Sunday, 30 August 2015

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

Not to be confused with the 1981 movie 'The Incredible Shrinking Woman' which was a spin on the original novel The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson. Or the horror movie 'The Incredible Melting Man' (1977), which is completely different and umm...sounds kinda the same, never mind.

Jack Arnold does it again with his fourth classic fantasy movie, this guy was like the Spielberg of the 50's...kinda. Now the plot here may sound ridiculous, like some corny TV series, hell look at that title. And to a degree you'd be right, this is a totally daft premise, who in their right mind would watch a movie about some guy becoming the size of a small insect, like...say an ant...oh wait.

Whilst out sailing on the seas with his wife, Scott Carey (Grant Williams) is unfortunately hit in the face by a mysterious white cloud that leaves his body covered in some shiny substance. Naturally this cloud and substance was radioactive being a 1950's American sci-fi movie, but we never find out where it came from and what caused it. To make matters worse, the seriously unlucky Carey also gets accidentally covered in insecticide months later which apparently sets of a reaction in his body (with the radiation) where by his molecular structure is rearranged causing his cells to shrink his body? Beats the snot outta me but its sounds scientific doesn't it, in other words he starts to shrink and it can't be stopped.

At first we spend a lot of time following Carey around as he gets tested by a typical professor type in a white lab coat. There is a lot of dialog and discussion between the characters about what's going on, what may happen and how they can try to stop it, sounds dull but its quite interesting and all very charming. The fun starts as we slowly start to see Carey get smaller bit by bit. This is where the brilliant use of oversized props is used to give the illusion Carey is actually getting smaller.

Now this being a black and white movie from the 50's you could be forgiven for thinking this movie would be extremely hokey. But guess what? this movie isn't hokey at all, well...not as bad as you would think, its still cheesy of course. First up the effects, the movie is of course all about the effects, and they look fantastic. Arnold and co use all the old tricks in the book with the use of rear projection, props, split screen and models. The striking thing is the oversized props for everyday common objects (large and small) are fabulously recreated. Initial things like a chair, phone, sofa, even windows, skirting boards and sockets, everything has been resized to give the illusion Carey is around the height of a small child (3ft-ish). Funny thing is, this simple illusion really works and its actually hard to visualise the character as a fully grown man, the resized props really sell the trick.

As Carey gets smaller things become even more exciting, I found myself really looking forward to what might happen next, what we will see and how small he gets. Of course when he starts living out of a dolls house, well that's when the hokey looking rear projection pops up, the cat attacks him, people walking past him, the spider in the basement, water etc...Speaking of the spider, that has to be the biggest and most eagerly awaited fear, I've never seen this movie before, but I just knew there would be a spider confrontation in the basement, what else would there be? Strangely enough it turns out to be a tarantula again, where exactly in America do these people live that tarantulas are commonly found in and around the house? Of course its obviously because tarantulas can be relatively easily controlled, probably much harder or nigh on impossible with an actual house spider (or black widow as in the original novel, bit dangerous probably).

Once Carey is trapped within the basement (after fleeing the cat), the movie virtually becomes a silent picture. As there is no one for Carey to communicate with, there is no dialog, apart from the odd bit of narration. What you see is the eternal struggle for survival by a regular human being, as if he was lost in the wilderness or a distant barren planet. Arnold conveys this idea perfectly through simple visuals, simple (but wonderfully detailed) props, and mundane simple tasks for the main character (acted out very well by Williams I might add). Basically he needs to eat, drink and sleep, so he finds an old matchbox to sleep in, he drinks from drips of water coming from the water heater, and he finds food from a mouse trap and an old piece of cake (I think it was). He's only in his own basement, but to Carey, at his size, its an inhospitable and dangerous world.

This movie was extremely ambitious for its day and it shows in almost every scene with an effect. Even by today's high levels of special effects this movie still stands up well, incredibly well. The models are all purely awesome in every way, I was stunned at how good they all looked, especially the large mousetrap and scissors. The optical illusions to make Williams look shorter are simple yet highly effective even today, the large props work so perfectly. Yet despite the outlandish nature of the plot the film never seems dumb, sure its cheesy and hokey but that's down to the era the movie was made in. The whole thing comes across in an intelligent and pleasant manner whilst dealing with themes like exploitation, gender role reversal and morality (loved the sombre yet intriguing ending).

Technical limitations of the day? you wouldn't think it, a fantastic piece of science fiction fantasy that has every element to engage you from start to finish. A classy B-movie adventure of epic proportions.

'All this vast majesty of creation, it had to mean something. And then I meant something, too. Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something, too. To God, there is no zero. I still exist!'


Friday, 28 August 2015

Tarantula (1955)

Back in the 1950's there was a new type of horror science fiction genre created, giant bug movies. This pretty much came to the forefront with the giant ant thriller 'Them!', a movie about ants affected by radiation, nuclear mutants, and 50's America just loved nuclear stuff. A year later this aptly titled movie came along...and it pretty much speaks for itself really doesn't it.

Yep, so this movie is about a tarantula, and becomes giant and stuff. Well there is a little bit more to it than that, just a bit. A scientist is working on a super nutrient food, a replacement for actual food when the world eventually becomes overcrowded and food sources run out. Bare in mind this was the 50's! if people thought the world was overcrowded I need to finish that sentence? sheesh! So this super nutrient is tested on various animals, some die, but some survive and live on, sometimes growing to huge proportions. Alas this nutrient does not work on humans so far, it results in death via acromegaly, gigantism. So guess what, this scientist happened to be testing this nutrient on a tarantula, not sure why, odd choice of creature for this experiment, but nevertheless he was and it escapes, unsurprisingly.

I think we all know how these type of movies play out. The main smartly dressed male hero travels around trying to work out what's going on, pretty much a detective movie for the most part. There are various local characters, usually farmers, that report unusual happenings or deaths on their land. The local police are usually baffled, often a few outsider experts are brought in, usually military or some foreign scientists, and here and there the odd faceless hillbilly is eaten alive by the giant creature. One thing is for sure, everyone is smartly dressed in the proper attire and well spoken.

Lets face it though, the plot is meaningless here, in most of these creature features the plot is redundant. Bottom line, everyone is waiting for the giant bug to eat people and the big finale showdown. This movie doesn't disappoint, sure it starts off slow as they all do, the plodding plot must introduce the various stereotypical characters, backstory and the incredible reasons why someone is trying some ludicrously dangerous experiment involving atomic power/energy. Once the eight legged monster is on the loose things do become enjoyable, you don't see anything nasty of course, its the atmosphere generated that's thrilling. The constant eerie chirping/humming sound that the tarantula makes for example, like its calling card as it approaches, highly effective and creepy.

Its the special effects that stand out in this flick, believe it or not they actually still hold up today. The use of a real tarantula is the reason it works so well, they actually had miniature landscapes which a real tarantula would creep across, controlling it with air jets. For the most part footage of the real tarantula was matted against live action footage of the actors, occasionally a real object would be knocked over in real time to simulate the tarantula brushing against it (nice touch). This effect is pretty crude of course but it works wonders here, helped largely by the fact the film is black and white so you can't really see the joins or matte lines. At other points when people were attacked at close quarters, large models were used. One of the most effective and eerie moments has to be when Stephanie (Mara Corday) is being watched by the huge arachnid through a window in true 'King Kong' style. Those massive eyes surrounded by hundreds of coarse bristles, peering in, its actually quite scary.

This movie also displayed some highly effective makeup and prosthetic work for some character suffering from gigantism. Back in the day these effects were pretty shocking and very impressive, and honestly, they still are. Admittedly not all of what we see is brilliant, but the close up shots of Leo G. Carroll as the professor with a bad case of gigantism in the face, is really solid. If you think along the lines of 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1939), then you get a good idea...but this is much better.

As with all movies of this genre there is of course much hilarity to be had, acting ability aside. I just love the sequences where the characters are driving around in cars (obviously a prop car with footage playing in the background), yet their hair remains motionless. Everyone refers to Corday's character of Stephanie as Steve, which is weird. When our hero Matt Hastings (John Agar) discovers the large pools of arachnid venom, he tastes it! like yeah...that's what you do. Plus wouldn't it kill him? seeing as its venom. Its bizarre that no one sees or hears this humongous tarantula runnin' around the countryside, its not something you tend to miss really, a mega sized black tarantula the size of sports stadium. Why don't missiles from fighter jets harm it? sure its a big spider...but those are fighter jet missiles! Why are these giant mutant bug occurrences always in a desert?

To add to that, the movies poster...oh boy. What was it with these posters back then, who designed them and more importantly, who allowed them to go ahead?? Once again the poster is completely inaccurate, at no point does the tarantula carry a helpless female in its pincers, and the tarantula doesn't have two eyes likes a regular mammal. I understand it was to generate excitement for the movie but come on!

I like me some old cheese, and this movie wins, it wins big. If you're after one of the best examples of the big bug genre from the 1950's, then this is it. This flick has everything you would expect and want from such a movie, plus it actually has really good effects to boot. Hell its probably the best big bug flick around if you ask me, science fiction legend Jack Arnold does it again. Oh and look out for the Clint Eastwood cameo towards the...ah everyone knows about that.


Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road (AU/US, 2015)

30 years after the release of 'Thunderdome' Mad Max is finally back. The lone wolf, the single warrior, the loner, the lone soldier, the outcast, the outsider, the man with no name...errr...named Max. The hype has been stratospheric for this one, I have gone into this expecting truly mind blowing things, the greatest action movie ever made? lets see, I will be brutally honest in every aspect.

So the bottom line, this is virtually based around one sequence from 'Mad Max 2' and made into an entire movie. We all know which sequence, the one with that bloody great gas tanker covered in gun turrets and spikes. That sequence was epic on so many levels, a truly award winning vision of distopian  science fiction...where all the goodies get killed, awesome. Now, in this tale Max has been captured by the War boys who are all led by Immortan Joe. Your standard gang of barbaric lunatics, only this time not kitted out in S&M gear, no this time they are all painted up in a tribal sort of way. Long story short, Max has gotta reluctantly help out Charlize Theron's character of Furiosa (with the help of Nicholas Hoult's ill War Boy character, Nux) in saving some damsels in distress from Joe whilst trying to reach some fabled lush green lands. This of course equals a whole load of vehicle chases across the outback which basically never stop.

The first sequence we see is Max's classic and gorgeous black pursuit special (the now famous 1973 Ford XB Falcon GT) getting trashed, wait what??!! I heard about this before hand and I have to say I don't like it one bit, I wanted to see that fucking car in action once again, damn it Miller! Not quite sure how Max's super fast special manages to get wiped out by the collection of clown cars chasing him but never mind, it bloody happened didn't it, ugh!

So one of the first things we see as the real story kicks in is Immortan Joe's citadel which appears to built into a fecking massive cliff. How the hell did they manage to do that? there's like some sprawling catacombs in this rock by the looks of it, I wouldn't of thought anyone had any time in between killing each other and building ridiculous killer automobiles. This is actually one aspect that didn't sit well with me, this whole idea felt way too grand and over the top for a Mad Max movie, it looked like something from the Lord of the Rings trilogy...only with cars instead of orcs. Then if I really wanted to be picky I would ask how everyone is so muscular in this dead post-apocalyptic world, meh don't question it. Its here we start to see the strange freakish array of characters that inhabit this new Earth, gotta say I loved what I saw here for the most part. Miller has always been good at creating these bizarre characters for this franchise and he nails it again here.

Most of the bad guys are just big rippling baldies covered in white paint for some reason (the War Boys), not much background given but they look intimidating for sure. Other citadel dwellers and bad guys come in various shapes and sizes such as the creepy looking Corpus Colossus, a physically disabled child of Joe with exceptional intelligence (a real person with a real disability). Rictus Erectus (Nathan Jones), a huge muscular mammoth of a man, dim-witted and another son of Joe. The Bullet Farmer who is some ugly aging bloke in a suit of bullets a farmer?, hence is name. The People Eater is a big fat bald guy (everyone is bald in the distopian future) who I guess eats people? Again hence is name and the reason he's so fat, he also looks to have lost his nose because he wears some kind of metal plate there. The Doof Warrior who is some crazy blind bloke that rides a war rig (the Doof Wagon) into battle strapped to some huge speakers and playing a fire spouting guitar. This guy seems to have become the new Boba Fett of the movie world but he doesn't actually do anything, in fact I fail to see the point of him or the drummers other than simply to look cool. Admittedly he does look cool, certainly unique with his mothers face for a mask (oh yes), but basically pointless.

Lastly we have Immortan Joe who is easily the most effective looking character I've seen in years. His mask appears to be some kind of breathing apparatus that is attached to some kind of bellows around his neck. The mask is slightly reminiscent of an old WWII pilots oxygen mask but with a terrifying line of big teeth like a skeleton. Not too sure about his ending though, was his mask like...attached to has face and skull? He also seems to wear some kind of transparent body armour with medals and whatnot attached, obviously he suffers from some kind of affliction or disease. Visually this guy looks fucking amazing, the makeup really tops it off with his pale ghostly complexion and silver balding, widows peak hair line. All in all the selection of characters gave off a very 'Dune-esque' (1984) vibe in my opinion.

The action is virtually constant here, its the trademark of the movie (and franchise), non-stop. The main bulk of the action centres around Max and co trying to escape on the tanker under a barrage of gunfire and explosions. Now yeah, we've seen this before in 'Mad Max 2' but this has been ramped up to maximum overdrive, its insane! There are vehicles being torn up and flipped all over, metal mechanical shrapnel shattering all over the desert, bodies are flying everywhere, War Boys are leaping around on pole vault type things hurling explosives, gunfire, stabbings, fisticuffs...all happening on and off various extreme vehicle creations. It all looks completely real (because all the stunts were real), its highly impressive and shows great achievement in both eruptive action and practical effects. On top of that the location work, scenery shots, panoramas and the crisp, bold colour palette really look nothing short of gorgeous, it almost looks too good for this type of movie. Gives you faith in movies again it really does.

That's not to say the action saves it completely, in my view. Amongst all this grade A action you do have to wonder how Max, Joe and others manage to survive some of the horrific fender benders they get into. The good guys battle their way away from the citadel, all that way, only to come back again and do it all again? wut?! The canyon sequence stuck out as a very daft cheesy notion. This biker gang that hides out there, living in and around the canyon walls, which they ride about on...with motorbikes? bit risky isn't it. Also, where did they all get their matching costumes? When the good guys come back through the canyon, do they go a different way? didn't it get blocked off. And it does all seem nuts that all this happens purely because Joe wants his girls back. He unleashes his entire armada and risks everything just for some ass? can't you find more girls in your citadel? Oh and in the end the citadel bad guys just let Max and co into their city and take over? huh? he just killed your leader.

The greatest action flick ever? hmmm not too sure about that, its certainly up there but I still find myself preferring the gritty cult classic 'Mad Max 2' with Gibson. I think Hardy does a reasonable job but he is no Mad Max if you ask me. One thing I hated actually was the deliberate lack of dialog from Max, it worked well in the older films (MM2) simply because there was less to explain, 'MM2' was like a bloody 80's videogame it was so straight forward. Here there are things that could use background information plus the amount of times Max gets into a situation (mainly at the start) where I [b]really[/b] wanted him to just speak! say something!! Explain your situation to Furiosa then she might not try to kill you...ugh! I found that actually frustrating and it didn't need to be like that.

Still, the fact that the goodies went back on themselves towards the end really made me groan frankly. Its like Miller didn't know how to end it so he just made them go back and run the same gauntlet all over again, easy option for more of the same. I won't lie and say I didn't like it, but I won't lie and say I thought it was a stunning movie, the action is monumental at first but after the initial hardcore, automobile, carnage sequence, things felt a little tamer. The initial visual shock and awe that hit my eyeballs, making them swell, started to ease off. So awe-inspiring visuals all round and some great characters...visually at least. Is this a good flick? yes, yes is it, its a very engaging solid action movie, buts lets not get too carried away. Its really a one trick pony if you're honest about it, big gas tanker with goodies fights off hordes of baddies, rinse, wash and repeat until credits. The only real difference is its Furiosa's story, and to a degree, Nux too, unfortunately Max is just along for the ride in his 30 year old reboot.


Sunday, 23 August 2015

Stroker Ace (1983)

In the middle of the Cannonball Run franchise (between 1 and 2), after 'Hooper', and towards the end of the Smokey and the Bandit franchise (before the third), Needham and Reynolds teamed up again with this effort. Easily the weirdest movie title I've come across for some time, it sounds like a porn flick, funny thing is its actually the main characters name.

So the fact this is a Hal Needham movie, you can guess its gonna be about fast cars. Yep, fast cars, Burt Reynolds, some blonde eye candy and crashes, business as usual. This time Reynolds is actually a genuine race car driver on the NASCAR circuit...instead of the regular dashing cowboy. But this being a Reynolds character, this race car driver is of course arrogant, flashy and carefree of virtually everything around him, your basic narcissistic Reynolds character.
Sounds good huh, well let me ice your balls down a tad. So Ace loses his sponsor by generally being an asshole, so he has to find another. Along comes Torkel (Ned Beatty) who runs a fast food chicken franchise offering Ace a deal, did I forget to mention Torkel's director of marketing and public relations is the blonde bombshell Loni Anderson? Well that pretty much explains why Ace accepts the deal without reading shit. He then spends the entire movie (along with his mechanic Jim Nabors) trying to get out of this bad deal which sees him opening fast food joints and dressing up in a chicken suit.

Yes that is in fact the whole plot in a nutshell, and yes you're right, it is extremely thin on the ground. This really does come across as a lame attempt to squeeze another fast car flick out of Reynolds by either Needham or Warner Bros. I mean seriously, the aim of the movie is for Ace and co the try and get fired by Torkel, so they don't have to do the stupid things they agreed to do by the contract. At times this does include some racing which is filmed at the famous locations of...Charlotte Motor Speedway, Talladega Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway. Now this might sound impressive but it isn't really as much of what we see is stock footage (clearly), and the sequences filmed for the movie are obviously done so in front of sets and small crowds.

The racing segments are too damn obvious, clearly racing at a slow speed and clearly not in any real danger of anything despite what the plot wants you to think. Sure Reynolds does appear to be behind the wheel of a real moving car as we've seen in his other car flicks, but there is zero tension or thrills here, nothing to engage you at all. To top that you don't really see much racing either, a few minutes of car footage, some refueling, some wheel spins, some cars grouping bumper to bumper (at slow speeds), that's it. Its then a quick cut to the finish where Reynolds generally wins if he hasn't been beaten by his incredibly cliched young, good looking, blonde, male rival. Every racing flick protagonist has to have an arch rival antagonist who's usually blonde and younger, or the same age.

When Ace isn't racing he's doing these promotions for Torkel's chicken franchise. Obviously these things aren't suppose to be genuinely funny or of high quality, they are suppose to be hokey and embarrassing for Ace, but its embarrassing to watch! There is literately nothing remotely interesting to see in these scenes, its not funny, its not clever, Loni Anderson in skimpy attire doesn't make it any better (well...) and Jim Nabors isn't funny dagnabbit!! At the same time Beatty as Torkel is a quite disgustingly stereotypical southern hick type who really made me not want to visit the American south. His chauffeur is played by Bubba Smith...but I don't know why because he does nothing accept lift a car up when a jack breaks. That's the sole reason why they cast the guy, for that one visual strength gag, good grief!

Yeah so spoiler alert (who cares!), in the end they manage to trick their way out of Torkel's dastardly contract, with the help of Feeny (Anderson) who of course falls for Ace during the run time. Did anyone really not see Loni Anderson's character failing to fall for Reynolds slimy charms? You know what's gonna happen in this movie from watching the first five minutes, and no I can't overlook that. Thing is, what Ace and co do to break the contract, isn't that deception and kinda illegal? pretty sure you can't pretend to be a big company and pretend to offer to buy someone out.

Yeah so if you like Needham's rollicking stunt flicks then look elsewhere, there is none of that here. This is a weak entry and offers no excitement at all from either the racing or the characters. The only plus points I can think of, that some folks might like here, is the historic car porn on display and the casting of various famous NASCAR drivers (none of whom I have any clue about).


Friday, 21 August 2015

Hooper (1978)

At a certain point, many of these Burt Reynolds movies tend to blur into one. The constant use of Pontiac Firebird Trans Am's and the fact he's actually wearing another Firebird jacket (silver this time), just like in 'Smokey 2'. Yeah I get the fact the Firebird was a top American muscle car back then but with Reynolds behind the wheel, you could be watching any number of movies!

The plot revolves around Reynolds as the titular Hooper, supposedly the greatest Hollywood stuntman alive. Alas old Hooper is getting old, too many crashes and too many painkillers are taking their toll on Hooper. His girlfriend (played by real time girlfriend Sally Field, probably why she's in the movie) is also fed up with Hooper's dangerous career and wants him to quit. Then along comes a much younger, fitter stuntman (Jan-Michael Vincent) who kinda challenges Hooper's position, naturally a friendly yet intense rivalry grows between them as they try to out perform each other. This eventually culminates in the chance to pull off the greatest stunt ever on the movie they are working on. Its extremely dangerous but the pay is huge, thing is, no one thinks they can do it. Hooper's bird doesn't want him to, the doc doesn't want him to, but the movies director is demanding they do it. Is it worth risking their lives for?

This movie is directed by none other than Hal Needham, a good friend of Reynolds (if you couldn't tell). The story is actually loosely based around Needham's early career as a stuntman in Hollywood. 'Hollywood's greatest stuntman'? that's the films tagline on the poster, so did Needham kinda have a rather overinflated opinion of himself? or was he really that good?

So if we're really honest here, the movie is just an excuse for lots and lots of stunts utilising many stuntmen in the biz. It is a comedy in case you were wondering, its not a heavy drama or anything. Its your usual slapstick affair with Reynolds doing what he does Trans Am's (did he have a sponsorship deal or something?). As you can imagine the tomfoolery on display in this movie is predictable and hokey. Pretty much every basic stunt you can think of is thrown on the screen, by real stuntmen, not Burt, although he does do the odd bit and was quite athletic back then. You got guys being thrown through windows, bar fights, horse riding, falling off horses, swinging from buildings, falling from heights, flipping cars, jumping cars, explosions, toppling buildings etc...

The grand finale is a whopping sequence featuring Hooper and Ski's car trying to escape a small town set whilst it crumbles down around it. The guys must navigate a gauntlet of destruction evading explosions, falling buildings, other cars, people running around etc...and make it to a bridge which ultimately collapses. There they both attempt the huge dangerous stunt of jumping the car over the collapsed bridge (335 feet). This sequence is worth the wait as it shows many solid stunts, nothing that will blow you away these days mind you, but still dangerous well timed stunts. The best being a huge factory chimney falling down with the car just racing past underneath before it hits the ground. The actual final big leap does look good for the most part but it cuts before we see it reach the other side, so I have no idea if that stunt was actually completely successfully.

The movie is ultimately about the camaraderie between Hooper and his band of stunt mates (Reynolds realtime coworkers). Its uplifting and cute for sure, but hammy as hell, as is Reynolds ladies man image which is always a part of his characters and kinda cringeworthy. Never really sure if he is just playing that image up or he genuinely thinks he's a charmer. Reynolds also manages to break the forth wall here yet again, as he has done on many of his car comedy movies.

Its like a massive overlong episode of The Dukes of Hazzard (James Best is here after all), or just more hijinks from The Bandit. Or, more accurately, a movie about how Hal Needham and co go about making their proper stunt filled extravaganzas, almost like a sly behind the scenes. However you look at it, it is a fun ride at times, Reynolds is clearly having a blast with his car obsessed team of Hollywood regulars, but that doesn't disguise the fact it is completely unoriginal. Yes the tale of a stuntman based on a real person is relatively fresh, but what we actually see is just more of what Reynolds has done before, with the same people (in the same cars!). Oh and the movies title/wording on the poster looks like an actual beer companies logo.


Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The Death of 'Superman Lives': What Happened? (2015)

This documentary is now widely known because of the fact that some (or most?) of the funding was raised through a Kickstarter campaign, which many fans contributed. So even though Jon Schnepp wrote, directed and edited this project (it was his baby), you could also say, the fans that contributed have rights over this project too, seeing as they backed the film with their own money. Technically its a fan made film, without the fans support, Schnepp might not have been able to complete it. I'm not sure how this all works actually, but wouldn't all the people that contributed towards the film have a claim to royalties? does it work like that? probably not.

Anywho, this project is all about the movie that was never made called 'Superman Lives'. The movie was going to be a different take on the Superman universe, or from what audiences knew to expect from a Superman movie. The main force behind this drastic new vision was none other than Mr goth, Tim Burton. Fresh of success with his dark exploration into Batman's world, Burton was gearing up to do exactly the same thing to Superman...with Nic Cage as his Superman. This documentary delves deep into that failed project, the ideas, concepts, the people involved and basically how far they got. See this as another 'Lost in La Mancha' type documentary film.

At first the doc mainly revolves around Kevin Smith and his early draft for the movie, nothing amazingly unique though as much of this information has been around for years and easily found online. Personally I found it interesting as I have never looked any of this info up (not being a Superman fanboy), so the idea of having a crossover with other characters such as Deadshot and Batman seemed pretty sweet (naturally). We also get a tonne of input from Jon Peters who, dare I say it, is a typical looking over tanned Hollywood slimeball with an effeminate hairdo that looks like a wig. This guy purchased the rights to Superman back in the early 90's and literately set about trying to create a monster, pretty much tried to destroy the Superman franchise with his stupid ideas.

This guy Peters is clearly the type of Hollywood schmuck that just doesn't get it, he doesn't get what popular comicbook characters are about, he's why we often get terrible adaptations with daft alterations. Just watching this guy here, I didn't like him, I didn't like his attitude, he seemed fake, a possible liar, thinks he's a tough guy, the kinda guy that might take credit for other people's work. This is confirmed with the varying comments from both Peters and Smith, Smith says one thing, Peters says another, who is telling the truth is of course not known but I got a real sense of distrust from Peters. It also shows how Peters comes across as a bit of a bully, getting what he wants in the end with the fact he produced the movie 'Wild Wild West' and many ideas he wanted for this Superman project ended up in that bomb of a flick (giant mechanical spider finale).

So all that was a solid insight despite the fact it comes across in a negative light. What is the real highlight here (for me at least), was the concept art from various skilled artists (Sylvain Despretz, Jack Johnson, Jim Carson, Harold Belker, Michael Anthony Jackson etc...). These images really show what could of been, what an amazing visual feast of ideas could have been displayed with Burton's dark mindset. Honesty most of it, if not all of it, is truly stunning to look at, the various ideas for Krypton (loved the neon lights and shifting tectonic plates ideas), action sequences, locations, Superman's little pod from Krypton and of course his suit. All of this being a combination of the various artistic styles provided by the various concept artists and Burton's own uniquely gothic tastes. The best of which easily being Burton's take on Brainiac which basically looked like something from 'Mars Attacks', but still good! loved the creepy spindly spider legs idea. Whether or not any of this stuff would have worked on film is another matter, the million Dollar question, but the artwork sells it brilliantly, you can't help but love it.

The suit is another big focus of the film, probably the biggest as that's what everybody has seen online with Cage looking dreadful. Again there is some gorgeous artwork showing how the finished product would have looked, his final new black suit, his healing suit and various other stages that were looked at. These images are really helpful to see what the aim was and I gotta be honest...I liked what I saw! The exciting stuff comes from actually seeing the partial creation of one suit, the now famous rainbow suit. We see various people trying on the initial designs and how the neon lights would have worked looked great in my humble opinion, really fresh and visually appealing. Having Supes big 'S' in bold silver adorned across the chest plate, with all these neon rainbow lights flashing in a synchronised pattern was awesome to see. Think the aliens in the movie 'Abyss' and how their bodies glowed and lit up for a comparison. 

Another idea they were going with which I believe was totally new, was the little robotic character that would have accompanied Supes from Krypton from the get go. This little guy would have looked after Supes and helped him, not exactly original these days of course, but it was the idea that it transformed into a sort of mechanical exoskeleton for Supes when he was recovering from whatever happened to him. This sounds crazy but again the artwork totally sold me, seeing Superman encased by some robotic suit of armour that enabled him to fly was really unique, and it looked so damn cool!

As for Cage, the big bad Cage, I'm still not so sure about that. According to Burton there was a lot of conflict on casting and its easy to see why. Cage would never have been my first choice, apart from his over acting and lack of chiseled features, for me its that hairline, come on seriously, a balding Superman?! even with that wig he still looked balding.

Me being new to all this, I will admit I loved the fresh new angles and the big gambles they were aiming for, or willing to take. Of course we will never know if they would have paid off, but I think doing something brave and original with such an epic franchise deserves some kudos. I mean really, killing off Supes?...ballsy move right there, having him come back bigger and badder with that black suit, all in the one movie?! the first movie! gotta give kudos on that plot, that blows most origins stories out of the water. I do think these changes were kinda needed for Supes though, because his formula and look can be become stale, especially after the classic Reeve's movies ('Superman Returns'). Just look at 'Man of Steel', that had many new visual elements to it which looked great and did work, unfortunately that movie didn't gel entirely, but it shows this Burton vision could of worked on some levels.

It does appear that this production did get pretty far before it was cancelled, I think it was merely weeks before shooting Warner Bros shut it down. That all being down to the epic failure of Joel Schumacher's 'Batman and Robin' which gave Warner Bros the jitters, so Schumacher did indeed screw up both the Batman franchise and the Superman franchise on one fell swoop. It is a shame because I would have liked to see this movie made, I think it would have been decent, a definitely unique stand alone flick if anything. This doc does give plenty of info about the various stages, if like me you haven't really looked into all this then it will be quite interesting. For others, more dedicated Superman fanboys, I'm not sure this really gives you anything you didn't already know, what's more you can find a lot of this online if you search. 

Still, its a solid documentary, well made, well researched, plenty of old stock footage, lots of artwork and lots of little interviews from almost all involved. The fact many fans got to help out is also great (apparently the Bluray has loads of extras). Well worth your time if you like any of these categories...Superman, comics, superhero flicks or just plain n simple science fiction and fantasy.


Sunday, 16 August 2015

CHAPPiE (2014)

Blomkamp is back to finish off his distopian futuristic sci-fi trilogy that started with 'District 9' and 'Elysium', only he's not because this isn't a trilogy, ha! But in all fairness you could be forgiven for thinking it was, like I say all three are set in distopian futures and feature aliens, robots and powered exoskeleton suits.

Right down to it, Blomkamp clearly watched 'Robocop' and 'Short Circuit' and decided to make a hybrid of the two, annnnd I'm done. No wait, surely that can't be it? come on, there's got to be more to it than that?! this is a Neill Blomkamp movie...oh no, no there isn't. Yes that's right, the movies plot is all about these state of the art robots that now enforce the law in South Africa, a country with no issues at all. These killer A.I. robots are so good they have slashed crime rates...errrmm...a lot. One of these robots gets hit hard in a takedown and is down to be recycled and destroyed basically, too much damage, but the creator (Deon) of these bots decides he wants to try out his new intelligence A.I. chip in this damaged unit. Alas company CEO Bradley (Sigourney Weaver) refuses his request, so guess what, he pinches the damaged bot and does it anyway with much success, only problem being he and his creation get taken hostage by some criminals who want the robot for their own naughty deeds.

So that is the 'Short Circuit' side of the plot. The other side to this plot involves a competing project headed by Aussie ex-soldier Vincent (Hugh Jackman). Now this fella wants his own killer robot project to be the main focus of law enforcement in South Africa and across the globe. So much so that he becomes very jealous of Deon and tries to sabotage him so his creation can have a chance to shine, sound familiar? Oh and his robot just so happens to look virtually identical to the infamous ED-209 robot, blatantly so, yep this is the 'Robocop' side of the plot. A bit shameful Mr Blomkamp.

Right so lets take this in stages, firstly the visuals. Yes, the visuals are slick as fuck, they look good...and dare I say, completely rehashed from Blomkamp's earlier movie 'Elysium'. Yes I'm not lying when I say you might see similarities between the robots in this movie and 'Elysium', in fact the're almost the identical. As a matter of fact, all of Blomkamp's movies do tend to look the same, the locations, the mood, the technology etc...just the general atmosphere and every detail within. Nevertheless the visuals are very nice, Chappie and his fellow robots do look great, highly realistic, highly detailed and with excellent motion capture. And as you can guess the world in which Chappie inhabits has virtually the same moody, gritty outlook as all Blomkamp's efforts. Did I mention the other robot (called MOOSE) looks like ED-209? right so you know what to expect there then.

Character wise its a mixed bag, a very annoying, odd mixed bag. Firstly Chappie's creator Deon is your stereotypical specs wearing, weedy, nerdy type that can't defend himself and tends to get pushed around. He acts like a father to Chappie and tries his best to 'raise' correctly despite the circumstances. Jackman plays your stereotypical rough, tough, on the edge ex-soldier type that thinks nothing of sabotaging another company project, possibly committing murder, assault and threatening behaviour, but he has a wicked retro mullet so all is forgiven.
The gangland thugs are a whole different kettle of fish, oh my. With quirky names...Ninja, Amerika and Yoland, this trio are actually not your stereotypical thugs, mainly because they are South African gangland thugs which is kinda new (well two are). Yes we all know now that Blomkamp hired South African rap duo Die Antwoord as the main two gangland thugs, was that a good idea? well sort of I suppose. I've never heard of them so to me at least, they were a breath of fresh air instead of the usual American gangland thugs. Their attire, bling, haircuts, accents and brightly coloured assault rifles all make for quite a unique take on the average gun totting criminal I must say, sure they can't act too well but at least they were original to look at. Although I have to say, I found it hard to believe Yoland goes from being a hardened gang member to a loving caring mother figure for Chappie so quickly. Due to Chappie's new A.I. chip basically starting him off in life at the level of a child, the bad guys must turn their base/hideout into a makeshift children's nursery to look after him! Again that seemed kinda daft to me, as if they would do that.

As for the story and what we see...well again its mostly ripped-off other movies, namely the two I have already mentioned. The gang trio must look after Chappie so he can reach his full potential, but Ninja is cruel with little patience. So you can bet your bottom Dollar Chappie is on the receiving end of some harsh 'parenting'. The obligatory, abandoning in the middle of nowhere sequence, where Chappie gets smashed up by other homeless thugs is your clear cut 'Short Circuit' rip-off. Most of the movie also shows how Ninja slowly corrupts Chappie and turns him into a gang member, adoring him with graffiti, bling, a gun and teaching him how to speak and act like a homie. Again this whole aspect is taken from 'Short Circuit 2' where the idea is hinted at in one small scene and realised fully in the finale. Watching these sequences was quite painful really, you really felt sorry for Chappie, being taught all this ghetto shit, what's worse is you know that it would actually happen in reality.

Most of the movie pretty much follows 'Robocop' for the most part, everything to do with ex-soldier Vincent basically. The big finale harks back to both 'Robocop' and 'Robocop 2' with a shoot out between criminals, Chappie and the MOOSE. It all ends as predicted and offers no real surprises frankly. The exchanging of minds or consciousnesses into other robots seems to belong in an entirely different movie if you ask me, that whole angle just felt totally out of place. Where as the very end twist didn't make much sense either, why all of sudden do the robots (or this specific robot for Yoland), have a humanoid face? Not only that, but a humanoid face that resembles Yoland's face, and how come they are now building female looking robots?? I guessed maybe a lot of time had passed between the end scenes, but I don't think so. So how come they are able to build such an advanced looking robot in the exact same factory as the regular robots? with no apparent passage of time.

I would say this was an ambitious project...but its not really, its just using other peoples idea basically, almost a remake of two franchises spliced together. Ultimately its kinda flawed, looks good, but at the same time dull and depressing really. Still not overly sure where Yoland got the time to get her own Chappie t-shirt printed up, but she did, and she wears it during the finale.


Saturday, 15 August 2015

Maggie (US/CH, 2015)

Well its a pretty safe bet that many of you may have missed this Arnie comeback flick, or maybe you heard of it but it completely fell away and was never seen or heard of again. This is because it had a limited theatrical release, why you might ask? well probably because its not really much of a typical huge Arnie blockbuster that many will clamber to see. Yes its a zombie infestation movie, but its a level-headed, sensible, emotional, drama based zombie infestation movie. At no point will you see anyone flying through the air with two machine guns, nailing hordes of flesh eaters, or using amazing martial arts techniques...errr etc...All you need is your hanky, I suppose.

The plot centres on a small family in rural America, not sure where, they may have said but I missed it...meh. Arnie (Wade), his second wife and his daughter all live together here on a farm near a major city (dunno which city). At the start the daughter (Maggie) is trapped within the city (dunno why she was there) and ends up getting bitten by a zombie (a diseased person), we only see this in flashbacks. She is captured by armed officials and placed into quarantine. Wade is allowed to take Maggie home (God knows why) but is told she will slowly succumb to the virus and at a certain point they will come back for her and take her away for good. Basically put back into quarantine where they pretty much put the infected down like animals. From here on we simply follow Wade and his daughter Maggie during the last few weeks of her life as she slowly becomes a zombie, role credits.

The zombie element in this movie is a virus, so not very original but hey can you think up anything original for a zombie outbreak? The virus is called the Necroambulist virus and it affects the entire globe, but most unaffected people are able to carry on as normal with their lives. The virus basically plays out like a very nasty disease which threatens everyone, but is controlled well by the various governments with quarantine procedures and contamination control. We don't really find out where this virus came from or what it actually does other than just turn people slowly into zombies that eat other people. The victims look as you would expect of course, pale skin, black rotting infected skin, pale colourless eyes, a slow stumbling walking pace and the odd grunt or groan. They appear to be easy to kill like a regular living person and because  they don't move very fast. We never find out if there are any variations of the virus or if it affects different people in different ways, does it affect any animals? how many are affected globally? etc...It a pretty self contained story which doesn't venture too far outside of what you see.

The main selling point of this movie is the relationship between Arnie and his daughter. Naturally Wade cares about his daughter a great deal and is having a seriously hard time dealing with the situation. His daughter is basically rotting to death before his eyes. He gets support from his second wife but she eventually runs off, afraid of Maggie as her condition advances. The entire movie focuses on this and its incredibly depressing I must say, depressing and really quite dull. The visuals are sharp but they don't help at all, everything is grey, bleak and eerie, a real sense of looming death
in every scene. Yes that does create the perfect atmosphere but Holy shit its gloomy!

Things happen, predictable things such as Maggie meeting up with her friends one last time, she falls for another infected boy, they kiss, he eventually gets dragged away by nasty officials. Maggie accidentally injures her finger which shows us how far the infection has spread because she bleeds black goo, she then has a panic attack, understandable I guess. Wade and Maggie bump into a couple zombies in the woods who used to be their neighbours, Wade has to put them down. This is here obviously so we the audience can see what a fully transformed zombie looks like...nothing special. Oh one of the zombies was a young girl so that causes yet more angst and tears. And of course we get the fully obligatory scene where the local police try to take Maggie away...over Arnie's dead body!! No there is no ass-kicking by Arnie, its just a regular messy scrap which ends very quickly.

To be honest for the whole time I just kept wondering why Arnie doesn't just finish the job himself and stop his daughters suffering. I know that would be a very hard thing to do, but come on! she's turning into the living dead right before your eyes mate! If he doesn't then the nasty officials will do it in a nasty efficient way. It also makes no sense why Maggie would have been allowed to go home with Wade in the first place, she's infected, why allow her to roam around until she gets even worse, when she might attack someone. Lastly the ending for Maggie seems odd to me, I just don't think what she does would be an effective way of doing it, you'll see what I mean. Surely you'd need to be higher up? the house isn't that big is it? never noticed it to be.

On the whole the film is damn boring and hardly interesting I have to say. Yes the acting is solid, and more importantly Arnie gives us his best performance...errmm...ever! I think. He looks great with his old man beard and lumberjack-esque attire, his delivery of a father desperately trying to savour the last few days of his daughters life is admirable, reserved, grounded, effective and surprisingly moving. You'd never expect to see Arnie cry real man tears and actually show he can be a normal, everyday, regular Joe type who doesn't rip peoples arms off. The man is stripped of everything he usually relies on, he is essentially naked here, no guns, no muscles, no quips, no taglines, no explosions, no makeup...nothing. We finally see Arnold Schwarzenegger the real actor, the real man, the raw unearthed talent...well lets not go too far, he's carries himself very well considering what we all know. I'd like to see Arnie actually use his German language skills in a movie at some point, I think that would work extremely well.

Anyway I still cannot look away from the fact this film is very boring and very dreary. Yes I realise a zombie would be like that but most zombie films have daft action to lift things, this is a full on talkie drama...with the odd stumbling zombie in it. I have to admit I found myself drifting throughout the run time, this might also explain why I may have missed bits of info which I've already mentioned (if I did miss any). It is a solid movie for performances but everybody has ignored the cast and focused on Arnie for obvious reasons. At the same time, I kinda get the impression that is the only reason why this movie exists, to give Arnie a chance to act properly for the first time. This does pay off for sure, but unfortunately the film is so bloody boring, uneventful, unexplained and completely unoriginal (come on...zombies again! really?), that it does kinda fail. The films title is pretty crap too frankly.


Thursday, 13 August 2015

Super (2010)

As we reached double figures in the early 2000s decade there seemed to be a little influx of off-kilter superhero flicks. In 2009 we saw 'Defendor' and then in 2010 we got both 'Kick-Ass' (by far the biggest and most successful) and this little gem starring Rainn Wilson...apparently named after a weather condition but they added an extra 'N' to make it not look too stupid.

The plot isn't too unfamiliar, in fact its hella predictable really. Frank is a plain and simple, unfit, kinda ugly blue collar guy who works in some dingy diner as the cook. Somehow he is married to a pretty sexy girl Sarah, (Liv Tyler). Unfortunately Sarah becomes a druggie early in their relationship and (somehow) gets involved with the sleazy strip club owner Jacques (Kevin Bacon). This causes Frank to spiral into depression behaving recklessly and stupidly, he challenges Jacques and his goons (he has his own strip club goons), tries to get the police to arrest Jacques for stealing his wife and...almost buys a pet rabbit. Eventually his madness leads to supernatural/spiritual visions where he thinks God tells him to become a superhero, so that's just what he does, become a crazy violent vigilante superhero of the people.

So yeah I think you get the gist of this right, the lonely, kinda chubby loser, thinks he's a superhero, makes his own silly costume and runs around the town trying to foil crime. Of course the twist being the movie is grounded in reality and of course Frank isn't a superhero at all and he doesn't live within a comicbook world. You do get all the usual quirks you'd expect in a real origins comicbook flick, the design and creation of his trademark costume, his superhero name, the help he receives from his future sidekick (another lonely blue collar worker who just happens to be a cute as buttons female), his weapon acquirement and his early missions.

Naturally being based in reality you can guess what happens, yes its an easy guess but it is rewarding none the less. Frank confronts typical street drug pushers and such only to find its not as easy as he thinks. Yeah you could say the baddies he confronts are racial stereotypes but the movie is only being honest here, I'm sure they did their research. Anyway it is funny how he dives into action only to have the shit kicked out of himself, it then dawns on him to get a weapon. The following night he does it all over again with the same guy, but now he has a wrench which he uses to beat the guy half to death. Yes it sounds awful but it is actually quite amusing because of the fact its so horrific, and the way he thinks he's doing a good thing. Yeah sure he's stopping a perp selling drugs on the street, but he pretty much kills the guy with a big metal wrench!

As things progress and he half kills more bad guys, he gains a reputation as a nasty vigilante...naturally. This is highlighted in one sequence where he, yet again, half kills a man and woman for cutting in line to a nightclub. The quick cut of him walking off to his car to change into his outfit, which is clearly suppose to take at least 10 minutes and shows him struggling in the backseat with his white Y-fronts on, is brilliant. There are other such superhero mockery moments like Frank waiting around all night behind a dumpster for a crime to occur. A very sweet little scene which shows him talking to himself, keeping a little superhero audio diary, kinda reminds me of the comicbook The Tick. Its moments like these that make the film work on so many levels as it mocks the typical superhero format we all know.

Is the film dark? why yes it is, not quite at first, but it sure does get emotional towards the finale. For starters Frank is clearly in his late 30's maybe early 40's, whilst his sidekick Libby, played by Ellen Page, is around 22 I think it was. Now this isn't an issue at first, Frank doesn't really want her to become his sidekick but she talks him into it, but when she kinda rapes him one night...well that's a bit questionable don't ya think. Talk about gender role reversal! I wonder what the feminists thought about that. Other dark and weird moments involve Franks visions which turn out to be a blend of religion, spiritual and alien abduction. I guess it shows how warped and delusional Frank must be to have these visions which come across as something from 'Hellraiser' mixed with a Holy intervention, and he sees it as positive.

Most of the other dark moments obviously revolve around the violence which is pretty darn bloody at times, this isn't a tame comicbook parody. There isn't anything outrageously over the top like 'Kick-Ass' though, its all quite acceptable and believable stuff, but graphic. Yet we do still get funny superhero mockery in the form of Frank turning up to fight bad guys only armed with his wrench and fists, he brings a wrench to a gun fight, and has to run away sharpish. I think the hardest and most gut wrenching moment is the ending for Libby, I won't ruin it but its actually heart-breaking, horrendously graphic and shocking...did I give that away? Its at that moment the movie really does shift up a gear into serious territory and becomes quite the adrenaline rush, its also where Rainn really shows us his talents.

It certainly fits the bill of a dark comicbook, at times highly amusing, at times highly violent and sick, and at times very emotional. The ending is odd because Frank manages to achieve his goal but at what cost?? it doesn't really seem like a happy ending, especially after the slap to the face revelation about Sarah at the very end, huh! Its a very well acted movie and very engaging I must say, didn't think it would be but it certainly is, you feel for Frank and Libby, and you want them to succeed. Alas you kinda forget all about Sarah even though she is the main target and goal for Frank. You really want him to ride off into the sunset with Libby, the film confuses you there, toys with your emotions. Still its a solid makeshift superhero/vigilante movie with a heart of gold? Well shocking depressing nastiness aside I guess it is, but its more like a rollercoaster for your emotions and moral compass...but still fun.


Monday, 10 August 2015

The Rocker (2008)

I believe this was Rainn Wilson's first leading role in his own movie, the first time a movie revolved around his character. Unfortunately the movie isn't exactly an original concept, some might say it kinda rips-off the 2003 movie 'School of Rock' to a degree, maybe even touching on the Brit flick 'Still Crazy' here and there.

The plot centres around the fictional drummer Robert Fishman (Wilson) of the heavy metal rock band Vesuvius. Back in the 80's this band are on the verge of hitting the big time with their heavy metal/glam rock songs and outrageous onstage antics. Alas the record company that wants to sign them sets an ultimatum, they must drop their drummer Fishman...and replace him with the record companies nephew. Eventually the band agree and Fishman is out. We follow Fishman years down the line, his life has crumbled, he loses his job, his girlfriend and he is forced to move in with his sister. But it is here, with his sisters family, he finds a lifeline in his nephews high school rock band.

So yes, it is very much like 'School of Rock', the main difference of course being this is based around teenagers instead of young kids. Does that make the film any better? well sort of I guess, its not exactly a riveting tale of originality as said. Bottom line the film survives purely because of Wilson and his goofiness along with his non-Hollywood looks. This is Rainn's appeal, the guy is not good looking, he is not fit or ripped in any way and he's not a ladies man type. This guy is just a regular looking bloke, the kind of guy you would actually find serving you in a retail park electronics store. Its this that makes Wilson likable as the everyman up against it, he uses his, dare I say, pug-ugly looks and out of shape physique to great effect. Indeed in this film we see his flabby toneless torso quite often, and its admittedly amusing, it works (I especially liked the brief moment at the start where he hurls his sweat soaked vest into the crowd, and it slaps some poor fan across the face).

The rest of the cast are made up of stereotypical teens that fit the stereotypical mould. You have the good looking male lead singer that has all the girls swooning over him, yet he's somehow not fulfilled. The fat, curly haired, awkward kid who doesn't really fit in, but towards the end totally gets into it and snatches a hot girl way out of his league. And finally you have Emma Stone who obviously plays the cute female band member who secretly has the hots for the good looking male lead singer (guess what happens in the end). The supposedly funny bit is the fact they hire Fishman as their drummer, a man in his forties who thinks he's still a young rocker and likes to live the dream, real life responsibilities aside. Oh and their manager is a creepy untrustworthy again, not much originality.

Much of the bands tomfoolery is played out through Wilson's Fishman character and it is slightly amusing as said, but it grows old very quickly. The whole aspect of his life going through a downhill spiral of rejection after losing Vesuvius is completely predictable and dull frankly. The sequences where he goes all wild and crazy in true rock n roll fashion are also slightly amusing but again so obvious, you just know at some point he'll trash a hotel room. The romance angle between Stone and the good looking lead singer is hammy as hell as is Josh Gad's fat kid character...hell its all cliched to the max.

This is the films problem, there is nothing here you haven't really seen before, every plot angle, every character development, the predictable face to face reunion with Vesuvius and their ultimate downfall in the concert finale etc...Its not exactly terrible stuff, its just completely average and actually kinda boring. THE only reason to watch this movie is for the sporadic moments of lunacy from Wilson, as in his other movie 'Super', he does show he can actually act and deliver emotion well. Other than that its a total by the numbers comedy. Heck even the films promotion efforts were similar to that Jack Black comedy I mentioned earlier. The main difference being that movie actually felt more like a homage to rock despite being a kids flick, you just don't get that with this movie.


Friday, 7 August 2015

Mean Machine (2001)

One of Vinnie Jones early performances where the world had not yet tired of his gritty, cockney, tough guy act. Yet shockingly this movie isn't about Jones being an unstoppable tough guy, it kinda is him being a tough guy though, just not the dialog free tough guy he usually is. In this remake of US movie 'The Longest Yard' Jones plays the main role which does actually require some genuine acting on his part. Not a great deal of course, lets not get carried away here, but some emotion is required and displayed.

The plot is a simple one, Danny Meehan is a top football (soccer) player fallen from grace. Done for match fixing, then caught drink driving, followed by an assault on two police officers. In prison he makes friends and enemies as you would expect, but its the prison guards and warden who are the real problem unsurprisingly. So to fix this solution, Meehan manages to organise himself as a coach for the inmates, so they can have a match against the guards, because that's just what you do in these types of situations. The perfect way to defuse all hostilities amongst everyone, problem solved. I mean honesty...what could go wrong?

I think its pretty obvious not to expect a classy emotional drama here, this isn't award winning stuff. However, I do think its obvious to expect every single tiny prison cliche in the prison movie book. For starters Jones is pretty much playing himself here, when he played professional footie he was of course the tough nut (the Brit footie fans will be well aware of this), and here he plays a tough nut footballer, with a slice of emotion, but essentially its just Vinnie Jones. The prison is your standard British board and lodgings, typically looks a bit old school, almost like going to a boarding school of sorts, not that I know about that. The guards are of course a mean, abusive bunch, the gov is corrupt, and you have the stereotypical array of prisoners. The happy-go-lucky guy, the rasta type guy, the nut job, the psycho, the fat Middle Eastern guy, the wise old Irishman, and the head honcho with his personal enforcers. Needless to say its kinda obvious who does what, who says what, who gets beaten, who gets done in and what happens every step of the way.

The cast are the shining light here though, its like putting a Guy Ritchie flick, a Matthew Vaughn flick and a Nick Love flick in a blender, and this is the result. You have virtually everyone from British comedy, film and drama here, Jason Statham (with more hair!), Danny Dyer, Ralph Brown, Vas Blackwood, Robbie Gee, Geoff Bell, Jason Flemyng and Omid Djalili. You're literately only missing Tamer Hassan, Dexter Fletcher, Frank Harper and Alan Ford for a full house. I don't even have to explain the characters they play, you can pretty much guess, Geof Bell is obviously a nasty guard, Brown is the head warden and the rest are a colourful collection of cockney inmates (what else).

Its the films mood that swings from one extreme to the other and confuses you. Naturally the film isn't a serious drama, but it does have moments of realism that aren't anything to laugh at, nothing horrific or gory, but emotional and at times slightly cold. Again this does tie in with other Brit flicks by the directors I've mentioned, the movie has that edgy, twitchy side to it where you know anything could happen and it could be nasty. Yet at the same time its almost like a farce or spoof at times, with slapstick comedy, some characters are mischievous buffoons. Take Statham's supposed maniac character, he looks the part and for most of the movie you think he will do something violent, but he ends up being part of the comedic relief. On the other hand, one inmate character called Nitro clearly starts off as a bit of comedic relief, but towards the end he becomes a scary, dangerous and intense character. This guy seemed like he belonged in a Daniel Day-Lewis drama.

A definite rollercoaster for your emotions which kinda works at times, ultimately feels very British (duh) and also kinda cheap looking. Nothing special to offer, nothing really new, but it does fit snugly into that now well known British cockney geezer flick genre, made famous by Guy Ritchie. So if you like that kinda thing then I'm sure you'll get a kick outta this (pun intended). It just about does enough to keep engaged...mainly to see Jones acting skills, and maybe the odd cameo by the odd ex-footie players. Bizarrely the director actually tries to portray Jones as some sort of super skilled ex-footie star in this movie, he does realise actual British football fans will probably watch this right?


Tuesday, 4 August 2015

The Spaceman and King Arthur (aka Unidentified Flying Oddball, 1979)

As the title might suggest, this is an adaptation of the Mark Twain novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. To make things more interesting Disney flipped the idea on its head and made it a spaceman going back in time, thusly adding much more scope for visual fun and games.

NASA are trying to send a manned crew to out nearest star Alpha Centauri with the use of a new flashy super fast shuttle. This shuttle will fly faster than the speed of light by collecting atoms and ionising them, all through magnetic fields fitted to the wings. No idea how this is suppose to work but its heavy foreshadowing that's for sure. By mistake Trimble and his android replica get blasted into space and on this perilous journey, but they don't get too far before ending up crashing back on Earth in the Middle Ages. Once discovered Trimble must convince the locals he's not an alien or monster, get to grips with medieval life and eventually try to stop Merlin and Mordred from overthrowing Arthur.

Right so this is a Disney movie, an old Disney movie, so you know to expect slushy crapola just like all old live action Disney movies. I mean straight away, this professor dude at NASA rings up the main character Trimble and tells him to make a humanoid android for the shuttle project...and he does! He just says 'yes sir' and gets right to it, creating the perfect human looking android with perfect senses, reactions and even emotions, just like that. If people in this universe have those kinda of skills why are humans still stuck on Earth? Anyway this isn't about scientific authenticity, its a pure fantasy aimed at kids to enjoy, and back in the day I did enjoy this thoroughly.

The lead character played by Dennis Dugan is terribly wet and preppy that's for damn sure, but I'd imagine he is appealing to the younger generations with his quirky, jaunty self. Other cast members are a who's who of classic British talents. Jim Dale of the famous British Carry On movie franchise plays the baddie knight Mordred and gives quite a surprisingly solid performance to be honest. Ron Moody is Merlin and looks like your typical evil wizard mixed with Fu Manchu, couldn't help but think it was Fagin in the Middle Ages though. John Le Mesurier plays Sir Gawain adding some nice light-hearted humour to the role, whilst Kenneth More completes a little double act with Mesurier as King Arthur. This duo really played off each other well, like a little bickering old couple, its quite cute and charming, very childish, but adorable. Good old Pat Roach is in here too as Merlin's main henchman and muscle, what else would he be.

The cast was pretty epic looking back, like many of old movies, but for kids at the time it was all about the adventure really, and this had all the right ingredients. Medieval knights, jousting, large scale battles and space technology. The movie was shot in and around a real castle in Northumberland, UK which really added to the realism and excitement when you were a kid. Everything looked like a giant adventure playground with lots of wondrous (yet dangerous) toys, the weaving dimly lit castle corridors, secret passages, the space shuttle in the courtyard, swords, crossbows, various futuristic gadgets, a moon buggy etc...Everything in the film does look pretty good too, considering the films age it still holds up well today. All the sets and costumes look terrific too, very accurate for a Disney kids flick, it does appear that this movie had a reasonable budget and plenty of tender loving care lavished upon it.

Yet despite the fact this was indeed a kids flick, it didn't shy away from tiny moments of edgy material. For starters they actually have a full scale, full view burning of Trimble at one point. Even though everyone knows its not real they don't actually cut away from it! you actually see the stunt guy in there burning! or at least close to the flames with clever use of forced perspective...I think! Put it this way it looks pretty realistic for a Disney movie sheesh! Then you have the jousting contest where we see Trimble's android getting taken apart piece by piece until his head is speared off, and yes there are no cuts, you see it fly off. Lastly there are actually references to Playboy magazine here, its actually shown, front cover en all! Of course you don't see anything but the fact its in there, presumably as product placement, is quite bizarre frankly.

Yes this fantasy adaptation has something in it for everyone, lots for the boys of course, romance with a maiden for the girls, and the legendary actors hamming it up something rotten for the adults. There is plenty of silly hokey stuff naturally, yet some quite clever stuff also, and what's more the special effects and props all add to the atmosphere perfectly. The big battle finale set in and around the castle at the end is the coup de grace, chock full of fun little moments. To be honest this whole thing feels a bit like a pantomime for kids, you half expect to hear hissing when the villains walk in shot. Its all so horrendously good-natured and delightful, its sickening...but in an acceptable way, nice score too.


Sunday, 2 August 2015

The Gumball Rally (1976)

As I'm sure many are aware, this movie is based on the real unofficial road race, the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, or the Cannonball Run for short. This movie (along with the other 76 movie 'Cannonball') pathed the way for other wacky racer type movies such as the Burt Reynolds flick 'Cannonball Run', and in turn other crazy car/trucker movies such as 'Smokey and the Bandit', which in turn led into a CB radio craze with automobiles and trucks. In short Hollywood produced a whole load of car racin', truck drivin', police chasin' flicks after this broke the ice.

The plot is...well, kinda stupid me trying to explain isn't it? The contestants race from New York to California, the end. There are no rules, no speed limits and no restrictions on the vehicles, get there as quickly as you can in whatever you can. Essentially This could be the prequel to that Burt Reynolds wacky racers franchise, it plays out exactly the same way and with all the same punches. Just like that franchise there is, of course, a cop on the trail of the Gumballers, trying his utmost to bring them all down. In this movie its Normann Burton as the comical Lieutenant desperately attempting to stop the racers but falling short every time.

As you might expect the tomfoolery that ensues is very predictable and these days very unoriginal, but lets not forget this was a fresh idea back in 76. I should point out though, the stunts and carnage on display in this movie is more grounded and sensible than other such movies. Yes there is of course an element of comedy involved but its not outrageously daft and off the wall, most of what you see is relatively believable. But of course there is the odd moment of craziness that shines through, moments that obviously inspired the genre years on, crash wise of course. Nevertheless you can't seem to escape certain obligatory concepts in these all American automobile flicks, one being the ever dastardly redneck, Hell's Angels type biker gang that pop up for a small chase sequence, always good for havoc and mayhem. Another being the always goofy policemen and ever useless squad cars that end up getting decimated or led astray so easily.

The racers under starters orders in this movie are a group of character actors I'm not overly familiar with truth be told. The only people I've heard of here is Raul Julia and Gary Busey, Julia paying the womanising Italian scoundrel (so well). Julia teams up with Tim McIntire in a red Ferrari Daytona, they are one of the two main teams in the movie which we follow the most. They are closely challenged all the way by Michael Sarrazin and Nicholas Pryor in a blue AC Cobra, Sarrazin playing the rich race organiser, a bit of a dapper chap. As said we follow these two teams virtually for the whole run time, not much race time is given to the other teams oddly, the finale is one big race between the Ferrari and Cobra with no one else in sight. Definitely some great race sequences on film but you wonder why bother with everyone else.

Other stereotypical obligatory racers include, stereotypical southern boys Gary Busey and John Durren in a lovely beige Camero. The stereotypical pairing of two sexy ladies in a black Porsche 911, two aristocratic British old boys in a Merc 300SL, one crazy guy on a motorbike, two guys driving in a police car...yet they actually are real cops apparently, so I dunno why they pretend, and one guy who gets a job driving a Rolls Royce across the country simply to get entry into the race. There is also a van, a Jag and a Corvette but these vehicles don't get too far.

Each one of these teams suffers the predictable problems that come with their characters traits. For example the sexy ladies get harassed by some young guys in a muscle car, the old boys poodle along drinking vintage wine and not really caring much about winning, its like a Sunday drive for them. The two cops get stopped by other cops and end up actually helping real people in need, the crazy guy on the motorbike ends up having the majority of the accidents for some reason (probably because the character is unhinged), whilst the two main teams in the Cobra and Ferrari never really have any hiccups. Although, it is amusing how Julia's character keeps getting distracted by sexy ladies which jeopardises the race for him and his partner.

I would say this is probably the best of the crazy racer flicks out there, mainly because, for the most part, it does actually deal with proper street racing. The face-off between the Cobra and the Ferrari is pretty well directed with some great engine roaring sequences of speed. To boost that, the actors do look as though they are actually in the cars travelling at high speeds, I doubt they are actually driving the cars but they do appear to be going at a fair rate which adds to the authenticity. Like I said already the only problem is the movie tends to concentrate on the Cobra and Ferrari too much and not any other vehicle. What I like about this is the fact it didn't turn into a cameo filled farce with silly sequels, this movie holds up well today for as a light-hearted jaunt for car fans/petrolheads.