they have too.

Right first things first...holy piles of elephant dung this movie looks good! and when I say good I mean sumptuous. The first shot is a close up of Caesar's glaring eyes as his pack stalk prey on the hunt. To say this image is haunting is an understatement, you'd think it was an actual person! in fact I don't even know if it was CGI! (probably was). This first sequence sets up the rest of the movie clearly showing you the effects have been pumped up vastly (they're on steroids) and we are now easily on terms with Kubrick's space odyssey. That's not to say director Reeves doesn't know this...oh he knows and he takes full advantage with some very familiar sound bites that hark back to the beginning of man in that little space flick. You can hear the same type of choir usage in the opening sequences and in the end with heavy orchestral beats hammering it home just in case you're a bit mutton. Yes its not exactly original or very subtle but it certainly sounds epic and works well. As the apes swing through the thick mist swept trees and foliage bearing down on their kill you can't help but be mightily impressed. The whole thing looks and sounds like something that should be from Arthur C. Clarke's seminal sci-fi novels if adapted now...its almost too good looking for this silly franchise.

This is not the only epic shot or sequence within the movie, the emotions expressed by Caesar and various other ape characters is pretty darn amazing. People are saying Serkis should get an Oscar for his performance but admittedly I really don't know where he ends and the CGI blokes take over. The general movement of the mammals is very very good but lets be honest here, there are many dancers and performers that could probably do that. What really impresses is the CGI work on the fur, wet fur especially and everyday movements  and emotions in the ape faces. There are times when you think you're watching a real chimpanzee it looks so good, Koba especially looks very realistic with his mottled skin. The large orangutan is another highly realistic looking creation as are the gorillas. Some chimp characters are more obvious than others strangely, mainly the lead characters like Blue Eyes don't look as good, the female apes aren't as good either, Caesar on the other hand looks the most human (I guess that makes sense). Is it me or does Caesar actually look like a bearded Charlton Heston in this flick?!

Not only do the apes look good the locations and sets look tremendous too! The ruined San Francisco looked...real! it genuinely looked like they trashed the place for the movie. Its within Frisco that most of the big action takes place too and again I can't deny it looks very grown up and very real. This is most definitely not your average summer blockbuster affair for the scroats oh no, this is a proper science fiction tale with gritty visuals. Is there anything more terrifying than seeing a bigass rampaging crazy chimpanzee upon a charging horse wielding a big assault rifle?? Let me rephrase that, is there anything more terrifying than seeing a crazy bigass chimpanzee upon a charging horse wielding a big assault rifle...and it knows how to shoot the thing quite accurately!!! Especially when the chimp in question is Koba who lets be a scary looking motherfucker. Oh...where did they get all the horses??

On one hand the battle sequences are viscerally exciting and pretty brutal with lots of grand slow motion shots of certain apes looking both macho and intimidating. On the other hand I couldn't help but feel uneasy at the entire thing, here I am watching all kinds of apes getting blown to shit and mown down by automatic gun fire as if it were 'Saving Private Ryan'...but with apes. Should I be enjoying this? I felt sorry for the apes and didn't really enjoy watching them die like humans...I know how that sounds but animals are different to us in movies, don't like to see them killed. I guess feeling sorry for the apes was the idea as most had been forced and tricked into a grisly war.

It did make me chuckle a little bit at the start though, the humans in Frisco could of easily wiped out all the apes in a matter of minutes seeing as they were all tooled up, game over. The apes only had spears at the time, plus the main lead human character could of spoken to Caesar right there and then instead of encouraging trouble by disobeying the apes line in the sand ultimatum. Why didn't they ask the apes about the dam right at the start when they had the face-off, perfect time, instead he goes off later into their village pissing them off even more. I also must ask how many apes there actually were! I know in the first movie many escaped from the zoo and test facility but Jesus there are apparently hundreds upon hundreds of them! Most get killed in the Frisco siege yet there are still tonnes of em', a literal army of apes, did seem a bit implausible even with ten years of breeding.

Lets not get ahead of ourselves though, this isn't a cheap action flick with cheap moments of gun totting cheese...OK there are one or two moments of convenient cheese, but not much. On the whole this movie delivers in depth levels of powerful human qualities such as leadership diplomacy acceptance wisdom authority loyalty and honour...with CGI monkeys. The gamut of emotions we see Caesar dealing with against the humans from anger and spite, to realisation of his own kind and finally acceptance that his apes are not better than humans after all is incredibly poignant. Of course on the flip side we see all the negative aspects of the human race played out via Koba.

It does all seem very much like a science fiction movie...which it is, but when you look into ape (chimp) behaviour its actually quite an eye opener to see that they can be quite vicious to one another. Some of the facial expressions you see displayed by Koba are very accurate which is pretty daunting. I will admit I didn't totally enjoy the very end as it seemed too much of a weak acceptance by the apes for pending war, I'm sure the remaining humans could easily speak up for them seeing as what happened was only confined to a small area. I did enjoy the fact there weren't any cliched baddie human characters for once but unfortunately Reeves seemingly couldn't resist an over the top setting for the final battle.

End of the day this does feel a bit like yet more filler or padding for the real focus of the franchise which is all out war between humans and apes. I do kinda feel they could of gotten to that point already instead of stretching it over two movies. But truth be told this is a rip-roaring science fiction adventure that not only betters the original by a good country mile, it also manages to be one of the best science fiction movies to come along for some time (yes its even better than all this comicbook fluff).


Thursday, 13 November 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

Straight away I'm gonna say that I like this franchise, the whole idea surrounding Nordic fables of Vikings set within a fantasy realm with a vast array of dragons is really intriguing and exciting. This franchise is adapted from a large set of children's books which I've never heard of (until now) but admittedly they look really good...for kids.

So after the first adventure of the Viking tribes befriending the dragons we are now presented with this idyllic world where  the villagers of Berk live in harmony with the dragons. Many of the elder Vikings have adopted dragons as pets and ride them as their personal steeds as have the younger characters, of course Hiccup is best friends with Toothless the rare dragon. The main problem with the plot would be there isn't really anywhere to go with this that hasn't been seen and done a billion times over. Unfortunately low and behold that's exactly what happens, its basically about the villagers of Berk fighting against an evil pirate dragon trapper character and his huge evil dragon.

This evil character really seems to have stepped out of the Disney Pirates of the Caribbean franchise seeing as he's basically a cliched rastafarian pirate with a prosthetic arm (not quite a hook but its the next best thing). Now admittedly this guy is a bit of a merciless jerk and with that he does add some gravitas to the proceedings plus he looks well ard'. His gigantic pet uber dragon is the equivalent of the Rancor on steroids with some fucking big kicks ass!! This huge alpha dragon hypnotises other dragons (somehow) which enables Captain dreadlocks to amass a vast dragon army with which he will take over this fantasy world...although I don't really know why he wants to do that (don't question it).

Of course its the band of plucky Viking kids that must save the day on their quirky dragons...cue lots of obligatory silly visual humour and gags for the kids. I won't go into the kiddie characters here because they are all the same characters from the first movie, as are most of the adult characters. What I really liked about this movie was the in depth and highly detailed array of dragons species we see. Once we discover the hidden dragon sanctuary in a vast ice cavern (created by another uber dragon...this time a female one), the visuals go into overdrive with dragons everywhere. Its like looking at a cave full of colourful butterflies all rendered perfectly in CGI, seriously its such a beautiful spectacle to behold. From here on there are dragons everywhere yet it never becomes dull or just looks super sweet.

I don't wanna spoil it too much but I gotta give kudos to the uber alpha dragon clash. This is easily the standout sequence in the movie and it is impressively slick looking as these two humongous beasts ram each other with their jumbo horns and roar a lot. It really felt like I was watching a battle from the animated The Clone Wars show...only a gazillion times better looking. I loved how the camera follows the flight of some dragons around like some crazy rollercoaster ride, nothing too outstanding these days but it looks awesome. With each passing animated movie the visuals just keep getting more glossy, more magnificent and generally spectacular.

I still dislike the choice of Baruchel for the voice of Hiccup...I mean I really don't like it, its so fecking annoying. Everyone else fits into their roles well (or as before), Butler again giving us a lovely Scottish Viking. But when its all said and done this movie like other animated movies is all about the visuals and visual humour, and this doesn't disappoint. The plot is a tad boring, sure it offers some little moments, some tiny twists...but essentially its a very safe bog standard affair (I realise its based on a book but still). The characters are well developed and designed, most of the dragons are also well designed (some looking too silly and freaky for me) and the main battle is right up there with any big live action fantasy adventure.

Obviously not quite as fresh as the first movie, it takes its time to pump out the thrills but it definitely gets there in the end. I think the fact it appeals to all ages really makes this franchise a winner. Much like 'Toy Story' its so damn likable, who doesn't enjoy dragons in a movie?! In the end this movie (franchise) made me wanna live in this sumptuous little universe with my own pet dragon, what more can I say?...a job well done movie.


Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Hercules (2014)

K so earlier in the year we got a Hercules movie directed by Renny Harlin...sounds bad I know. It went for a serious historic tone with the odd added bit of mythical fantasy...and it was indeed pretty poor. Now later on down the line we have Brett Ratner's vision which basically goes for a Zack Snyder '300' tone and...errr its been directed by Brett Ratner...can you see where this is going?

The plot...the plot is the most mundane story I've come across for some time, I'm still shocked at how disappointing this was. Basically Hercules and his little band of merry men are hired by John Hurt to fight a war against some other bad guy. Hercules trains all John Hurt's men up into solid badasses and defeats the bad guy only to find out that he was fighting on the wrong side all along and John Hurt is actually the bad guy, shock horror! The movie then continues as Hercules and his plucky band of cliched action heroes defeat John Hurt...the end.

Seriously I haven't been this utterly disappointed by a movie for some time...well. I saw the trailers for this and admittedly it looked really dumb...but it also looked like a decent Conan type adventure with lots of monsters. Oh how wrong those trailers are, oh how wrong I was! There are no monsters, no hydras, no three headed wolves etc...instead the movie hints at these things only as stories, rousing tales told by Hercules nephew to boost the legend throughout the film. So basically you could also say they were stuck in to fool us too, trick us into thinking this movie might actually be of interest. At one point you think there's gonna be a big battle between Hercules with John Hurt's army and an army of centaurs...nope.

Its interesting that they look at Hercules as more of a real human in this movie, I'll give it that. The fantasy elements are hinted at and treated exactly as what they are/were...legends. Problem is Johnson isn't really good enough to pull off a semi realistic historical movie whether it be mythical or not. This guy needs fantasy because he himself is virtually a fantasy character, a superhero character, thusly this movie needed fantasy for Johnson to work within it. Without that the project crumbles, Johnson struggles and its very clear to see. So kudos for having Hercules as a regular fella with epic proportions but in this case with the lead it needed fantasy.

I think what really hurts is the fact this movie is just one big horrible formulaic CGI mess, one huge predictable cliche full of stereotypical characters we've seen over and over and more recently in a certain Peter Jackson trilogy. As said already Hercules has this little band of cutthroats that serve him...the most cliched band of characters EVER!! You have the bloke who's good with daggers or knives, the bloke who's good with a spear or staff, the crazyass lunatic who just kills anything that moves and of course the tough cocky female archer character who you can't quite decide if you fancy or not because she's no oil painting but the fact she can kick your ass excites you. Oh and John Hurt plays a grizzled old King with a dirty looking beard so no change there then.

On top of the dreadfully cliched characters the action is also dreadfully cliched and old hat too! well its no different to anything you've seen in previous sword n sandal fantasy type flicks. Dwayne Johnson looks foolish with the big fake lion skin on his head plus it looks like it will topple off at any given moment. Both the dagger/knife expert and tough female archer character appear to have infinite amounts of arrows and knives to shoot at enemies whilst the staff/spear expert played by aging British actor Ian McShane does in fact look way too old to be able to do any of the things he actually does. In short expect lots of ridiculous Peter Jackson-esque action sequences where the hero characters leap around slaying countless numbers of bad guys without breaking a sweat or running low on ammo.

To really compound the shittyness of everything Ratner also tries to make it look and feel cool by attempting some Greek Snyder Spartan military scenarios which unfortunately pale in comparison. Hell even the end credits are a complete rip off from that Spartan movie and only serve to show how poor this film actually is, a poor mans equivalent. But wait there's more! the movie doesn't even look any good either, the odd bits of CGI action are obvious, the sets are obvious, the odd CGI monster is obvious, Johnson actually looks bad as Hercules (outfit wise its totally lackluster) and his little team of misfits also look bland as hell.

One plus point was the fact they didn't shy away from showing some blood in the action, its not flowing with the stuff but the odd splatter helped. The only decent sequence in the entire movie was the battle against the...errm green skinned lizard men looking warriors. Even that turned into a farce towards the end with most of them getting mown down by two chariots (look closely and most extras are just falling down without anything happening to them, so jokey). Less said about the ending the better, totally eventless...but I liked how John Hurt's vast army support him one minute, then Hurt is killed and they all simultaneously decide to then serve Hercules the next minute...all gazillion of them.

The entire production was weak and quite frankly it isn't much better than the other movie with kellogg Lurch or whatever his name is. Yeah I knew not to expect anything that epic seeing as Dwayne Johnson was in the lead role but wow! I certainly did expect it to be better than this...some actual thrills would have been nice too.


Saturday, 8 November 2014

Let's Be Cops (2014)

I think the start of this movie really sums up the present day extremely well. Wayans is pitching his new videogame idea to the company he works for in a board meeting, its an idea he feels is ripe fresh original and he's put a lot of effort into it. Straight off the bat his superiors immediately start to question his creation and asking what superpowers his main character has, is he a vampire and are there any zombies in it. I detect the mocking going on here and its very very accurate of the current times, everything is all about fecking superheroes and zombies.

The idea here is actually really good and I'm amazed it hasn't been tapped before. I literately only recently heard of a case (in the UK I think it was) where a man was caught pretending to be a police officer in an unmarked car with a fake police ID card or something. He actually pulled over a real unmarked police car for speeding! he got carried away with his power trip...laugh out loud! This movie takes on that premise but naturally piles on the complications and consequences. Its very simple, the two main leads pretend to be police officers after dressing up for a party. They quickly realise being a cop has perks and benefits which leads them deeper and deeper into a world they don't belong.

Now right away I think everyone knows what's gonna happen here, its bloody obvious and the movie doesn't really try to cover this fact. After all this is a silly frat house/frat pack type flick which you could easily see Kevin James, Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell or Ben Stiller starring in as either the straight guy or the crazy guy. So I think its pretty easy to predict what happens here, the pair abuse their fake powers with booze drugs girls, getting into clubs, driving like maniacs I said its all very predictable. Right at the start the duo have a run in with some shady blokes which is blatantly the plot setup for the movie, you know they will run into these guys again as cops, get their own back, the shady blokes will turn out to be real criminals and in turn the duo will be drawn into a real cops n criminals situation.

The main reason this movie does kinda work is purely down to the surprisingly good chemistry between the two leads. I've never heard of Jake Johnson but straight away he does what Kevin James is great at doing and that's playing the average Joe really well, he's a likable funny guy. Wayans isn't as funny as Johnson and unfortunately for him he looks way too much like his dad so you keep thinking it is his dad, and lets be honest...Damon Wayans Sr. is no top twenty movie star in any genre. But together these guys do click really well, they are both likable as they play off each other and its amusing to watch them bicker and fight. In the end I gotta give full points to Johnson, watching this guy get high on cop law enforcement thinking he's the real deal, actually buying a cop car, using the jargon etc...its priceless.

Seriously though this role was made for Kevin James but I guess his track record is a tad tarnished at the mo from hangin out with Sandler too much. Heck they even pinched a small sketch from The King of Queens where Johnson is playing football with some little kids and gets carried away taking things too seriously (good laugh though).

I think this movie has similarities to James vehicle 'Mall Cop' in the sense that both films start off really well with a nice chuckle level but end up going too far. In this film the bad guy played by Brit actor D'Arcy is really quite nasty and would fit an actual adult action flick much better, he really is that intimidating. As the silly duo probe further into this criminal gang things get a bit darker as the bad guys get a bit meaner. There isn't any nasty violence or blood but the laughs tend to fall away as some scenarios get a little tense which felt a bit out of place.

Again as with 'Mall Cop' the best bits are watching these guys trying to be real cops, using cop jargon they've seen from movies and TV, acting the fool, getting away with all kinds of shit and of course the obligatory scene where they eventually come face to face with some real cops. The thing is we all know if we could, we'd all probably do the same thing...if you could get away with it. Its that tense anarchic ride you know is wrong but it feels so good and its damn hilarious at the same time. I think both leads capture this simple thrill brilliantly as they do things we'd all wanna do ourselves. Yeah its completely stupid and childish most of the time but I think most people will come to expect that. Thing is the idea behind the movie isn't nonsense, it could happen quite easily which adds to the fun. Definitely a naughty fun time for grown ups which was quite unexpected truth be told, a nice surprise.


Thursday, 6 November 2014

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Referred to originally as All You Need is Kill which was the title of the sci-fi novel this movie is adapted from. Since that title was poo-pooed by the vast majority despite it being the actual original title of the material...'Edge of Tomorrow' was thusly born which personally I think sounds like a tacky 70's sci-fi TV show or perhaps a Dr Who episode. Over time that too was also apparently poo-pooed by the vast majority, and so the movie has also come to be known as 'LIVE. DIE. REPEAT.' On reflection this is actually a solid title.

Now I don't know anything of the original source material so I can only go by what the movie presents to me naturally. Set in a near future where humans are at war with an alien race that is threatening to wipe us out for good...original much? So its business as usual for this sci-fi actioner, the clever twist being amongst the alien ranks are a special larger breed called Alpha's. These Alpha's have a unique genetic trait that when they get killed they somehow automatically respawn again at the beginning of their day, turning back the clock and reliving the day they died. This gives them an advantage in the war plus it opens up some pretty humongous questions about these creatures the fuck?! Do these things ever die then?? How does their blood even do this? and when Cruise gets infected with this gift do the other Alpha's lose it?

So first things first the film introduces us to the human element and Mr Cruise, I must say its very refreshing to see Cruise actually playing a cowardly whining desk jockey instead of some super wait. Although I still can't quite work out why exactly General Brendan Gleeson wants Cruise on the front line, merely to record the battle? anyone can do that. It also baffles me how Cruise is somehow dumped in with the grunts after being knocked out and no one seems to recognise him, its like he's a new recruit and no one has ever heard of him. I'm pretty sure in that situation some one would know of you or you'd be able to contact some one higher but anyway...I guess everyone was in on this dastardly plan to get Cruise in the thick of it.

The military side of things all seems very familiar truth be told, I dare not mention James Cameron's 'Aliens' all looks like James Cameron's 'Aliens'. Most of the technology feels very space Marine-esque with the obligatory predictable bunch of space Marine-esque tough nut characters all led by Bill Paxton as an aged Hudson. There's the tough as nails Latino looking female, the fat guy, the crazy-ass guy, the slightly clever guy, the token black guy and various other headcases...military unit 101. What I don't get is why the leading kickass female played by Blunt carries a bigass a world of huge guns and powered exoskeletons (with mightily powered shoulder cannons ala 'Predator') why would you need a sword? Sure it looks cool but it makes no sense. Oh and we see her small team of elite special ops fighters with her at one point. All looking very imposing with their helmets adorned with skull motifs...where the hell did they go??!!

Personally I thought the casting for the grunts was poor with all coming across as little more than stereotypical cliches portrayed badly. None are memorable with no standout lines or moments and they just looked like standard videogame fodder. This leads me to the aliens which again I didn't really like, why does everything these days have tentacles? These things merely came across as a big ball of spikes that zipped around like Sonic the Hedgehog, impossible to make out properly and unthreatening because they just look like blurs of tentacles. Oh and they have acid blood?? errrr...('Aliens'). I also found it hard to believe that the human military superiors refused to believe their leading scientist on the alien genetic makeup. This guy is there for that purpose and he knows what's going on but no one believes him...soooo what's the point in him being there?

Visually the film is pretty the first half hour whilst we see Cruise fighting on the beaches WWII style. Its all heavily influenced by the Normandy invasion of WWII (see 'Saving Private Ryan') with lots of mega sized vehicles coming out of the sea and the sky, troops storming the beach and being cut down easily, trench fighting, mighty explosions lifting waves of sand into the air etc...its very impressive and looks fantastic. Its also really fun to watch Cruise get killed time after time as he tries to navigate his way to certain people or locations trying to recall what to do and when. Hell...seeing Cruise die in a movie is unique in itself! Watching this character refine his skills and learning what to do and where to duck is actually really cool despite sounding dull, you kinda want more of that in the end. Once things start to move away from this scenario and the plot slowly progresses the movie does lose its exciting visual appeal and things become slightly mundane.

Things do get a tad slow towards the finale and the actual ending is also weak, it builds up so well but can't deliver in the end. Its a shame because the first half of the movie is really explosive, fast paced and wonderfully thrilling but its just falls away from the midway point. It also becomes typically daft after Cruise loses his special powers yet still manages to survive some incredible falls and situations, so in the end its back to the regular invincible superman Mr Cruise again.

At first I didn't realise it but upon reflection it dawned on me that this project is actually a very smart little videogame movie. The entire concept of dying and respawning straight away at a certain location or save point is of course a videogame concept. It does feel like your watching someone playing a new Xbox One (Playstation 4) shoot em up as they work their way through the levels. Personally I liked the first half, the build up is great but the pay off is meh. Casting was also mediocre in my humble opinion as no one really stands out in my mind and nothing is really memorable accept for seeing Cruise getting wiped off the board in a variety of ways (the hook). I can't help but feel the whole movie would have been even better had it been set in its native Japan with a slightly lesser known cast or at least not as big. That said its definitely a solid sci-fi action movie with a decent plot, I just feel it had the potential to be an outright classic but just swung and missed. On a final note the end credits music track is bloody awful.


Sunday, 2 November 2014

Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)

'We're men...we're men in tights...YES! we roam around the forest looking for fights!'

A strange choice for Brooks I think, he seemed to move into historical legends in the 90's along with his take on Dracula. The tag for the film is accurate I guess, this legend did have it coming for sure with so many variations out there at the time...most notably and laughably the Kevin Costner debacle. Also not forgetting the Patrick Bergin Robin Hood flick that was emulating Costner's version!

Of course being a Brooks film the cast is made up of all his regulars...and I'm sure if his older regulars weren't dead he'd have used them too. Amy Yasbeck begins her brief Brooks career here as Marian before rejoining Brooks for Dracula. Dick Van Pattern is back after working with Brooks in 'High Anxiety' and 'Spaceballs', Megan Cavanagh and Matt Porretta both went on to Dracula along with Yasbeck and finally the magnificent pair of Dom Deluise and Robert Ridgely are both Brooks film veterans.

Naturally there has been many liberties taken with the plot...well actually its based around other Robin Hood movies really, nothing to do with the actual fable at all. Its clear to see the classic Errol Flynn version and the classic animated Disney version are the two main influences here. Brooks pretty much follows both of these films scene for scene whilst adding his own unique brand of spoofery. This whole approach does actually work well in all honesty because you can enjoy the cartoonish tomfoolery and it also kinda harks back to a different age of cinema. Whether this was intentional or not I'm not sure, it probably just happened because they were spoofing two classic films but the quaint visuals, simple effects and colourful characters are very appealing.

There is a thin line between the silly childish humour and the slightly more risky adult humour which I think is handled well. I say adult humour but its not really that bad, just a touch of toilet humour. Whilst most of the laughs fall flat I can't deny there are some nice chuckles to be had and some clever imaginative send-ups. The usual blend of visual slapstick and cheesy dialog is to be expected but much of it is all in the delivery and luckily this movie does have some noteworthy comedic performances.

Its quite a surprise that Elwes does actually put in a solid funny performance as Robin Hood, what's even more surprising is the fact he does have a slightly similar resemblance to Flynn...a blonde Flynn. His little tufts of facial hair, the fact he's British, that wry smug smile of his when he fights and all tied together in the classic green and brown attire. At the same time Richard Lewis is also a great Prince John! I loved how his mole kept moving across his face in each scene and his 80's mullet hairdo, plus this guy can deliver a funny line. He has this great whiny nervous tone to his voice which really comes to life when he panics and cries 'hurt them! hurt them!!'.

I also must confess to enjoying Brooks small cameo as a Rabbi, could of gone another way but the old ones are the best ones I guess. Eric Kramer is also surprisingly amusing as the towering Little John, not so much to say but he is good with the visual comedy side of things as was Blankfield as the blind 'Blinkin'...sounds utterly cringeworthy I know but it does work. It was only Rees as the Sheriff of Rottingham (*groan*) that seemed to swing and miss for me, clearly trying way too hard to hammer those funny lines in. Same could be said for Tracy Ullman as the witch who didn't even really need to be there.

As I'm sure everybody knows by now a film like this is all about the delivery, the comedic performances of the actors, if that aspect is nailed then the film is reasonably secured. Its not about the effects or sets or costumes...although its nice if they look good but end of the day its whether you can laugh with the film and not at it for being crap. Personally I think this movie just about makes the grade, its earned somewhat of a cult status over time and I can see why. There is a lot of embarrassing crud in here this is true (Dave Chappelle), some visual gags are terribly simple bordering on downright infantile whilst some of the visuals are very basic. But (and its a biggish but) there is also just enough solid cheeky clever lampoonery and dialog along with performances to make you smile. Although it doesn't have the overall sheen of Brooks follow up vampire flick.