Saturday, 31 January 2015

The Book of Life (2014)

Damn this is so Mexican I half expected Robert Rodriguez to be the director. Indeed it is also no surprise to find out Guillermo del Toro was a producer on this movie although the entire project has that nice death obsessed Tim Burton-esque vibe to it much like 'Corpse Bride', you could almost say this was a Mexican version of a Tim Burton project.

The book of life contains all the stories of the world and one such tale revolves around a small town in Mexico (year unknown but I'm guessing its in the past) on the Day of the Dead. The spirits of the dead La Muerte (ruler of the land of the remembered) and Xibalba (ruler of the land of forgotten) see two young boys competing for the attention of a young girl, they make a bet over which young boy will end up marrying the girl first. If La Muerte wins then Xibalba can no longer mess with mortals for fun and if Xibalba wins then he will rule the land of the remembered. The land of remembered being a fun colourful lively afterlife where its always party time, the land of forgotten being like a black and grey coloured Tim Burton vision...OK I promise to stop with the Tim Burton references.

The plot is probably the weakest part of this movie as it really doesn't make much sense or have any real weight to it. These two ghostly spirits make this wager on the young children but I'm not really sure why they do this, or why they even care what these kids get up to in the future. Its also an odd bet because they will both have to wait many many years to see the outcome, and what happens if neither of them marry this girl? surely they could make another simpler wager.

That is one half of the plot, the other is about the two boys who grow up into strong men and again compete to win the hand of their childhood girlfriend (Maria, seriously couldn't they have used a better and less stereotypical name). One of the lads (Manolo) becomes a bullfighter following his family tradition but is unsure of his fathers expectations and prefers to sing. He is the more well adjusted of the two, kind, generous and considerate. The other lad (Joaquin) becomes a well known military hero who protects the town but is a show off and narcissistic.
All the while the pair are watched over by the two rulers of the underworld, you might ask what exactly all this has to do with the afterlife, well all that kicks off when Manolo gets killed in a trick by Xibalba. In a typically Romeo and Juliet fashion Manolo believes Maria to be dead after she is bitten by a snake sent guessed it, Xibalba. So Xibalba tricks him by offering a chance to see her again which of course would mean dying...which he doesn't quite work out in time. Hence Manolo is out of the picture and Xibalba can win his bet.

So yeah we've seen this type of story line before, nothing wrong with that of course but its all pretty shallow stuff. This movie is all about the visuals...and what visuals! Honesty at the start I was a little put off by the design of the picture, the characters were very basic and weekday cartoon looking to me, clearly they were going for a different approach but first impressions were worrying. As we delve further into the story and reach Mexico again the character/landscape designs took a change but this time for the better. Now we are confronted by this oddly surreal blocky look which kinda resembles Lego men and figurines that have been carved out of wood. Well that's the main characters anyway, background characters are even more off the wall with outrageous facial designs and body structures that I can only think are somewhat along the lines of Ren & Stimpy. On one hand grotesque but at the same time highly imaginative, the whole vibe feels very much like a continental animation to me. Anyone remember the PC videogame Grim Fandango? well think along those lines too.

The highlight is obviously the afterlife sequences where things really become bizarre and extremely visceral. This movie is all about Mexican folklore, Mexican myth and magic, Mexican, Latino, Spanish culture (if you hadn't already guessed) and this is where is explodes onto your screen. Up to this point the Day of the Dead was just a background theme but on arrival in the land of remembered its a full on mardi gras of colourfully epic proportions. The artistic style is still thoroughly absurd and crazy but it really does boggle your senses in a good way, its like...Beetlejuice in Mexico. Chock full of detail on every frame there has clearly been a lot of time, love and attention to create those tiny details and make it as accurate as possible.

From an visually artistic point of view this movie is truly award winning, a breath of fresh air, smart and original. I can see some folk not adjusting to the look though, its definitely not gonna be for everyone. Alas the plot is a tad stale and predictable with its soppy notions sure but it is a kids film essentially, gotta remember that. I twisted in horror at the use of some modern pop songs that were used here and there, that really spoilt the atmosphere, but twas nice to hear Ennio Morricone's Ecstasy of Gold. Always a problem these days, they have to include some ghastly pop music for the kids to relate to, ruins the dark ambience.

The film really comes alive (no pun intended) after Manolo gets killed its as simple as that, up to then everything is bit meh to be honest. From there on its a vibrant hyperactive wacky-ass cartoon/animation that is a solid celebration of Mexican lore and tradition of which the young can learn from. At the end of the day there is nothing here that hasn't really been done before, but the fact its been created around a culture and heritage that hasn't really been explored fully on film before makes all the difference.


Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Captains (2011)

Or as I refer to it...the William Shatner marathon of self-indulgent memories, OK OK I jest. Directed, produced and written by the Shat himself, a one-man army exploring the difficulties, struggles, stigmas and sacrifices that accompany the huge responsibility of playing the captain of the starship Enterprise. But as you can guess from the title Shatner travels around the globe (kinda) to seek out the other captains where ever they may be and natter about the past.

So as all Trekkies will know the other captains interviewed in this documentary are Patrick Stewart, Scott Bakula, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew and Chris Pine. Obviously this being a Star Trek feature you can't ignore other cast members from the TV shows and movies so you also get to see and hear from people like Christopher Plummer, Johnathan Frakes, Robert Picardo, Rene Auberjonois etc...Its an across the board (across the ages) feature that delves deep...or does it?

One by one Shatner meets up with his fellow acting colleagues to discuss all things Star Trek and portraying the various captains...but actually they don't! To my surprise many of the conversations tended to revolve around their past work, previous jobs/gigs, and how they started in acting etc...One or two of them even chat about their other skills and interests such as singing and playing instruments (Bakula and Brooks). Now don't get me wrong this is all quite interesting for the most part (I never knew Bakula was a singer), but I kinda wanted to hear about all things Star Trek, not their personal lives or backgrounds beforehand.

The whole point to this documentary was for Shatner to express how he and his fellow colleagues coped with the daily pressures of playing the captain in a hit show. The long slog of making many episodes with long hours over many years and then the inevitable typecasting that would follow afterwards. We do get this but it takes a bit of time for the cast to get onto this subject. Like I said at first its mostly about what they did before Star Trek which I personally wasn't too bothered about. Eventually all the stars talk about their own personal demons and hindrances along the way with Stewart mentioning how hard it was to follow on from the original series and the character of Kirk, to Mulgrew talking about how tough it was trying to raise her kids whilst making the show.

You do learn some interesting tidbits but nothing overly earth shattering or that you haven't heard before. It's cool to see all the cast members (although this was four years ago now). Bakula still has a youthful energetic persona and looks, Mulgrew is still the same but a little rounder in the face, Stewart never really seems to change, Pine is of course still young so no change there, but the most surprising thing was Brooks coming across as a tad eccentric in his old age...but pleasantly so. He seemed a bit lost in his own world, not really concentrating, distant and as though he was unaware of what was going on, but happy at least.

The odd interviews with other stars briefly cover what they experienced on the TV show or movie, depending, again its not all Star Trek as they do touch on their past careers. There is also some convention footage with Shatner which is cool, we hear how Shatner never used to like the conventions and avoided them, but over time realised how important they were and how much attention he got (yep we all the Shat by now). Even though the feature is supposed to be about all the ex-captains it naturally tends to focus more on Shatner and his issues but I guess it is his production.
I did get the impression Shatner was kinda fishing for compliments from the other cast members, almost looking for a shoulder to cry at some points. At the end he reveals how much he disliked the character of Kirk but has now come to accept him and enjoy the notion that he will forever be remembered as Kirk. Did Shatner really need to make an entire documentary supposedly about all the Star Trek captains just to show us this revelation? Well, I'll let you decide that one.

Honestly there isn't much that is discussed that will blow you away, its pleasant listening and viewing but overall it feels a little bit unnecessary at times. I really dunno why Shatner didn't just call the doc 'The Captain' whilst including the other cast members as its really all about him. That's not a bad thing as Shatner is a strangely likeable guy despite his large ego. None the less its a must watch for any Trekkies and a solid watch for any sci-fi fanboys like myself. It will make you smile and maybe...just possibly bring a lump to your throat on the odd occasion.


Sunday, 25 January 2015

10,000 BC (2008)

This movie starts off on a bit of a bad foot in my opinion. We are introduced to a prehistoric tribe as they prepare to go hunting for woolly mammoths. No sooner have you even attempted to get to grips with the various silly character names we are thrust into the hunt as the tribesmen creep up on a herd of mammoths, separate one and eventually kill it. The main issue here being I kinda felt sorry for the mammoth and didn't wanna see it get killed, I wanted it to escape from the pesky humans, so already I'm not liking the main characters.

Back in the late 90's early 00's Roland Emmerich was kinda like the Michael Bay of our present day. This German bloke was throwing out big loud flashy action/disaster flicks like no ones business, the only different being some of these weren't too bad. Take this movie for example, now to look at this you could be forgiven for thinking it was some kind of trashy CGI stuffed dinosaur action flick with lots of ridiculously overblown stunts and heroic poses by some big name actor. Weeeeell you're half way there...but no, amazingly this isn't one of those films.

Set...errmm 10,000 years ago during a semi fictional prehistoric fantasy age, we meet a tribe of homo-sapiens that (so I've read) live in the Urals (Russia basically). They are your typical tribe of primitive people adorned with animal skins, bones and all sorts of crap they've found lying around. They have an old wise woman who is basically just plain weird and does all their predictions etc...generally telling them what to do and when to do it, regular cliches. The odd thing I noticed was this tribe seemed to be made up of different races of people. The young sexy male lead is a white dude with heavy tan makeup, there's a young (black?) mixed race kid, Cliff Curtis of New Zealand and the others also seem to be (black?) mixed race, oh and they're all wearing dreadlock wigs. I realise casting is tricky but at least try and get the same type of people for this prehistoric tribe that probably would have been all the same...geez!

The movie then has the stereotypical barbarian flick moment when a group of nasty savages (slave traders) on horseback ride into this tribes village, kill some folk and take others prisoner. Naturally...and as I'm sure you've guessed...the heroes blue eyed plaything get nabbed too so off he trots with some mates to rescue her. The small band of warriors then proceeds to apparently walk from the Urals in Russia all the way to the African continent. Admittedly we do see lots of very nice landscape sequences of them travelling across mountain ranges and vast expanses of tundra but you gotta think that would kill them, especially as they're only wearing furs.

After walking across the frozen wastes of Russia and half of the Middle East apparently the plucky tribesmen reach hot jungles which could be anywhere (10,000 years ago remember). A quick battle with some terror birds (which I've read mainly lived in South America a few million years ago but never mind) and its presumably off into Africa as the men reach desert terrain. There they team up with lots and lots of various tribes of African warriors who only now decide to rise up against the evil slave traders because our main hero made friends with a Smilodon. Yep our hero fell into a trap which also had a saber-toothed cat trapped in it. Our hero help free the big cat so naturally this huge carnivore thought it would repay the offer and help our hero out too...just like in real life.

At long last the film reaches it final location which must be Egypt and the construction of the Pyramids of Giza. It sounds realistic only until I read that the 'God' running the show using all these thousands of slaves to build the pyramids is the last survivor of Atlantis. Why he wants to build these big pyramids in the desert I don't know, why all these priests and soldiers worship him as a God I don't know and how they manage to keep woolly mammoths alive in the heat I also don't know...moving on.

Yes there are lots of silly issues and factual inaccuracies in this movie, I think its fair to say that was expected with an Emmerich movie. The question is does this affect the movie? I would say no, no its actually a very solid movie which is fun to watch believe it or not. For starters they have really gone to town with the visuals, the location work is sumptuous throughout with gorgeous landscapes set against sunsets, dusks etc... Each terrain we visit looks spot on, you feel the chill in the Urals, the jungles are well created and deserts always look good in movies. The transition from the freezing mountains to the jungles was a bit quick though. Not only that but the CGI is really excellent too! yes I know its amazing, even to this day all the CGI beasts look pretty darn good...accept maybe the saber-tooth but you can't have everything. What's more I can't stress enough how impressive the pyramid construction site looks, a sprawling living sea of people and mammoths all at work like thousands of worker ants.

What also impressed me was a lot of the characters in this movie are speaking in native languages, whether they are real or not I don't know but it sure as hell sounds real. There are many different tribesmen from various regions and there has clearly been a lot of effort to create accurate attire for these warriors, accurate weapons, face paint markings, armour etc...Plus the fact they all speak a native tongue is really quite a brave and bold move I must say, considering this movie was virtually a big blockbuster affair you wouldn't really expect something like that. It all adds to the realism and atmosphere which really helps the film, you forget its a Roland Emmerich movie, it feels more like a 'Dances with Wolves' type movie. I read there was an idea to make the whole film in native tongue using subtitles, I personally think that would have been even better.

Its also interesting that Emmerich went with an unknown cast so as to give the film a more realistic edge...which it did. Its nice to see directors do that because it does work (not always). Unfortunately none of the cast, as far as I'm aware, went on to anything else. I was thinking whilst watching that I had literately no clue who they were and I couldn't place any of them from any other movie.

Its a strange animal this film, some of it is pure Hollywood action hokum with added layers of grilled cheese. Such as the characters throwing around these spears that manage to harpoon people right through, oh and the hero making this amazingly accurate pinpoint throw of his spear over quite some distance to take out the main bad guy. That small scene actually spoils the film to be honest, its so ludicrously stupid. Yet despite that there is a lot of genuinely decent stuff to enjoy here, a bit of a hodgepodge of historical/archaeological facts granted but you know what...its cool. The rise of the slaves is a rousing rollicking bit of action, the history is still compelling and it still looks great today.


Thursday, 22 January 2015

Mr. Baseball (1992)

In all honesty this movie looked very much like a 'Major League' clone judging by the title and poster, hell they even cast Dennis Haysbert who played the menacing Pedro Cerrano in that movie. So is this a crazy kamikaze comedy with over the top characters, wacky situations and foul language? well no actually.Believe it or not this is actually a sensible light-hearted romcom which showcases the cultural differences between Japan and their baseball traditions, and America and their baseball traditions.

Tom Selleck plays the obligatory aged fading baseball star who is transferred to Japan to play professional baseball whilst also becoming the clubs poster boy. Naturally Selleck's character is against this move and has a hard time getting to grips with the cultural differences both on and off the ballpark. Spoiler alert (as if you need it)...eventually he comes around with the help of his new love interest and helps the team...well I'm sure you can guess.

Yes the tale is a predictable one that has been covered by virtually every sports flick ever, but that's not the point of the movie. The main point here is providing an insight into Japanese culture and how they play and watch the game of baseball, its like the sport version of 'Lost in Translation'...almost. Just like that film this story delves deep into the Japanese traditions, routines and rituals that make up their sport, how the Japanese made baseball their own. This naturally provides many giggles with Selleck's big bold brash arrogant cowboy-like character stepping on many toes and accidentally insulting everyone or harking bad luck. Its not all giggles though as we see much of Nagoya and its surrounding areas, how Japanese people live in parts and indeed how they watch baseball...munching on bowls of noodle meals with lots of colourful fanfare mainly. Its actually very interesting and I enjoyed watching these segments, being interested in Japan helps I guess.

For me the one thing I didn't really like was Selleck's character. I realise this guy is suppose to be a cocky hotshot star player and the whole point of the movie is to have him be a jackass...but boy is he an unlikable jackass! He obviously doesn't take the Japanese game seriously and treats the players, staff, media and coach with disrespect, this of course sets up the plot twist midway through. But generally I found his character to be whiny, rude and obnoxious, he never even gives the Japanese culture a chance, he constantly takes the piss and ignores the rules. Now lets be serious here, I know this is just a movie but I think even the most arrogant player/person wouldn't really act like this from day one. Sure over time people could lose their rag under strange circumstances, under stress with different cultures in a foreign land, but I think most would give it a shot and at least be polite to a degree to start with sheesh!

The fact that he doesn't like anything about Japan and constantly moans about how he hates it even though he's a popular sports icon earning money just makes him unlikable in my book. Sure its a come down for this character but he's still treated like a star and everything is provided for him, not too shabby really.

Anywho apart from the bitchy Jack Elliot (Selleck) the other cast members are very good and add much gravitas to this soppy tale. The best of these easily being Ken Takakura as the cliched hard nosed team coach who must put up with Elliot's sulky behaviour. Think of this guy as a Mr. Miyagi type character, he doesn't say much, grunts a lot, looks very serious and stern all the time, hides a few tricks and in the end wins your heart (much more so than Selleck's character). The film isn't as cliched as you'd think at times, there is the slimy ponytailed agent of Elliot who you'd swear blind will turn out to be the bad guy and somehow screw Elliot over...well you'd be wrong.

Its definitely a solid movie and its nice to see baseball through the eyes of another country even though there aren't too many outside of the US to choose from. The baseball sequences are visually pleasing and realistic whilst the action is as you would expect with lows followed by a training montage and then highs. The final scene gives you a reasonable adrenaline boost as the entirely predictable plot unravels before your eyes. Relaxing fun from the land of the rising sun, its just a shame about the main character being a complete douche.


Monday, 19 January 2015

Dumb and Dumber To (2014)

Is it just me or does this whole production reek of desperation? Again is it just me or does it seem like the once titanic Jim Carrey is slightly hard up for some hot publicity and attention, so he has agreed to drag this old comedy up from the depths to try and get back into the limelight somewhat. I'm sure I once recall him saying he would never do sequels or something like that, but that was back when he was bigger than Hollywood itself. I mean I'm sure he's not short on change but this really feels like two actors (and maybe directors) clawing and clambering to get back into the public eye...and have a hit.

The movie starts off with the lamest gag, seriously its so stupid its not even funny, it just defies all sense of realism. Yes I know the film is based on these two morons and things like this are suppose to be plausible but really? In short Lloyd was so heartbroken about losing Mary (from the first movie) that he fell into a vegetable-like state and was stuffed in a mental hospital where he stayed for...wait for it...twenty years. When the movie kicks off with Harry visiting him we eventually discover that apparently Lloyd has been faking his break down for the last twenty years for a joke. So we are meant to believe that for the last twenty years Lloyd has been living in a mental hospital being treated like a real patient...purely for a

So once that ridiculous idea has past the rest of this pointless endeavour continues. By that I mean Harry needs a new kidney so he must find a relation to give him one. One thing leads to another and the duo discover Harry has a daughter so off they go on another road trip to find her. The snag in this sequel being the woman who adopted Harry's daughter is an unscrupulous money grabber who's after her husbands money and ingenious invention. She and her accomplice won't let anything stand in their way of getting the inheritance by killing off her husband.

So that's the plot, now fill in the rest of the run time with lots of rehashed visual gags and jokes that we saw in the original movie. No I'm not joking, most everything the idiotic pair do and say in this movie have been regurgitated from the first movie. We see their old shaggy dog van again albeit briefly, the old music track 'Too Much of a Good Thing' by The Sons suddenly cranks up and for a split second I got excited even though this was clear rehasharama fodder. Unfortunately this joy is short lived but I guess had it gone on then the rehash scale would be blowing its wad. Fear not the duo manage to drive another hilariously unroadworthy vehicle instead just in case you missed that from the last movie. Along with that most of the dialog and verbal gags have been reused...and I mean all of them from 'suck me sideways' to 'I like it a lot', hell they even go past one of the old locations seen in the first film.

I guess what's really unsettling about this fiasco is the fact that Carrey's portrayal of Lloyd is so...psychotic. In the first film the pair were a lovable innocent bumbling duo of simpletons. This time around Harry is still on par but Lloyd comes across like a sheer lunatic who swings from acts of soft core violence to having bouts of tourette's and hysteria. You never know what he's gonna say or do, half the time you feel like you're watching The Riddler again. To me it really felt like the Farrelly brothers were really struggling to come up with things for these guys to do. Watching Carrey make the same faces or watching him eat an entire hotdog in one go (and various other foods in silly ways) just seems rather lacking to me.

To add insult to injury the soundtrack for this movie was also pretty awful really, clearly trying to copy/equal the original movie in every way possible but failing. From the visual gags with the blind birdman at the start (a grown up Billy), to the practical goofs on the guy trying to kill them, to the ending where the duo are yet again held up at gun point on the brink of being killed. This sequel is basically exactly the same shit as the original, its your standard modern day rehash which we are seeing time and time again.

To make things even worse the final twist in the tale at the end actually does prove how utterly pointless this entire ordeal was. Its suppose to be funny but it just left me thinking how totally senseless, aimless and purposeless this movie is. It also speaks volumes to me that the end credits are mixed with little funny segments from this sequel and the original. Its pretty clear to me nobody was exactly fully confident about this movie hence the need to fall back on the first so much. They couldn't even let the old character of Sea Bass go. Had to crowbar him back in there for good measure along with his buddy and that now infamous line 'kick his ass Sea Bass!', because seeing the exact same shit again twenty years later is comedic genius.


Friday, 16 January 2015

Hans Christian Andersen (1952)

The fictional tale of the Danish poet and fairytale storyteller who's work has gone on to inspire virtually anything and everything for children...and Disney's cash cow. Its not a biographical film of course (the film even says that), its basically a fairytale of sorts that kinda focuses on Andersen's life at a certain point. At this time he creates The Little Mermaid out of love for a married woman. In the traditional Hollywood style of the 50's and previous years the film is heavily narrated through song and dance and has clearly taken pointers from other classics.

The film is essentially a romantic tale with morals about Andersen going off to the big city of Copenhagen to try and start a new business there. Whilst there he falls for a married ballerina at the theatre whose husband treats her roughly. Andersen writes her a love letter in the form of The Little Mermaid and dreams about rescuing her from her harsh husband. As we discover unfortunately for Hans he has misunderstood their relationship and returns to Odense.

The plot is much deeper than that though as the tale of the little mermaid, I believe, is suppose to mirror Andersen's heartbreaking situation. He is smitten with the beautiful French ballerina who appears to be living a life of angst married to the theatres dance choreographer. The mermaid is smitten with a Prince who ends up on the ocean floor when his ship sinks. The mermaid saves his life and falls in love at the same time, but like Andersen and his ballerina, they are both from different worlds.
Andersen a poor cobbler, the ballerina a wealthy famous dancer, the Prince a Prince and the mermaid is a sea creature. So the mermaid seeks help from the sea witch who transforms the mermaid into a human so she can go and find the Prince. Andersen dreams of rescuing the ballerina and them both getting married living happily ever after. Alas when the mermaid finds the Prince he has affections for another and the mermaid must return to the sea heartbroken (I think she actually dies in the original story). The same for Andersen who eventually manages to speak of his affections to the ballerina but she too (much to our and Andersen's surprise) actually loves her harsh husband. So Hans must return to Odense for of sorrow but luckily there is a much happier ending of course.

This was one of the first classical films my parents showed me and my brother when we were very young along with other golden Hollywood movies. I won't beat around the bush though, this film will probably sicken most kids these days as its extremely soft centred and full of wonderful musical moments. What's more I'm pretty sure most modern folk these days will think this film dances gingerly around pedophilia the way Andersen is portrayed as a child obsessed loner. Anyway despite how excellent this film is I too cannot deny that some of it is really really sickly...almost vomit inducing, the Ugly Duckling song for example.

The music isn't as sublime as other big Hollywood pictures of the time no doubt, but there are plenty of very catchy little tunes that you'll find yourself humming to once the credits have rolled. As said some will turn your stomach with the whimsical levels going through the roof, yet others are a joy to behold. Personally I always loved the sequence with Wonderful Copenhagen (try making a song with that city name in it!), The King's New Clothes is a fun little number with the kids at the start and who can forget Thumbelina. As I'm sure you have noticed these songs, and others, are famous works of the real Andersen which have become films in their own rights. Most of these musical numbers are squarely aimed at the kids, fun bouncy and the kids can join in, but the adults do get some serious dance sequences too. Very much in the same style as some Gene Kelly dance sequences if you ask me, visually at least. These are mainly dream sequences dreamt up by Hans so they are much darker in tone at times with Hans fighting the ballerinas husband Niels. A stark contrast to everything else in the film but much more enjoyable now for me as an adult.

The entire film looks like an explosion from an old fashioned candy store followed by an explosion from an old fashioned toy store. Everything is bright colourful and bold, it almost looks like a comicbook. Like many films of the era most every scene is obviously a set with forced perspective and matte paintings/backdrops but it all looks so vibrant and alive, it all looks good enough to eat. I'm not really sure if there is any kind of historical accuracy in the film with things like buildings and costumes, I kinda doubt it because all the costumes are so deliciously loud and zany but at the same time they do seem to have a genuinely realistic dated appearance. All this and I haven't even mentioned the actual ballerina sequences in the film with the real ballerina/dancer Zizi Jeanmaire playing Hans crush. If you didn't think you'd ever be interested in ballet then prepare for a shock...because these sequences will grab your attention as you watch Zizi glide around like a beautiful she could act and she's cute as a button!

I love Danny Kaye in the film because he really does come across as a nice guy and he really looks Danish in his outfit. He's a different kind of performer to Gene Kelly of course but he has a pleasant aura about him so what he lacks in dance moves he makes up for with vocals and looks. Other than Kaye and Zizi everyone else is kinda meh methinks, they all look good in their roles don't get me wrong but no one really blows you away.

I have always found this film hard to fully enjoy truth be told, one the one hand its a film for children and those parts are very sappy. On the other hand there are parts for adults which are obviously now much more to my taste as the kiddie parts fall away. So in affect you enjoy the film when you're young for some of the picture, and when you're an adult you enjoy the other sections of the film, unfortunately its hard to enjoy both. In fact there are some scenes I just wanted to spin through on fast forward. I think these days I'm more impressed with the actual dancing than anything else, the songs are cute, the casting is fair but its the dancing that really held me. The ballerina sequences are virtually inch-perfect in my book.

I can't be too harsh here because with a doubt this is a fantastic little fable, fairytale or folk tale...however you wanna look at it. To me it feels similar to 'The Wizard of Oz' in terms of visuals and being aimed at kids, yet its surprising how dark the film does delve at times. Yes the film is utterly outdated and the morals are presented in an extremely quaint and mushy way, but they do still resonate to this day to a least maybe for children. Overall the plot is a bit jumbled with bits for kids and bits for adults all centred around a tale of unattainable love basically...which is hardly what kids wanna see. None the less you simply can't help but be entertained by this sprightly multicoloured world with Kaye and his musical melodious lessons in life.


Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The Boxtrolls (2014)

Yet another children's book adaptation that I have never heard of even though its British apparently. The book in question is called Here Be Monsters! and is actually part of a series, so should we expect a series of films also? This has been attempted a few times in the past since the mighty Harry Potter but many have failed. I must also admit to getting tired of these quickfire fast food franchises that are whipped up and thrown out willy nilly to try and rake in as much moolah as possible. Sure its a business but judging by various past failures how about some care and attention huh.

Luckily this isn't another cash grab strewn with CGI but a delightfully dark hand crafted stop motion animated movie. Set in the fictional old English town of Cheesebridge in the year 1805. The town appears to be a large vertical hill protruding from a flat green landscape, the buildings are cobbled tightly together almost one on top of the other to create a towering spire of rickety  pre-Victorian structures (not overly sure what period the movie is actually aiming for, if any). Yet the visuals are reasonably realistic historically, 19th century England with a strong French vibe about them. I guess that wouldn't be surprising considering the Napoleonic era was still in full swing. So despite the fictional murky, gloomy, dark, twisted appearance it does seem as though the period has been recreated which is nice although its a fantasy version.

Without trying to sound to cliche myself the movies visuals are very Tim Burton-esque in a way. That traditional olde worlde, gnarly, dark semi-gothic, dank fairytale look with grotesque over the top characters (especially the villains). This all goes hand in hand with the period set buildings, narrow winding streets, underground boxtroll lair and of course all finished in a limited dark rusty muddy colour palette.

Most of the decent everyday folk in this town and the main goodie characters are normal looking as you would expect, its the small group of bad guys that are the most deformed and twisted...bordering on scary for the kids to be honest. All the characters are pretty much like caricatures of real people, almost political satirisations if you will. Yet the bad guys are by far the most interesting and fun, listening to Ben Kingsley churn out his cockney accent for the quite hideous Mr. Snatcher is the showstopper for sure. A quite horrible fellow who has an allergic reaction to cheese (I think the town makes cheese?) that makes him appear even more horrendous! By his side are a trio of your stereotypical cockney villains...slow, dumb, ugly and easily dominated.

As for the trolls well they're a cute little bunch really, little dark green goblin-like characters of all shapes and sizes that make various growling noises as their language. They also wear cardboard boxes around their torso. The cardboard boxes are (from what I've read about with the book) a newish invention for the time and another product from the town which is heavily industrialised. There are many changes from the book it seems, including other creatures underground, a completely different plot line and lots of name changes such as the town of Cheesebridge, in the book its called Ratbridge. This did make me think as there are so many alterations from the original book I wondered how fans would take it, the movie has done relatively well so I guess no one is too bothered. I can understand this because despite the film not being very accurate to its source material its still a gorgeous work of art that must be commended.

There is a tonne of vivid imagination and detail all throughout the film, in every scene from the steampunk-like contraptions, to the period costumes, to the buildings and to the highly expressive animated faces and boxtroll tomfoolery. I wouldn't even say its particularly a film for kids either, its quite dark and a little disturbing in places. The capturing of the boxtrolls by the evil Mr. Snatcher who wants to kill them all with his crushing machine! there's a touch of murder, intrigue, cross-dressing and even some off-key Frenchy music...just what the kids wanna see. On the plus side there is also plenty of little amusing quirky gross moments for the kids courtesy of the boxtrolls and their nose-picking antics.

Clearly this is a visual film much like any other stop motion animated feature, it relies on that. To its credit the movie does come out with plus points for me purely for this reason, but the plot can be a tad slow and mundane I can't lie. If it wasn't for the superbly dastardly Mr. Snatcher voiced by Ben Kingsley I think this would have been very drab despite the excellent visuals. If you don't know the book then I'm sure you can enjoy if you like this sort of thing. If you do know the book then maybe you won't agree with me so much...I dunno, there are many changes. Plenty of originality but maybe not quite as much wonder for the kids, check out the lovely animated end credit sequence too.


Sunday, 11 January 2015

Toy Story That Time Forgot (2014)

The second mini Toy Story adventure, could this count as Toy Story 5? ('Toy Story of Terror' being number 4) or maybe Toy Story 3.2? Seeing as these mini-adventures are around half an hour in length and utilise the original cast (unlike a crappy spin-off), they are legit, proper canon if you will and clearly a continuation in continuity from the movie trilogy, anyway...

The last adventure still had old fashioned toys from back in the day like the Carl Weathers based character who was clearly an Action Man. This time things have moved on a tad and the toys in question are more modern but they still have that classic late 80's early 90's buzz about them (no pun intended...or was it?). This time the gang meet up with a huge selection of armour clad dinosaur warriors called Battlesaurs which are a perfect example of classic hybrid action figure franchises which would blend genres like dinosaurs, mutants, space weaponry, medieval armour etc...A good example being Zoids which were basically robotic dinosaurs and creatures with heavy armour, lasers and gun turrets, although they weren't action figures but wind up model kits.

The design of these Battlesaurs is really impressive I must say, they really do look like a genuine well thought out toy line...and of course now they are. Visually the main dino characters kinda reminded me of the main action figure from Joe Dante's movie 'Small Soldiers'. Not exactly of course but a similar type of idea using the barbarian loincloth and heavy weapons vibe. The other characters are a wicked mix of creatures big and small and lots of action figure playsets that make up the Battlesaurs realm...which is cleverly woven into the little boy's bedroom.

The plot is simple enough and revolves around a small transporter team of the classic toys going to another child's house for a playdate. There they meet this tribe of butch dino warriors who (like Buzz originally) don't understand they are merely toys. From there on its the predictable setup of trying to escape from their clutches whilst trying to save Buzz and Woody, yep this time its Trixie the blue toy dinosaur who is the lead hero character.

So as you can guess dinosaurs are the main theme here, there is definitely a dinosaur fetish in Hollywood these days. Truth be told Purcell does actually reuse many recent cinematic cliches here, lots of dinosaurs, the old barbarian angle and once again a heavy influence of Ridley Scott's 'Gladiator'. But you can also mention the nice homage to the old fantasy movies of Doug McClure, obviously with the title, certain visuals and poster design. The best sequence in this mini-episode for me was the entire gladiatorial arena battle which obviously took references from many films. The idea of random toys being paraded into the arena to fight to the death or until broken was brilliant. I also loved the variation of toy characters on display which all looked really realistic and exactly how you remember your old action figure toys...stuffing figures into a large toy creatures mouth only to lose them forever.

There really is nothing overly original about any of this honesty, we've seen it all before in various forms even though this is a parody and homage. Admittedly the whole notion of toys not understanding they are toys and feeling left out when their owner doesn't play with them is getting a bit old now. This angle has been covered well and truly and this short episode does rehash that basic idea yet again. Yet if we saw a Lego movie version of this it would still probably be top banana despite the huge originality flaws, why? Because both franchises look terrific, they're fun and retrotastic.

Like all the other Toy Story features this is visually glorious, the characters are all created and performed perfectly and I can't deny its still great fun to watch and briefly recapture your youth seeing all these toys. Basically it's now been done but it's still inspired and better than the previous TV special.


Thursday, 8 January 2015

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Well after much development and lots and lots of internet rumours flying around about this and that, we finally got the rebooted vision of our beloved Turtles. A movie that most dreaded for understandable reasons...reasons that mainly surrounded the turtles themselves and the plot. Most of these fears are unfortunately realised within reality pretty quickly I'm afraid to say. Within the first ten minutes we see a fight hidden in the shadows and where a turtle manages to hurl one of those gigantic metal shipping containers at the bad guys. Within the same first ten minutes we also see Shredders face unmasked and within the first twenty minutes or so April O'Neil get fired from her job as a reporter. The films just started and already we have two key Turtle elements out the window and apparently the turtles are mutants with super-duper strength.

So naturally the plot has been somewhat tinkered with when compared to previous incarnations of the Turtles and the original comicbook material. So naturally this means things don't make a lick of sense here in this movie. Here we discover that Splinter was not the pet of a Japanese man (nor was he a Japanese man mutated into a rat), instead he was rescued with the four turtles by a very young O'Neil from a medical research lab and released into the sewer. So this does tend to beg the question...why is Splinter Japanese? where did he get his Japanese attire from? why does he have his fur in a Japanese style and why does he speak like a wise old Japanese man? Are you telling me he got all this from the conveniently lost book of ninjutsu he found in the sewer? I could ask where on earth they get all their other stuff from such as their weapons but I guess you could throw that at the previous movies too.

'We're ninjas', 'we're mutants', 'technically we're turtles'...'and we're teenagers!'...Oh geez! got that covered then. Why would Mikey even say we're teenagers?

There are various plot issues throughout but frankly I can't be bothered to go through them all and also you can forgive to a degree because the Turtles have gone through many changes over various incarnations. But there are some things I must pick at like an annoying spot on your face. The turtles...geez where to begin! Well firstly their look...they look awful, like giant toxic avengers or Goomba's. They actually look quite unnerving, scary and creepy truth be told, and lets not forget this is suppose to be for the kids. The next major thing you notice is how fucking massive they are, have they been living on pizza topped with steroids?! did you notice how huge Raph is here!! its utterly ridiculous, they're so big I dunno how they all fit into their turtle van at the end.

Their size makes things very uneven in the film, they are so big that fighting Foot clan soldiers is like a walk in the park. They are throwing these bad guys around like rag dolls, tossing them all over the place which is probably resulting in their deaths (kids film?). At one point a Foot soldier gets thrown through a moving subway trains window as it passes through the station! film anyone? What's more these Foot soldiers all carry automatic weapons! so technically they should be able to mow the turtles down easily...oh no wait, the turtles are bulletproof in this incarnation, silly me. Yep these turtles are pretty much invincible in this movie, bullets bounce off their shells, they can knock bullets and projectiles out of the air with their hand weapons, they are giants with superhero muscles, they are able to withstand heavy impacts into large vehicles like Hummers whilst actually destroying that vehicle in the process, in fact any major fall or impact does nothing to them and basically they look like space monsters and talk like eerie stalker type weirdos. 'Do NOT say a word about this to anyone. If you do, we will find you, April O'Neil'...errr K!

As for old Splinter well I've already asked a few questions about him, but my next problem was how he looked...he looked ugly!! When I say ugly I mean horrible! scary, creepy, like something not made for kids. What the hell with his eyes man! I realise they're trying for a realistic approach but my God he looked evil with those eyes. The other thing was his whip-like tail, where did that come from?? since when could a rats tail do that?? OK I realise how that sounds but come on...Splinter doesn't do that, he doesn't take baddies down with a tentacle-like tail.

This leads me to the final main character in Shredder, they just don't learn to they. The general appearance of Shredder is fine, he wears the samurai armour, his helmet is pretty near the mark, his voice is deep and gravelly and from a distance he actually looks cool. Its only on closer inspection (and in the light) we see how far they have taken it and how badly they have fucked it up. Firstly he looks like The Silver Samurai and is errmm...too silver and shiny, secondly his armour is way way too thick, bulky and elaborate and lastly (and most obviously) there are way way too many blades going on here. This is a case of the Predator wrist blades from 'AvP' but then add on about...I dunno...six or more all sticking out all over the place. His arms look like a flippin' penknife, all that's missing is the corkscrew. But to add salt into the wound Shredder now fires lots of smaller blades from his wrists too, a seemingly endless supply of them, oh and they all appear to be homing knives too because he can summon them back to his wrists, handy.

'I want you to drain every ounce of their blood, even if it kills them'...Errr wut? of course that will kill them.

In all honesty when the movie is set at night and in and around the sewers its not too bad, squint hard enough and you could almost make out a Turtles movie in here. Alas it doesn't last long before it goes absolutely berserk again. I mean of course the idiotic mountain sequence complete with a huge arctic, hummers, turtles tobogganing down the snowy mountain, bouncing between the crashing vehicles fighting Foot soldiers whilst being completely impervious too injury and all rendered in glorious CGI with greenscreens for your viewing pleasure. Seriously no injuries whatsoever after that turn of events, seriously. What's really dumb is how big is that flippin' mountain?!  The sequence is about I dunno...six minutes, and its all sliding down this infinite mountain slope, plus there's a whopping big cliff at the end of it! Where was this mountain??!!

I won't have a go at everything here, believe it or not some of it was OK...errmm...well the CGI was nice of course, the turtles did look realistic can't deny that. The fights were well created and looked fast and furious which was cool, nice to see Splinter actually kick some ass for once. The turtles sewer home was also nicely crafted and looked recognisable to previous versions but with some decent touch ups in pop culture and technology. Typically though the bad outweighs the good tenfold, I'm not even completely sure who this movie is aimed at because I don't think Liebesman and co could make their minds up. Can someone please explain to me how the four turtles and O'Neil survive that last fall from the top of that skyscraper.


Monday, 5 January 2015

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Mkay so after the semi successful X-Men trilogy came this origins tale (prequel) which was originally also gonna carry on with Magneto and Professor X...I believe. We all know how that turned out though, I think the idea of yet more origin tales was perhaps a bit daunting for everyone.

So the movie is about Wolverine's origins but that is a bit of lie really, its mainly about one period in his life. At the start we see Logan as a child and how he befriends Creed, fast forward through the ages we then see the pair fighting in most of the biggest wars such as the American Civil War, WWI, WWII and Vietnam where Creed kills an Officer. The pair are then executed by firing squad? did that happen to US troops in Nam? Anyway its only then that the outside world finally notices these two blokes have been alive for over a century, I still think that would get noticed as time pasted by and we approached the modern era. The funny thing is the movie skips past all this information but it looks way more interesting and fun than what we actually get. I'd love to see Creed and Logan fighting in WWI/WWII and Nam.

Moving on we see Stryker hiring the pair to join his Team X which is easily the coolest part of the film with the most potential yet alas it is lost. The team isn't the same as the comic source material but I guess that is a given, my main issue was the fact that only Agent Zero and Wade Wilson are given anything to do. The other issue being that both of those characters come across as so powerful that I found myself asking why you would need the other guys! hell both Zero and Wilson wiped out everybody single handed without breaking a sweat. Oh and did anyone else notice how the entire team just strides down the middle of a street up to the enemy stockade?! aren't they suppose to be some kind of special ops unit?? stealth anyone???!!!

Eventually the plot takes us to Logan's most iconic bit of backstory surrounding the reinforcement of his skeleton with Adamantium. Now this entire section makes no sense and is the most cliched movie crapola ever...well that and the few times we see characters screaming into the sky with rage as the camera zooms away from their face. Firstly Stryker and his military/scientist buddies all want to create a superhuman/mutant with this experiment. They have spent millions upon millions funding it...and it works! No sooner have they managed to achieve their highly expensive goal Wolverine breaks free and escapes...of course. Because every test subject always manages to break free and run off endangering everyone (if its a monster).

What is hilarious is the fact that Stryker immediately orders Wolverines execution the minute he escapes! you just achieved what you set out to do and now you're trying to destroy it!! Plus you deliberately made Logan invincible so how the fuck do you expect to take him down?! I mean really...if you're gonna make someone (especially a powerful mutant) invincible don't you think that might cause you problems further down the road if you lose control of him...errr hello? 'Hunt him down, take his head off'...errm you just said he was invulnerable, how do you plan on managing this?...why are you shooting at him Zero? (jackass).

From here on it became uncomfortable as we see a nice old couple get needlessly killed (and blown up!) after they help Wolverine and we the audience start to warm up to them in a Pa and Ma Kent type way. It seems that was merely in there so Logan could pick up his natty leather jacket...yet I also find myself wondering how the fuck Zero and co actually found him there anyway. Its also at this time you start to notice the CGI effects are pretty naff truth be told. The now infamous cartoon-esque Adamantium claws which are somehow smooth like blades even though they are covering knobbly bone claws. There is also some pretty horrendous greenscreen effects that stand out badly such as Jackman on the motorbike and the helicopter gun pilot.

Everything naturally leads up to a big climatic battle between Creed Logan and Wade Wilson/Deadpool which for some unknown reason takes place on top of a huge cooling tower. In between all this Gambit pops up for again no real apparent reason other than to please the fanboys. He's clearly a real card shark when we first meet him so I literately have no idea how he would find anyone dumb enough to play cards with him but I digress. At least Gambit is Gambit...Deadpool or Weapon XI is pretty much an abomination frankly, I'm not totally up on this characters lore but they really fucked with it right here, dude looks like a Mortal Kombat character. Also why exactly is Stryker wanting to make Weapon XI? surely Logan and Creed are virtually indestructible as they are, why the need to create this uber mutant who will obviously be too powerful to control. Its so daft and a horribly bad bad guy plot cliche.

When I first saw this movie I quite liked it but now I can see where the many flaws lie. It tries to be a sensible gritty superhero movie but is actually a very cheesy predictable and hokey action movie with all the regular cliches. I think Hood forgot that his superhero flick was a prequel and is suppose to be set in the 70's (I think it is) because the general technology on display is way too good for that era. There are some nice points without a doubt, some good effects and some good visual moments that capture what we all know and love about Marvel. Unfortunately overall it all looks a bit artificial and actually poor in places, it doesn't even feel like a Wolverine origins story but more like another X-Men installment.


Friday, 2 January 2015

The Spirit (2008)

Back in 2005 Frank Miller hit the big time (in the movie world) with 'Sin City', a lavish living graphic novel with lush visuals. So clearly not one for sitting on his new found success he went ahead and made another living graphic novel which utilised the exact same visual style. Now one the one hand it worked because like 'Sin City' the film looked terrific, on the other hand it basically felt like a poor sequel of sorts to that better movie.

The Spirit is another typically suave suit wearing crime fighter very much in the same vein as The Shadow, that now cliched 30's/40's pulp comic/novel type avenger. Apparently his nemesis The Octopus created a serum that could grant people immortality, and he tried it on murdered police officer Denny Colt (The Spirit). Colt then somehow escapes The Octopus and for some reason decides to fight crime in his city, Central City, now that he is invincible. The Octopus now needs the blood of Hercules (called Heracles for some reason) to perfect his serum so he can use it...I think.

The main problem with this movie being the plot and characters. The plot honesty have no real idea what the hell was going on with this plot. Something about The Octopus trying to get a hold of these two trunks, as is  sexy femme fatale Sand Saref, one containing the blood of Hercules and the other the Golden The entire movie is really quite a mess and didn't make much sense to me. The Spirit is suppose to be immortal I think, he can regenerate after being injured, yet he keeps having near death experiences and nearly dies on a few occasions. He does come across as quite vulnerable to be frank and has these dreams where the Angel of Death taunts him presumably because he escaped her grasp...its weird. At one point Colt wears body armour too, I guess this is too limit damage because it takes time to regenerate? I'm still not entirely sure why The Octopus wants this special blood seeing as his serum worked pretty well on Colt, and I don't know how the Golden Fleece fits into all this either truth be told.

After reading up about this character I can see why many fans didn't like it and why it bombed. The movie is completely different from the original source material in virtually every aspect. The Spirit has a sidekick in the comics, The Octopus doesn't bring Colt back and you never see The Octopus in the comics, they could have done that easily so I dunno why they went with Jackson like they did. On top of that the plot is so convoluted and never really explains itself as far as I can recall.

Other issues that spring to mind would be the simple fact this character is way too similar to other shadowy heroes. For any viewer who isn't a fanboy of the comic and knows nothing (like me) then this will all look very familiar and very dated. The whole facet of the character has been done many times, hell even his look has been done to death ('The Shadow', 'Darkman'). Running around from shadow to shadow in a dark crime ridden city full of seedy dark alleyways isn't anything new. This hero even has a police chief on his side who is the only person to know his secret identity...oh geez! Admittedly this character does date back to the 40's and back then this kind of stuff was fresh, but even so The Shadow had been around since the 30's so its easy to see where the inspiration came from. Unfortunately this movie just came along too late and has lost out, beaten to the punch by various other similar characters.

Of course the film looks good no one is gonna dispute that. That classic detective crime genre soaked in heavy film noir visuals that have been amped up with the same use of digital backgrounds/foregrounds we all saw and fell in love with in 'Sin City'. As I've already said these two movies are visually identical with their colour palette and stark images. Thick blacks, thick whites, bold lines, lots of angles, inverted colours and images and the slight hint of colour on certain objects like The Spirits bold red tie. To watch and show off your new bluray player with...its the business, but again you could say its been done already with Miller's last flick.

The cast are a poor choice right across the board with the exception of Dan Lauria as the hard nosed gruff Commissioner and honesty Macht isn't too bad as The Spirit, he looks good in the role. Again I firmly believe Jackson was cast purely because he's a big name and will attract a wide audience despite the fact he just doesn't fit the role. I will say the same for Johansson too...yep that's right, too many movies suffer this fate these days and Jackson is the biggest culprit.

You kinda get the impression Miller was just riding on the coattails of his previous big success to be honest. Thinking that everybody would lap this up purely because it looked like 'Sin City' and that's all it needed to succeed. To a degree he was right, these visuals are delicious and I'd like to see more and this film is really nice to look at...its just everything else. It pains me to say but this is one of those films that I really wanted to enjoy but I just couldn't. If it wasn't for the fact it looks so good it would have been a complete write off.