Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Space Cowboys (2000)

Teaming up aging iconic stars, a kind of elderly brat pack if you will. Always a solid formula that generally wins over all viewers of all ages. On one had these movies are usually great fun, on the other hand a little sad because you know they're kinda doing it before the inevitable

The Plot: Its the 50's and our four protagonists are in the US Air Force. Hawk (Tommy Lee Jones) is a pilot. Tank (James Garner) is also a pilot and navigator. Jerry O'Neill (Donald Sutherland) is an engineer. And Frank Corvin (Clint Eastwood) is pilot also. Both Frank and Hawk are two of the best pilots in the Air Force that are aspiring to be astronauts. Alas their dreams are hampered when the Air Force is relinquished of space test flight duty and its handed over to the newly created NASA.

Fast forward to the present day (back in 2000) and NASA has an issue with an old Soviet satellite which is on a collision course back to Earth. NASA needs this satellite working again but its electronics were designed way back in the 50' Frank. So NASA begs Frank to help them, he agrees with one condition, that they allow him and his old team go into space to fix the problem seeing as no one else knows his old design. At first NASA scoffs at this but eventually, knowing Frank is the only man who knows the workings of the satellite, they agree.

This movie is pre-digital de-aging so for the early sequences which show a young Jones, Eastwood, Sutherland, and Garner, young actor look-alikes were used. But that wasn't all, these young actors were given a touch up with makeup to highlight some of the iconic stars features. For example the young Eastwood had a little mole on his face plus some extra recognisable Eastwood facial wrinkles (by the looks of it). At the same time all the young actors had their voices dubbed over with the actual older stars voices. Sounds cheesy but it worked flawlessly for a very good overall outcome finished off in black and white.

As for the characters themselves, well they're a sweet cliche bunch to be sure. Let me be honest here, this movie isn't really stretching any limits, it plays it safe and straight. Clint plays gives us his usual tough guy persona, the 'don't take no shit from anyone' routine which he does so well. Garner plays the more sensible down to earth type fella. He was a preacher before joining in with the mission, but one gets the feeling he may have been a bit of a slightly dodgy geezer behind the scenes; not as Godly as one might presume. Then you have Sutherland as the ladies man who literally chats up every woman in the movie. And lastly we have Jones as the fast talkin' daredevil wildcard who acts first and thinks second.

As you might expect these old fogies have to go through the rigorous training programme to prove they can make the grade. And as you might expect this is where most of the charming chuckles come in as we see these old men trying to keep up with the youngsters (and impress the officials). The entire notion of this is of course completely and utterly ridiculous but you gotta just go with it and enjoy the light-hearted ride. Watching these guys puffing and wheezing as they try to get through the daily workouts is definitely amusing and genuinely tiring to watch. The best sequence (which is coincidentally their best performance in these tests) is when they get through the eyesight test. Although the idea that O'Neill memorised the eye chart and it hadn't changed since he was a young man (a good few decades) is somewhat preposterous.

Twas pretty creepy watching Sutherland's character chatting up all the women in the movie. Every time he sees a woman he leers at them and tries on his best lines (even when naked). Can you imagine that these days! That kind of thing is virtually forbidden. But to make things even more corny, creepy, and cheesy is the fact that some of these women actually liked these old geezers coming on to them; and both Hawk and O'Neill actually manage to get something going with two women! Hawk manages to pick up one of the NASA officials for crying out loud (hardly professional). Although this was clearly to give the movie some extra emotional oomph in the big finale.

The meat of the movie kicks in when the team eventually get into space to carry out their mission. Naturally all is not what it seems as the Soviet satellite turns out to be an old nuclear warhead launch platform. And of course one of the young astronauts has an alternate mission (ordered by the slimy NASA project manager Bob Gerson, played by James Cromwell) which leads to all sorts of problems. I wasn't entirely sure why Gerson wanted to keep the satellite in orbit though, surely it would get discovered eventually and the accidental launch danger would always remain. No win scenario for him, might as well just reveal it and get it sorted. 

But yeah basically what we get is a long section of the movie with loads of high-tech space jargon that none of us civvies would understand and loads of very cool but very complicated technical visuals. Don't get me wrong the visuals are wonderful considering how old this movie is, lovely CGI all round. But half the time the various satellite sequences are simply a mass of glistening metal, hoses, nuts and bolts which you just take for red as realistic (because basically, who the flip knows). Sure there are some shots and sequences which highlight some obvious CGI and greenscreen, but like I said this is quite an old movie now. They do also utilise some stock footage of real rocket launches and landings but its blended in well.

For all the visual glory and charming performances the plot here is pretty predictable and hammy frankly. I mean they literally hit every emotional cliche you can think of. Everything is blatantly obvious, all the characters are dated stereotypes, and the action is very tame. You know someone isn't coming home, at least one, and you do get a clue with Hawk earlier in the movie. But credit where credits due, it's not overly obvious. The only thing I would say is the moment its time for the grand sacrifice it's not as emotional as you'd think. Director Eastwood really missed a chance to pour on thick layers of easy schmaltz if you ask me.

In the end this is a by the numbers affair really. Eastwood plays it so safe it's almost unforgivable, almost. But at the end of the day the movie is just so damn delightful and endearing it's really hard to not enjoy it. I'm still not sure if the final little sequence at the end of the movie is a happy ending or not. I suppose it is kinda, depends on how you look at it.


Saturday, 13 October 2018

Long John Silver (AU/US, 1954)

(aka Long John Silver's Return to Treasure Island)

Back in 1950 Disney Pictures adapted the classic 1883 Robert Louis Stevenson novel Treasure Island. In that now classic (but long forgotten) movie the titular pirate of Long John Silver was played by British actor Robert Newton. Now even though Newton was a well known and respected actor throughout the 40's and 50's (actually more of a tough guy role model for young men), it was this Disney movie that really catapulted him to worldwide stardom. Newton became famous for his pirate performance which he continued in 1952 with 'Blackbeard' and then with this sequel to 'Treasure Island'.

So as mentioned this is indeed a sequel to the 1950 movie 'Treasure Island' but I am unsure if this is actually based on any novels. I have to admit I never knew until a few years back that there were actually more stories in the Treasure Island universe, so to speak. I have since discovered that Stevenson did write some other stories with various characters from the original book, but most actual sequels and prequels seem to have been written by other people. So whether this is accurate to any other books I don't know.

The plot follows John Silver (Newton) as he is recruited by Governor Strong (Governor of somewhere in the Caribbean I believe) to retrieve his daughter and Jim Hawkins from a Spanish pirate by the name of Captain Mendoza (Lloyd Berrell) and deliver a ransom. At the same time, Silver discovers the whereabouts of a second treasure cache on Treasure Island. Of course this being a pirate movie there is much double cross. Silver tries to set up Mendoza, I think for the ransom along with the Governor's daughter and Hawkins, but then Mendoza was planning to double-cross Silver all along. In the end Silver manages to win the battle.

During this time Silver has discovered that Hawkins has a medallion which locates the second treasure cache. So Silver wastes no time in chartering a ship from Captain MacDougall. But again Silver is planning to double-cross MacDougall. Alas MacDougall finds out and maroons Silver and his men on an island which just happens to be Mendoza's hideout. Silver steals Mendoza's ship and sets sail for Treasure Island. Upon reaching the island Silver and his men find the treasure but again Mendoza is hot on their trail. A fight ensues, Silver wins and it's a happy ending all round, hurrah!

As with the previous Disney movie the overall look of this film is still pretty good, although not as good. All the costumes and sets generally appear to be of high quality and do look both believable and authentic. Naturally the sets do look like sets but that's to be expected. As I've said before many times it's those little elements that all add to the overall charm. The scenery and location work is also pretty good here but not as good in scope as the original movie. The rugged coastal scenes normally look the best.

Unfortunately in this film the ship sequences appear to be models. They are all very nice models mind you, very detailed, flapping sails etc...But they are obviously models which is a shame. In the original film they did actually use a real replica ship at sea which was amazing looking. Again the on-ship sequences are sets, clearly so, but again they are delightful and really quite amazingly detailed. It really is obvious that a lot of time, effort, and money went into getting the overall appearance of the ships decks, interior cabins etc...all historically accurate as possible. Something of a surprise to be honest considering the smaller production.

I guess one downside to all this would be the fact it all feels a bit too similar to the original Disney film. For starters we have Robert Newton doing the exact same thing all over again in the exact same attire, almost. I mean surely they could of changed his outfit a bit? Newton also appears to rehash some of his old lines from the original Disney film. I'm not sure if this was just the writers being lazy or maybe wanting to hark back to the popular first picture. I get the impression they wanted to mirror some of the same classic moments from the first film to make theirs look and feel closer to the original Disney production. Riding the old coattails a bit methinks. This becomes more obvious with some scenes such as Hawkins overhearing Silver planning a mutiny and then informing the captain (same thing happened in 'Treasure Island').

Another issue would be the near constant mutines and double-crossing that goes on. I mean it happens so damn much it almost becomes a parody. You just know that whenever someone decides to do something, or some people agree on something, one of them will double cross the other. And when one character turns up with one objective, another character on his side will suddenly double cross him! Was also surprised to see the pirate Israel Hands pop up in this, especially after he got shot in the face and fell from the top of the rigging in the previous movie (not the same actor).

But back on the plus side, I was impressed with the visual continuity of the old fort on Treasure Island. I'm not sure if they used the same sets or not but it looked spot on to me, as did the surrounding jungle overgrowth. Add to that the overall acting of all involved was solid and pleasant to watch. There's something hypnotically relaxing about listening to these old classic actors speaking proper English and olde worlde pirate English...for me at least. Connie Gilchrist adds some comedic relief as Silver's wife-to-be Purity Pinker. I especially liked how she kept nagging him and giving him milk instead of Rum, much to Silver's chagrin. And then of course we have the man himself Newton who gives us yet another perfect rendition of how to be a British pirate. Still to this day I think about how he accomplished this quintessential pirate performance; especially when he spoke with a pitch-perfect posh neutral British accent in reality.

So overall this film does not better the first Disney picture, I don't think that was ever possible. But overall this is a perfectly enjoyable rollicking 19th century set adventure. It's certainly no classic of the silver screen. It is a bit hokey at times and it certainly aims for more swashbuckling rather than overall historical accuracy that's for sure (although the accuracy is still good). This film came about mainly because of the popularity of Robert Newton as Long John Silver. That is the main reason why anyone now (who's seen the first film) would probably be interested in this; for Newton's over the top pirate. 

That aside, I wholeheartedly recommend this for anyone of any age with an interest in swashbuckling adventures, dastardly villains, and enduring one-legged rogues. Definitely worth showing your kids, but show them the original Disney film first.


Wednesday, 10 October 2018

The Black Cauldron (1985)

Back in 1973 Disney obtained the rights to Lloyd Alexander's fantasy series The Chronicles of Prydian. A series spread over five novels aimed at children that are based around ancient Welsh mythology. This feature-length animation is loosely based around the first two books in the series.

In case you haven't guessed yet, the concept for these stories is high fantasy. Magic, dragons, witches, goblins, the undead etc...Its essentially like a children's version of The Lord of the Rings from what I could tell, although I have never read the books so I could be wrong. But in all honesty that was the first impression I got when I sat down to watch this movie. The visuals very much reminded me of the classic Ralph Bakshi version the of the classic Tolkien story, but with classic Disney designs.

The plot surrounds the young boy Taran (Grant Bardsley) who tends pigs on a farm belonging to Dallben the Enchanter (Freddie Jones), a kind of wise old mystic, I think. I'm not really sure of the relation between Taran and Dallben, the boy just seems to work for Dallben and Dallben looks after him. Anyway Dallben learns that the evil Horned King (John Hurt) is after the Black Cauldron and fears he may come for his pet pig Hen Wen. Why? Because this pig has the power to predict or see the future somehow. I'm still not entirely sure why this would help the Horned King to be honest; how does seeing the future help find an object? Surely you need a map or something. Also no clue how this pig got these powers or how Dallben got the pig, oh well.

So Dallben sends Taran away to go into hiding with Hen Wen. Unfortunately and predictably Taran manages to lose Hen Wen (well Hen Wen stupidly runs off in the middle of the dark woods) and both are eventually captured by the Horned Kings men. One thing leads to another and Hen Wen manages to escape but Taran does not. Back in the deep dungeons Taran bumps into some other prisoners and together they manage to escape. Their plan now? To find Hen Wen, locate the Black Cauldron and destroy it. That wasn't what Dallben wanted of course, but since when do young protagonists ever listen to their wise elders?

Yes so straight away the main problem with this film is the plot and its characters. As I already said we don't really get much background on Taran, Hen Wen, or Dallben. We are simply thrust into their lives and straight into the crux of the plot. The Horned King is another main character that really isn't explained much. He wants the power of the Black Cauldron so he can raise his dead army (what happened to them?) and take over the land. I mean I could ask why but I suppose this is a fairytale so...But also, who or what exactly is the Horned King? He is clearly undead and powerful, what's his deal??

Later on as Taran tries to escape from the Horned Kings dungeon he meets up with Princess Eilonwy (Susan Sheridan). Now this is where things get really vague. Eilonwy is also escaping from the dungeons but we have no idea what she did to get there. Add to that we have no idea who she is, where she comes from, and why's she's called Princess. Is she from another realm with another King and Queen? She also has a small hovering/flying ball of light that accompanies her, like a pet or something. No clue what this little thing is or where it comes from, Elionwy merely says 'its magic'. And then we come to Ffewddur Fflam (Nigel Hawthorne) a middle-aged bard with a magical harp which snaps a string every time he lies (but why????). Again this chap is picked up in the dungeons and simply becomes the comedic relief for the most part...and nothing else. No exaggeration, he literally does nothing.

But in all honesty, all the characters do nothing. Taran is your typical young Disney hero who aspires to become something better, a great warrior or hero, usual stuff. Thing is he never achieves this, in fact he doesn't really achieve anything. In the dungeons he finds an ancient magical sword that helps him fight off enemies but its the sword doing the work...literally! Taran does absolutely nothing except show some kindness and maturity...before going back to tending pigs. Princess Elionwy seems to be merely there for female/Disney Princess representation. To be the heroes bit of fluff, but that never actually happens sooo...why is she there? Ffewddur Fflam is a bumbling fool for the kids.

Let's not forget about Gurgi, a small furry creature that Taran meets in the woods and is essentially there to boost plush toy sales. This little guy is really annoying, looks like he's got a handlebar moustache, and he sounds very much like Gollum (ahem!). Again this guy does nothing really until he inexplicably sacrifices himself towards the end. But this lacked any emotion because he's an annoying character and (again) had no real need to be in the story. He had no real need to even join Taran on his quest, especially as Taran clearly disliked him. He originally pinched an apple from Taran, Taran scolded him, and Gurgi just kinda followed him ever since.

But anyway speaking of merchandise sales, I would say the Fair Folk Kingdom would fall into that category. A large underground world of little glowing pixie or dwarf-like people with little fairy wings. Probably the worst characters in the film. They looked crappy and just felt like padding and pointless.

The only good character is the Horned King simply because he looks so damn awesome (think Skeletor), sounds cool, and lives in a cool creepy castle with an undead army. He also has a throwaway goblin sidekick which is again comedic relief for the kids. Yeah sure the King isn't exactly an in-depth character, like I said we get no information on him or any of his aides, but he's just dark and sweet looking. The best part of the entire movie is easily the ending when he brings all of his undead army back to life and they start to attack his living men. One cut sequence has a guy being dissolved or melted by these undead warriors (for some reason), incredibly gory for Disney. But again I have no real clue why the King's undead army would kill his living army and what exactly these undead warriors are gonna do, melt everything?

The only other characters to mention are the three witches Orddu, Orgoch, and Orwen. Taran and co have to try and talk these witches into revealing the location of the Black Cauldron. Long story short, these witches are basically Mad Madame Mim clones. One is tall and skinny, one is short and fat, and one is medium build. They are all bat-shit crazy and not to be trusted. Expect lots of flying objects and trickery from these characters. Oh and one very awkward sequence where they turn Fflam into a frog and he gets stuck in between the big boobs of witch Orwen. No I'm not joking, big cartoon boob visuals galore.

So yeah the plot is just really poorly constructed in this movie. It apparently incorporates the first two books in the series and it kinda shows. Everything moves so fast and it feels rushed. One minute Taran is happy and with Dallben, next minute he's kicked out and off into hiding. Before you know it he's lost his pig and at the foot of the Horned Kings castle! This is obviously set in a large fantasy world but it comes across as very small in this picture. One scene shows Taran looking at the Horned Kings castle from a great distance, next scene he's at the door!

The three witches spend ages trying to talk Taran out of his magic sword, in exchange for the Black Cauldron. But then at the end when the cauldron has been drained of all its powers the witches want it back again and offer the magic sword! So...why did they want the sword so bad in the first place? And why would they want the cauldron now it's useless? Also, as the tale goes, the only way to stop the cauldron is for a living creature to get inside it. So when Gurgi jumps into it, why does that not stop it? And lastly, its really odd how the entire plot revolved around Hen Wen the pig for so long, then all of sudden it didn't. Everyone is trying to find Hen Wen before the Horned King, everything depends on the pig; and then the plot just diverts and leaves the fate of Hen Wen up in the air right until the very end.

On the positive side: The visuals in the movie are incredible. The animation is classic Disney with easily recognisable designs (although a bit too recognisable). From the rolling green countryside and Hobbit-esque woods. The towering shadow covered castle with its deep dark maze-like interior littered with dungeons, catacombs, skeletons, and cobwebs. To the gorgeous vistas, high detail, glowing magical effects, and a pair of awesome pet dragons. This movie looks flippin' amazing on every frame. Sumptuous colours, silky smooth animation, and some truly excellent artwork all the way through from top to bottom.

There's just a few problems (but they're big). The plot is terribly formulaic and dull with literally no background history for anything. The opening narration speaks of the origins of the Black Cauldron and how an evil King was, basically, boiled alive in it which led to his soul being trapped within the cauldron. Well...was that supposed to be the Horned King? I don't think it was, I think this was another character from the book. And that's another problem, I feel like you need to know the book to understand this better because the movie is pretty loose. The final problem is the awful, bland (some badly voiced), one-dimensional characters that just don't do anything. Almost all of them have no need to even be there and present no arcs at all.

Totally torn on this. This was my first time seeing this movie so I was unbiased and actually really hoping for a cracker going by the posters and images. Alas even though it is a visual treat and I adore this fantasy realm/world, it's a huge misstep by Disney and such a waste. A handsome spectacle of fairytale folklore and myth to be sure, but unfortunately lacking in any real depth.


Saturday, 6 October 2018

The Abominable Snowman (UK, 1957)

So as the title of this movie suggests, this is all about the mysterious age-old legend that is the Yeti. A fabled creature that dwells within the snowy Himalayas. And again as you may well have guessed already, this movie is all about trying to capture said creature (think King Kong). Hey, its a 50's flick people.

Dr. Rollason (Peter Cushing) and his wife Helen (Maureen Connell) are on a botanical expedition in the Himalayas and are staying within a monastery. Everything is going swimmingly until a second US expedition arrives lead by Dr. Tom Friend (Forrest Tucker) who are wanting to hunt down the Yeti. At first Rollason isn't convinced about going off in search of the mythical beast, but eventually he succumbs to his scientific curiosity and agrees to accompany them. Rollason thinks this is an expedition to learn and study, he is unaware that Friend wants to capture the creature for fame fortune and American way dagnabbit! As you can imagine things don't go as planned, team members start getting killed and Rollason learns Friend's true goal.

So again, as you can imagine, there is a lot of dialog in this film. This film takes its time getting going with a long slow laborious build up. The monastery we find our protagonists in is of course a mixture of sets, matte paintings, and some locale work. Of course its all gonna be rather charming by today's standards but overall it's actually pretty top stuff all things considered. The sets are really quite good and atmospheric. Sure you can tell its all a set but it still looks really well detailed from the basic structure of the monastery to the intricate internal decorations and various traditional carvings. The external distance matte painting was glorious, a lovely cliff edge setting highlighted by the black and white film (always helps these old films).

These sets were later utilised for a few Fu Manchu films throughout the 60's which is no surprise considering how well designed and built they were. Apparently production designer Bernard Robinson, art director Ted Marshall, and draughtsman Don Mingaye studied and researched numerous books to get the look just right. I find that so darn adorable.

I was quite surprised to actually see a lot of very good location work here too. I knew there would be some of course but I really just expected the bare minimum and a load of stock footage. But no director Val Guest actually did some shooting in the French Pyrenees with a team of professional climbers and a helicopter for the panoramic shots. They even used a cable car for some shots whilst going up and down the mountainous region (Pic du Midi Bigorre). Overall they did a great job with the actors all dressed correctly matching the stunt doubles footage; and the actual real climbing footage looks perfectly believable (well snowy mountains are snowy mountains).

Obviously when we see the actors they are on somewhat obvious sets with somewhat obvious snow. These tend to range from not too bad looking to really quite obvious looking. Its here when the quality of the acting is really put to the test (as with all these old flicks). Can the actors make the hokey sets come alive? Can they make them come across as believable? For the most part that's a no in all honesty, but that's all part of the charm with these movies.

The basic story is of course rather bland and predictable. Cushing is his usual well-spoken, gentlemanly self and never puts a foot wrong. The man is always totally engaging but if I dare to make one negative point, he (generally) always looks and sounds the same. This could be any one of his many horror/thriller characters because he generally plays the same type of chap (wonderfully of course). The rest of the team are kinda your stereotypical Yanks to be honest. They are played as somewhat aggressive, eager to set traps and use guns, no real interest in learning from this marvel of nature. As I've already mentioned it's your typical giant gorilla scenario really, the gun-toting Yanks just wanna make big money and are completely blasè over little things like safety.

One good choice by Guest was to keep the Yeti hidden from view for almost the entire film. We only get to see little snippets of the animal, the odd hand, leg, arm, footprint etc...They don't reveal anything right up until the finale when we see a couple large lumbering humanoid creatures hidden by shadows. Then just when you think we won't see anything at all, we get a closeup of one Yeti's eyes and surrounding fur. I think this was perfect because chances are the entire Yeti suit may have looked crap, plus it leaves more to the imagination. I should point out that the bit of face we do see is actually pretty good, some very good prosthetic work (for the time).

All in all I was relatively engaged here, but I have to admit it was a tad slow. It is entirely predictable in every way and it's not really very creepy or eerie (probably because everything was light and white). I also didn't really like the last part of the story surrounding Rollason, bit silly. Its certainly a well made production with quality acting and direction all round, just not overly exciting truth be told. Still worth a watch if you like Hammer productions.


Monday, 1 October 2018

The Crow: City of Angels (1996)

As we all know the original Crow movie turned out to be an iconic piece of 90's cinema; which was also sadly down to the fact that Brandon Lee was killed during the filming. Despite the shocking death of Lee midway through the movies production the end result was still of a high quality. Even to this day it's not overly obvious where Lee's performance ends and a body double starts. For a newbie to the film I'd say its impossible to tell. So the notion of making a sequel was always going to be hard, dare I say sacrilege.

The Plot: Set in a comicbook version of Los Angeles Ashe (Vincent Pèrez) runs a small garage with his young son Danny. One night Danny accidentally stumbles across a gangland killing which leads to the both of them being executed by the gang. Meanwhile, an adult Sarah (Mia Kirshner) from the original movie, starts having bad dreams and visions about Ashe and his son. Somehow she has a supernatural connection with the dead and can feel their pain. She is visited by a crow which leads her to the spot where Ashe and his son were murdered. It's at this moment that Ashe is resurrected. Sarah helps Ashe come to terms with what happened, eventually painting his face with the familiar markings she witnessed on Eric Draven. Ashe then begins his quest to exact revenge of the ones who murdered him and his son.

So yes this movie was a sequel set within the same universe as the original movie. Sarah is the only character to return and she is now an adult working as a tattooist. So basically, even though the plot is virtually identical to the first movie, it's surrounding a new victim. So from that one can assume that this happens often in this universe, people coming back from the dead and putting things right. Indeed the movie does point this out at the end with the huge murder of crows sequence. It's a safe but solid plot route, it makes sense without getting too silly. The question that springs to mind is, why don't we see tonnes of crow-assisted people running around exacting revenge? Surely with all the murder in this universe it would happen all the time. I could also ask, what power or force is deciding who gets to come back? There would be tricky cases which aren't so clear-cut, so what's the criteria? But this could be seen as nit-picking.

The first thing you notice about this movie is the design aesthetic. Whereas the original movie was very dark and rainy with a lot of black and earthy colours; this second movie has a very greeny, yellowish colour palette, mostly green. This was to reflect the location of the story, Los Angeles on the coast. Hence everything has a more hazy, warm, sweaty, misty vibe running through it. Director Tim Pope certainly went a tad overboard with the mist and smog in my opinion. Almost every scene is thick with coloured mist which whilst adding a nice supernatural vibe, does also hinder being able to see things.

This world is of course a complete comicbook fantasy, even more so than the first movie. One could say ahead of its time because to give Pope credit, this movie does look like it's been ripped straight from the pages of a graphic novel. Every frame is so outlandishly over the top with its swirling mist, bizarre colouring, and decaying cityscape. You can't knock this movies visuals that's for sure. The opening sequence is a brilliant panning shot over a large model cityscape of this otherworldly LA. The city itself is so unbelievably rundown and rotten it's almost laughable really. I'm guessing the movie is set in the poorer part of the city but blimey! Every single inch of this urban sprawl is crawling with litter, filth, druggies, burnt-out cars, graffiti, broken glass, wrecked buildings etc...Its a living hell, but that is the point.

It's also worth noting that along with the colour palette coordinating with the location, this movie also featured a lot of motorbikes which are more of a thing on the west coast. Where as in the original movie you saw a lot of cars (kinda) because it was set in Detroit, Pope and co deliberately used more motorbikes for the LA setting.

When it comes to the inhabitants of this city and their dwellings, things get even more off the wall. Let's look at Sarah. She now looks like an extra from a Tim Burton movie with her pale complexion, red rings around her eyes, skinny build, and ripped attire. She lives in this apartment that looks more like a floor taken from a gothic castle, and it's filthy. I understand she is supposed to be poor and moves around a lot but Jesus Christ! The windows are covered with a thick layer of dirt and the floor is dirty bare wooden floorboards! Interestingly, Sarah owns a white cat, the same cat from the first movie. She also still owns the sad clown mask from the first movie, and she wears Shelley's wedding ring.

Moving on to the main antagonist Judah (Richard Brooks). Now this guy lives in an abandoned church which he has seemingly converted into a BDSM dungeon complete with his own collection of latex bound female slaves (rawr!!). Not only that but he also has his own personal witch or sorceress or prophet (?) that knows all about supernatural stuff including the crow and its powers. Judah a cultist, is a self-declared sadist and dresses in a Kimono type thing on his lower half and is topless on top. He seemingly spends his time brooding and watching his female slaves perform BDSM rituals.

Judah's vicious gang contains just four members. All of whom are visually excessive for the sake of being excessive. It's like Pope and co couldn't really decide so they just threw everything at the wall. The leader of the gang is Curve (Iggy Pop) who dresses like an extra from Gun N' Roses. Iggy is most definitely the best casting here because this guy suits this environment so perfectly both visually and verbally. He's not the best actor but he does enough to sell it. Nemo (Thomas Jane) was a strange one that I haven't figured out yet. He essentially dresses like a glam rock star complete with a dodgy wig, codpiece, and 'A Clockwork Orange' style eyelash makeup; but I'm thinking he could be a transvestite also (?).

Then you have Spider Monkey (Vincent Castellanos) who really does look like a combination of ideas all thrown together simply to make the most outrageous looking baddie ever. Again this guy seems to have a very effeminate vibe about him with his girlish screaming, rock chick hairdo, and of course tight attire. And lastly there is Kali (Thuy Trang), the slinky sexy token female villain who just happens to be south east Asian which I found really weak because it just seemed like Pope was copying the original movie (Bai Ling as Myca). All of these villains don't really get much time to shine and we never really get a sense of who they are. They all feel like background characters just waiting to be inevitably killed off violently by Ashe.

Swinging back to our protagonist Ashe, I found the casting of Pèrez an odd one. Here was a man with a slight accent (which isn't expanded on) and a clear receding hairline. Now I'm not having a go at his hair or accent, but he never really looked the part to me. He looked too old, his hair was clearly straightened, he had a large forehead due to the receding, he didn't really look in shape, and mainly his acting was just off. Sure there are moments when he sells it with a maniacal grin or his face is overcast with shadow, but there are so many scenes which were clearly meant to epic moments of action or emotion and Pèrez just doesn't sell it. I'm not saying the film required a young sexy ripped male, I just didn't see Pèrez as the right choice.

As the film chugs along its also evident how silly bits of it truly are. Sarah paints Ashe's face with his dead son's kiddie paints. Surely that would just rub or wash off within 30 minutes, yet it stays there for the entire runtime. Ashe wears similar attire to Eric in the first movie including another full length long black trenchcoat. When Ashe goes off to find the first gang member, it takes all of about five minutes of motorbike riding from his old garage to get to his destination! Yeah I know it's probably supposed to be longer but that's how it comes across. Ashe kills Spider Monkey by throwing a lit match on some flammable liquid, and this somehow causes the entire building to violently explode.

Nemo gets killed in a seedy porn store which has a peeping booth. But my one and only question here is, why would anyone pay money to sit behind a glass booth and jerk-off while a girl strips? Surely a bloke like this would go to a prostitute. And all these baddies never seem to learn throughout this movie that guns and knives can't hurt or kill Ashe. Kali even hangs around for Ashe at one point to try and kill him...with a knife, ugh! What follows is a really bad and obvious 'martial arts' fight between two actors who clearly don't know any martial arts.

Its also around the midway point that you'll realise there are apparently no cops in this entire city. Yes OK as I've already said this could well be the seedy part of town and there could well be less cops. Or the cops have been paid off by Judah. But either way, the fact you never see or hear any cops or sirens is just silly really.

The finale was another part of this movie that never really felt satisfying or well explained. Judah kills the crow (after he is instructed to by his very handy witch/prophet slave, what happened to her??) and takes Ashe's powers of the crow. So Ashe becomes mortal again? Does this mean Ashe could walk off and remain alive? Does this mean Ashe dies twice in the end? Does that mean Judah is the living dead now?

In the original movie Eric transfers all the pain and suffering his girlfriend suffered onto Top Dollar. Well here Ashe kinda does the same thing to Judah, I think. Ashe calls on a large murder of crows (all carrying the pain of dead souls) to 'take' Judah. I'm not really sure what happens next, the crows fly through Judah and take his soul piece by piece? The crows eat Judah piece by piece? The crows merely suck him into the afterlife? I dunno. Does Judah's newfound power not have any sway here? And does the power of crow revert back to Ashe straight away making him dead again?

This movie never really got much praise when it was released and was always seen as a poor follow up to the original. And to be honest it is a poor follow up, but it's not as bad as its made out to be. There are some really good touches here, some great visuals (albeit a bit MTV music video-esque at times), decent ideas, and another solid soundtrack which is right up there with the original in my opinion. Yes OK Pope does rely a bit too much on greenscreen and superimposition here and there, some of which is horrendous, but at least they stuck with practical effects for the most part.

The setting of LA does add an interesting fresh angle especially with the inclusion of the Mexican Day of the Dead festival at the end. There is a lot of religious iconography throughout the movie (some Mexican) which also adds to the supernatural element nicely. It's not top heavy with these religious themes, but in a more traditional graphic novel kinda way with stark striking imagery and motifs.

It's definitely an odd movie with various clashing themes I can't deny. There's traditional biker gangs, tattoo parlours, and squalid graffiti-ridden urban areas. Various religious motifs, supernatural
prophets, the predictable abandoned church setting, and a traditional national holiday. And then there's a heavy BDSM theme throughout complete with fetish club and hot wax torture sequence! A little insight into Tim Pope's personal preferences perhaps?

Yes this movie is way more graphic and violent than the first and yes this movie follows the original almost beat for beat, scene for scene. But on a visual standpoint, this movie is undeniably excellent and showcases some highly stylish visual sequences (backed up with some thumping tunes). Upon reflection I'd say this is a solid gothic action movie. Obviously not as good as the first but still an engaging ride which should just about please fans of the franchise or people into this type of genre (it would probably be far better than any modern remake).