Saturday, 29 October 2016

From Hell It Came (1957)

Horror (and sci-fi) movies back in the good old 50's were silly, real silly at times, literally anything you can think of was most probably at some point used in a horror/sci-fi movie. Almost every type of bug you can think of, crabs, bats, octopuses, blobs, giant people, tiny people, bipedal lizards, X-ray vision, rocks, dinosaurs, ape men with space helmets on etc...The list just goes on, but here we have something a bit different, original for sure. What else could you possibly make a horror movie about when even killer rocks have been done? How about a killer walking tree? sound stupid? Not on your nelly sir, lets review this fucker!

So there's this killer tree, it hobbles around and kills people, somehow, and that's your story folks. Oh you want more?? well there isn't really much more to tell, OK lets look a bit deeper. On an unknown south seas pacific island a Prince is put to death by having a knife driven into his heart for supposedly killing his father. The thing is he didn't murder anyone, the real murderer was the local witch doctor who didn't like the good relations the Prince was having with American scientists on the island. This was his dastardly scheme to get rid of the Prince and hopefully the Yanks too. The Prince is buried in a hollow tree and that's that, well it was until his body gets reanimated by nuclear radiation (always with the nuclear radiation). The Prince (or his body at least) comes back from the dead as the Tabanga, a well known myth in the local folklore that is said to allow someone revenge if they are wrongfully killed.

Right there you already have a plot hole. In the local folklore it is said that the Tabanga only comes back when a person is wrongfully killed, so surely all the locals in the tribe would know straight away (going by their own folklore) that someone has been wrongfully killed, and all evidence probably points to the recent killing of their Prince. Also, if the local folk know about and believe in this myth, why provoke it by doing exactly what you're not supposed to do?! Then of course you have the old plot problem with many of these old black and white horror pictures, why is the monster killing everyone?? If the Tabanga is the Prince and he's come back to enact revenge on the ones who killed him, why he is killing anyone and everyone?? As for the radiation, not really sure about that, they seem to discover the ground is full of it where the Prince was buried. I'm guessing fallout from nuclear testing going by the location. Again I'm not really sure but I think the Princes rotting corpse has slowly transformed into this gnarly, rotten wooden log and starts to grow from the grave in order to free itself. Not sure why it needed to grow though, couldn't it just dig itself up? The large stump also has an actual beating heart and the same knife used to kill the Prince still lodged in it.

Anyway the Yanks dig up the Tabanga after wisely coming to conclusion that something is just not right with this. Yep this definitely isn't a new species of tree (you idiots), clearly the local folklore has been proven right in this case. Large tree stump with a heartbeat, green ooze, clearly visible beating organ and the same dagger that was used to kill the Prince lodged in the heart. Yep that's definitely a supernatural event in progress right there people, time to pack. Just one thing that still bugs me, did the Tabanga come back from the dead because of supernatural powers or because of the radiation? I suppose it was supernatural powers because back in the lab the Yanks discover the radiation is killing it, that's why the lead female scientist decides to inject a new anti-radiation formula into the stump to help it. Yep they're trying to save a living tree by injecting it?? How do you do that exactly?

In all honesty, all sideswipes aside at the immensely ludicrous plot this movie isn't too bad. Lets be frank, if you enjoy corny black and white horror flicks then this will really rock your world. Watching this obvious man in a rubber suit waddle around the location awkwardly, is a pure joy to behold. You can almost see the blokes trousers in some scenes because the suit had split in the legs. This monster suit is beautiful in a terribly shitty way, it doesn't move at all, the arms only go up and down (just about), and the facial expression is fixed, although it is a tree so...The lack of movement could be seen as realistic (ahem!) but its hilarious when its trying to actually kill somebody. Most of the time it just leers and leans over the victim, they scream and die for no real apparent reason. Basically you could say this is the perfect representation of a walking, stiff lump of wood. But we all know its simply because the suit was limited and there wasn't the money to make anything better. Overall the suit is effective and it does actually look a bit eerie in some scenes, mainly when its by its grave, like some large spooky overgrown headstone.

The casting is unknown to me but as with many of these movies its all highly predictable. The leads are all middle aged men and they are accompanied by one female for a bit of sex appeal. Totally sexist of course but you come to expect this in these old flicks. The same can be said for the blatant racism and stereotyping of the locals, all of whom seem to be played by white people (the main characters at least), oh the horror! You'd never get away with this these days of course but I can't deny it does make the film so much more amusing. LOVE the actors trying their best to speak in native tongue which basically sounds exactly like a 1950's impression of a native American in a western. I also just adored all the lame cliched trinkets they've stuck on the natives costumes. One guy (and many of the male natives) has a headpiece made of clearly plastic large teeth, by the looks of it. Like what the hell?! Where did he get those from a saber-toothed tiger?? The chief has little seashells dangling from his headpiece because of course you would have that living on an island in the pacific. They all look like prehistoric tribes people, oh and all the women are hot in mini skirts.

Its a shame that with something so unique and quirky as a killer walking log, you don't really see much killing or action. There is an amazing amount of boring dialog and exposition is this movie, watching American scientists discuss what to do, how to go about it, methods, their experiences, their loves, their lives in general...ugh! It can be quite painful and dull for most of the run time. When the monster pops up things inevitably get much more interesting but for obvious reasons these scenes don't last too long. The finale is anti-climatic and makes no sense (wood floats right? right??!!), the music seems to be merely stock, the acting is pretty dire or bog standard and the fact that the monster moves slow, SLOW slowly begs the question, why can't anyone simply run away from it? Its literally never gonna catch you. Yet despite all the crud there is something about this movies monster that does appeal, it actually looks like a live action version of Treebeard from Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated flick 'The Lord of the Rings'.


Tuesday, 25 October 2016

The Man from Planet X (1951)

A slight change for this all American, 50's B-movie sci-fi. That slight change being the movies story is not set in some sleepy, small, all American town in the desert. No this film is actually set in the dark, dreary, foggy, misty, bleak wilds of Scotland...or so the film makes out. OK so the black and white picture doesn't give the movie much in the way of bright sunshine and rolling green hills, and obviously the movie is supposed to be scary and moody, but geez...stereotyping of a country much? (nah they're spot on).

The plot isn't much to go by really, a simple silly tale. A distant planet (planet X!!) is looming close to the Earth and will pass closely by on its current trajectory. Naturally this will cause immense chaos and devastation, if not complete annihilation of the human race! But no time for any of that, there are bloody aliens landing in Scotland for flips sake. So this one spaceship lands in the Scottish moors (island of Bury??) somewhere and is found by some locals and of course an all American reporter (Robert Clarke) whose over visiting Scotland because planet X will pass closest to the Earth in this vicinity. Eventually after much back n forth from the various characters the main alien is encountered but thought to be friendly. Trying to communicate turns out to be tough going, but nevertheless the obvious baddie character of Dr Mears (William Schallert) is left to try. Naturally he attempts to gain information about the aliens spacecraft and the material its constructed from for his own dastardly deeds, in the process he almost kills the alien. The alien then buggers off (presumably slightly offended), but at the same time local folk start to vanish. Its left to the handsome American and some quirky fat Scot to work out what's happening (which I'll spoil for you down below).

So yeah, the basic plot for this is horrendously simple and weak, and as with many of these glorious old movies, its doesn't really make any sense. K...firstly, the alien in question is actually a scout party that is laying the ground work for an invasion it seems. The big big question is (from me at least), was this the plan all along or did the alien just become really pissed off with Mears trying to suffocate him? You see at first the alien is friendly and keen to try and communicate, of course this could be a ploy. But then we have this scene where Mears tries to kill the alien because he wants to know about the material  the spaceship is built out of. After that scene the alien does a runner and all of sudden he's kidnapping locals, zombifying them and using them to build a base at his spaceships landing site. So had Mears not done this, would the alien not have tried to set up the invasion?

Next up is the obvious one. The alien lifeform is unable to breathe on Earth without its equipment, so why would they choose Earth to invade (if that was the original plan...all Dr. Mears fault speculation). I mean sure their choice might not be much planet wise, and the fact their home planet is inexplicably travelling towards Earth is remarkably convenient, but breathing problems?? Surely not being able to breathe without constant backup from your gear would be a long term problem. We also do not find out why the aliens planet is dying either, it just is.

Most of the movie is made up of lots of character building that really feels useless in the grand scheme of things. The American reporter of John Lawrence (Clarke) is your standard good looking bloke with a pencil thin tash. The main female protagonist of Enid Elliot (Margaret Field) is your standard damsel in distress, and the old scientist character of Professor Elliot is your stereotypical pipe smoking, Basil Rathbone-esque fellow. Completely expected of course but at least this time there is also the jolly Scot sidekick character to help Lawrence later on, along with some cornball extras playing local fishermen. All with dreadful American/Scottish accents I might add. But the main problem with this little movie is the fact there is a whole heap of exposition, boring pointless exposition. There are endless slow scenes of characters nattering to each other and simply moving from one scene to another to further the basic plot. Sounds important but it really isn't, it just feels like padding because there simply isn't enough with the alien which would make it more exciting.

For instance the villain character of Mears isn't really given any backstory at all! This despite loads of dialog about the characters and their situation which felt odd. We are constantly reminded that Mears is a brilliant but flawed man who never got any proper comeuppance for whatever it was he did, we don't find out. Then you have the very predictable and totally cliched fact that both Lawrence and Enid have a past that goes back years to the war. Lawrence was a pilot (of course) and Enid provided weather conditions for their bombing raids sooo...naturally when they meet up again they'll fall in love! The start of the movie involves a load of chit-chat between Lawrence and some other old scientist about the pending planet X coming into range of the Earth. All this does is set up Lawrence coming to Scotland. There is also a good tonne of frantic dialog between Lawrence and the jolly Scot when everything goes tits up towards the end, frantic but boring, made humorous down to bad accents.

The general look of the movie is actually quite good and atmospheric I'll give it that. Much of the Scottish scenery is conveyed through models and using lots of smoke to mask the fact, something that is obvious but looks great in a charming way. Everything else is contained within sets as I don't believe there are any location shots at all except for the obligatory bit of stock footage. Overall it does look effective which is helped (as always) by the black and white film which always hides faults well whilst adding to the creepy vibe. Its also amusing to note that virtually the entire story seems to occur at night from what I can recall. As for the alien costume, well its quite good to be truthful, nothing outrageously daft but quite simple and effective with a haunting face for the alien. Sure the face is devoid of any actual movement and doesn't make any actual sound but its Halloween-esque, mask-like face works well. This seems to sum up the movie altogether really, it looks good and it is atmospheric, considering the lack of budget, but beneath that its a bit of a muddle really. Heck even the movie can't really decide what happened in the end going by Enid's last bit of dialog, oh well.


Friday, 21 October 2016

Blackbeard's Ghost (1968)

So back in the day, the good old days, when I was but a mere nipper, this was one of those movies that would pop up on telly during a lazy Bank Holiday afternoon or maybe over Christmas. It was one of those old flicks that despite loving it, I don't think I ever actually saw it all the way through for quite some time, for various childhood related reasons. It was only when I was a tad older that I actually managed to sit down and watch it from beginning to end and realised I still loved it. The other amazing thing about this movie is how underrated it is, how little is known about it and how completely forgotten it is. You literally never hear anyone mention this movie like...ever! This is also even more surprising considering the cast involved and the fact that Walt Disney legend Robert Stevenson directed this!

So the gist of the movie is thus. New coach Steve Walker (Dean Jones) arrives at the sleepy old coastal town of Godolphin, Maryland, to take charge of the colleges track team (I presume the town is called Godolphin as that's what the college is called). The last coach ran off under odd circumstances so the locals hope the new guy will settle in OK. Walker stays at the local hotel (or inn) called Blackbeard's Inn which just so happens to be made up of old bits of ships that got shipwrecked in the local bay. Not sure how old these ships are meant to be exactly but judging by the exterior visage they appear to be old galleons! One must ask oneself about health and safety if that is the case. Anyway this old Inn is naturally haunted by the ghost of Scrooge...I mean Blackbeard, you know cos the title of the movie. 

Walker accidentally summons said ghost after he accidentally discovers an old page of magic spells from within an antique bed warmer (long story cut short). Said bed warmer was the property of Blackbeard's wife (Aldetha) whom he had burnt at the stake for being a witch (twas common practice back then). Thusly his wife had put a curse on old Blackbeard to remain in limbo after death until he perfects a good deed. So Walker finds himself tied at the hip to old Blackbeard because of the curse, this being even more troublesome for Walker as old Blackbeard is a stinky drunk. They must now help each other so they can be rid of each other. This results in Blackbeard turning his attention to Walker's track team and eventually (in a sort of subplot) trying to save the old inn from a slimy, casino owning, two-bit hood and his thugs. Silky wants to tear down the old inn and build a new casino in its place. The inn's elderly owners have a time limit to pay off the remaining mortgage.

Now first off I will mention that this movie is actually based on a novel of the same name by Ben Stahl, never knew that myself. Anyway lets start with a brief look at the cast for this movie. First off we have the Walt Disney stalwart Dean Jones who began his Disney run of fortune in the 1965 picture 'That Darn Cat!'. Jones was apparently so well received in this film that Walt Disney signed him on for a whole string of his movies. The fourth movie in that run was this supernatural kids comedy. Jones plays this kind, gentle but firm track coach who simply won't stand for any nonsense. He's high on morals, firm on principles and a stickler for discipline. Now to be truthful I never actually liked Jones in this movie, not because he's wrong for the part or anything, but because his character is such an arse. This Walker is guy is fine at first but as soon as he unleashed Blackbeard he turns into this grumpy, rude, gruff, almost petulant adult that's virtually impossible to get behind. OK sure he's supposed to be having a rough time and Blackbeard is annoying and drunk for the most part, but surely anyone could see the benefits of having a ghost covering your back. Then there's the fun aspect of being friends with a ghost and the things you could learn, its literally a win win situation.

But no, all Walker can think about are his morals and principles whilst constantly yelling at poor old Blackbeard. There were honestly times when I just wanted to slap Walker across the face and tell him lighten the fuck up, you have a spiritual pirate at your side for Christ's sake! that's awesome! Even when Blackbeard shows how useful he can be Walker still won't have any of it, he still shuns the ghost and refuses to let him help. I mean OK, Blackbeard does get him arrested for drunk driving which nearly costs Walker his job, he steals vital mortgage payment money for the inn to bet on the Godolphin track team, and nearly loses Walker his bird. But each time everything works out alright proving the massive advantage of having Blackbeard around...if admittedly risky at the same time. Thing is it takes almost the entire movie for Walker to get on board with Blackbeard which kinda stifles the fun at some points. In short Walker is a real curmudgeon.

On the flip side old Blackbeard is a wonderful character and that is fantastically portrayed by the epic Peter Ustinov. If there was ever one man who could make you wanna be a pirate and sail the seven seas, be it as a child or as an adult, it was Ustinov as Blackbeard. Yes you can keep your Jack Sparrow's and such, Ustinov's Blackbeard was brilliant and an absolute hoot for all ages. Ustinov plays Blackbeard (presumably going by the book) as a jolly, quite open minded, persistent, opportunistic pirate that likes a good drink...of anything. What I loved about his performance was the way he could change from being quite serious and rugged to chirpy and cheerful in the blink of an eye, whilst all the while being completely agreeable for the kids. Its also a joy to watch all the little quirks and jabs that Ustinov injects into the character. There are moments when he's actually genuinely funny as he mocks Walker or another characters. His physical comedy is spot on which is accentuated by his rather tubby appearance. The way he prances around in his pirate costume is just an amusing sight, his facial expressions, the pitch of his voice, hell even his facial hair is kinda funny to look at. Although upon reflection, old Blackbeard doesn't really come across as amazed by the present day and all its technological wonders. Has he been summoned from the grave previously?

'what manner of craft be this we're cruisin' in?'

Of course I fully understand why the character of Walker is supposed to be the way he is, its so he can work off the character of Blackbeard. They are both essentially incompatible but Blackbeard is Walkers foil. Nevertheless I still find it hard to like Walker because he is so damn moody all the time, add to that the rather annoying portrayal of Walkers love interest played by Suzanne Pleshette. Sure she looks cute but my God her voice! Luckily the bad guys in this quirky little flick are great stuff, top banana. The shady casino owner, perfectly named Silky Seymour (Joby Baker), was so damn slimy, slithery, creepy and sly he made you itch. At the same time his little band of thugs looked like they'd all stepped out of a Chuck Jones directed Bugs Bunny cartoon, or a Dick Tracy comic strip. None of them were particularly funny or anything, they were just perfectly cast from a visual standpoint with Joby Baker sounding shifty to boot.

When it comes to the effects this movie is pretty basic, you're not gonna see anything mind blowing here folks. Obviously much of what you see is on sets, clear as day sets, but they still look atmospheric enough. Some sets such as Seymour's restaurant do look bizarrely fake compared to the others, which is odd it has to be said, its like they ran out of money and room. The track event also looked dubiously like it was shot on an interior set, which it probably was. Costumes and props are all acceptable and again, like the sets, successfully immerse you in the story. Naturally Blackbeard's bedroom and the old inn look the most atmospheric and eerie. As for the actual ghostly effects its pretty much a case of wire work and old fashioned tricks of the trade. Anything floating was done so with wires, backgrounds were expanded with matte paintings, fog machines utilised, acrobatic work from various stuntmen, and some good pretend acting from Jones and Ustinov.

As for action and adventure its a mixed bag really. There isn't any action so to speak but more large scale incidents if you will. There is an amusing little sequence where Blackbeard commandeers Walker's car and they end up  getting chased by a cop on a bike. This eventually ends up with a riderless 'ghost bike' (Blackbeard riding it but the cop obviously doesn't see him) chasing the cop. Yet despite all the kooky events the cop still does Walker for drink driving. The main event of the movie is the big track meet where Walker must try and get a result out of the Godolphin team who are made up of a bunch of wimps and losers. This is where we really see Blackbeard come into his own with his supernatural assistance. As a kid I used to love this part in the film and its still engaging no doubt, but boy are those effects looking rusty these days. The sped up footage for certain trick shots look especially dreadful. The final major bit of action would be Walker and Blackbeard going to Silky's place to get back the money Silky refused to pay out on the bet Blackbeard put down on Godolphin to win the track meet...phew! This basically involves a whole load of cartoonish tomfoolery on wires as an invisible pirate beats up the two-bit thugs. Again back in the day I loved it, these days its looking a bit worse for wear.

So does this Disney gem still hold up? Well yes and no. As said whilst many of the effects are still quite cool to see and work well, many do not and look pretty awful. But the whole film does also have that wonderfully bright and vivid look to it down to the good old 60's technicolour system, always pleasant to see. The acting is generally fine all round but clearly the film is kept afloat by Ustinov as Blackbeard, without him this could of been quite drab methinks. The plot chugs along nicely, its fun and engaging but admittedly looking back, there are a lot of childish moments in there that I can't really complain about now because, after all, this is a Disney movie for kids. Unfortunately they do slightly hamper my enjoyment now. The slapstick factor is high, the cornball routine is very evident and the formula wasn't too original for the time (after various other similar projects), but despite all that the movie is still very enjoyable for all the family. I would say if you're a fan of a certain Johnny Depp franchise you might actually get a kick outta this as it could be seen as a slight precursor. 


'Money...oh! The odd flimsy I removed from the pocketbook of your book-ish wench'

Monday, 17 October 2016

Jupiter Ascending (US/AU, 2015)

So this was something eh, holy soap opera! I mean space opera, well...holy rip-off of literately anything and everything ever! This almost overbearing sci-fi epic is basically all about other alien races way beyond our simple human comprehension, running the universe as a business. That business in question happens to be all about retaining youth...and that's it. Yep nothing to do with super powers, super suits, super weapons, some form of super mcguffin or some form of super valuable natural resource, oh no. This plot centres on a spin of the old fountain of youth shtick with a twist obviously. The alien races in question are actually royal families of extreme levels of wealth. Together they work with (or rule over) other alien races to control and eventually harvest certain inhabited planets, such as Earth. When I say harvest I of course mean wipe out the planets population, because the inhabitants are the natural organic resource that somehow makes up the youth serum which keeps all these aliens young. God knows how they manage to control an entire planets population in order to harvest them, surely there would be huge rebellious wars? Anyway, essentially this entire intergalactic space set struggle and siege is all about looking good and ironing out those wrinkles. OK I'm being facetious, it also extends their lifespan too so its not all silly, I guess.

The main difference with this movie is the main protagonist (Jupiter Jones played Mila Kunis) is firstly a woman and secondly a regular woman just like any other regular person. At no point will you see this character leaping from rooftops with a gun in each hand, using martial arts to take down hordes of dumbass henchmen, flying spaceships like an expert without ever stepping foot in one, using special powers like a pro after learning some bullshit from some wise mentor type character etc...Nope, Jupiter Jones (despite her ridiculously stupid action heroine type name, oh and notice the clever play in the films title) is just a plain and simple woman who is just as perplexed by what's going on as we the audience are. Yes I do mean that literally, half the time spend watching this movie is being in complete bewilderment, you literally follow Jupiter around just as confused as she is.

So Jupiter is a regular person who cleans toilets with her mum for a living, I kid you not. Her parents came to the US from Russia after her father was murdered by robbers. She is named after the planet because her father was obsessed with astronomy. We see all this and Jupiter's mother travelling to the US stowed away on a cargo ship for some reason. She couldn't afford a simple ticket? Its later on in Boston that Jupiter meets up with Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), a space warrior send to protect and collect her. Without going into deep depths with this bizarre plot, long story short, the House of Abrasax is the most powerful alien dynasty in the universe. After the death of the matriarch of the House her children quarrel over the inheritance. Titus (Douglas Booth) wants Earth because its a highly valuable planet and Balem wants to harvest Earth, but both discover Earth is actually 'owned' by Jupiter because, as it turns out, she is actually alien royalty too (don't ask, just accept it). So through various tricks and deceptions both men basically want to kill Jupiter in order to get their hands on Earth. Only Wise and the intergalactic space police (indeed!) can save her.

In all honesty this could be the plot for a sequel to 'Spaceballs' if you think about it, but that's not even the half of it. This movie is a special effects extravaganza no doubt about that, but not just with the obvious CGI monster (although it doe take up about 90% of the movie), but with makeup and costumes too. Lets just get one thing out the way with though, yes the CGI content is high and its obvious. It genuinely looks like the Wachowskis have in fact taken lessons from George Lucas because you'll swear you're watching the Star Wars prequels at various points. Some scenes even look like they've been pulled from the Star Wars prequels! Various sequences of spaceships landing inside huge cruiser ship landing bays, landing in beautiful cities on alien worlds, lots of faceless troops in heavy armour and helmets, lots of acting in front of greenscreen sets etc...Yes the CGI does of course look lovely for the most part (especially shots of Jupiter), but it also looks fake and plastic-ish in others, just like those Lucas films. Strangely enough the movie visuals could also be very elegant and operatic at times, on a grandiose scale much like '2001', but only very briefly.

Again just like the those Lucas films the costumes and makeup were of a very high standard throughout, but also overly ludicrous at times. There are lots of different alien races on display, many of whom look terrific with real prosthetic masks and solid makeup, others not so much. Some are simply people in crazy looking sci-fi attire that (again) kinda resembled fetish gear, possibly using latex, PVC, plastic even? Mila Kunis also changes her attire plenty of times just like Natalie Portman once did and its just as amusing. Influence from many different sci-fi movies is apparent from these costumes, for example many female characters are bald with odd looking masks or head gear which kinda reminded me of 'Dune'.
Much of the hero costumes definitely have a 'Matrix' vibe about them, that gritty military look with big boots and cargo pants all in dark colours. Where as the bad guys had more regal attire which definitely harked back to Star Wars again, the various all CGI baddie aliens didn't help with that call back either, and they looked just as crap (read below for that). As mentioned before the faceless baddie troops you see are amusing as they wear these daft helmet type masks that look like a cross between a latex fetish mask and a luchadores mask (oh and they seem like rip-offs of the imperial guards from RotJ).

The actual alien races are a curious one though, I still don't really get the idea behind this. Put simply most of the aliens are based on animals from Earth, they are genetic hybrids in the plot. Tatum's character of Wise is a cross between human and dog/wolf so he basically looks like a Vulcan with fangs. Many other characters are the same with Sean Bean's character being part honeybee (he's called lie) complete with ridiculous black and yellow dye in his hair (seriously). One baddie female character is part deer and looks inane, one guy is clearly a flippin' elephant, one baddie looked to be part rodent of some kind. There are also bipedal dragons (all CGI), the classic 1940's grey alien design (think Roswell), errr...lots of bald pale women and some characters seem to have bits of plastic looking robotic parts on their faces which are presumably some kind of enhanced body part. Basically it all looks like a Trekkies wet dream.

As for the action, well its draining to watch, literally tiring. By this I mean its so energetic and frantic I could hardly keep up, no clue what was happening half the time because it was all a CGI blur. The first action scene we see with Wise trying to escape alien hunters with Jupiter is so outrageously insane it became a farce. After riding on Wise's hover boots the characters then get inside these freaky looking spaceships that seem to have this ancient Egyptian vibe going on. They are tearing around downtown Boston, ripping up the city and probably killing many innocent people as they blast away with their laser cannons. I realise this is a fantasy flick so of course you come to expect outrageous things, but this is the first action scene, Jupiter has only just discovered aliens and spaceships etc...
She's now being chased across the city, riding on hover boots, then a spaceship, getting dangled from great heights, falling from great heights and eventually crash landing. Anyone would be crippled with fear by now, broken down into a puddle on the floor from the vertigo issues alone! But not here, she just takes it all in her stride. Other space battles we see are again terribly chaotic to watch, I'd say virtually impossible because its literally just a CGI mess of explosions and shiny objects whizzing around. As said before there's nothing to lock onto when watching, you can't distinguish between the spaceships, the explosions or the objects they are fighting. It just looks like a convoluted mess interspersed with shots of the character in a cockpit.

Speaking of the hover boots, they are awesome, why does no one else in the entire film use these things because they are perfect for getting out of scrapes. Heck they're just as convenient as the convenient mind wipe explanation for all the destruction and eye witnesses left behind (eye roll!!). Wouldn't they (whoever does the mind wiping) be constantly mind wiping humans all the time? Like at the end when Jupiter and Wise fly around for fun in broad daylight, wouldn't a shitload of people be seeing that?? How do they identify the humans that need mind wiping? Who has this terrible job??

The casting doesn't really help this movie either if you ask me. Kunis is good as the everyday girl next door type, but she's a bit too good and she doesn't really fit into this type of space opera? Same can be said for Tatum who quite frankly doesn't fit into hardly any films he does, he looks like such a doofus and can barely act. Bean again seems completely miscast here, sure he's got the look of an old battered warrior, but that accent! Oh my God Bean try and lose that bloody Yorkshire accent for some of these roles, it just doesn't work here. Then of course you have Eddie Redmayne who I literally couldn't hear or understand half the time. Yes he looked the part, all twisted, gaunt and evil, but he overacts in quite the epic way which ultimately doesn't work.

This movie came across as self-indulgent if you ask me. It seemed like, because of one particular successful movie, the Wachowskis were given the green light to run amok without really thinking. The plot is incoherent but its not helped by the fact that you can't understand what the main bad guy is saying, many things aren't really explained and what is explained gets lost in a landslide of exposition. Hats off to the effects team and writers though, the world building is tremendous here, so much depth, scale and imagination (that isn't pinched) which does draw you in. Problem is it feels like they tried to cram too much into one movie, maybe this movie did actually deserve a sequel or franchise to expand it properly. Its like Titus' ship in the film that has a bloody gothic cathedral built into it, its too silly and too over the top. They didn't need to go that far, I get that these aliens are mega wealthy and live in total opulence (which is well visualised with some magnificent sets and props) but at the same time it just looks a bit daft.

Ambitious is a word, and a good word to describe this movie, but add the word overly in front and that sums things up much better. This is a literal labyrinth of a movie, knee deep in ideas from so many other films but more openly Flash Gordon, Star Wars, Dune and of course The Matrix. Yet despite all that, despite all the annoying and ghastly deus ex machina moments that just make you wanna vomit over the person sitting next to you, its not too bad. Call me crazy but I actually kinda enjoyed this but I'm really not sure why. I think it kinda reminded me of hokey sci-fi films like 'The Last Starfighter', does that make any sense? So yeah its stupid, but its relatively engaging too, stupid fun possibly destined to become a cult.


Wednesday, 12 October 2016

The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

In case anyone doesn't know this character and his adventures are based upon the classic works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, just in case. This movie seems to be very loosely based on the fifth novel of the Tarzan series, Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar. Anyway here we are back in the jungle again, not so long after being there with a small Indian boy and his big bear chum. Introducing the new ripped Tarzan in all his Swedish glory, yep, I can totally tell this guy was originally Swedish (its a European thing) and it was kinda amusing to me. Like, why is this Swede running around in the jungle pretending to be a British Aristocrat.

Unfortunately in this current political climate this film was always gonna be up against it, the moment the movie was announced you could literally hear the social justice warriors sharpening their knives. Its sad because really, what do you expect from a classic character that was created back in the early 1900's, you have the same scenario with many classic characters from that era. Anyway, this movie (directed by David 'Harry Potter' Yates) addresses the stories colonial political climate head on in a relatively serious manner without sugarcoating it too much. The movie is indeed a light action adventure with lots of moments where you'll of course have to go with the flow (suspension of disbelief required), but in general the direction is semi serious, with violence but no visible blood or gore, and with elements of historical accuracy. The general blend of fantasy and fiction was handled well I thought.

What was different and quite fresh to see with this movie is the simple fact it wasn't an origins tale of Tarzan, which took me back. I fully expected this to be a franchise kickstarter with a complete origins setup, but no! What we actually get is a story that already has Tarzan established and well known in his time, almost a mysterious, saviour or superhero of the jungle. Throughout the movie you get various flashbacks that show briefly what happened to John Clayton III, Earl of Greystoke, which led to him becoming lord of the jungle. There is a flashback showing him as a mere baby with his parents after they are shipwrecked somewhere on the continent of Africa (in the book its the Atlantic coast of Africa). Somehow they seem to have built a pretty impressive Swiss Family Robinson style tree house right at the top of some huge tree, right in the flippin' canopy! how the literal fuck?? We get to see Clayton's mother die from illness and his father getting killed by a group of (fictional) male Mangani apes. Later on we also see Clayton as a young boy being raised by the female ape that found him and saved him from being killed by the male apes, or one specific ape that is racist towards human beings it seems. Pretty standard origins type stuff but luckily in flashback and not taking up half the flick.

The visuals for the film are genuinely stunning at times I won't lie. Yes it is of course completely CGI for the most part, apparently the actors filmed in the UK of all places! This I do actually find hard to believe because for much of the time it really does look like they are actually in Africa somewhere. The sets and locations used are truly amazing seeing as this is the case, sure much of the backdrops and landscapes are filled in with CGI but at times its damn hard to tell what's real and what isn't. I honesty don't believe they filmed the actors in the UK, I just don't see how the hell they made it so fecking realistic! The CGI for the landscapes is gorgeous for the most part and really sets the atmosphere perfectly with lovely moody vistas. CGI does work best for things like landscapes and pictures like this do show that fact off very well. But its not all CGI, there were some location shots filmed in Gabon especially for the film. None with any actors, just purely for sweeping landscape purposes, after all you do need some genuine shots of Africa.

When it comes down to things like action sequences and animals, the CGI does get a bit dodgy in places it must be said. For the most part the great apes look superb, especially up close with high levels of detail that will blow you away. When the apes get a bit more animated and start leaping all over the place then things start to look a bit Marvel-esque if you get me, a bit comicbook-esque. When Tarzan has a hand to hand battle with one main ape (indeed), things start to get a little bit silly and you think you're watching some kind of Capcom videogame matchup. Did Tarzan actually use some martial arts moves against that ape?? Anyway I did say that the landscapes were awesome, and they are, but the backdrops against the actors at times were not quite so good. By that I mean the dreaded greenscreen effect was very evident and very obvious on numerous occasions. Kinda felt like you were watching a Lucas sci-fi production at times, yeesh! The sequence where Tarzan, some natives and Samuel L. Jackson's character (George Washington Williams) are all running through the jungle, swinging from vines and eventually running through the tall trees, along thick branches and trunks, was pretty dire to be frank. This was easily one of the worst offenders for bad CGI and obvious greenscreen, it looked fake as fuck. There were also numerous bad looking sequences showing Tarzan swinging on vines through the jungle with dynamic camera angles to try and give it a more grandiose action/comicbook hero vibe. These didn't really work too well, it just looks a bit naff basically, trying to pander to the big comicbook/superhero crowd, but I guess you gotta see Tarzan doing it.

On the whole though, everything does look really good from start to finish. The historical accuracy seems to be very good throughout, the costumes are especially terrific, weapons, vehicles, buildings, props, the natives etc...all look really authentic which really does add to the overall enjoyment factor. Gotta admit, I thought it was a bit silly that all the native tribesmen were built like brick shithouses, almost all of them were totally ripped and big. Sure this is based on a fictional fantasy about a pasty English bloke who basically rules and African jungle, but would the natives all be that ripped? Come to think of it, would Tarzan even be ripped, would he even have survived in the first place?? After probably growing up living on not much with the animals I'm surprised he never caught any hideous diseases or got eaten by any predators. Yes I know I'm looking too deeply into this.

So overall, yes the visuals of the African wilderness are majestic, historically it all looks really solid, the animals are generally solid, but things do tend to get a bit fake and daft looking when it involves bounding through the jungle trees, fighting apes and generally doing any Indy type stuff. Not too heavy on the live action stunts it seems, 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' this is not. On the whole though I would say this is certainly an enjoyable movie with a great moustache twirling villain from Christoph Waltz, easily the standout performance. Then there's the surprisingly (yet broody) OK Tarzan from Alexander Skarsgård, and the usual scenario of Samuel L. Jackson playing Sameul L. Jackson (this time trying his best to be an early 19th century set Samuel L. Jackson). Generally an all round engaging  yarn that isn't quite corking or ripping...but fun.

Question though, who gave the Earl of Greystoke the name Tarzan?? He was raised by apes in the jungle, or more specifically a female ape by the name of Kala. Sooo...are we to presume the apes named Clayton...Tarzan? Do these apes generally name themselves and other creatures? Is this jungle set in the same universe as Mowgli's jungle?


Monday, 10 October 2016

The Gunman (FR/US, 2015)

This movie is based on the French crime novel La Position Du Tireur Couchè by Jean-Patrick Manchette, hence this is an American/French collaboration. As generally stated with movies like this I have no idea how accurate the movie is to the source material because I haven't read the book. But, I like to look at this movie thusly, Sean Penn's audition to play James Bond, or showing he could be James Bond if he hammered out the accent.

The plot is about as cliched as you can get and we've seen a shitzillion times. A team of undercover special-ops mercs are given the task of assassinating a high ranking Minister in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2006. The reason being the Congo is racked with civil war and large evil mining corporations are taking full advantage. The Minister of Mining for the Congo declares contracts are unjust and need to be renegotiated with the corporations. So the large evil mining corporations hire Jim Terrier's team to assassinate the Minister. Everything goes well and Jim vanishes from Africa. 8 years later Jim returns to the Congo as an aid worker but quickly finds himself under attack from a hit team. After fleeing to London to meet up with an old member of his ops team, Jim is told his old special-ops boss has created a huge new international security company that pick up prestige contracts from all over the world including the Pentagon. In order to clear the new companies shady past, all previous special-ops team members are to be eliminated. Jim must now evade being killed, get help from old team mates and unravel who exactly was his special-ops boss...because he didn't know?

So yes this plot is as old as the hills, seen many Hollywood A-list stars take on very similar, if not identical roles. Lets get one thing out of the way right off the bat, Sean Penn and his bod. So clearly Penn decided to get into shape for this movie, by that I mean get pretty seriously ripped. OK that's fine, good for him. The issue I have is that we're not allowed to forget that fact, its literally shoved down our throats at every given moment, at every turn. There isn't a minute that goes by where Penn isn't trying to remove his shirt so he can flash his newly acquired muscles at us, usually glazed in sweat for that extra glistening effect. Now as I've said he does look good, especially for age (even though his wealth allows him to get expert help, training, dietary assistance etc...), but it just feels like most of what we see in this movie, is just in the movie to show off his muscles. Example, the amount of cliched, corny bollocks in this flick is off the scale. Everything you've seen done in previous (better) movies, every single cliche from the book of cliches.

When things get too much for Penn he gets into the shower and has an angst ridden wash. He leans against the wall of the shower, his head between his arms, looking down, allowing the water to run through his hair and down his thick biceps. When he gets out of the shower he's in front of a moisture covered mirror. He wipes his hand across the mirror to reveal his solemn face, he stares at himself, full of angst, clenches his jaw a bit, he's clearly thinking how serious the situation a really butch type way. He actually does this action a few times throughout the movie. He walks around his hideouts topless all the time...full of angst. He loves to wear bulletproof vests topless. He stares into space whilst sitting in the shadows which just happens to make his muscles look even more butch, and bigger! There is of course a love interest, and oh my God so much sexual tension and sexual angst with that. The amount of topless, glistening muscle shots in dim lighting we see is incredible! All the while, totally full of angst because grrr...full on angst ridden butchness (is that a word?).

Another thing that always amuses me about these type of movies, everyone is apparently massively rich. I mean sure, these guys are ex-special-ops so chances are they may have made lots of money sure, but its amazing how many of them manage to wind up with stunning executive jobs afterwards. Either that or they are able to start up their own massively successful company. The locations seen in this movie are stunning, simply stunning, the kind of places that only people like Sean Penn would be able to afford. All the offices have sweeping city views out of the large windows, apartments right on the banks of the Thames, all the residential locations are either huge and luxurious, or just plain huge with antique good looks. Good job to because when the bad guys turn up to try and kill Jim and co the huge locations give them plenty of places to run, hide and escape. Almighty convenient don't ya think, its almost as if they do this deliberately for grandiose action sequences (I'm rolling my eyes here by the way). Yep, not many realistic locations here folks, unless you live in a Spanish mansion?

What makes this even more silly is the fact that's its clearly supposed to be this hard hitting, serious action drama, but its laden with cock far as I'm concerned anyway. When Terrier makes his deadly kill in the initial assassination, he leaves the gun behind complete with his fingerprints all over it! No he wasn't wearing any special gloves, his hands were bare and at no point does he try to cover his tracks. 8 years later Jim goes back to the Congo...why??!! This guy carried out a major assassination there that won't have been forgotten, surely you're asking for trouble going back. Whilst in the UK  (with another undercover colleague played by Ray Winstone) Jim has internal head issues (he suffers from trauma due to his militaristic past) and passes out in the street. Somehow he manages to get seen at a hospital, for a full brain scan, just like that! Normally most folk would have to wait ages for something like that in the UK under the NHS, and I doubt they would run an expensive test like that for someone dragged in off the street. Sure this is a movie so you assume Terrier's colleague pulled some strings...but really, come on! Lastly the finale, its lame, totally anti-climatic and I hated how Jim just reveals he had a recording of the whole build up to the assassination back at the start of the movies story, this whole time. Yeah right, pull that deus ex machina moment right outta ya ass movie.

Cliches and Hollywoodisms (did I just make up another word?!) aside, honesty this isn't a bad flick despite my moaning, its actually pretty slick, well directed and well edited. Overall the complete package is glossy and relatively engaging, the problem is its completely dated, predictable, corny, fluff of the highest order. The movie wants to be this epic, serious, tension filled action drama so badly, but merely comes off as an excuse for Penn to show off his bod whilst looking moody all the time. Fundamentally Penn is in love with his muscles and wants to show them to you, and the movie feels self-indulgent and old hat.


Thursday, 6 October 2016

Trek Nation (2011)

To boldly document what no man has documented before...well that sounds crap doesn't it, sorry. But in a sense its right because here we have a slightly different in depth look into Star Trek. This documentary takes a look at the positive impact that Star Trek and its creator, Gene Roddenberry, has had on people's lives (mainly in America though). The slight difference is the entire feature is presented and hosted by Gene's son, Eugene 'Rod' Roddenberry Jr. Not only does Rod show us around sets backstage, interviews with famous Trek cast members and other famous Hollywood type folk, conventions etc...Rod also takes us on an emotional journey where he discovers his father, the relationship he had and missed with Gene, and how other colleagues and close friends saw Gene.

For all intense and purposes Star Trek actually takes a back seat for most of the time here, that's clear to see. We start by learning about Gene and his life prior to creating Star Trek through his son Rod. Roddenberry flew combat missions during WWII, following that he became a commercial airline pilot for Pan Am where he also experienced a nasty crash in 1947 in the Syrian desert. Roddenberry was one of only three crew members that survived while fifteen people lost their lives. After leaving Pan Am 1948 he joined the LAPD, eventually getting into the newspaper unit and writing speeches for the chief of police. Then errr...some other stuff happened and he eventually got into writing scripts for various television shows. After numerous ideas for TV series got turned down or simply not picked up by studios, Roddenberry eventually came up with a science fiction idea which was essentially a mixture of his previous ideas from his TV show pilot pitches.

In all honesty its actually surprising that the entire venture got off the ground. If you take into account the era, the political climate of said era and the fact that Gene insisted on having a diverse crew in his show, its not surprising he had a hard time. Its no secret either that Gene and co pushed out (for the time) contemporary political plots for many episodes that will have been seen as close to the bone or controversial even. Then if you take into account the fact that the show had low ratings and was generally considered a flop by all the suits, again its no surprise that by the end of season 2 the show was set to be cancelled. It was only after a large protest from fans that the show managed to hang in there for a third series. But even then the show carried on having set backs being put into a time slot of 22.00 on Friday nights. The stress of all this caused Roddenberry to withdraw from close production duties on the show, instead leaving Fred Freiberger in charge. In turn this caused a decidedly obvious decline in the quality of the series, something I never really picked up on too much myself but true fans I'm sure see it. Personally I quite liked the 'monster of the week' angle of it.

All of the information you get (as mentioned above), you through the eyes of Rod. We find out that, according to Rod, Gene wasn't the best father because he was never around through work. The emotion comes from seeing Rod discover how much of a good man his father actually was when he obviously (possibly) had a touch of disrespect for him growing up. Its clear to see that Rod was never happy about Gene not being there when he was growing up, although how much of this is on Rod's back I don't know. We also see that when Gene was going through important times with Star Trek as a whole, Rod was off doing his own thing, being a typical teen who didn't really care about his fathers work and was more interested in...teen-esque things. Now I'm not saying this as fact, this is just the impression I got whilst watching this doc. It was emotional because at times you could see Rod was close to tears, that he clearly regretted not being around with his father more, for the important times. You could see he regretted missing out on things, from the genuine stories various colleagues tell him, it was clear across his face. This whole aspect of the doc was annoying because bottom line, at times I was thinking, you're a fool Rod. At other times I felt for him because he was clearly hurting, and at other times it was frustrating because it just seemed like this young guy had the world at his fingertips and he didn't take advantage of it. Like I've already said, much of this documentary is actually following Rod as he uncovers these stories of his father and the creation of Star Trek, some of which I'm sure he already knew, some he clearly didn't know and you can see the shock on his face.

I think the hardest moment was Rod talking with Gene's old executive assistant Ernie Over at the Roddenberry home. In one room there was a plague on the wall from NASA with 'To boldly go where no man has gone before' emblazoned in gold. This was a gift to Gene for his positive contribution to the space program (through Star Trek) and apparently various US astronauts would visit Gene at his home. It was in this sequence when Rod admits he missed out on these moments because he probably wasn't interested at the time, being in college. It was clear to see he was genuinely upset by this.

Aside from the family angst of Rod there is course all the obligatory stuff you'd expect to see in any documentary about a huge franchise. You want convention footage with heaps of fan input and cosplay? Well step right up folks, its all here for your geeky pleasure. It was also amusing to watch Rod walk around these conventions with no one knowing who he was or how important he was, the son of Gene Roddenberry! On the flip side there was also footage of him addressing the convention and fans, signing stuff etc...usual spiel. The most interesting footage was of the older conventions from the 70's and 80's, mainly the 70's. Its so cute to see how amateurish these events were back then, how crude the cosplay was, lots of sparkles, flares , big hair and lame makeup. These days the events are so slick, and in terms of cosplay, really impressive.

Believe it or not there was also an interview with the father of the opposing huge space based franchise, George Lucas. Kinda eye rolling I know because really, why do we need an interview with Lucas? Alas my fears were realised with the interview turning out to be a complete waste of time for both Rod and us the viewers. Rod went to Skywalker Ranch to ask Lucas about his thoughts on Trek and if it influenced him in the creation of Star Wars. Naturally Lucas didn't really address this issue much and just went on about Star Wars as if it was an extra for one of his DVD releases. We don't really get any useful bits of information out of Lucas on any Trek based influence, no real insight into anything, just that Star Wars is a space opera and Star Trek isn't. Hell they even showed quite a bit of Star Wars effects footage for flips sake! I wonder if Lucas pushed for that? Rod even gave Lucas a gift at the end of it which seemed a bit much if you ask me, Lucas didn't even seem that bothered, and talk about security and assistants geez!

The doc gradually moves from the earlier series into the more modern Trek series with the new crews and the pressures of recreating Star Trek from afresh. This is an area of Star Trek I've never been interested in really as I've always preferred the original crew, but it was interesting to see how the passing of Gene affected the series. There was the heavy heavy burden of carrying on with Star Trek after the passing of Gene and how it should go forward. Apparently some writers wanted to change the game a bit but executive producer of The Next Generation, Rick Berman, was determined to carry on with Gene's distinctive vision. The basic problem being, how could they continue with Gene's vision but also appeal to a younger audience in order to keep the show alive. From there the doc slowly moves into the final territory of the new Abrams reboot movies and where to be frank, I lost all interest because they're very hit and miss affairs in my opinion.

Overall is this the definitive Star Trek, behind the scenes, documentary? No its not, as part of a collection of Trek insights it contributes a lot that overall would equal more alongside other features. Is it the definitive Roddenberry documentary or insight? Well I can't really answer that one as I haven't seen or read much on the subject. But as a casual Star Trek fan who prefers the original crew and series, I can say this was probably one of the best insights into the world of Roddenberry, including his son who I knew little of before hand. Seeing all this information from Rod's perspective did help and give the project more emphasis and weight that's for sure. It made everything more relatable basically because here was a guy, the son of a great science fiction writer/creator, who (has) had simple everyday issues with him as a father. Seeing Rod react when being told that certain characters in the newer series (Wesley Crusher) Gene had created to be a younger version of himself and treated almost like another son. These are things many people will relate to which makes the feature more down to earth and interesting. I guess I will admit that the title did mislead me as I thought this was primarily an in depth look at the series and movies, I had no idea it was more focused on Roddenberry and his son, but that's just me.


Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Back in Time (2015)

In case any newbies out there haven't worked it out, the title of this documentary refers to the hit song by Huey Lewis and the News which plays at some point (can't recall) during the smash hit movie 'Back to the Future'. I realise that might be really really obvious to many people out there but hey, believe it or not there are youngsters out there that didn't grow up with these classics (the poor sods) and genuinely don't know. This doc generally covers the entire BttF franchise from production to interviews to the fanbase, all the usual stuff you'd expect to see.

So naturally this story begins with how the project came to be, who was involved and the struggles that always seem to accompany these movies. A small vision originally entitled 'Professor Brown Visits the Future' by partners Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis was the only thing that existed from the 70's. It wasn't until Bob Gale came up with the notion of, if you went back in time to when your parents were in their teens, would you be friends with them? Would you like your father or would he turn out to be the kind of jerk (or jock) you've always despised from your own high school years. Would your mother be the dedicated student she may have claimed to be? What if your mother turned out to be the school slut?? What if both turned out to be complete dorks? With Zemeckis and Gale both being with Columbia at the time due to their previous movie 'Used Cars', which was popular with the studio head Frank Price, their next script was a shoo-in.

Its interesting to note (again) how this movie actually became so successful considering certain things. For a start its pointed out that the movie is indeed jammed packed full of exposition from the get-go, basically a rule breaker for any movie. Drowning an audience in a shit load of quickfire scientific jargon that essentially you have to take in otherwise you might miss the plot later on, is a big cardinal sin really. Then you have the fact that Marty McFly is a poor protagonist truth be told. He doesn't really have any goal or wish other than trying to make his folks less nerdy and slutty. He tends to just blunder into things without really pausing and ends up messing with his own timeline and in the end not really learning anything. Admittedly I never really saw it that way before but when you think about it, its true! Then you can look at how this movie might be looked upon in our present PC era. What exactly is Emmett Brown's deal? Why does he hang around with a young boy all the time? Is there anything suspicious going on there? Not to mention the blatant issue of a mother trying to sleep with her own son, or at least give him head in the car park. Again its something that as a kid growing up in the 80's (and clearly the same with the crews and studios) you just didn't see it like that, times were much more easy going and relaxed, not so uptight.

It was interesting to discover that after going around every studio in town and being turned down (as what usually happens in these scenarios), Gale and Zemeckis tried their hand with Disney. Basically every studio said time travel flicks don't work, they don't make money, why not try Disney because that's more their kinda thing. Amusingly Disney was the only studio to notice the incest subplot part straight away and couldn't believe the duo were pitching the idea. In short there was no way in hell Disney would make a movie with something like that going on, yet no other studio picked up on it.

So there are basically lots and lots of interviews throughout this doc from all manner of people from Steven Spielberg, Zemeckis, Gale and a few of the movies cast. There is also many interviews with old studio heads like Frank Price of Columbia, Rick & Morty creator Dan Harmon, Alan Silvestri etc...All of whom touch upon the franchise and their experiences or how it influenced them in some cases. From this we get lots of inside information about various things to do with pre-production, production, post-production etc...and the final product of course, some of it you've probably heard before, some maybe not. For example, it was interesting to find out that, apparently, the sequence in 'Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull' where Indy survives a nuclear blast inside a lead lined fridge, was actually gonna be the finale sequence for BttF. They do also touch on the infamous recasting of poor old Eric Stolz which is still to this day really intriguing. Alas we still don't get any footage, only production shots we've seen before.

Of course this doc encompassing and embracing everything BttF and how its impacted culturally, naturally leads us to the fanbase. Ah yes, the crazy, flamboyant and somewhat annoying fanboys and girls that, in some cases do bizarre things to show their love of the franchise. Firstly as you might expect this means lots of dressing up as Marty and Doc Brown...ugh! Then as the doc touches upon the music of the films and Huey Lewis we get to see a band called 'The Flux Capacitors' who, obviously, cover all of Huey's songs...but badly, and in cosplay (double ugh!!). This part was pretty damn cringeworthy to say the least. Moving on and a large part of the fanbase section, the famous car, the DeLorean DMC-12. Naturally we get to see a bit about the making of the car, how it came about etc...but for the most part we see all the fans that own their own DeLorean and how they've all turned them into their own time machines, because of course they have. Again some of this is pretty cool with very accurate representations, some not so, then you have some who have literally wrecked their car. The main focus being on one collector who has all the cars from the original movie (the DeLorean, the big black 4x4 Toyota, and the terrorist VW wagon) and part III (the DeLorean all kitted out in wild west gear) which makes you wonder how much it all cost. There's also talk about how Gale and others refurbished the original DeLorean from the original film after it was left languishing at Universal Studios.

There's also a section on somewhere in the UK where they have recreated the town of Hill Valley and hold massive cosplay events complete with old cars, diners etc...Of course no BttF doc could ever be complete without discussing the hover board phenomenon. Yep you've guessed it, its all about some crackpots trying to build their own with varying degrees of success, but not much. It also touches on the effects used to create the hover board in the sequel, how much of a pain it was to actually achieve, and how thousands of kids wanted one back in the day because they all thought it was real (Zemeckis not helping at the time by hinting they were real). Probably the best parts of the fanbase section focused on a couple who bought a DeLorean and travelled around the world in it raising money for Parkinson's research. Another about a young man with cerebral palsy who lives in Michael J. Foxes hometown, knows some of his family and looks up to Fox for inspiration. Admittedly uplifting but admittedly I'm not really sure what it had to do with the franchise as I'm sure there are many people in the same situation. I guess its because he lives in Fox's hometown and knows some of the family?

So again I ask myself, is this the best in depth look at the Back to the Future franchise? Well seeing as I haven't seen all that many in depth looks at this particular franchise, unlike say...Star Wars, I can't really be sure. What I can say is...this was OK, reasonably engaging and reasonably interesting. Basically the whole thing starts off pretty sweet with many movie bigwigs being interviewed and lots of information about the actual movies being released. But in time the whole thing (I think) goes down in quality as they start to look into the fanbase and cultural impact. It no longer becomes engaging, interest goes out the window because to be honest, I don't care about the fanbase and all the silly things that happen. I'm not really bothered about the history of the DeLorean and what people get up to with them now. I just wanna listen to cast and crew stories, see how they did things on set, maybe behind the scenes footage and bloopers etc...That is really what I'm after when it comes to documentaries about a movie, keep all the fanboy/fanbase/merchandise stuff for its own separate in depth doc. So yeah, this is fine, but nothing great if you ask me.


Saturday, 1 October 2016

Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (2016)

Ghost Corps huh, opening credits and straight away the first sign of a planned, multi-movie franchise...they never learn. Anyway, who ya gonna call? certainly not these guys! (quick pause for my readers sides to stop splitting). Oh shit wait, I meant gals! Oh Christ now I've done it. No but seriously, who are you gonna call here? a better script writer perhaps? better cast, better effects, another director, hell just a completely different movie to this. But how bad could this really be? I ain't afraid of no gaudy, garish, neon, clearly all CGI ghosts...actually I am, shocked and horrified at just how scarily bad they actually were.

Right so things start off in much the same way the classic 84 movie did. We are given a brief little vignette that sets up the basis of the plot (its about ghosts) that will eventually lead to greater things. When I say the same as the 84 original, I meant literally, the opening scene is done in the exact same way complete with the legendary Ray Parker Jr theme tune accompanying the films main title card/shot. Now at this point I was actually on-board for the ride believe it or not, the intro sequence was actually pretty creepy. It looked quite good, it intrigued me, a nice tone of light-hearted horror, and when Ray Parker Jr's tune kicked in I actually felt a nostalgic lump in my throat, as if I'd just been zapped back to my childhood.

That's as far as it goes though because apparently the supernatural incident we see has no consequences or follow up whatsoever. The curator bloke of this old 19th century stately home seems to get attacked? killed? possessed? Unsure, but after seemingly being doomed he just pops up later, completely fine, and that story arc is never followed up for the rest of movie.

Its from this point onwards, when we meet the new characters, that virtually everything spirals out of control in an impressive fiery fireball of failure. You have the chubby McCarthy who I guess plays the Ray Stantz type character because she has the same love, enthusiasm and dedication to science and the supernatural that Ray body shape. Wiig who's the more straight-laced, apprehensive character which could be Venkman? But without the smug, dry humour. McKinnon I'm guessing is a live action female version of the cartoon Egon Spengler from The Real Ghostbusters. Same technical mind but here she's basically loopy. Lastly Jones presumably would be the Zeddmore type character because she's the streetwise, blue-collar, token black character. Admittedly the female characters are more of there own thing here, there is a hint of the classic quartet of course but generally they're relatively unique, which is good.

The main story revolves around one human villain called Rowan, a mad scientist and occultist who wishes to open a portal to the ghost world to bring about the apocalypse. In order to do this he is placing these strange devices along spiritual ley lines in New York City in order to charge them up and create a vortex. At the exact point where these ancient ley lines cross or meet, Rowan has a much larger device that when activated along with the charged up ley lines, will rip a hole into the spirit world. Oh and its where he conveniently works too. Sounds reasonable doesn't it, and it is accept for the fact that nothing is really explained. Rowan is basically a bit nuts right, OK that's fine, but why does he want to do this? Just because he's nuts? Well no, apparently its because he's a bit of a loser, an outcast with no friends and he's depressed...and that's the reason.

Secondly, what are these devices he's placing along the ley lines? How does he make them? How does he know how to charge the ley lines? How did he make such a huge single device? How does he fund all this? And of course, how does he manage to get away with making a whopping big device in the basement of the hotel where he works? Then as the plot progresses we discover that Rowan plans to kill himself in order to lead a ghost army when the apocalypse starts. But, the hell does he intend to carry that out?! Why would he be able to come back as a ghost? Does he have some kind of special gift or powers? Why would ghosts follow this guy?? How does he manage to not only come back as a ghost, but a seriously powerful ghost just like Gozer the Gozerian?

Around this main premise you have all the standard fare which you basically got in the original. The ladies create their own equipment and develop it over the course of the film, naturally all the gear is strewn with various flashing LED's because that apparently makes it look cooler. They manage to pick up an old hearse to use for transportation which they call 'Ecto 1' because of course they do. They get themselves natty ghost catching uniforms which make them look like garbage collectors (seriously under designed, was that the best production could come up with? Grey jumpsuits with orange go-faster stripes?), and they trap ghosts. When I say trap ghosts I mean one, one single entity with a huge fuck off ghost trap that looks like a torpedo.

The film is called Ghostbusters but we only see them trap one ghost, they also have nowhere to store the ghost once caught. This leads me to the finale of the movie where the ladies have developed their equipment so much, they are now able to kill ghosts? I seriously have no idea what happens here, the proton packs sort of lasso the ghosts and enable them to be dragged along the floor...for what reason? The girls are tossing ghosts around, throwing them into each other, sucking them into a ghost chipper type thing, punching them (yes) and generally blowing them up somehow. So is this universe you can effectively kill a ghost of reduce it to ectoplasm (I'm guessing they would call it that seeing as they ripped-off everything else) by punching it and sucking it into a chipper type machine. I won't even go into the awful slow motion action sequence where Holtzmann does some kind of John Woo/Neo shit with two pistol sized particle throwers.

Whilst all this slapstick action is going off the effects offer us a mixed result, two sides of a coin for sure. Whilst the general look of the movie is naturally very glossy, colourful and slick, it can't help but look like a cartoon. There are numerous shots that have been blatantly copied from the 84 classic but it still can't detract from the fact the film looks childish overall. This also goes for the general tone of the flick too, it really doesn't know what the hell its going for, light-hearted kids comedy, edgy horror comedy, mainstream comedy, Feig comedy etc...The equipment looks just like I expected it to, plastic and obviously fake, no amount of flashing LED's can change that, but luckily they have kept the iconic particle thrower beam close to what we all know and love.

Yes I realise that's me being hypocritical as I've complained about them ripping-off other things from the 84 original, but this was one thing that needed to remain, anything else simply wouldn't do. As for the CGI...well it doesn't help matters at all, that's not to say its bad, it just doesn't fit this franchise. As many have already said, the CGI looks ridiculous and much like some other movies such as 'Haunted Mansion' and the Scooby-Doo flicks. The large green dragon/demon ghost in the concert sequence actually looked like something from The Real Ghostbusters. Its virtually all bright neon effects making almost every scene with ghosts look like the interior of a nightclub, why would ghosts be so bright and colourful? This also doesn't help the actors who are clearly standing in front of greenscreens. My only positive is Rowan in logo form who does look pretty good and made me wonder how sweet a modern Mr Stay Puft would look these days. Other than that the 84 original effects still blow this out of the water.

The deciding factor in this movies downfall is quite frankly the fact its hideously unfunny. End of the day its a comedy, but it sucks. The ladies try their best to come across as amusing and its just embarrassing to watch, cringeworthy at the best of times. The performances are muted and bland at best, McCarthy is simply McCarthy yet again, Wiig is dull as dishwater and clearly not really enjoying herself, and I've no fucking clue what McKinnon thought she was doing because it wasn't funny in the slightest. Oh but she was so quirky, off the wall and she wasn't, she looked unique but acted like a fool. Lastly we have the mighty walking controversy that is Jones. Amazingly best of the quartet and easily the most relatable and believable, who'd of thought it huh.

Although, still have no idea why her character would quit her stable, dependable job on the subway to join a risky venture in ghost catching. That seemed totally unrealistic to me, no one would do that without some form of plan or guarantee. In the original Zeddmore needed a job so he took what he could get, that made sense, not this. So that's the four ladies, anything else? oh yes, Chris Hemsworth, the hypocritical, highly ironic, reverse sexist character that somehow evaded Feig's all out politically correct, all accepting agenda. Or did it? was this a deliberate move by Feig? along with the reshot scenes of meta references to the internet rage and fanboys, and the casual man-bashing we see liberally sprinkled throughout. Well I think its pretty obvious now from what you can read and watch online but that aside, this character was annoyingly shit and an insult to the franchise.

Oh yeah, way WAY too many needless, pointless cameos. Did the movie need a cameo from Ozzy Osbourne? or any of the original cast? They could of at least not made them so bloody blatant, it gave the movie a Zoolander-esque vibe at times for Christ's sake. What was the point of crowbarring in a cameo from Sigourney Weaver in the end credits?? Come to think of it, what was the point of the Slimer cameo other than gratuitous pandering to the fanboys to try and get them into cinemas. But they couldn't even do that right, horrific CGI aside, they gave the spook a female partner! (basically Slimer with lipstick and a wig). What the literal fuck?! Its things like this that truly make you wonder what's going on behind the scenes, who the hell thought that would be a good idea?

So is this movie passable and enjoyable as some professional critics dubiously wrote? Well sort of...if you completely put aside all the Ghostbusters franchise aspect of it and look at it as a completely independent movie. In that case then yes, you could say its reasonably entertaining, or maybe as a live action adaptation of the cartoon at best, but only in those cases. Is the movie as bad as some have made it out to be? Yes I'm afraid it a reboot of such a legendary, iconic franchise as Ghostbusters, yes it is that bad, shamefully bad. 

The humour is seriously lacking with terrible dialog, there's no real tension anywhere, no real threats, you never worry about the characters safety, you don't really care about the characters, and the entire finale was a huge anti-climax. The film just didn't engage me in any way, everything was simply mundane, no excitement, no thrills, nothing. At one point I did wonder why the film didn't look 'New Yorkish' to me, turns out they filmed in Boston for Pete's sake! I mean seriously, if you can't even do the location justice, how can you expect to do the film justice. This in turn leads to a world that isn't believable because it consists of sets, greenscreen sets and locations that aren't New York. 

Basically this doesn't really feel like a proper supernatural comedy or fantasy movie. It feels much more like a parody of the genres, and a poor parody at that. The whole thing is subpar, at times shockingly shallow, limited and chock full of tropes, cliches and stereotypes. Whilst at the same time merrily showing complete contempt for the main target demographic, the (dare I say male) fanbase. After all those years, all the speculation and talk, what a completely wasted opportunity which unfortunately looks to have put the kibosh on the future of the franchise.