Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Peanuts Movie (2015)

The legendary Charles Schulz comicstrip gets a modern day movie adaptation care of 20th Century Fox and Blue Sky Studios, with two members of his family behind the story, yet despite that last bit of info, I was still worried. You'd be forgiven for being worried too in this day and age. I cringed at the thought of this movie in all honesty, it terrified me, growing up with Snoopy and co, how could the modern day Hollywood monster do this epic creation justice? Thoughts of newly created PC characters crowbarred in, lots of hip hop music, dreadful big name voice work with pointless cameos, oh my God! you could just see it coming. Luckily none of that actually did happen (amazingly...accept for the music), so lets be happy.

As for the plot, well its a simple little thing really, in true Schulz form. Good old Charlie Brown is kinda eeking his way through life, trying his best and not really getting very far, as we all know and love. In the meantime good old Snoopy is up to his good old tricks whilst having his dreamy daydreams about flying against the dastardly Red Baron in his trusty doghouse/bi-plane. All of a sudden (not really) a new girl moves into the sleepy neighbourhood, a little red headed girl, to whom Charlie Brown instantly falls for. What follows are Charlie Brown's attempts at getting the little red headed girls attention in any way he can...without making a fool of himself. As I'm sure you're all aware, this doesn't really go well for old Charlie but nevertheless, he keeps at it and eventually comes out on top (spoiler alert...Charlie Brown comes out on top...duh!).

Now the main highlight for this movie is obviously the visuals. When the film was announced I was pretty sure this would look terrible, it would lose all of the charm from Schulz's comicstrip, OK...I was wrong, but come on, how many thought the same thing huh. As it turns out the original Schulz designs are perfectly adapted and complimented by the use of CGI, yes everything is CGI, but its tastefully done and recreates the original material amazingly well. In all honesty it doesn't actually look like CGI for the most part, if you ask me, it looks more like a glossy South Park episode to me with that flat 2D appearance. This is one reason why it works so well, the visuals combine both the 3D and 2D element, giving the best of both worlds, making it feel fresher, different and all the time keeping the classic Schulz style (kinda like the later Street Fighter II games ya know).

Seriously though, when I say they have kept the Schulz style in one piece, that's exactly what I mean, I don't just mean they skimmed the surface. Remember how the classic Charlie Brown gang used to dance in school? all those quirky and unusual little jigs? well they are perfectly recreated here. All those classic facial expressions from Brown and co, their funny little hairstyles, Pigpen's clouds of dirt, the characters stances, the way they move, Snoopy's little happy dances, the little dotted line trail Woodstock leaves behind when he flies around, adult characters represented by a trombone etc...its all here. What's more, they even manage to include some oldschool black and white animation harking back to the old days, not sure if it was actually old footage or not, don't think so, but all the same it was a sweet little touch.

The one thing that did disappoint me was the music included (same old I'm afraid). Now admittedly the film wasn't filled with horrendous modern trashy music, thankfully they kept the more chirpy to humdrum tunes and sounds from the original material. But alas they just couldn't help themselves, and to that degree we do unfortunately get some sequences accompanied by some atrocious modern claptrap that completely pulls you out of the moment, it ruins the atmosphere. Seeing Snoopy and co getting up to their cutesy hijinks whilst some RnB/hip hop (whatever) music plays, is tantamount to heresy! I hated every second of it. Then of course they have to continue the trend over the end credits, sheesh!

Another tiny issue I had, that did actually become a larger issue, was Snoopy's plot line. Snoopy spends much of his time in dream sequences fighting against the Red Baron atop of his doghouse. Now while this was very cool, very well done and was perfectly recreated along with everything else, there was a little too much of it. The whole idea was sweet at first but became a bit mundane quickly. Yes we know Snoopy hates the Red Baron, yes we know he will rescue his female counterpart and we know the Red Baron will get away to fight another day. But did we really need this to take up virtually the entire movie? I really wanted to see Snoopy interact with the others a bit more in all honesty, its not a massive huge flaw or anything, but it stands out enough to be fair. The rest of the gang are given reasonable amounts of screen time but again some could of done with a bit more (and less of Snoopy flying around), background characters like Pigpen, Schroeder and Franklin I always found more interesting.

To be honest, I was never much of a Charlie Brown/Snoopy fan growing up, I knew of them, saw the odd special on TV (was never overly enthralled by them) and had the odd cuddly toy of Snoopy. I don't really know much about the Peanuts lore and don't pretend to, but despite that I can't deny this was a great old fashioned heart-warmer updated with some lovely CGI work. Whether everyone would enjoy this I don't know, kids will I'm sure but they probably won't be up on the whole franchise backstory side of things. Older folk...sure, or at least oldschool fans will, not sure about non-fans though, it might seem a bit too babyish to them. Overall its a very simplistic and basic premise which has been executed wonderfully, everything looks spot on from the locations to the characters attire, they all sound just right and the use of archive sound footage from Bill Melendez (Snoopy) was an awesome touch. This is a completely, near perfect, faithful adaptation of a much loved classic.


Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Halloween: 25 Years of Terror (2006)

Everything you ever wanted to know about the classic horror franchise, but were afraid to ask? errmm...well kinda. Back in 1978 a young John Carpenter directed and scored a horror slasher named after a yearly Christian celebration. This movie would star a young Jamie Lee Curtis in her movie debut and the British stalwart Donald Pleasence. As I'm sure everyone knows, the basis of the simple story surrounded the bogeyman named Michael Myers who comes back to his hometown of Haddonfield (after 15 years in a psychiatric hospital) to stalk and kill Laurie Strode. Thus began the massive horror slasher franchise of Halloween, or maybe as it should be known as, the franchise of Michael Myers.

This documentary goes back and delves into every movie of the franchise from 1978 up to 2002 with 'Halloween: Resurrection'. The two reboots directed by Rob Zombie are not covered here simply because they came along in 2007 and 2009, after this doc was made. The whole thing is narrated by franchise actress P.J. Soles, but unfortunately she tries way too hard with this simple task trying to make it come across like some kind of real crime/cop programme. Not really sure if she was trying to be scary or not but its kinda lame.

Anyway as you would expect each movie is looked into one by one with the original classic getting much more attention than the others, this simply being its the best of the bunch. Naturally this entails interviews with important people like John Carpenter and Debra Hill, both of whom offer the usual tit bits you've probably read about or seen before elsewhere. Nothing wrong with that of course but even for me not being a Halloween fanboy, none of it really amazed me. What I did find more interesting were the interview and convention snippets featuring Moustapha Akkad, a Syrian producer who virtually came outta nowhere to help with the original movie. To me this was all new information, I had never heard of the man before (not being a fanboy), and he is quite frank and honest about mistakes being made with the series. But still, most of what you get is cut from other older interviews, panel discussions or conventions, there is nothing fresh here.

What is cool are the numerous interview snippets/convention snippets/behind the scenes snippets from almost all the cast, from the first film right through to 'Halloween Resurrection'. This includes all the actors who have played Myers which is neat. You also have all the other main stars plus all the smaller roles, people who died early on, the slasher fodder, the cameos, the extras, people who are generally unimportant, but hey its great to see them. Funny how they all see themselves as big stars when really...they're not, had to chuckle. There are also various pop up bits from the die hard fans at conventions, of no real importance but there you go. Strangely enough, or unsurprisingly, this documentary obviously wasn't big enough for Jamie Lee Curtis to bother with as she doesn't really crop up much. Of course being an iconic horror franchise there are also small contributions from other big names such as Clive Barker (sounding rather ill or is that normal for him?), Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright etc...But again I must reiterate, much of what you get here are cut from other interviews, there is very little in this doc that appears to have been specially made.

Everyone of course knows that after the first movie the franchise went down hill, no one ever intended there to be sequels. Thusly most of the content for those sequels isn't overly thrilling. Its like, yeah we know 'Halloween III' wasn't a hit, they tried something new and it flopped, but had it been a stand alone movie without the Halloween brand name, it might have been a different story. The actual horror tale in the movie was quite good. Then six years later Myers was brought back in to spark the franchises resurgence in 'Halloween 4'. Blood and gore levels went up due to the 80's factor, the rushed out 'Halloween 5', the loyalty of Donald Pleasence, the return of Curtis and the eventual drop into modern cyber based shite with people like Busta Rhymes.

The things that grabbed me were, the problems of Myers mask in 'Halloween: H20' which was pretty amusing. But even this I think I recall hearing about when the movie came out, so again nothing new. The fact the mask they used was basically crap and had to CGI a mask into the movie because they couldn't reshoot, and boy was it obvious. The massive reshoots and alternate cuts for 'Halloween 6' was new to me, that got me interested in seeing the film again. The original 'Halloween' house in California is still standing and is now a landmark, as is the surrounding area where tours are conducted showing off certain locations where the original was shot. The mention of a Myers vs Pinhead movie is brought up which peaked my interest plus the odd stories of crew members not getting on, how they shot nude scenes for 'Halloween II' and the way Myers and Loomis are compared to Moby-Dick and Captain Ahab or Dracula and Van Helsing, or Frankenstein and his monstrous creation. I never thought of it that way yet it makes perfect sense.

The run time is just short of a regular movie so this did feel slightly underwhelming truth be told. As said, much of this isn't new material, I'm not entirely sure which bits, if any, are actually new for the doc so don't get too over excited. I get the impression that if you're a fanboy of the franchise then most of this (if not all) will possibly be old hat. Certainly reasonably interesting for me, but not stunned by it, I've seen better docs I think, and better constructed ones too, this felt lowkey. I think a 'reboot' with more content on the originals (after the 78 original), including the newer Rob Zombie versions should be done.


Monday, 21 December 2015

The Transporter Refueled (FR, 2015)

Refueled (spelt wrong) because the franchise has been...refueled, refreshed, revitalised, rebooted...get it? clever huh (ahem!). Frank is back and ready to errr...transport things once again, only this time he's played by newcomer Ed Skrein. It seems Statham realised what a trashy mess this franchise was and decided to bail, probably a good decision there matey. So what are we left with now, well it appears to be a rather cheap and tacky looking reboot chock full of terrible action sequences, wait...yes I'm right.

Frank is still a transporter of anything no questions asked. He takes on a job for a quartet of women, the lead female turns out to be an ex-prostitute out for revenge against her ex-pimp. Now normally this probably wouldn't be an issue for old Frank, but these women alter the deal and also kidnap his father in order to gain his cooperation. Now Frank is forced to assist these women in bringing down a dangerous crime boss. That's the crux of it yet there are a few minor twists, nothing mind blowing though so don' get excited.

Right first up, the new boy, Ed, apparently a British actor and rapper, never heard of him but he does have a Statham-esque appearance I suppose. He has an odd look though, his lips are pretty thick with an usually strong pink shade to them, either that or it was the films lighting, just something that stood out to me. Plus I've not seen a man clench his jaw this much since Cruise and co in 'Top Gun', like wow! He is joined by Ray Stevenson who plays his father, a slick, womanising vintage wine drinker. A real slimy ladykiller of sorts who clearly knows the business his son is involved in, presumably used to do it himself, I think that was the gist. Despite that he's pretty bloody useless, I've never know someone get kidnapped so easily and so quickly. The ladies in question are a bland quartet also, they all look the same (attire and wigs don't help of course) and none of them can act too well either. What's really funny is they are clearly suppose to be desirable sex objects, but they sooo aren't, not for me anyway. Its actually quite amusing watching them trying to act and pose sexually at various times, very awkward.

Action, right well its pretty standard stuff really. Frank drives around in his top of the line Audi S8 D4, it never gets damaged...ever, and this time he has two apparently. The other just sits parked up in a multi-storey car park just waiting to be used. Although this entire notion makes no sense in itself because the first Audi he drives can change license plates at the push of a button, ala James Bond. So why would he need to abandon it, and then blow it up whilst changing cars, surely the changing plates cover you. Anyway the star of the show is clearly the car lets be honest, this thing has so many slow motion flybys and close ups you'd think it was car porn, oh is car porn. Heck even the car chases are a typically predictable affair with lots of small crappy police cars flippin' all over the show as they try to stop the Audi (all in slow motion of course, with lots of explosions).

The fisticuffs we see are again standard fluff and nothing to rave about, in fact its actually low quality fluff. All the fights looked terribly choreographed to me, very fake looking and quite slow, you can see the blokes getting ready to duck. Skrein handles himself OK but there is nothing impressive going on here, its all cookie cutter crapola and half of it feels totally unnecessary too. Example, Frank and the ladies are all in the Audi, the gates ahead are shut and there are a few bad guys lingering. So Frank puts the car into neutral (I think) and lets it slowly coast towards the gates. He then gets out and starts to fight the various henchmen surrounding the car as it slowly rolls towards the gates. Inside the ladies are frantic and don't know what to do as the car slowly gets closer to the gates. Frank beats all the bad guys up just in time, then leaps back into the car, puts his foot down and smashes through the gates. Now, what was the f**king point in all that?? why didn't he just drive the car through the gates in the first place whilst driving through the bad guys, I'm sure they would have jumped out of the way. This entire action sequence was utterly pointless and merely serves to showcase a fight, a pointless, waste of time fight that made no sense. Most of the fighting in this movie felt very much like this.

The main bad guys are you're typical Euro trash, plenty of bling and no brains, plus they all drink like fish. Anyone ever noticed this with movie villains and their henchmen? they always drink like crazy, everywhere they go, every scene, they're drinking expensive alcohol like water. Also, with all movie bad guys, none of them can shoot straight either. In the finale everyone is standing in a small cabin on a boat, all are armed with automatic weapons or whatever, everyone is pointing at everyone, yet when it all kicks off, they all miss each other at point blank range. Well a few faceless guys get blown away of course but the main characters all manage to dodge the hail of bullets.

Despite all that, one of many problems is the fact that there is no real tension or suspense here. The ladies kidnap Frank's dad, but he's such a man whore that he ends up trying it on with all of them! during his kidnapping! At no point was there ever any real threat because this guys trying to pull all the time and the ladies end up falling for it. To top that, in the end they all join forces and continue against the crime boss, so, why did we need the previous pointless plot about hiring Frank and kidnapping his dad originally. The ladies could of just hired Frank for the caper right from the start, the first half of the movie is, again, rendered pointless. I had to giggle at the scene where Frank's dad extracts a bullet from one of the girls and then seals the wound using an unusually large amount of spider cobwebs. Admittedly I have no clue if what he says about cobwebs is true, but it was the comically large amount the other girl manages to collect which just seemed so daft. Plus wouldn't the webs just fizzle away to nothing when set alight? its bloody spider webs!

You have to wonder just what exactly was the point in all this, this whole movie is such a poor mishmash of various other action flicks, its not even relatable to the original movie concept really. The original Statham flicks were almost like graphic novel adaptations, comicbook type actioners. But here they have tried to blend the serious aspects of James Bond with 'Ronin', they have actually tried to make a serious dramatic action heist...but its woefully lacking. But who actually wanted more from this long dead franchise? especially without Statham, bizarre reboot.


Saturday, 19 December 2015

Tomorrowland (2015)

Another movie based on a Disney theme park ride? blimey. Well its not actually a ride, let me clear this up. Tomorrowland is actually part of the Magic Kingdom Park, it makes up one of six themed lands within the Magic Kingdom, the others being Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland and Main Street USA. Each of these lands obviously feature rides, stalls, and places of interest based on the individual themes, hence Tomorrowland features famous rides like Space Mountain. The entire area has a 50's Jetsons type appearance to it which is used in this movie, although I don't think the movies plot is based on anything specific within Tomorrowland, I believe they have just used the name and theme park stylings for the basis of a sci-fi fantasy story (I think).

So, the plot, holy jukebox! its convoluted alright, I had no idea what to expect from this movie and I gotta be honest, for quite some time I was lost. Basically the story is a big flashback told by the two main characters, played by Clooney (Frank) and Britt Robertson (Casey). Its all about a secret organisation called Plus Ultra that dates back to the mid 1800's with key members such as Nikola Tesla, Edison and Jules Verne. A group that consisted of brilliant inventors that eventually discover a new dimension, and within that dimension they build Tomorrowland, a place for brilliant people basically, dreamers, artists, inventors, craftsmen etc...anyone with outstanding talents. The main crux of the tale is about robots from Tomorrowland that go out into our reality looking for new talented people to come and live within this perfect utopia of greatness. One such robot, Athena (in the guise of a small girl), finds Casey, a female teen, whom she decides is talented enough for Tomorrowland. Unfortunately the leader of Tomorrowland (Nix) doesn't want these robots recruiting new people for their world because he believes our reality to be basically flawed and bad (not far wrong), so he has other robots trying to track Athena down and stop/kill her. The other reason being, a pending disaster that will destroy mankind on Earth which Nix wants to allow and only Casey can apparently stop...for some reason. So Casey must find Frank, an ex-Tomorrowland inhabitant, to assist her in getting into Tomorrowland to stop this disaster. Got it? yes? no? tough.

Now even though this movie is called Tomorrowland and is supposedly about Tomorrowland, this fantasy world doesn't actually turn up in the ever! We see more of the land towards the finale and in one glimpse through Casey's holographic badge trip thingy, but other than that we never really spend any quality time there, bit misleading. Most of the runtime is spend here in our boring dimension with Casey getting to grips with her magical badge thingy, and trying to find out more about it. This in-turn leads her deeper down the rabbit hole, naturally, and things start to get more interesting, but in all honesty it takes time to get there and many might well get bored way before then. Up until that point the film is purely a character driven story focusing on the skills of the performers, there is little fanfare apart from the odd CGI landscape or effect.

Put simply Robertson must hold the entire film together for a long time, an actress who I've never heard of and I'm sure many haven't either. Bottom line, I was impressed, not only did she hold the film, she was also highly engaging, her performance and look kinda harked back to old 80's fantasy flicks in my opinion, I liked it. She never came across as a spoilt brat or egotistical, she was always very natural and very likeable (the opposite to Jennifer Lawrence), I felt happy to root for her. Helping her along was Athena the robot played by another unknown actress (to me), Raffey Cassidy.! what a performance! very sincere, genuine, emotionally sound, she actually came across as a realistic robot...and she's really young! Teamed up together these girls were an award winning double team I kid you not. Its only much later that Clooney pops up properly and despite my fears, he was also genuinely likeable with a solid performance. Sure he doesn't do anything particularly new or surprising, he merely plays George Clooney as usual, but it fits this film nicely.

The movie really starts to brighten up when Casey reaches Frank's lonesome house out in the sticks. For me this was one of the best sequences in the movie, at a first glimpse the house is a normal run down shack, a typical bachelor pad type scenario. But when the evil secret service robots turn up to try and capture Frank and Casey, its then we see what genius Frank has managed to construct within the house. Basically the house is one big booby trap for just such an occasion when evil robots might try and storm the premises. At every turn Frank has various defences that either fry, decapitate or shred the robots. The house is monitored top to toe with CCTV and has many other surprises such as secret passage ways, magnetised walls, reinforced steel shutters, traps doors and the bathtub is also a reinforced, steel plated, jet propelled escape pod. I really enjoyed this sequence and all the imaginative quirky traps throughout the house.

Another short sequence that tickled my artistic imagination was within the Eiffel Tower (at the top). Frank, Athena and Casey are on their way to Tomorrowland but the only way there is apparently using an ancient space rocket constructed and hidden beneath the Eiffel Tower. With this they will travel through the dimensions from space, completely stupid of course, I mean Frank knows about this which indicates he's possibly done it before or seen it happen before. In which case, has how this rocket never been discovered?? plus when it does take off how does it not kill a load of people and destroy the surrounding area?!! Anyway what I liked was the beautifully ornate period study housed at the top of the Tower, presumably dating back to the mid 1800's again. We only see this briefly but it just shows the excellent production design and attention to detail, its little things like this that really bring the fantasy element to life, such a departure from our reality.

In short the entire movie is like a mystery, a mystery that you the audience must unravel along with the main protagonists bit by bit. On one hand this is good because its original and engages your brain, on the other hand I freely admit I was struggling to decipher what the hell was happening for some time. I got the gist of it but I couldn't quite fit pieces together to form the whole picture, even now I'm still not entirely sure about some things. I'm not sure why Tomorrowland had fallen into decay when Frank and Casey returned, was this simply because its heyday had passed? or maybe because no new inventors were coming to live there from our dimension? Not too sure what causes the end of our world, we see its a nuclear war type scenario, but why? Frank got kicked out of Tomorrowland because he lost faith after finding out about the pending apocalypse? again, why? I'm still not really sure why Nix wanted to allow our dimension to get destroyed, surely that would have a negative affect on Tomorrowland with no more gifted people coming through. Yes many people in our dimension are bad but surely he could see not everyone would be like that and the gifted would always be found. Lastly I'm not really sure, or convinced, why and how Casey is the person needed to save Tomorrowland. She appears to be a kind of chosen one with a gift, but I didn't really see that gift or how she differed from anyone else really.

In the end I found myself slightly puzzled over small bits and pieces, which I'm not overly sure is either down to me missing some things, or the film just having plot holes. Despite that I actually found myself really enjoying the questions that it raised, why you ask? well because its a really inventive, original piece of film making. OK sure, there are elements in the film that we've all seen before, the finale isn't too original, it gets a bit preachy at the very end, and you can't avoid cliches here and there. Nevertheless, the CGI visuals are slick, awe-inspiring and genuinely fun to look at, there are nice levels of humour, the performances are enjoyable all round, scenes are constructed and pieced together well, and you really don't know what's coming next. More importantly, despite issues, the plot is noble, enchanting and very positive, this really felt like good old fashioned proper story telling.


Thursday, 17 December 2015

Hot Pursuit (2015)

OK so we all know the stereotypical buddy action flick, generally the stereotypical buddy action cop flick, laced with adult humour. Twas the staple diet of the good old days back in the 80's and through to the 90's, these days the genre has been a bit quiet. Why? well because every bloody idea has been done and the entire notion has literately been drained dry, all that is left is trying to come up with unique and quirky double teams for the leads. Although it must be said, the winner of that buddy cop action flick pairing must go to Jay Leno and Pat Morita in 'Collision Course' way back in 1989, nothing more unusual than that double team.

So for this run of the mill genre flick we have an all female double team consisting of Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara, so kinda different in the fact its an all female affair, but the characters are all too familiar. Witherspoon plays the stiff, by the books, jobsworth cop Cooper, who is given the task of helping protect an informant against a powerful drug cartel boss, the usual thing. Naturally things go wrong as various henchmen turn up and kill the informant, leaving Cooper with the dead informants wife (Riva) played by Vergara. As you might have guessed Vergara plays a loud, spoilt, high maintenance just like every other character she plays, earn that paycheck. Together the duo go on the run from the killers, one pair of killers being unknown initially, another being cartel men.

This is one of the films clever twists, of course I'm being sarcastic here but nevertheless. Spoiler alert, one team of killers turns out to be cops that Cooper knows, dirty cops, although in all honesty, I'm not actually sure why they wanted to kill the informant and Riva. I'm guessing they either work for some other cartel or they were after the suitcase full of jewel encrusted high heels that Riva is lugging around (worth around 4 million). I'm pretty sure its not actually mentioned, could be wrong though, chances are I simply wasn't paying attention because who cares. The other killer duo are indeed cartel men, but they actually work for Riva who is planning to kill the big cartel boss in revenge for killing her brother. Man this movie is so damn clever with its little twists, pure ingenuity, oh yeah I forgot...spoiler alert!! (if you care).

So the main crux of the film (aside from the big shock reveals) is the chase, the thrill of watching Witherspoon and Vergara running from the law and the cartel and ending up in all manner of hilarious situations. Yeah its sure as hell funny to see the straight laced cop trying to control a brash, wild, big chested Latino in high heels, as they try to evade capture and gunfire. Obviously its not, and obviously I'm being highly flippant. If you're after any sort of excitement or action then look elsewhere because this has nothing, absolutely zero. There is the odd car chase which is clearly going very slowly, a little bit of gunfire but highly neutered, no profanity or adult jokes, no visual gags, and no tension or engaging thrills of any kind anywhere. The whole movie is almost virtually made up of pathetic quibbling between Witherspoon and Vergara that is obviously meant to be funny, they are clearly trying to be funny, but its awkwardly not, its just bad. The dialog is badly written and thusly performed badly by the cast, not entirely the casts fault of course but it helps if you actually cast funny people in the first place.

Seriously, one of the movies main gags is suppose to be a flashback to Cooper accidentally tasering a young male teen, the teen in question being the mayor's son. The kid is with a group of friends and yells out 'shotgun' (as in the front seat of a car I think it was), and of course Cooper zaps him. The problem being the tasering causes him to spill his alcoholic drink on himself which then catches alight, so he's now on fire, and this is supposed to be a funny flashback?! Other characters in the film find this hilarious, kinda isn't really. If something like this happened in reality can you imagine the furore that would fire up! Jesus! plus...its just not a particularly funny flashback, just seems kinda serious to me.

Sure Witherspoon looks the part of an annoyingly overly keen cop, but she just isn't funny, her deliveries aren't funny, her physical humour doesn't work on any level. On the flip side Vergara is better at comedy with more experience from TV but her shrilly Latino persona is grating, annoying, it grows tiresome. Sure when she was first discovered it was funny, it was a stereotype that everybody knew but it was portrayed well by Vergara, it was her little thing, her main skill, something that could be milked for awhile. But alas, much like Vinnie Jones and his cockney hardman persona, it has been milked to death and is no longer entertaining, its boring. Vergara and her whole fiery Latino stereotype is now old hat, we get plenty of it weekly with Modern Family so there is no need for more of it in movies, especially when its all exactly the bloody same.

So obviously this comedy is aimed at a female audience and blokes that fancy Vergara, presumably. Its the most light-hearted pile of crapola I've seen for some time, extra light on action, thrills n spills and actual comedy that's for sure. If you enjoy tame jokes about a ladies age, her height, her attire, her looks and watching Vergara stagger around awkwardly in her high heels, then I guess this is for you. Yes I know Vergara staggering around in high heels is supposed to be part of the joke with her character, but I also know she loves high heels in reality so I wouldn't be surprised that she insisted on wearing them. Either that or its just a very very lame and unimaginative joke, pretty much like this entire movie, a very poor, bland, weak effort indeed.


Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Ted 2 (2015)

If you thought this cuddly teddy bear couldn't possibly get anymore racist and offensive...well, you'd be wrong. Seth MacFarlane is back utilising all the same visual gag styles, cameos and voice actors/actresses that basically make this yet another Family Guy flick, yeah it so is. Everything supposedly starts from where the previous movie left off but because I can't really remember a damn thing about the previous movie, I'm not entirely sure. That doesn't really say much for the first flick does it, or maybe me, I dunno.

So Ted (the living teddy bear) now lives and is married to a sexy blonde chick, right there its weird already. Yes, yes I realise this is a fantasy movie about a living toy, but why the hell would a female human wanna marry a toy? how could that person even fall in actual love with a toy?? and thus we have our plot. The story this time is all about Ted fighting for his civil rights after he declared to be mere property and not an actual person, kinda understandable. This is discovered after he applies to adopt a kid. Basically this is an SJW's wet dream of a movie...if it wasn't so unbelievably offensive, which admittedly, is the best bloody thing about the film. So lets address that right now, the nasty offensive bits, gags and dialog so un-PC its all enough to make your average extreme lefty huff n puff like a steam train.

In all honesty this film doesn't have too much going for it, but the risque bits do admittedly manage to raise a smile, an embarrassed awkward smile. As with Family Guy the jokes can be close to bone, but with the miracle of movies that barrier is blown away allowing outrightly offensive humdingers. When Ted and Wahlberg go to their local sperm bank you just know something will happen...involving sperm, sure enough. Now the outcome here is absolutely cheap and disgusting, but you can't help but smirk at the gag levels of revulsion here. Yes Wahlberg ends up covered in cum, no brainer, but its the gag from Ted that accompanies this which really sticks out. 'You're covered in rejected black guy sperm, you look like a Kardashian', holy matted fur! if that's not asking for trouble. As with MacFarlane's animated series other gags come and go in much the same manner as you'd expect, basically they are just outtakes or cameos for a quick laugh and nothing more. Through that we see a tame 'Taken' gag with Liam Neeson, and an amusing quickie with the duo at a stand-up comic routine as they throw out highly sensitive suggestions for the comics joke. Along with that there is of course plenty of dialog using various words and terms that are deemed derogatory but are clearly used to push the boundaries and shock.

What is actually more interesting is the moral conundrum of whether Ted, being a toy, would actually attain civil rights as a person. Its the same notion as futuristic robots that might attain a certain level of intelligence, at what point do they go beyond being a simple object and become an individual, a sentient being, is that even possible? As is argued in the movie, Ted is able to feel love, compassion, anger etc...he has emotions and can obviously think for himself, so does that qualify him as human despite the fact he's clearly not, he' still an actual toy built by Hasbro. Its a genuinely interesting debate which has good points on both sides, should Ted be allowed to attain a driving license and drive cars? would that be safe? could and should you be able to marry a person to a toy? etc...What I did find amusing and eye-rollingly typical was the fact that in the end they needed a black activist (Morgan Freeman) to win the decision for them. So did they win the appeal because everyone was afraid to go against a black civil rights attorney? no, of course not, but it kinda felt that way. Oh and how about Hasbro being made out to be the evil corporation here, I wonder how they got them to agree with that, its not exactly the image you'd want for a kids toy company.

As you approach the climax (if you can call it that), the plot swings into a comic convention, something which I felt was kind of a cheap move. In what way can we attract as many people as possible to our adult comedy? have the finale in a comic convention with a shittonne of nerdy film and TV references. And there you have it, a bit of a cop-out frankly, you could have set the finale absolutely anywhere and it wouldn't have made much difference, but they go with a comic con for easy pop culture references. Do I blame them? no I guess not, but come on, way too obvious.

I still find myself asking the same questions that I probably asked in the first movie, and probably wrote in my review. How and why does Ted appear to eat and drink? how does he use a smartphone in this film? (no fingers), why would he get turned on by human women when he's a toy? why would a human female get turned on and fall in love with a toy?? (with no willy). Has everybody in the world just accepted that this toy came to life? no one ever thought to do what the evil Giovanni Ribisi thought of doing? Then of course you have all the same criticisms from the first movie basically because its a Seth McFarlane live action Family Guy flick and nothing more. So in that sense you have to enjoy his brand of comedy to enjoy this, if not then forget about it. I do enjoy his animated series to a degree and, again, to a degree I did kinda enjoy this but its very limited. Lots of drunken, booze fuelled, porn filled, controversial, puerile sophomoric humour, I can take it or leave it, some of it worked, much didn't.


Friday, 11 December 2015

Best in Show (2000)

Number three out of five in a string of mockumentary movies that Christopher Guest has had a hand in writing, directing and of course starring. In my humble opinion this is probably the second most well known of the five with 'This Is Spinal Tap' being the clear winner in that field.

The simple premise behind this film is a dog show (in America of course), a dog show much like the famous British dog show Crufts. In fact the show in this movie is actually, supposedly, based upon a real dog show that takes place in New York each year, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. We the viewer follow the day to day lives of a set of dog owners and their preparation for the show, the ordeals during the show, and the eventual full outcome. The film is naturally in a documentary style with hand held cameras and many interviews on the fly as the adventures of each dog team is closely watched every bit of the way.

Its of no surprise of course that the dog teams are a varied larger than life bunch of people for maximum comedic effect. You have the flamboyant gay couple portrayed by Guest movie regular Michael McKean and John Higgins. McKean being the older, wiser, more conservatively dressed gent of the duo, whilst Higgins is the younger, fitter, spiritual, better looking toyboy of the couple who dresses flamboyantly. The pair own a small fluffy Shih Tzu which I guess you could say compliments their lifestyle? or is that too stereotypical to say? surely that was the idea though? Anyway, next up is Guest himself playing a small town hick type with a bloodhound. Other regular Guest movie team players Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara play a married couple, Levy of course being the nerdy half the couple, whilst O'Hara is, or was, a bit of a slut. Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock play an executive yuppie-esque husband and wife couple that have major anger/lifestyle issues, Parker Posey's character is highly neurotic causing virtually all of the panic and grief. And finally Jennifer Coolidge plays a big dumb blonde (unsurprisingly) who is a trophy wife for some very old dude, but at the same time she is actually having an affair with their dog trainer, played by Jane Lynch.

We spend small amounts of time with each dog owner as each of their stories progress. Starting at their various homes across the country as they all begin their journey's to the show, how they look after their dogs, arrival, accommodation and of course the actual show group by group. As I have already said, each of the dog owners have their own unique, over the top quirks which are admittedly predictable and cliche, but at the same time well performed. The main humour in the movie is watching how each of these people go about their daily routines with themselves and of course their dogs. Its highly engaging to watch the gay couple and the way they act (and dress), their different styles (think 'The Birdcage'), naturally their little pooch is spoilt rotten. Parker Posey's character is a complete nervous wreck, severely neurotic and a total bitch because of it, I found this (her) to be quite sexy actually. Watching her and her other half fight over petty little things is actually really fun, you feel awkward and embarrassed just watching, the performances are that good. The duo are like a car crash, you just can't help but look, its almost like morbid curiosity to watch these people fight and bicker in public.

Guest himself doesn't actually play that much of an interesting character, a humble hick that sounds a bit slow, he has his little idiosyncrasies of course but nothing that is outstandingly funny. His character is actually the most regular and less outrageous of the bunch. Eugene Levy and O'Hara are probably the most cliched pairing in the movie (the stereotypical gays aside), I think it was obvious that Levy would be some kind of geek, and boy do they pile on the geek here, even giving him two left feet to appear even more pathetic. It is amusing to watch these two as they meet up with various people on their travels, the gag being Cookie (O'Hara) keeps bumping into blokes she once slept with back in the day. The whole angle is kinda corny admittedly but its Levy's reactions you're looking out for. Lastly the weakest of the lot goes to Coolidge as the blonde bimbo having an affair with her female dog trainer. Jane Lynch holds her own well as you'd expect, but I feel they could gone further with these two, a bit more naughty perhaps, it all just felt a bit bland and lacking.

The highlight of the film is the actual show of course, and it doesn't disappoint visually that's for sure. Pretty much looks like they used a real venue for the show, a packed capacity of extras, plenty of real dog owners...probably real competitors, probably real judges etc...the works. It also appears that the cast genuinely did train with the dogs and go through the hoops with them as it were, it all looks very real, true to the documentary style. Set against this level of realism is the typically brash all American commentator played by Fred Willard who kills it! This guy really ups the game so to speak, his obvious lack of any knowledge on the proceedings, along with his stereotypically fast sports style of commentary is brilliantly funny at times. The fact that he is partnered up with a smart, well spoken, no-nonsense Brit commentator (Jim Piddock) makes this scenario all the more delicious. Seeing Piddock's British dog expert character smiling politely at Willard's loud lowbrow American commentator as he comes out with his inane foot-in-mouth comments, is a glory to behold.

The movie is obviously all about stereotypes and satire, all the characters are typically cliche and predictable, behaving exactly how you would expect them too. I guess all Guest movies are in the same vein character wise, but this one felt more so to me. What did surprise me was the fact I was actually engaged in the plot, lets be honest here when you read that the film is all about a dog show, you could be forgiven for thinking the premise might not appeal. Again though, this does appear to be a typical Guest trait, choosing quite unusual (and generally mundane) plot scenarios that befit everyday life for everyday folk, to a degree, but not always. This just goes to show how good the comedy, writing and improv work is from all involved, that and its an original concept too, which is a breath of fresh air (give it a chance). I think anyone who knows what to expect from Guest will undoubtedly enjoy this, people not in know may need a bit more time to get into it, but I'm sure will get the hang of it quickly (surely everyone knows what to expect with Eugene Levy involved).


Sunday, 6 December 2015

And Now for Something Completely Different (UK, 1971)

This was the first feature length Python movie, an anthology movie that was made up of well known sketches that the crew had done on their TV show, Monty Python's Flying Circus (the first two series). Apparently the main goal of this movie was to break the boys into America, introduce the States to their cult British humour. The film is made up of a variety of famous sketches that had previously been seen on TV but re-shot without an audience and, apparently, with a lower budget. Knowing this actually surprised me because I've always thought this film (and the sketches) looked pretty glossy in a way, the smooth transitions, the more cinematic approach and in some aspects bigger better locations. I don't recall the original series too much as I haven't seen it since I was a kid but I always thought the series looked way more shabby than this.

Its actually amazing to read that some sketches or effects couldn't be recreated for this film because the budget was so low! This makes me wanna go back and watch the TV show to see the differences. Anyway, despite those revelations I've always liked this compilation of classic Python material and seen it as (almost) the definitive versions of the sketches, although that's probably because I grew up with this movie rather than the TV show (will somebody please fondle my buttocks!).

Watching this today as an adult many things have obviously changed, firstly, I actually understand all the gags now, all the little cheeky lines and quips are loud and clear. Its amusing to watch and remember back in the day when I didn't understand certain scenes or dialog. They totally flew over my head and I only enjoyed them mainly because I knew it was silly and because my dad was laughing. Its also quite shocking and hilarious at how offensive this movie actually is in places, its things like this that, back in the day, were virtually normal, maybe slightly taboo, but generally accepted in comedy. Watching now and its incredible! obviously you'd never get away with it. I'm pretty sure the camp soldiers on drill would be lambasted these days, also certain lines are clearly racist...'did you see who moved in next door?', 'oh yes, black as the ace of spades', 'Oh well, there goes the neighbourhood', blimey!

Its also funny to mention as early sketch which starts out with the narration...'In 1970 the British Empire lay in ruins, foreign nationals frequented the streets, many of them Hungarians'. Now is it me or, apart from the fact its Hungarians, the date of course and the sarcasm, this silly statement has actually come true! just replace Hungarians with Polish, Romanian and Bulgarian. Anyway, aside from the awkward, yet admittedly funny, offensive bits, there are of course all the main humdingers that we all know and love. The all time classic dead Parrot sketch with Cleese and Palin, 'nudge nudge, wink wink' with Idle and Jones, the lumberjack song with Palin, how to defend yourself against a man armed with a banana etc...Next to that you of course have the slightly longer skits that form small stories and offered a glimpse into the brilliant future of Python movies that had yet to be made. I actually preferred these at times as they felt more complete, obviously, like tiny comic strips with little tiny story arcs. In this movie the best of which are easily the 'Upper Class Twit of the Year' competition and the 'killer joke', which I reckon could of been made into an entire movie.

But wait! who could forget about those off the wall and quite often gruesome little animations from Gilliam. These were a real highlight for Monty Python, I especially liked them as a kid for obvious reasons. The whole concept just added a completely new layer to the proceedings, the teams surreal comedy could be expanded and more risky with the use of adult cartoons, they looked cheap and tacky, but at the same time so very well created. The almost shabby, bare bones, crude methods used for these little animated moments feel very much like a precursor to South Park if you ask me, it definitely seems that way, but the fact that some of the cartoon animations (and the style) have become just as big as the live action sketches goes to prove how fantastic they were. Everybody knows a Monty Python cartoon image when they see one.

All in all, even though this film could be looked upon as not entirely classic Python seeing as they remade everything from the original series for the cinema, and to some people that might cheapen or water down their act, the film has managed a cult following. Although, I must say, with all the various incarnations of their famous sketches, they can start to feel tiresome on occasion, I have often found one specific version of a sketch to be the best with many others missing a beat. Anyway being the first Python movie this naturally holds a special place in most fans hearts and its still an excellent spicy little ride. Application forms for lion tamer are available to all those with the proper qualifications only, thank you.


Friday, 4 December 2015

Minions (2015)

Did we really need this? seriously, this doesn't actually feel like a genuine movie, but more like an unnecessary accessory that has been forced out purely to capitalise on merchandise...oh I see. Yes that's right folks, the tiny, annoying, little bug things called minions are back in their very own prequel/spin-off which, as far as I'm concerned, was made purely to sell plush minion toys. I mean honestly, did these characters really need a bloody prequel? was their backstory that important? did we really need to see how they all became minions of Gru? Oh shit, yeah I keep forgetting about the shameless cynical money aspect in all this.

So apparently the minions have been around since the dawn of the Earth, they were around before man and the dinosaurs, emerging from the sea with the first tetrapods (the wonder that is Google). From the very first moment they did this they have all craved a boss, a leader to follow and serve...for some reason. No explanation is ever given for this, they just do this, and for some reason this leader has to be evil, God knows why, but there you go. This also leads me to question other simple things about these little yellow pill shaped creatures. Firstly, are there any female minions? I don't think we ever see any, so how do they breed? do they have both sexual bits? now I think of they even die?? Apparently they have all survived since the dawn of time, yet I don't think any of them ever die or age, its the same characters the whole way through, anyone else think this is odd.

At the start of the movie we get to see the various people/creatures the minions have served throughout time. Now I did quite like this small sequence of events as it was quirky and amusing to see the different scenarios and time periods. Had this simply been a quick animated short it would have been pretty sweet, these spin-off things tend to work better in short bursts and this sequence proves that. But even this decent set of ideas was marred in stupidity, like why would they follow a T-Rex (for all intense and animal) that would or should eat them and wouldn't understand or need henchmen. Its the same as them all serving a wildcat, makes no real sense, and why would Dracula need so many minions? yeah OK I'm delving too deeply into this but it just felt dumb, stretching for gags. Plus the fact they manage to accidentally kill off all their leaders, you'd think they quit the whole notion.

As for the rest of the plot, it all just felt so forced, the same old spiel yet again. The minions end up travelling around to various places (thusly appealing to as many as possible) eventually ending up in London, cue a shittonne of cliched visual gags involving British culture that we've all seen before and simply isn't funny anymore. You all know what I mean of course, tea, snobbery, suits, bowler hats, accents and the Queen...who is part of the plot. Oh yes! the plot, forgot about that, well its all about the minions simply trying to find a leader to serve, and they do in the form of the bland Sandra Bullock voicing Scarlet Overkill, yet another predictably unoriginal strong female character that are obligatory these days. Overkill orders them to steal the Crown jewels for her but the minions end up messing it up with one of them pulling the mythical Sword out of the Stone?? and becoming King of England. OK what's wrong with that picture!! the time period is the 60's, where exactly does the Sword in the Stone fit in? Anyway Overkill wants her jewels and to be Queen of England, so the minions voluntarily do this for her, she tricks them and locks them up, the minions then escape in order to apologise to her hoping everything will be OK. Wut??! yeah this plot isn't too thin and padded out.

Gotta ask, leaning back towards things not making any sense, how come people aren't freaked out by minions? No one seems to bat an eyelid with them, yet they are clearly a form of life that no human knows about or has ever really come into contact with before (in the original tow movies they have clearly been established). So no one seems terrified or curious about these bizarre alien-like creatures, the fact some have one eye, they're yellow, they speak their own language, their body shape, where they came from etc...In fact it appears monsters and ghouls are a regular part of everyday life in this jumbled little universe because the Creature from the Black Lagoon is apparently alive and well (him and Dracula). Next to that we also have some, quite frankly, inane sequences which show a part of India close to Australia? (connected by a bridge?), and the moon landings were indeed fake in this world too (what are they hinting at?).

This movie did actually make like...a gazillion squillion Dollars at the box office so, I guess we'll be getting more (sigh!), but what amazes me is how horrendously obvious this 'movie'/merchandise machine is. Just because some top brass got a whiff that the minion characters were popular they grind out a pointless cash grab movie about them. That's like making a prequel/spin-off about the seven dwarfs from Snow White and how they lived before getting tangled up with her (oh shit I hope no one reads that...but if they do I want royalties!). Many movies have fun henchmen/sidekick characters, that doesn't mean you need to go make a bloody prequel about where they came from and how they met with the original films protagonist, sheesh! This movie has a few highlights yes, a few chuckle moments yes, but overall its a complete mess with nothing making any remote sense, even for an animated fantasy world (kids will now think India sits right next door to Australia...connected by a rope bridge).


Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Magicians (UK, 2007)

Right now this is an entirely British outing using entirely British comedy stars from entirely British comedy shows, in other words, if you haven't ever seen or heard of the comedy show Peep Show then chances are you probably haven't even heard of this. That's not to say this movie is based on that series, its not, but lets face it, it does kinda feel like an extended episode or spin off from the show. Yes I know I'm solely basing that on the fact the two main leads (Robert Webb and David Mitchell) are the two leads from that show but any British person who's familiar with the show knows what I mean.

Right its a comedy, lets just get that out there for everyone, its a black comedy based on the relationship between two reasonably famous magicians (Harry and Karl) based in the UK. Lets think of these characters as the Torvill and Dean of the British magic world (in the film), they are a household name in the UK and pretty well known elsewhere, but mainly they are a home-grown success story that are loved by their fellow countrymen (and women and kids). So what happens next, well obviously they fall out, why? because Karl is having an affair with Harry's wife. This also leads to the accidental death (or was it?) of Harry's wife during a show, which of course virtually destroys their act. This naturally leads to the pair losing touch and going their own separate ways, until a major magic competition comes along and the pair both enter.

OK so, as I've already mentioned this does feel very much like an extended episode of Peep Show. Aside from the fact you have Webb and Michell, you also have at least three other people that have also starred in the show, this really does make it hard not to look upon the film as an extended special or whatever. Of course a lot of the appeal here is down to whether or not you actually like the comedy duo of Mitchell and Webb, luckily I do like the duo and have enjoyed all their work thus far. Again though this does of course cause problems because the comedy feels very familiar, very predictable and like you've seen it all before. If you like the act then that might not be a problem, but even for me as a fan, I did feel a bit of deja vu creeping in and it always felt a bit like an over long sketch. Perhaps making this idea into a six part comedy show would have been a better option?

The whole concept of using magicians and having some big magic battle to find the best magician is a nice idea, it lends itself well for some great comedy. The various magicians we see are entertaining with the obvious array such as...the more traditional tux type, wacky and outlandish, rude, shock value, supernatural, funny for the kids and mind games. Harry and Karl are more traditional  magicians at the start, using the more old fashioned well known tricks, but later Karl moves into mind games mixed with the supernatural trying to elevate his appeal. This does of course lead to conscious issues for him as he is of course a fake (more of a con artist than Harry), and he cannot bring himself to fool people around when it comes to their actual dead family members. This is one of the films small engaging plot devices with morals, does Karl hurt and trick people for success? can he handle that, is he willing to trick is own girlfriend into the bargain? His struggle is compelling and amusing as deep down he really doesn't want to but he finds himself getting sucked into these situations...mainly because of his fame seeking agent who also fancies him and is actually quite funny.

So Webb's character is the stronger of the two, I think, as Mitchell's Harry really does feel exactly the same as Mark Corrigan from Peep Show. Yes you could say exactly the same about Webb's character of Karl but I feel he displays more of a genuine story arc, he actually conveys some emotion. Where as Mitchell and his Harry/Mark characters seem pretty much the same, both are single, useless with the opposite sex, awkward, geeky and prone to outbursts. Its the other characters that are actually a bit more fun truth be told, Peter Capaldi is solid as the gruff and rude magic competition organiser, where as Steve Edge is easily the best as a controversial magician who simply doesn't think twice about speaking his mind, be it sexist or racist.

I guess what I'm trying to say overall is, this film is OK, but it could of been so much better. The whole thing is self contained, its simple, the gags are generally average at best, visually its a typically British movie in the sense that it kinda looks cheap but passable, and the magic aspect is cool. I really wanted to like this film so much, I like Mitchell and Webb, their brand of humour is solid, cheeky and at times close to the bar, but this is lacking something. I think it really does show that these TV folk do work better in the TV format/realm, their comedy just works so much better and there are many examples of this. So yeah, end of the day, its a solid attempt, it does kinda work but the comedy duo can't match their TV shows for pinpoint zinger bombs I'm afraid.