Monday, 26 September 2016

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016)

OK seriously what is it with these American sorority/fraternity things? entire movie genre is based on these 'societies'. Certain actors have become famous for their roles and links to the frat house genre. Certain years in the past have been dominated with movies based on these outrageous 'clubs', and quite frankly, to a Brit such as myself it all makes no sense. Yeah we have similar things in the UK, I guess, does the students room count? halls of residence? having a nice chat with tea and biscuits once a week?? Yeah sure UK students get rowdy and wild with their boozed up parties, pub crawls, house parties, clubbing etc...But this entire notion of a large house actually being owned by a group of students, who then abuse it however they want, with no regard for the surrounding residents, does this actually happen in the US?? is this a real thing??? What the fuck is all this Delta, Kappa, Sigma, Alpha, Zulu, Foxtrot bollocks?! OK, OK...I know its all Greek terminology and I have read up on why its used...but it still makes no bloody sense. Forgive me but the whole damn thing just sounds like Scouts for drunken, doped up teens wanting to fornicate with each other, well at least that's the impression you get from movies like this.

Moving on, the plot...its exactly the bloody same as the first friggin' movie, the end. No joke, the Radner's (Rogen and Byrne) are back and now trying to sell their house, but guess what! Go on have a guess...did you guess? yes you're right, a bunch of teenage girls have set up a sorority in the house next door, oh the hilarity! Oh and the real stinger, its the same house they had trouble with last time with the guys in the fraternity...oh the sweet irony! So quite simply the Radner's need to keep everything cool for the next 30 days (escrow) before their house gets sold. In other words the Radner's are praying that the new sorority will keep things low-key in the meantime until those 30 days run out. Guess what...go on take a guess...

So as I mentioned in my review of the first movie, the problem for me personally here (apart from the sheer lack of imagination) is the fact that most of what you see is uncomfortable. In other words, its not really very amusing to watch people trying to look after their property, sell it, expand it...whatever, when youths are vandalising it with jokes that often go too far. I'm not saying there are no funny elements to this film and I'm not saying I'm a prude with no sense of humour (gulp!). What I'm saying is, seeing a group of youngsters breaking into a nice house, steal items, ransack, vandalise, destroy things and basically try to ruin a families life out of spite, isn't really an enjoyable thing to watch. I kept thinking how horrible it would actually be if I were in the same situation, if I was trying to sell my house but mobs of youths next door were preventing me from doing so and I was unable to stop it. The thing is I'm sure shit like this happens in reality and I'll bet its very distressing. So as I pointed out in my review of the first flick, this movie comes under the same umbrella as the movie 'Identity Thief' for me, the subject just isn't particularly funny to watch because it could really happen and it would be bloody awful. Admittedly you could say that about anything but things like this are probably more likely within reality.

As for what you see, well its all the same shit in a nutshell, accept its girl related. So instead of lots of visual gags surrounding cocks, dildos...just general male related toilet humour, you have similar things but with a female twist. So at one point the girls all throw their blood stained tampons at the windows of the Radner's house, leaving big splodgy blood splatters. The perfect example of a visual gag that is just a step too far and genuinely disgusting. Another, as I already hinted at, was breaking into the Radner's house, clearing it, then selling all their stuff in a garage sale for peanuts. Again, just not funny, in fact I found that really uncomfortable and it made me kinda mad because I kept thinkin' what I'd do in that situation. The epitome of unfunny attacks by the teenage girls was again breaking into the Radner's house, stealing the duos mobile phones, changing some numbers around, and then trying to get them to break up by sending fake texts. Dunno who wrote this script but Jesus! these are nasty pranks! The fact that this prank actually leads to Rogen's character travelling to Australia, without even attempting to find his other half first, just shows the utter stupidity of both the movie and the writers. Because of course you'd travel across the globe on a whim without confirming anything first, being a dumb comedy isn't really an excuse here sorry.

Seriously the whole idea of this movie is just so utterly pointless, this is made even more clear with the finale where basically everyone quits. All the girls run out of money (buckets of money is a genuine currency rate here it seems, yes I literally mean a bucket full of money), fall out and decide to leave the house. But to stop this the Radner's decide (after all the shit they've been put through) to help the girls out so they can stay in their sorority house. OK sure the deal helps the Radner's out of a bind too, but surely anyone in the same position would let the girls get kicked out simply out of sweet revenge, I would. I've also not seen a movie so utterly engrossed with weed for some time, this movie is stuffed with it, hell the plots almost all about flippin' weed! I remember frat house flicks back in the 80's were generally all about booze and smut but these days its all about smoking weed apparently.

The first movie had the saving grace of being somewhat original, to a degree, literally a slither of originality, and utilising a fresh-faced cast in Rogen, Franco and Efron. Sure the whole idea wasn't brilliant but the cast just about kept it afloat with the odd highlight, but overall it was still poor. Well this film has no saving grace, its got no originality, no fresh-faced cast and virtually no highlights unless you wanna count Rogen looking and chuckling like Fozzi the bear as he basically pratfalls his way through a weed obsessed frat flick he's too old to star in (I can see how some might like this). And no not even Efron's oiled up nipples and biceps can save this, although his dumb jock persona still does work at times, OK so one minor highlight. In short, they've basically taken the first movie and done all the same shit but replaced the wild male teens with wild female teens, sorority instead of fraternity, its that simple. If you liked the first I guess you'll like this, anyone else, pass.


Saturday, 17 September 2016

The Jungle Book (2016)

Despite the familiar title this movie is actually a blend of the classic 1967 Jungle Book movie from Disney, and Rudyard Kipling's  collective works based around the adventures of Mowgli. So basically you're getting bits that you will probably recognise taken straight outta the Disney classic, and bits that have been taken from the original stories that were left out of the Disney classic. Although I will say right now that I have not seen the Disney movie since I was a kid and I have never read any of the Kipling stories sooo...I know almost zippo here. Yet...I believe most of this is generally coming from the Disney version, more so than the original stories, seemed that way.

The plot is very simple with this tale, simple and dumb. A baby Mowgli is left for dead in the Indian jungle after his father is killed by the ferocious tiger Shere Khan. Luckily Mowgli is found by a black panther named Bagheera and taken to a pack of Indian wolves to be looked after. The wolf Raksha raises Mowgli as one of her own in the depths of the jungle, Mowgli becomes a man cub. Everything is fine and dandy until one day Shere Khan decides he wants to eat Mowgli, so the wolves (and other animal friends) decide it would be best to send Mowgli back to his own people. So yeah you gotta take all this with a huge pinch of cosmic salt naturally. Firstly, the animals all have names because of course they do, secondly, they obviously talk...but some don't?? Don't question it.

Thirdly, the plot makes no fecking sense at all, why didn't Bagheera take Mowgli straight back to the human camp (or any humans) when he first found him? What possible good could come from giving him to a pack of wolves to be raised?? Clearly he would never fit in because he's a bloody human being, hello? Lastly, why on earth does it take many years before Shere Khan decides he wants to kill Mowgli? Did he not notice the human child being raised by the wolves? I mean, they all live in the same vicinity do they not. Yes OK its a children's fantasy, but still, no sense whatsoever (and that goes for the Disney version also).

Anyway this being a modern movie the main hook will of course be the visual effects, the visual CGI effects and how mesmerising they can be, but are they? Well they are and they aren't really, on one hand the backdrops and locations are gorgeous to look at, even of they are all fake. But if there's one thing CGI can do well its landscapes in the background and oh my this doesn't disappoint. What's even more impressive is some (or all) of these backdrops and landscapes are actually based on real locations in India (so I've read), so even though its CGI magic, its based on real mother Earth. That being said it still can't escape the dreaded greenscreen monster which always rears its ugly head against the live action Mowgli. I'm afraid I have the same complaints with the CGI creatures too. On one hand some of the animals look truly amazing, incredibly authentic...such as the elephants, Bagheera, the wolves, Shere Khan and various smaller mammals.

On the other hand some animals look obviously CGI and in some cases hokey...such as Baloo the bear, the monkeys, King Louie, Kaa the snake etc...Another issue I had was the implementation of the actors features into some of the animal characters. This mainly stands out with both Baloo/Bill Murray and King Louis/Christopher Walken. Why the flip would you want either animal to have similar facial features to the voice actor?? It makes Baloo look ridiculous and King Louie look positively scary with his glaring sky blue eyes. Speaking of King Louis, my God! since when is King Kong in this story?! Jesus Christ they really fudged up on that. Changing Louis from an Orangutan to a Gigantopithecus might be more accurate for the creatures native habitat but it will scare the shit outta the kids! Plus the whole size thing is ludicrous.

Segue of sorts onto the voice work here, nope! just no!! Now don't get me wrong, most of the animal voices were fine here, mainly because I wasn't really sure who was providing the voices, and that's exactly what you want, what you need!! The casting of Bill Murray, Edris Elba and Christopher Walken was terrible! absolutely terrible! Bill Murray is literally just doing his usual Bill Murray-ish, deadpan, sarcastic ramblings which might work most of the time, but lets be clear, doesn't work all of the time and in no way fit this character. Walken was clearly given the role to give King Louie a comical, light-hearted, crime kingpin-esque twist on the character which again isn't really right (plus he's too scary for the kids).

And lastly Elba voices Shere a Bengal tiger with a cockney accent, riiight. I'm sorry but these recognisable voices just didn't fit the bill for me and threw me right out of the picture every time. Naturally the two Disney songs forced in didn't help in any way either, holy schnitzel Walken's singing was atrocious. Without the background chorus from the other monkeys (in the Disney classic) the song just sounds bad, plain bad, all the oo oo oo's and so forth really sound stupid without backup vocals. But needless to say there was really no need for the songs at all, the movie is going for a more sensible approach based on the original stories, the songs were a Disney thing, the two don't really blend here. This ultimately just felt like a cheap nostalgia hook.

I also found myself questioning many many stupid points and some plot holes along the way. It is mentioned that elephants are treated almost like Gods of the jungle, that they created the jungle by creating rivers with their tusks etc...wut?? How are they so God-like exactly? oh and why do elephants apparently not speak? Come to think of it birds don't speak either. Near the start Mowgli is trying to escape from Khan, he finds himself jumping into a muddy trench which suddenly gets clobbered by a stampede of buffalo...yet he survives this by managing to grab onto a passing buffalo horn and riding to safety. Remember, this Mowgli is live action, not a cartoon. Towards the finale Shere Khan is able to beat all the wolves and Bagheera at the same time which in itself is pretty impressive, yet none of the other animals help, not even the rhinos who could surely beat Khan. As Mowgli races back from the human camp with a lit torch he accidentally manages to start a HUGE jungle fire that spreads real fast, from a single ember?

At the same time as this Mowgli also manages to run all the way back to the area he grew up in (with the wolves), from the human camp which I thought was a long distance away?? I mean, the whole movies runtime is spent following Mowgli progress further and further away from his home (with the wolves), because he's supposed to be going back to the humans (supposedly some distance from where the animals dwell deep in the jungle). But then right at the end he's able to run all the way back in an instant. Oh and I might mention that both Baloo and Bagheera see where Mowgli is headed at this point in time, but are unable to catch him...and they're animals. One final point which kinda sums up the cheapness of the plot here, Baloo is seemingly bitten badly by Khan in the final fight. I say seemingly because nothing happens with it, it happens, we see it, and there are no consequences. Next scene he's all good and we're moving on. Surprising actually as I was expecting a really gooey emotional moment with that.

So in the end what does this offer over the Disney classic? Well not much frankly, visuals aside not very much at all and that's because this movie is essentially all about the visuals. They have used all sorts of new special effects jiggery-pokery for creating realistic animal animations (courtesy of Weta) which admittedly do look slick and sexy for the most part, and as said backgrounds and landscapes do also look fantastic. There are times when this does look more like an educational documentary, and I have since learned more about the jungles of India, but overall I simply can't help but think that's all this is.

A glossy effects flick showcasing how good glossy effects can look with the right amount of dosh thrown at them. There was really no need to make a live action version of this tale, for me personally, it just doesn't look right, probably never will, and will always look better animated. In all honesty I can see myself saying the same thing about other future obligatory live action remakes ('The Lion King'). But yet again I find myself asking how this movie did so well, have movie standards really dropped so low? do people just accept anything average now? Sure this is a fair ride but its nothing special, in no way. A bland, simple remake with shiny effects, generally bog standard A-list voice work, glaring plot holes and touch and go with whether or not its too scary for the kids, hmmm.


Monday, 12 September 2016

Hard Target 2 (2016)

The long awaited sequel...ahem! OK well following on from the original movie then? Well I'm not so sure honesty, this movie follows on with the concept from the original movie but I have no idea if there is any continuity going on. As any fan will recall, in the original there is this underground private organisation/company that sets up highly illegal hunts for very rich clients, the game...humans. This private organisation has many connections, many henchmen, a global fanbase and many rich clients. They specialise in finding people that cannot be traced, have no background, no family but can possibly offer a good hunt. But if not then just anyone who can disappear easily without a trace, someone that can be killed for fun and not arouse any suspicion. This entire idea carries on with this straight to DVD sequel but I have no clue if its suppose to be the same organisation or even if the story is set before or after the original. I suppose it could be the same organisation but in a different part of the world, a different branch as it were, or it could just be a complete reboot.

So we all know that Scott Adkins likes a good dose of MMA action in his films, and we all know you're most probably gonna see him perform some martial arts no matter what type of film he's in whether you like it or not. So naturally MMA fans won't be disappointed, especially as the first 10 minutes of the film is basically a kickboxing flick. Yeah its setting up the story I guess, but Jesus did they really need to linger so long on this plot aspect? The basic crux is, Wes Baylor (Adkins) is fighting in a match against his best friend/sparring partner/championship rival. The pair are relatively well matched but Baylor is better, after a long drawn out fight Baylor ends up accidentally killing his mate in the ring. Crushed by guilt he eventually leaves the US and goes to Thailand (as you do) and ends up fighting in illegal bloodsport fights (because of course). In time he is spotted by a slimy looking American who offers him a shit load of cash for one MMA fight in Burma. This turns out to be a trick as Baylor finds himself caught up in a deadly game of hunt the human for sport. The rules being the same as in the last movie, reach a certain point (in this case the border to...Thailand I'm guessing?) and you get to keep your life and the money on your belt (in this case jewels).

So one reason I actually think this is a reboot is because (plot aside) the main bad guy is clearly a Lance Henriksen-esque clone, Aldrich played by Robert Knepper. This guy has almost the same kind of craggy, scrawny, gaunt looks of Henriksen, he's not muscular but very wiry, plus he also has a high hairline with a similar wavy hair style. To top it all off, he appears to be using the exact same long barrelled pistol that Henriksen's character used in the original movie. In short the director has clearly tried to copy that same look from the John Woo film. As for the rest of the bad guys, well its a mixed bunch that are definitely different from the original movie but not better that's for sure. You have a father and son duo, the father being a typical beer-bellied redneck type while his son is a snivelling pussy who's not sure about the whole affair. Then you have a Spanish guy who's apparently a bullfighter (*cough!* stereotype *cough!*), some young designer bloke, Aldrich's second in command (Madden) played by Temuera Morrison, and the obligatory sexy token female (Sofia) played by Rhona Mitra. Oh and some of the Burmese army also works for Aldrich too, somehow, corruption must be commonplace.

All the action takes place in a the jungles of Burma (supposedly) and for the most part it does look authentic, although I doubt they're in Burma. Nevertheless the movie is of course utterly ridiculous and farcical. For a start whilst on the run in the jungle Baylor comes across other dead bodies from previous hunts, so presumably this is a secluded part of the jungle. Alas we do discover the whole thing takes part quite close to the Thai border, or near the bridge over the river Kwai at least, so I do have to question why bodies don't get discovered seeing as they're just lying in plain view in shallow river sections. Secondly, in a typically stupid action flick trope, the token baddie female is kitted out in a skin tight black leather number, because of course she is. Now don't get me wrong, seeing Rhona Mitra in skin tight black leather is awesome (I only wish it was latex), but really? in the steamy hot, humid jungles of Burma...really? She looks like a fucking super(slutty) hero especially with all that ammo crap coiled around her thighs, good grief!

I mean in all honesty the movie isn't too bad as it trots along, its as cliched as fuck but the general setup is engaging enough because you wanna see these asshole bad guys get killed. Its when even more silly things happen that render the movie so absurd. The baddie team are hunting Baylor and are presumably deep in the jungle, they are getting tired because Baylor is turning out to be quite hard to kill. So Aldrich snaps his fingers and literally out of nowhere trucks pull up with motorbikes for them to ride! Cue sequences of bike riders in full black biker attire chasing Baylor though the jungle and somehow not catching him up. We then get a bit of fisticuffs between Baylor and Sofia. Baring in mind Baylor has already been established as a rock hard MMA fighter/champion, yet he has trouble beating a woman half his size, weight and who clearly can't actually fight. Its also around this point, somewhere, where we get some truly excellent dialog from Mitra's character. One of the bad guys is getting a bit worried about Baylor killing everyone and suggests giving up and leaving. To which Sofia responds with...'go run home to mommy', yeah...take that you cowardly bad guy.

The real joke is the finale which sees Baylor reach the border (of Thailand??) in a speedboat, being chased by Aldrich in a chopper whilst blasting at him with an assault rifle. Again baring in mind the border is a highly populated area, with locals, tourists and lots of armed troops...yet none of this matters to Aldrich now as he seems to be obsessed with killing Baylor. So his stealthy, private hunting organisation just went public apparently. This entire action sequence genuinely looks like something out of a live action attraction/show from some big studio entertainment park. It then moves onto this long narrow wooden bridge which makes up the crossing between the two countries, where Baylor proceeds to have lots of high flying fisticuffs with lots of henchmen and Aldrich's second in command Madden (Morrison). All the while armed soldiers watch from the Thai border whilst hostages are taken, bullets fly, explosions occur and people get killed...but they just watch cos you know, its nonsense.

Yes this is pretty darn hokey folks, not much quality can be found here in all honesty, you could say it even brings down the explosive cult classic Woo/JCVD extravaganza. Again its another case of...why in the hell did they make this?? Clearly a cheap shot at trying to wring some more moolah out of the original movies name, and clearly everyone involved is just there for the paycheck, nothing more. The shameful thing is this could of been good, the premise is there, the story could be expanded better and the casting could of been upgraded. With a bit more effort this could have actually been a solid little gem, heck Knepper and Morrison are actually good villains, Adkins is OK but might have worked better as a baddie, and the location isn't too bad of an idea for a tense sweaty thriller. Instead we get this very basic, cliched, corny, childish, rushed mess that looks like it was made in the early 90's (probably would have fared better then too). Just look at that bloody poster! Holy schnitzels in stew its bad, is that the best they could come up with?! fuck a duck!


Friday, 9 September 2016

Kickboxer: Vengeance (2016)

JCVD was but the learner, now he is the master...and so forth. Here we go again with yet another reboot of a classic movie. Well not so much a classic movie per say, a classic in the JCVD filmography at least and for people of a certain age that grew up with 18/R rated martial arts flicks that were considered almost taboo or video nasties in their time. So this is indeed a complete reboot in the sense that it's almost identical to the original movie except for the odd twist plot-wise. Of course any new twists aren't really anything to write home about so...errr, don't write home about them? Right.

The movie kicks off with the all new Kurt Sloane (Alain Moussi, yes I've never heard of him either) turning up at Tong Po's (Dave Batista) home/temple/fighting camp, whatever the hell it is, to be trained by the master. Literally within 5 minutes of him knocking on the door we are thrust into kickboxing (Mortal Kombat looking) mayhem as he must take on a string of other trainees to prove himself. This doesn't take too long before he's beaten...but he can stay anyway because plot reasons. Later that night he tries to murder Tong Po in his sleep with a gun, but he fails and gets arrested (but not beaten to death??). But wait a minute, wait just a cotton picking minute. In the original franchise, Tong Po kills the Sloane brothers in 'kickboxer 2' in revenge for beating him in the ring in 'Kickboxer'. Now you expect this kind of act from the villain in a movie, but here we are seeing the hero attempting to do the same thing. Sure Tong Po killed Kurt's brother in the ring, but in this new movie it doesn't happen in a nasty way, its seen as the risk of illegal fighting, you know the risks. So essentially Tong Po could be seen as not doing anything wrong because its dog eat dog in the illegal fighting, world so to speak. Yet here we are seeing the hero trying to kill the victor in a cowardly act, so how are we supposed to root for this guy?

In case you're wondering if this movie dispenses with the plot set up surrounding the death of Kurt's brother and how he got to Thailand because it starts off differently, well fear not because we get a lengthy flashback to cover all that (ugh!). I actually thought the movie was gonna try and be a little bit original at first but no, its all redone but in flashback. Of course as I mentioned before the plot does differ slightly, when Kurt gets arrested for trying to kill Tong Po he meets up with an attractive police woman whom he starts a relationship with. Initially this goes nowhere really but she does help Kurt avoid being deported and covers for him on occasion. Essentially she's only there for a bit of an emotional pull and sex for one scene. 

Anyway we're only here for fights, we know the basic plot outline, so what's the deal? Well there's an initial fight amongst some elephants, actually using the elephants as platforms to fight off...and it looks shit. This is because they clearly use fake elephants, greenscreen and CGI...oh sweet Jesus! Then Kurt meets up with the trainer who trained his now dead brother, master Durand (JCVD). Naturally this being a quirky reboot and JCVD wanting to be hip and cool, the character wears shades all the time and a little stupid porkpie-esque hat. Initially Durand refuses to train Kurt, but then they fight each other, Durand whips his ass, and for some reason decides to train him after all, because plot reasons.

What follows is virtually all the same shit we saw in the original movie. All the same training methods but slightly different, all the same types of spiritual images and shots set against traditional Thai backdrops, and even another bar fight set up by Durand when he thinks Kurt is ready. Difference here is he loses, so its back to yet more training montages using some of the same footage (ugh!). At the same time as all this, we do get some scenes with the police who are up to something, not too sure what because they speak in Thai with no subs sooo. None of it is hardly important anyway because we all know the outcome of this story. Again another slight change in plan is a bit more focus on Tong Po as he worships in his temple. Strangely he doesn't really come off as a bad guy in this, he's just a bloody good fighter that is too aggressive or too strong even. End of the day all he's doing is just fighting to win and he didn't appear to do anything illegal in the fight against Kurt's brother, except kill him, but did he even intend to do that? In no way is he an all out villain like in the original movie.

Oh and the film also has Gina Carano as a crooked fight organiser that assists Tong Po. If you're wondering why I haven't mentioned her much its because she does literally nothing and is of no use in this movie. She offers Kurt the match against Po originally...aaand disappears for virtually the rest of the flick. She's basically been cast just to add another big name to the movies poster and advertising. 

But yeah, pushing all this meaningless crap aside, we all know what's coming, the big kickass fight finale between Po and Kurt. Does this fight match up to the original? Can it save this film? Nope! No it can't. Why you ask? Well because its the exact same spiel we've all seen before and done much better in the original movie. Yeah Batista looks huge and has lots of tattoos, there's way more blood, more gut-wrenching sound effects and the fight goes on for way way longer, but its old hat. Once again it all feels like something outta Mortal Kombat as after each stage of fighting they are given deadly assistance. First it broken glass stuck to their knuckles ala the original movie once again, and then its swords because that's a fair fight isn't it. Kurt is trained in kickboxing, since when is he trained in sword fighting? Ditto for Po. Kurt basically gets his ass handed to him for the entire fight, right up until the last bout where he suddenly feels the eye of the tiger or whatever, whilst the crowd starts to chant 'Nuk su kow!'. He then proceeds to kick Po's ass so much he dies from it...hurrah!

I don't get it, I just don't get it at all, what is the point of this movie? Why does this movie even exist? The original is a decent adult brawler with a South East Asian backdrop and plenty of spiritual mysticism and spice, much like JCVD's other top early flick 'Bloodsport'. There was absolutely no reason to remake this movie because it was always gonna be trash. Yeah they can add big names, have even flashier martial arts and glossy set pieces (well you'd think), but at the end of the day all that shit just doesn't work anymore because this genre has past. Movies like this were shit hot back in the day when I was a kid, I saw the original flick at a young age because they were seen as action epics of the time (as was JCVD), but those days are long gone. Jesus they even tried to remake 'Bloodsport' back in 1996 with JCVD ('The Quest') and that failed miserably even then! Bottom line, there is absolutely no reason to watch this at all when you can watch the far superior original.


Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016)

So despite the first new movie reboot in this franchise being somewhat garbage, it made a lot of cash, and that means we get a sequel whether we like it or not. Personally I thought the last movie was pretty poor with forced humour and too much reliance on the ugly CGI monster, but twas to be expected. So onwards with the rebooted franchise we go, first question for me, what's the continuity like? Well, it feels like they've rebooted the franchise on the quiet (again!) for this sequel truth be told. We have a new actor playing Shredder (who is also no longer a gigantic Silver Samurai rip-off), a new female actress playing Karai, a new actor playing Baxter Stockman, and a new voice actor for Leonardo. Maybe I'm over reacting a bit but when you change most of the leads for a sequel it doesn't bode well as an early impression (plus I am a real stickler for continuity).

So this time around Baxter Stockman is now working for Shredhead who is in police custody. Whilst breaking Shredder out of custody using a teleportation device devised by Stockman, Shredder is hijacked in mid-teleportation by the evil Krang in another dimension. There Krang informs Shredder that he is after three pieces of equipment that he originally sent to Earth to open a portal to his own dimension. Apparently the three pieces were originally one piece but broke apart upon entering Earth's atmosphere, or whatever. Krang promises Shredder a place at his side ruling the Earth in exchange for his assistance. Krang also gives Shredder some mutagen in order to help him combat the Turtles, this is how we arrive with mutant versions of Bebop and Rocksteady (both of whom broke out of custody with Shredder).

Right, no more than around ten minutes into the movie and already we are confronted with a gratuitous sequence of Megan Fox stripping down from her undercover reporter clothes, into a slutty, porn-esque, schoolgirl fetish outfit complete with the obligatory midriff shot. Sooo once again you have to ask yourself, who exactly is this film gonna be aimed at? No I'm not complaining about this gratuitous sequence, no, no, no, no...don't be silly (it got my full attention as it did in the original film), but its still amazing how they (Bay) continually manage to put these types of images into, essentially, kids movies. From there we swiftly move onto the next gratuitous scene, only this time its toy merchandise porn. Now before I carry on with my digs, yes it was totally expected that this movie would indeed follow the original 90's cartoon in terms of visuals, we got that from the first movie. And of course I realise that this movie is all about selling crapola to kids in terms of merchandising every bloody thing going, mainly toys. All that being said, I give you the turtle van, now a dump truck, which we saw way back in the 90's cartoon. So I'm not essentially complaining about the use of the turtle van/truck, but what they've done with it here is pretty nasty. I mean, huge remote controlled arms with nunchakus that spring from the side? I think the original toy fired manhole covers but unsure if the cartoon version did. Still the interior was pretty sweet I'll give it that.

Now of course this being a virtual cartoon movie which we have all basically had to accept (at least the grown-ups who wanted a dark Turtles take like the original comic have), I still have to question some of the motives, emotions and reactions here. My main example being the moment Shredder gets zapped into another dimension and meets Krang. Now we all know Shredder is a badass, sure, but surely even he would slightly flip out at the sight of an alien from another dimension that looked like a moist, human brain/squid hybrid with razor sharp teeth. Surely the fact he's just been teleported into a completely new realm of existence with new lifeforms and technology etc...would kinda make anyone's mouth drop and eyes bulge. Nope! he takes it all in stride, not so much as blinking at the fact he's face to face with an alien from another dimension, no questions at all, he just accepts the deal and bosh he's done. Neither do we get any sort of story for Krang, no hows, whys or what the fucks. Krang just turns up, he's there, don't question it, just deal with it.

Oh! and before I forget, Casey Jones is in this movie. Yep that's right, its all fan service by the bucketload this time around people, Bebop, Rocksteady, Krang and Casey Jones. Problem is, they all fit into this movie accept for Jones who could quite easily be taken out and you'd never know the difference. Sure this guy looks like Jones, minus the hair, and he does Jones-esque stuff, but there's no point to him being here. All he does (or, all he's there for) is hit on April O'Neil (no shit) and fight Bebop and Rocksteady very briefly. When I say fight I mean runaway from and act like a diversion. Yeah sure he's got the badass mask n all but...I dunno...whatever.

In general the main problem with this movie is not so much the fact you've gotta use suspension of disbelief because that's a given. Its the fact that stuff just happens, moves on, and you gotta just accept it as explained with Shredder meeting Krang. Yes this is a daft cartoonish movie based on an outlandish comicbook creation, but when the turtles are travelling to South America how exactly did they manage to get into an airliners cargo hold? What's more, when they jump out of it they leave the cargo hold bay open! Now wouldn't that cause some major issue for that airliner? When landing on the second airliner wouldn't the impact, damage and extra weight cause issues? Speaking of the very brief trip to South America to find one piece of the jigsaw, I trust the turtles all had vaccinations before going? Why on earth would Bebop and Rocksteady need a tank for this? Since when did the Foot clan have their own airliner and tank anyways?? Also, are we really to believe that not one person had discovered that huge piece of alien metal that had impacted in the jungle? Sure its the jungle but its big! No detection as it entered Earth's atmosphere? no follow up? Lastly, how did Bebop and Rocksteady manage to get back to the US? Again, how did the turtles manage to get into another airliners cargo hold back to the US?? I'm not even gonna mention how stupid the entire airborne plane and river sequences were. Law of physics, gravity and everything...out the window, jettisoned, gone.

I could go on really, is it amusing to do so. One last example, as the turtles are gearing up to fight the mysterious alien that is coming through a portal over New York. Donatello uses his nerdy computer gadgets to try and analyse the threat. Amazingly and quite conveniently his little computer gadget is able to inform him exactly what's happening, what is coming through the portal, and that the alien overseeing all this is called Krang!! Why and how the flying flip would Donatello's homemade gadgetry be able to tell him all this??!! I'm guessing his computer is advanced and can dish out some brilliant info whilst being able to work things out, but how would it know about alien lifeforms and technology from another bloody dimension! Even as so far as to pinpoint the lifeforms name! Sheesh!! This to me was pure cartoon writing, literally lifted straight out of a 80/90's cartoon where you typically wouldn't bat an eyelid, but in a big time movie like this? Come on guys, try a bit will ya.

So what's the score at the end of the day? Well unsurprisingly the movie doesn't stray too far from what was set up originally. That being said the visuals are still nice to look at (as they were in the first movie at times) with some impressive moments such as seeing wet turtles, the Technodrome sequence looked good, Bebop and Rocksteady were surprisingly faithful to their cartoon counterparts, and Krang was also quite surprisingly faithful and decent looking. I'll even go as far as to say that I actually liked the look of Krang and his robotic body, I liked the way he spoke and I liked what we saw of the Technodrome, all promising. Everything else is pretty much the usual, typical, overly glossy, overly shiny, greenscreened, CGI fare which I'm sure you've all come to expect these days. Nothing special, nothing to write home about, it all does the job much like the rather mundane cast which could so easily of been better. Basically I can't help but feel there's actually an even better movie just beneath the surface with this, just a little more effort and some better casting and this could of been a smash hit. With that, its fine, yes its better than the first movie which was awful, the villains do up the ante successfully and overall it does just about work. I'd say its just about on par with the 1991 sequel, an acceptable popcorn level, just ride with it.


Friday, 2 September 2016

2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)

Could Peter Hyams have chosen a bigger task?! Setting himself the challenge of making a sequel to, probably, one of the greatest science fiction movies ever made, which also had one of the greatest directors, brave man. The original movie '2001: A Space Odyssey' was developed at the same time as Clarke was writing his novel (which was based upon one of his own short stories, 'The Sentinel'). Both he and Kubrick collaborated with each other over both of their works, ultimately each project did end up differing slightly. This was mainly down to practical reasons with the movie, actually being able to film things, cost etc...Obviously in the novel Clarke was able to flesh out more content properly where as the movie merely hinted at things, or was more symbolic. With '2001' established as a movie of grandiose proportions, Clarke began working on the sequel to his novel but making it a direct sequel to Kubrick's movie instead of his own novel, which was slightly different. Kubrick passed on the project, which was a mistake I think, instead giving Hyams the opportunity to take the helm, a grand undertaking if ever there was one.

So despite the first movies extremely deep, thoughtful and thoroughly scientific plot, this sequel is actually a lot more straight forward. Put simply, the mission to Jupiter by Discovery One in the original was a complete failure resulting in the apparent deaths of all astronauts under unknown circumstances, plus the large mysterious monolith is still drifting in orbit around Jupiter. Floyd Heywood (Roy Scheider) being the head of the National Council for Astronautics at the time, was blamed for this disaster. A new mission is put together to go to Discovery One and find out what exactly happened. The team consisting of Heywood, HAL's creator Dr R. Chandra (Bob Balaban), Discovery One designer Walter Curnow (John Lithgow), and s selection of Russian astronauts. The US and Russia both cooperating together (despite political unrest) because the new ship Discovery Two is taking too long to complete and Discovery One is set to crash into Jupiter very soon. Upon arrival the team must work out what happened to David Bowman, what happened to HAL, what the monolith is all about, and how Jupiter's moon of Europa figures into all this.

Indeed whilst watching the first half of the film you can easily see similarities to other famous 'grunts in space' type setups such as 'Alien'. Well I say grunts but in this movie the team on-board the ship are actually highly qualified astronauts and scientists, but the way they all interact with other whilst sitting around communal mess rooms or ship consoles does give off that same vibe. At the end of the day these guys (and girls) are on a job, a rescue mission of sorts, but also and probably more so, another scientific investigation (dare I say mystery). These people are the best of the best for America and the Soviet Union, but the general vibe from some of the crew does tend to feel a bit like 'just another paycheck'. I did get this feeling from some of the characters for sure, more so Roy Scheider's character of Heywood Floyd who is the more laid-back, rebellious of the crew, the typical Yank. Others crew members such as Curnow and Dr. R. Chandra have more intense and personal attachments to the mission. Chandra  because he essentially created the super computer HAL, and Discovery One being Curnow's baby.

But as anyone knows a follow up to the original Kubrick classic would have to be about one thing...other than the ultra realistic visualisation of space travel and human advancement. That one thing of course being the special effects, yes I know it sounds shallow but its true. You see, with the benchmark being set so unbelievably high with the original movie this sequel was up against the wall and had to perform just as well, if not better. So did it? well no, unfortunately it didn't. Despite this film performing well in almost every aspect the effects left a lot to be desired quite frankly. The thing is I'm not really sure how this is possible considering this movie was made 16 years later. Although the effects were handled by Douglas Trumbull's company EEG, the man himself was not involved with the film which is a good reason why they simply aren't that good. But wait! the effects were actually supervised by the equally legendary Richard Edlund, so what gives? Well apparently all the original models from '2001'were destroyed back in the day so everything had to created from scratch. Thusly models for Discovery One weren't quite as good as the original, but due to the fact the films lighting is so poor you can't really tell. The ship is often merely in shadow so you only see the basic shape and not much real detail. The other main ship piloted by the Americans and Russians, the Leonov was designed by popular futurist Syd Mead so you know its probably gonna be very sensible and grounded. And that it was, but boy did it look stupid and ugly! The thing just looked like an angled block of Lego in space with a huge rotating mid-section which apparently provided artificial gravity. Now whether this design is scientifically accurate in any way I don't know (I'm sure it possibly is), but man...was this thing shitty looking.

Overall the models were generally fine but the quality was that of a TV show. Had this been a TV series then sure, they'd be great, but in no way do they look anywhere near the standard for such a movie as this. The other issue here was the God awful use of bluescreen and how obvious it was. Its not all bad but there are many shots with a ship composited over other images of Jupiter or the other ship and it just looks bad, really obvious with stark black lines around everything. Sequences where the crew spacewalk are also pretty nasty looking with obvious bluescreen symptoms present. There also appears to be the odd colour discrepancy between various models and space, or other models, which does look pretty terrible these days  All this combined with the use of early CGI and alas the visuals do look very 'made for TV-esque' in my humble little opinion. Back in the day naturally they would have been looked upon way more favourably of course. I remember as a kid watching the swirling, cloudy planet of Jupiter and the monolith black hole, in complete awe. The effects had a more glossy animated feel to them over the more rigid and static effects in the original film which felt more like an educational film at times. But these days unfortunately these effects do look pretty ropy and in no way compare to Kubrick's masterpiece despite using technology that would have been far more advanced for this sequel. 

Luckily the interior sets did not suffer quite the same fate, again they simply aren't up to the original films standard admittedly, but you could say that's down to utilising different types of craft in this sequel. The Leonov being a Russian craft could explain why it might not be quite as slick as Discovery One, less emphasis on comfort and more on practicality. A ship for getting things done with little fuss, a workers ship for tough Soviets. Some of what we saw in '2001' was more like visualising business class travel for executives, regular living quarters in orbit for businessmen, almost like an advertisement by a space based property company.  In contrast once again you can see the strong influence of a certain Ridley Scott movie from 1979 with the long dark, intimidating, narrow corridors. The extreme levels of technical detail on the interior sets from top to bottom such as various panels, pipes, monitor screens both overhead and at eye level, signs, glowing warning lights, cables running the length and breadth of all the sections etc...

The main hub does indeed look almost like a section taken straight from the Nostromo complete with circular table arrangement, familiar looking white padded panelling and with overhead monitor bank (that white/beige padded panelling does seem to be a very popular choice in these old sci-fi flicks, probably because it looks so authentic). I don't blame Hyams though, I mean lets be honest here, that Ridley Scott film changed science fiction forever, how could he not ride those coattails? There was always gonna be similarities sure, but at the same time it still comes across as a modern day (for the time) interplanetary ship complete with fictional futuristic upgrades. What is disappointing and clearly missing are sequences that could match the fantastic moments in '2001' which showcased the actors defying gravity. There are so many moments in the original film that stand out but watching people walk up the walls and upside down was easily some of the most amazing to be seen. Again alas this sequel has nothing that can equal or even come close to such mind blowing visuals tricks, either interior or exterior. Although, despite all that it was nice (and very cool) to see the old sets from the original film recreated for some shots on-board Discovery one, looking pretty faithful too I might add.

In general there are many elements that just don't come close to Kubrick's earlier work. The start of the movie tries its best to match the grandiose opening title sequence of the original but kinda fails miserably to be honest. We get a brief flashback of the plot (key points) for '2001' with subtitles to get everyone up to speed, which does indeed feel like its pandering to people who didn't watch or understand the original. This entire sequence does actually feel a lot like the opening to 'Alien 3' complete with eerie orchestral score and choir. The film then dives into the exact same opening as '2001' with the now famous usage of Strauss's Sunrise (or 'Introduction') to the breaking dawn at the Very Large Array observatory in New Mexico. Now although these rows of huge white antennae are impressive to see, this opening shot still doesn't really capture the utter magnitude of the original opening, but lets be honest, what could?

Once we get past some basic plot setups for Heywood the movie literally jumps straight into space, approaching Jupiter, boom! we're there! I think it would of been cool to see some technical space/sci-fi jiggery-pokery watching this ship take-off from Earth, break into orbit, see the crew settle in, begin its long journey etc...Could so easily have been some nice slow, self-indulgent, Kubrick-esque space porn there. Also the sub plot back on Earth about tensions rising between the US and the Soviets and how it affects the mission. In other words back on Earth the Ruskies are getting a bit stand-offish with the Yanks, so they order their astronauts not to play with the Americans on the ship. Now although Heywood does address this, pointing out how stupid it is because what's going on back on Earth means nothing to them out by Jupiter. But the fact its even in the plot does make you kinda scoff at it, like why the hell would the Russians be so idiotic in such a serious situation when clearly the people back on Earth simply don't matter (at that point).

Then of course you've got the whole alien angle with Bowman. Just what the hell is this guy supposed to be now?? He's presumably an alien now, but did he die? did he evolve? did he get reborn as an alien? Who are these intergalactic super beings? how are they able to control and create life with these weird black monoliths? What are the monoliths? what are they made of? how are they made? do they have some kind of super power? The fact that these aliens are suppose to be non-corporeal, energy-based life forms (or glowing balls of light for short), does make you wonder if they are suppose to be some kind of God's, maybe an original life form from the beginning of time itself. Nevertheless the whole thing with Bowman coming back to see his mother before she dies, appearing before Heywood in various forms, and speaking to HAL in a beyond the grave type way, does all seem very silly. Sure this is a sci-fi fantasy, but the whole Bowman being reborn angle always did go against the highly realistic grain for me. 

Still it was nice to see the equally mysterious Keir Dullea back as Bowman and keeping the continuity up, ditto for Douglas Rain as the voice of HAL. The rest of the cast are all stellar in their performances it must be said. That classic type of early 80's lineup that (to me) just feels like a Spielberg production, it just has that vibe, maybe its just me, or maybe its because of Balaban. Scheider definitely has the look for this movie but his style doesn't quite fit the bill for me, I can't help but picture him in gritty cop flicks or action flicks. Lithgow is solid as usual but like Scheider does seem a little out of place in this type of serious space based picture. For me it was all about Balaban, this dude just has that odd look which intrigues you, is he good? is he bad? is hiding something? You half expect him to be the Ash of the crew and go nuts at any moment. Indeed it was Balaban that gave the most heart wrenching moment for me. As Jupiter is about to literally implode from being eaten from the inside out by the multiplying monoliths, the crew race away on-board the Leonov leaving HAL and Discovery One to be destroyed. Chandra speaks with HAL, consoling him right up to the very end before the computer is obliterated by the imploding Jupiter. Not only does Chandra shed a tear for HAL, I couldn't help but do so too. Who'd of thought the 'death' of a computer could tug on the heartstrings so heavily.

So yes, everyone knows this film is nowhere near the levels of greatness that Kurbick and co achieved back in 1968. Where as the original film felt more like an educational film or maybe something you might see on Channel 4 or at Epcot Centre, this film felt more like a movie movie, if you get me. Not dumbed-down by any means, just more acceptable/tolerable/approachable for a general audience. Even though this film is a very, very competent science fiction mystery, adventure, literally every aspect of it fails to compare to the original 68 movie. The visuals are way behind, the music is stirring but lacklustre in comparison, the cast is big but somehow that doesn't really matter and the overall sheen just can't compare. But as I said, this is still is highly engaging and exciting movie that far outstrips most science fiction offerings. The main reason for this is the plot pure and simple. The plot helps tie up loose ends from the admittedly confusing original, it explains some things, it straightens out some things, but overall its just a damn good sci-fi mystery that just draws you in. It may look a bit like a TV movie in places but you want to know how it ends, I really wanted the crew to survive, I was heart broken when HAL 'dies', I was (still am) intrigued by the ghostly monoliths and what they do to Jupiter, their ethereal creators etc...As for the ending...well, I wanna see more! where's the film adaptation for 2061