Saturday, 28 February 2015

Invaders from Mars (1986)

Ah the classic 1953 movie revisited and remade in that classic 80's style with wacky special effects. This really is a treasure chest of 80's gold through and through. Directed by Tobe 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' Hooper, written by Dan 'Alien' O'Bannon and with creature effects by Stan Winston, John 'Star Wars' Dykstra and Alec 'Aliens' Gillis. Doesn't get much better than that folks.

The plot is surprisingly almost identical to the original classic albeit with a few minor changes here and there. One night during a storm a young boy sees a UFO land in an area behind his house (the sandpit?). He tells his parents but of course they don't believe him telling him it was a nightmare. The next day his father investigates and eventually returns with strange marks on the back of his neck, his mannerisms are odd and he seems emotionless and cold. Slowly many townsfolk start acting the same so the young boy tries to alert the authorities but has a hard time making folk believe naturally. Soon enough his school nurse starts to take notice and believe the boy and in time they manage to get the military on board to lay siege to the mysterious sand pit area.

As I already said I was shocked at how faithful this remake is to the source material, it is virtually the same right down to the visual setup. Now this might sound lame (especially with this current horrendous remake trend) but if you've seen the 1953 version its quite cool to see the same stylings revamped (without the use of CGI I might add). The little pathway and hill leading to the sandpit behind the young boys house has been recreated to look just like the original film and it looks splendidly creepy. The alien ship interior is basically along the same kind of lines but obviously much more futuristic (for the time) and of course all the characters are almost identical, although some characters have different job roles here. It was also sweet to see the original lead boy actor from the 1953 version play the police chief in this movie.

The major changes come in the visual effects department for the aliens and obvious things like the spaceship, makeup and a few minor horror moments. You can easily tell the rubbery monster/alien suits are Stan Winston's work, I can tell his creative style a mile away. The main head alien, the brain, was literately that...a fat pink brain that basically looks like Krang from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. I believe this design did actually surface before the introduction of Krang in the animated TMNT series in 1987, so maybe this movie influenced that cartoon? Anyway this powerful double pupiled alien really looks tremendous if a little motionless.

The other mobile aliens (if you can say that) are quite bizarre, honesty I don't know why they went with this design but they basically look like giant testicles with huge gaping jaws and four legs. Huge lumps of gristle with huge mouths lined with razor sharp teeth and four camel-like legs. Clearly very large and heavy rubber suits with the two front legs being for the performer inside and the rear two probably mainly being stability. Its very clever how they have done it but alas these aliens do look totally cumbersome, not very agile...not very mobile at all really and completely useless in an evolutionary sense. How on earth these aliens managed to build spaceships or develop technology I don't know, there must be other types of alien that helped them.

One thing that does stand out was the bad acting which seemed strange to me seeing as this felt like a biggish production. Yeah sure this is meant to be a science fiction B-movie of course so possibly the cast acted badly on purpose? I kinda doubt it honesty, maybe some did but most I think were just poor, especially the main protagonist, the young boy. This kid really couldn't act, it was quite painful at times. He was also kinda tubby and clearly had trouble running too *giggles*, the amount of times he's running away from someone and its laughable, so slow! I guess when one of the main leads from the first two Return of the Living Dead movies (James Karen) is in the film, you should know to expect some grilled cheese. But honesty no one here is very good, there is lots of hokey shouting, screaming and really obviously slow running away from dangerous things.

Of course the finale won't be much of a surprise if you've seen the original film because this ends the same way. In fact it ends exactly the same accept for the cliffhanger moment before the credits role where all we see is the young boy rushing to his parents room, stopping and screaming in terror. Its a typical 80's finish, the kinda thing you'd see in an 80's horror anthology movie, its left to your imagination...and nightmares.

The tension does seem to have gone from this newer version, I kinda expected it to be a trashy 80's gore fest, the movie poster does lend itself to that. On the other hand I did think it could of been a John Carpenter flick at times, if you didn't know any better it could seem that way, it has those dark comedic tones much like 'They Live'. On the whole its certainly a blast if you're into practical hands-on effects with larger than life creature suits and prosthetics but don't expect many thrills or blood. Considering the director its actually relatively tame.


Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Teen Wolf Too (1987)

I'm not sure what's going on with the movies title here, is that suppose to be a clever play on words or something? or maybe just a quirky way of showing its a sequel without using a boring number 2. Anyway this time around we follow the lycanthropic antics of Scott Howard's cousin Todd.

The basic story for this movie is also the basic problem...its exactly the flippin' same. The original movie saw Scott battle with his affliction in high school, dealing with puberty, love, girls, bullies, friends, grades and of course the main issue of his basketball team. In this story Todd has just gotten into his university and has to deal with being a young adult, love, girls, bullies, friends, grades and the main issue of his boxing team. The difference here being Todd doesn't know he's a werewolf and has his first 'wolf-out' occurrence in his new uni surroundings conveniently.

OK so they are pretty much rehashing the first movie...could still be good. Thing is the plot doesn't really add up and is full of blatant idea pinching from the first movie. First off the coach on this uni boxing team is the same coach from Scott's basketball team in high school in the first film! He is actually suppose to be the same person! How would this high school coach now be the coach in this uni at the exact time when Scott's cousin is there? The answer to that is this coach got Todd a full athletic scholarship based on the hopes that Todd is also a werewolf and will turn the uni boxing team into champs. What??!! is that for real?! OK he could help with the scholarship for Todd but how did he manage to become the boxing coach at the same time?? OK OK breathe...

That's one major nonsensical plot point, another is why Scott's father Harold (James Hampton back again) is here. He lives in Beacon Town, Nebraska according to my sources, Todd's university is Hamilton which in reality is located in Colorado (I'm guessing the same for the movie). Now those two states are connected admittedly so its possible these two locations could be close (or not)...but why would Scott's dad be even in this story? Why would he be hanging around and watching the final boxing match? is he staying in a motel somewhere?

Another point that does tend to spring to mind when you watch is why the hell these people haven't turned into mega rich celebrities by now with there impressive family gift. I would of thought by now the science world would be all over them wanting to learn from them, take samples, run tests etc...they'd be on TV, in movies, in papers etc...a new form of humanoid! The fact that Harold flaunts his lycanthropy without a care in the world you'd think many would know by now, he's basically exposing himself. Yet the fact when people do see him as a werewolf they are still shocked...kinda says to me the Howard's haven't come out of the werewolf closet yet. Am I being too picky here? yeah maybe but come on!

The other gaping issues I have with the movie is the continuity or lack of...or shambolic attempt at. OK so I already told you that the coach was suppose to be the same character from the first movie, unfortunately they cast someone who obviously doesn't look like the original guy plus they try to copy the original guys hair and fail. Next up is the classic character of Styles, he's back...but played by someone else. Unfortunately and with great wisdom they cast a clearly much younger person to play Styles plus this guy looks totally and utterly nothing like the original character. Next is John 'Gomez' Astin as the Dean of the university, an original character...oops no, they make him exactly the same character as Principal Thorne in the original movie with the exact same motives. The only proper continuity is Mark Holton as Chubby...wait...did they actually have a musical number in this?

So yeah there are a lot of problems with this movie, glaring easy to spot problems, but its not all bad. They do get the werewolf makeup and prosthetics correct which is nice to see, they do look very close to the original although not quite as good. Jason Bateman does actually fit the role well, he is a likable guy and he does look kinda similar to Fox truth be told, you could believe they are related. That (now) entire cliched 80's frat house vibe is strong here naturally but that's a rose-tinted retro plus point, also check out all the cute 80's girls in their 80's fashions (God I miss the 80's). Lastly the boxing finale is reasonably exciting, it looks OK and relatively realistic, it does just about give you the buzz needed in the end.

In short this movie can't compare to the original in any way. The original had that low budget appeal, a cracking 80's score, some cheeky semi-adult angles and charismatic characters. This movie merely regurgitates the lot but its watered down to appeal to more people. The score doesn't have the same emotional force behind it, the characters are a shadow of their former selves, the new characters are cheap rip-offs of the previous ones and they literately copy the original plot almost scene for scene. One fatal mistake being this time they actually make the main hero character unlikable by the midway point. He becomes such a showboating show off as the wolf and clearly becomes an asshole, where as Scott in the original movie was always likable even with his inflated ego.

Despite all that its still an enjoyable movie I can't deny, maybe its because I grew up with these movies as a kid makes me biased. Even though its a bad sequel, if you try not to think about the superior original and take it as it is, you do have an easy going fun piece of trashy 80's trash.


Monday, 23 February 2015

Wolves (2014)

The screenwriter for 'X-Men' and 'X-Men 2' casts one of the newer younger X-Men members for the lead in his 'I promise you it's not Twilight for werewolves' movie. In all fairness this isn't a Twilight movie, in fact it's a pretty dark menacing werewolf thriller which actually manages to provide us with a half-decent Jason Momoa performance, he actually fits here.

Plot-wise it the usual thing, a young male isn't sure what's wrong with himself, he has lots of dark nightmares and can do unusual things, turns out he's a werewolf. The beginning of the story is narrated to us by the main character, about his early years and why he ends up running away. From there we follow this young man as he discovers a remote town chock full of werewolves, some good and some bad. He helps out a local old couple on their farm and slowly starts to learn the ways of the town, who runs the show and why and eventually how all this connects to him. Of course this wouldn't be a dark brooding mythical creature flick without a soppy love interest to heighten the tension.

OK so despite the protagonist being a young, smooth-faced, blonde, firm pretty boy, I promise you this isn't a Twilight-esque fantasy. For starters there is blood, gore and body parts in this, not tonnes of it but you won't be left wanting. We are very quickly introduced to a young slightly out of control werewolf who will batter the shit out of anyone when he gets upset, in fact he'll tear anyone limb from limb if he really gets upset.

The plot builds slowly but predictably with the usual type of cliches we've all seen before. The newcomer in a strange town who faces off against the local gang of burly men. The familiar Pa and Ma Kent type scenario as the young Cayden is taken in by an old couple who just happen to own a farm, they look after him and slowly become almost like a family. Of course the old couple have a young daughter whom Cayden falls for and must rescue in the end and there is an obvious twist with the alpha antagonist and the secondary antagonist who pops up at the end...unsurprisingly.

There is no new imaginative angle on werewolf lore here other than the fact that traditional methods to kill a werewolf such as silver bullets, Wolfsbane etc...don't work in this universe. But there are two kinds of werewolf here, a purebred which was born with lycanthropy and 'the bitten' which is self-explanatory, the latter are not as strong and cannot heal as well as a purebred. As always though there is the issue of what can kill a werewolf, in this movie some wolves get killed off by gunshots, explosions or by simply getting slashed (the bitten), which seems a bit useless to me. The purebreds can survive a lot of damage with their health regeneration abilities such as falling from huge heights, suffering badly broken bones and getting beaten half to death...yet in the end the alpha baddie werewolf gets killed with a slash to the throat? Eh??

It is also mentioned that a werewolf can transform whenever he or she wants too, they don't have to wait for a full moon but I think they are stronger under a full moon. In this movie they can transform under strong emotional rushes such as lust or anger, hence they can change when losing control of such emotions, which can cause problems.

Let's not beat around the bush anymore though, the plot is weak and in all honesty most of the characters are pretty bland and unexciting. The films comes to life when these characters change into werewolves...mainly Momoa (alpha baddie) and Till (pretty boy goodie). The makeup effects are really really good, I was totally blown away with the werewolf facial designs and bodysuits. I honesty haven't seen anything this good for a long time, the fur is realistic, the teeth, mouth, nose, eyes and claws are all tremendous looking.

Till looks like a badass version of 'Teenwolf' whereas Momoa looks like a tank of a werewolf! In fact he actually looks too big, almost swollen. I liked how they also incorporated human hair/facial hair into the wolf designs which does make sense as that wouldn't just disappear. The body movement of the characters in wolf mode is also impressively done with live-action stunts and wirework I'm guessing, didn't look like CGI. The fights are also quite brutal and really intense, lots of biting, slashing and ripping as these guys knock chunks out of each other! Full-on werewolf badassery right here folks.

I must also give kudos to John Pyper-Ferguson as Wild Joe, a kind of crazyass skinny, redneck one-eyed cowboy who is the backbone behind the story and turns out to be pretty badass himself. It's just a shame we didn't see more of him fighting as Momoa's band of bitten werewolves are terribly regular looking and badly cast.

Most of this offers nothing new I won't lie to you, end of the day its just another chance to create awesome new hands-on werewolf effects. That's all it's about really, the rest of it can fall by the wayside because it's just filler until we see some lycan action. I like that they made this an adult action gore thriller and there are some lovely shots, use of lighting, editing with the fights all looks glossy and well made long story short. I love werewolf (and vampire) flicks, this obviously isn't the best werewolf movie I've seen but it was surprisingly entertaining I won't deny...most of that being down to the superb makeup prosthetics.


Saturday, 21 February 2015

Dracula Untold (2014)

The movie previously called 'Dracula: Year Zero' which is no better frankly, I'm guessing the untold means there will be more. Seeing as Universal is doing this whole reboot of their Universal monsters franchises then I'm very sure we will be getting ungodly sequels. What kinda worries me is the fact this movie ends with Dracula in the present day, does this mean more 'Underworld' type shenanigans? rut roh!

OK so lets light this historically gothic candle. First and foremost this isn't the classic Dracula tale oh no, this is a re-imagining of the story...rut roh!! Aaaaand this is where my negativity rant begins...Right off the bat (no pun intended) the plot is fluffed. We find out that a man in a cave (Charles Dance) made a deal with a demon from hell for dark powers long ago, he was tricked by the demon and had to remain in this cave forever as this powerful undead vampire. The hook being he could only break this curse by allowing someone to see him, allow them to escape the cave and then allow them to return...for some reason unknown to me. The problem with this little setup is every person who enters the cave the vampire kills soooo how does he ever intend to be free of the curse?

Following on from that, If a person returns to the cave and drinks the vampires blood he will gain some of the vampires powers...but not all. No in this movie the human gets a three day trial to play with the vampires super powers first and if he doesn't like them he can revert back to a mortal if he manages not to feed on any humans over that three day period (facepalm). If said person does feed on a mortal during the three day period he will turn completely to the dark side and will be a full blown vampire with full powers. This in turn will free the original vampire from his curse and damp cave dwelling for some reason. Not sure why this demon offered a get out clause.

Right got that? no? tough. The actual plot behind this movie is actually well thought out despite the ridiculous re-imagining of Dracula. The historical backdrop of the tale is still in the Middle Ages but now Prince Vlad the Impaler was brought up in the Ottoman Empire as a warrior slave, trained to fight and kill in the Sultan's Janissary corp (this is partly fact, he was actually held hostage by the Turks for a few years). The Janissary corp were an elite fighting force made up of young Christian boys forced into the ranks at a very young age. They were brought up in the ways of Islam and war with strict discipline but given many privileges such as a good education, uniform, pay and a pension (think the Spartans and '300'). In the long run most of the Janissaries became the top dogs in society with their own social class despite starting out as slaves.

I liked this angle very much and the way the writers have tied all this into the classic Dracula story, it actually works well. The Ottoman Empire is of course very much a part of the real Vlad Dracul's history. Here they have tied in his young fictional son (?) and wife into the bargain with the use of the Janissaries and the war against the Turks and their very real historical Sultan Mehmed II.

So the plot is nicely blended in with historical fact to a degree and truthfully the movie starts off really well. The visuals are sumptuous with costumes, sets, props, weapons, flags/standards etc...every tiny detail looking very authentic, it all looks so good you'd think you were watching a genuine epic. Unfortunately things go down hill fast, the first sign of this being the simple fact that Luke Evans as Vlad is all buffed up with a nice overall tan...just like a coincidental. I'm going somewhere with this train of thought stick with me.

Well I've said already haven't I...this isn't a movie about Dracula oh no, this is a movie ultimately about Dracula the fecking superhero. That's right folks its as blatant as the red pants in Superman's campy outfit. For a start he is able to defeat entire armies of warriors single handed so all notions of any threat, thrills or danger are gone. His special move involves him (hitting the A and B buttons together) turning into a colony of bats so he can fly all over the place like errmm...a dark superhero, its literately the same as Demitri Maximoff from the Darkstalkers videogame. He can apparently control the weather at will, he can control armies of bats at will (these bats can kill heavily armed troops it seems) and he has special vampire vision whenever he needs it which reverts his eyes to normal so as not to scare the regular folk.

The movie just gets worse and worse I'm afraid, the Ottoman leaders are worried about Vlad's powers and worried he might be scaring their they blindfold them all. Yes you read that right they blindfold every man and march blindfolded into battle. Yet despite all their worries no one is ever seemingly bothered about the supernatural undead tomfoolery going on around them, hell the Turk leaders don't give a shit apparently, average day for them.
I also don't understand, near the end the film shows Dance seemingly turning mortal again in the daylight once all this comes to fruition, but at the end of the movie he returns as a vampire again? anyone?

There it is people, such is the massive influence of comicbook flicks today...they have taken a true literacy horror classic and turned him into a flippin' superhero. I mean seriously he's a good guy here, they humanise him, where's the horror? where's the suspense? Its just another lazy action hybrid with some generic Peter Jackson/Tolkien wannabe action sequences. Holy crapenspiel its basically Superman for fucks sake!! Superman with his army of killer bats.


Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Hell Comes to Frogtown (1987)

Sam Hell...Hell comes to Frogtown, nice little play on words there, just like 'Wild Wild West' with James West. This movie came along way after John Carpenter's 'Escape from New York' but the influences are clear. I might also add that this movie probably gave Carpenter a solid reason to cast Piper in the lead of his cult movie 'They Live' which sees him play a similar smartass role.

Sam Hell is one of the last males left alive with a high sperm count, yep that's right. In a post-apocalyptic world (cue lots of desert) where most have succumbed to atomic fallout Mr Hell is one of few who can breed, and breed well. So the organisation of warrior-nurses (a government organisation) grab Hell and force him to breed with sexy females in order to boost the human race...yes you are reading this correctly. Problem is the only group of fertile women around have been pinched by the mutants of Frogtown for...reasons. So its up to the one man army Sam Hell to bust into Frogtown and save the sexy females...then slam dunk em all.

In all honesty this really does sound like a big pile of low budget, cheap-ass, tacky soft porn poo. The entire notion is like something from the Flesh Gordon franchise for nipples sake...errr I mean Pete's sake. One stud left in a post-apocalyptic world who must boink all the lovely ladies as part of his job...oh geez! The funny thing is the movie is indeed a cheap silly throwaway piece of fluff but its also a semi-worthy trashfest.

If you didn't know any better you'd swear this was a John Carpenter flick, but as said that's probably because director Jackson has taken most ideas from 'Escape from New York'. The whole concept of having Hell locked into a government owned steel chastity belt that will explode if he runs off or tries to tamper with it is a blatant ripoff. Sure the idea is childishly amusing and makes for some cringeworthy moments of overacting but its basically a below the belt version (no pun intended) of Snake Plissken's internal explosive device.

His mission is all too familiar as well, a high risk rescue from the mutants of Frogtown. He's gotta zip in and out rescuing the damsels without anyone realising what's happened, only then will his groin be released. Luckily he does have two sexy females to accompany him on the mission...if they can stop trying to hump him of course. Strangely enough this isn't really sexy even though it sounds like it, way too many shots of a half naked Piper for my liking.

Then of course you have the character of Hell who is pretty much a carbon copy of Mr Plissken. He has the shaggy long hair, the unusual attire which looks like a mish mash of styles, weapons galore and of course a gruff, butch, chauvinistic wisecracking persona. The only difference here is Hell is more of a comedic character for the most part, almost like a parody. Seriously though why does he have those two long bits of red cloth at the front and rear of his jeans?? It looks like a native American influence...but why??!

The enemy here are humanoid amphibians, mutants, but I was unsure if they were suppose to be mutated humans or actual mutated amphibians from the atomic fallout. If they were indeed real frogs before the mutation I must ask where on earth all these frogs came from to make up this big population! plus why just amphibians? why nothing else? There also seems to be various types of amphibians too, like bullfrogs and a salamander?

Most of the main amphibian characters are rubber masks and bodysuits which admittedly worked pretty well, the large rubber masks were accurate looking and appropriately wet n slimy. It all looks a bit basic these days of course, the mouths don't move very well with no lip sync whilst the rubber suits are obvious, but they do the job and at least look like real frogs. Most background characters are simple makeup jobs which stand out a bit but lets not get too picky here (ahem).

Most of the movie does look cheap and doesn't really have much going for it. There is a sort of car chase sequence near the end, some sort of fisticuffs between characters which is all too fake looking and a little bit of sexy tomfoolery with boobies. I did like the use of the old abandoned steel mill for Frogtown (I presume it was a steel mill, could be wrong). For the most part its all a bit rubbish though, there isn't any real pending threat to anyone at any point which is the main issue. I always got the impression they could just sit down and have a good natter over everything as the mutants don't seem all that bad.

Its easy to see why this has become a cult classic, especially with a title like that. In my opinion its all down to the great performance by Roddy Piper who is a really solid action comedy star and very much underrated if you ask me. This guy has proved himself twice with this movie and 'They Live', he knows how to deliver cornball lines, he's endearing, quirky, amusing, looks good and somehow makes all this shit seem really decent. This whole thing dangles by a thread...if it wasn't for Piper and some good rubber mask work, it would be complete pants.


Monday, 16 February 2015

Horrible Bosses 2 (2014)

The first movie was quite the success and I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish. The whole concept of wanting to murder ones work boss really hit a cord with me and many others I'm sure. Why? because it was completely relatable for most common regular folk, us mortals that toil in crappy soul destroying jobs. That concept and the movie was also similar to another fantastic comedy 'Office Space' which I think helped with its popularity.

Now we have the much anticipated sequel which reunites all of the original cast...accept for Farrell, did I say anticipated? This time around the three main guys are trying to start their own business with a homemade invention. They go to Hanson (Waltz as a wealthy businessman) to pitch their idea, Hanson likes it and makes a big order. Later on down the road Hanson screws them over and basically puts the guys up shit creek without a paddle. What do they do next? well they decide to kidnap Hanson's son Rex (Pine) but discover its harder than they expected. Things then take a twist as Rex decides to assist them in getting back at his emotionless father.

That's the one thing this movie does have in its favour and that's twists, although they aren't hard to spot but at least they are there. There are a few mini plots going on here with different characters at different times, its not confusing but in fact essential to keeping this films head above the water. Obviously everything comes together at the end and is tied up in a neat package with a pretty bow. Did I enjoy the ride though? well kinda I guess, the main problem here is the plot is so very bland, cliched, unoriginal and non-engaging. The reason why the first film worked was, as I said, you could relate to it, you can't relate to this because most people don't go around kidnapping other people.

They have shifted from a solid idea to this very meh idea which is just typical Hollywood spiel. It starts off quite funny I'll admit, the dirty and childish visual gag of Day wanking off Sudeikis and then giving him a reach around (trick of the eye gag) is actually very funny. When the guys are carrying out their plan to pinch some laughing gas from Dale's old sex obsessed boss Julia Harris (Aniston), the walkie talkie camaraderie between the three is hilarious. Bateman's blank, dry, deadpan expressions of exasperation as his two buddies continuously fudge up and prove how imbecilic they are is comedy gold. Day does get slightly annoying as the hyperactive fast talking Dale, can't stand too much of that character, whilst Sudeikis as Kurt is a worthy comedic foil to Nicks (Bateman) level-headed sensibilities.

Around the point where the guys meet up with Rex to discuss his diabolical plan is where this film starts to lose its way. Up to then it was quite funny with some admittedly solid laughs and good sleazy toilet humour. But as the plot goes down the stupid Hollywood action route which ends in car chases, police activity and gun play it ceases to be funny and merely becomes very meh. It was still a joy to see Aniston dress like a slut and hear her talk like an even dirtier slut describing how much she loves cock, loved her character in both films. Twas also great to see Spacey do his evil tyrant thing again which he does oh so well, apart from that everyone else is by the books frankly.

I'm afraid its the usual error that Hollywood just keeps making. Every time a film does well they have to make a sequel no matter what the original film was about. I've said it before and I'll say it again, certain films don't require sequels, they are stand alone flicks, one shot deals, lightning in a bottle. Just because a film does well that doesn't mean you have to try and franchise it! and this is another perfect example. The first film was very funny and it did well, leave it at that! There was never a need to make a sloppy bottom of the barrel scraping sequel, it was never gonna be better or do as well.


Saturday, 14 February 2015

The Interview (2014)

And here it is, the movie that almost ended Sony and put the world on a knifes edge...kinda. Actually it merely forced everyone to pretend to care about a movie no one was really bothered about in the first place. Alas the actions of North Korea gave the likes of Seth Rogen and co a massive following for a short period which eventually led to record breaking digital release sales for Sony and a lot of limelight. Yes in the end no one got blown one so far anyway, but many plans got exposed and a few people got humiliated.

So what is it? a silly comedy about James Franco and Seth Rogen travelling to North Korea to interview their leader...oh and kill him. Franco plays this slimy, cackling, money and fame obsessed talk show host who interviews celebrities mainly to expose secrets and grab headlines. Rogen is his best friend and the shows producer who...well lets be honest its basically Rogen being Rogen as usual, the man is a live action version of Fozzie Bear, no changes. I gotta be honest I found both of these characters to be rather unpleasant. Franco is genuinely a creepy evil looking guy (the grooming of an under age girl doesn't help) and here he really seems to fit this role too well if you ask me, just unlikable. On the other hand is it ever possible to see Rogen in a movie which doesn't involve him getting blind drunk and half naked in an overnight orgy montage?

The best thing about the whole movie is clearly Randall Park as Kim Jong-un who dials in a solid and strangely appealing performance. Now I was pretty sure I was not meant to like the North Korean leader in this movie, pretty sure he and his comrades were kinda the bad guys here. Yet there I was watching the movie and actually liking this guy!! I'm not saying I like the dude in reality but in this story Park plays him with such aplomb its hard not to feel for the guy. Hell I didn't really wanna see him get killed off truth be told, he was way more entertaining than the main duo.

Naturally it was pretty obvious that the one big gag would be the minute the two Americans idiots meet Jong-un he would turn out to be a nice guy instead of the monster he's made out to be. Sure enough he's a nice soft spoken guy who swears, has a sweetass collection of super cars, a tank (no surprise), sexy babes on demand, listens to Katy Perry and likes to play basketball. Basically he's a regular guy with a shit-tonne of money and biggie (or is he?). That whole angle was in my opinion totally predictable and too easy...but it worked and it makes for some of the best moments in the movie. The clear as day twist in the character towards the end doesn't even require explanation, surely you all know how it will go.

Aside from that what else is there? well all the usual stuff you'd expect from a movie with Seth Rogen in it...did I mention the half naked drunken orgy montage? Yep toilet humour aplenty my friends, crapping your pants, vomiting, eating ricin accidentally, shagging one of the female North Korean military officers and having her be a closet raging pervert, smuggling objects in Rogen's ass, biting off fingers, girls with big guns (objectifying women) and eventually an overblown bloody gun battle. Oh and lets not forget the obligatory mystery of whether Rogen is actually laughing, speaking or clearing his throat during scenes, I can't decide.

I guess you can call this a political satire but I don't think its that clever. Yes it targets the celebrity obsessed media of our modern age and the stereotypical money hungry moguls that dwell within it, but there's nothing new or clever there. They were doing that with the stereotypical money hungry 80's Wall Street yuppie types back in the day, our era is all about the celebrity infatuation. As for North Korea they don't really satirise the People's Republic but merely parody what they think they know...and like I've said its all very childish and predictable.

End of the day, call me a pot stirrer but I can understand to a degree why the North Korean hierarchy objected to the movie and I am still amazed how Rogen and co got away with making it in the first place. Still I also can't help but think Jong-un may well be secretly quite chuffed and flattered by the movie...behind closed doors (gotta uphold the hardass reputation eh). After all he is suppose to be a movie lover and having an adult comedy made about you which isn't actually that bad (making you out to be reasonably sick despite you being a communist dictator) is still pretty cool. I wonder how Putin would react to a similar movie about himself?


Thursday, 12 February 2015

St. Vincent (2014)

Bill Murray is back in comedy!! isn't he? well this is almost a comedy I guess, if you discount all the soppy emotional stuff. You know what really amazed me...the films poster, it has Murray strutting a familiar pose whilst smoking a cigarette in full view! Hey this is the politically correct modern era guys, you can't be doing that, think of the children!

So old Bill plays Vincent a Vietnam Veteran who lives alone in Brooklyn with his cat, his wife has Alzheimer's disease and stays in a nursing home which Vincent visits. Due to his age, loneliness and lack of money Vincent is a grumpy, cynical, gambling, boozing, smoking old man that doesn't have the time of day for anyone (accept his sick wife). He owes loan sharks money and his only real friend (of sorts) is a Russian prostitute whom he bangs. Can you feel the comedy here?

Anyway a new neighbour moves in next door who is a single mother (Maggie) raising a young boy (Oliver). Her job creates problems with picking Oliver up from school and looking after him in general so she reluctantly must fall back on Vincent to help out. Naturally Vincent being the kind hearted soul that he is sees this as an opportunity to make some easy money. What follows is the obvious bonding between the pair as Vincent realises there is more to Oliver than just using him for menial tasks whilst Oliver realises there is actually some good left in Vincent.

The main focus of this movie is of course on Murray and the young boy whom he kinda befriends along the way. In all honesty this character wasn't a million miles away from Murray's character in 'Lost in Translation' in the sense that both were lonely, cynical and kinda rude...oh and Murray played them both. Again I gotta be honest Murray's range ain't that great, he can do the sarcastic, deadpan, sneering asshole type very well, it suits his comedic style...well that is his comedic style. Unfortunately everything he does kinda feels the same even when he's clearly trying not too, hence this character of Vincent just feels like Murray being Murray as usual.

The plot is dangerously predictable and does end with a real mushy setup. It all kicks off with Vincent being rude and inconsiderate towards Oliver and his mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy trying to act but failing). Then as things progress Vincent starts to take a shine to the young lad as they go gambling together, visit his wife, going to bars etc...Vincent also helps Oliver to fight and stand up against a school bully. In turn Oliver helps Vincent mature and see things in a different light, helping him with daily chores and generally keeping him company etc...

Eventually it all goes pear shaped mainly because Vincent is being a bad influence despite actually trying to be a good influence or even a reasonable role model. Maggie's other half (a lawyer) restricts young Oliver from seeing Vincent fearing for the well-being of his son and Maggie to a degree. We then get the sequences of despair and emotional distress seeing Vincent at his lowest, running out of money, losing his wife, having a stroke and discovering he misses Oliver recognising they were actually good friends. But we then get the inevitably happy ending sequences where Vincent is nursed back to health with the help of Maggie and Oliver and Vincent kinda comes around. Its very much the stereotypical rollercoaster ride of starting low, the good times, the bad times and then finishing high again.

The story kept me interested but its not really that funny, its way darker and more dramatic than it lets on. Much of the Murray moments are pretty depressing, kinda poignant and basically miserable really, even the sequence where he helps Oliver from getting beaten up by the school bullies is actually a bit disturbing. I was expecting it to be funny but was shocked at how gritty and harsh that sequence was. The only amusing moment that stuck out in my mind (that I can actually remember) is at the start when Murray crashes his car into his own fence and manages to blame some removal men for it when they accidentally bump into his tree.
I guess the aim here was to create a crummy, sleazy, no good fraud of a guy who meets a young boy (young family) and gets his life turned around. Sure Vincent is an old miser but deep deep down he has a good heart and the other characters just need to excavate it.

Yep I'm sure that's the angle here but its lost in space, I can see the reason why people are hailing it as a solid movie for Murray but is it really?? Its not comedy, its nothing new and original and worst of all its just Murray being Murray...again, the only difference here being McCarthy NOT being a loud obnoxious cow. The entire Russian prostitute character played by Naomi Watts just left me confused, you could quite easily remove that character from the movie and nothing would change. I still don't get what she was suppose to be there for...and why pregnant? that was never even touched on I do believe, it just made things more awkward.

This is not a bad film don't get me wrong, its a decent emotional ride with solid performances. But in my view it was rather depressing and not overly enjoyable...until the very end with the obligatory weepy finale. Am I being too stern here? maybe but I'm still surprised at how genuinely gloomy this all was. I like Murray and he does a good aging curmudgeon with a sharp tongue...but he's done this type of thing before and usually with more laughs. Hence I still stand by Sofia Coppola's Nippon based story as one of Bill Murray's best characters in crisis.


Monday, 9 February 2015

Big Hero 6 (2014)

So who knew this was actually based on a Marvel comicbook? honest. Yes this is indeed an adaptation although not an entirely accurate one, is that a problem? no not really. None the less I must report that the comicbook does appear to be very different from the movie. Firstly Baymax seems to be a huge green thing that turns into a dragon, one or two characters are out (most notably Silver Samurai) and one or two characters seem to have been created (or changed) for the movie, plus the plot has of course been altered.

So who knew the movies title of 'Big Hero 6' was the name of the superhero team we see? well I didn't! Up to this point I always thought that was the name for Baymax (didn't know he was called Baymax). Its only at the point when the team come together I sat there counting and suddenly realised...oooh...I'm an idiot.

OK so I won't natter about the plot seeing as its a formulaic ordeal involving the creation of a superhero team, coming to terms with the death of a loved one, battling an evil baddie (with obvious twist), the team realising their potential and friendship and finally saving a damsel in distress. There is nothing new to see there whatsoever...fact. The characters though are a well thought out and well designed bunch that touch on every type of superhero trait whilst utilising some older movie ideas.

Fred (in the comic) is a typical beanie wearing skateboarding type dude who's costume is a fire breathing Godzilla-esque affair which I personally didn't like much, it didn't fit in if you ask me. In the comic he can transform into a Godzilla type monster sooo...yeah. Wasabi (in the comic) is now a well built but very nervous black man with dreads which kinda loses the emphasis of the original character if you ask me (after doing some homework), but lets not go down that route again. He has some very cool plasma wrist blades that look like they've come straight outta the Halo universe. GoGo Tomago (in the comic) does look quite similar to her comicbook counterpart but in this movie her suit has a very Tron-like appearance with the glowing frisbee disc things and her speed abilities. Honey Lemon (in the comic) again is very much like her comicbook counterpart, the closest of the lot actually with her silly super powered nano-purse faithfully recreated here. Hiro (in the comic) is a 14 year old teen and apart from his glasses going AWOL he also looks quite close to his comicbook roots whilst his sidekick Baymax looks like a giant Super Bomberman (its a videogame).

I'm unsure but I believe the main baddie character of Professor Callaghan was created for the movie. Although I must say this characters look with the Kabuki mask, long dark trench coat and seeing him ride around on his legion of black micro robots was really cool! All the characters looked admittedly very slick considering this is advertised as a kids flick, I certainly didn't expect it at all, an ice cool blend of Disney and Marvel. Speaking of slick the visuals overall were excellent, I loved the architectural/cultural combination of San Francisco and Tokyo despite the name of San Fransokyo being God awful. That also got me thinking...why the hell has San Francisco basically been invaded by the Japanese in this world?? to the point where they have actually changed the cities name!! Jesus! immigration much! Bit odd, doubt that would ever happen but it looked good here...well more like Tokyo than Frisco but anyway.

I'll be honest and say that the movie starts off slow. Once we reach the critical sequences where the plot evolves you pretty much know what's gonna happen for the rest of the movie, its all very predictable stuff. Even though this is a kids fantasy film and its based on a comicbook the story is very questionable, I mean in this universe literately anything can be built or invented...anything! The game changing, earth-shattering, human race altering micro robots Hiro creates were just a pet project to get him into a college for flips sake! Plus those things are way more incredible than Baymax...whom I might add is actually a bit annoying from time to time.

I found myself liking this movie mainly because of the characters, their look/designs and the visuals in general, I adored the Japanese culture on show. The story was kinda weak and generic with a generic but (as already said) cool looking bad guy...if it wasn't for that sweetass yet completely unexplained Kabuki mask he wouldn't have looked half as cool. When I say unexplained I mean why a Kabuki mask? I know he used it to control the micro robots but why use a Japanese theatrical mask? Other than that the action was standard superhero fair, a big car chase through a mysteriously deserted San Fransokyo...seriously where the hell was everyone?? All the characters seem to become top notch fighters and highly proficient with their weapons in no time, post credits scene which is typically Marvel etc...usual stuff.

So even though everything I've seen here is completely and utterly unoriginal bringing nothing new to the table at all...I still enjoyed it. There is decent camaraderie, heart-warming moments, its fast and frantic, it balances humour with a semi-serious tone and its easily accessible for all. It has all that yet its still clearly a very colourful toy/action figure advert, I have no clue how the hell they came to Baymax's look if you see the comicbook version, and still...still we can't escape the Stan Lee cameos.


Friday, 6 February 2015

The Jazz Singer (1927)

Back in the 1930's Al Jolson was the highest paid entertainer in the business. In the USA he was a massive massive star (the biggest!) but he was also hot stuff around the world having hit after hit alongside international tours with many movies to his name. Let me put it this way, Jolson was the Michael Jackson or Elvis Presley of his time.

Now admittedly many of his movies were never really much cop due to changing tastes over the years and the fact his movies tended to be very samey. It was always that first talkie movie he starred in that really stuck out, probably because it was the first...well actually the second but 'A Plantation Act' was more of a selection of songs and not an actual movie. The Jazz Singer is based on Jolson's life growing up in New York. The story was actually written by Samson Raphaelson after interviewing Jolson on his upbringing, he later adapted the story for the theatre and it became a hit. Warner Bros then acquired the rights to the play and naturally wanted to make a movie out of it, at first Jolson wasn't in line to star in the movie but eventually, long story short, he obviously got it and the rest is history.

I guess you could say this film is a biography of sorts, I'm not entirely sure how much is accurate but I thinks its pretty close to Jolson's early years and beyond. The story follows a young Jolson (in the film Jakie Rabinowitz...can't get more Jewish than that folks) getting in trouble with his strict Jewish father for singing in local beer gardens and acting the fool. His father is a cantor at the local synagogue on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a fully Jewish area. I'm sure you can guess what goes down here, Jakie's father wants his son to be a good religious boy and follow in his footsteps as a cantor, following family tradition and following his destiny. Unfortunately the rebellious young Jakie wants to do other things and ends up running away to choose his own destiny. Over the years Jakie becomes a talented budding singer with a very bright future but as you can guess all this conflicts with his father and eventually he must choose between his career and his family roots and heritage.

Now I won't lie and say this film is amazing simply because it is historically very important (the film was chosen for preservation in the US Library of Congress's National Film Registry), in all honesty most of the story is rather dull. Hold your horses let me explain, the film is of course black and white but that's not a problem for me. There is of course no sound or dialog for the most part accept for Jolson singing (silent film remember), this means we have lots of rather bland full screen old fashioned subtitles that explain very little. They are also rather limited in appearance so half the time your kinda guessing what's going on by the musical score and peoples expressions. It doesn't help at times that the language of the age is also slightly different, the way people wrote, certain words used etc...a different era. The acting is naturally a bit crappy throughout with the odd exception, Otto Lederer is easily the most entertaining character in the movie with his cheerful comedic turn. You can relate to his feelings on what's happening around him whilst everyone else is deathly serious and boring, plus he has an amusing face which helps.

Of course the real highlight of the entire feature is seeing and hearing Al Jolson hammer out his legendary tunes (only six though). This is really why you watch the movie, the plot is extremely predictable and basic (taking into account the age of the film of course) and its not really that gripping, you're here for the jazz singer himself and he doesn't disappoint. As I was growing up my dad would play Al Jolson every Christmas, it was a family tradition to have old Al singing in the background while our little family would enjoy the festive period. So I know how Jolson sounds, I know most of his hits and some of the famous lyrics, but its something else to actually watch the man perform for real.

A small quirky fella with big bright eyes, highly animated and amusing to watch as he bobs his head around like crazy whilst clapping, mugging at the camera and generally showing off. His routines are full of energy and his voice is loud, bold and pitch perfect, the man is clearly getting a buzz enjoying every second. Its all so very charming and delightful you can't help but smile seeing how people enjoyed the simple things back then. There is even a small sequence where Jolson improvises a lot of dialog with Eugenie Besserer (who plays his old mother) which shows the mans sky high confidence in what he could do both musically and verbally. Besserer clearly has trouble keeping pace and shows us one reason why many actors/actresses back then were scared of talkies...their voices sounded terrible!

Towards the finale we do see the famous blackface routine which was commonplace at the time. These days of course it would be frowned upon and admittedly its hard to watch without feeling a tad awkward. I found myself wondering why on earth they did it in the first place, how did it make their performances any better? why hide away behind the makeup? I think it derives from centuries old history where people would perform theatrical shows, plays or skits and perform as black people simply because there weren't any black people around to do so. Anyway the blackface performance by Jolson is really the central part of the film, everything builds up to this one outstanding performance, the moment he cracks the big time. I believe it is displaying how both Jolson (in reality) and his character broke away from the burdens of a heavily religious Jewish life and made their mark in America, both in show business and personally. The blackface performance, his all helps him prove to himself that he can be something other than a Jewish immigrant...but naturally for the sake of the movie there is a happy ending honouring his family traditions.

It does feel weird knowing you're watching the first ever talkie movie...despite the fact its only the songs that have sound. It is a real gem of a time capsule seeing old 1920's New York, the people, the attire etc...its very interesting in more ways than one. Its funny even at the time the critics said it was a simple schmaltzy affair and they weren't wrong. Its cram-packed full of sickly sentimental family customs, rituals and traditional short...its all very Jewish (and I know about that). Honesty its not really a movie as such, you could almost say it was a bit of a gimmick to both promote Jolson and at the same time use him to promote talking pictures in the best way possible. More of an experiment with talking pictures which at the same time takes the opportunity to capture the greatest performer of the age.

'wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain't heard nothin' yet!'


Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The Phantom Tollbooth (1970)

Now this feature length animated film is a real blast down memory lane, in fact I'm confident many won't have even heard of this. The film is an adaptation of another classic children's book of the same name by Norton Juster and very much along the same lines as Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz. In fact you could say all three stories are a trilogy of uber classic fantasy tales but like I said I don't think many folk have heard of this one.

This cutesy little tale follows Milo, a young schoolboy, with a drab boring life...or so he thinks. One day after school he starts chatting on the phone to his friend about how dull life is when a strange box appears in his room. This box speaks to Milo and eventually reveals itself to be a tollbooth, a tollbooth that apparently leads into another world. Reluctantly Milo decides to venture through the booth and winds up in a surreal yet colourful world inhabited by odd creatures and wacky people. Milo is soon lead on an adventure to save a couple Princesses from a strange castle in the sky along with a few companions he meets along the way.

Produced by the legendary Chuck Jones who was at the peak of his greatness coming off a string of massively successful Looney Tune cartoon shorts and Tom & Jerry (amongst other things). Watching the movie you can clearly see Jones influence on the overall visuals with many backgrounds and structural designs being highly reminiscent of his Looney Tunes work. Not only that but a few of the characters look a bit familiar too, almost a little too familiar, even going so far as to throw in the same ideas from his back catalog. For example the character of Chroma the conductor not only looks like a chubby conductor from the Bugs Bunny cartoon 'Long-Haired Hare', but at times their facial expressions are identical also (I think it was that Looney Tunes toon).

Speaking of Bugs Bunny its no great shock to find that the awesome Mel Blanc was also utilised here too. He provides voices for three characters in the film and its pretty easy to work out who they are because they all kinda sound like Bugs Bunny. Most of the other characters are voiced by people I don't know admittedly (very different era), but the lead character of Milo is portrayed by Butch 'Eddie Munster' Patrick in the live action sequences and voiced by him in the animated sequences.

The film is bookended by live action sequences in the real world, the present day (1970's San Francisco). At the start we see Milo moping around until the tollbooth pops up. This is a very brief yet highly enjoyable sequence as we see Milo leaving school and travelling home through urban Frisco. The scenery is really lovely and just shows how pleasant Frisco would have been to live in at that least for me being a Brit. The sequence where Milo meets the tollbooth is also really great fun and always got me excited as a child. Its so very charming and adorable plus it really captures the moment perfectly with some really neat effects and those wholesome vivid 60's visuals which always look so good.

There is another great little moment where Milo discovers he appears in cartoon form once crossing the tollbooth barrier which is typically Chuck Jones, again its simple but effective. From there on as Milo goes through the tollbooth the film crosses over into full animation and doesn't go back to live action until Milo comes back across the barrier.

This isn't just any old silly fantasy filled with monsters and heroes oh no, like the source material its actually very smart. The reason being because everything within the 'Kingdom of Wisdom' is a play on words...puns, idioms and metaphors galore. Most of the characters and evil creatures are named by simple word plays or puns such as The Spelling Bee which is a bee that has a large extended vocabulary, Dr. Kakofonous A. Discord who likes to make loud noises and unpleasant sounds or The Terrible Trivium, a demon that lives in the mountains of ignorance and wastes your time with trivial meaningless tasks. The same goes for various locations like the Doldrums where all the slimy lifeless creatures live in a constant state of inactivity, tiredness and depression and their surroundings are swamp-like, murky and colourless.

Some characters are more normal looking but all appear to be for educational purposes I guess, yet they all still have there clever amusing quirks. King Azaz the Unabridged who rules Dictionopolis (words) for get it? Or his brother The Mathemagician and ruler of Digitopolis (numbers). Together they both battle and argue over what is more important in life...words or numbers. I especially liked King Azaz's advisors...the Duke of Definition, Minister of Meaning, Count of Connotation, Earl of Essence and the Undersecretary of Understanding...all of whom looked exactly the same. Its not just the characters and locations either, the dialog is top heavy with the same kind of wit also. Such as Milo enjoying a feast with King Azaz where they all tuck in and eat their own words.

The visuals are passable by today's standards but a little sketchy admittedly, its nice to see hand drawn animation and its all very Chuck Jones. The similarity to the classic Warner Bros. Looney Tunes visual style assists for sure but its still not the same quality and way behind the likes of Disney. I must also add that the film can be a little scary in places I think...for younger kids. The monsters towards the end are quite horrendous looking considering its aimed at kids, plus the animation style used for them adds to the scare factor. The Terrible Trivium always did give me goosebumps when I was young with his emotionless faceless mannequin-like head.

Whilst the plot is rather mundane (saving two Princesses from some generic evil) its the witty dialog and visuals that make things interesting. Whilst the story holds all the magic and wonder that will enthrall kids of various ages it will also teach them a bit about Maths and English...maybe. At the same time its also a solid watch for adults too with its word trickery, it would take many viewings for kids to grasp everything they see, if they can look beyond the colourful creations on display. I tend to think of this as a poor man's 'The Sword in the Stone' (Disney)...a touch of music, a dabble of fear and a wheelbarrow full of imagination.