Saturday, 28 July 2018

Critters 4 (1992)

Filmed back to back alongside 'Critters 3' and the first critter movie not set on Earth.

This movie follows on where the third movie left off. Charlie (Don Keith Opper) is about to destroy the last of the Crite eggs but is stopped by an activated hologram message from his old bounty hunter friend Ug (Terrence Mann). Ug tells Charlie to load the eggs into an incoming pod so they can be sent to him (in deep space). Of course Charlie being the bumbling goof that he is, gets trapped inside the pod and whisked away into deep space. 52 years later the pod is picked up by a salvage ship who eventually bring it to a space station so as to hand it over to Ug. The crew find the station abandoned and under control of a malfunctioning central computer; things get worse when the crite eggs hatch.

So yes this movie does sound like your standard alien horror flick. Team of space pirate types find a mysterious pod. They take it to an equally mysterious space station. Alien is unleashed and everyone gets eaten, the end. But lets be honest here, what did you really expect from a fourth Critters movie? The salvage team of roughneck space pirates are your stereotypical bunch really. You have the captain (Anders Hove) who this time is the ships weirdo. The token young guy who we the audience is supposed to root for. The token sexy female (Angela Bassett). The token tough guy with rebellious hairstyle. And the token intelligent nerdy looking guy (Brad Dourif) who basically does anything technical.

The space station they are instructed to go to is again your very typical looking space station type location. Everything is generally very dark and industrial looking with lots of railings, pipework, grates, shafts, dim lighting to disguise obvious sets, plenty of similar corridors, and control panels. Here and there you might see a room that is white in colour because its a medical bay or sleeping quarters or whatever. But overall its a very gunmetal grey looking environment.

Visual effects wise its as you might expect. The exterior space effects with ship flybys are pretty bad looking with terrible model and bluescreen work. Interior sets were actually fine but limited in a Red Dwarf kinda way. It was amusing to see the actors perform on the exact same corridor set over and over but from different angles (obviously supposed to be different sections). Twas also amusing that there were so many ducks and shafts that could fit an adult human in and had grates at either end that are so easily pulled off. Handy for quick escapes and whatnot.

As with the previous movies the actual crite effects are once again on top form. I'm actually surprised because you'd half expect the creatures to look worse with each sequel (often the norm) but here they still look just as good. They haven't been played with design wise, they're still just the same as the original crites. Same colouring, same size, same little claws, same glowing red eyes, but apparently no dart action this time.

I guess the real problems arise from the plot (not that you'd expect anything more). For instance, why exactly has Ug turned into a bad guy for this one? He's apparently becomes a part of the intergalactic council (and something called TerraCor? Is that part of the council??) and has become a 'company man' so to speak, 'things change'. But I find it difficult to believe that Ug would flip on his old friend like that. Secondly, why does Ug actually want the eggs? This is never really explained. I'm guessing that now he's evil he wants to do evil things with them? Then looking at the pod and how Charlie got stuck in there; how come he didn't age over the 52 years in...deep sleep? Or was he frozen? The pod was designed to look after the eggs for a long period of time, not a human. So how come Charlie even survived this?? Then there's the question of how the remaining salvage crew knew how to fly Ug's ship at the end, eh why ask?

Despite the obvious issues with this movie I actually think its OK. This is only the second time I've seen this but its not as bad as I thought it was. Sure its not as good as the first two but it holds its own. The change of scenery is refreshing for the franchise (as was the previous third movie locale). The effects are generally solid, the cast is surprisingly decent, and the horror and gore is acceptable (but nothing amazing). Its played a bit more seriously this time with not as much comedy, but it just about works. I recommend if you like the previous entries or simply enjoy a good silly horror comedy.


Saturday, 21 July 2018

Critters 3 (1991)

So at the end of 'Critters 2' it kinda looked like everything was all wrapped up with a bow. The Crites had all been wiped out, Charlie became the new Sheriff of Grover's Bend, and Ug flew off back into space having gotten over the death of his partner Lee. It really didn't seem like there was anywhere else to go with this story; but how many times have we been in this situation before huh.

So in order to get everyone up to speed (or simply to pad out the runtime), the start of this movie offers a brief flashback regurgitating the events of the previous movie. From there on we follow a small family consisting of a father and his young son and daughter coming home from a vacation. On the way back the kids stumble upon Charlie who is now seemingly roaming around the countryside hunting crites (even though they were seemingly wiped out). Naturally some newly hatched crites hitch a ride back to the city with the family and start to cause carnage once again...but this time within an apartment block.

Now of course, first and foremost, how the hell did the crites survive here???? They were apparently wiped out good and proper in the second movies finale. Obviously we have to assume that one critter laid some eggs somewhere which were missed, which if we are honest with ourselves is entirely possible. But this does of course lead to the question of where does it end. In theory this could carry on for forever more with critters surviving because one laid eggs somewhere which were missed. It kinda ruins some tension because you know the crites can never really be beaten.

Another thing I noticed that (for some reason) hasn't been upheld from the previous movies are the darts the crites fire. Before these darts seemed to knock out the intended target instantly, obviously with some kind of toxin. But in this movie these darts simply don't do that anymore. Numerous characters take multiple hits from these critter darts yet they don't go down, they merely become sleepy. Why would they change that??

The critters themselves still look on par with their earlier movie counterparts which is good; and surprising as it may seem the special effects (I think) are actually quite good. The puppet work is solid with the critters performing all manner of typical critter-esque chaos the likes of which we've come to expect. Obviously these little furballs never did move entirely convincingly but the consistent standard is withheld here. I do think this movie makes a more obvious lean towards a certain 1984 Joe Dante movie, more so than the previous two. In this movie we get a very familiar kitchen scene with the destructive crites eating their way through pretty much everything whilst acting like mischievous kids. There are also plenty of humorous critter deaths, crite communication (they even have names now), and the main critter has a white streak down his face and back.

The general setting for the movie is perfectly fine too in my opinion. Its a nice and natural progression from the first two small town set movies. Being set within an apartment block within the city opens the movie up for some more interesting scenarios and characters which we get both of. Sure the characters are a bit stereotypical; the Fonz type guy, the elderly couple, the Ripley-esque female, the overweight comedic relief female. The cherub-esque looking little boy, the annoyingly sensible goodie two-shoes daughter, a dastardly landlord (William Dennis Hunt coming across all Vincent Price like), and of course Leonardo DiCaprio sporting that same damn haircut he had for so long whilst also probably being cast riding off the back of the recent Macaulay Culkin craze. Despite the tropes all characters are actually relatively engaging and enjoyable in their own little ways (despite the lack of critter fodder).

Overall I think this is a pretty decent third follow up to an already solid foundation. Yeah sure it doesn't exactly offer anything new. Its the same shit all over again but set within an apartment block, only minus the bounty hunters (alas). But there is light relief, a splattering of gore, some decent creature visuals, oddly a very Danny Elfman-esque opening score, and the inevitably daft cliffhanger ending with cameo. I don't really understand why this movie was overlooked with such negativity because if you're a fan of this franchise and genre you really can't go wrong.


Sunday, 15 July 2018

Rampage (2018)

'alright George, we gotta stop these things before they destroy the city'

He says after the John Hancock Center is brought crashing down. I think they've kinda done that already mate.

Another month another Dwayne Johnson movie (much like certain other franchises). The only man in cinema today who gets shot clean in the gut halfway through his movie yet doesn't actually die...or anything. He just keeps on going in invincible mode. Nothing much changes does it, its all about big arm muscles and tight shirts for Dwayne. His acting doesn't really alter much, in fact is he even acting or merely being himself? But you can sure as hell tell this is a 2018 movie. A crap load of poor CGI with a crap load of obvious greenscreen. Johnson has a black female sidekick whilst the main villain is female and she has a goofy white male sidekick, oh and a stealth bomber pilot is also female.

So another month another giant monster movie (facepalm). This time an evil female led company is basically trying to create a pathogen to be used as a biological weapon, because of course they are. Said pathogen obviously is let loose upon the US when the companies space station housing the stuff gets destroyed by a mutant rat. The stuff infects a gorilla, a crocodile, and a wolf. Said animals naturally mutate into giant monsters and start wreaking havoc. But all this doesn't stop the evil female led company though, oh no, they still have their dastardly plans which I can't be bothered to explain anymore.

So for anyone not in the know, this movie is based on a very old Bally Midway arcade game released in 1986. The designers clearly borrowed heavily from certain classic monster movies for their lead characters with the Godzilla-esque Lizzie, King Kong-esque George, and a werewolf-esque looking Ralph. The game merely involved you trying to destroy as much of a cityscape as possible whilst eating people, crushing tanks, and swatting choppers. And with that Warner Bros have thrown together what they think is a good movie?

OK so firstly this isn't a kids movie, which was surprising to me, yet Johnson still doesn't say motherfucker (he's no Schwarzenegger). But yeah this movie is relatively violent with people being eaten, stepped on and crushed, thrown through the air and off tall buildings, and some claret on hand. But whilst it was satisfying to see some adult action, in no way did it make up for the rest of it.

This is a bad movie. The special effects are generally poor with only George looking halfway decent. Ralph looks like a cartoon and Lizzie looks like a dinosaur from a Doug McClure movie. I don't understand why the giant animals actually go around killing and destroying in the first place. Sure the pathogen makes them aggressive but that doesn't mean they would just roam around randomly causing carnage. Again when the female villain turns on this beacon to attract the creatures, why do they decimate the city on their way? (because we wouldn't have a movie otherwise). Why does Ralph have the ability to shoot darts out of his body now? And that only crops up once I think, you'd think it would be shooting these things all the time. Oh and Ralph can fly too, like did the folks behind this movie ever play the fecking game??

The acting throughout is God awful, absolutely terrible. Dwayne Johnson is merely himself as usual. This guy cannot act, he's just himself in every movie (and most of his movies are the same). His costar sidekick (Naomie Harris) is also terribly plain and shows little actual talent (although her wig somehow manages to stay put throughout the action). But the worst performance has to be Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a government agent who fancies himself as a badass cowboy. We know this because he tells us in almost every scene and he sports a single pearl handled pistol on his hip in some vague effort to be 'kewl'. Can someone please explain why this guy stands at an angle in every fecking scene. Literally every scene where he delivers dialog he's standing at an angle as if one of his legs is shorter than the other or they are filming his scenes with a Dutch tilt.

Seeing as this movie is based on an arcade game where your goal is to Hulk smash everything into the ground, you can imagine how this movie ends. When I say end I mean virtually from the halfway mark. Yep that's right, one long incomprehensible mess of CGI 'action' as we follow all three of the giant monsters on their rampage, ahem. Somehow the giant crocodile is able to climb sheer buildings, for some reason not one human being cottons onto the fact that bullets can't hurt these creatures; George decides to eat the female villain whole (coincidentally when she has the serum for the pathogen), yet we don't see him do this to anyone else. He could of eaten the helicopter pilot likewise but instead just throws him away. Lizzie decides to bite Ralph's head off for some reason, the greenscreen gets unforgivably bad, oh and we're meant to believe that people named these monsters Ralph and Lizzie?? I know its based on the arcade game but you really didn't have to go that far.

Dwayne Johnson is apparently the big action star of our current time, or for the current younger generation, so I've been led to believe. I'm left wondering how this can be because aside from his physique the guy is a poor action star. Sure he's fun in silly fantasy comedies and some over the top soft-core action flicks for youngsters, but that's it. He is seemingly unable to break his self-referential nice guy comedy routine and is apparently unable to stop fixating on his own muscles. This is yet again another Dwayne Johnson movie where the main character is (the invincible) Dwayne Johnson.

Am I being too harsh on a mere videogame adaptation? Maybe, I knew not to expect that much from a movie which is very loosely based on a very loose concept. I'm sure there are plenty of people out there will get a kick outta this and that's fine. But for me this is now the umpteenth movie showcasing the exact same spiel. I can't lie about it, this was complete and utter garbage, and not even good looking garbage at that.


Wednesday, 11 July 2018

The Wizard (1989)

Lets go back to a time when videogame adaptations basically didn't exist. A time when videogames didn't really mix with movies and any that dared to do so tended to fail ('Tron'). Movies and videogames were different entities that simply didn't mesh. But that didn't stop Nintendo trying to break that mould with this offering.

The Plot: Sam Woods (Beau Bridges) is separated from his wife. He lives with his two elder sons Nick (Christian Slater) and Corey (Fred Savage). The boys also have a younger brother called Jimmy (Luke Edwards) who lives with his mother and stepfather. Jimmy did also have a twin sister but she drowned leaving Jimmy suffering from PTSD. Its this PTSD that seemingly causes Jimmy to want to wander off to California. Eventually, after becoming frustrated with his fathers apparent inability to care properly for Jimmy, Corey takes it upon himself to run away with Jimmy to California.

On the road they meet up with a young girl called Haley (Jenny Lewis) who is also on her way home to Reno. They decide to team up after discovering that Jimmy is a whizz at any videogame he comes across. Haley will help them travel across the country to a large videogame contest being held in Universal Studios where they will enter Jimmy and split the winnings if he wins.

Now when I was a kid (which seems like 100 years ago now) this was one of those movies that I saw and kinda enjoyed but not overly. It was a movie that was engaging mainly because of the videogame element, naturally. I was never really into the family aspect of the movie simply because it was of no interest to me; twas all about the videogames which at the time seemed like eons into the future of what I was used to (the Spectrum 128K and Atari 2600). In fact I can honesty say I found the movie boring as a kid, a case of fast-fowarding through certain parts.

Looking back now (as a 40 year old...gulp!) I can honesty say that maybe I was onto something back in the day. Now don't get me wrong this isn't a bad movie per say, its just incredibly average and indeed somewhat dull. I mean just digging a bit deeper into the plot there are so many questions. When Jimmy and Corey run away their parents decide to hire a bounty hunter to find them?? about the police?? There really doesn't seem to be much urgency in actually getting the young boys back. I also have to ask why the bounty hunter guy is so...dastardly. I mean this is his job, he's being paid to find these kids, yet he's behaving like a complete asshole for no apparent reason other than being dumb comic relief.

Upon meeting Haley we eventually find out that she's making her way home...on her own? From where? Where has she been? We know her mother has passed on but where's her father at?? The character of Haley is also very much the Mary Sue of this movie if you will; she's like the all powerful lucky charm that can solve any problem, dues ex machina overload. When they need money she knows a truck driver who can gamble for them inside a casino. At the same time Haley is also, apparently, an expert at craps. She knows exactly where to go, who to speak to, and what to do at all times. Yeah OK she's suppose to be more worldly than the boys but come on, she's only about 13 or thereabouts.

The main lure of this movie was of course the videogames. The plot was pretty non-existent but Nintendo didn't really care about that methinks. Twas all about the plugs and boy is this movie full of plugs. The funny thing is you don't actually see much videogame action, just lots of snippets of characters playing dotted throughout (mostly from the NES). Such games included are Mega Man 2, Contra, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Double Dragon etc...Watching now its really nothing special to see these games (what little you see) but I do recall that back in the day it was pretty exciting and cool as it was a first essentially.

As I said previously, as a kid in the UK with a Spectrum 128K and Atari 2600, the games on show in this movie seemed like something completely out of reach, so futuristic, a massive lure. Hell the sight of the now infamous Nintendo Power Glove was enough to blow my little child mind when that popped up. It looked like the coolest toy ever created...being handled by some even cooler looking kid with a slick lock of hair. Seriously did you see how the camera pans around this kids stoic looking face, its like an aftershave advert. Of course now that entire scene is unintentionally hilarious because we all know how that peripheral turned out (and then there's that kids face). Its also amusing to see all the Nintendo/gamer help lines manned by nerds with stacks of cheat books for every game. My how times have changed.

But lets just address what this movie essentially is, apart from a long videogame advert for Nintendo. This movie is basically a kids version of 'Rain Man'...with videogames. Jimmy pretty much is Raymond Babbitt and Haley (not goofy Corey) is a nicer version of Charles Babbitt and instead of gambling its videogames...with a touch of gambling. I can understand why this has become something of a cult but honesty its pretty mundane and unengaging. The cast is quite grand as is the beautiful scenery of rural America, but the plot is thin and honesty nothing much of interest really happens.

Bottom line, at a time when 80's (and general) nostalgia is at an all time high and you can find a multitude of retro goodness online at the touch of a button, this kinda fell flat for me. Its perfectly fine as a minor trip down memory lane for games, haircuts, clothes and an early videogame tournament concept (that maniac hosting the contest! Jesus!). But overall as a movie its wholly average at best.


Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Batman Ninja (2018)

So I'm not up on my comics anymore, haven't been for donkey's years, so when I heard about this I kinda assumed it was based on some recent comicbook line, but no apparently its not. What we have here is exactly what it sounds like, an anime version of Batman. Its basically Batman set in feudal Japan. What would Batman look like in ancient Japan? What would Batman's enemies look like in ancient Japan? How would Batman go about his crime fighting business etc...Its essentially a massive fanboy wet dream project like say...a steampunk Batman, or a Batman set in space or the future, or Batman set in the age of pirates or ancient Rome etc...

The plot seems to be a one-off affair that isn't linked to any previous works or anything coming up. Its literally appears to be a case of, Batman in Japan sounds cool, lets see how that turns out. And with that the plot is insanely off the wall, bizarre, crazy, barely coherent to say the least. Yes its set in feudal Japan, but for the most part this could simply be anywhere, it doesn't matter in the long run. Only the costumes remind you its Japan.

But yeah, Gorilla Grodd is tired of all the other better Gotham villains hogging Batman all the time with their plots and getting in his way. So he decides to get rid of them all. So he builds some machine and sends them all back the feudal you do. Naturally Batman gets caught up in this too (and somehow the entire Batman family of heroes, oh and some of his tech). So now old Bruce is stuck in feudal Japan without the cover of urban Gotham and with only a few of his gadgets. He finds himself up against Grodd, Joker, Penguin, Poison Ivy, Two-Face, Harley Quinn, Bane, and Deathstroke (no Riddler?). Luckily he does have Robin, Nightwing, Red Hood, Alfred, Catwoman, and a entire Batman ninja clan on his side so its not a one way street.

The movie starts off in a suitably dark and stormy Gotham but soon zaps back through time to feudal Japan. Its at this point where the movie is still relatively grounded (well as grounded as one can be travelling back through time). Batman is out of his element, he's vulnerable without his gadgets and his urban jungle, anything could happen. The movie holds this grounded approach as Batman struggles to cope with his ancient surroundings, like being unable to escape grappling up a tall building. But slowly scene by scene things start to become more ridiculous as the plot unfolds. And when I say ridiculous, I mean giant transforming robot/mech fortresses fighting against a giant samurai shaped entity made up of monkeys, and then a giant Batman made up of bats. Plus there's the whole ninja bat clan thing, the fact Joker has machine guns, Alfred hiding the batmobile in a local hut (with underground lighting?), Penguin has his penguins, just all the tech on show etc...

Nevertheless its when Batman appears in Japan that you really notice how beautiful the anime is here. Japan is rendered in CGI (alas no hand drawn art) but oh boy is it exquisite. Clearly the woodblock artwork of Hokusai (The Great Wave 1829-1833) and similar works have influenced the overall design here with the skies and rolling countryside having intricate patterns woven into them. There are also numerous sequences (mainly one with both Harley and Joker) which appear to have been animated in watercolours (or the CGI equivalent), really diversifying and setting the artwork apart.

Takashi Okazaki, the man behind Afro Samurai, was the character designer here and that is obvious if you know said anime franchise. I think all the characters looked great and were easily recognisable from their comic origins but I still can't help but think hand drawn animation would have looked better. However I did really like how Takashi incorporated genuine traditional ancient Japanese attire (both formal and battle wear) into the characters appearances. By that I mean it was indeed cool to see Batman in his own Batman styled samurai battle armour (which I'm sure many have seen fanart of before). Twas also neat to see Joker in period clothing making him look more like a jester, harlequin, or nobleman at times. Not all the characters looked as cool but basically the villains were in samurai styled armour where as the heroes were in more peasant/ninja styled battle attire; but everything had relevance. So yes overall it all looks very slick, very sharp, very colourful, and extremely well animated.

So whilst I was kinda expecting something along the lines of 'Seven Samurai' or 'Yojimbo' with Batman roaming ancient Japan like a Ronin, handicapped without his technology and having to take down each villain one stage at a time in an old fashioned (yet admittedly videogame-esque) manner. What we actually get is a zany Batman adventure that jams almost every anime cliche/trope into the story resulting in a very Japanese feature which may or may not land with folks in the west. Did it land with me? Well in all honesty not really. I love the entire concept, I love the artwork, and I appreciate all the hard work involved. But alas I totally tuned out from the halfway point when things just go bonkers. I just wanted something more grounded and less...dare I say...traditionally anime with giant fighting robots.

The finale was simply the most surreal tomfoolery I've seen for some time (I don't watch lots of anime). For true anime fans this may be normal and they may enjoy it but it wasn't for me. Just think Transformers, Voltron, Gundam, some steampunk, an army of monkeys, bats, and ninjas, and then throw the Batman universe into the mix and voila! Total insanity with lots of double crosses to boot. The question of how the characters even managed to build these giant robots in ancient Japan doesn't even come into it, there's no point questioning it. I would have liked to see more of the other villains too; the story does tend to focus more on Joker and Harley.

I don't wanna say style over substance because that wouldn't be totally correct and kinda mean; but there is definitely an element of that at play here. There is substance and there's tonnes of style, but admittedly its all spread over a wafer thin plot. And at the end of the day you can't really get around the fact this was (probably) only done because it simply looked and sounded cool. Batman in Batman samurai armour in feudal Japan? Yes please! (we'll worry about the story later). Its not really a movie but more like a fanboy project made for fanboys which plays out like a long sequence of idolised fanboy ideas loosely strung together. It will work for some and not for others.